Labour’s new policy chief
The Commons was enlivened by a debate on Trident replacement once again on Monday afternoon as the Defence Secretary was called to the Commons to answer an Urgent Question on his new £1.1 billion contract – heavily trailed in the Sunday press – to redevelop the Rolls-Royce plant at Raynesway in Derby and to produce the reactor for the first of the submarines replacing Vanguard.
The idea of ordering a submarine reactor ahead of the main decision on constructing the rest of the submarine, at a cost of several hundred million pounds, is something I’ve repeatedly condemned in debates with the Defence Minister. As one part of the £4 billion declared ‘necessary’ to design the submarines before the construction decision, it is simply part of achieving a fait accompli so that a future government’s hands are tied. On the Today programme on Monday morning, the Lib Dem Defence Minister said it would be down to a future government to negotiate its way out of the contracts in 2016, but the Defence Secretary yesterday afternoon clearly said that Rolls-Royce depend of the commitment of the government.
One only needs to look at yesterday’s Evening Standard to see the arguments stating that ‘Trident is too costly to cancel’.
It was not made clear but it looks like we need to add another £500 million to the Trident replacement tab if these new facilities are necessary. The whole thing is a project which everyone expects to grow in cost exponentially, and yesterday illustrated that it is already doing so.
I was encouraged to see more Labour MPs questioning the government. Not only Paul Flynn and Michael Connarty but the questions from David Lammy, Nick Brown and Sheila Gilmore show there is a serious debate to be had in the Labour Party. Why should police numbers be cut to pay for Trident, rather than the other way round, as David asked.
But given this announcement arguably adds £500 million to the cost of delivering the replacement, it was disappointing that Labour’s front bench response gave such a wholehearted welcome of the ongoing programme, rather than offering serious scrutiny.
Alison Seabeck wrote that ‘keeping our nation safe’ should be ‘above partisan politics’. Indeed it should, but how we achieve that should be open to discussion, particularly in the Labour Party. Even the government’s own National Security Strategy said the threat of another state attacking with nuclear weapons is now of ‘low-likelihood’ but we are cutting all manner of other defence and public sector programmes and workers while saving Trident.
The reports from last weekend’s National Policy Forum sound very positive for the future and Jon Cruddas’s appointment as chair of the policy review is welcome given he joined me and many other MPs in demanding a debate on Trident at annual conference in 2006 ahead of the Commons vote and he has argued in favour of scrapping Trident to focus on forces welfare or conventional equipment, I hope we can now have an honest and mature debate about our defence spending priorities.
By Jeremy Corbyn MP
Originally published on LabourList on 19th June 2012
Yasmin Qureshi MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP
7pm, Monday 11th June
Committee Room 17
Houses of Parliament
Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. Three countries with thousands of civilians dead, infrastructure destroyed and ongoing conflict. Billlions committed to Trident replacement.
Labour’s policy review is a chance to challenge the legacy of war during the New Labour years and end support for liberal interventionism.
Labour members want a foreign and defence policy based on peace and justice, join us as we discuss the way forward.
Organised by Labour CND
www.labourcnd.org.uk • email@example.com
Labour CND is supporting this appeal from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and urges all CND members to sign this e-petition in order to put pressure on the Government to take immediate steps to demand the return of British Resident Shaker Aamer to the UK.
A decade of abuse and torture in Guantanamo
The e-petition was launched on 14th February by human rights lawyer, Gareth Pierce, and Shaker’s father-in-law on the day which marked Shaker Aamer’s ten years of unlawful imprisonment, torture and abuse in Guantanamo. Shaker Aamer is one of many victims of the US/UK Governments’ “war on terror” policy. Public protest succeeded in bringing home the other 15 UK Citizens and British residents who were abducted, tortured abroad and rendered to cruel detention without trial in Guantanamo. However, Shaker Aamer still remains in Guantanamo, locked up in a steel cell, in solitary confinement, in absolute denial of all his human rights.
