Labour should not idealise the military

On 10th July, the Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy and the Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg unveiled in an article for The Telegraph their support for broader involvement of the military in the British education system. The article acts as a clarion call for a mass “invasion” of schools by the military, and articulates their belief that civilians should adopt a “service ethos” which can be cultivated in our nation’s education.

Murphy and Twigg call for the establishment of military academies in “communities with the greatest social and economic need” and more involvement of local cadet forces in extracurricular activities for deprived areas. The logic of their proposal asserts deprivation and a supposed lack of aspiration can be remedied with military discipline and an idolisation of the military as an institution. This simplistic analysis fails to realise the problems in these communities lie not with aspiration, but that deprivation is the cause which forces many young working-class people into the military in the first place.

Murphy and Twigg claim that military veterans can serve as role models for ‘troubled youth’, but fail to point out that 10% of the current prison population are ex-military, and many suffer from mental, physical and substance abuse issues after leaving the force. This is not to demonise those who have served in the military, but rather to point out that the military itself is not an institution which corrects society’s ills in a vacuum. Many of those who will leave the force for the worse come from the kind of communities Murphy and Twigg claim are in need of military academies, communities which still face the kind of deprivation and lack of opportunity when they joined the force originally.

It is incredibly dangerous for Labour to make the link between community spirit and an institution which sends a disproportionately high number of working-class men and women to their deaths from these same communities. Glorifying conflict through desensitising young people to the realities of the military’s primary function, which is to engage in combat, sets a dangerous precedent for the future of the education system and the values which children take away from their time in school. Labour must challenge the conflict consensus through education, promoting the history of peaceful activism and warn of the horrors of war, rather than idealising the nature of the military and its purpose.

Labour would be far better to promote the same values of public spirit and community activism Murphy and Twigg asserts their proposal aims to embody through positive institutions, such as the NHS, which save lives rather than end them. There can be no greater army in Britain than the legion of doctors, nurses and health professionals who serve our country as our first line of defence against illness and death. Investing in communities, in the health service, in schools, and redeveloping our nation’s industry are solutions to the problems Murphy and Twigg believe can be resolved through sending military officials to run our schools. Military role models, like Nicola Murray’s Fourth-Sector Pathfinders in The Thick Of It, cannot ‘inspire’ people out of poverty.

It is incredibly important for young people in disadvantaged communities to feel part of society, but Labour would be better to stay clear of believing this occurs through an institution which tears societies apart. Murphy and Twigg claim their aim is to ensure “there is mutual support before and after military service” in these communities, but this does not occur by normalising the military in education. It comes about by providing jobs for people, rooted in their communities and families, not abroad fighting foreign wars. Public service doesn’t have to be about donning a uniform and a gun, but about building a sustainable future for your community.

By Calum Sherwood

Challenge to Labour front bench

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

Labour, war and liberal intervention


Labour, war and liberal intervention:
Why it’s time to change

Yasmin Qureshi MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Sonia Klein

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 •

Is the pro-nuclear alliance disintegrating?

CPOA(Phot) Tam McDonald

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.


  • By Daniel Blaney