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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 79, Cover design by Paul Aston and Calvert's Press

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 79, April/May 2005


Is anyone thinking what we're thinking?
A Light Look at the 2005 UK Election

Nicola Butler and Rebecca Johnson

05.05.05. Time for the United Kingdom to go to the ballot box. Time for the politicians to listen (for a change), to kiss babies, dodge flying eggs, avoid punching potential voters, and launch their political manifestos for the 2005 election.

The Conservatives went first with the intriguingly titled "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" This is a slim volume which appears to have been hand written by a beaming Michael Howard (nothing of the night about him nowadays). Actually what we're thinking is, can that seriously be the title of your manifesto? And are you thinking coherently at all?

What the Conservatives are thinking about nuclear policy or international security we may never know, as the manifesto does not say. Though it is clear from it that they think the real threat Britons face in the twenty first century is from Europe. We will never give up our "valuable freedom... We will not join the Euro."

Labour, meanwhile, wants to persuade us it is taking "Britain: Forward Not Back" - or was that backwards not sideways? Vote for Tony Blair and you may or may not get Gordon Brown. Anyway, they've published a little red book about it all, which they launched in game-show style with co-ordinating little red outfits. It seems that in 2005 Labour, or should that still be 'New Labour', is "committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent", paving the way for a decision on whether to replace Trident in the next parliament. Don't forget how Tony Blair pledged in 1997 that he was man enough to push the button.

All that earnest stuff about supporting the CTBT and verifying the BWC that was in the last manifesto has disappeared, which is what happens when Washington helps you write your foreign policy. Instead, this Labour government seems stuck in the 1970s, still urging "states not yet party to non-proliferation treaties, notably the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to join". So, no mention of full compliance with our own treaty obligations, or ensuring that the NPT has the institutional powers to enforce its own provisions to ensure that states who became party to the treaty don't leave it and develop nuclear bombs.

Labour wants us to believe them that nuclear weapons are necessary for deterrence - not to deter terrorists (everyone knows that won't work), nor for the Russians or even the French (though we can't bear the thought of letting France be Europe's sole nuclear power, so we'd insist on keeping ours as long as they have theirs). No, Labour's nuclear weapons are to deter the tabloids (from portraying Labour as soft on defence). That's also the more likely reason for going to war on Iraq than to imagine that Blair really believed the nonsense he span about Iraqi WMD being 45 minutes away.

The Liberal Democrats are, they tell us, the REAL alternative (with BLOCK CAPITALS). Like Labour, before they went forwards not back, the Lib Dems are going to simultaneously "work for the elimination of nuclear weapons" and "retain the UK's current minimum nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future". So, two REALLY incompatible alternative policies in one manifesto.

The Scottish Nationalist Party has Sean Connery's sexy Bond voice purring in your ear: "If Scotland matters to you, make it matter in May". As a manifesto title, it's less snappy than the Tories with more block capitals than the Lib Dems, and leaves us wondering about the other eleven months of the year. However, the SNP are not afraid to be firmly committed to "no nuclear weapons" on "independent Scottish soil". Though the nuclear submarines are generally in Scottish waters rather than on Scottish soil, the independent British warheads for Trident are carried up and down the roads of Scotland and England from Aldermaston, west of London, to Faslane, west of Glasgow. So I think we can take it that the SNP would put a stop to that. And they're not keen on NATO either (though the EU is quite popular).

Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, are going to "Adeiladwn Gymru Newyd". For all you non-Welsh speakers, that's "Build a Better Wales". Like the SNP, Plaid Cymru are committed to opposing "all weapons of mass destruction, including the UK's nuclear weapons". Luckily for them, they don't have any nuclear weapons on Welsh soil, though plutonium waste from Sellafield contaminates the north Wales coast before heading across to Ireland.

The Green Party manifesto announces that it is making "Real Progress". The Greens are committed to "pursuing immediate and unconditional nuclear disarmament", putting peace, sustainable energy and local democracy high on their agenda. In addition, the post-2003 Respect Party is appealing for... er... respect. And both a Menwith Hill protester and the father of a young soldier killed in Iraq are standing against Tony Blair in his north England constituency of Sedgefield, which must say something.

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