Every year since 1958 National CND has had a conference. This is always a lively occasion where anti-nuclear campaigners from all over the country get together. We have fun, of course: how do you stop a Trident submarine convey with deadly materials travelling through urban areas at dead of night? simples: you just borrow a decent sized tank to block it off. (Thanks East Mids CND!) or maybe you have a carnival on the road at midnight, involving day-glow skeleton suits. (Joking apart, there is a deadly serious issue here. If you want to help then check out the info in the download above.) This is also the time when we take stock and consider policy and main issues plans for the year ahead.
This year, like just about every group left of the Tories, in the UK, CND reported that they have had been enjoying recent membership surge, with 200 joining in the week before Conference alone. It was widely agreed that attendance was well-up on last year. This is obviously due to the recent developments on the British parliamentary political scene, plus of course the up-coming Trident renewal debate.
In the packed hall there were some notable presences. Not only does it seem old CND campaigners do not die, they don’t fade away either. So, in usual good form there was Bruce Kent, former National CND secretary and there was 92 year old Walter Wolfgang – Walter was the star of that eviction from Labour Party conference by Jack Straw in 2008 when he arrested as a terrorist for heckling. It was also good to see Joy Hurcombe, a well-known Labour CND voice from the 1980s, still going strong.
But CND has always been proud to be a broad church and the platform also included the SNP and the Greens. Besides these speakers also represented were the International Peace Bureau, Stop the War, War on Want and the People’s Assembly. In the gathering someone was from the Communist Party of Great Britain. One young woman was heard announcing that she had ‘just joined the party’ – ‘No, no not that party. the Lib-Dems’ – Tim Farron has also come out against Trident.
From the UK’s new ‘threat to national security’ this was a strong message of continued support for CND and about the hard work ahead, particularly in the run-up to the Trident renewal debate in 2016, which may come earlier than expected.
There were eleven motions in all. Full details on all but one emergency motion are to be found in the CND Conference Booklet 2015 Below are some comments on the debates around three selected motions.
First up was a motion from CND Chair Kate Hudson, to campaign on the Trident replacement decision expected in parliament in 2016 – carried unanimously: an obvious no-brainer. We might as well have packed up, gone home there and then and never come back if we’d voted against that! An amendment proposed by Newport CND suggested we should demand a national referendum. This was more tricky. Kate spoke against this amendment and a number of others followed in support. of Kate. Those in favour argued that a referendum would draw more attention, and even a ‘no’ vote would help to mobilise, as in Scotland. Those against pointed out that not only was CND risking possible damage from a loss (We are re-building well but not of SNP proportions yet!) but also more specifically (1) There are good arguments in international law to suggest that Trident is illegal anyway and to endorse a referendum would suggest that we accepted some kind of legitimacy and (2) It would be the Government who would word the referendum, not us. The real weasel word at the moment (as Bruce had already pointed out earlier because it urgently needs our attention) is ‘deterrent’. Trident is not a deterrent (Howzabout ‘nuclear invitation’? I’m a big threat to you, so come and get me first.’) referendum which asked people whether or not they supported a ‘nuclear deterrent’ could, I think, be very bad news – in fact subtle propaganda disguised as an opinion poll. This amendment failed by a large majority.
It was also passed unanimously to support submariner William McNeilly on his courageous decision to help expose the Trident nuclear weapons system as a ‘disaster waiting to happen’. Click here for a version of McNeilly’s report Not only have safety procedures on the subs been very lax for a long time, but there have been some very expensive near-misses. A crash near France cost 50 million pounds to put right. . In all there were 451 near accidents between 2009-13.
An emergency motion which caused some controversy and quite heated debate involved the civil war in Ukraine. The motion, which was finally passed was to continue campaigning against all foreign intervention in Ukraine, including by the British Government and to call for a ceasefire, calling for a more realistic analysis of NATO’s involvement than one which presents NATO’s actions as a defensive response to Russian aggression. Some people thought this meant we were pro-Putin. Others explained that CND has never been pro-Russia, .but singling out Russia as the sole cause of all the problems in the area is not helpful either. Much as Putin is an unpleasant individual we also need to acknowledge NATO’s own expansionist concern to continue to surround Russian and reduce its power. NATO is the real threat or, as one person put it: ‘It is not because we love Russia but because we don’t want NATO.’
Catherine West is the new Shadow Foreign Minister. She spoke in the Sunday section of the weekend: ‘Scrapping Trident: Strategising for Success in 2016. She was representing Jeremy Corbyn and she affirmed her support for the Corbyn ‘No Trident position. Imagine a member of the shadow cabinet being willing to speak to CND in support of cancelling Trident pre the 2015 Labour leadership election. We have come a long way, but there is still work to do.
UNITE’s general secretary has made contradictory statements, supporting Trident at the 2015 Labour Party Conference in order to protect members jobs whilst, like many trade union’s the official UNITE policy position is to oppose the retention of the Trident system. A 2010 UNITE conference resolution states:
[…] Britain should therefore give a lead in discharging its obligations by not seeking a replacement for Trident
Some people expressed concerns that, despite the official support for Corbyn. there is an ‘old Blairite guard’ in this Union, and also in the GMB and these issues need attention. A number of members who were in these unions spoke up and said they did not support the McClusky statements and were concerned about them. It was also pointed out that the total stated possible loss of jobs if Trident is cancelled appears to have been massively overstated. The true figure may as low as 520 – many more jobs than this are likely to be lost, with far less present publicity, in the government’s recent Green policy reversals up to 30,000 job losses are estimated in solar power alone). There has already been a highly useful study commissioned by Scottish CND and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. You can download it here: STUC-CND Trident Report
This shows that jobs since the arrival of Trident in Barrow in Furness have actually dramatically decreased. Trident does not ‘create’ job opportunities but destroy them, and their are many possibilities for redeployment in the public and environmental improvement sectors. Anyone who is concerned about job losses in connection with the cancellation of Trident should study this accessible and comprehensive report.
Trident and the Law
One workshop explored this subject and later circulated a documen which can be downloaded here: Nuclear weapons and the law Points here include that Trident appears to be illegal under the International Non-Proliferation Treaty concerning nuclear weapons, and signed by 190 states including the United Kingdom. Ask anyone who claims to be a ‘multilateralist’ (This phrase has been the standard and beloved refuge of those who want to retain the UKs nuclear weapons for many a long decade) if they support the NPT – or even know about it!
The Cost of Trident
Everyone who has paid attention already knows that Trident will cost at least 100 billion by 2060, probably more, and with £25 billion up front in the initial stages. To intend to spend this money in a time of deep economic instability and drastic cuts hitting especially the poor. (See Tax Credits debate this week) is craziness beyond imagining as Sam Fairbarn of the People’s Assembly outlined.
All in all an enjoyable and informative conference working towards upholding our constitution
Don’t forget we are planning a huge ‘Stop Trident’ national demo, London, February 27th 2016 If you would like to join us for the urgent work ahead you can sign up to become a member of National CND here, for as little as £3.00 a year (depending on status) or contact Hall Green CND below by completing the form.