Somehow the idea of the Foreign Office with a mission is rather like that of a sack of potatoes with attitude. It just does not seem to fit with the way the institution works. So it was easy to be cynical when Robin Cook announced the Foreign and Commonwealth Office mission statement soon after he was appointed Foreign Secretary. Indeed one of the commitments made in the May statement has already been significantly compromised: ‘a successful transition in Hong Kong, which promotes its prosperity and preserves its freedoms’ does not look quite so defensible now.
But should we write the whole thing off? Should we look more at the continuing level of actual arms trade between Britain and Indonesia or should we look first at the fact that the government has cancelled at least some sales? Should we pay attention to the declaration by Cook when he launched the mission statement that ‘The Labour government will give a new momentum to arms control and to disarmament’ or to the fact that the government has given the go-ahead for a further batch of Trident missiles?
One could go on. There is no government where there is not some contradiction between words and deeds or at the very least where talk of making the solution of problems a priority is followed by little or no action. Certainly the fine words of May have been tarnished by ineffective or contradictory action since. But for me at least that has not been the key point. On international issues, as in several other key areas of policy, the government has allowed that the actions of the state should be dictated at least to some extent by moral principles.
That puts the debate around global issues on a different plane. It brings the concerns of the peace movement, of disarmament, of working for human rights around the world and of making a priority of combating poverty in from the margins. They can come into the centre ground of public and political debate and away from the extremes to which they were banished in the Thatcher years.
It does not mean that the arguments so many of us have championed over many years will necessarily find a ready and full reflection in government policy or practice. Indeed, the contradiction before us is that the peace movement no longer seems to have the mass muscle that it did in the years of adversity under Thatcherism. But when a Foreign Secretary declares that he ‘does not accept that political values can be left behind when we check in our passports to travel on diplomatic business’, there is a challenge laid down that the peace movement must be seen to be taking up in wide-ranging debate, strong public action and sensible, practical proposals that can move the centre of gravity of the discussion around international issues and take the government’s fulfilment of its mission statement beyond what this government may at the moment yet intend.
|Do you think it will be best for the security of your community if Britain does or does not have nuclear weapons?|
|Does have nuclear weapons||36%|
|Does not have nuclear weapons||59%|
|Please tell me to what extent you agree or disagree with the following statement: Spending £1·5 billion pounds each year to maintain Britain’s nuclear weapons is a necessary use of public resources.|
|You may be aware that a Royal Navy submarine is currently on patrol at immediate readiness to launch nuclear-tipped missiles. With the end of the Cold War, to what extent do you agree or disagree that Trident’s nuclear warheads should be placed in storage?|
|Britain has signed global treaties to prohibit and eliminate chemical and biological weapons. Please tell me whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree that Britain should help to negotiate a global treaty to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.|
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We have had petition forms on the Peace Table on the banning of landmines on two occasions and so far have collected 370 signatures and £20·50 which has been sent off to the UK Working Group on Landmines.
On September 23rd we joined members of Merton UNA at their AGM to hear investigative journalist Linda Melvern speak about Rwanda, one of “the UN’s greatest failures”, and on October 14th we hosted a discussion on future campaigning with representatives from four neighbouring CND groups. This was a follow-up to our earlier joint meeting in June and once again emphasised the value of exchanging ideas and experiences.
Circle dance in a small group to music from all over the world, simple and complex dances suitable for beginners. Every Tuesday evening from 8−10 pm at the Methodist Church Hall, Griffiths Road, Wimbledon. (Contact Phyllis Hubbard on 0181 788 1051).