Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Trident’

TRIDENT: Not fit for purpose

In A.Graham, C.Spiby on April 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm

We offer no apologies for returning to the topic of the Trident missile system – and its questionable role in our so-called defence system.

It seems that technically it is no longer fit for purpose. It has outlived its effectiveness (if it ever had any), and should now either be scrapped or at the very least phased out.

According to the latest issue of The Spokesman (the quarterly journal of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation),  the Trident system has now completed 26 years of deployment, and has now  “reached its original design life goal” – as the US Department of Defence puts it.

HUSHED UP:

The failed test highlighted in the last issue of the Clarion was hushed up by the Americans, though Theresa May was informed. She chose not to pass on the news to Parliament. It was only revealed through a US press leak.

WHAT ABOUT “DE-COMMISSIONING”?

There are other concerns about the Trident system, apart from the effectiveness of this ageing system. How do we get rid of nuclear submarines when we no longer need them?  The Spokesman reports that HMS Tireless has now joined eighteen other nuclear submarines awaiting dismantling.  “With Dreadnought rusting in Rosyth since 1980, the cost of maintaining them is rising and space running out as the Ministry of Defence struggles to find an environmentally safe and cost effective means of disposal. “

As Laurel and Hardy may well have said, “A fine mess you’ve got us into!”  Yes, Trident should be phased out. As “a defence system” it was never fit for purpose. But even if we do scrap this over-priced system our worries are far from over.  How do we safely and securely scrap our redundant nuclear submarines?  It could be a problem that remains with us for decades – if not longer.

Below is web-only edition of the Clarion bonus material…


 

THE HISTORY OF ‘PROTECT AND SURVIVE’

Professor John Preston will be hosting a discussion on the infamous 1970’s pif ‘Protect and Survive’ on June 29th at the University of East London. Click here for more details on the FREE event (limited numbers so you will need to book).

In Prof. Preston’s own words:

In this workshop we will consider the origins, nature, reception and fate of the 1980s UK government civil defence campagn “Protect and Survive”. We will discuss the following issues:-

  • What were the origins of Protect and Survive? How did the original plans arise and how were they realised? How exactly did it arrive in the public domain?
  • What was the nature of Protect and Survive? Was it a campaign / public information ‘package’? How would it have been used in practice? What types of media would it have used?
  • How was Protect and Survive recieved? How was it portrayed in the media, popular culture, government and internationally?
  • What happened to Protect and Survive? Did it become ‘civil protection’? Does it still exist in some form?

This is a workshop rather than an academic seminar. The format will be to spend one hour (approx.) on each of the four issues (with a tea break at some point) and for perhaps one person to ‘lead’ each area (if anyone would like to volunteer to lead a particular area that woudl be great) by giving a five minute introduction to that topic.

The conference is open to anyone: academics, historians, collectors, policy makers, practitioners and anyone who is interested in “Protect and Survive”

Lunch is not included but you will get a cup of tea / coffee and a biscuit or two. At the end of the workshop you are welcome to join us for a drink.

Incidentally, a seminal BBC Panorama has found its way on to YouTube (available at the time of this posting, at least), which looks into the role of Civil Defence in Britain in 1980, at a time when ‘Protect and Survive’ was still secret and intended for viewing only in the event of impending nuclear war.

Watching this again (I remember seeing it when I was only 9 years old first time around) – this programme has lost none of its potency. If anything it acts as an important reminder of the futility of nuclear war – no less relevant today – but also just how far we’ve come in terms of documentary film-making. An hour long and in-depth this is a far cry from today’s glossy but often light handling of topic on mainstream tv. Panorama on BBC used to occupy the 8pm or 9.25pm slot on BBC1 (just after the 9 o’clock News with Angela Rippon or Kenneth Baker!)

END

TRIDENT: What use is it?

