The Liberal Democrats' foreign policy proposals are vague, patchy—and oddly familiar...by Steve Bloomfield / November 21, 2019 / Leave a comment
I still can’t quite work out what was the worst part of Jo Swinson’s answer about whether she would authorise a nuclear attack with the potential to kill millions of innocent civilians. Was it the simple, instant “yes”? Was it the smile just after she said it? Was it the astonishing response of the interviewer, Nina Hossain, who thought the answer was “brilliant,” because Swinson had used just a single word? Was it the complete lack of follow-up? Or was it the fact that you just know she thinks she smashed it?
There was a time when even those in favour of the UK having its own nuclear deterrent understood that if the country ever actually deployed any of its weapons it would be the world’s greatest ever man-made catastrophe. The most likely scenario of a British prime minister deploying nuclear weapons would be in response to a nuclear strike already underway, therefore guaranteeing “mutually assured destruction.” If the UK was striking first—and unlike Russia and China, the UK has always refused to rule this out—any nuclear-armed foe would respond in kind.
Which means, to go back to that mythical scenario when Prime Minister Swinson proudly pushed the button, a nuclear warhead would also be on its way to the UK, probably to London, and millions of us, probably including Swinson, would be just minutes away from death. But yes, okay, brilliant answer.
Until the election of Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats’ policy on nuclear weapons was the most sceptical of the three major parties. In 2007, its conference almost voted to scrap Trident immediately, eventually narrowly agreeing to back its leader, Menzies Campbell, who planned to scrap it in 2014. Jo Swinson, then a backbench MP, backed the policy and voted against Trident’s replacement when it came before parliament.
But Corbyn’s election in 2015, and Labour’s steady shift on foreign policy after the sacking of Hillary Benn towards a more Corbynite view of the world, has clearly had an impact on the UK’s third party. It sees an opening as the “sensible” party that is prepared to deploy nuclear weapons in the name of security. The party that opposed…