Blair May Face Left-Wing Revolt Over Nuclear Weapons

By Kevin McCandless | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

London ( - With a decision due on replacing his nation's nuclear weapons fleet, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing the possibility of a revolt from the left wing of his party.

Three Labor lawmakers have demanded that Blair leave the final decision on how to replace the aging Trident nuclear system up to a parliamentary vote.

While the prime minister has promised to "listen" to the opinions in his party, he has stopped short of promising an actual ballot.

Currently, the United Kingdom has four Vanguard-class submarines, each carrying up to 16 U.S.-built Trident missiles with nuclear warheads. Experts estimate that this weapons system could last for another two decades, but they also predict that it would take around 15 years to put a similar one in place.

In the past, Blair has said he favors keeping an independent nuclear weapons deterrent. He has also promised that a decision would be made before the next general election, which does not have to be called until mid-2010.

Last week, Labor members of parliament were invited to make appointments with Defense Secretary John Reid in the months ahead to express their views.

However, Labor MP Paul Flynn told a London newspaper such a momentous decision demanded more input.

Along with two other party members, Flynn has drawn up a resolution questioning the reason for maintaining the Trident system for the next three years, at a cost the government puts at $3.5 billion.

Flynn said that unless Blair allows Labor Party members to vote on it before the end of the month, they would force a vote before the entire House of Commons.

"We haven't got any enemies that we could possibly want to aim nuclear weapons at now," Flynn said. "The case that John Reid has given for these weapons is that we might possibly have the right sort of enemy in 15 years time."

In the 1980s, Labor leaders supported unilateral nuclear disarmament while in opposition. However, this changed in the early 1990s as their policies shifted towards the center.

Louise Edge, a spokeswoman for the British branch of Greenpeace, said the government needed to explain why the country needed another generation of nuclear weapons.

The decision to build the current system had been done in secret and the public only found out about it long afterwards, she said.

"Traditionally that's what's happened in the past," Edge said. "That's what we're trying to prevent this time around."

Though her group wasn't involved with the proposed resolution, she said that there was still a lot of passion on the issue in the Labor Party. She speculated that some members felt betrayed by Blair because he had promised them more involvement than they were getting.

"He said he was going to kick off a full debate," Edge said. "He implied that it was going to be a bit more than listening to some MPs."

While the government has not publicly disclosed how much it might cost to install a system similar to Trident, informed experts have put it around $26 billion.

Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) -- a group with strong links to Labor in the past -- said that Blair should return to his party's old policy on atomic weapons.

"[This money] should be spent on alleviating suffering and poverty at home and abroad not on new sophisticated ways to kill," she said.

"Tony Blair has the opportunity in this parliament to help make this a reality and announce that Trident won't be replaced."

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