… but apathy still wins the day
On our stall in Kingston market place on 4th and 18th April (picture), and also at the local hustings, we were asking people to complete a printed model ballot paper. This asked a single question as follows:
The UK’s submarine-based Trident nuclear weapon system is approaching the end of its operational life.
Do you think the UK should replace its nuclear weapons system?
(Followed by two boxes, Yes or No).
Of course, many people do not know much about this country’s nuclear weapons, so as an aid to starting a discussion we also had a simple Trident quiz sheet.
The idea of the exercise was to be able to tell our general election candidates about the views of their electorate on Trident renewal.
I am sure that most of our readers will know how difficult it is to engender interest in the general public. The response was better at the hustings as the audience would not have been there if they were unconcerned about politics and current affairs, but the average Kingston shopper seems to have no interest in such matters.
So at the end of six hours on the street and two hustings we had only 98 votes cast in our ballot. The results were as follows:
|For replacing Trident||8|
|Against replacing Trident||90|
Of course this is not a statistically significant survey, but the figures show that of those who do have an interest the majority are not in favour of Trident renewal. However, I think that the size of the response goes to show what an uphill struggle we have in getting our message out to the general public, as well as convincing our politicians of the virtue of our cause.
Using the carefully prepared materials provided by CND we bombarded shoppers with quiz sheets alerting people to facts about Trident.
Did you know we could eliminate 320 million people at the touch of a button? People just like you and I – no “enemy combatants” or any other similar euphemisms here. People just like you, your family members and all your neighbours. Nuclear weapons have no military purpose – they just kill civilians and destroy cities.
Our nuclear weapons cost taxpayers £5,707 per minute and the £100billion needed for planned renewal (final decision due in 2016) could fund all Accident & Emergency services for the next 40 years!
A positive alternative to Trident renewal would be to invest in social infrastructure and green jobs and energy. The money saved could provide an estimated 2,000,000 jobs.
Kingston Peace Council is involved in three Hustings at this year’s elections, in Kingston & Surbiton, Richmond Park and in Twickenham (See reports on each in this edition of Kingston Peace News) and we are using those opportunities to pursue the issue.
Of those in favour of our nuclear weapons we might ask who would be prepared to press the button to vaporize 320million ordinary civilians? If not prepared to press the button who would they like to press it in their stead? Which civilians would they like to vaporize? And is theirs a sound and considered position?
At a time when austerity is touted as the saviour of the UK economy does it make sense to spend so much on something that essentially makes us a target of other nuclear-armed states? If we have to choose between education, health and social services – or nuclear bombs – can the choice really be so difficult? And why does anyone want to project an image of the United Kingdom as one of the world’s most bloodthirsty states?
Any publicity for the issues must be good and anything KPC can do to stimulate debate and consideration must be beneficial for all of us – let alone the 320million souls someone seems to believe ought not to live; whoever they are. And we haven’t even begun to consider the environmental disasters that would ensue – and the precariousness of life for those not vaporized by bombs. Perhaps the dead would be the lucky ones?
Trident features for the first time in years
The political parties have been locked in a traditional war of words over the usual topics of ‘the economy’, ‘the NHS’ ‘the deficit’ etc variously promising ‘fiscal responsibility’ or ‘the Good Life’ but, unusually for a General Election campaign in recent years, one topic that tends to remain as the elephant in the room (many of us would consider it to be the white elephant in the room) emerged, albeit briefly.
The Guardian announced that ‘Tories play the Trident card’ and other newspapers joined in with coverage of the claims by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon that a Labour Government would be held to ransom by the Scottish Nationalists over the latter’s determination to get rid of the UK’s nuclear weapons. A claim happily repeated by the right-leaning newspapers.
The SNP has long made it clear that it wants the nuclear-armed submarines out of Scotland – something that sent the Coalition government, military planners and civil servants into a flat spin before the outcome of the Scottish Referendum was known as they scurried around looking for somewhere to relocate the subs in England or Wales.
