A 100-strong coalition of celebrities, religious leaders, campaigners and politicians has urged the Chancellor Alistair Darling to axe Britain's Trident nuclear weapons system.
The Rethink Trident campaign claims that the Government's £25bn plan to renew Britain's independent nuclear deterrent can no longer be justified as Mr Darling is preparing to announce cuts in public services in his Pre-Budget Report next week. Supporters of the campaign said Trident would do nothing to combat the threat of terrorism – the reason given for sending British troops to Afghanistan.
They say Gordon Brown has already shown he is open-minded on the issue by announcing plans to cut the number of submarines from four to three – a course opposed by some defence chiefs. He will also suggest Trident as a possible source of cuts in a new round of global disarmament talks next spring.
Some ministers are privately sympathetic to the group's campaign. Although Mr Darling is thought unlikely to axe Trident next week, its future would be considered in a wholesale defence review after next year's general election.
The signatories of the new campaign include the architect Lord Richard Rogers, actors Prunella Scales and Tony Robinson, Bianca Jagger, the musicians Damon Albarn and Thom Yorke, the comedian Mark Steel, religious leaders the Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon and Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Air Commodore Alistair Mackie, who served in the RAF from 1940 to 1968, the Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, the Liberal Democrat MP Steve Webb, the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, Labour backbencher Jon Cruddas, former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle, Eric Joyce, a former parliamentary aide to the Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, ex-minister Clare Short and Kate Hudson, the chairman of CND.
The group's mission statement says that Britain can ill-afford the cost of renewing Trident when it faces its biggest economic crisis since the Second World War. It calls for the money earmarked to be switched to "socially useful spending" such as tackling child poverty and youth unemployment, building affordable homes, improving education, mental and physical healthcare and combating climate change.
It says: "Britain's security needs are not met by nuclear weapons which can do nothing to combat the threats posed by global terrorism or climate change.
"The more that countries such as Britain justify their retention and replacement of nuclear weapons on the grounds of an uncertain future, the more likely it is that non-nuclear states will seek to use the same rationale to justify developing their own weapons systems."
Gavin Hayes, general secretary of the centre-left Compass pressure group, which organised the campaign, said: "Renewing Trident is clearly now more wasteful than ever – it is madness when it has no strategic value and in times of economic crisis. Jobs and services versus a redundant weapons system is now a no-brainer. The public won't forgive a government or an opposition that wastes public money in times of hardship."
John Hutton, the former Defence Secretary, dismissed the call as a "juvenile gesture". He said: "Terrorism is not the only threat to our security. We have got to think long-term and not short-term.
"This is not the time for Britain to set aside its nuclear weapons. The risk of nuclear proliferation is growing. We need to retain the ultimate means of insurance against nuclear attack and nuclear blackmail."
He added: "We should go into a multilateral disarmament process. Labour should stick to its  manifesto commitment on Trident. Nothing has changed in the meantime."