On Sunday apart from attending the Remembrance Ceremony at the Cenotaph, Jeremy Corbyn got into a row over remarks made by Gen Sir Nicholas Houghton the Chief of the Defence Staff who said that he would be unhappy if there was a PM who had publicly stated that they would not use Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
This led to an interesting situation. On the one hand it is a fact that our armed forces do not involve themselves in politics and are subservient to the will of Parliament. However and on the other, Corbyn by his stance over nuclear weapons, historical though it may be, places the armed forces in a ridiculous position were he ever to become Prime Minister.
Sniffy Little Snitch
Corbyn of course huffed and puffed and said that he was “Going to Tell on Houghton and report him to teacher…” The following being what he said:
“It is a matter of serious concern that the chief of the defence staff has today intervened directly in issues of political dispute.”
“It is essential in a democracy that the military remains politically neutral at all times.”
“By publicly taking sides in current political arguments, Sir Nicholas Houghton has clearly breached that constitutional principle. Accordingly, I am writing to the defence secretary to ask him to take action to ensure that the neutrality of the armed forces is upheld.”
In one sense, Corbyn is right, going back to the English Civil War, the Military has always been subservient to the will of Parliament and that is a good thing that must be upheld however in this particular instance it is not quite so cut and dried. Whilst a long time member of CND might see nuclear weapons as something quite separate from soldiers, sailors and airmen, to the Chief of Staff, Trident missiles are military assets the same as tanks, planes ships and men which collectively represent the defence posture of this Country which he has to work with. More than this as unilateral disarmament is not the settled will of this Parliament, the General is not defying or interfering with Parliament in any way.
To someone in the position of Nicholas Houghton, Corbyn saying that he would not use nuclear weapons is the same as saying that he would not deploy troops and in this context he is right to raise the issue publicly.
This Will Repeat
I have been of the opinion that in the end Corbyn will just wander off into the wilderness of the back benches again where he would feel more comfortable because over this and many issues, he will have increasing problems with being in a leadership role. It is well and fine to “hold strong convictions” but even if there is a chance of power, you need to always remember that politics is the art of the possible where personal beliefs however firmly held have often to be set aside in pursuit of the “greater good”.
It is easy to criticize the policies and spending of the incumbent government and swear that you would do this or that if “We were in power”, all cuts to welfare would be repealed and free ice cream for all on Sundays…and any other claims you care to make. However the truth of such claims when there is no immediate chance of you actually having to form a government don’t really matter, the public know it is all hot air and will not resent the fact that none of this would come to pass were you in fact the government.
However there are some things that you really cannot do without facing electoral retribution as the LibDems found out over their University Fees promise which became undeliverable because of the economic circumstances faced by the coalition. However, this is pretty small beer compared with what Corbyn has done over nuclear weapons.
He Has to Launch
There needs to be some perspective put on this to fully appreciate his folly. Although nuclear weapons are not the kind of soft and cuddly issue much loved by the public at large, the reality is that they exist and cannot be wished away, well certainly not in the short or medium term so they have to be ‘lived with’ for now.
Given his long time connections with CND, it is perfectly legitimate for Corbyn to try and get a serious debate going about how we can rid the world of the threat of these awful weapons. It is perfectly legitimate for him to try and persuade his Party and the public at large of the rationale of changing British policy on the nuclear option BUT… He can only do so in the context of where we are right now and with the clear and public commitment that under current circumstances, that if he were Prime Minister he would indeed “Press the Launch Button”. Although there is nothing legal to force him, if he cannot agree to this, he should resign immediately as Leader of the Opposition.
Consider the following which although not an exact equivalent is in many ways parallel :
Supposing a very Right Wing person took over the leadership of the Conservative Party whilst it was in opposition and this person in line with their previously often expressed beliefs said that they wanted to abolish the NHS as we know it today on the grounds that it was unaffordable and blah, blah, blah. Now this is a legitimate view and they have every right to try and persuade both their Party and the Country at large as to why this would be a good idea. However before they could move on such a plan, they would have to include it in their party manifesto and also win a majority in a general election before they have a mandate to proceed.
Even if the incumbent government fell and the opposition had to form a new one during the life of the existing Parliament and our “Right Wing Leader” became PM, he/she would not have a mandate to implement radical changes to the NHS without first facing the electorate in a general election and getting their support. They could not immediately stop funding the NHS just because they personally think it the right thing to do, they would have to continue with the “settled policy” as it currently existed.
Put Up or Resign
Corbyn has no choice and needs to decide right here and now that if he were PM next year, if advised to do so, would launch nuclear missiles. If he is not prepared to publicly state that he would, then he publicly needs to resign because leading roles are not for everyone and given his past track record of constant rebellion against his own party, clearly he is not leadership material.
Whilst I am personally prepared to accept him as the daft clown he is, at another level I am just not prepared to tolerate the idiot because he has little support either from his MPs or the established party and unless he buggers off in the near future, a fragmentation of the Labour Party must surely follow which will leave the Country with a divided and weakened opposition which would not be a good thing.