On 18 April, the ruling Conservative Party called a snap general election in Britain for 8 June. This is a survey of how some peace groups, and a few other progressive organisations, are reacting to the general election campaign, and seeking to have an impact on the political system.
The Catholic peace group, Pax Christi, has four main ‘pointers’, with background materials ‘drawn from existing resources’:
- Cut military spending. Military spending and research and development budgets should be reduced and spending on social and environmental needs increased. The UK’s current military budget is £46 billion.
- Support Nuclear Ban Treaty Negotiations. The second round of negotiations are due to begin at the UN in June. While the talks are supported by the majority of the world’s governments, the UK has refused to take part. What is their view on this? Remind candidates that we live with the burden of a £205 billion cost commitment for the replacement of Trident – what is their view on this?
- Stop the promotion of arms exports and stop all arms trade with Saudi Arabia. These past years have seen the tragic consequence of wars in Yemen and Syria, regions where the UK has been involved in arms sales. What is their view on this?
- An end to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine – now in its 50th year. Now is the time for firm commitments to seek political solutions to this ongoing tragedy which includes the continued building of the separation barrier, the continued expansion of illegal settlements and the humiliation of the Palestinian people. What is their view on this?
Pax Christi are also offering their General Election Briefing 2015 – ‘Sadly, little has changed since this was produced. The questions and background will be helpful for today!’ www.tinyurl.com/peacenews2500
Campaign Against Arms Trade
CAAT sent out an email on 11 May saying: ‘All parties must listen to the public and pledge to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia.’
According to CAAT, the UK has licensed over £3.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since it began bombing Yemen in March 2015, and polling shows that almost two-thirds of UK adults oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with only 11% supporting them.
CAAT pointed to the Labour Party manifesto, which said the party would suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia pending the results of a ‘comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigation into alleged violations of IHL [international humanitarian law] in Yemen, including air strikes on civilians by the Saudi-led coalition.’
CAAT added: ‘Over recent months the front benches of the Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cyrmu and SNP have also opposed arms sales to the regime.’
Andrew Smith of CAAT commented: ‘Arms sales and the UK’s long history of support for human rights abusers have not been election issues in the past – primarily because the main parties have pledged to maintain them. This time there is a growing opposition from across the political spectrum.... If politicians want to do what is in the interest of people in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, they must commit to ending the arms sales and the unequivocal political support that has gone with it.’
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament says: ‘It is vital that every candidate knows that where they stand on nukes makes a difference to how we vote. We want every candidate to be contacted many times during the campaign. None of them must think that nuclear is just a side-issue.’
Their dedicated election website gives links and guidance on ‘How to #VoteOutNukes in your area’.
CND’s three key issues to ask candidates about (they have a model letter) are: ‘The UK signing the UN nuclear ban treaty’, ‘The replacement of Trident’, and ‘The construction of new nuclear power stations’.
CND says: ‘We will publish the responses as we receive them to help people make an informed decision before casting their ballot.’
The British American Security Information Council, a thinktank, published a report on 5 May in partnership with UNA-UK: ‘Meaningful Multilateralism: 30 Nuclear Disarmament Proposals for the Next UK Government’.
Some of the disarmament proposals:
- Issue sole purpose declaration. ‘While the UK officially maintains an ambiguous posture, much of its domestic signalling and public discussion around Trident implies that the system has a sole purpose: to deter nuclear threats or use by other nuclear-armed states. However, this has not been clarified internationally, and the majority of states in the international community, which are not in the British mindset, have good reason to believe that the UK could use its nuclear arsenal aggressively and irresponsibly against them.’
- Adopt No First Use policy
- Strengthen negative security assurances to states without nuclear weapons – ‘The UK should issue firm and unconditional negative security assurances (NSAs) that it will not use nuclear weapons against any state without nuclear weapons.’
- Convene a Nuclear Weapon States Study Group
- Publicly and diplomatically defend the Iran Deal
- Increase transparency by declaring stockpiles and operating records annually
- Plan for a denuclearised UK security policy
The Quakers, the peace-focused Religious Society of Friends, have published a briefing for the general election, highlighting ‘four key topics’: climate change, nuclear weapons, forced migration and economic inequality.