But, following the ‘No’ vote, just as they thought it was safe to go back into the waters of Gare Loch up bobbed the prospect of a UK Government post-May 7 dependent on the votes of those who don’t want the subs in Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter.
A Tory Government, propped up by UKIP and, say, Northern Ireland unionists, would push ahead with the £100 billion replacement for Trident with a new ‘continuous at sea’ submarine system. If the Lib Dems, whose number is predicted to be greatly reduced from the current 57 MPs, are also tempted to go into another coalition with the Tories, then they would, most likely, support a Trident renewal (although their current policy appears to be in favour of a cheaper version with fewer boats – a sort of part-time WMD, or zero-hours Armageddon!)
The Labour alternative is much more interesting. Official Labour Party Policy is indistinguishable from that of the Conservatives as far as Trident renewal is concerned and even a minority Labour Government could count on support from a Tory Opposition to push through a renewal, in theory.
However, a poll among Labour election candidates, carried out by CND, found 75% were against Trident renewal. This included long-standing Labour members, seeking re-election as well as first time hopefuls. It included candidates who would be standing in seats where Labour MPs who were known to be pro-Trident were retiring from Westminster.
Then a BBC-commissioned poll at Labour’s annual conference found more than 50% of 73 candidates surveyed were against renewal while the People’s Ballot on the conference CND stall gathered votes from more than 300 people revealing 89% in favour of ditching Trident.
As to the views of Lib Dem MPs, if they were not part of a Tory Coalition, but were free to vote on the issue, one can only speculate.
In his speech to the Labour conference, Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker actually made no mention of Trident but he did propose an “inclusive, transparent discussion about the future of Britain's defence and security” in a post-election Strategic Defence and Security Review. Trident would be included in this Review thanks to late night negotiations at the party’s National Policy Forum, after a motion circulated by Labour CND was backed by 50 local parties.
Mind you, when speaking at a conference fringe event, sponsored by BAE Systems, Coaker, not surprisingly, reaffirmed his commitment to continuous patrols and a full replacement for the Trident fleet. Renewing the continuous at sea nuclear ‘deterrent’ merits one line in the Labour manifesto.
What is certain, is that nothing is certain with any aspect of the General Election outcome but, for once, the future of Britain’s nuclear so-called deterrent will be likely to command some detailed consideration in the next Parliament as the voracious demands for further public sector cuts continue.
Footnote: Senior military figures would rather that Trident was not discussed as an election issue. Former head of the army, now a Tory peer Lord Dannatt said: “It is sad and cheap that something as fundamentally important as whether we are or are not a nuclear deterrent holding nation … descends into the tactical battle of a general election campaign.” That’s certainly the only occasion when the words ‘nuclear deterrent’ and ‘cheap’ could be used in the same sentence.
The Crossway assembly hall in Seaford was the location, on Saturday 28th March, of a meeting to remember and celebrate the Life of George Farebrother. Outside a gale force wind whipped up whitecaps on the luminous gray-yellow sea under a gray sky. The turbulence outside was in total contrast to the quiet and peace of the large Quaker gathering in the hall. During the Quaker silence, and in the presence of Jean and the extended family, a long series of individuals stood spontaneously and spoke with great affection of George’s ‘life well lived’. This was preceded by a number of formal appreciations of George’s life including one by Bruce Kent and a most moving tribute from a Quaker friend, Pam Hurn of Eastbourne for Peace and Liberty. Their son John gave a guitar recital and son James beautifully played Consolation No. 3 by Liszt on the hall’s baby grand piano.
Jean gave a reading quoting ‘Death is but crossing the world’. All agreed that George was an outstanding man whose untiring efforts to make the world a more safe and peaceful place were felt and bore fruit far beyond our own shores.
Under George’s photograph in the front of the notes for the meeting were the following words by Isaac Penington written in 1667:
Our life is love and peace and tenderness,
and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another,
and not laying up accusations one against another, but praying one for another,
and helping one another up with a tender hand.
It seems to me that an important way we can honour George’s life is by continuing his work towards making this a more lawful and sane planet for future generations.