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:20 pm
Once again, on July 18th, we  witnessed the Commons in full cry, debating whether we should renew our (small but no doubt beautifully formed) fleet of Trident nuclear submarines.
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We’ve watched the same old arguments trotted out – this time, though, by the new Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May. We also witnessed the un-edifying sight of serried ranks of Labour MPs all doing their best to show that they didn’t support Jeremy Corbyn on this issue (or, indeed, much else).  What were they trying to prove, I wonder? And we also watched Theresa May trying to do a Cameron by slapping down Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas as she spoke against Trident.  It wasn’t a pretty sight, and we can do without it in any serious debate. Carolyn Lucas by the way was making the point that the logic of renewing Trident was that “every other country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons.”  After all,  If we had to have Trident, why shouldn’t they? Renewing our own nuclear submarine fleet  Is hardly a move towards preventing proliferation!
When it comes to who supports what, Trident presents us with a tangle of opinion. The SNP don’t want it in their back yard – understandably. On the other hand, Unite the union (particularly its members in the Barrow shipyards) want the Trident project to go ahead. After all, their jobs are at stake. Having said that, wouldn’t it provide more security if marine “jobs for peace” could be guaranteed at Britain’s remaining shipyards? There are plenty of naval vessels that need building.
In effect, what we got from supporters of Trident in the debate were cliches that steered clear of the reality of the situation. For a start it’s not “our” independent nuclear deterrent.  And it would hardly be of any use against any of the opponents who we face in those conflicts we’ve got ourselves involved in. We may have built our fleet of Trident subs ourselves but the nuclear warheads are a different matter altogether. The missiles are American, and no way could we take unilateral action without seeking consent. From the USA.  Basically, our Trident subs tie us firmly into US nuclear/military strategy.
CAMPAIGNING:
I have to confess that I’m something of a veteran peace campaigner – and well remember one particularly fraught action which saw us on the march to Holy Loch  where our nuclear missile system squatted like a giant toad on the waters of the loch. In those days we relied on the Polaris nuclear submarine, to provide our deterrent. It was to be replaced by Trident in the 1990s without  firing a single missile in anger.
Most of our attempts to get to the loch and board the submarine were thwarted. We were dragged away by sweating, disgruntled policemen, and we ended up in the Glssgow central police cells.  But we believed then that we’d won a moral victory.
Nowadays, older and maybe wiser, I believe that moral victories are not enough. The “Cold War”, as it was then, is no longer with us, but we still live in a very dangerous world, even if the dangers are more fragmented. And it’s because of this fragmentation that old theories based on “mutually assured destruction” no longer have the same validity.
IRRELEVANCE:
Our nuclear missiles were completely irrelevant when it came to the Iraq War, spearheaded by Bush and Blair. They are even more irrelevant in the trouble zones of the Middle East today, or in the campaigns to contain and overcome the outrages committed by self-styled jihadists in Europe.
The list goes on. But meanwhile we’re determined to spend billions of pounds so that we can be seen to be playing with the big boys.

REPORT: “Stop Trident!”

In S. Richardson on May 5, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Marching against Trident nuclear weapons – a report from SARAH RICHARDSON

I was one of many thousands of people marching through central London on a cold day at the end of February,  to protest against the Government’s plan to renew Trident at a cost of around £100 billion.

Along the way, there were many light hearted contributions to cheer on the marchers. I saw a little dog proudly sporting a coat with the CND symbol, and a pair of friends carrying a banner which read “Exasperated Older Women Demand NHS not Trident”.  There was also a lovely hand-painted banner showing Poseidon , god of the sea, rising from the waves and breaking a bomb in half.

Having marched from Marble Arch, we arrived in Trafalgar Square in good spirits and stood for the rally in front of the National Gallery. While we were waiting for the speakers to arrive, there was a big screen showing photos of Peace demonstrations over the years, from Aldermaston marches to Greenham Common and beyond. We then had a very exciting and inspirational range of speakers, including Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP in the Scottish Parliament, Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, Caroline Lucas, Green MP, Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT and Bruce Kent, veteran campaigner.

The Vanessa Redgrave spoke in a personal capacity, very emotionally saying it was one of the best days of her life to see so many people out demonstrating in a direct way, seldom reported in the mainstream media. Finally after a two hour wait, Jeremy Corbyn spoke. Most of the marchers had waited to hear him. He reminded them of the devastating effect nuclear war would have, and urged    people to carry on campaigning.

JOINING LABOUR:

After the rally, I went to have a coffee and got chatting to an old couple from Chester who had come down for the day to join the demo. The husband told me he had joined the Labour Party for the first time when Jeremy Corbyn had been elected leader , and that he and his wife travelled up and down the country attending rallies and marches.

It was good to hear so many people having an alternative view on Trident renewal. Unfortunately at the moment, the Tory Government is hell bent on pressing ahead with it. It will be up to Corbyn and others in the Parliamentary Labour Party to see if they can persuade MPs to vote against its renewal.


ENDPIECE: Labour’s new leadership  claimant?

Not all members of Jeremy Corbyn’s Parliamentary team are happy with his leadership. There are quite a few who would be more than happy if he departed back to the backbenches where they feel he belongs.

There are, of course the residual Blairites who dream of a time when “New Labour” rises like a phoenix from the ashes. And there are those who just feel that Jeremy has upset their cosy Parliamentary consensus.

Already the media is suggesting that much depends on the results of the local elections in May. If Labour doesn’t do well, then a challenge could emerge. Indeed there’s a sneaky suggestion that some would rather that their own party didn’t do well.  But one question emerges – who is going to mount the challenge?

At one time the speculation was that Hilary Benn would be the one to to give it a go,  after his speech during the Trident debate. But now the bets have shifted to another contender – to Barnsley Central MP, Dan Jarvis.                

Jarvis is identified much more clearly with the Blairite camp than Hilary Benn. At a speech to the Blairite Think Tank, “Demos” he openly attacked the economic policy of the Corbynistas – and he has received the backing of Lord Mendelson, one of the original Blairite cabal. Mendelson has never been subtle in his opinions.

On top of that,  former paratrooper, Dan Jarvis has received a tidy donation of £16,800 that could be put towards any bid for the leadership.

