The CND and the movement trying to stop Trident’s renewal

trafalgar square

I took a break today from RTÉ’s coverage of the general election to head down to Trafalgar Square and check out the CND’s #StopTrident rally. Here’s my report.

I’m an instinctual multilateralist, but last night I had pints with a friend who passionately believes the UK should give up its nuclear weapons. So today, after a morning spin class and a light lunch, I decided to brave the freezing cold and walk down to Trafalgar Square to hear the case for unilateralism.

Today’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament protest began as a march that started at Marble Arch and coalesced at Trafalgar Square. As I arrived, reggae music blasted from a stage set up on the stairs of Nelson’s column. Young and old were beginning to gather. A handful of activists set up stage props as journalists made their way into the media pit. The marchers were just arriving, and I made my way to stand on the lip of the fountain to see over the sea of heads and placards.

Of the many signs I saw, most called for the scrapping of the UK’s nuclear weapons in order to redirect money to pay for public services. “Homes Not Trident,” “People Not Trident,” “Climate Not Trident,” “Books Not Bombs,” “NHS Not Trident.” Some were funny. “Exasperated older ladies against Trident.” Some were more crass. At one point, a man in a Guy Fawkes mask walked by holding a picture of the Prime Minister and the words “financial terrorist and fascist.” As the marchers swelled, a group holding up gigantic letters spelled out the words: “Refugees Welcome.”  

There were Palestinian flags. Huge Scottish Saltires. A group of Quakers held a banner calling for peace and the end of nuclear weapons. Some of the marchers were older, some were younger. Various Labour Party constituencies came holding handmade banners in the traditional style you see at the Durham Miners’ Gala—or even Orange parades.

In a matter of minutes the numbers before me had swelled from the hundreds to the thousands. A man in a “go vegan” t-shirt walked by with a bongo drum and a ram’s horn tucked beneath his arms. A teenager with a tin of beer followed his mates through the crowd. Finally, at the crowd reached critical mass, various speakers came forward to make their case for unilateralism.

Kate Hudson, the General Secretary of CND, introduced the speakers by saying the gathering was the single-largest demonstration against nuclear weapons in a generation. The leftwing activist and actor, Vanessa Redgrave, said it was the happiest day of her life. Other speakers included Leanne Wood; Nicola Sturgeon; various religious leaders, including the Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell; union representatives; and Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

For me, three main themes emerge from what I heard. One, many speakers said that nuclear weapons belong to the past, and serve no purpose in the contemporary world. The security threats that the UK faces now, including terrorism and climate change, are not addressed by a weapons system from the Cold War. Caroline Lucas, the Greens only sitting MP, called Trident “a reckless vanity project that makes us less safe, not more safe.” “It makes us less safe,” she said, “because of accidents and miscalculations. It makes us less safe because it sends a message to the rest of the world that security depends on nuclear weapons.”  

The second main theme was that the vast sums of money that Trident costs would be better spent on public services such as the NHS, nationalising steel mills and building wind turbines, and building new homes. The sum floated by the CND as the total cost of Trident is £183 billion over its lifespan.

Lastly, many speakers spoke of the changing mood of the British public. Despite the mainstream media’s aggressively hostile treatment of the peace movement, they said, the British public are now largely opposed to the UK maintaining its nuclear deterrent. “Look around you,” Kate Hudson told the crowd. “We are now a majority.” At one point I Tweeted out that Vanessa Redgrave had just called for a referendum on Trident and the NHS. To my total surprise, dozens and dozens of people liked and re-tweeted the comment, including the account of longtime socialist and Labour activist, Harry Leslie Smith.

Walking home, questions came to mind. For one, on the point of public support, recent polling actually shows that more than half of Britons support Trident’s renewal. If a referendum were held, it would divert political energy away from other crucial parliamentary activity, and cost tens of millions of pounds to officiate. We’re already facing a referendum this year, and it would be a drain on party resources, and MPs’ time, to force them to campaign on a Trident referendum. It should be noted that in the general election the two main parties campaigned on pro-Trident platforms.

Next, while I’m still not entirely convinced that nuclear weapons are necessary to maintain the UK’s security, it’s unlikely any money saved on nuclear weapons could be invested into public services. NATO still requires the UK to put 2% of GDP into defense spending. If we didn’t invest in Trident, we would still have to invest in the military, unless we withdrew from NATO.

Anyway, back to the general election now on RTÉ.

