Angela Rayner has confirmed that Labour is the idiot party

Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner marshals a plane
Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner marshals a plane

You might think in the run up to the general election Labour would be able to get its act together on one of the areas where many voters have traditionally trusted the party the least. But as Keir Starmer tries hard to burnish his credentials on defence and to distance himself from Corbyn, his deputy, Angela Rayner, comes out with an opposing view.

To much fanfare, Starmer announced his “triple lock” commitment on nuclear defence, which in reality seems no different to current Tory policy of maintaining the nuclear deterrent, building four new subs and making upgrades when necessary. But shortly after he claimed his commitment to the nuclear deterrent was “absolute”, Rayner announced she wants to rid the world of it. She said she seeks multilateral disarmament but has never supported unilateral disarmament. History tells a different story. In 2016 she, and many other members of her party, voted not to renew Britain’s nuclear deterrent, which very much amounts to unilateral disarmament.

In the face of this Labour record, Starmer was forced to flex his muscles, insisting that as prime minister he would be calling the shots on the nuclear deterrent. That might not be so easy, with a dozen other members of his current front bench team among those who voted the same way as Rayner over renewing the deterrent, including his shadow foreign secretary. David Lammy claims to have changed his mind after seeing how Ukraine got invaded by Russia. That’s a somewhat curious justification for his u-turn given that Putin first invaded Ukraine in 2014, two years before Lammy was voting in parliament for unilateral disarmament of our own country.

With the eye-watering sums needed to maintain the deterrent into the future, can we really believe that a government with so many ministers seemingly ready to change tack on such a fundamental issue as nuclear defence will stick by it at the expense of other spending demands to which they are much more ideologically attached? Rayner herself tweeted about the vote to renew the Trident nuclear capability in 2016: “Amazed we can find money for this but we steal £30 a week off disabled people.”

Even if he is able to hold his party’s feet to the fire on nuclear defence, can we be confident that Starmer will press the nuclear button if it becomes necessary? He says yes and that is an important signal for the credibility of the deterrent. But if he becomes incapacitated at the critical moment, could it be Rayner’s finger hovering over the button if she is deputy prime minister? All very hypothetical, but a vitally important consideration when it comes to nuclear deterrence, which becomes severely weakened and makes conflict more likely if there is any doubt in our potential enemies’ minds about the willingness of the leadership to pull the trigger.

That aside we must question Rayner’s overall judgement on defence and foreign policy if she considers multilateral disarmament a reasonable objective to be working towards. Does she think Putin or Xi would get rid of nuclear weapons if the West said they would? Obviously not. As Lammy seemingly came to realise, Ukraine is paying the price for disarming itself in the 1990s.

Iran’s repeated breaches of the non-proliferation treaty and the nuclear deal it signed with the permanent members of the UN Security Council demonstrate the futility of searching for any realistic international disarmament treaty. And if a sovereign state cannot be relied on to honour its commitments in this area, how would Rayner propose to deal with non-state actors such as Iranian terrorist proxies that might be supplied with nuclear weapons in the future?

Multilateral nuclear disarmament was never a starter during the Cold War. Arguments for it are even weaker now in an era of increasing proliferation and even greater international instability. Those like Rayner who propose it are not only naive but also dangerously complacent when it comes to our country’s defence. I suspect she will be far from alone on the Labour benches.