Through Joanna’s introduction, I was invited to talk about the Merton Branch of UNA to a group at Dundonald Congregational church at the end of February. It was part of a series of interviews they were having with people from local community groups.
I made my preparations in response to two questions in particular: why would UNA be the last organisation I’d stop subscribing to and is the United Nations still the world’s best hope for peace? My answer to the first relates to where the personal and political have converged in my life. My father was one of the first to work for the UN Secretariat when the organisation was taking shape here in London in 1945. The closest I’ve come to working for the UN was a spell as a tour guide at the New York headquarters after I graduated from High School but I have been a member of UNA — the non-governmental ‘critical friends’ of the UN — all my adult life. I belong to many single-interest organisations, among them CND of course, but I’d stick with UNA longest as its brief covers all the issues. I have great respect for single-issue activists and what they help their organisations to achieve but my natural bent is to focus on how things hang together, influence one another and are all necessary to achieve the great goals we share: a peaceful, just and sustainable world for our generations and those to come.
Yes, I do think the UN is still our best hope for achieving those goals. It’s better that 193 sovereign states meet under the UN’s roof formally and informally to talk their way to agreements on how things should be done than for the richest and most powerful to impose their will on the rest by threat or by force. The UN as an institution aspires toward something different and achieves it more often than most people realise. Our own government has a mixed record as a foundation member state, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, and some of it we can really be proud of.
The small group meeting in the home of the church’s pastor represented a wide range of attitudes to and knowledge of the UN: some didn’t know what the Security Council and its P5 was, others were at least as well informed about international issues and the UN as I am. I guess we can all sympathise with the person who repeatedly affirmed that what the UN needs is for some heads to be knocked together. If only it were so simple!
The evening began with hymns and scripture reading which included one of my favourite passages from the prophet Micah: Chapter 4 verse 3 is about beating swords into ploughshares and not learning war any more. The same text appears in Isaiah and his name appears under the version carved into a wall facing UN headquarters. Verse 4 presents a more domestic vision, appropriate to our local meeting: “And they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree and none shall make them afraid.”
We the peoples have the vision; let’s see that our governments act to make it real.
Everybody should have May 19th in their diary by now, as this is our major fundraising (and social) event of the year. We shall need help from everybody — either in the form of donations (plants, bric-à-brac, books, home produce, raffle prizes) or in the form of your time and energy (transport and kitchen volunteers, stall holders, setting up beforehand and clearing up afterwards). It doesn’t matter if you can only offer a small amount of time, it will be gratefully appreciated. Or perhaps if you are not free on the Saturday you could give a hand the preceding evening?
Fêtes need customers, so one very important contribution everybody can make is to spread the word as widely as possible.
Our Book Sale on March 24th was a great team effort, taking about £300. Room hire was £76 so our profit for the day was more than £200. The transport team deserve special thanks and also George Marsh for leafleting, Christine for baking cakes and Harriet for many hours of sorting and packing. The surplus books have gone to Housman’s, the independent left-wing bookshop in King’s Cross (http://www.housmans.com), who were sufficiently impressed by the quality of our stock to make the round trip to Wimbledon twice.
Books are heavy and awkward, so although we can count this event a modest success we have no plans to repeat it on this scale. (The Book Stall will of course continue to feature at the Fête of the Earth so continue to remember us when you are next clearing out.)
This public seminar, held in Friends House on March 22nd and coordinated by Abolition 2000 UK, was an interesting corrective to the usual Anglocentric focus of our campaigning. As members of CND we naturally focus on the UK’s own nuclear arsenal and current plans to upgrade Trident, but it is sometimes helpful to see things in a wider context.
“Do all nuclear programmes stand in the way of nuclear weapons abolition?” was the question under consideration, with the Iranian nuclear programme uppermost in everybody’s mind. Is it possible to separate civil and military nuclear technology? Unfortunately under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty every non-nuclear nation has the inalienable right to access civil nuclear power, as stressed by an impressive young Iranian speaker, Shirin Shafaie (a postgraduate student at SOAS — studying politics rather than nuclear physics as she was at pains to point out to us!)
In the view of this sophisticated Western-educated young woman, the Western powers are asking Iran to give up part of its national sovereignty. Confrontation (bullying) and double standards (Israel) are only likely to be counter-productive. The link between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy has become politicised in the minds of the West. Cooperation in the field of nuclear energy would remove any need for covert development and open up Iranian science to an international verification régime.
Peter Burt from the Nuclear Information Service [NIS] spoke about Anglo-French nuclear weapons cooperation, explaining that the infamous bilteral Teutates Treaty (signed last year) binding the two countries together in warhead development for the next 50 years was merely the formalization of low-level cooperation that has been going on for many years. For example, regular contact between the two countries during the John Major government culminated in a joint summit at the time of the Mururoa nuclear tests.
NIS “shines a spotlight on an area government would rather we didn’t know about”. Freedom of Information [FoI] provides access to a certain amount of unpublished data but Anglo-French nuclear cooperation is “obviously a highly sensitive matter”. A recent FoI request on the subject yielded an acknowledgment of the existence of six documents, of which four were too secret to divulge, a fifth was a five-page briefing with four pages redacted and the sixth an account of discussions which had taken place in Washington, with all substantive details of subject matter and conclusions removed.