The Quakers’ general election website suggests activities for local Quaker meetings, including holding a hustings for parliamentary candidates to make speeches and answer questions. Another suggestion: ‘Take out a table, two chairs and some cups of tea, and invite passers-by to join you and discuss politics... without suggesting they support any particular party.’
The website also includes two suggestions for activities after the election: ‘Write to your new MP’ (invite them to ‘join you after worship one day to discuss the concerns of your meeting’) and ‘Facilitate a conversation’ in a small group to discuss an important topic. http://election.quaker.org.uk
The National Justice & Peace Network, a network of Catholic peace and social justice groups, doesn’t seem to have produced its own guidance on the election, but is circulating a briefing by Caritas Social Action Network and the Catholic development agency CAFOD.
This includes questions for candidates on these four topics:
- Global poverty and aid. ‘What will you and your party do to continue to tackle poverty overseas?’
- Climate change and care for creation. ‘How will you and your party make tackling climate change a priority and prevent more people being pushed into poverty because of the changing climate?’
- Britain’s role in the world. ‘How will you and your party ensure that Britain is an outward-looking, tolerant and welcoming nation in years ahead?’
- Building strong communities in the UK. ‘What will you and your party do to help build strong, inclusive communities so that all people can flourish?’
Northern Friends Peace Board
The Northern Friends Peace Board has compiled a list of relevant links under a number of headings. Two of the sections are:
- Building bridges. ‘Support needs to be given to initiatives that promote dialogue, bridge-building and mutual understanding, as the basis for peace at the local level. Whatever direction is taken in Brexit negotiations and a possible further Scottish independence referendum, priority should be given to recognising our common humanity, building peace and good relations across borders.’
- Sanctuary. ‘We would wish to see an asylum system that recognises the desperate situations (sometimes fuelled by UK-made weapons) from which people are fleeing and seeking sanctuary in the UK. It should provide an environment that is open, and based on principles of presumed innocence/justice and genuine need rather than of hostility and suspicion. We must put far more effort into finding fair and peaceful long term solutions to problems around the world.’
Stop the War Coalition
Stop the War makes ‘Statements’ every so oftlen, but has not made an official ‘Statement’ about this election. In the advert on its website for the 18 May election question time in London that it co-organised with CND, Stop the War wrote:
‘The questions of foreign policy, war and peace are already a feature in this election and for once there are clear differences between the parties.
‘Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is a former chair of Stop the War and a lifelong anti-war campaigner or peace campaigner. This could not be in stronger contrast to Theresa May, whose closeness to Donald Trump makes her support for more wars almost certain. After more than a decade of brutal military interventions, the war party is still refusing to draw rational and humane conclusions from these catastrophes....’
UNA - UK
The United Nations Association UK is calling on all political parties to make the following commitments:
- Placing the UN at the centre of British foreign policy and taking steps to make it work better
- Maintaining our 0.7% overseas aid commitment, which saves lives every day and tackles the root causes of threats to our security
- Ensuring that our actions – at home and abroad – live up to our proud record [! – ed] in creating human rights laws and norms
- Adopting arms control policies to which the rest of the world can aspire
- Increasing our contribution to UN peacekeeping, using our highly-skilled troops to build stability overseas and keep us safe in the process
- Becoming a world leader in the transition towards a zero-carbon economy
- Making the protection of innocent people the focus of our privileged place on the UN Security Council
- Extending a warm welcome to those fleeing conflict and persecution in line with the letter – and spirit – of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention
- Shouldering the extra responsibilities that come with being a nuclear power by taking steps to further global disarmament
As well as the BASIC report it co-sponsored, UNA-UK has also published its own report ‘Keeping Britain Global? Strengthening the UK’s role in the world’.
UK Feminista has a poster-guide to holding a feminist hustings.
Key advice: ‘Remember not to give the impression that you’re pushing for one party’.
Stand Up to Racism
As soon as the election was called, Stand Up To Racism launched a nationwide campaign: ‘We are calling on parties and candidates to refrain from the scapegoating of migrants and refugees and take responsibility for halting the rise of racism, Islamophobia and anti-semitism.’
