I decided on a massive leafleting effort just before the big NO TRIDENT demonstration on 24th February. I would like to have done more, but I managed to give out over 2,000 leaflets in a week, in Morden, Worcester Park, New Malden, Raynes Park and of course Wimbledon.
A variety of interesting comments from the public gives an idea of how our species feels: “I’m so glad I took that.” “I’ll be going tomorrow.” “I totally disagree with you.” “I believe in it” (presumably Trident and its replacement missiles). “Keep up the good work.”
Concentrating on hundreds of people for hours actually gets more tiring than we would expect, and it tends to feel like swimming in a sea of people!
When I was carrying a heavy box of leaflets and cards from CND office on the Tube, a man from Germany asked me for a few to take back to Germany. Maybe I had some international effect.
I took my inspiration from three things:
For many years Ann Strauss and I worked together to raise plants for the Fête of the Earth. Ann and Kurt’s removal to Yorkshire will leave a big hole in the plant stall. WDC/CND has a reputation to keep up!
Please will everybody with a garden (or a sill full of houseplants) try to contribute something to the stall. If lots of people bring a couple of plants that hole will be filled (although we shall still miss Ann’s wisdom and calm presence). Now is an ideal time to split clumps of perennials and lift chance seedlings. (Please label all contributions.) I am relying on your support.
I was privileged to be present at a historic debate on February 26th when the General Synod (church ‘parliament’) came out against government plans to replace Trident. A fairly bland motion “calling upon Christian people to make an informal contribution to the issues raised, in the light of Christian teaching about Just War” was strengthened by a pointed amendment declaring that the “proposed upgrading of Trident is contrary to UK obligations in international law and the ethical principles underpinning them”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury unequivocally declared that Trident was morally unacceptable. “I don’t believe that there is a case for the moral acceptability of nuclear weapons that I could with integrity accept. I believe that the least a Christian body ought to do would be... to issue the strongest possible warnings and discouragements to our government.”
Thus the Anglican Church joins all the major non-conformist churches and the Roman Catholics in taking a firm moral stance in the Trident debate. It is strange that our church-going politicians apparently see no conflict of interest between their party political and their religious loyalties.
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (to which we are affiliated) is challenging the government’s December decision to halt the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into allegations of bribery in connection with BAE Systems arms deals with Saudi Arabia: “we are in desperate need of funding to help us fight this case and make the most of the campaigning opportunities to expose the true nature of the arms trade — the endemic corruption, the shameful deals with oppressive régimes and the massive influence of arms companies such as BAE Systems over government”, they write.
To contribute towards CAAT’s legal costs, make cheques payable to CAAT and send to FREEPOST LON6486, London N4 3BR.
Eight of us attended a meeting with Stephen Hammond MP on 1st March: Alison Williams (UNA), Father Gerard Mitchell (Sacred Heart), Barbara, Muriel and Maxi representing CND, Eric Bramsted and I (Quakers) and Ruth Baber, who has particular interest in environmental concerns.
Stephen Hammond reiterated his position, that he agrees with the Conservative policy line that we should maintain and replace Trident, but that he would welcome wider debate. While he is not in favour of unilateral disarmament, he said that he would favour multilateral disarmament, provided it was accompanied by appropriate safeguards and means of enforcement.
He referred us to the Conservative Party’s website for more detail on this policy, and having consulted this, I was pleased to see that they condemn the lethargy of governments in considering proliferation issues. This seems to be taken in isolation from Britain’s own short-term defence and foreign policies, so it is hard to know how seriously to take it. I hope more thinking will be done on this, and that views of a wide range of experts will be taken into account. However I was very struck by a number of unsupported assertions in the document that I would think might be open to challenge, and by their use of language. Trident is described as an ‘independent deterrent’, for example (when it is clearly not independent of American control), whereas other countries’ nuclear weapons are ‘weapons of mass destruction’ .
We touched on the ethical issues of mass killing and environmental destruction, the need to work constructively through the UN and other established international organisations, and on issues of expenditure and links with foreign policy, wider defence and security, and other policy areas. We encouraged Stephen Hammond to press for a delay in making formal decisions on replacing Trident to permit wider research and discussion, especially with regard to the debate on 14th March, and drew his attention to Early Day Motion 579, calling on the government to extend the period of consultation on Trident. He said that he doesn’t generally sign EDMs and would take the party line on them.
