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AS the government ploughs on with yet another dangerous and reckless misstep in its haphazard and callous approach to the pandemic, one trend is becoming crystal clear: that working people and those already hit hard by a decade of austerity will be expected to pay the price.
With the furlough scheme being wound down, universal credit set to be cut by £20 and Chancellor Rishi Sunak refusing to rule out scrapping the pension triple lock, it seems the Tories’ supposed shift in economic policy predictably doesn’t extend to being prepared to put the interests of the majority of people over those of the class who bankroll their party (and who, in many cases, have by no means done badly out of the last 16 months).
But while rhetoric about “tough decisions” and “fiscal responsibility” is returning, one spending commitment seems to be in no danger of being reviewed by the government, or questioned by right-wing commentators: the enormous sum put towards nuclear weapons.
Indeed, this year’s Integrated Review: Global Britain in a Competitive Age, set out plans not only to maintain the Trident programme (itself costing over £200 billion), but increase the number of British nuclear warheads by more than 40 per cent.
There is a grim irony to the fact that this report was being written in a period when the government dismally failed to sort proper statutory sick pay, had to be dragged into providing meals for schoolchildren over the summer holidays and the Institute for Public Policy Research suggested that poverty rates among working households had reached a record high.
And of course, more nuclear weapons in the world risks costs far greater than just immense financial waste.
The recollections of Wataru Namba — a Japanese-American survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima, who passed away aged 94 last month — on the impact of the attack on his classmates, family and community serve as a stark reminder of the destruction caused by nuclear weapons.
When the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the cities were obliterated. By 1950, over 340,000 people had died as a result and generations were poisoned by radiation. Today’s nuclear weapons are much, much more destructive in power.
We must never forget the reality of the use of these weapons. This is particularly important at a time when the threat of escalating hostilities between the US and China looks increasingly serious and a long-term campaign from neoconservative foreign policy hawks to ramp up tensions with Iran shows no signs of fading soon.
During my time in elected office I always tried to use my roles to amplify the voices of those calling for real action to prevent any future use of nuclear weapons.
That’s why, as leader of the Greater London Council, I worked with CND to officially make 1983 the Peace Year. We declared the capital a nuclear-free zone, with a series of exhibitions, concerts, documentaries, posters and education materials.
The Thatcher government denounced us, of course, but even today I still occasionally see people with one of the badges we made!
Later on, I was proud to sign up to a global appeal from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to become a mayor for peace, reflecting a strong feeling among Londoners.
Despite sneers from the usual suspects that this was the preserve of the “loony left,” opposition to nuclear weapons has historically resonated far beyond those stereotypically expected to be the natural audience for socialist or anti-war politics, simply because many people recognise the existential threat of these weapons.
In recent years, there has even been criticism of Trident from numerous retired generals, arguing that the programme is of no use when it comes to dealing with modern security threats from non-state actors.
Disappointingly, the current leadership of the Labour Party seem to have signed up to the view that we must show we’re “tough on defence” with frontbenchers proclaiming support for nuclear weapons to be “non-negotiable.”
This is a sad contrast to when Labour’s Richard Burgon was shadow justice secretary. In the televised election debate where this was a question, he condemned those, including the supposedly “progressive” Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson, who enthusiastically emphasised their willingness to “push the button” and kill millions of people with jingoistic glee.
But polling suggests that public support for renewal is highly dependent on the way the question is presented.
Scepticism grows significantly when the cost of nuclear weaponry is mentioned and 77 per cent support calls for Britain to join 122 UN member states in signing up to a global nuclear weapons ban.
This sentiment is particularly strong in Scotland, where 94 out of 129 seats in this year’s Scottish Parliament elections were won by parties with a stated position of opposition to Trident (Scottish Labour having adopted this stance in 2015).
As world conflict threatens to increase, it is vital that we expose and reject the bogus claims from this reactionary Tory government and others that support the creation of weapons of mass destruction.
We must win argument in the labour movement for a strategy to ensure workers can utilise their skills for the common good and support the work of organisations like CND in making the case for peace and nuclear disarmament.
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