They asked people to lobby their local candidates to sign the Stand Up to Racism pledge: ‘Following the shocking rise in hate crime after last year’s EU referendum, I pledge in this election campaign to stand up to racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism and the scapegoating of migrants and refugees.’
They also asked supporters to join them on Facebook and Twitter throughout the campaign on the ‘#RacismOut of #GE2017’ hashtags. In particular, they asked supporters to tweet selfies of themselves holding a downloadable poster.
Jubilee Debt Campaign
The Jubilee Debt Campaign has produced a short guide and suggested question for each of their ‘four vital issues’: ‘Please use this guide to ask questions of candidates at hustings events or in writing, or when they come knocking on your door to ask for your vote.’
JDC write: ‘If you do ask a question of your candidates, please take a note of their responses and email it to us so we can follow-up with MPs after the election’:
Here’s one of their topics and questions:
- The global debt iceberg of Public-Private Partnerships. ‘The Treasury Select Committee and National Audit Office have shown that hospitals built using the Private Finance Initiative in the UK have cost twice as much as if the government had borrowed the money directly. As a result, many NHS trusts are facing crippling runaway debts, which are affecting frontline services. Yet, despite the disaster of the Private Finance Initiative here in the UK, the government is now spending aid money to promote the scheme in developing countries. Would your party stop promoting the Private Finance Initiative overseas, and start telling developing countries how costly and damaging such schemes have really been in the UK?’
JDC can supply details of husting events and candidate lists on request.
This is part of a statement made by Sisters Uncut, the feminist anti-cuts group, the day after the snap general election was called:
‘Sisters Uncut is non-partisan and revolutionary; that means we don’t give our support to any mainstream political party....But being non-partisan doesn’t mean that Sisters think all political parties are the same or that it doesn’t matter which one is in power.
For many women and non-binary people living in the UK, or seeking refuge here, the political party in power really could mean the difference between life and death.
As anti-capitalist, anti-racist feminists, we are staunchly anti-Tory....
‘Since 2010, at least 34 specialist refuge services have closed due to funding cuts, with 66% of those left open at risk of closure due to financial uncertainty. Those closed were disproportionately specialist services for women of colour.
‘There are set to be whole cities without one single refuge for survivors of domestic violence due to funding cuts. At least two-thirds of domestic violence survivors were turned away from refuges in 2015/16, for disabled survivors this increased to 75%....
‘Now’s the time to stand up and be counted sisters – vote against the Tories & other right-wing parties on June 8th, get involved in your local Sisters Uncut group, share your anti-Tory views on social media and talk with friends, family & colleagues about why the Tories are the enemy of the people.
It might be bleak right now, but together we shall overcome.’
Hope Not Hate
Hope not Hate, the anti-racism and anti-extremism group, is campaigning against the UK Independence Party (UKIP): ‘Our general election campaign is using advanced voter analysis tools to keep UKIP out.’
Hope not Hate is also trying to reduce the opportunities for a new post-UKIP party likely to be started by Aaron Banks and Nigel Farage in the autumn.
‘Our 2017 campaign will focus on the seats where UKIP still hopes to poll 15-20% of the vote, with the intention of driving it down further.’ These seats include: Thurrock, Heywood & Middleton, Hartlepool, Dagenham & Rainham, Grimsby, Clacton, Dudley North, Boston & Skegness, Rotherham, Bradford South, and Stoke North.
‘We have the most unbelievable [ed!] data which profiles our key constituencies street by street so we know where to deliver leaflets and we have set up a mail centre so we can produce and send highly targeted and personalised letters.
‘In a new departure in this election, we will run a sophisticated and hyper-targeted Facebook campaign.
‘Our research has long found that working class UKIP voters are economically pessimistic and struggling. And understandably so. The price of food, fuel and energy is going up, while wages are at best stagnating or even falling. And yet UKIP has put banning the burqa at the core of its election campaign.’
The human rights group, Liberty, wants the next government to abandon plans for an Espionage Act that could see journalists and whistleblowers jailed for years if they reveal information that embarrasses ministers.
Liberty also has ‘five questions you should be asking canvassers’. We’ve included detail only on the first one:
- Will you protect our Human Rights Act? The Human Rights Act is our law. It lets us hold our authorities to account if they don’t protect and respect our rights – and it’s made the UK a better, fairer place. It’s helped victims of crime, disabled people and minority groups including BAME and LBGT communities. It’s protected our soldiers, journalists and women who have survived domestic violence. It helped the Hillsborough families and so many others get to the truth.