Father Gerard made a particularly valuable contribution, underlining the need for a period of withdrawal and imaginative reflection on the issues to allow a new approach to develop. He drew a parallel with the situation on Northern Ireland: who would have imagined ten or fifteen years ago that so much progress would have been possible? Might we hope for a really fresh look at the challenges of nuclear weapons before it is too late?
The week before the Trident debate in the House of Commons, the all-party Defence Committee published its recommendations (The Future of the UK’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent) analysing the government’s White Paper, and this report was a surprisingly critical document.
“The government view is that the principles of nuclear deterrence have not changed since the end of the Cold War and that deliberate ambiguity about the circumstances in which the UK’s nuclear deterrent might be used is necessary. The White Paper also refers to the utility of nuclear weapons in defending the UK’s ‘vital interests’, but it offers no clarification of the nature or geographical scope of these interests. Although we understand the need for ambiguity, the Government should be clearer that this ambiguity does not lead to a lowering of the nuclear threshold.”
“We welcome the reduction in warhead numbers announced in the White Paper... but since the White Paper proposes no changes to the number of warheads deployed on UK submarines we are uncertain of the operational significance of this measure... we are unclear how the Government determines what constitutes a ‘minimum’ nuclear deterrent.
And (possibly most significantly of all) “There is a need for a much stronger narrative on the forward commitment of the Government to achieve nuclear non-proliferation.”
Please write to your MP (House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA) asking him/her to press the government on these points. The March 14th debate prepared the ground for the next stage of our campaign. Both Government and Opposition declared themselves in favour of multilateral disarmament. The next Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review will be in 2010 with a Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) in Vienna at the end of this month. Ask what initiatives the UK will be taking to promote the global elimination of nuclear weapons!
The vote on March 14th “was a significant step forward for our work” notes Kate Hudson (CND chair). “Although the government position was won, it was the largest rebellion on a domestic issue since Labour came to power in 1997 and also the largest backbench revolt over defence since Labour first entered government in 1924.” 161 MPs voted against the government motion calling for a Trident replacement to go ahead, and 167 — including 95 Labour MPs — voted for an amendment stating that the case for a Trident replacement had not been proven.
Many of these ‘rebel’ MPs had never previously taken an anti-nuclear stance. The scale of the rebellion forced Tony Blair to attempt compromise with his critics, suggesting that the March 14th vote was only about the decision to design a new submarine fleet: a future parliament would take the decision to actually build and deploy it. “If Mr Blair is right and last night’s vote was not about building weapons, then it may not have been about anything at all, apart from parading the military virility of a government and main opposition that are frightened of opening their minds to change,” writes the Guardian, (15/3/2007). “The sight of Mr Blair and David Cameron egging each other on to back a policy that is uncosted, untested and to many unnecessary, can only have widened the gap between politicians and public.”
For telling the world that Israel was secretly developing nuclear weapons, Mordechai Vanunu has been held captive in Israel for 21 years: 18 years in prison (12 of these in solitary confinement) and now notionally released, but under severe restrictions of freedom of speech, movement and association. (He is denied a passport and not even allowed to leave East Jerusalem without permission.)
This year’s bicycle protest leaves Faslane on 7th April and ends at the Israeli Embassy in London on 21st April, the anniversary of Mordechai’s release from prison and the date annually when the restrictions come up for review. The route goes down eastern England, taking in Menwith Hill, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Peterborough, Lakenheath, Cambridge and Hertford. All cyclists are welcome to join for as long or short a distance as they wish, and WDC/CND has made a financial contribution.
For further information contact Vanunu Freedom Ride, c/o London Region CND, 162 Holloway Rd, N7 8DQ. Tel: 0845 4581965. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of you will remember Gordon — tall, red-haired and bearded — from the years when he was an active supporter and treasurer. He was also responsible for the WDC/CND title.
His chest problems had become disabling over the last few years, so he lost contact with the group and many of his friends. His life ended after surgery to improve his lung function led to complications.
The funeral was on Friday 16th March; a group of friends including members Joanna Bazley, Mary Beaman and Barbara Gnehm attended, and it was a beautiful sunny morning. It reminded me of something Gordon used to say, “How can you be sad on such a beautiful sunny day?”
He was right, though he will be sadly missed.
On each morning
of each day
We all share
the same dawn
But do we all share
the same vision?
Some day we will
share a new vision
A nuclear-free dawn
by Anne Garrett, Bromley CND