But a couple of points that should make the dissidents pause to reconsider. First, Jeremy Corbyn is gaining support amongst the voters (look at the welcome he received from the NUT).  And, second, what of Labour’s growing membership – those who joined the party simply because Corbyn offered a new style of politics – one that reached out to them, and to the electorate at large?

We’ve come a long way since that black day in June 2015 when the bulk of Labour MPs abstained on the Tory Bill for “welfare reform”- on the instructions of the (then) Labour leadership.

PIECES: Education Matters & Campaigning Against Trident

In Guest Feature, R.Richardson on March 5, 2015 at 9:02 pm

2 PIECES (the first by Ruth Richardson, the second – with her first Clarion article – Rowan McKeever)

EDUCATION MATTERS

BALANCING THE BOOKS:

As we move into 2015, head teachers are worried about balancing their budgets. A dossier drawn up by schools in Wirral, Merseyside, indicates that 19 out of the district’s 22 secondary schools will be unable to balance budgets in 2016/17.  The problems stem partly from increases in national insurance and pension contributions.

DEMANDING A POUND OF FLESH?

Another significant expense in many cases is the repayment of deals done under PFI (Private Finance Initiatives) signed years ago. Schools, like hospitals, were regularly rebuilt or refurbished under such deals, often tying them into thirty years of repayments.

Frank Field, the MP for Birkenhead, declared that the impact of such PFI agreements was particularly alarming.  Schools were being ripped off through high-charging maintenance  agreements.

And Russell Hobby of the head teachers’ union, NAHT, said “we’re reaching the end of the line for efficiency savings…  the fact is we’re not reaching the end of the projected cuts. We face as many cuts in the future as we have in the past.”  Schools may have to cut staffing levels and raise class sizes. The curriculum may be reduced with fewer options offered.

PROTECTED??

A spokesman for the DfE responded  saying that budgets were protected and that local authorities received the same amount per pupil as in 2010. With rising costs this is obviously totally inadequate in 2015.

FREE SCHOOLS:

The Free School movement has been in the news again – and not in a good way. First, in December, Labour acquired information via a Freedom of Information request  that 80 per cent  of those opened in 2014 had failed to fill all their places. New Free Schools, of course, attract a huge government subsidy – meaning that there’s less money for local authority schools. In Brixton, £18 million  was spent on new premises for a Free School for 120 pupils – but only 17 enrolled!  It was calculated that the present government has spent £241 million on Free Schools in the past twelve months.

Meanwhile, Durham Free School, a secondary school, was ordered to close after a damning Ofsted report, after having been open only 16 months. A Christian school, it was condemned for poor standards, bullying and financial mismanagement, as well as religious bigotry.

THROUGH THE LOOPHOLE:

A loophole allows both Free Schools and Academies to ignore government nutritional standards for school dinners. The Local Government Association  has urged Ministers to to pass legislation to bring them into line.

NEW SPONSORSHIPS:

Meanwhile, our own local academies  have found new sponsors. The Dean Academy in Lydney will be sponsored by the Athelstan Trust. Readers may remember that in 2012, Whitecross School was transformed into the Dean Academy, having been acquired by the Prospects Academy Trust. However, Prospects was found to be providing inadequate support and services, and was required to shed six of its schools. Consequently the Dean Academy has been without a sponsor for ten months.  David Gaston, the head, sounded positive about the new arrangement which includes working closely with an academy in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

The Forest Academy in Cinderford (formerly Heywood School) also lost its sponsor, E-Act, last year. It will be taken on by South Gloucestershire and Stroud (SGS) College. In this instance the school will have a “brand new curriculum”, and the school will be re-launched in September 2015.

RUTH RICHARDSON

PROTESTING AGAINST TRIDENT:

by ROWAN McKEEVER

On Saturday 24th January, my Mum, Dad and I were among the thousands who protested in Westminster against the renewal of Trident. Trident is our nuclear weapons system which is made up of four submarines and kept on the River Clyde in Scotland.

WRAPPING UP TRIDENT:

As we came out of the station, we saw a crowd of people walking past, holding signs and banners in one hand and part of a seven mile pink knitted scarf in the other.  We were surprised that we had just got out of the station and we were already part of the protest..  We joined in, holding the scarf and chanting “Wrap up Trident! Ban the Bomb Now!”  After following the scarf around for a few minutes, we reached the Ministry of Defence, where we saw just how long the scarf really was, and how many people wanted to get rid of Trident.  Tourists on open-top buses were amazed, and took photos and videos of us. Others walking down the streets stopped and stared. It was a much bigger turn-out than anyone had expected.

