Down to London later this evening for February's National Policy Forum (NPF).
Unimpressively, no paperwork has been sent out for the day, but it's been heavily trailed that we will be debating the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent.
The Government announced that it was seeking a replacement for Trident (which ends its useful life in 2024) back in the summer. Both Tony and Gordon have publicly stated that they believe that we should invest in a new generation of deterrents, so there shouldn't be too much nonsense over the decision.
There will of course be a passionate debate - not only because a replacement system will cost anywhere between £12 and £25 billion, but because many of my party colleagues are vehemently opposed to nuclear weapons on moral grounds. I respect their stance (I've had helpful emails from Compass and CND) but in a world where nuclear weapons are proliferating, and countries like Iran and North Korea are actively seeking to obtain them, it seems an odd time to relinquish our "bargaining chip" at the table.
Since 1997, the Government has made good progress decommissioning weapons where that's been in the national interest. Labour has withdrawn and dismantled our maritime tactical nuclear capability and the RAF’s WE177 freefall bomb, and significantly reduced the operational status of our nuclear weapons system. Normally, only one Trident submarine is on deterrent patrol at any one time. It has a maximum of 48 warheads on board, and is normally on several days ‘notice to fire’. Its missiles are not targeted at any country. We've reduced our maximum number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160. We have reduced the maximum number of operationally available warheads by nearly half, and not conducted a nuclear test explosion since 1991. We ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998 and ceased production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. We support the proposal for a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and call for the immediate start of negotiations in the Conference onDisarmament in Geneva.
On this issue, I've never seen the logic of the unilateralist line. Still I'll listen to the contrasting arguments tomorrow.