"The broadest alliance against nuclear weapons in Britain, ever"

IssueMarch 2007
Feature by PN staff , Kate Hudson

Tell us a bit about your involvement with the antinuclear movement.

I first took part in anti-nuclear actions in the early 1980s. I went on the big anti-cruise demonstrations and went to Greenham a couple of times, for events like “Embrace the Base”. I didn't do anything much on the issue after that until the late 1990s, when I started to get alarmed about war and US foreign policy, particularly in relation to nuclear weapons. The two things that worried me were the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, particularly with NATO nuclear policy, and also the US pressing ahead with the missile defence system. It seemed pretty obvious to me that missile defence was going to lead to a new arms race, as would allow pre-emptive strikes without the fear of retaliation. I though the world was becoming a much more dangerous place, so I became active again. I became chair of CND in 2003. The national demonstration on 24 February is being organised under a joint call for “Troops out of Iraq” and “No Trident”. Can you explain why organisers felt it was a good idea to combine these two issues?

The main slogan is “No Trident” and there is also a slogan for “Troops out of Iraq”. I suppose there are two things to it really. Obviously there is the coincidence of dates -- March will be the fourth anniversary of the war on Iraq, the occupation is still ongoing, and there is still a very big demand, if not an increasing demand, for the withdrawal of troops. And, of course, in March we also have the debate and vote in parliament on Trident replacement, which is the biggest issue for the anti-nuclear movement for an extremely long time and which can affect Britain and global security for decades to come.

So these are two extremely important things coming up at the same time. Obviously there could have had two separate demonstrations, but I think it's really crucial that people understand the relationship between nuclear weapons and war.

The overwhelming link between the two issues was made when, in the run up to the war on Iraq, Geoff Hoon said that the government was prepared to use nuclear weapons. This sort of imminence -- the great danger of the use of nuclear weapons -- is something that has to be got over to people.

And why not work with other organisations that want to oppose nuclear weapons? CND doesn't have a monopoly on anti-nuclear campaigning, it's not our “property”. The more people who can come out -- whatever their backgrounds, even if they have never been interested in nuclear weapons before -- if they are prepared to come out, that's a great advance as far as we are concerned. “CND campaigns non-violently to rid the world of nuclear weapons...” How does this square with working with groups who are pretty vague on nonviolence, the issue of nuclear weapons, and questionable on women and gay rights?

CND is willing to work with organisations and individuals who are opposed to nuclear weapons. We don't assume, or try and ensure that they share, what I personally may consider to be a progressive agenda on other things. We work very closely with many faith communities; on specific antiwar events we have collaborated with Muslim organisations, and we have a history of working with Catholic organisations. For example, we work with Pax Christi -- which I greatly respect. But I do not share the views -- and nor would many people in CND -- of the Catholic church on things like gay rights, abortion and so on, and by implication women, and these are perhaps similar to the view of many people in the Muslim communities a well. But we would not decide not to work with Catholics or Muslims on the basis of their views on those things.

I think that in working together around common goals, one can get into dialogue about other things too. Often those things may be based on fear and anxiety and lack of knowledge, and once you engage with people it can be very positive. Certainly there may have been fears in the Muslim community about working with left-wing people and I think that that may have been one thing that has been broken down, and anxieties that I had about my lack of knowledge of the Muslim communities have been broken down for me.

In some ways, opposition to the wars in the Middle East is something you might expect Muslim communities to embrace, because of family or origins. For me, the fact that the representatives of that community have now chosen to consciously take a stand against nuclear weapons is extremely positive. I think that is to a great extent the result of working co-operatively together and sharing ideas and explaining our views. Many people in the Muslim community would have opposed nuclear weapons anyway but I think the fact that we have had that co-operative relationship has brought it more actively to the fore. With the forthcoming parliamentary vote on replacing the Trident submarine fleet likely to go in the government's favour, the anti-nuclear movement is going to have its work cut out for it for many years to come. Assuming the government gets the green light, what strategies is CND going to employ over the next few years, to change this position?

I think the main goal will be to reverse any decision that has been made [in the government's favour] and it is widely believed that it will be many years before any metal has been beaten [for the new submarines]. But I do feel that the campaigning so far against Trident replacement has brought out a greater opposition to nuclear weapons in Britain than we may ever have seen. I'm not sure about all the opinion polls from the 80s, but certainly there is a great majority of people against nuclear weapons and it's coming from all kinds of quarters; it's coming from people who previously thought that they were a good idea and have now changed their minds.

I think what we have done is participated in building probably the broadest alliance against nuclear weapons in Britain ever. Whatever the government manages to steamroller through parliament, everyone will recognise that. We have already won the moral argument and I think we will have won the democratic argument as well if that happens.

We should not see it as a defeat, because they will have done it in a dishonest and undemocratic fashion and they will have done it against the popular will. We should just go zooming ahead, knocking down all their arguments and continuing to build the greatest opposition to get that decision reversed. It's not set in stone -- it can be reversed and, hand in hand with that, if we are winning the argument about not replacing Trident, we can win the argument about getting rid of what we have already got. What do you believe is the most effective thing individuals who oppose Trident/replacement can do before the vote takes place, and what about afterwards?

There's two things: one is to make the maximum pressure on government and parliament -- which can be done in several ways, for example lobbying your MP and writing to ministers. We keep on hearing that they've only had two complaints or something, so we should not give them the opportunity to say that, so everyone should get active, not just writing to their MPs but also to ministers.

And the second is raising the issue in every single way in the public arena, things like letters and articles to the local press, radio phone-ins, organising local public meetings, raising it in your union or faith community. So no-one can say that they haven't heard about Britain's nuclear weapons and that people don`t want them replaced.

We hear from MPs that size of demonstrations is a big influencing factor on them and we also know that a lot of MPs are going to be concerned about the votes they will get in future -- their careers are at stake -- so they are going to be influenced by that. The more people that are out under the “No Trident” slogan the better.

So all those things come together--the political pressure,the public pressure, the awareness.

After the debate and vote, if it goes on the government's favour, we should make it absolutely clear that we are not satisfied with the outcome: it doesn't reflect British public opinion and we want it reversed. There will be all kinds of parliamentary pressure, but public pressure has got to continue and the anti-democratic nature [of the process] has to be a factor as well. We have a government that is totally out of step on all matters to do with foreign policy, war and peace. Whether it's the Iraq occupation, or nuclear weapons, opposition has to continue.

So, whatever happens, people shouldn't see it as some kind of defeat and that we should all go home; its just another stage in the struggle.