Gill Hurle adds:
George Farebrother, of INLAP and WCP, died on Thursday 5 February.
The Institute for Law, Accountability and Peace (INLAP) is a small charity of concerned citizens interested in law, peace and justice and the World Court Project UK (WCP UK) is a project of INLAP. WCP UK’s core work has been to hold governments, and especially the UK government, legally accountable for their nuclear weapon policies. Its work is based on the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (or World Court) that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally violate international humanitarian law and that all states, including the Nuclear Weapon States, have a legal obligation to “pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects”.
In 1991 George attended a meeting about an initiative started in New Zealand to make nuclear weapons illegal. He wrote later “I only went out of vague interest and because I happened to be in London at the time”. But it was a turning point in his life. Soon after this the World Court Project was launched and George was elected secretary of the UK branch. He took early retirement from teaching history and dedicated the rest of his life to its activities. He came up with the idea of collecting individual “declarations of public conscience” against nuclear weapons, which were accepted by the International Court of Justice as “citizens’ evidence”. This characteristically inventive concept was taken up all over the world, especially in Japan, and George helped present 3.8 million declarations to the Court before its historic judgment.
Since then George worked assiduously to demonstrate the illegality of Britain’s nuclear weapon system, Trident. He lobbied MPs, wrote numerous letters to government departments and worked with lawyers to write papers on the legal aspects of the nuclear policy of the government of the day. His website and regular newsletters provided a wealth of information for supporters to use in campaigning. The idea of “Declarations of Public Conscience” was followed by “Declarations for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World”, “Affirmations of Freedom from Nuclear Weapons” and “Affirmations of the Criminality of Nuclear Weapons”.
Although WCP UK has many supporters it was very much a one-man band, and I hope someone will be able to carry on George’s invaluable work.
New command structure planned AND talk about tactical nuclear weapons, writes Phillip Cooper
Military top brass are planning a major shake-up of the way in which Britain builds, maintains and deploys its nuclear weapons, according to a report in The Times. And with it comes the likelihood of even more expenditure on Trident and a chilling suggestion that the UK should consider using the nuclear arsenal as a tactical weapon rather than one of last resort.
In its April 16 edition Times defence correspondent Deborah Haynes reported that a top-secret report was to be handed to the new prime minister following a review by the MoD’s top civil servant Jon Thompson and vice-chief of the defence staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach.
The report would call for the creation of a Nuclear Command that would bring together the armed services and civilian organisations involved in the procurement, building and maintenance of the nuclear-armed submarines, their bases and weapons systems. Such a command would cover an estimated 25,000 military and civilian personnel and would aim to overcome the current fragmented system that, an unnamed ‘senior defence source’ told The Times, was ‘a complete mess.’
The article does not speculate on how much it would cost to create this new strategic command set up but, if it is only now being suggested, it is reasonable to assume that it would only add to the £100 billion that the replacement of the ageing Trident fleet would cost the British taxpayer.
The Times’ source is reported as saying: “It is such a huge job to control the relationship with the United States, build the weapons, run the current flotilla and build the new flotilla.” The review is clearly predicated on the assumption that the decision to renew the Trident fleet is a foregone conclusion.
The article goes on to say that a problem flagged up by the review is believed to be a lack of clarity over who was responsible for the nuclear estate, which includes the BAE Systems submarine building facilities at Barrow, Rolls Royce nuclear reactor facilities at Derby and a multi-million pound contract run by the Atomic Weapons Establishment to maintain the warheads. There was similar confusion over accountability for delivering a new fleet of four submarines with conflict between the Cabinet Office, the MoD, its equipment branch and the Royal Navy.
By far the most worrying aspect of The Times article was statements from former senior naval officer Rear Admiral Sir Chris Parry who said that Britain’s nuclear estate was “designed for the depths of the Cold War” and needed to be fitted for a new environment which was “infinitely more complex, more costly and there are a lot more variables”.
There was a need for a proper debate on how Britain “uses its nuclear weapons at a time when Russia openly talks about its tactical rather than deterrent nuclear capabilities”.
