During the next few weeks we shall be bombarded with conflicting messages from all political parties: propaganda, dodgy statistics, personal abuse of opponents and very few verifiable facts. It will all be very depressing. On the other hand, the election campaign does provide us with an unrivalled opportunity for public challenge to politicians on issues which they would generally prefer to gloss over or ignore, and to this end we should all attend as many of the local hustings meetings as possible and attempt to broaden the debate beyond the purely parochial.
Steering Group members have already submitted questions on international issues to the Raynes Park Community Forum hustings on March 31st and it will be interesting to see whether these are chosen. We need to remember that questions of peace and war, climate change, humanity and environment affect us all and that our elected politicians need to educate themselves and reach properly considered conclusions before they are called upon to take profound decisions on our behalf in the House of Commons.
WDC/CND’s contribution to the General Election is an event to be held jointly with Merton UNA: our ‘Election Hustings on Global Issues’ on April 15th (Mansel Road Centre SW19 4AA 7·30pm). The Lib Dem, Green and UKIP candidates have already undertaken to be present and Stephen Hammond (Conservative) will be represented by Miles Windsor (who spoke at our ‘Food for Thought’ event at Holy Trinity church a couple of years ago). We hope that Labour candidate Andrew Judge will also send a representative. Each candidate will be given a few minutes to address the question “The UK — a global force for good?” and then questions will be taken from the audience. Come prepared with your challenging questions and help raise the level of debate.
This thoughtful article by Dr Stuart Parkinson of Scientists for Global Responsibility critically assesses new UK and Western military initiatives and how scientists can be involved in challenging the cycle of violence. (SGR Newsletter Winter 2015, Issue 43: it can also be found on the SGR website http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/challenging-mindset-war). Details next month.
A Freedom of Information request by the Nuclear Information Service (NIS) uncovered an alarming series of management errors and spiralling costs associated with Project Pegasus at Aldermaston: the £634 million project that will manufacture enriched uranium components for the next generation of UK nuclear warheads.
Peter Burt of NIS said “Vast sums of money are being spent at the Atomic Weapons Establishment with virtually no supervision or oversight by Government departments. AWE Management Ltd is trousering huge profits from a billion-pound-a-year contract... [and] failing to deliver on safety and infrastructure improvement programmes.... the company is now running rings around the Ministry of Defence and safety regulators who are powerless to bring about improvements in standards.” (Of course AWE Management as a commercial concern is no longer even majority UK-owned.)
“It defies belief that the Government is willing to pour seemingly endless amounts of money into nuclear weapons — not only to build new facilities but now to cover for the failure of these catastrophic projects,” said Kate Hudson.
Meanwhile we are told that the Office for Nuclear Regulation is “demanding answers”...
(Thanks to George Marsh for this information.)
Monday April 13th is the International Day of Action on Military Spending, organised by the International Peace Bureau (http://www.ipb.org). WDC/CND will be marking the occasion with a joint stall with Merton UNA outside Wimbledon’s Centre Court Shopping Centre at lunchtime (12–2pm). We shall be using material produced by CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) which draws parallels between the contribution of the modern arms trade to global instability and the rôle of the arms manufacturers in World War I.
“Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethic of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states.” Pope Francis, 10 Dec 2014
Three organisations co-hosted a conference on 28 February which culminated in a great buzz of fresh hope and enthusiasm for the common cause: to shake off the general apathy about nuclear weapons and ensure that Trident Renewal is a major election issue. Religions for Peace sent out the invitations, Quaker Peace & Social Witness provided the venue and a free lunch, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons provided an excellent range of short videos to support campaigners.
Bishop Gunnar Stalsett from Norway presented the challenge — the bomb no longer captures the human imagination as it used to which has led to a dangerous complacency. A fresh strategy should involve more dialogue and less marching: what is ethical should be legal and what is legal should be ethical. “As with the campaign against cluster munitions, we need to engage hearts and minds as well as rational argument. Once again, the religious communities of the world are in a unique position to do this within the context of a civil society and humanitarian movement for a nuclear weapons ban treaty.”
Rebecca Johnson was on top form with the experience of over 30 years’ campaigning behind her: “It is an anomaly in international law that nuclear weapons are the only remaining weapons of mass destruction not subject to an explicit treaty prohibition.” Her emphasis was on the need for visible actions such as the recent Wrap Up Trident demonstration. She suggested groups commit to daily vigils outside the MoD, with appropriate placards.