MARCH – AND RALLY:

After a while we were told to move along, and CND workers rolled up the scarf again, ready to be cut up and sent out to homeless people as a kind gift. We turned out on to the main road, where half of it was closed and police were everywhere. We saw big TV cameras recording everything and journalists doing news reports. My Mum and I waved the banners we’d picked up earlier. Hers said “Jobs Not Trident” and mine said “Homes Not Trident”.  After marching past Downing Street (and booing) we reached Parliament Square where a rally took place and there were speakers from many places, including a woman who sang “Four Minutes to Midnight” which was a really moving song and made us think about how short four minutes really is. And that people would only have that much time to save themselves.   Then the Green Party’s deputy leader, Shahar Ali, filled us in on all the facts – such as, it has cost £3 billion just to review whether to renew Trident or not; and if the renewal did take place it would cost a horrifying £100 billion!

WASTING MONEY?

Personally, I just can’t understand why anyone would even consider that. There are homeless people who don’t even get enough food , people without jobs , schools having to expand to fit in all the children applying for them and people waiting over four hours to see a doctor in NHS hospitals. So why is £100 billion going to be wasted on nuclear weapons which won’t be used and are just for “safety”? It is completely absurd.

I am pleased I went on the protest, because it was an unusual way of getting the point across to the people of our country. Also, it was a kind gesture to give the pieces of the scarf to people without homes. Thirdly, and finally, it shows that the people of London are doing what the Government should be doing – helping the homeless instead of wasting money on nuclear weapons.

I hope the Government can now see that people in Britain are against the renewal of Trident. I will go on all protests possible to make sure the nuclear weapons are not renewed.

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Clarion Comment: TOWARDS A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO

In Editorial on March 5, 2015 at 7:26 pm
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Labour’s candidate for Parliament, Forest of Dean Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn with Clarion Editorial Committee member Roger Drury at a vigil in Coleford to stop the destruction and killing of children and civillians in Syria in 2014.

The purpose of any manifesto produced by political parties at election time is to present to eager voters the range of policies that such parties pledge to carry out if they get elected. Any such manifesto is a sort of cross between a catalogue of promises and a showcase.

But of course political parties needn’t have a monopoly on manifestos. And, with this in mind, the Clarion is producing its own “wish list” that we would like to see in any manifesto put to the voters.

And we invite readers to join in. Our next Clarion will be out before the hustings in May, so let us know what policies are important to you.

Meanwhile, here’s some pointers towards the Clarion’s manifesto for the 2015 general election.

PUBLIC OWNERSHIP: We would campaign for a range of privatised services to be returned to public ownership and control. The private sector has failed us all (except for the shareholders!). Top of the list should surely be the railways (and other forms of public transport?), the energy industries, and of course the Royal Mail.

But we would press for forms of public ownership involving public participation by those who work in the industry or are involved in it – as appropriate. Public ownership should mean what it says!

CREATING A NON-NUCLEAR NATION: This means abandoning ALL nuclear weapons on British soil (including Trident of course), as well as nuclear energy – replacing this with “green” energy sources.

BRINGING OUR HEALTH SERVICE BACK INTO THE PUBLIC DOMAIN:  First, by reversing the privatisation of the NHS, and, second by re-creating such bodies as Community Health Councils to ensure local involvement in the Service.

HOMES FOR THE PEOPLE:  We desperately need to provide homes – and a return to a meaningful council house programme with full rent controls is a logical step. We need to turn away from a culture  of “moving up the housing ladder” to one based on ensuring homes for all who need them.

RESPECT FOR AND TOLERANCE TOWARDS IMMIGRANTS:  We reject prejudice, and it should go without saying that we oppose moves towards a “closed door” policy. We are, and have been for centuries, a nation of immigrants. It’s what enriches us as a people.

SHORTLIST:

This is, of course, merely a shortlist. It fails to cover a range of issues at this stage – including, importantly foreign affairs. Or, indeed, the need for an Alternative Economic Policy, based on public need rather than the strictures of austerity. And there’s also the need to bring sanity back to the education sector – for the sake of those growing up in an increasingly fractured culture.

As they have done in Greece, let’s work and vote for HOPE for a better future.

Clarionposter

NOT OUR MANIFESTO: We created and posted this image on our Clarion Facebook page; as at 5/3/15 it reached over 9,300 people, over 130 of which re-shared the image. Spread the word.

 

LEFT INSIDE: A new face for Labour in the Dean

In C.Spiby on October 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

The Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party has nominated Steven Parry-Hearn as its Parliamentary candidate for the next General Election.

What does this mean for the left in labour?

Indeed, what does it mean for the Dean? And what about those dissatisfied with New Labour and who have yet to be tempted by Ed Miliband’s brand of ‘One Nation’ Labour?

Mr. Parry-Hearn lives in the constituency with his young family and has been very active behind the scenes in the Party with various projects and posts at Executive Committee level. He’s also a member of the LP South West Regional Board and stood against Liam Fox at the last election. Then he lost (but then again who didn’t in Labour that time around? It was a national swing of historic proportions – nothing less than our greatest defeat, so we can’t blame him for that!), but Steve DID gain a significantly higher vote than that expected of a Labour Party candidate there.

He’d also been active in the Aberavon CLP in Wales at the election before that – a heritage his accent reveals. So, clearly, Steve has experience and the organisational skills of a good CLP member. But where does he stand on policy?