And he went on: “There is a prevailing idea that nuclear weapons are simply deterrent weapons. They are not. In the modern world there are several countries who blatantly say they are war-fighting weapons. This is something that needs to be considered.”
The MoD denied the The Times’ statement that a strategic nuclear command was under consideration. This, of course, is not the same thing as denying that the review has taken place and that a report exists.
Other reasons to spend even more money on Trident outlined in The Times article:
Disagreements about Islam are old as the hills. The Sunni/Shia leadership succession schism of 632 was just the greatest of many. There are arguments about authentic ways to live and practice Islam, what is virtuous, which standards have slipped and who should be branded infidels. Differences have been around for generations without many resorting to violence. A more recent phenomenon is ‘political Islam’, obsession about defending Islam from ‘western’ contamination, revisionism, dilution, and about salvaging it from autocratic rulers. Political Islam became explosive because generations felt that their rulers in the Middle East and North Africa were corrupt and unrepresentative. Dissenters were denied voices, were imprisoned, tortured and executed. The rulers’ apparently unassailable power is attributed to support and sustenance from non-Islamic western powers. Political Islam was nurtured by state violence in the ‘dungeons’ of North Africa and the Middle East.
Jihad is tightly prescribed, encouraging virtuous practices but with physical defence a last resort if Islam is threatened. Fellow Muslims are off limits. Political Islam’s interpretation gives licence to attack fellow Muslims and others deemed to pose threats to the authenticity and purity of Islam. For Islamic Jihad it is open season to attack anyone deemed the opposition.
In the 1980s there was a concerted recruitment of the wildest Islamic hotheads from North Africa and the Middle East, many fresh from jails, to fight jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan, with generous support from the USA. The mission ended as the Russians left in 1989. The jihadis turned on their countries of origin and committed acts of barbarism to create instability, hoping to overthrow regimes. In Algeria millions were declared infidels and legitimate targets. (Not sure how you win over an entire national population by random killing.) In all countries the jihadis failed miserably. Gradually many regrouped in Afghanistan where they fought for the Taliban, the latest Islamic evolution which brought order to a land descended into barbaric chaos as the Russians and everyone turned away.
Osama bin Laden, who had been the lynch pin of jihadi recruitment there in the 1980s, claimed that the Africa and the Middle East jihadi campaigns failed because of USA interference. Together with a small cohort, including Muhammad al-Zawahiri, they formed a new entity in 2001 to launch lethal attacks against the USA called Qa’idat al-Jihad, the ‘Jihad Base’ (but colloquially known as Al Qaida). They attempted to recruit jihadis and the Taliban, without success as everyone, Taliban included, wanted rid of them – too late as 9/11 plans were now unstoppable.
Typically jihadi groups often disagree and in extreme cases fall to killing each other. However, with the massive bombardment of Afghanistan and the subsequent Iraq war it became more common for disparate jihadi groups to cooperate. There never existed a global network of jihadi terror groups with Osama bin Laden at the head of an Afghanistan nerve centre. The publicity and propaganda videos were his brainchild but associates said he couldn’t organise a row of ducks. His greatest assets were his connections as former jihadi and mujahedin recruiter, his family fortune, and George Bush’s violence against millions of totally innocent Afghans and Iraqis.
Iraq was made a lawless battle ground where Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi founded one of many Al Qaida loose ‘affiliates’, copy-cat franchises, essentially an autonomous terrorist unit creating carnage and maximum disruption of US occupation. There have been numerous examples of so called Al Qaida franchises since Bush’s 2001 wars including ISIL, led by Rashid al-Baghdadi, who was imprisoned and tortured in US custody. The “war on Terror” looks like someone used water to extinguish an oil fire; the fire simply spreads and flares up in different places.
‘Islamic’ terrorism is to Islam as the British National Party is to Britain. Ignorance about Islam is not uncommon and carnage and barbarism is its calling card, partly inspired by US barbarism and war. We should stop calling it Islamic terrorism which is a great insult to a major and important religion, and to its millions of perfectly reasonable adherents. Jihadi terrorism is a proper title for terrorist criminality.
