Last month, on 16 March, the Tory government laid out their Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Foreign Policy and Development. This proposes a £24 billion injection into the armed forces, and a commitment to increasing Britain’s nuclear warhead capacity by 44%. This would increase Britain’s nuclear arsenal from 180 to 260 warheads.
Titled 'Global Britain in a Competitive Age', this review shows us the desperation of the Tories as they attempt to reassert British imperialism on the world stage following Brexit.
Unfortunately, the shameful response to this review from Labour’s leadership has been no less jingoistic.
Small man syndrome
Britain has been a fading world power for decades. Having now left the EU – much to the annoyance of the serious sections of the ruling class – Britain’s decline will only accelerate.
The proposed expansion of the military’s budget is an attempt by the Tories to mask this demise, by flexing their muscles and beating their chest.
The only issue for them is that they have few muscles left to flex. They certainly are not in possession of the imperial ‘might’ that the British ruling class once possessed.
The Tories are suffering from small man syndrome. They seem to think that an injection of £24 billion into the military will make them taller. It will not. It will, however, make the profits of the arms industry a great deal fatter.
The proposal to expand Britain’s nuclear capacity reveals a desperation to appear as one of the ‘great powers’ again. It has nothing to do with so-called ‘defence of the British people’. Rather, it has everything to do with puffing up the profits of a tiny handful of capitalists.
Britain's foreign secretary, the dim Dominic Raab, says nuclear weapons are key to his govt's 'moral' role as a 'force for good'. Hear the deathly laughter from a million Iraqi graves, from starved, bombed children in Yemen, from expelled Chagos islanders. He speaks for you.— John Pilger (@johnpilger) March 17, 2021
Whilst the Tories are all too happy to hand billions to their chums in the arms industry with one hand, they are busy attacking the wages of public sector workers with the other. This should come as no surprise, given the close links that exist between the government and the big weapons companies.
So what has the Labour leadership’s response to the review been? The only criticism that ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer could muster was that this Tory defence review “doesn’t explain when, why, or for what strategic purpose” it serves.
Starmer has been doing his own chest-puffing in recent months. He and the Labour right wing want to out-Tory the Tories on ‘national security’ and patriotism. They believe jingoistic gestures are the key to winning back seats in the ‘Red Wall’; and, importantly, gaining respect from big business.
From whipping MPs to abstain on the Overseas Operations Bill; to the Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey stating that support for Britain’s nuclear arsenal is “non-negotiable”: Starmer and his cronies are doing all they can to appear as reliable future representatives of British imperialism.
Starmer even said recently that he would “press the button” if he was Prime Minister. Of course, committing to potentially wiping out all life on Earth is an important litmus test for any serious ruling-class politician!
Furthermore, at a recent Prime Minister’s Questions, Starmer attacked Boris Johnson for planning to cut 10,000 troops.
The Labour leadership’s response is once again at complete odds with the overwhelmingly left-wing rank and file of the party. The membership is massively against renewing Trident, and for ending imperialist wars and plunder.
Labour's right-wing leaders – as the ruling class’ agents in the labour movement – have always been in favour of nuclear weapons and strengthening Britain’s military. It should come as no surprise that they effectively support the findings of this defence review.
For a new Lucas Plan
Unfortunately, in the past, some trade unions such as the GMB and Unite have argued for maintaining Trident and increased defence spending.
The bureaucratic union leaders use the spectre of job losses in the arms industry to justify their position. But they offer no alternative vision for what could be done with such resources, if workers in the arms industry were to have control over their factories and produce instead for need.
In 1976, for example, workers at Lucas Aerospace drew up what became known as the Lucas Plan, in response to threatened factory closures. This presented a socialist solution for defending their jobs.
The Lucas Plan proposed using their manufacturing skills to instead produce socially useful products, such as kidney dialysis machines and even renewable energy technology.
Such an approach should be adopted today by the labour movement. This is the only class-based solution to the problem of Britain’s arms industry and militarism – a real solution that protects the livelihoods of workers at home, and the lives of workers abroad.
Alongside the trade unions, the Labour left must take up the fight for a bold new Lucas Plan – as part of an overall socialist plan of production. Only this can offer an alternative to the imperialist politics of the Tories and the Labour right wing.