Public split on pushing the nuclear button

Milan DinicDirector - Content Strategy and Innovation
October 02, 2015, 2:50 PM GMT+0

If in the prime ministers shoes, British people are split on whether they’d push the nuclear button

The new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he would not use nuclear weapons if Britain was under attack and his advisors told him to do so. “I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons. I am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons. I want to see a nuclear-free world. I believe it is possible”. His comments, although in line with his beliefs, have sparked debate in the public and criticism from three members of his shadow cabinet.

Corbyn was asked this question in the context of Trident – UK’s nuclear deterrent which is due to be decommissioned by 2024. Next year the Parliament is to vote on the decision to replace the system, which is expected to cost the taxpayer between 15 and 20 billion pounds. Jeremy Corbyn says it will be over 100 billion.

A new First Verdict poll shows the public is quite evenly split on the topic of using nuclear weapons.

Those who would say “yes” to using them – in circumstances if they were the PM, Britain was under attack and advisers told them to press the button – are just slightly ahead of those who would say “no”. Discretion on this issue seems to be the main mood as a third of the panel say they would prefer a PM who said ‘it depends…’ to the advice of using nuclear weapons in the case of an attack. Still, out of those who opted for a straight answer, more people would like a Prime Minister which said “yes” than “no” to using a nuclear weapon if the UK was under attack.

The questions attracted a great deal of reaction from First Verdict users. “On the one hand, if the enemy was attacking, it would have to be a last gasp approach and treated with caution. Just remember, thousands of innocent lives would also be affected, which gives grounds for genocide charges at a later date”, says one of the commenters. A user who chose “can’t answer” on the first question, pointed out an interesting dilemma: “Will pressing the button save some lives somewhere or just wipe out more people and bring further attacks on us? The long view is that it’s probably better to save lives – including lives of any enemies”. One opinion noted that “it’s one thing to not be able to press the button, the problem is telling your enemies in advance that you couldn't”!

Although it has reduced its nuclear stockpile since the end of the Cold War, the UK maintains a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. Labour, while in government, in 2006 committed themselves to renewing the UK’s nuclear defence system. The party’s support of the project has changed under Jeremy Corbyn, however. The Conservatives are in favour of maintaining a nuclear deterrent and put the replacement of Trident in their party manifesto. In 2016 Parliament will take a decision on the future of the programme.