Lawlessness and criminality was the US response to 9/11 and no one should wonder that I campaign about Guantanamo and for Shaker Aamer’s release. In my view such criminality encourages other criminality, and violence really does breed violence. Western armchair commentary may dismiss events as obstacles on life’s rocky road but victims see it differently. For example questions about the Balfour declaration on the streets of Romford might be greeted with blank stares, but in Ramallah it’s understood differently. The name of Guantanamo, which imprisons and tortures Muslims without evidence or trial, resonates more strongly with Muslims than with others. The abandonment of reason and international law in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks will, I think, haunt us all for decades.
But claims that Britain not developing ‘killer robots’ disputed
Britain is opposing calls for an international ban on so-called ‘killer robots’. A United Nations conference in Geneva during April discussed future developments in what are officially known as lethal autonomous weapons systems, or LAWS. What the rest of us refer to as drones.
A week before the event Human Rights Watch released a report, urging the creation of a new protocol specifically aimed at outlawing Laws. The report’s main author, Brian Docherty from Harvard Law School, said autonomous weapons systems were blurring the distinction between the task of the machine and its human controllers, many of whom were thousands of miles away from the scene of combat. He said: “No accountability means no deterrence of future crimes, no retribution for victims, no social condemnation of the responsible party. The many obstacles to justice for potential victims show why we urgently need to ban fully autonomous weapons.”
One of the problems, or obfuscations, that has emerged in the UN conference is that there is no definition of what constitutes a lethal autonomous weapons system. Experts from the UK Foreign Office and MoD were at the conference and told The Guardian: “The United Kingdom is not developing lethal autonomous weapons systems, and the operation of weapons systems by the UK armed forces will always be under human oversight and control. As an indication of our commitment to this, we are focusing development efforts on remotely piloted systems rather than highly automated systems.”
Despite these assurances Britain is developing a stealth combat drone called Taranis which, although the MoD claims it will always be under human control, is also capable of ‘full autonomy.’ Why develop something with a capability that will never be used? Or is the UK merely giving this capability to potential future purchasers who will not worry about whether the machine takes its own decisions in a combat zone?
Thomas Nash, director of Article 36, which campaigns to prevent “unnecessary or unacceptable harm” caused by new weapons, was at the Geneva conference. He told The Guardian he was disappointed at the UK government’s opposition to a specific prohibition. “That is a position that will have to change,” he said. “More than two-thirds of those who spoke today said they favoured the principle of all weapons being subject to the principle of ‘meaningful human control’.”
Nash suggested that work developing so-called “automatic target recognition” was already blurring the responsibilities between the task of the machine and its human controllers. The technology may already be deployed in some systems, he added. It could be used to show on screen to an operator targets identified at a distance perhaps through their heat signatures or appearance. Such prompting may influence the decisions of an officer. “We have concerns about it,” Nash said. “Any military attack should be through deliberate human reasoning. The next stage would be to allow the machine to initiate the attack itself.”
Ironically, The Foreign Office’s case for opposing a specific ban is that “international humanitarian law already provides sufficient regulation for this area.” It’s fascinating is it not that the UK government is fully supportive of human rights legislation on this particular topic but (some parties at least) cannot wait to take us out of the very same international legislative framework in order to satisfy their obsessive hatred of ‘immigrants using the law’ and foreign judges ‘meddling in the UK’s affairs’?
Further information is available from here Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (www.stopkillerrobots.org) and Human Rights Watch (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/apr/09/un-urged-to-ban-killer-robots-before-they-can-be-developed)
Of all the sharp, cannily worded, deeply concerned, as well as genuinely curious questions thrown out at the recent Richmond peace and antiwar hustings debate, one perhaps caught the mood best of all: why in this election are we hearing so little about foreign policy issues when major wars are raging across the Middle East and on Europe’s edges?
