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Lib Dems Could Take Historic Step In Vote to Scrap Trident at Conference

16/09/2013 16:51 BST | Updated 16/11/2013 10:12 GMT

On Tuesday, the Liberal Democrat Conference will debate and vote on the future of Britain's nuclear weapons system. Putting this controversial issue out for open debate is much to the party's credit and its record on challenging the status quo on Trident is streets ahead of the two main Westminster parties, which remain mired in Cold war thinking.

Yet the policy motion which is being presented to the conference is disappointing, to put it mildly. In fact, it's a real let down, after the huge popular enthusiasm engendered by Nick Clegg's anti-Trident position in the televised leaders' debates in 2010. His ground breaking challenge to like-for-like Trident replacement looked set to change not only the discourse on nuclear weapons, but the reality too.

But the last three years have become a tale of unfilled hope. From the heady highs of the early coalition period, where stock piles were reduced and state on state nuclear threats downgraded to a tier two security risk, we moved through to the Trident Alternatives Review. This document, produced by the MoD and Cabinet Office to assist Liberal Democrat discussions of alternative systems was hampered from the start by its exclusion of the non-nuclear option. But hopes remained that a substantially changed posture might emerge.

Its findings, published this July, were underwhelming, only really raising the possibility of ending continuous at-sea 'deterrence' (CASD) and reducing the number of subs from 4 to 3. Maybe that's the best one could have expected from a document from the defence establishment, but there is no earthly reason why Liberal Democrat policy has to be determined by it.

So it is a great shame to see policy motion F32 on the conference paper tomorrow calling for precisely those options. This policy neither lives up to the promise of the last three years, nor does it meet the analysis which the party leadership itself articulates. Last week, in Washington DC, Danny Alexander described Trident as 'the UK's last, unreformed bastion of Cold War thinking.' He is absolutely right. But the logic of that position is to scrap it. It is not only anachronistic; it is a weapon of mass destruction the use of which would be immoral, illegal and disastrous beyond any human imagining, and our possession of which serves to encourage proliferation. And it is also extremely expensive. Money spent on Trident could be better spent - on public services - or on meeting up to the actual security challenges we face in the twenty first century.

For all those reasons we are urging conference delegates to back the amendment to policy motion F32, which calls for Trident to be scrapped. This is an enormous opportunity, for the party and for the country. We hope the conference has the vision and courage to lead on this crucial issue.