- Will you make sure we stay signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights?
- What will you do to combat division and discrimination?
- Will you fight to protect human rights as we leave the EU?
- Will you commit to a targeted state surveillance system which protects our rights?
Liberty has a print out, cut out and keep ‘questions for canvassers’ doorhanger.
The 38 Degrees online campaigning group created a people-powered/crowd-sourced plan for the 2017 general election within days of it being announced. Hundreds of thousands of 38 Degrees-ers voted in two rounds of surveys.
The final plan has two key priorities – voter support before the election, and a show of strength after the election:
- Making sure as many people as possible have a chance to vote: ‘That means making sure people are registered and informed, and making sure that there are no barriers to voting on the day.’
- Making sure the new MPs who get elected know that there are thousands of 38 Degrees members in their constituency.
Executive director of 38 Degrees, David Babbs explained that a third option that made it to the top of the list had not been chosen by staff: ‘In the 28th April survey we had also included a draft option around specifically campaigning against UKIP’s new strategy of turning up the volume on an anti-Muslim message.... We were all agreed that UKIP’s new anti-Muslim strategy was a disgrace. But the survey responses showed that whilst a majority supported a campaign, support was much less overwhelming than for the other two options.’ Supporters raised a whole host of possible problems.
Campaign Against Climate Change
The Campaign against Climate Change has drawn up some questions to ask candidates:
- The Committee on Climate Change says that with current policies, we will only make half the emissions cuts we need by 2030. What will your party do to get us back on track?
- Recent policy changes have damaged the solar and onshore wind industries. What will you do to ensure that we can benefit from these clean and increasingly cheap energy sources?
- Do you support a new runway at Heathrow Airport, given that there is no evidence it can be built without overspending on the UK’s carbon budgets?
- Fracking at any significant scale would harm the UK’s chance of keeping within its carbon budgets. Given the other environmental risks and its unpopularity, do you agree the UK should focus on renewable energy instead?
Who Targets Me
‘In the run up to the 2015 General Election a combined £1.3m was spent on targeted Facebook advertising by political parties.... the rise of dark ads has been swift and this trend can be observed globally, perhaps most noticeably in 2016 when the Trump campaign spent tens of millions of dollars funding digital advertising with variable language tweaked to each individual’s particular personality traits.’
‘Who Targets Me’ is a browser-based tool developed for this British general election, to help Facebook users understand how political campaigns are using Facebook to try to influence people. The tool extracts and analyses paid-for political adverts in your Facebook feeds.
The developers say: ‘Analysing the aggregated data will allow us to draw out insights about exactly which demographics are being targeted and the exact media and language that campaigners are using to influence your vote.’
At the time of going to press, the extension only works with Google’s Chrome browser, but the developers promised a Firefox add-on would arrive soon.
You can click the extension icon in the top-right of your browser toolbar to see your personalised statistics.
A 12-step guide to election guidance
Best practice for organisations seems to be:
- explain your plan for having an impact (Hope not Hate, 38 Degrees)
- have just four topics (CND, Pax Christi and Jubilee Debt Campaign)
- give people just one short, easy-to-remember, question per topic to ask candidates (Liberty’s are just 11 words long on average)
- mix yes/no and open questions (Campaign Against Climate Change have two ‘Do you agree that...?’ and two ‘What will you do about...?’)
- write four sentences of explanation for each question (Liberty)
- link to a longer briefing on the subject (Liberty)
- ask people to send any candidates’ responses to you (JDC, CND) and say you’ll publish them on your website (CND)
- plan to follow up with MPs yourself after the election (JDC)
- and get local campaigners to do the same (Quakers, 38 Degrees)
- offer downloadable resources: leaflet (Stand Up To Racism - SUTR), pledge for candidates to sign (SUTR), doorhanger with questions for candidates (Liberty)
- give guidance on how to hold ‘hustings’ for candidates (the Quakers have lots of detailed briefings; UK Feminista one lovely poster)
- give easy ways to spread the message over social media (SUTR)