For over two decades, Michael Foot has been wrongly blamed for the defeat of the Labour Party in 1983. As one of CND’s founders and a longstanding supporter, Michael Foot backed unilateral nuclear disarmament. Under his leadership, and at the time of the massive protests against the siting of US cruise missiles in Britain, Labour adopted a pro-disarmament policy.
At the June 1983 general election, the Conservative Party was re-elected and the vote for Labour was reduced from 36.9% in 1979 to 28.3%. Needless to say, the media and the right wing of the Labour Party rushed to blame Foot’s defence policy for the defeat. This myth was then used to justify pro-nuclear policies by the Labour leadership – and is still used today. In fact, when I have debated Trident replacement in Constituency Labour Party meetings over the past few years, the small minority of pro-Trident members present have wheeled out this tired old argument to justify wasting £76 billion of tax payers’ money on a new generation of nuclear weapons.
But this argument was wrong then and it is wrong now. There were clear majorities in public opinion polls against cruise, Trident and nuclear bases in Britain. The key factor in the Labour defeat was the split of the Social Democratic Party from Labour, which succeeded in massively cutting the Labour vote and splitting opposition to the Tories. Although the Conservative vote fell, and they were outpolled by Labour and the SDP combined, they won the election. This was clearly not an endorsement of Margaret Thatcher’s nuclear policy.
Today polls show that a majority opposes Trident, from across the political spectrum. Senior military figures describe Trident as militarily useless. Money needs to be saved and common sense says it shouldn’t be spent on nuclear weapons which only increase the danger of nuclear proliferation and do nothing to meet the security threats that we face. The reality is, nuclear disarmament is a vote winner, not a vote loser. To Michael Foot – our respect and great thanks to a man of principle.