Hughes tells party "we must fight on Trident"

Posted by Louise Edge — 21 September 2010 at 3:26pm - Comments

Deputy leader Simon Hughes opposes Trident replacement: "the case is winnable and we must not yield."

Monday and Tuesday at conference have been a bit of a rollercoaster for Team Trident.

Political conferences, stuffed as they are with politicians and media types, are always awash with rumours. And as we followed the speeches, the press coverage, the tweets and just plain old chatted to people we swayed between pessimism and optimism.

The key question for us is - are the Lib Dems committed to fighting against Trident replacement? Do they see it as one of the touchstone issues for their party in coalition? Or do they quietly want to shelve their anti-Trident policy?

"We stand in opposition to a like for like replacement for Trident. That is our position."
Simon Hughes
Lib Dem Deputy Leader

A lot of the runes looked good. Ex-party head Paddy Ashdown hinted on Monday’s Today programme that Trident replacement would be delayed and there would be a chance for a “more rational debate” on nuclear weapons. Added to Menzies Campbell’s comments to us yesterday it felt like a good start to the day.

Other runes looked rather dodgy. Leader Nick Clegg failed to mention Trident in his keynote speech. Nick Harvey, LibDem Minister for the Armed Forces, was indisposed, and Gary Gibbon from Channel 4 blogged that Trident being selected by members as the emergency motion to debate came as 'a surprise' to the leadership. A surprise? Does that mean they don’t want the issue debated? Have they misread the depth of feeling on this issue in the party, where only 7% of members support like-for-like Trident replacement.

We felt a key person who could answer our questions was Deputy Leader Simon Hughes. As the person essentially between the leadership and the membership we felt he could enlighten us on the leadership’s real views. Zoe valiantly pursued him around conference with her camera trying to get an interview, but he was always too busy. At last she got the promise of a slot - hurrah! Then that got canned – hmmm, was he really too busy or does he just want to avoid the issue?

Then we found out he was speaking at a fringe event entitled ‘Radical and Independent: How do Lib Dems retain our distinctiveness within the coalition?’. Perfect. We could get in and ask him direct. Unfortunately many others also thought the fringe sounded good. And we had to do some serious negotiations to actually get in, but it was worth it. In the end no questions were required as Hughes stood up and listed Trident as the first of four key issues differentiating the Lib Dems and Tories (see the video above). He went on to make the practical, international and financial case against Trident and concluded "the case is winnable and we must not yield".

Another cheering indication that the Lib Dems are serious on Trident came from Tim Farron MP. Speaking at the same event he said that the party had to get better at promoting its own successes, using this example:

“How many people know that Danny Alexander (Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury) has probably made sure that Trident wont happen now?”

Aside from rune reading and fringe events Team Trident continued to roami the conference, canvassing the views of grassroots members. We also dropped in to speak to some members of the Lib Dem 'Say no to Trident' group who were leafleting conference goers. You can listen here to what some of them had to say.

As I end this blog Simon Hughes’ speech to conference is audible in the background. I hear the words "we stand in opposition to a like for like replacement for Trident. That is our position." So Team Trident sign off optimistic that at last we are going to have a real debate and will be able to make and win the argument to cut Trident.

More from us tomorrow when we'll be feeding back to you the results of the Trident emergency motion.

PS an extra snippet from Sunday – listen to new Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert make the case against Trident.

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