He says ‘There are issues here, social injustices, which the current Member of Parliament has completely ignored. He has betrayed his constituents…’ [1]

Whereas Harper is an accountant by trade, Parry-Hearn works for the Shaw Trust, dealing with the fallout of failed Tory policies.

Like many of us, he vehemently opposed Harper on the sell-off of the Forests but managed at the same time to bring a breath of fresh air to the Forest of Dean CLP. Although not a target seat for Labour, Harper must be on the back foot precisely because of the attempted sell-off of the forests and the success of the HOOF campaign. Now we have chosen Harper’s opposition it is time to get to the nub of his beliefs. I took advantage of the selection process to quiz him on issues I feel particularly strongly.

For starters, I asked him about the development of new Nuclear Power at Oldbury, a hot topic amongst local people living opposite in the Dean as well as environmental and anti-nuclear campaigners.

Parry-Hearn said he does not support Hitachi-Horizon’s development and that he has ‘been opposed to the development of nuclear powered generation for many years.’ [2] In fact, he goes on to state ‘I believe that there are energy generation solutions which are far more acceptable not only to ourselves, but also to our descendants.  I believe that we are merely custodians of our fragile planet, and we must use all our ingenuity to develop new, cleaner fuels and means of generating energy.  I feel that wind, sea and solar must be the way forward.’ [3]

This puts Steve at odds with the previous candidate, Bruce Hogan whose position had seen him switch over the years to a pro-nuclear power stance.

Moving to a deliberately tricky issue for some in Labour is the question of the renewal of the UK nuclear missile system (Trident). On this topic Parry-Hearn said that ‘I personally stand idealistically and morally opposed.  I feel that we are behaving rather hypocritically here. We rattle sabres at Iran, Libya and North Korea, but what right do we have to dictate terms of disarmament to those states, when we ourselves stealthily and perpetually patrol the world’s oceans with our Trident Submarines?’ [4] And he goes on to qualify this with further reasoning: ‘we should not commit public money, when we are seeing this awful, callous government cutting welfare to the most vulnerable in our society.

On those points Clarion readers will probably agree and welcome our PPC, but that’s just two issues. It is not enough to judge him on these alone. We still don’t know whether Parry-Hearn sits in the pre-New Labour camp or post’. That is, is he a believer in the One Nation line? Certainly, it seems we can – I think – rest assured Parry-Hearn is no raving Blairite.

The true test, I suppose, will be the moment our national programme is finally launched.

That document, which will at last declare our policies and set our Party’s election manifesto, will be the strongest challenge for Party-Hearn to date. Will he stay true to his own beliefs – those upon which he was elected as PPC locally – or will he sway to the national line?

I strongly suspect on both Trident and nuclear power the national policy will differ from Hearn’s. With the nuclear power development directly affecting his constituency will he have the will to act against his party? For sure, he says he is of ‘high moral courage, honesty and diligence.’ [5] On the issue of nuclear weapons, this could arguably be the most moral question of all.

But as I have said, we shouldn’t shape our support of opposition of him on those two nuclear topics alone. Does he have the red fibre Clarion readers’ lust after? For his part, Graham Morgan (County, District & Town Councillor for Labour) believes Steve is ‘a real man of the people.’ [6]

Moreover, Parry-Hearn states he is committed ‘to establishing a Business Task Force, promoting growth, sustainable inward investment and apprenticeship opportunities for our young generation’ [7] in the Dean. He targets housing as the way forward both locally and nationally as a tool of economic renewal and his work with the Shaw Trust would mean he also has first-hand experience of the dire need for good social housing. He is pro-European but supports a referendum.

At the 28th July hustings which resulted in his election, Steve cited Andy Burnham as one of those currently influencing his political thinking. This being the same Andy Burnham who is leading the charge against the Tory Health & Social Welfare bill, promising to repeal it at Labour’s first opportunity and switch to re-investing in the NHS instead. That is a good place for Labour and Steve to be and thus a good influence to be guided by, in my book.

So, while Parry-Hearn might not be the Forest’s answer to Tony Benn we can hold some comfort by the fact that he probably wouldn’t be entirely offended by the idea either.

In fact, I would go so far to say that I think that our constituency has the strongest candidate for many elections past.

I hope you will canvass his opinion yourself by directly engaging with him while supporting our party and his campaign with all your vigor.

We MUST get rid of the ConDems, and then keep the Tories and UKIP out. We must save our NHS. We must be united in our support of the only realistic chance for Parliamentary power across the left. And in doing so we will keep our values alive in Labour, locally and nationally.

Support Steve and we support that aim.

 

[1] Personal letter to all FoD CLP members 1st July 2013

[2] Personal correspondence with the author 22nd July 2013.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Steve Parry-Hearn FoD PPC campaign leaflet  July 2013.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

WHERE NEXT FOR LABOUR?

In T. Chinnick on December 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm

asks TYLER CHINNICK

Over the past year, the Labour Party has been inviting people, members and non-members alike, to give their ideas for the future direction of the Party.

