Jeremy Corbyn has cleared the way for Labour party members to be given a decisive role in whether to change policy on the Trident nuclear weapons programme in a move that would downgrade the role of the party conference and the shadow cabinet.
The Labour leader said the shadow cabinet would have a role in the process as he confirmed that the National Executive Committee would decide whether to introduce the rules that could lead the party to drop its support for Trident.
Corbyn outlined his thinking in a BBC Radio 4 interview in which he initially declined to say whether he would authorise a drone strike targeting the British member of Islamic State who directed the murder of five alleged spies in a propaganda video.
The Labour leader told the Today programme: “I think that is a hypothetical question. You have to look at the sources of the support of Isil, you have to look at the way it gets its money, the way it gets its weapons, the way it gets its arms. I would want to see the evidence of it first obviously. But Isil haven’t come from nowhere, they have got a great deal of money from somewhere, they are selling oil to somebody else. They are very well financed and very well armed.”
Pressed again about whether he would approve a drone strike if it was legal, Corbyn indicated he might be prepared to do so if a series of tests were met. “I would want to know what the evidence is, what difference it would make by doing that, what the chances were of capturing somebody – I suspect probably very, very low in those circumstances – so that action could be taken.”
Corbyn’s leadership was criticised last year when he initially said that he was opposed to a shoot-to-kill policy of terrorists in the wake of the Paris attacks. He later clarified his remarks.
The unease over his response to Isis terrorists set the backdrop to last week’s shadow cabinet reshuffle which saw a redefinition of Corbyn’s working relationship with the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, and the removal of the pro-Trident Maria Eagle as shadow defence secretary. Eagle, who moved to the post of shadow culture secretary, was replaced by the anti-Trident Emily Thornberry.
Corbyn confirmed on Monday that the NEC was examining plans to allow Labour party members to decide party policy on Trident. The Labour leader, who has been a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for 50 years, said: “I want members to have a big say in it, whether that comes as a vote of individual members or a vote at conference that will be decided. I haven’t made up my mind about that.”
Asked whether he wanted to change the policy-making process so that the Labour conference and the shadow cabinet did not have a veto, Corbyn said: “My whole election programme was based on the need for ordinary people to be able to participate much more in politics so that leaders don’t go away and write policy, that executive groups don’t go off and decide what the policy is, that ordinary people do. There is brilliance in everybody who has got some ideas. That was the whole basis. That is why I think our party membership has got so much bigger, because people are enthused by the idea that they can participate.”
Corbyn said the party had a policy to support Trident but it was right to review the policy in light of his overwhelming mandate in the Labour leadership contest. “There is no shame in having debate, there is no shame in having different opinions,” he said.
The leader defended his sacking of Pat McFadden as shadow Europe minister after he upset Corbyn for his warning last year about drawing a link between terrorist attacks and western military intervention. “On the face of it, what Pat was saying is fully understandable. [But] Pat had written quite a lot of stuff and made quite a lot of comments which showed that he wasn’t happy either with my leadership or the direction the party was taking under my leadership.”
Corbyn’s interview came as two shadow ministers hinted that they would resign if the leadership succeeded in dropping Labour’s support for renewing the Trident nuclear weapons programme. Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said it would be difficult for him to remain in the shadow cabinet if the party supported a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Charles Falconer, the shadow justice secretary, said he was a strong supporter of Trident.
This article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Monday 11th January 2016 10.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010