Diane Abbott MP: Why Labour needs to stand for welfare not warfare

The Labour Party must become a voice for peace and international law after the disastrous wars of the Blair years, says Diane Abbott MP.


THE BALLOTS due to take place this summer in the Labour Party, to decide the next party leader and our candidate for mayor of London, give us a clear opportunity to debate the direction the Labour Party should take in a number of vital policy areas.

In both ballots there is a clear choice for those wanting to make Labour a voice for peace and international law after the disastrous wars of the Blair years — namely myself for mayor of London and Jeremy Corbyn for party leader.

On Palestine both our records are clear as we are long-term supporters of Palestinian rights and demand an end to the arms trade with Israel.

Both Jeremy and myself voted against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We both are vocal opponents of Trident nuclear weapons and support the CND. We both oppose the rising racism, Islamophobia and attacks on civil liberties that have accompanied Britain’s foreign policy in recent years.

We firmly opposed the proposed military attack on Syria in 2013. I was determined to do my utmost to stop Britain from taking this terrible course so I spoke out against it, including at the Hands off Syria protest just prior to the parliamentary vote. Indeed, it was one of the reasons why I was sacked from Labour’s front bench.

As well as the moral case against militarism and war, at a time of spending cuts and the deepening poverty they cause it’s more important than ever for Labour to make the case that Britain’s high levels of military spending should be put to much better use.

As is inevitable in such debates, the costs of renewing Trident are disputed. But the estimates range between £20 billion in the short-term and £100bn to include submarine procurement, missile leasing costs, extension of the current warheads’ lives, servicing and decommissioning.

However you calculate it, Trident is going to cost a huge sum of money.

So it is baffling that so many people — including other candidates for Labour leader and seeking to be mayor of London — have been prepared to nod through these gigantic costs unquestioned and have been willing to commit Labour to supporting Trident renewal.

It has been calculated that the money spent could pay for up to 150,000 new nurses, 1.5 million affordable homes, 2 million jobs and much more.

And this is just Trident, the tip of the iceberg in terms of Britain’s military spending.

Britain is currently spending around £40bn a year on its military — the fourth biggest military budget in the world, and by a long way the largest in the EU.

An April 2014 report by a respected defence think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, put the cost of Britain’s wars and interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan at almost £30bn — or £1,000 for every taxpayer. The cost of the Afghanistan war alone was about £12 million a day.

To put it in context, this £30bn on failed interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan would pay for 1,464,000 more NHS nurses or 408,000 NHS consultants. Or to take some further examples, the Stop the War Coalition has calculated that one cruise missile is equivalent to 28 nurses’ annual salaries and the money spent on four British Typhoon jets could instead be used to reverse the £400m cut to child benefit.

Britain is one of the biggest arms dealers in the world, with the government spending £700m a year on subsidies to arms companies, which could instead be invested in people.

Finally, it should be pointed out that when Labour makes the case for peace it helps the party electorally. When Tony Blair was prime minister Labour lost half a million votes in London and many of these voters left Labour after Tony Blair took us into the disastrous and unpopular Iraq war.

Further afield, the SNP’s anti-Trident message resonates with the Scottish electorate.

For the first time this summer, registered supporters as well as Labour Party members can vote in these selections, so clarifying the stance of the candidates on key issues facing Labour could not be more important. The inclusion of me and Jeremy in both of these ballots enables advocates of international justice to back anti-war, anti-racist and anti-austerity candidates. Join us in making the case for peace.

  • You can find out more about Diane Abbott’s campaign at www.diane4london.co.uk. You can register as a supporter before August if you are not a Labour Party member at supporters.labour.org.uk. Alternatively you can text SUPPORT to 78555.
  • Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and running to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London.

Source: Stop the War Coalition

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