New Labour always held that any move to the left would make the party “less electable”. But there are many policies to the left of current orthodoxy that I think would make the Party more, not less, electable. Here are some of them.

MPs should receive the national average  wage.

Failing this, their earnings should be linked to the minimum wage. Politicians, when they are elected, lose touch with the hardships of life as most people live it. Earning a national average wage would make MPs much more aware of life as we live it, and thus more able to represent our interests.

Re-nationalise the railways.

A “yougov” poll conducted in 2009 showed 70 per cent support for re-nationalisation. It would not only be popular, it would also save us money. We’ve spent nearly four times the amount subsidising private industries than we ever gave to the industry when it was in public hands.

Bring NHS cleaning services back under public control.

There is a clear correlation between those hospitals where the cleaning staff are contracted out and high rates of MRSA. And end the ludicrous charade of PFI/PPP. As far as I’m aware, the only other political leader to try the “buy now pay much later” approach was Mussolini. I don’t think we should be following his example!

Introduce a “Robin Hood” tax.  

Charged at a measly quarter of a per cent on those financial transactions that do not involve the public, this would raise an estimated £100 to £200 billion. This is fair, practical and popular, and is supported by many mainstream figures.

Scrap Trident.

It’s a “deterrent” designed for the Cold War and has no relevance today. We’re told that the main threat we face to our national security is from global terrorism, against which Trident is useless.

Crack down on tax avoidance and evasion.

It’s not impossible, as the Tories claim – and it has overwhelming public support. Tax havens should face a cooling of political, diplomatic and trade relations. It they continue to act as they do, they should receive the same kind of treatment as other rogue states, such as sanctions or freezing of assets.

Keep the Royal Mail public.

Privatisation will inevitably lead to a massive deterioration in the service and won’t save us money.

A referendum on the EU.

The European Union is undemocratic and enforces the same neo-liberal market orthodoxy that has ruined so many western countries in recent years. In the early days of the EEC, it was Labour who were most vocal in opposition. Now the only criticism we hear comes from the Right and is usually accompanied by scarcely concealed xenophobia.

Build more Council Houses.

The building sector was hard hit by the recession and there is a massive need for affordable housing. Why not kill two birds with one stone? Before the last election there were even some Tories talking about the need for more social housing. And when the Tories say we need more council houses, then you know we need more council houses!

Scrap university tuition fees and reinstate the EMA.

Or, at the very least, reduce them. Education is a right, not a privilege. Labour should become a party for young people once again.

Electoral reform.

The fact that in the 21st century, half our government is unelected is outrageous. The House of Lords needs to be democratically elected (preferably by PR) – or abolished altogether.

A new Green deal.

Ed Balls in an interview with the CWU paper Voice said that the road to recovery was through Keynesian economics. What better way to resurrect the economy than by embarking on a massive building project to create the energy of tomorrow? This could be partly funded by ending subsidies to the arms industry. It’s the most heavily subsidised industry in Britain costing taxpayers £851.91 million a year. It’s obscene that so much is spent on creating devices of torture and death when it could be spent on green energy.

Make public services more democratic.

Why shouldn’t workers in the public sector who know their industries have a say in who runs the service and how? Nurses, teachers and many other public sector workers have a huge wealth of knowledge that currently goes untapped.

An ethical foreign policy.

Which would involve: withdrawing support from regimes such as Saudi Arabia (whilst possibly ending our dependency on oil). Ending complicity in torture, and not invading countries which do not threaten us.

Reforming the media.

The media have made it perfectly clear over recent years that they are unable to regulate themselves. The Press Complaints Commission therefore needs to be independent of the industry, and made much stronger – with real sanctions, particularly fines, which they are unafraid to use. A law such as “one man, one newspaper”, or a ban on foreign ownership of British media should be introduced. The kind of monopolies that exist in the media world today not only endanger free speech and democracy, but also inevitably lead to heinous abuse.

Just a few of these policies would be enough to secure a Labour victory at the next election, and they would all, without exception, have an enormously positive effect.

Designated Area for Protest

In C.Spiby on June 18, 2010 at 1:42 pm

AWE Aldermaston

{CLICK HERE for the photo-essay}

It was still dark on that late October morning when our coach came to a polite halt outside the main gates of Britain’s atomic bomb factory, the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston.

At about the same time – a pre-dawn 6.30am – other coaches and minibus vans pulled up at their pre-planned positions around AWE’s numerous high security gates. Wrapped in layer upon layer of warm clothing, activists piled quickly out and set to work blockading the entire base, despite the awaiting police.

For our part, we, the main gate contingent comprising of about a dozen misfits of varying age and dress, disembarked quietly but were met instantaneously by a squad of approaching and eager police. Dispensing with any formalities they immediately requested we move directly to the acutely ridiculous ‘designated area for protest’.

I felt like I was in a Woody Allen movie. I mean, have you ever heard of anything as pointless as an approved area reserved for safe and inoffensive civil disobedience? A middle-aged man standing at my side and dressed as Death was equally bemused.