Fears for Shaker Aamer’s life
There are serious concerns for his health. He suffers constant pain from various medical conditions caused by years of inhumane and cruel treatment. He has been weakened by years on hunger strike in protest at the injustice and brutality suffered by those who remain in Guantanamo. His UK lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, who visited him in November 2011, stated that Shaker is slowly dying in Guantanamo. Shaker faces no charge or trial. He was cleared for release over five years ago.
Token gestures by the UK government
The UK Government has made several requests to the US for his release and return to the UK. But, it would seem that these may be token gestures, to conceal the intent to delay his return. Shaker’s allegations of UK complicity in his torture in the presence of M15/M16 agents are serious and embarrassing to the Government. Whilst he remains in Guantanamo, his testimony has been silenced.
The latest threat to prevent Shaker’s return to the UK
The Government’s lack of action may be linked to an alarming recent report that Shaker has been visited again by Saudi officials who attempted to coerce him into signing documents agreeing to his transfer to Saudi Arabia, a country from which he fled over 28 years ago.
Complicity by the UK government
This visit could not have taken place without the agreement of the UK Government. If Shaker is forcibly transferred to Saudi Arabia, he will be imprisoned, tortured and permanently separated from his British wife and children and the truth of his torture will never be heard. Although Shaker refused to sign, his family believe that he may be rendered there against his will at any time.
The e-petition to the Government to take urgent action to bring Shaker home may be our last hope to save him. Time is running out, please help to bring Shaker home.
The text of the e-petition:
“Shaker Aamer is a British resident with a British wife and children who has been unlawfully imprisoned without trial by the US in Bagram Air Force Base and Guantanamo Bay for over ten years. The Foreign Secretary must undertake new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay.”
Created by Saeed Siddique, Shaker’s father-in-law
How you can help
Shaker Aamer is only one of many whose lives have been destroyed by the unjust policies of the UK and US Governments. Your support for this e-petition may bring him home and give him back his life. Public protests like this can prove that the pursuit of justice can, even against the odds, defeat Government policies. We must stand up against the use of over-whelming military force, abduction, torture, indefinite detention without trial, extra-judicial assassinations by drone and nuclear threats to try to give our world a future and give peace a chance.
Chair, Labour CND
The pro-nuclear alliance that has dominated Britain’s major political parties for decades showed further signs of disintegration last week when ConservativeHome hosted an intelligent and well-researched blog in support of the CentreForum think tank’s new ‘Dropping the Bomb’ report. The report argues that Trident is now a waste of money and that the billions should be spent instead on conventional military forces, while maintaining Britain’s technical “nuclear capability”.
This is scarcely a conversion to CND – but it does pose again some questions which supporters of Trident have never really answered.
Is it really the “minimum deterrent”, as it is regularly described, to have Trident submarines on routine 24-hour patrol? And if supporters of Trident concede, as the Coalition Government did in its National Security Strategy, that there is no short or medium term threat that justifies a ‘nuclear deterrent’, why not support CentreForum’s more credible minimal ‘deterrent’: diverting the money for Trident replacement to conventional weaponry, whilst maintaining the ability to regenerate a nuclear capability in 12-18 months?
The reason these questions are not answered is that support for nuclear weapons is based on posture and vanity not a rigorous assessment of Britain’s defence needs (and within Labour’s ranks, a misguided electoral anxiety). The framework for CentreForum’s report and the related argument made on ConservativeHome is pro-military and retains a theoretical nuclear capability. That will surprise no-one on the left. But – along with former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind co-chairing the Trident Commission and former Conservative Party Chairman Michael Ancram voting against Trident Replacement in the last parliamentary vote – it does show those far more favourable to the military moving well beyond the grand gestural rhetoric of the 1980s that has intimidated a succession of Labour leaders.
With a recognition across the political spectrum that circumstances have changed, the Labour Party should no longer have any anxiety reviewing its position, and Ed Miliband’s recent comments indicating an open mind are welcome. The CentreForum report is correct to say “let’s make informed forward looking choices”. The Labour Party cannot afford to base its nuclear policy on a flawed analysis of the reasons for its defeat in 1983 and 1987, when Ed Miliband didn’t have a vote and the 18-24 age group weren’t even born.
Obama – now likely to be re-elected in November – has spoken of his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. To achieve that vision, Ban Ki-Moon and over 140 countries now support a Nuclear Weapons Convention as the means to achieve global abolition of nuclear weapons. The next Labour manifesto should commit to the Convention, rather than being sidetracked by the false adoption of the language of multilaterism to justify a misnamed ‘minimum deterrent’.
The next Labour Government should show its good faith in negotiations leading to worldwide nuclear disarmament: by taking Trident off routine patrol, scrapping plans to replace to it and working swiftly towards a nuclear free Britain and a nuclear free world.
The development of nuclear power by any country, whether Britain, France or the USA is regrettable – powerful fissile material can be used for the production of nuclear weapons. But it is equally clear that Iran has not broken any international agreement.
The right way to stop any possible development of nuclear weapons by Iran – which it has not yet got – is to ensure the UN holds a discussion on a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East, and oblige Israel – which has got nuclear weapons – to attend it.
There is no case for intervention against Iran by Israel or by the United States. Western intervention in Libya has plunged the country into civil war. Fortunately the Chinese and Russian veto at the UN of a NATO-Arab League resolution in Syria may possibly result in a negotiated solution of the Syria impasse.
There is resistance to Assad in Syria but there is also significant support. Syrians are intensely nationalistic and rightly suspicious of Western nations. The United States and NATO have had to present their interference in the Middle East as bending the ‘Arab Spring’ in their direction. Meanwhile, some of the Syrian representatives are in China trying to broker a ceasefire.
The Syrian National Council itself is divided. A section of it does not want the West to arm them – a policy promoted by those great champions of social liberties Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Even the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while angry about the Russian and Chinese veto, states that Western intervention is unlikely and would pledge unity not civil war.
The danger is a proxy war fought out in Syria between those linked to Iran and the pro-western section of the Syrian rebels back by NATO, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
Ed Miliband made the mistake of backing NATO over Libya. Labour should now make it clear that it will lead the resistance to any intervention – whether overt or covert – in Syria and Iran.
Put simply, the myth is that Britain’s national deficit between income and expenditure is attributable to unsustainably high wage levels, excessively generous pension schemes (particularly for public sector workers), high levels of social service benefits which discourage the search for jobs, too low a retirement age and unnecessary subsidies for social benefits including social housing, higher education and some disability allowances.
The main advocates of this myth are to be found in and around the Conservative Party and among newspapers sympathetic to the Conservative Party.
Unfortunately, some Labour politicians also subscribe to some of these myths, though almost always in a less emphatic manner than their Conservative counterparts. They subscribe to the ‘responsible’ view that the Labour Party should acknowledge the need for economy in social spending as an essential prelude to recovery. Labour politicians are also usually more ready than their Conservative opponents to draw attention and to criticise the excessive incomes and bonuses received by many of the top people in banking and commercial services.
Nevertheless, some Labour politicians have not vigorously defended or identified themselves with the efforts of working people through their unions to defend their jobs, wages and conditions. They are, in my view, wrong not to have done so.
The reason why they are wrong is that Britain’s economic deficit is attributable primarily to the commitment to unjustified and unnecessary wars in recent years. War, particularly when fought at great distance, is extremely expensive.
There was the war in Iraq. It was conducted by a Labour Government under Tony Blair. It was ‘justified’ on the false assertion that Iraq was in possession of nuclear weapons capable of a destructive attack on Britain or British possessions at very short notice.
No evidence was ever found to justify this allegation, nevertheless an extremely expensive war was conducted which not only added heavily to Britain’s financial burden but led to many deaths both among Iraqi citizens and among the military of the invading forces.
