Work at Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Berkshire was disrupted this morning as the police spent three hours struggling to remove Christian protesters who were chained across a gateway.
Last week, cyclists rode from London to Berkshire, visiting communities affected by cuts on their way to AWE and calling on politicians to save £100bn ($148bn) by not renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system.
Earlier this month, a singing flashmob performed an oratorio against Trident in the lobby of the Parliament. Last month, there were arrests of peaceful protesters at the Faslane base in Scotland, where Trident submarines are based.
Anti-Trident protests have become so frequent that even I am struggling to keep track of them.
Take any one of these actions by itself and you can dismiss it as insignificant. But between them, they represent a growing determination not only to resist Trident but to force it onto the political and media agenda at a crucial moment in time.
Next year, the British Parliament will take a decision on whether to renew Trident or not. The government’s desire to renew it makes a mockery of British ministers telling Iran that it must not develop nuclear weapons.
The result of the general election on 7 May will affect our chances of defeating Trident’s renewal. Conservatives and the Labour leadership are committed to Trident, but polls suggest the Scottish National Party (SNP) may hold the balance of power.
The SNP, along with the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, have suggested that Trident abolition would be a condition of a deal to prop up a minority Labour government. Further, a significant number of Labour MPs are opposed to Trident.
It is vital not to be naïve. All these signs of hope could crumble to dust. Unlike the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who have a strong peace tradition, the SNP favour membership of NATO.
Even if the SNP stick to their principles, a minority Labour government could rely on Conservative votes to get Trident through. While a survey has found that three-quarters of Labour candidates oppose Trident, I doubt whether three-quarters have enough integrity to vote against it.
Suzy Stride, Labour’s candidate for Harlow, accused me last year of undermining the chances of tackling poverty in Britain by encouraging Labour to oppose Trident. She implied that if Labour opposed Trident, they would lose the election and allow the Tories to continue with extreme austerity.
Her comments are a reminder that much of the Labour Party is stuck in the 1980s, when opposition to nuclear weapons was blamed for losing them elections. Public opinion has moved on considerably. Polls consistently show that a majority of the public oppose Trident renewal, especially at a time of sweeping cuts to public services.
Suzy told me that Trident was not relevant to people’s everyday lives. The political and media establishment persist in discussing it as if it were some sort of abstract academic issue.
Trident would, of course, seem much more relevant if it were used, or if there were a major accident (and let’s not forget that every machine that humans have invented has at some point gone wrong). But it is also relevant now.
The willingness of ministers to spend billions on weapons of mass destruction gives the lie to the claim that their policies are about saving money and cutting the deficit.
We can shift the national debate on Trident by constantly linking peace, economics and the environment. The cyclists who travelled from London to the Atomic Weapons Establishment last week – under the name Wheel Stop Trident – are a good example.
They departed from the offices of arms giant Lockheed Martin. On their way, they met local people in Ealing campaigning to save their hospital from closure and visited a renewable energy site near Reading.
As Laura Stringhetti of the group Ealing Save Our Hospitals said to them, ‘The government tells us that austerity is necessary as there is no money left, while there is money for nuclear weapons and wars’.
The cyclists constantly drew attention to a newly published research by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), showing how the skills of workers in the arms industry are similar to the skills needed for the development of renewable energy.
Renewables would provide more jobs and better jobs – jobs that are aimed at enhancing life, not destroying it.
These are the messages we must combine if we are to push Trident on to the front pages before polling day; if we are to remind MPs that opposing Trident will win, not lose, public support; if we are to challenge the whole militarist-capitalist mindset on which the retention and renewal of nuclear weapons relies.
Let’s make sure that acts of resistance to Trident become more frequent, stronger and better publicized as polling day approaches. It’s a tough fight, but we can win.
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