  • Turgon

    A small point but CND does not usually have “The” in front of its name (though I agree considering it is the Campaign for Nuclear disarmament it should have). The use of the term “The CND” although maybe grammatically correct sounds very odd and I have never seen used previously. It is the same as no one ever says “The Sinn Fein” whereas they do say “The SDLP” or “The DUP” etc.

  • Written in haste, and tidying it up a bit now, cheers. 🙂 Will hopefully get back in the swing of writing a bit more and being more active in general in the Slugger community. Hope all is well with you!

  • Dominic Hendron

    Do you ever get angry about anything?

  • Reader

    Barton Creeth: “Look around you,” Kate Hudson told the crowd. “We are now a majority.”
    Crowds are always a bit like that. But for her to have used such logic is surely going to be a great embarrassment when the adrenaline rush ends and her brain clicks back into gear.

  • Nigel Crump

    How much money did Putin pay hudson to speak

  • She used to be a member of the Communist Party now Respect. I mean, there are peaceniks in the CND movement but it seems to me mostly a vehicle for the far far left.

  • Nigel Crump

    But why do these people hate the west and freedom so much

  • SeaanUiNeill

    A considerable amount less than we are paying the United States for an “independant” deterent that requires a key turn by a U.S. “advisor” on the sub before it can be launched, and is thereafter controlled by U.S. controlled GPS and other US based computer interference. In essence we are paying a part of the US defence budget for a weapon that serves only two purposes.

    i) It permits us to be considered a controlled “Foederatus” of what Gore Vidal called the “American Empire”:

    and for those who like big toys,

    ii) it permits Britain to posture as a “world player” for those shallow few who are still quite unaware that Trident is entirely under US control. But for those who are charitable enough towards US foreign policy to be entirely happy to pay tax payers money for something another nation gets the benefit from……..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nigel, if you were to check out my comments above….

    Its what you don’t know (or don’t want to know) that actually hurts you! We have been running down the professional armed forces for decades in order to provide this subsidy to the US arms industry, with a few crumbs falling to our own workers. Me, I’d prefer not to rely on a weapon that relies on civilian casulties for its effectiveness. To quote Wikipedia:

    [The International Court of Justice in 1996] ‘found that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict.” The Court stated that it could not definitively conclude whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of the state would be at stake.’

  • SeaanUiNeill

    To rather distort a notable saying of Pascal (from his reply to Rochefoucauld), “what is actually wrong with” the far left?

    I’d think we all have much, much more to be anxious about from the 1% who pretty much “own” us and are absorbing more and more of the worlds wealth, and the behaviour of our bankers………….need I go on?

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Didn’t know about the US control. Very interesting. Supprised the anti nukes folks don’t voice it more. Maybe it’s one of those things the msm aren’t allowed to broadcast.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Can’t see the 3 radiation soaked survivors of a nuclear war worrying too much about if it was legal ! 😀

  • SeaanUiNeill
  • SeaanUiNeill

    If I’m one, I’ll be making the point myself. Seriously, this issue of the twentieth century efforts to outlaw the targeting of civilian communities in war is something I’m endlessly commenting on in Slugger threads.

    Personally I have something of a preference for spending the money on actual protection is an increasingly dangerous world rather than subscribing to the sort of macho Lamborghini mind set all this passion for Trident suggests to me. The US total control issues are simply the last straw……..

  • Reader

    None of the detail in that report says that the US could prevent the UK from firing the missiles tomorrow, or prevent the UK from firing the missiles in a future version. All it implies is that the UK would have maintenance issues in the long term without US cooperation.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No, but the US officer with the second “key” would perhaps have some say in any attempt to take out New York, and if you know enough about the US controlled GPS guidance and targeting system that Trident must use you might perhaps realise what this means for control of the actual missile in flight. The entire computer system that every Trident missile is entirely locked into for flight corrections is situated on the US mainland and is fully under US control. And, really, would you let another power, no matter how friendly, have entire control of one of your major weapon systems? One that could effect serious damage on the US mainland if it fell into the wrong handsReally?

    The very fact that so much of what happens with regard to maintenance and servicing for Trident is entirely beyond any possibility of UK control is a cause for concern in itself, but the fact that its launch and guidance is dependant on software in the United States (contacted via satellite using buoys that are released up to the surface) is the icing on the cake for anyone unwilling to believe in the fairy story of any independent deployment of Trident. Only to be used with entire US approval.