Jeremy Corbyn’s latest suggestion is that, perhaps, we could retain Trident submarines (and the jobs that go with them) but have them without the warheads? This would satisfy both his Trade Union allies and his CND chums.
Like most people my initial reaction was – “what?”
But then I started thinking about it and the following story came to mind, which might help explain this bizarre (by normal standards) idea…..
Back in the early 1980s I was a BT engineer and active member of the then Post Office Engineering Union (POEU) – branch secretary of Westminster branch to be precise.
I was also a member of the POEU delegation to the TUC Congress, elected as part of a ‘Broad Left’ slate of leftwing Labour, Communist and Trots. (Back then I was a Labour Party leftie).
The TUC in Blackpool was a surreal experience as Trade Unions with clearly diametrically opposed views on various subjects tried to get the upper hand or, more often, tried to forge some sort of fudged compromise for the sake of “unity” (a big issue in the TU and Labour movements).
When a motion on ‘energy policy’ was moved with a pro-nuclear energy speech from one of the engineering unions and then seconded with an anti-nuclear speech from the miners (Arthur Scargill no less) me and my comrades at least saw the funny side of it.
There was another debate on the (then proposed) Channel Tunnel coming up so we decided to emulate the ‘energy policy’ example. One lot of transport unions (seafarers) we against whilst another (railway workers) were in favour.
So we concocted – out of sheer boredom and mischief – a ‘composite’ resolution that proposed a channel tunnel, but one with a canal in it big enough to take cross-channel ferries – satisfying both sides. ‘Resolutionary socialism’ at its finest.
We even voted it through a POEU delegation meeting and forced our very unhappy General Secretary to present our ‘composite’ to the Arrangements Committee. Not surprisingly they didn’t accept it.
The serious point here is that the British Trade Union and Labour movements have a very long tradition of this sort of apparently idiotic compromise in order to maintain the hallowed “unity”. Completely mad and self-contradictory motions can be cobbled together to gloss over real policy schisms.
Where our continental cousins have had separate parties for communists, socialists and social democrats and often separate trade unions too, Britain stuck with one TUC and one Labour Party. But it meant that all those ideological and sectional interests had to be somehow remain ‘united’ – the result was a culture of fudge.
Given no-one really took TUC or Labour Party Conference motions very seriously anyway (except the people in the hall) this form of fudge and fuzziness really didn’t matter too much.
Jeremy Corbyn cut his political teeth inside this ‘resolutionary socialist’ culture in the 70s and 80s. He’s spent his whole political life in halls and meetings fretting over just such weird disputes.
Is it any wonder then he can come up with something as patently daft as non-nuclear armed nuclear deterrent submarines? It’s not that far away from our Channel Tunnel Canal. But we at least recognized the silliness of what we were proposing.