Long-time peace activist Bruce Kent has called Parliament Square the anti-war protestor Brian Haw’s ‘back garden’, but on Wednesday evening it was filled with guests. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s “No Trident Replacement” rally aimed to show the government where the hearts of its people lay. Placards waved in the twilight and fluorescent-clad police encircled the crowd to the backdrop of an illuminated Big Ben. But those assembled were preoccupied with another clock – the “Doomsday Clock”. This conceptual timepiece was drawn-up by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists after the nuclear attacks on Japan in World War II. It’s now set at five to twelve, the nearest we’ve been global meltdown since the depths of the Cold War.
Inside the House of Commons they were voting on whether or not to renew Britain’s nuclear firepower. The overwhelming majority chose to do so, but not without the largest Labour backbench rebellion since the Iraq war in 2003. There were four resignations in the process of an impassioned debate in which 95 Labour MPs voted against the government. The decision would not have been passed without its Tory supporters.
Many speakers came to the platform outside, mustering arguments against Trident replacement: the hypocrisy of preventing other nations from having nuclear weapons under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, while over-riding that treaty and having such weapons ourselves; the cost of such a program (£25 million minimum) – when the money would be much better spent on hospitals and education; the wasting of skilled workers when they could be working on tasks like renewable energy technology, instead of building death machines.
Former Minister for the Environment Michael Meacher highlighted how the renewal of nuclear weapons systems will cement our dependence on the US and their bellicose foreign policy. Barry Camfield of the Transport and General Workers’ Union supplied some useful figures: each missile will have the destructive power of eight Hiroshimas. In light of these facts Blair’s white paper terming Trident replacement an ‘insurance policy’ is all the more absurd. Meanwhile, MP Jon Trickett called for ‘sustained civil disobedience’ to help force democracy, and several speeches also discussed the very real urgency of global warming.
Later that evening, on the BBC’s Newsnight, Labour MP David Chaytor claimed ‘we want to find a more complex defence policy that’s relevant to the world in which terrorism, climate change, and the desperate scramble for finite resources like oil and water will form the biggest threats to our security.’ This is a troubling revelation of the subconscious processes going in the corridors of power. Trident renewal is a deluded product of such paranoia.
When asked about what happens now CND Chair Kate Hudson explained that they intend to ‘continue working to reverse this decision’, which is only the beginning of a process that will take years to complete. They will consolidate and build on the opposition already present and promote further debate. She also mentioned the encouraging alliance of many faith communities over this issue and noted how there has already been a major shift in public opinion.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2007