Between speakers, Rebecca Sharkey, UK Co-ordinator of ICAN, showed some of the videos freely available on their website: http://www.uk.icanw.org. “Londoners call for a Ban” had been filmed around the South Bank with smiling citizens holding A4 pages proclaiming variously “Young Men of London/Grandpas/Star Skaters/Tourists/a Finnish family say BAN NUKES NOW”. The statue of Churchill in Parliament Square had a sticker on with the same message, concluding with a question mark.
In the final plenary, Veronica from the SGI UK Buddhist community described a creative activity where young people took images of Trident and turned them into something beautiful. Caroline Gilbert of Christian CND had fliers for their Embassies Walk on 18 March: they included Embassies whose governments have given up nuclear weapons. (It can be done!)
Alison later took part in the Embassy Walk, posing this question to each of the five nuclear weapons states: ‘How do you justify keeping and replacing your nuclear weapons with your obligation to pursue in Good Faith negotiations leading to complete nuclear disarmament?’ She writes:
“After a service in the chapel at St Martin-in-the-Fields and time for orientation and a chat over lunch in the café, we set off in small groups for our designated Embassies. The one I accompanied visited the Indian High Commission and the American Embassy. The Indian official who joined us wasn’t a disarmament specialist but he listened politely to what we had to say and accepted copies of the Austrian Pledge and a recent MEDACT publication ‘Medicine, Conflict and Survival’. Those of us who’d given our names in advance and carried photo-ID were welcomed at the American Embassy. The young woman who spoke to us was their Political Officer. She said her government welcomed Civil Society’s interest in nuclear disarmament and noted the organisations represented in our group. At neither place did we get a coherent answer to the questions posed on our flier but we had, for another year, ‘raised awareness’.”
The Movement for the Abolition of War has announced two competitions for young people with a £100 prize in each category.
Mabel Cluer died peacefully at home on the evening of Friday March 27th, just a few days short of her 104th birthday. Earlier that day she had been sitting in her armchair overlooking the garden, enjoying the spring sunshine.
She was a remarkable lady, a vegetarian all her life (and a vegan for most of it), remaining physically active until very recently. In her nineties she marched with us to Hyde Park on the great Iraq demonstration of 2003. She celebrated her 100th birthday by attending the Vigil for Peace (and standing for a whole hour). She laid our wreath of red and white poppies on the Wimbledon War Memorial in 2011 as one of the few people still alive who could remember the Great War.
Mabel was a nature-lover, an artist, a poet and a musician. She supported Alan (her husband of 48 years) in his health food shop, designing several beautiful containers for herbs and spices, and later became very active in the Vegetarian Society, for whom she produced regular cookery demonstrations. She was a founder member of the Ecology Party (later to become the Green party) and never wavered in her conviction that a better world was possible. It was a privilege to have known her.
We send our condolences to Edwin and his sister Dilys, but it seems appropriate to remember Mabel with a smile so we reproduce two typically self-deprecatory pieces of verse:
A funny old lady named Cluer
Was always a very good-doer.
Though skinny and short
She did what she ought
And was honoured by all those who knew her.
I did the little things in life
Of which there are so many
No glittering career for me
Though I could tackle any.
Let it be written in the stars
When I am laid to rest
“She did the little things in life
And did them all with zest”.
We have arranged another pink-blanket-stitching session at 43 Wilton Grove: Wednesday April 8th from 10am onwards. Adopting an idea which originated in Bristol CND, we plan to sew woven name tags onto each completed blanket (“I was part of the 7 mile peace scarf www.woolagainstweapons”) so that the anti-nuclear message goes with the blankets around the world. We already have an impressive pile of blankets and as we sew we find ourselves thinking about all those unknown knitters whose hard work and commitment enabled Jaine Rose’s imaginative and ambitious scheme to become a reality [see http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Photos/Burghfield/ for pictures]
N.B. There is still plenty of pink knitting at CND Head Office waiting to be turned into blankets. Please get in touch with them if you can help: 020 7700 2393 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Please remember that this great annual fundraiser and social event at St Mark’s is several weeks later than usual: June 6th is the date and it should already be in your diaries. We already have many offers of help but we still need more — particularly from able-bodied people able to help with setting up and clearing away, and from people willing to hand out leaflets on the street on the day. And of course we need lots of stuff to sell: bric-à-brac, plants, books, tombola/raffle prizes, cakes and other home produce. Get in touch if you need us to collect your contributions; otherwise they can be delivered to 43 Wilton Grove.