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Let’s push for investment in welfare not warfare

We need to make the case against a Tory military spending spree and for investment to tackle the real threats our communities face, argues RICHARD BURGON MP

OUR communities are being hit by the worst crisis in decades.

Britain has had one of the highest Covid-19 death rates in the world — over 60,000 people have died so far, according to the official figures.

Our National Health Service is stretched to breaking point, many public services are close to collapse, unemployment is rising and there’s a looming economic catastrophe.

Yet rather than finding ways to protect our communities, the government has made it clear that it believes the working class should pay for this crisis.

In its recent Spending Review, it decided to freeze pay for public-sector workers, increase benefits by a pathetic 37p, break its promises of minimum wage increases and threaten £20 cuts in universal credit.

While it claimed there wasn’t money for dealing with the social emergency our communities face, it decided to plough an extra £16 billion into military spending.

That’s sixteen thousand million pounds, on top of the roughly £40bn per year we already spend on the military.

As always with right-wing governments, there’s money for war but never enough for our key services.

We need to fight for alternative priorities that call for investment in the welfare of our people over investment in warfare.

It is simply unacceptable that the military should get its biggest spending increase in many years when there is such an acute crisis in social care, when our NHS is so underfunded and we face a social catastrophe.

This huge military boost is not just a symbol of the wrong priorities at the heart of the government. It is also indicative of a worrying trend in Britain’s geopolitical alignment.

It’s clear that right-wing Tories will try to use Brexit to align Britain ever closer with the US. This is likely to mean a push to move Britain ever closer to US military priorities.

As we have seen from the last two decades of military adventures in the Middle East, there are deadly and dangerous consequences to following the US military agenda in that region.

There are other growing tensions too beyond the Middle East.

This push for greater military investment also comes at a time of worrying signs of a new cold war opening up between the US and China.

Such a cold war risks even vaster resources being reallocated from public services to rising military budgets and undermining the economic, climate and public health co-operation the world needs now more than ever.

And we all know how cold wars can bubble over into hot wars and proxy wars.

The Tory government is currently preparing to undertake a new strategic defence and security review.

In its own words, this will define “the UK’s role in the world and the long-term strategic aims for our national security and foreign policy.”

We need to make sure progressive voices are heard in this review.

Instead of it being about moving us closer to US foreign policy, we need it to be a moment to push for an independent foreign policy based on supporting multilateralism and co-operation, working together with other countries to promote peace and justice and real security.

We need to use this moment to win the argument with the public that the government currently has the wrong understanding of security.

Our country’s approach to global security in the 21st century should be focused on the real threats we face — threats of climate change and global public health risks, among others.

Coronavirus has proven that global pandemics pose a huge threat, and demonstrates how the health of all of us is intrinsically interlinked.

Viruses pay no heed to borders. This has been nominally recognised by Britain’s security strategies for years.

The threat of a pandemic has consistently been rated as a tier one security threat — the highest level of risk.

The government’s 2015 National Security Risk Assessment, identified “a major human health crisis” as a tier one threat to our security, even making explicit reference to the risk of “disease, particularly pandemic influenza, emerging infectious diseases and growing antimicrobial resistance.”

The last two security strategies the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and use has been considered a tier two threat by this government.

Yet before coronavirus, the government eschewed much of the necessary planning for a pandemic.

It did, however, pledge to build four new submarines to replace Trident — at an astronomical cost of £200bn and which would keep Britain a nuclear-armed state for decades to come.

Nuclear weapons don’t keep us safe and they are not the answer to the country’s security — for example, they’re useless in dealing with terrorism and cyber warfare.

A year ago, while standing in for Jeremy Corbyn at the ITV leaders’ debate, I made it clear on national TV that we should be scrapping nukes and investing instead in industries that create jobs and public good.

I believe this is a debate that we can win with the public. Wasteful spending on nuclear weapons would be much better invested in a green new deal, for example, that would deal with the threat of climate change while creating skilled jobs all across the country, especially in areas like my own so devastated by Thatcher’s deindustrialisation.

Covid-19 has been an important reminder that international relations, the health, wealth and prosperity of countries across the globe are intrinsically linked.

It should be a moment where we reassess our priorities and push for measures that tackle the real threats our society faces.

Labour CND has launched a campaign to make the case for real security, tackling the climate crisis, global poverty and the Covid-19 pandemic — not a Tory military spending spree.

It is one our whole movement should back.

Richard Burgon is Labour MP for Leeds East. You can sign up to the Labour CND campaign here: www.labourcnd.org.uk.

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