Let's consign the nuclear genocide button to history
The British public is weary of wars and quite rightly afraid of the growing threat of nuclear war, says Emma Dent Coat MP.
Julian Lewis MP contends that the Conservative Party should fight the next general election on defence because he believes this is Jeremy Corbyn’s main weakness. I’m loath to give the Conservative Party advice on its strategy for the next general election, but frankly the evidence shows he is wrong.
If we think back to the 2017 general election, Jeremy Corbyn was asked in almost every single interview whether he would press the nuclear button. Labour went on to secure the biggest swing since 1945, which suggests a politician's willingness to use nuclear weapons isn't a decisive issue for electorate. In fact, millions of voters see Corbyn's commitment to peace and disarmament as a strength.
Let’s not forget that Corbyn came to prominence as a leader of the opposition to the failed Iraq war – opposition to that war was a major factor in why he became leader of my party. In Kensington our membership increased five times, and members who had left the party due to the Iraq war told me it was due to Corbyn’s stance. He represented a clear break with consecutive leaders who had backed unpopular wars that have made Britain less safe.
The history of the Iraq war, and the so-called ‘War on Terror’, shows that conventional thinking on defence and foreign policy has proved a disaster.
Corbyn was right to point out that terrorism, one of the biggest threats we face, would grow as a result of Britain’s military interventions.
After Corbyn condemned the Manchester terror attack in 2017, he bravely highlighted this link and a poll showed that 46% of the public agreed with him that the “UK’s military involvements abroad increase the risk of terror incidents in this country”. Only 14% disagreed.
On Yemen, while the Conservative government continues to allow arms sales to Saudi Arabia (albeit ‘by mistake’), whose war on Yemen has created a humanitarian disaster, Corbyn’s view that arms sales should end is in line with public opinion - a majority agree with him.
The government’s position on Yemen has been so unpopular it doesn’t even reflect the view of the Conservative Party’s dwindling membership – a poll last year showed a majority were opposed to arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. Meanwhile, the government admitted only last week that it had breached a court order banning weapons sales to Saudi Arabia for the third time.
The perceived Cold War 'certainties’ of Julian Lewis’ perspective don’t reflect the world we now live in. The Conservative Party itself is no longer the traditional party of the Armed Forces it once was: the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace recently said that British soldiers live in ‘dilapidated not fit for purpose accommodations’, pilots haven’t been trained, veterans sleep on the streets uncared for, and Conservative MPs voted for cuts to service personnel pay and nine years of military cuts.
This isn’t an argument in favour of more military spending. It’s an argument in favour of a government determined to address the real security threats we face, that will set security budgets accordingly, end the failed wars, and use taxpayers' money on the things we need rather than on the genocide button we cannot dare to press.
A Labour government is committed to building a nuclear-free world – there is a live debate in our movement about how we will achieve it. But while the Conservative government has failed to make any progress on securing that world, the Labour Party is poised to take action.
Shadow Peace and Disarmament minister Fabian Hamilton recently said that signing up to the UN’s nuclear ban treaty would be a good start to achieving this aim. Once again this view is shared with the public, 75% of whom said Britain should participate in negotiations for the treaty at the United Nations. Shockingly, the government boycotted them.
Last week a poll showed that 70% of Labour Party members support ditching Trident. Together we are arguing for that position in our party. This would be in line with Britain’s Non-Proliferation Treaty obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith and it would put Britain in a powerful position to strengthen the UN's nuclear ban treaty and persuade other nuclear states to follow our lead.
Ending Trident replacement would save over £205 billion that could be spent on addressing real defence and security needs and help end austerity that has blighted the life-chances of millions of people.
The British public is weary of wars and quite rightly afraid of the growing threat of nuclear war. Millions of people have taken political action to stop those wars and now a new mass movement is taking action to stop climate change.
With Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister we can address these existential threats. Let’s work together to save our planet and consign the genocide button to history.
Emma Dent Coat is Labour MP for Kensington.