Almost all the candidates who took part - Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Conservative - admitted their email accounts had been bombarded with constituents’ messages about precisely these issues. According to Robin Meltzer, the Lib Dem candidate, this was the biggest hustings in Richmond so far. Issues to do with the cuts, public services and the economy top the list of people’s priorities, but gauging from this debate human rights, foreign policy, peace and justice, ‘defence’ and civil liberties come second.
The event was jointly organised by Richmond Stop the War, Richmond Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Kingston Peace Council. Ben Jamal from Palestine Solidarity chaired the meeting.
Ben fielded a broad range of questions from the audience on three main topics: Palestine and Israel; nuclear weapons; military intervention and the war on terror. All the candidates - yes all of them - supported ending arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Outgoing MP and Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith argued that the UK needs to become less dependent on oil in order to stand up to its ally with a finger on the petrol pump. Green candidate Andrée Frieze made the more general point that the thirst for oil profits is a driving factor behind the West’s wars. Goldsmith bigged up his green credentials again when he pointed out that Somali piracy is a response to corporate plundering and polluting of the country’s waters.
Sachin Patel (Labour) stuck to straightforward principles of non-aggression and diplomacy throughout the evening and seemed to speak from the heart, but constantly referred to the UN as our best chance of preventing wars.
Returning to the question of arms deals, Robin Meltzer (Lib Dems) went a step further, saying there should be a ‘presumption of denial’ when it comes to Britain’s licensing of weapons: no arms should be supplied without investigating a country’s record on human rights etc.
On the question of Trident nuclear weapons, Meltzer again gave one of the fullest answers, but in this case revealed some of the weaknesses of his party’s pragmatic ‘middle way’ politics. By suggesting that the UK should keep at least one armed submarine on patrol, along with several other unarmed, dummy subs, he seemed to give politicians wary of anti-Trident sentiment an easy way out. While it’s true that decommissioning Trident would take time, as a political move Melzer’s suggestion would only blur the line between those in support of Trident and those against.
But the real news is that everyone on the panel except Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), claimed to oppose Trident one way or another; at the end of the day, they all think it should be scrapped. Maybe it was Walter Wolfgang’s booming voice when he asked the question that stiffened their principles. Sachin Patel (Labour) argued against Goldsmith’s false dichotomy between multilateral and unilateral disarmament, saying that Britain should be leading by example in international forums.
Perhaps surprisingly given the strength of public opinion, Palestine was where the candidates were weakest, diverging quite drastically from the audience. Both Zac Goldsmith and, surprisingly, the Green candidate Andrée Frieze, blamed Palestine as much as Israel for the conflict.
Both Goldsmith and Frieze tempered their support for Israel by insisting they were critical ‘friends’ with no time for the hawkish views of Netanyahu. Fair enough, but Israel will continue to move to the right as long as the West does nothing more than apologise for its outbursts of brutality.
Not interested in the wider world and the issues of peace and justice? That’s what we are often told about the electorate but it wouldn’t have been the impression you got if you’d joined the 200 local people who came to hear the prospective parliamentary candidates for Twickenham on 14 April. Extra seats had to be brought into Teddington Baptist church for the event hosted by Richmond and Twickenham Amnesty, Twickenham & Richmond UN Association and TRAKNAT.
All five candidates, Lib Dem, UKIP, Labour, Conservative and Green supported the UN. Tanya Williams (Green) said countries must pay their designated contributions and do more to uphold international law. Nick Grant (Labour) stressed the importance of tackling problems before crises developed. Vince Cable (Lib Dem) has had a long-standing commitment to the UN Association including being a regional chair and Barry Edwards (UKIP) thought the UN had an important contribution to make in our insecure world. Tania Mathias (Conservative) has worked as doctor in Gaza and told how wonderful it had been to see that UN ambulances could get people to safety despite conflict all around. She thought all MPs should have the chance to see the UN at work on the ground.
Candidates were also asked what they personally did in their lives to work for peace. It was the two female candidates who were most involved. Tanya Williams studied human rights at Kingston University and now works for an organisation protecting the rights of Moslem women who suffer persecution. Tania Mathias makes documentaries on issues of peace and war to show in schools and said she liked to hear Bruce Kent speak. Not a conventional Tory!