It is interesting to have confirmation that the US is still involved: both countries have been receiving technical support from the US for many years despite both being very keen to present their nuclear programmes as independent. It is evident that both the UK and US received valuable information from the French as a result of the French Pacific test programmes and so had an ulterior motive for not condemning France too severely despite the breach of the NPT. It is important to expose the double standards being applied here, and a willingness to collaborate in undermining the NPT.
Dominique Lalanne of the Mouvement de la Paix gave us a French viewpoint in the context of their forthcoming elections. Nuclear issues hardly feature in the political debate in France. Mainstream candidates of both left and right agree that nuclear deterrence “is inseparable from great power status” and there is general support for nuclear energy with the exception of the smaller parties of the extreme left and the environmentalists. There is however a certain amount of debate within the centrist party groupings, and differences may emerge after the elections. The left-of-centre François Hollande may be open to discussion about ‘degrees of deterrence’ and cost cutting for example, and closure of some of the older nuclear reactors.
In the absence of any real debate in the media it is encouraging that in response to a recent poll 80% answered ‘Yes’ to the question “Do you agree with a Nuclear Weapons Convention?”
General discussion followed after the speaker presentations and three clear messages emerged:
It is with great sorrow that we announce the death of Jim Lindsay, an active, devoted member of WDC/CND for many years. and involved in the peace movement all his life.
Jim was treasurer of the group, doing what many people would call a thankless task, but doing it, as he did everything else he was involved in, conscientiously and meticulously, only relinquishing it when macular degeneration affected his sight so badly that he could hardly see. Jim was not just the keeper of accounts for WDC/CND; his many activities prove that he was definitely a multi tasker for the peace movement. Whether making banners for the Fete of the Earth, Hiroshima Day or the Peace Table, joining demonstrations, organising and attending public meetings and generally being part of the public face of the peace movement, or the more humble work of distributing newsletters, leaflets, providing transport and contacting members, he gave unstintingly of his time and energy.
Jim was passionate about the NHS and worked for years on local Health Forums, where his contribution, studying documents, attendance at board meetings, asking pertinent questions and raising issues that might be overlooked by others less diligent that he was, earned him considerable respect from professionals and lay people alike.
A carpenter by trade, Jim was an active trade unionist for all his working life and he remained an ardent, fearless campaigner for peace, justice and socialism to the end. When Marjorie, his wife, became ill, Jim took on yet another role and became a full time carer. He was devoted to Marjorie and looked after her singlehandedly until she died.
We are deeply saddened at the loss of Jim, but we feel proud and privileged to have known and worked with him; and we trust that his legacy will inspire us all to continue, even redouble our efforts for peace.
WDC/CND booked two places on the London Region coach trip to attend the demonstration against the proposed new reactor at Hinkley Point nuclear power station (see March newsletter). Our new lightweight banner travelled rolled-up in the luggage rack and the long coach journey was enlivened by our attempts to fold Hiroshima cranes (someone had kindly issued sheets of blank paper plus instructions).
The actual demonstration was a surprisingly small affair, crowded into a narrow country lane that turned out to be the main access road to the power station. In comparison with the big demos of the past at Aldermaston or Greenham Common there could only have been a few hundred people there, but even so there wasn’t nearly enough room for them all! After some largely inaudible speeches the decision was taken that, since we couldn’t surround Hinkley Point as a human chain (the perimeter being several miles long) we would all walk around it, and a procession of colourful banners and protestors clutching strips of cloth with which to ‘decorate’ the fence set off along the local footpaths: helpful policemen had been posted at every junction to make sure we didn’t go the wrong way....
It was a very good-natured demonstration (one boy had even brought his pet mouse), despite a heavy private security deployment inside the fence and various swivelling cameras presumably logging faces. The weather turned warm and sunny, and the most favoured form of protest consisted of blatantly picnicking in front of the construction site in spite of the lunar landscape and multiple warning signs a few yards beyond.
At the end of the day we were treated in a more serious vein to a guided tour of the conservation area threatened by the new development, led by one of the protestors who had earlier occupied the site until named in a hastily-obtained injunction forbidding them to camp there (but not, as he hinted, actually forbidding anyone else from doing likewise....) The tour was followed around by zooming off-road vehicles poised to dart in if things should turn nasty, in a landscape overseen by dystopian rural CCTV towers: EDF, who owned the power station, were clearly worried by our presence, but we were assured that they had as yet no legal right to prevent our using the public footpaths. There was, however, a suggestion that undue pressure had been applied from David Cameron’s office to compel the local council to get the reluctant lady of the manor to sell up.
We were escorted all the way back by the bright-pink Ambling Band (like a marching band, only more relaxed) and left for the London coach just as a 24-hour sit-down protest was prepared.
(See http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Events/Hinkley/index.html for detailed account and photos of this event)
Where were you in 2002? As Tony Blair and George W. Bush led the drumbeat of war on Iraq amid growing public opposition, WDC/CND lobbied Roger Casale MP, the US and Russia signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty, Mordechai Vanunu was still in jail, while the Vigil for Peace (in its first year!) and the Fête of the Earth featured in their regular slot: read all about it in the latest instalment of our Newsletter archive, now at http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Newsletter/index.html#2002