“There’s always money for war but never for public services.”Richard Burgon MP.
By the Arise Volunteer Team
This weekend Labour CND and Arise put on an online talk exploring why the government’s hike in the military budget is a mistake, and why we as socialists need the will to argue for an alternative policy centred around peace.
The meeting was chaired by Labour MP for Leeds East and Secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group Richard Burgon, who pointed out the Conservatives’ recent £16 billion increase in military spending (on top of their already exorbitant military budget) is the largest in thirty years, while freezing public sector wages and cutting services. “There’s always money for war but never for public services,” he said, and labelled the spending increase as part of seeking a closer alignment with the US – a dangerous position to be in as tensions between the US and China rise. He forcefully argued the case for a vision for a society in which nuclear weapons have no place, and said we had to be alert to the dangers of a new cold war.
The first speaker was Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, Paul Rogers, who called for an urgent rethink of Britain’s national security, and criticised the lack of discussion over Britain’s imperialist history and the power of capital in conflict: “There is, of course, a disproportionate business interest [in war]; military matters are very profitable.” He went on to say Britain could play a huge future role in moving us toward a more peaceful world, and that nuclear weapons cannot engage with, let alone solve, the biggest issues we face now and in the future: “We have no need for nuclear weapons. You can’t nuke a virus, and you can’t deter climate breakdown. It just doesn’t work. It’s irrelevant.”
The next speaker was the former Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong peace campaigner, who began by thanking those around the country supporting his efforts to be reinstated as a Labour MP. He reflected on the media’s role in defence issues, highlighting that UK involvement in conflict never focuses on how many displaced people there will be, how much famine.
He went on to say that COVID-19 has demonstrated the extent of global health insecurity and inequality; problems that along with the climate crisis are going to create huge numbers of refugees. “Our party was founded by brave people with vision. Keir Hardie’s vision of a world of peace, justice, human rights and democracy. We must exist for that purpose. Let’s recalibrate our foreign policy around […] peace, justice, human rights and democracy.”
Nadia Jama, newly elected NEC member and active member of Acorn, Sheffield Needs a Pay rise and Orgreave Truth and Justice, lambasted the Conservatives’ failure to use the Comprehensive Spending Review to address issues of poverty, living standards and employment rights. She reflected on some unsurprising double standards: how thousands had lost jobs while bosses used unscrupulous ‘fire and rehire’ tactics to shove down working conditions and pay; how Ministers had to be dragged kicking and screaming into providing school meals for the poorest children, while handing over £12 billion to Serco for a defective track and trace system.
She said the Government should be highlighting the poverty the pandemic has exacerbated, and making investments in public services, housing and education. We on the left have to be working to dismantle an economy that puts profit first and people second.
The final speaker was Emma Dent-Coad, the first ever Labour MP for Kensington, best known as a campaigner for justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster. She spoke about how the Government’s plan for removing nuclear waste was to bury it underground, and remarked that we were leaving the gifts of nuclear waste and climate catastrophe for coming generations.
She commented that poverty, unemployment and foodbank usage in North Kensington is rising, and that it made no sense to waste money on nuclear weapons when we could eradicate poverty if we had the will, asking “Do we want a new generation of genocide machines or do we want to feed people?”