A question on the 1968 Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty with its firm commitment to nuclear disarmament received more predictable responses.
Vince Cable thought we should keep a nuclear weapons capability but that we didn’t need a 24 hour Trident system and should go for something cheaper. Barry Edwards, too, thought we should keep a ‘deterrent’ in what was a very insecure world but thought this could be achieved at less cost. Tania Mathias said we must have a strong defence though she thought it was up to others to judge the morality of these weapons. Nick Grant, though adhering to Labour policy, described himself as a “Trident sceptic” and wanted a parliamentary debate on the issues but was reluctant to consider nuclear disarmament in an insecure world. It was left to Tanya Williams for the Greens to say that nuclear weapons, including Trident, provide no answer to the problems of the world, and no security.
Similarly, on the UK selling arms to India, both Vince Cable and Tania Mathias thought there was no valid objection to this in spite of widespread poverty in India. We were told that India was entitled to decide how to defend itself and it was a democracy. Nick Grant made the interesting points that will be familiar to anti-arms trade campaigners about the disproportionate spending on support for weapons sales compared with other UK goods and services with Vince Cable’s department having the same number of specialists selling weapons as for all the other products put together. Nick also said the same countries listed by the Foreign Office as ‘countries of concern’ because of poor human rights records are also included in the UK priority list for weapons sales. The UK had rigorous criteria about who to sell and not sell weapons to but, Tanya Williams said, this was not implemented.
Asked about what, in the light of Syria, ISIS and the failed hopes for the Arab Spring, should be done to bring help to at least some of the people of the Middle East. Vince Cable said the UK should not have a close relationship with Saudi Arabia (a group of us have been asking this in five years of visits to Cable’s constituency office!) Tania Mathias said a resolution of the Israel/Palestine situation would be her priority. Nick Grant recalled the ‘Spring’ of the Labour Party when Robin Cook introduced an Ethical Foreign Policy.
A questioner asked if candidates would like to see effective sanctions against Israel and whether they thought this would make a difference to Israel’s actions? Conservative Tania Mathias said she would be prepared to see sanctions as long as they were accompanied by positive work to alleviate the conditions in Gaza. Tanya Williams thought we should start by acknowledging that with Palestine and Israel we were not discussing two equal parties involved a dispute. Palestine is an occupied country with their land continually being taken for Israeli settlements, their water supply and sanitation systems disrupted by Israel and the people of Gaza living in appalling conditions. Other candidates discussed their views and what they saw as the best way forward and whether a two-state solution was still a viable option.
There was no real answer on the question of sanctions.
Climate change was identified as source of insecurity, renewable energy and human rights were discussed and Barry Edwards thought Heathrow Airport noise was infringing our rights to a good night’s sleep.
A hustings for the Kingston and Surbiton constituency brought four of the six parliamentary candidates together to answer a range of questions on topics including foreign affairs, security and climate change. The Lib Dems, Labour, Green and Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) were represented at the event held at John Bunyan Baptist Church and organised jointly by Kingston Peace Council/CND and the Richmond and Kingston Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Other groups taking part included Global Justice Now, Kingston Amnesty and Transition Town Kingston.
The Conservative candidate was invited but apologised that he couldn’t attend. The UKIP candidate failed to respond to the invitation.
The event, chaired by KPC’s Rosemary Addington, kicked off with a question on why anyone should support a party that wanted to renew Trident when there were a million people reliant on food banks and councils were forced to cut care for the elderly and disabled. Labour’s Lee Godfrey agreed that with such pressures it was difficult to justify the expenditure. He went on: “My party’s policy is to renew Trident but I would be prepared to defy the whip and vote against.” This received a sustained round of applause and it was a pledge he repeated when asked a similar question later on by Walter Wolfgang.