‘Um, no thanks, we’ll go this way.’ Pointing to the main gate where the largest gathering of police stood ready to welcome us in more traditional fashion.

‘No, Sir.’ And gently motioning his patronising arms as if he were directing traffic added, ‘If you’d kindly step this way – to the designated area for protest – over here in the car park.’

And he finished his repeated request with that ‘Thank you,’ police officers tend to add just to let you know that they’ve already decided you will obey their order – why would you possibly consider doing otherwise?

‘And under what law do you think you have the authority to direct us anywhere? This is a public pathway.’ I objected.

He looked at me quizzically. This wasn’t the way it normally went when patrolling B-roads, ASBO-ridden estates and during the weekend rumble down the local pub. ‘Ministry of Defence Land Byelaws!’ He blurted, unbelieving my incredulous reply.

That was all we needed to hear: it meant they had nothing.

Unless he cited a Section 14 Public Order Act, which he didn’t, and, I am guessing, invoked it with some kind of paperwork, they couldn’t force us anywhere. Thus I had an impromptu but abject lesson in how to use the law to the letter against the police, who, it seems, will try and get you to do whatever they want just because they think they can and ought. In reality they can do very little unless one is breaking a specific law. It is in knowing which law applies and when to call them into play wherein the power really lays.

In the meantime the message had got about that this wasn’t going to be some tin-pot demo with a couple of hippies, a few songs and some scraggy banners: numerous coaches and vans were dropping off tens of activists at each gate – way more protestors than the chap in front of us could see. He capitulated, leaving the designated area for protest as impotent as actually using it would be. He rejoined the ranks of his high-vis’-clad compatriots probably thinking to himself ‘Worth a try.’ and who could blame him?

A second contingent of blockaders arrived having been diverted from the construction gate by the police along the way. Since things weren’t really happening at the main gate yet and by the fact we overwhelmingly outnumbered here, many of us elected to make off to the next gate instead. Only the horse-mounted police followed.

The point of this blockade was to halt the construction work going on at AWE Aldermaston but we weren’t going to be picky and aimed to stop all traffic going in and it was this which necessitated the early start. In March 2007, parliament voted to replace Trident – our submarine-launched nuclear weapon system. But despite only voting for only the replacement of the subs and missiles – and not the actual warheads – a massive construction programme is steaming ahead at AWE Aldermaston, creating extra facilities to design, test and construct the next generation of deadly nuclear warheads, in advance of any parliamentary decision. In July 2007, the CND obtains documents that proved the decision to press on regardless had already been made by Government.

Couple this renewal, expansion and investment with the US Missile Defence system planned for Eastern Europe and no wonder Russia is re-aiming some of its arsenal of nuclear missiles this way.

Worse, this is public money being spent as The Morning Star newspaper reported the day following our blockade: ‘The government has pledged to spend £76 billion – handing over much of it to private weapons firms – to upgrade the weapons of mass destruction during the next few years.’

Since we have signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, why not consider Trident Ploughshares’ alternative proposal for AWE making it fit for use as an international centre of expertise on warhead decommissioning and verification as part of a global nuclear weapons convention?

Meanwhile, a mix of local, Thames Valley and MOD police were mostly professional, although I spotted one very over-zealous PC violently drag a protestor spread over the road across a kerb with way too much force. He did this with one arm free while the other clutched a police camera there to record evidence and add to their profiles of us. Perhaps it was his over ambitious nature that landed him the photographer role that day. Then I noted his lapels where his police id number ought to be clearly visible was not shown at all. It lay beneath his high-vis vest and stab-jacket.

Someone else commented that is a police requirement but when I questioned him on it he said ‘You don’t need to worry who I am.’

He was still visibly enraged and shaking with a glimmer of violence in his pursed lips, furrowed brow and piercing glare. Unlike the other constables there, this heavily-built copper looked to me like he was out for a good old-fashioned rumble and nothing more. I too had my camera and decided it was his turn to be snapped. Having done that, I decided to shadow him, letting him know clearly that whatever he did, I’d catch it on camera. It didn’t take long before he turned on me.

‘Have you got some kinda fixation on me or something?’ he snapped. Clearly the police aren’t so keen to have someone constantly taking their photo and surveying them quite so closely.

‘No.’ I replied, ‘I simply think, like the three other witnesses there, you man-handle people. You’re unnecessarily rough and…’ – but he interrupted with a booming ‘That’s my job!’
‘What, man-handling people?’
‘If necessary.’
‘Uh, I don’t think so. But I’ll watch just in case, eh?’

And he promptly pushed me roughly back to the pavement for ‘my own safety’ as a colleague of his put it, noticing the situation was rising and could get quickly and unnecessarily out of control.

