Stop spending on war, writes Jim Mortimer

Much of the discussion about the economic problems facing Britain is based on a myth.

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.

February 2012 Newsletter

The Westminster consensus on Trident is dead – Daniel Blaney

Nick Brown MP says ‘arguments now moving away from Trident renewal’

Labour CND makes submission to Refounding Labour

In memory of our comrade Rhona Badham

Westminster consensus on Trident is dead

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.

 

This article by Daniel Blaney originally appeared here at LabourList.

Photo from Faslane 365.

Our Refounding Labour submission

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
London
SW1H 0HA

 

Dear friends,

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.

Yours sincerely,

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.

 

Nick Brown ‘arguments moving away from Trident renewal’

Taken from a House of Commons debate on the progress of defence reform and the Strategic Defence and Security Review on the 26th January.

Nick Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East) (Lab): I want us to look again at the case for Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. I know that that will probably not be popular on either side of the House; others can make their points as the debate progresses. Given the current circumstances, it is time to consider the question again. The Government projects a total cost of £15 billion to £20 billion for the Trident successor programme. Independent research has suggested that the total cost would come in at three or four times that figure and our past experience with such big defence programmes suggests something similar.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con) rose—

Mr Brown: I remember giving way to the hon. Gentleman the last time I spoke in a debate of this character, back in 2007. I bet his intervention is about the same point.

Dr Lewis: Conservative Members are nothing but consistent on this issue. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Polaris fleet and the Trident submarines came into service on time and within budget.

Mr Brown: The hon. Gentleman presumably hopes that that will be the case in the future. However, I challenge him to point to any other defence programme from which he could extrapolate that conclusion. I know that he follows these matters with care, but I cannot think of another programme. He is right to point out the special cases of those procurements in the past, but I am not reassured that they will be repeated in the future. In any event, that point is not at the heart of my case. No matter how one looks at it, this is a very large sum of money to spend. My point is that we should look carefully at whether we should spend it.

The maingate decision on final renewal has been pushed back until after the next general election. The cost of that is said to be an additional £1.5 billion to refurbish and prolong the lifespan of the existing fleet. Parliamentary answers from Defence Ministers show that upwards of £2 billion has already been spent on preparatory work for the manufacture of the new submarines.

The Government clearly intend to press ahead with Trident renewal. In my opinion, they should seek explicit parliamentary authority for doing so. The failure to hold a vote in Parliament on the renewal of our independent nuclear deterrent is because of the inability to reconcile different views in the coalition. The question that faces us is whether an independent nuclear deterrent is a good use of such a large sum of public money in the present circumstances. The arguments, which were never that strong, are now moving away from Trident renewal.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): I am listening with great interest. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that a long-term strategic decision, such as the replacement of our nuclear deterrent, should not be taken in the context of the current short-term economic conditions?

Mr Brown: I will come on to deal with that precise point. I have no quarrel with the hon. Gentleman for making it.

The current Trident system relies heavily on US logistical, capacity, technological and military know-how. It is nearly impossible to imagine any circumstances in which we would launch a nuclear attack, much less that we would do so independently of the Americans. Likewise, were Britain to be attacked by a nuclear power, the terms of our membership of NATO would require a joint response by all members, including the US.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Brown: I cannot give way because of the rules on these things.

NATO is a mutual defence pact. It is a fundamental strength that its armoury includes the nuclear capability of the US. There has always been a question over why Britain needs to duplicate NATO’s nuclear capability, rather than more usefully supplement its conventional capacity.

When I first entered Parliament in 1983, I resisted joining the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I did not support our decision to go ahead with an independent submarine-based system of our own. However, I did support Britain’s membership of NATO, which CND did not. At the time, that was regarded in the Labour party as a very establishment and right-wing position. It is a small irony of Labour politics that the same position is today seen as very left-wing.

When the decision was taken to adopt the Trident system in the early 1980s, there was an understanding that in exchange for non-proliferation by the non-nuclear powers, there would be restraint by the existing nuclear powers, in particular the US and Russia, when it came to further weapons development and upgrades. That idea was enshrined in article VI of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It can be argued that that has been more honoured in the breach by countries that did not possess a nuclear capability, but that do now. The underlying principle, however, seems to me still to be sound.

