Former shadow minister Dan Jarvis is to fight for Labour to retain its pro-Trident policy after warning that it would be “catastrophic” for the party to go into the general election pledging to dump the nuclear deterrent.
The Barnsley Central MP, an ex-Paratrooper who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, told the Guardian that he would feel “deeply uncomfortable” as a Labour candidate in 2020 if the party under Jeremy Corbyn ditches its current policy.
But Jarvis’s aides have told HuffPost UK that there is no question that he intends to stand at the next election - even if the defence review under Ken Livingstone and new Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry opts for unilateralism.
A spokesperson for the former shadow foreign minister told HuffPost: ”Dan has always been Labour and always will be. He firmly believes in strong defence and Britain's nuclear deterrent and will be arguing for that to remain as party policy.
“As the current leadership demonstrates, it is perfectly possible to be a Labour MP and not always agree with the official position of the Party. We are a broad church.”
Jarvis, now seen by many ‘moderate’ Labour MPs as the future party leader who could most effectively take on the Tories, also hinted for the first time that he regretted not giving more thought to running for leader in the aftermath of the 2015 election defeat.
in an interview with the Guardian on Saturday, he was asked if he would fight the next election for Labour if the party dumped Trident.
He replied: “That’s a big question. To my core I have always been Labour and always will be, but I would feel deeply uncomfortable fighting as a Labour candidate on a manifesto that committed us to getting rid of our nuclear deterrent, not least because we would lose the election.
“It’s an issue of such strategic importance with the public that it would be catastrophic for us to go into an election with that as our policy.
“I was much more comfortable with it being led by two people [Eagle and Livingstone] who had different views. That gave it balance. We’ve lost that, which potentially weakens and undermines the process. For it to have any credibility, it needs to be seen to be open-minded.”
Pressed further on what he would do, he replied: “God knows. That is fortunately somewhere in the future. There’ll be quite a lot of water under the bridge before we get to that point.”
But HuffPost understands Jarvis is set to follow the example of former deputy leader Denis Healey, who stayed in the party despite its shift to unilateralism in the early 1980s.
Kevan Jones, a supporter of Trident who resigned as shadow defence minister in protest at the appointment of Thornberry, also said today said he would still stand as a Labour candidate even if the party supported unilateralism. “I would do what Denis Healey did in 1983 and what Jeremy Corybn did in 2015.”
Jeremy Corbyn fired pro-Trident Maria Eagle as Shadow Defence Secretary in his reshuffle this week, replacing her with unilateralist Ms Thornberry.
Many Labour MPs are now gearing up for a battle royal over nuclear policy, with hints that the two-year defence review may now be accelerated and Jeremy Corbyn telling HuffPost that he wants another email ‘consultation’ of party members on the policy.
HuffPost learned this week that many Shadow Cabinet ministers are poised to quit their posts if the policy was changed by the party conference.
With unions like Unite and the GMB committed to defending Trident because of the defence jobs their members rely on, unilateralist MPs believe their best hope of changing policy is through an overwhelming vote by party members.
Despite being seen by many Tories as their ‘worst possible Labour leader’ Mr Jarvis rarely speaks about his leadership ambitions. In the immediate aftermath of the May 2015 general election, Jarvis explained at the time that he wanted to put his young family first instead of running for leader.
He told HuffPost at party conference last year that “I made absolutely the right decision and I stick by that decision”.
He has now told the Guardian that he was so focused on the general election that he hadn’t prepared any plans to run for leader, unlike other contenders.
“I’m not a great one for regretting anything. But what I do regret is that I didn’t give it more thought beforehand.”
“I had 24 hours to make a decision. There was overwhelming pressure from members of the public, members of the party, colleagues in parliament for me to stand. They were asking me, in some cases instructing me, to do it, but, for the reasons I set out at the time, I didn’t.
He also suggested that things would have been different if Ed Miliband had stayed on to allow the party to make a more considered choice.
“It would have been helpful, not just to me but to a lot of people, if there had been a period of reflection through to the party conference. It would have been better if he had let the dust settle.”
In today’s interview, he admits “Jeremy and I are not on each other’s speed dials,” but stresses that he does not expect the Labour leader to fall under the proverbial bus any time soon.
“There might be a few rogue bus drivers out there,” he says, “but I think Jeremy is pretty canny on that bike.”
In a direct reference to a similar quote from sacked former shadow minister Michael Dugher, Jarvis told the Guardian today: “We are in the votes business,”
“Politics is a very competitive process. At the moment, our opponents are better at this than we are. The Tory machine is a ruthless one. They are seeking to put us out of business, and they are making reasonable progress at it. People will be looking very carefully at the results of this year’s local elections.”