For her part, the veteran campaigner Pat Arrowsmith, now 78, lay repeatedly in the road but was not arrested whereas a number of younger activists were led away. The first that I saw were three angels from our gate: three young female students dressed in white with kitsch home-made fairy wings. The police raised some screening, thereby inadvertently actually helping close even more of the road and assisting in our blockade, and prised them apart. There was a mix of superglueing each others’ hands together and the use of tubes to link hands so the police cannot use the usual 3 on 1 tactic to prise protestors apart from linking on to each other (the latter requiring specialist cutting teams instead, all taking more time and therefore prolonging the blockade).

The problem with non-violent direct action is that it is still pretty hardcore stuff. I don’t mind being arrested or having a record, but the fine for the most likely conviction – Obstruction of the Highway – carried a fine of anywhere between £80 to £500 with court costs. I simply don’t have that kind of money lying readily around what with two very young children, a mortgage which has increased over £150 per month in the last two months and the credit crunch to contend with.

On the other hand, what price should we put on the future of these very children? I felt utterly deflated with the moral quandary at hand. I needed to act responsibly as a parent but what did that mean when the state and rule of law was removing my ability to act practically against it? A selfless sacrifice can also be selfish I learned with knotted stomach. Before parenting children I would have been in there, in the very thick of it, but now, with children – even though it was FOR them I was here – I just couldn’t. A support role (legal and photographic witness) and my very presence was the best I could offer Trident Ploughshares while all about me pensioners, Quakers and students were being arrested and carried off to police vans.

Kate Hudson, Chair of the CND said the blockade had “…been a great success. We have effectively obstructed work at the site for many hours, closing gates and blocking roads. This is the largest blockade of Aldermaston for many years and signals an increased public concern about Britain’s weapons of mass destruction. At a time of economic crisis, our government is prioritising nuclear bombs over healthcare, job creation and investment in sustainable energy production. The majority of British taxpayers do not want their money sent on Trident replacement and the new generation of nuclear weapons that will be made here at Aldermaston.”

Paradoxically, the Big Blockade 2008 was also at times life-affirming. In Reading we raised the ghosts of the original March to Aldermaston with strangers coming together snoring and reading in a community hall attached to a church. And then there was the free hot supper, ginger cake and tea, jazz and folk music, brightly-costumed people and, more than anything, camaraderie across the faiths, years and ideologies.

Like most nuclear sites, the sheer size of the AWE is breathtaking, the magnitude for destruction terrifying. But the appearance of the size of the privately-run AWE doesn’t stop incompetence creeping in. In the July 2007 flooding that so affected our own area, AWE itself barely got by with one of the main bunkers where the nuclear warheads are maintained was almost ‘overwhelmed’. 84 buildings were flooded, some up to two feet and all live nuclear work had to be stopped for nine months.

Worse still, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that both essential radiation safety alarms and criticality alarms were out of action for up to 10 days. Although heavily censored, the FOI request revealed that AWE’s own review said ‘Several key facilities experienced Near Miss events…’ This mostly overlooked piece of news (Channel 4 being the exception) was not missed by protestors and more than one banner referred to it directly. But did we raise the profile of our concerns on this day?

For sure all gates or roads to them were peacefully blocked at one point or another, many for a number of hours. Of the hundreds present at the blockade (estimates vary – as ever – from 150 to 400 or more), there were 33 arrests, the greatest number at the site in a decade. That would be the largest number since the end of the Cold War. But the press coverage was, as ever, minimal with most reports making pedestrian remarks at best as to the reasons behind the blockade.

Perhaps, though, this number will also be the largest number to beat at the start of a ‘New Cold War’? For sure it will be if ministers like our very own Mark Harper MP get their way.

Not content with supporting the renewal and replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, the Forest of Dean MP now backs the dangerously destabilising and controversial American Missile Defence System to be sited in Eastern Europe, as I mentioned earlier.

Although supposedly aimed at ‘rogue states’ – those, we presume, being Iran and North Korea (favourites in Bush’s axis of evil), the Missile Defence System is planned to be built in what was previously the other side of the cold war eastern bloc. It doesn’t, therefore, take a genius to deduce that this would rightly wind the Russians up somewhat.

At least on this occasion Mr. Harper is consistent. His argument for supporting Trident was that the future threat would primarily be a resurgent and aggressive Russia as we had seen in the Cold War. I couldn’t agree at the time of that argument but that was before the Litvinyenko case and the fall-out (ahem) that has since followed from events in Georgia. Now we’ve stoked the old fires in the great Russian bear and Putin’s puppet successor looks to continue the hard line. Indeed, it seems as if we WANT a second Cold War. After all, the war on terror seems to be going the same way as Vietnam.

NUCLEAR WASTE IS GOOD FOR THE COMMUNITY
On a final note and on the other side of things nuclear I caught an intriguing headline on the cover of the 12th June edition of the Municipal Journal [1]: ‘Councils set to be offered ‘carrot’ for nuclear waste’. The carrot this time being some vague form of virtual bargaining termed ‘community benefits packages’. How dumping nuclear waste constitutes a benefit to any community is such incredible spin as to be frankly beyond my logic.

[1] The Municipal Journal, Thursday 12th June 2008 edition, news article by Sally Guyoncourt.