This year's CND conference took place close to the heart of London's poshistani shopping district -- the West End. Within two minutes of arriving, we had discovered the first two rules of the venue we had managed to break (no bicycles,no gaffa tape, blimey, good job we ditched the dog!). You can't take some people anywhere.
However, the morning quickly moved into the usual round of resolutions and voting, with very little to report. The resolution opposing Trident replacement was duly passed and the rest followed suit with little argument. That was... until the Iranian Ambassador got up to speak...
On the way to the venue that morning I had been having a heated chat (read “ranting”) with a fellow activist, trying to work out why an anti-nuclear campaign like CND would invite a representative of a nasty government like Iran's to pop into conference for a natter.
I'm not just singling out Iran here, though representatives of a theocracy with possible nuclear ambitions would be high on my list to avoid. The only conclusion we could arrive at was that the Iranians were welcome because the US-UK axis of evil seems to hate them so much. Logic? Well, sort of.
Anyway, the guy got to say his bit and then take questions. At this point a group of Iranian political exiles in the audience jumped up and made some fairly pointed comments. Refusing to be silenced they were asked to leave and escorted from the building by CND staff and officers.
We caught up with them on the steps outside to hear what they had to say. It seems their main objection was that, if CND was particularly interested in Iran, then there are many Iranian activists and campaigners they could invite rather than a representative of a government that, for example, persecutes and executes gays, “adulterous”women, political opponents, organisers, etc. Sounds reasonable.
Dialogue and engagement
So PN asked CND for a comment on why they had invited the ambassador in the first place and why the Iranians had been ejected. Here is the response from CND chair Kate Hudson:
”Given the possibility of attack on Iran, and the media saturation with opinion that assumes Iran is guilty, we felt we wanted to hear the view of the Iranian government, which is, after all, the key player in this. CND has a policy of dialogue and engagement, and we do not feel this was out of kilter with that approach. We were particularly interested in raising questions about the supposed need for nuclear power and the possibility of considering sustainable alternatives.
I spoke to the Iranian protesters beforehand, as did other colleagues from CND, and we were happy for them to be there, give out their leaflets, and ask a question in the same way as everyone else. Jeremy Corbyn MP (in the chair) answered their first question in full. He then allowed another protester to make a contribution, but after about a minute he asked him to conclude. The protester wouldn't and after I had spoken with them asking them not to disrupt the meeting -- which they refused -- they were escorted out.
In our view they had crossed the line from protest which made their point clearly, to undemocratically preventing CND delegates from asking their own questions -- specifically around nuclear weapons and power. As I stated to conference on Sunday, there was no implied support for the Iranian government, but a desire for peaceful -- but firm -- lobbying and dialogue.”
A bit ironic
For a campaign which supposedly supports nonviolent direct action -- something which often involves highly undemocratic process and results, and which just a few weeks earlier was riding high on a certain Mr Wolfgang's intervention in Jack Straw's speech at the Labour Party conference -- it all seems, well, a bit ironic.