Standing in for Green candidate Clare Keogh, Tim Cobbett said he opposed renewal of “a cold war weapon” and believed money should be better spent on tackling radicalisation. For TUSC Laurel Fogarty also opposed renewal but added that depleted uranium in artillery shells had been used in the Iraq War and this should also be tackled. Ed Davey, the local Lib Dem MP, said his party colleagues in the Coalition had “worked hard to delay the decision to renew Trident”. The Lib Dems “would move away from a continuous at sea deterrent with fewer ships.”
Two questions on Israel and the Palestinians produced a wide measure of agreement on the need for action that should be taken. Tim Cobbett said there were strong echoes of apartheid South Africa in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. He called for international pressure in the form of sanctions and boycotts on Israeli goods. Ed Davey supported a boycott against produce from illegal settlements but felt that other EU countries needed to join in. He felt Israel should be held accountable for its actions but criticised Hamas for indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli towns. Lee Godfrey said that all arms licences for weapons to Israel should be cancelled and the EU should stop all preferential export routes as well.
Asked whether the Israeli blockade of Palestine should be lifted he said: “Yes, yes, a hundred times yes.” Ed Davey, agreed saying the blockade was preventing the rebuilding of sewerage works and water systems destroyed by the Israeli forces. He added: “I was very depressed with Netanyahu being re-elected. We have to work with the US and EU to get pressure put on Israel.” Lee Godfrey urged Britain to take a lead so as to encourage other nations to follow suit.
There was general agreement that climate change was a) man made and b) the biggest threat to global peace. Ed Davey said this was the most important year for climate change action and that the forthcoming Paris Summit was crucial. He was proud of the work that Britain was already doing to broker a deal for action with all European countries pushed to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.
Lee Godfrey said the UK was still lagging behind on renewables and that Labour was promising to create one million new jobs in renewable energy. Tim Cobbett said that climate change was a cause for the displacement of people and immigration tensions. Laurel Fogarty believed the world was fast approaching a climate change tipping point. “To take care of the environment we need to tackle over consumption. We should produce for need, not for profit,” she said.
Asked what action should be taken to address the Mediterranean ‘boat people’ crisis Ed Davey said the traffickers had to be dealt with. Laurel Fogarty said that dealing with traffickers was only part of the problem, the main cause was war. Lee Godfrey asked: “Why can’t we rediscover the values of humanity and compassion?” Humanitarian aid should be forced through to the areas where many of the migrants originated from, he said.
Tim Cobbett said that although we should be providing a proper rescue service in the Mediterranean the whole debate was poisoned by the language being employed by those opposing migration. “These people are not ‘coming to take our jobs’ they just want to have a life.” He went on to accuse UKIP as the worst offenders in this type of discourse and added: “but they have dragged other parties onto their ground.”
The panel was asked if their parties would seek to keep Britain inside the European Convention on Human Rights. Yes, said Ed Davey. Yes said Lee Godfrey. Adding: “it’s a pity the Tories and UKIP didn’t turn up. What have they got against it? I wish they were here to explain.”
Tim Cobbett and Laurel Fogarty confirmed their support for the Convention. Tim said: “You can’t lecture people abroad if you are taking away their passports and their citizenship here.” Laurel said that torture and extraordinary rendition violated human rights but Britain had been guilty of this in the past.
A question on the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) agreement on international trade produced mixed responses. Laurel Fogarty said TUSC was absolutely opposed to secret agreements between the EU and the US that would open up our public services to private corporations.
Ed Davey clashed with Lee Godfrey when he said the British Government had not negotiated on TTIP as this was handled at a European level but added: “I’m in favour of free trade. It’s in our economic interest. We passed the Lisbon Treaty with power to scrutinise these deals …if the NHS were to be privatised I would oppose it.” Lee Godfrey responded that, under the Coalition Government’s Health and Social Care Act “49% of hospital beds can be privatised and it has massively increased the proportion of privatisation. TTIP can embed privatisation and I’m very concerned about the ability of companies to sue governments. It must be voted on by the UK Parliament.”
Tim Cobbett said his concerns about TTIP also included its likely effect of allowing the spread of GM crops and preventing regulation of the financial sector. “The EU should not be getting together with the US to create this protectionist framework,” he added.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND