24 September 2012

Further down the road to Moscow

A post a few months ago (Marching on the Moscow Criterion) discussed the review of alternatives for replacing UK Trident which, at the time, was being led by Nick Harvey. The post was updated after the reshuffle at the beginning of this month in which Harvey was sacked. Subsequently there were press reports that Nick Clegg would “personally oversee the review”. Developments since then seem to merit a new post rather than further updates.

On 13 September Menzies Campbell provided the cover interview for The House magazine. Foreign affairs and defence were, he said, a particular interest, and:
The man now charged with shaping the party policy on Trident is David Laws, who will also be working as an education minister. Laws, says Sir Ming, is “going to be a busy chap,” and while there is “absolutely no question about his talent, his ability, his capability... he’ll have to find the time because this is a complicated issue.” Sir Ming believes that Laws will be “starting afresh”, but is keen to remind the new government minister of a report[*] which he and Nick Harvey wrote on Trident, and its alternatives, before the 2010 election. “That, I think, formed a very good basis for [Nick Clegg’s] review and if David Laws has the time to go back and find that, not all of it is relevant but a great deal of it is.”
*Policy options for the future of the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons, available here.)

However, on 22 September Nick Clegg, reviewing his party’s achievements in the Coalition, told a rally at the LibDem autumn conference:
And we have stopped the like-for-like replacement of Trident in this parliament and have started the search for alternatives which will continue to keep our country safe. But, where possible, at a lower cost to the British people. And on that, I want to pay tribute to the pioneering work Nick Harvey has done. I want to assure you we are going to build upon his good work. That’s why I have decided to put Danny Alexander in charge of the review into the replacement for Trident. Danny has spoken out repeatedly about how expensive and unnecessary a like-for-like replacement would be. And there is no one better when it comes to getting value for money for the taxpayer. I am more determined than ever to find the right alternative to such a monumentally expensive replacement for a Cold War deterrent.
“in this parliament” and “But, where possible, at a lower cost” would seem to be the key phrases in this. The review is now Treasury-led in so far as Alexander is Chief Secretary. If you must march on Moscow (or the “Moscow criterion”), it’s surely better to change generals on the way back than on the way there.

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