I have recently attended four public meetings organised by Merton Seniors Forum, when we were invited to listen to and question candidates for the forthcoming local and general elections. A common theme running through all the speeches was affordability. Stephen Alambritis, leader of the Labour group on the council, promised that the government would restore the link between pensions and average earnings (taken away by the Thatcher government) in 2012, “subject to affordability”. He said that we are living in tough times when cuts in services would have to be made, but he justified the £100 billion cost for the renewal of Trident, saying that to him, cancelling Trident was “like having a safe house with no front door”!
David Williams, leader of the Council, though agreeing that there is a need for more social housing, asked, “Where is the money to come from?” Yet almost in the same breath he expressed support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and declared himself in favour of Trident. Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, felt that Trident was necessary, therefore affordable, for our defence, in spite of being challenged from the floor about the obscene cost and indiscriminate nature of this weapon of mass destruction.
The foregoing remarks of our politicians show them to be completely out of touch with what the majority of voters want. Opinion polls show a majority in favour of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and for the cancellation of Trident, at the same time as there is increasing anger at the government’s seeming inability to protect the public services, end child and pensioner poverty, reduce unemployment and tackle the housing crisis.
Is it not time that all these strands were brought together to demand that Trident is cancelled, the wars ended and the resources saved be used on helping those in real need?
The cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is £4.5 billion a year; this sum is equal to the starting salaries of 225,000 new graduates — almost the same number as expected not to find work this summer. It is also equal to the salaries of 192,000 workers on average wages, again approximately the number made redundant last December and January. If all the forecast cuts from the three main parties are allowed to go ahead, more people will be thrown out of work into greater poverty and the crisis will deepen.
This is why I am appealing to all WDC members to support the March and Rally on Saturday, 10th April, as part of our campaign to defend the welfare state and public services and to abolish nuclear weapons.
We need to be there with our banner demanding an end to wars and the production of weapons of mass destruction, coupled with the demand for no cuts in public expenditure and for the building of a fairer, more just society which will benefit everybody. Meet 11·30am outside Wimbledon Station.
The decision by the US and Russia to cut their deployed arsenals of nuclear missiles by 30% is being described as “the biggest breakthrough for arms controls in two decades [Guardian, 27/3/2010] and the treaty will be signed on 8th April by Obama and Medvedev in Prague. Unfortunately there is no requirement for warheads to be dismantled but only to be relegated to a reserve stockpile, and US plans for missile defence are a continuing source of friction. “Russia wanted the preamble to the treaty to ban the deployment of such systems, which Moscow fears will blunt the effectiveness of its nuclear deterrent”, according to the Guardian, so the new treaty will include a clause saying that “if either side believed the other side’s anti-missile defence capacity had grown too strong they could review the treaty”.
Ratification by the US Senate and the Russian Duma will present its own problems. CND chair Kate Hudson is quoted as saying “world leaders must now build on this momentum to secure further rounds of cuts, bringing the other nuclear weapon states into the process. With both Obama’s nuclear security summit next month and the review of the non-proliferation treaty in May, this is a most timely advance which must be exploited to the full.”
The next planning meeting (April 6th, 7·30pm) will be held in a more central venue than recently. The Congregational Church at the junction of Fairlawn Road and Dundonald Road has offered us a very reasonably priced room which we have decided to hire on an experimental basis. We should be delighted if this greater accessibility encourages more people to attend.
That was Jody Williams’ summing up of her presentation to a London CND meeting at the LSE on 16 February. She was on a panel with Rebecca Johnson and Bruce Kent to tell us how “Banning Nuclear Weapons is easier than you think”. Jeremy Corbyn came too when constituency business allowed.
Rebecca Johnson (Director of the Acronym Institute) started us off with what the UN call the “High-Level” approach and Jody Williams called “Suits”. Rebecca spends a lot of her time in negotiating sessions with UN bodies and working with representatives of governments sympathetic to the cause: “general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control” (Non-Proliferation Treaty/NPT, preamble). After years of working for a successful outcome through the NPT, she’s now persuaded that it is “too broken to offer universal non-proliferation”, and that non-nuclear-weapon states are losing all faith in that regime.
She concludes that it’s time for a change of tack — to work for the same goal through a Nuclear Convention. The NGO draft convention should be regarded as a tool, something governments can adapt in their negotiations. The challenge for us as civil society activists is to make the goal of a Convention mainstream — to convince people that there is an alternative to nuclear deterrence. Speaking the day after protestors at Aldermaston had succeeded in closing the gates for three hours — “one of the best nonviolent direct actions ever” (see report in March Newsletter) — she thinks we can and must “reinvigorate all angles of the movement”.
Bruce Kent began his talk with a quotation from Field Marshall Sir John Bagnall, speaking in a broadcast debate in 1990: “the idea of flexible response is you don’t actually blow the world up. You may blow it up and that’s what you rather hope the opposition thinks you will do. But you do it in a graduated, controlled way.” Having thus reminded us of the absurdity of the mindset we confront, Bruce presented us with two knock-out arguments against renewing Trident: first, we can’t afford it — “the economic situation is a big plus for us”. Second, it’s illegal in any case.
