On Spanners and Works
Later this year a key decision on the road to renewing Britain's nuclear weapons system will be taken. It is likely that it will be taken by the government in private, with neither public nor parliamentary scrutiny.
Decisions on the so-called “Initial Gate Report” will determine the broad details of the class of submarine to be designed and built to replace the existing Vanguard class. Speaking in December 2008, Secretary of State for Defence John Hutton stated that “It is not normal for Parliament to be involved in Initial Gate decisions for procurement projects”. The decision is expected to be made during the parliamentary recess. [Editorial note: Over the summer it was suggested the process would be put on hold for a while].
While the government has – for six years - been developing the warhead design and manufacturing facilities at Aldermaston, the initial gate will set in motion an even longer term and pricier process - developing the new delivery platform. The MoD's five-barred decision-making moment is by no means the end of the road, but it will be a significant milestone. How we campaign over the next six months can have an impact on the long-term process of replacing Trident.
And yet.. the arguments have been won: most of the people who live in Britain don't want Trident replaced. Ask further afield and the answer is even more emphatic. Back home the Foreign Office is muttering about global disarmament; the military want more conventional toys; and the public borrowing required to kick-start this kind of major government project today may well be unsustainable tomorrow.
Circumstances are in our favour, but we need to act now and with courage and determination.
We can shine a light on this process, force it out into the open and expose the government's nuclear ambitions;
We can be tactical about how we approach campaigning and what tools we embrace; recognise that we may need to step outside our own comfort zones in order to push the government outside theirs;
We can forge new alliances and continue developing a broad-based movement against the replacement of Trident. The simple fact is that every penny spent on Trident could be spent on something else. And that makes pretty much everyone our passive allies. A great foundation to build on.
Nag your MP: mass lobbying of MPs to force this process out in the open may have some impact. Whatever party, most MPs are upset by governments “bypassing parliamentary process”. Decisions behind closed doors make Members feel sidelined and disempowered. Use their ego, their vanity, to our advantage.
Pressure the MoD: write them letters and emails, call them up; leave them presents on their doorstep. Show the Secretary of State for Defence that people in this country are paying attention, are pissed off, and want this whole process out in the open. But its no good of just a few folk write – it has to be massive.
Get the issue out there: every phone-in; every local and national letter-writing opportunity; talk to people outside your normal circles – the networkers, the influencers, the people who will disseminate and add value to the information; make Trident replacement a hot issue. Be vocal.
Read everything you can: get a thirst for information and become resource rich. Learn to organise; learn to campaign; learn to take action; and if you already think you know – learn how to do it bigger, better and bolder. There's a wealth of information and helpful and experienced people out there. Empower yourself to act.
Be visible: get involved in organising and participating in local and national public protest and direct action. From street stalls to mass fluffy protests and from photo-ops to directly obstructing the MoD in their work - get out there. No point sitting at home thinking about it.
It is simple really: Who makes change? We do. But we need to approach it entirely ruthlessly and take a long view. Be tactical and don't expect it overnight.
[Also published in CND Campaign, Spring 1999, p.3, as "Blow the hinges".