Can you believe what this government is like? We’re in the biggest cost of living crisis for decades with inflation at a forty year high. Public services need massive investment, workers need decent wages to keep up with the cost of living, heat their homes and put food on the table.
Yet ‘Defence’ Secretary Ben Wallace is busy bargaining with Rishi Sunak to get a bigger share of the national cake to spend on weapons. He’s been demanding a massive increase in military spending, from 2% to 3% of GDP. He has even threatened to resign if he doesn’t get it. But Britain is already the world’s 4th biggest military spender, behind only the US, China and India. Why on earth would we want to spend more?
Liz Truss was gung-ho for the massive increase. And if Sunak backs it, we’ll see Britain’s defence bill jump massively by 2030. According to the deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, “To deliver on its commitment to spend 3% of GDP on defence by 2030, [the] government will need to increase defence spending by about 60% in real terms,” … “This is equivalent to about £157 billion in additional spending over the next eight years.” That would make Britain the world’s third largest military spender. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate how out of touch this government is with the reality of everyday lives.
What we need now, more than anything else, is spending that will meet the needs of our communities. Millions are struggling with rising inflation, hunger and fuel poverty, yet our government turns its back. This government is on a disastrous track, ramping up militarisation, escalating the war in Ukraine, pouring money into a bottomless pit that means killing and destruction across the globe.
It means spending money on weapons instead of wages, welfare, and tackling the climate crisis. And it means the ever increasing possibility of nuclear war. We need a new set of priorities, determining how public money is spent, and shaping the values of this country. Those values must be aligned with the needs of the population as a whole, and the historic vision of the labour and progressive movement, for a society based on peace and justice, political and economic democracy, here and internationally.
We need finally to defeat and reject the brutal economic creed of neo-liberalism, that has destroyed so many lives and livelihoods, and turned the elites – that our government represents – into billionaires. And we need to recognise and defeat the establishment’s addiction to weapons and war: in its interests economically and politically, for profits and prestige.
The last few years have seen Britain playing an increasingly belligerent role in the world: Boris Johnson’s idea of Global Britain was all about gunboats and arms sales, nothing to do with contributing to a better, fairer world. Rather than spending more money on the NHS, or on giving nurses a fair pay deal – which he claimed could not be afforded, early last year he announced that Britain’s nuclear arsenal was going to be increased by over 40%. So billions of pounds can be found for weapons of mass destruction but not for wages.
And it’s not just new nuclear warheads: Britain is currently building new nuclear weapons submarines, as part of replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. This system comes with a price tag of over £205 billion, and what does it actually do? It certainly doesn’t protect us or make us safe – it makes us a target. That’s just one existential threat that our government is making worse. Now there’s another one. It seems we can forget investment to help deal with the climate emergency: militarism fuels the climate crisis, and it’s going ahead, all guns blazing.
But it’s not just this government that is a disaster when it comes to nuclear weapons and military spending. The Labour Party also backs militarism and weapons of mass destruction, even knowing, as we heard recently in the debate at TUC Congress on increasing defence spending, that there’s a worker on both ends of a bayonet. Regrettably, at Congress, a motion was narrowly passed that overturned the TUC’s progressive defence diversification strategy and backed increased military spending. Its conclusion was to base a strategy to rebuild manufacturing on increased defence spending and procurement.
Such a strategy – as pursued by successive governments – has resulted in an acceleration of the arms race, in which British-made weapons are killing hundreds of thousands of civilians – including children – across the globe. This strategy also means the dangerous expansion of nuclear weapons, including the replacement of Trident, increasing Britain’s nuclear warheads, and attempting to take part in providing Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, promoting nuclear proliferation and adding to global tensions in the process.
That strategy has also failed to rebuild communities devastated by years of under-investment and public sector cuts: because that strategy takes much needed investment away from jobs-rich areas of manufacturing – particularly the renewable energy sector – and undermines the TUC’s just transition policy, which calls for ‘adequate state intervention, investment and support to protect jobs, incomes, skills and communities’.
It’s time for our movement to get it clear on arms manufacturing, on military spending, and on nuclear weapons. Our communities need something better than production for killing. That’s what weapons do: kill people like us in other countries, while the elites make the profits. It really is time for a change – not just a change in government, but also a change in policy, in the Labour Party and our labour movement: for a policy of peace, justice and sustainable development for all peoples. For Wages, not Weapons.