The other very costly military adventure is in Afghanistan seems interminable.
The origin of the Afghan war was partly internal and partly external. The USSR withdrew in 1988 because it became clear that they could not decisively influence the outcome of the internal struggle in Afghanistan and because of their own casualties. The conflict continued and now ten years after invading, NATO continues to suffer casualties, without being able to strike a decisive blow. The Taliban remain in Afghanistan and has neither won nor been defeated, so the war continues.
The third military conflict in which the British Government chose to intervene was in Libya. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Gadaffi regime – and there were both rights and wrongs – it was not the legitimate role of Britain to intervene with extensive bombing raids under the claim that it was defending civilians. Gadaffi was defeated, above all, by foreign military intervention including British forces.
There have also been other expensive military interventions by Britain in recent years. One such intervention was in Kosovo in the determination of some of the Western powers to bring about the disintegration of Yugoslavia. NATO acted independently of the United Nations, being well aware that Russian and China would have vetoed the bombing of Kosovo. The Yugoslav war removed the pretence of the sanctity of the UN Charter. It was Harold Pinter who said as long ago as 1999, that ‘the NATO action in Serbia had nothing to do with the fate of the Kosovan Albanians but was another blatant assertion of US power.’
Spending on war on the scale of recent years needs now to be eliminated from Britain’s expenditure. This is essential for Britain’s economic recovery.
Jim Mortimer was General Secretary of the Labour Party from 1982 to 1985.
This blog was from his contribution to the 2012 CLPD AGM.
Photo shows an All Terrain Jackal vehicle of the Household Cavalry in Afghanistan, by Sergeant Russ Nolan RLC. Defence Images.
The forthcoming Scottish referendum on independence has thrown up a new angle on the debate over Trident replacement. The home of Britain’s Vanguard submarines is the Faslane naval base west of Glasgow and the Royal Armaments Depot that stores the submarines Trident nuclear warheads is a few miles away at Coulport.
Should Scotland choose independence in a referendum, an SNP administration would force the Ministry of Defence to seek a new base for Trident south of the border in England or Wales. This would take years to develop at an unknown cost. That is if a site can be found at all. A new report argues it would be more difficult to switch now to one of the alternative sites that were discounted back in 1963, when the government chose Faslane. If the Ministry of Defence has done more research in recent years, it hasn’t said so. Could a Labour Government afford to build a new submarine base and armaments depot in England? Anyway, aside from the referendum result, Labour has some real thinking to do.
The independence issue is only one of a number of reasons to question Trident, as the former Labour Chief Whip Nick Brown raised in a defence debate last week, when he said “The arguments, which were never that strong, are now moving away from Trident renewal.”
Nick Brown is right, raising the obvious economic question: do we continue to support other defence and public spending cuts – and of course the tuition fee hikes he specifically noted – when billions are spent on Trident? With the main decision on building the new submarines due in 2016, could a new Strategic Defence and Security Review following an election in 2015 be the opportunity to change course?
Before Christmas there was growing disquiet from MPs when the MoD announced it had no plans to publish the Trident Alternatives Review – the Cabinet Office review ordered to fulfil the agreement in the coalition agreement that Lib Dems could continue to argue for alternatives. The terms of the review are narrow, they don’t challenge nuclear weapons, more the delivery system and its costs. But Lib Dem unease within the coalition over Trident is now coupled with consideration of the implications of Scottish independence. Meanwhile any discussion about public spending always raises the question why spend billions on Trident rather than our public services? Opposition to Trident is going to have a loud airing in the next few months and years, and Labour needs a policy for the manifesto.
