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Trident or no Trident, today’s report doesn’t really matter

By Peter Hoskin
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Should there be a like-for-like replacement for Trident? In a post for the Comment section of the site, Alistair Thompson suggests that there should be. Myself, I’ve always been a little bit more sceptical.

But here’s the strange thing, as the Trident review is published: it’s something of a moot question. Today’s report, written by the Cabinet Office and overseen by Danny Alexander, is little more than an unfolding of coalition politics. Back when the Coalition Agreement was written, it was promised that – while the Government as a whole would “maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent” and that “the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money” – the Lib Dems would continue to “make the case for alternatives”. This report was commissioned to look into those alternatives. The Tory half of Government doesn’t agree with them. Nothing has changed in any substantial sense. The final decision on Trident and its replacement will still be taken by whoever’s in power in 2016.

If you really want to figure out the relevance of this review, then read it in conjunction with this report in today’s Daily Mail. It’s about benefits and Grant Shapps’s suggestion, made yesterday, that more should be done to cap costs. It contains the stand-out line:

“Mr Shapps insisted the plans could be implemented in this Parliament, despite Lib Dem opposition.”

Whether it’s welfare or Europe or whatever, both parties of the Coalition are now happier to have divergent policies. When the Lib Dems identify which parts of today’s review they like, they’re effectively making an early manifesto commitment. And when it comes to 2015, they’ll have a bit of paper to justify their choice.

Which is why it’s hard to do anything other than think politically about today’s review. We should finally and absolutely strike Trident from the list of potential intra-Coalition concessions I wrote last year. We should wonder whether, despite current signs, it might be added to the list of Lib-Lab policy crossovers that I wrote last month. And then we should ask: will Trident be a “red line” for any of the parties come the next election?


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