The large financial outlay that the Government are committed to in planning to replace our independent deterrent could be better spent in a number of ways. During the economic boom, I argued that we ought to better equip our troops, invest in the specialist field of anti-terrorism capability in line with the real threats that we face, and supplement our existing overseas aid budget. We now face new threats. To take one example, the money that we spend on Trident could be used to bring down substantially the tuition fees of every student. I think that cutting a generation adrift from higher education poses a bigger threat to our nation than the idea that a foreign power with nuclear weaponry would uniquely threaten to use it against us, and not the rest of NATO, and would somehow be able to disapply NATO’s founding terms. The real nuclear dangers of the future come from rogue states and terrorism. The possession of an independent nuclear deterrent does not make us safer. A better investment would be in anti-terrorism capabilities.

Three main arguments are put forward by proponents of Trident replacement. The first is that it is the best weapon that money can buy. The second is that it guarantees a seat on the United Nations Security Council. The final argument is that it contributes to our ability to punch above our weight in the world. I argue that it is not much of a weapon if the circumstances in which it may be used cannot be envisaged. Fundamental reform of the United Nations Security Council is long overdue and the difficulty, as we all know, is getting agreement on what that reform should be. I also think that other countries might like us more if we stopped punching above our weight in the world. We might be better thought of by the international community if we settled for being the medium-sized European nation state that we are, rather than the imperial power that we used to be.

We have a choice as a country: do we want to continue to drift into spending billions of pounds on supplementing a nuclear capability that we already possess through NATO or do we want to spend that money on tackling the problems that Britain actually faces in squeezed economic times? Surely we should resolve this issue now with a vote in this Parliament.

In memory of Rhona Badham

Rhona spent her life campaigning against injustice and war.

She cared deeply about the poor and the dispossessed and campaigned fiercely on their behalf. She fought against racism in all its forms consistently. She opposed war and violence as a solution to the world’s problems and demonstrated against them.

She was actively opposed to nuclear weapons  and power as her membership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Labour CND, Labour Action for Peace and Campaign Against the Arms Trade showed. She went to all the anti-war rallies and took part in many ways in the fight for peace.

She was always there to ‘do her bit’ and she was always prepared to hold the banner. She was also prepared to help in the more mundane essential tasks such as addressing envelopes for mailouts.

Rhona’s great value was that she was totally reliable. No matter what the weather was like, no matter how she felt, she turned out in her sensible waterproof outfits and stayed the course.

She was a member of the Labour Party and a committed socialist. It wasn’t always easy to be both but she remained loyal to the end. She was an active trade unionist.

She was a committed anti-racist and supported all the demonstrations involved. I remember being wwith her outside South Africa House in the days of apartheid. I also remember her work with the Newham Monitoring Project in her own area.

I knew Rhona as a member of the Labour CND executive. She served as a hard-working treasurer for some years and took her job very seriously. Her health finally forced her to give up the job but she continued as long as she was able. I last campaigned with Rhona at Aldermaston in the pouring rain a few years ago. She stood soaked to the skin though she wasn’t well – at that time she was in her eighties!

Rhona was not just a political activist. She loved travel and went all over the world, desperately trying to see everything before she died. With her went her beloved old-fashioned camera. Her bookshelves were filled with albums of photos taken on her journeys to Africa, Europe, Asia, South and North America and New Zealand. She loved art and culture in all forms and visited art galleries and museums constantly. Music was another great love,  she went to concerts, particularly to hear Bach. She was an avid reader, not just of political books. She loved the Victorian novelists, particularly George Eliot.

She was a socialist, humanist and peace lover – but never a complete pacifist. She was unique and did things her way, often alone but most of all, she was an intrepid campaigner who we all miss.

By Mary Ogbogoh

 

  • Rhona’s green funeral will take place at 2pm on the 23rd January, at Herongate Wood, Billericay Road, Brentwood CM13 3SE [map].

 

Ian Davidson says scrap Trident in survey

Labour CND and Scottish CND joined forces to survey Scottish Labour Leader and Deputy Leader candidates on their views regarding the Trident nuclear weapon system based at the Clyde Naval Base – and for which the Westminster government is planning a £100 billion replacement.

In summary, leadership candidates Ken Macintosh and Tom Harris both said the UK should retain nuclear weapons whilst Johann Lamont unfortunately did not reply.

Responses were more encouraging amongst the deputy leader candidates, with Ian Davidson most closely representing Labour CND members views. Not only does he believe the Trident replacement programme should be cancelled but the existing system should be scrapped.

Anas Sarwar said the UK should be looking at alternatives to Trident, including a non-nuclear defence policy and both he and Davidson believe the Scottish Labour conference should discuss Trident.

