Thursday, 23 September 2010

Say No to Trident, Lib Dem Conference Report 2010

Say No to Trident’s foray into the real world met with mixed success it would be fair to say.  The greatest event was our fringe meeting held in coalition (a popular concept nowadays) with Liberal Democrats for Peace and Security.  Julian Huppert MP, just arrived back from China where he had been asked by one of his hosts whether Britain would join in if the USA decided to attack China?  A scary prospect indeed and while it seems absurd for us to contemplate currently, it gives an interesting insight into the mindset of Chinese strategic thinking.  They obviously see the USA as a threat in military terms and are seeking insight into just how must they would be up against if the worst happened. It has to be said that Britain, with one honourable except of Vietnam, acts as very reliable auxiliaries to the American legions.  Julian went on, expressing the view that Trident had already had been included in the Strategic Defence and Security Review by default.  Since I too have been saying this for some time, I confess to a small internal cheer on this one.  Tessa Munt MP is wonderful; although describing herself as a “baby” whip, if she had to choose between that office and her convictions on Trident, the whips’ office would have to be looking for a replacement.   David Grace of Liberal Democrats for Peace and Security spoke on the current political situation and what was hoped to be achieved by his motion which had been put together with Louise Edge of Greenpeace.  And of course, Kate Hudson of CND told us of their latest report which outlines the economic damage that would occur if the Trident replacement is pushed through on a like-for-like basis.  The event was packed out, with standing room only and, as Kate also expressed in her blog, was both good natured yet determined

Another highlight of the Conference for SNTT was the speech by Janet King during the emergency Trident motion.  She spoke simply yet with conviction about the broken promises and poor example of Britain and the other nuclear-armed states of failing to live up to the promises made under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed forty two years ago.    Janet’s speech was in contrast to my own.  I am afraid that I got too bogged down in the internal politics of the issue and simply did not send a clear message to a wider audience.  It went down well in the hall but I promise I’ll be better next time.  Nader Fekri, a SNTT member on the facebook site spoke passionately on the immorality of nuclear weapons.  Shirley Williams was brilliant as ever in reminding Liam Fox that Bush is no longer in the Whitehouse.  Jacque Bell was also ready to speak but sadly was not called.

I have to say though I am still not satisfied with the terms of the debate.  Any motion on nuclear weapons which myself and Nick Harvey, Armed Forces minister, can agree on has to be a fudge.  In fact, this debate did not advance the cause of unilateralism (or bi-lateralism which is even more to be preferred if practical), it merely is a restatement of current Lib Dem policy.  The speech that made this totally clear was from Steve Coltman of Loughborough.  He was the one advocating the deployment of Astute-class submarines armed with nuclear warheads.  This is not what Say No to Trident wants to see.  We have to stay firm; both in aim and principle.  I am almost certain that if our original motion had been allowed to pass through by the Federal Conference Committee that today the Liberal Democrats who be a party that supported unilateral nuclear disarmament. The amount of support we encountered as our tiny four-person demonstration (myself and Janet, joined by Margaret Rowley and Geoff Reed) stood outside the conference centre on Monday was staggering.  In fact, we were campaigning to the converted, with only one young man taking the time to argue with Janet who is in her natural element approaching complete strangers with a happy smile, placard in hand. It was mischievously suggested by one lady that we got the wrong conference and that we should be standing outside the Conservative’s Birmingham event instead!

So where does this leave us?  At Conference, at least some are now aware that there is a grass-roots movement and a few of them know it is called Say No to Trident.  The organisation has made good contacts with organisations like CND, Greenpeace and Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.  What we haven’t achieved yet is the change to the policy which we so dearly desire.  The next motion that we put in cannot be about Trident.  As far as we Liberal Democrats are concerned, that system would be out on its ear if we ever get power.  The next fight will be whether we replace it with the systems that Ming Campbell and Nick Harvey favour or rather sanity will prevail and our party policy will be a Britain without nuclear weapons.