CND Conference Report

This took place in Camden over the weekend of October 16th/17th, WDC/CND being represented by Joanna, Ruth and Maisie.

It was an inspiring occasion. A press release and gone out the previous day announcing that new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had accepted an invitation to become Vice President of CND (joining Bruce Kent, Caroline Lucas, and Rebecca Johnson). Sadly but understandably Jeremy withdrew his candidacy for Vice-Chair, which involves chairing regular committee meetings, but there was great excitement when he joined guests at the Saturday evening reception. It was fun to see all the press cameras awaiting his arrival — remembering how he had chaired conference debates in person twelve months ago.

Saturday was taken up with the CND AGM, reports from officers, Council elections and debates on Resolutions. Strong new Council members include Roslyn Cook (who used to work on the World Court Project with George Farebrother), Alasdair Ibbotson (founding Chair of Stirling University CND), ex-CND Peace Education Officer Anna Liddle, trade unionist and Devonport Dockyard campaigner Tony Staunton and recently elected Labour M.P. Clive Lewis.

General Secretary Kate Hudson said this was the most important conference for 30 years (“I can’t stress enough what an extraordinary opportunity this is”). So many factors were coming together: the forthcoming parliamentary vote, the election of a Leader of the Labour Party who is personally committed to the anti-Trident campaign, the election of over fifty SNP M.P.s to Westminster, the ‘Green surge’ and the rising anger over Tory ‘austerity’. There has been a big increase in CND membership, many sign-ons coming from social media, and our issue is now at the top of the political agenda.

A mass demo is planned for Saturday 27th February which it is hoped will reflect the scale of opposition to Trident in civil society, and we all need to start building for this now. (It is timed to come before the parliamentary decision, for which the trailed date is March.)

Treasurer Linda Hugl gave a sobering presentation on the fragility of CND finances, heavily dependent on legacy income. Staffing costs represent over 50% of current expenditure and the only way to make significant savings would be staff redundancies. Staff have been consulted about a proposed staffing review (restructuring) but meanwhile there are major opportunities to raise funds in the wake of the Corbyn victory and we have “a rapidly changing situation”. Bruce Kent delivered a rousing appeal for funds (“suicide weapons are a suicide road for this country”) from the floor. “I have never known such an opportunity”, he said, and “you can’t seize great moments without the dosh”.

[Your Wimbledon delegates agreed that fundraising for National CND must become a top priority for the next few months, and will recommend that a substantial donation is made out of WDC/CND campaigning reserves.]

The only controversy during the afternoon debates was over the issues of direct action (the Resolution did not specify ‘non-violent’ direct action, resulting in this resolution being ‘Referred to Council’) and the desirability of a referendum on Trident. (Kate Hudson: “debating a referendum rather than debating Trident is just what our opponents would wish” — the call for a referendum was rejected.)

Sunday was an open session and it was a sellout, with a very large proportion of young people present: ‘Scrapping Trident: Strategising for Success in 2016”.

Catherine West (Shadow Foreign Minister) dwelled on the cost implications of Trident: “politics is a language of priorities” and if Trident is to be an “insurance policy” we need to be clear what we are insuring against. As a strategic weapon Trident would be useless against opportunistic terrorist threats, cyberwarfare, chemical attacks, drought, famine or climate change — all the most probable threats to national security. She was sceptical about the wisdom of the Chinese contract for Hinkley Point (no assessment of potential security risks, no waste management plan), for this was “muddle-headed economics” and proper and informed debate was long overdue. We need a thorough review of defence spending and a more considered approach to national security, matching resources to national priorities.

Rebecca Johnson of the ICAN† International Steering Group outlined changes to the debate at international level: pro-Trident arguments are “stuck in the 20th century”. The “Austrian Pledge” [see March Newsletter] became the International Humanitarian Pledge at the 2015 NPT Review Conference and 119 countries have now signed up, all calling for a treaty by negotiation that will lead to the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Humanitarian arguments (the dangers and immorality of nuclear weapons) should form a bigger part of our campaign and we should focus on the communities along the route of the regular Aldermaston/Coulport nuclear convoys. We must remember that we are part of an international campaign, whatever the outcome in the UK, and that the nuclear weapons states are looking increasingly isolated from international opinion.

†International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons

Amelia Womack (Green Party) reminded us that the Tories only have a small majority and suggested that David Cameron wants Trident (and its costs) off the electoral agenda before the next election. “The pro-Trident message is being continuously changed to make a case for an outdated system”. Weapons of mass destruction have no place in the UK or the world.

John Hilary (War on Want) was upbeat, speaking of the “wonderful new political reality” with self-evident truths now generally accepted, bringing a new energy and desire for change. “Our arguments are winning — the world does not want to have nuclear weapons”. Our opposition to Trident goes beyond budgetary considerations and political calculations. The moral and absolute argument to be carried out to the people of this country is that the price of having a nuclear holocaust is not worth it.

Lindsey German (Stop the War Coalition) spoke about the huge cost of Trident and wondered why this was not seen as a domestic issue. The cost of renewing Trident is of a similar order to the cost of getting rid of the economic deficit. Trident does not address any of the real threats to the UK and nuclear war is an “existential threat to humanity”. Trivialising such major issues as a way of scoring cheap political points is fundamentally immoral. Pro-Trident politicians (including the right wing of the Labour Party) only care about Britain’s “role in the world” and the perceived status attached to nuclear weapons. National security does not come into it. The February demo is crucial. We must force a debate on serious issues and show that public opinion can be won.