Lewis Macdonald said the UK should keep Trident as a bargaining counter for disarmament and the issue should be dealt with at the National Policy Forum.

 

Candidates were all asked the same six questions – you can read a full version of their responses here.

Read more about the candidates here.

‘Cut Trident to cut fees’

By Calum Sherwood, Co-Chair of Bristol Labour Students

Ed Miliband’s announcement at Labour Party conference apparently endorsing £6000 fees was a great  disappointment to many students, within and without the party. As a leadership candidate Miliband had endorsed a graduate tax, which while imperfect, suggested to students he was opposed to the status quo. To accept the reviled tuition fees system as here to stay severely jeopardises Miliband’s position with students, and as Nick Clegg has seen, this can be a dangerous move. Students refuse to accept that free education is off the negotiation table, and the Labour Party must seize back the progressive ground on higher education policy.

Up and down the country, the student movement shares a common set of values which is opposed to privatisation, cuts to essential services, the marketisation of education and the furthering of a militaristic and imperialist foreign policy. The most effective way for the Labour Party to win back the support of those students who abandoned the party would be to demonstrate that they are in tune with those same values. Labour must begin by explicitly opposing the renewal of the Trident weapons system; at a cost of £100 billion when EMA is being scrapped and tuition fees are being raised to a phenomenal cost, students would appreciate a reality check on renewing such an egregiously costly relic from the Cold War days.

Labour must condemn any further imperialist interventions by Britain, opposing the sabre-rattling of those who would have us do to Iran what we did to Iraq. Labour must get on the side of 74% of the British public and agree that four more years of war in Afghanistan is unacceptable. Lastly, Labour must support free education for all. If education is a universal right, financial burden should never become a factor in achieving one’s academic potential. Knowledge is not a commodity which can simply be bought and sold, and to think so is anathema to the values of the Labour Party itself. Miliband must remember how his boldness energised students during his leadership campaign, and in turn harness the boldness of the values of the student movement in order to win them back to Labour.

 

Ed Miliband on Trident Review

Ed welcomes Trident Alternatives Review – report from an encouraging conference

MPs Cathy Jamieson and Jeremy Corbyn, newly elected MSP Neil Findlay and National Policy Forum representative Sam Gurney, as well as Sonia Klein, who chaired a defence review for Labour Finance and Industry Group, were an excellent panel of speakers for a packed CND fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference this year.

With each giving their own insight into the party’s debate on Trident replacement, and with interesting thoughts from Ed Miliband later in the week, activists went away from the conference with a strong impetus to raise the demand for nuclear disarmament further in the year ahead.

Cathy Jamieson said there was no moral or economic case for Trident and condemned the Tories eagerly cutting people’s living standards whilst providing billions for nuclear weapons. But she also said there was no military case either, and expressed concern that housing and vital equipment for conventional forces was not up to standard.

Neil Findlay, elected to the Scottish Parliament for the first time this year, was particularly concerned that Labour was out of touch with mainstream public opinion on nuclear weapons, and highlighted how in Scotland being anti-Trident (and opposed to the Iraq war, he added) had been to their electoral advantage and he hoped that a new Scottish Labour leader would have the courage to express a difference with the Westminster leadership on such issues.

Sam Gurney tried to explain the complex process of the party’s policy review, drawing together the work of the National Policy Forum in considering submissions from CLPs and members, his own work on the Britain in the World policy commission and the reviews being conducted by Shadow Cabinet members, including Jim Murphy on Defence which would come together at the end of the policy review at the 2012 conference. Sam stressed it was vital that Labour CND members and their CLPs continued to make submissions to the National Policy Forum, and that it was weight of numbers and regular submissions that would be necessary to have an impact on representatives there.

But later in the week there was interesting news. During a question and answer session (start at 0:58:54) with members of the public, Ed Miliband said ‘I think the government has done the right think by commissioning a study looking at whether there are alternatives to the renewal of Trident. Actually, the big decision on this is 2015, 2016. I think it’s right we look at that and see what it comes out with because if there’s a different way of doing things which keeps us as secure and costs less then I think that’s a case certainly worth looking at.’

The government review, which will aid the Lib Dems in arguing for alternatives to Trident, will only consider alternative nuclear weapon systems. But it does challenge conventional Westminster thinking on Trident replacement and opens the door to serious questioning of the government strategy and a serious debate at the next general election, all of which we welcome.

With a great response from members, including the young members on the new conference Youth Days, we’ve made hundreds of new contacts from people across the party, we’re looking forward to a year ahead with growing support for change in the party.