The government can insist the nuclear deterrent is “non-negotiable” and exclude it from the agenda of the next Defence Review, but the folly of our deeply indebted country investing up to £100 billion in renewing this system is ever more obvious. And with President Obama’s commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons, the fact that our Trident system is dependent on American facilities and technology, in contravention of Article One of the NPT, may start to matter. Bruce took a show of hands for how many of us have friends in the US, and said we should get them to tell their President to “pull the plug on the Brits”. The pressure from his electorate would strengthen Obama’s position and could even carry some weight with the American Right.
Unlike Bruce, Jody Williams (Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1997 for the Landmines Ban) has no faith in Obama. He had just requested “the biggest increase in the nuclear budget since 1944” and “actions speak loudest”. Jody contrasted her landmines campaign with her perception of the anti-nuclear one and said we’ll have to “get beyond the Suits on both sides of the equation” — the governments and the NGOs. There had been “no turf issues” for landmines. When she approached a few people in the US, France and Germany they were only too pleased someone was willing to take a lead and be Co-ordinator (not “leader”) of what was then “an International Campaign”. On nuclear weapons, there are so many groups, researchers and leaders already, she’d be “treading on all their toes” if she got active on the issue too. She sees “too many old white men talking to each other; not enough Save the Planet, Can Do... You wanna ban nuclear weapons or you wanna research it?” The campaign for Global Zero is fine, but nothing will happen if the grassroots movement isn’t fired up to support it.
We shouldn’t get hung up on all the treaties and science, but be on the lookout for “every little phrase” that helps make the case. For her, one was Clinton talking to the UN General Assembly about “the eventual limitation of landmines”. “Eventual” was the keyword for him, but the then President’s words helped launch the campaign for elimination. How about this line for Obama:
“I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”? What can we do to add to his clarity and support his conviction?
WDC/CND was represented by Sharmila and Isha and this ‘outreach’ event on 20th March was attended by three local MPs, Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden) and Justine Greening (Putney). The Morden Imam gave a powerful keynote address referring to the rise of Islamophobia (and what those of us living in Western Europe can do about it) but also admitting that in some respects Islam may have “lost its way” (as indicated by the rise of Wahabism). He asked why Parliament concerns itself with petty matters such as headscarves and the height of minarets and concluded that these issues were probably (sadly) symptomatic of a wider anti-Muslim paranoia.
Other speakers were interesting and the food was good, but in Sharmila’s view the real bonus of the evening was the fascinating people she met.
This was a wonderful evening with a packed hall, a brilliant band, delicious food and a great time had by all. We even made a modest profit which will go towards the funds of London Region CND, celebrating the support we received from our South London CND Umbrella Group colleagues in Kingston, Croydon and Bromley. The catering team (Christine, Maisie, Joanna, Julie) and champion ticket seller Anne Wildash deserve a special mention. Our thanks go to all who supported this venture.
Latest thoughts on nuclear weapons from Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond include the following gems: “No one can accurately predict the threats that the UK will face between 2025 and 2055 when the next generation of the deterrent will be in service”, “Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented”, “Acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea and their attempted acquisition by Iran are real threats to our security” and “We do not have the right to gamble and play fast and loose with the security of future generations”.
This is a mindset unchanged since the Cold War. Please write to him (House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA) and suggest that the world may have moved on — and that our future depends on it.
Our big annual fund-raiser is coming up and we want it to be as successful as usual — and we need your help. Please think about what you can contribute in goods and time, in advance or on the day. Have a spring clear-out and make our bric-à-brac and book stalls the best ever, give a raffle prize or bake a cake. Split plants in the garden and sow seeds. Offer your services to help with transport. The Fête is always a great social event as well as a money spinner and every single member needs to be part of it!
(An evening of reflection and discussion — Thursday 22 April, 7·30–9·00pm)
Alison Williams, Merton UNA branch secretary, writes: We’ll begin with a brainstorming session on the words of the title: Sustainable/Security — what associations do those words have for us? We’ll then take a look at party policies on “security” — the three largest parties, the Greens, and any others participants know about. Business as usual? Any surprises?
We’ll wind up the session with a consideration of our own ideas about what would make for Sustainable Security, locally to globally, with reference to the research of Nick Ritchie (Bradford School of Peace Studies) and any others participants are familiar with.
It’s a big brief for a short session. It may be a spark for others on specifics. I have plenty of my own ideas on the subject and look forward to exchanging them with others. At best, we’ll come away with a fresh perspective on what makes for Sustainable Security and renewed enthusiasm for engaging with those we see driving us in the wrong direction.
Contact/RSVP: Alison Williams on 020 8944 0574 — or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Treasurer Julie Higgins reports a pleasingly high rate of membership renewal for this year. Some people however have still not paid up for 2009/10 (£4/£2 — a bargain!) and we have decided to prune the Newsletter distribution list accordingly. So if your copy is marked with a cross [×] in the top right-hand corner, this will be the last Newsletter you will get unless we hear from you in the interim.