Jim Murphy has himself stated that Labour’s defence policy review covering Trident is “parked until we see what the government’s evidence” in the Trident Alternatives Review and that he is “really not wedded” to a particular weapon system. Whilst he is clearly committed to maintaining some sort of nuclear weapon system, this is something of a change of emphasis, and is a more flexible approach to the policy area than the traditional position of the Labour right which has been to close down debate on nuclear weapons by simply assiduously confirming that Labour is as committed as the Tories to nuclear weapons. Cheerleaders for nuclear weapons need to demonstrate the public want to keep Trident, as the polling suggests otherwise. Ed Miliband clearly has an open mind: during the leadership election he said a defence review “should look at the totality of our conventional and nuclear capabilities, considering both our defence needs and what our priorities are in the changing economic climate. Defence should not be exempted from the tough spending choices we need to face.” Since being elected, although his public comments have only been occasional they have confirmed that open minded approach to the policy area – notably welcoming the Trident Review at last year’s Labour Party Conference.
Whilst they are saying different things, whether it is Nick Brown’s backbench intervention, Ed Miliband welcoming the Trident Review or Jim Murphy waiting for Nick Harvey to report, Labour is adopting a more open-minded approach to Trident. The previous Westminster consensus on Trident – that it is a non-negotiable facet of the politics of the centre ground – is dead.
Photo from Faslane 365.
Our letter to Partnership into Power Review is attached here, and displayed below.
PiP Reform Consultation
c/o Policy and Research Unit
The Labour Party
39 Victoria Street
Please accept this letter as a submission to the extended Refounding Labour consultation from Labour CND – a caucus of Labour Party members who are also CND members.
That the consultation is taking place is welcome. We believe there has been a fundamental disconnect between the Labour Party leadership and its members acros the country in policy making. The leadership has not consulted or afforded members a sufficient role in deciding policy under the Partnership in Power process.
It is of concern that the two year policy review being led by Liam Byrne has failed to make use of the existing policy making structures of the Labour Party and exposes the need for a Refounding Labour process that provides greater accountability to, and empowers, the membership to play a greater role in deciding party policy.
For ourselves, a clear example of the failure to engage the membership, is the party’s lack of debate on UK nuclear weapon possession for many years, despite taking a decision in government to putrsue a new nuclear weapon system with a lifetime cost of £100 billion. This failure was made all the more stark by the methods used to prevent the subject being debated when it was clear members wished to do so, particularly at the 2006 Annual Conference.
Labour CND would therefore like to propose the four amendments to the existing policy making process overleaf to be considered collectively or individually.
Joy Hurcombe, Chair
Walter Wolfgang, Vice-President
Submission to Refounding Labour – Partnership into Power Reform Consultation
Remove the ‘contemporary’ straitjacket
The ruling requiring resolutions to be ‘contemporary’, referring to events occurring after the final pre-conference National Policy Forum meeting should be removed. The ruling is vaguely written, providing members with little useful guidance, but us nonetheless an unfair straitjacket. That a subject has been discussed is no reason to prevent delegates at the annual conference debating and voting on an issue – to do so is undemocratic in the extreme.
The conference should debate eight prioritised resolutions
The rules currently allow for the constituency parties to prioritise four contemporary resolution subjects by ballot at conference, and for the affiliates to do the same. This should ensure eight subjects are debated, but the current practice means that subjects commonly prioritised by both sections mean fewer than eight subjects are put on the conference agenda. A simple solution would be to take four from the constituencies and four from the affiliates, or allow the sections to vote as a college and take the top eight agenda items.
Allow CLPs and affiliates to submit amendments to NPF documents
As the sovereign body of the party, the annual conference should be provided with a mechanism to amend the National Policy Forum’s policy commission documents. The documents should be published with sufficient time for constituencies to submit at least one amendment to the policy commission documents, to be debated at conference.
End the ‘take it or leave it’ vote on whole NPF documents
Each year when the NPF policy commission documents are debated at conference, an effective ‘take it or leave it’ single vote is held on a large document covering a huge range of issues. This requires conference delegates to vote for or against a whole document where they may agree with a significant proportion, but hold strong reservations on other areas. A mechanism that would allow delegates to identify a body of text in the document and hold a separate vote on that contentious item would ensure the policy documents more closely represent Labour members views.