Trident vote has the potential to turn UK politics upside down

It’s actually rather sad when someone in political communications says they’re exhausted by any type of campaign. But if you’re like me, you’ve reached saturation point with the EU referendum and are now thinking about what’s next.

So roll on Trident.

The vote on renewing the nuclear deterrent will probably be one of the Government’s first orders of business after that watershed day of 23 June. Part of the reason for that is it’s a fundamentally important decision on the protection of the realm during a period of incredible geo-political instability. But mostly – said like a craven political communications professional – it’s an opportunity for the Government to trip up Labour.

Every political party has an issue on which it’s likely to set its hair on fire. For the Tories, as they seem desperate to demonstrate over and over again, it’s Europe. For Labour, it’s Trident. And make no mistake, free vote for MPs be damned, discussions within Labour over whether to keep the nuclear deterrent or consign it to history will make the Hatfields and McCoys look like playground bickering.

And this is why the Conservatives will likely press for a vote at the earliest opportunity. Indeed, senior Tories are said to already be pressing David Cameron. They need a win and their parliamentary majority virtually guarantees one. More importantly, it offers a chance of reunification post referendum – with the sweetener that they could push Labour to the same sort of infighting that has become part and parcel of Conservative Party politics in recent weeks.

But this short-term cashing in has potentially long-term implications for the health of the political system. The depth of ill-feeling within Tory ranks over Europe isn’t going to magically solved by a vote of Trident. They’ll pull together briefly, but the problems will remain.

On the other side, Labour have doubtless much enjoyed recent weeks that have pitted Tory against Tory. But the Trident vote has the potential to unleash the same sort of infighting within the Labour ranks and exacerbate the disconnect between the party rank and file and the parliamentary party. Many of the activists are staunchly with Jeremy Corbyn when it comes to Trident – they want it relegated to the ashes of history. Meanwhile, a significant number of Labour MPs feel the need to retain the nuclear deterrent.

Hanging over all of this like the proverbial sword of Damocles is Labour’s defence review, which kicked off several months ago but is yet to report. And this means there is not as yet a defined Labour defence policy.

What’s the sum total of this? We could very well reach the summer with a fractured government and an antagonised, divided opposition. The big question then is how British politics will function if both the principle players are more focused on fighting within than without.