In the discussion afterwards several speakers raised the rôle of trade unions, especially those unions with members with jobs in the nuclear industry. Trade unionists need to fight within their own unions (and build within the trade union movement for the February demo). “Trade unions respond to people power in the same way as politicians,” said John Hilary.

We went to four workshops: “Making better use of economic arguments,” “Using the legal arguments better”, “The rôle of Faith Communities” and “Social Media”.

In the final plenary Brendan O’Hara (SNP spokesperson on defence) proved a very impressive new voice. The SNP has “anti-nuclear in our DNA”, he said, but “perhaps we don’t talk about it enough” and this will change now that the SNP is so strongly represented in parliament. He ran through the moral, economic and military arguments against Trident. There is absolutely no moral case for the UK (or any other state) possessing weapons of mass destruction. Trident takes money from the defence budget which could be used in peacekeeping or solving the refugee crisis. It is a “military ego trip”, more to do with status than defence. It is not independent (could be Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear button...) and “military strategies are looking at a rapidly changing world”. A UK response to national danger which is unchanged from 35 years ago makes no military sense. Trident has outlived any usefulness it may or may not have had.

He was not very encouraging about prospects for an effective cross-party campaign (“Jeremy Corbyn is swimming against the tide of his own M.P.s”) but urged that parliamentary victories should not be seen as “the be-all and end-all” of our movement. Ultimately Parliament is less important than grassroots campaigning. People need to feel that their voice matters.

Reiner Braun (International Peace Bureau), speaking about the Europe-wide movement, said that the “UK has the best chance of opening the door”. Jeremy Corbyn had been in Germany at an IPB conference last year and was a “new spirit in politics” (speaking the truth and not just looking for a career or money) but a leader can only be successful when there is a whole social movement behind him.

In summing up, Kate Hudson said “Trident is not just a weapons system, it is about the UK rôle in the world. The anti-Trident campaign challenges the whole UK establishment. Our rôle is to give voice to the majority that already exists against Trident. ‘Grass roots alliance building’ is the key.

Report by Joanna Bazley

White Poppies

The Peace Pledge Union has been been distributing white poppies at Remembrance time since the 1930s, as concern grew that the 1914 ‘war to end all wars’ would soon be followed by an even worse war. Nowadays we wear white poppies to remember all victims of all wars, often wearing them alongside the British Legion’s red poppy to emphasise that we mean no disrespect for the sacrifice of so much young life in both 20th century World Wars.

The white poppy is a symbol of personal commitment to working for a world where conflicts are settled with justice and without resort to violence, in contrast to the red poppy which has increasingly become a symbol of support for today’s armed forces and a militarised society — very different from the original intention. We need to remind people that there are alternatives and that the tragedy of war should be consigned to history. There is no glory in war, only sadness.

In 2014 our lovely UNA/CND red and white wreath was accepted for the first time as part of the solemn civic ceremony at Wimbledon War Memorial, with the names of both organisations published in the official programme. Last year this involved some careful preliminary liaison with the local representatives of the British Legion, achieving joint agreement that the best way to honour the dead was to work towards a more peaceful future, but this year we are simply following precedent.

We have a stock of white poppies, available from the Vigil (Fridays 6–7pm, St Mark’s Place) or from 43 Wilton Grove in exchange for an SAE.

“Into Cleanness Leaping”: poetry evening with David Polden

Put the date in your diaries: Thursday November 12th 7·30pm, when David Polden of London Region CND will repeat the fascinating talk that he gave to our CND colleagues in Kingston in July.

This is World War 1 poetry with a difference. The war poetry with which we are all now so familiar (the bitter words of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon) only emerged later as the tragedy and disaster of the war became apparent. At an earlier stage the public appetite was for patriotic sentiments such as Rupert Brooke’s “If I should die, think only this of me”, and David will explore this transition. He will introduce lesser-known poetry from the British Empire and Germany, leaving plenty of time for general discussion.

Thursday November 12th 7·30–9pm, Mansel Road Centre (behind Trinity United Reformed Church) SW19 4AA.

CND Membership Drive

WDC/CND members may not all be aware that local group membership does not automatically confer national CND membership.

Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn, CND has seen a welcome influx of new members, but for effective campaigning as the Trident decision gets ever nearer it urgently needs both extra numbers and money. We have enclosed an application form with this Newsletter, so please consider joining National CND if you have not already done so. (Alternatively, the form can be used to recruit a friend or family member.)

Meanwhile, put Friday January 8th in your diaries when we shall hold a grand fund-raising dinner in aid of CND with Bruce Kent as the guest of honour.

The Making of a British Soldier

This was a fascinating talk given by former SAS member Ben Griffin at the new Kingston Quaker Centre on October 14th. He proved to be a youthful, vigorous and charismatic speaker who has devoted a large part of his life since resigning over the Iraq war to campaigning for non-violent routes to peace.

He described the methods by which the psychological “barrier to kill[ing]” is gradually removed during the training of modern soldiers, explaining that this has been a problem for the military for centuries. Conscript armies are typically more reluctant to kill than professionals, so a mindset is deliberately developed in which a soldier’s loyalty is to his regiment and civilians are the lowest of the low.

Ben spoke bitterly about his time in Iraq in 2005 rounding up ‘insurgents’, which precipitated his abandoment of his cherished army career; US/UK special forces were acting like “the secret police of Baghdad”. What was taking place was not only morally wrong, it made no military sense, and in company with other ex-service personnel he formed Veterans for Peace UK.

[more next month]

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