Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Losing the argument

The battering which Corbyn has taken throughout the election campaign on the question of Trident has been a sad reflection on the state of politics.  It’s an issue on which he has been utterly consistent for the whole of his political life, but seeing interviewers trying to bully him to say that he’s changed his mind when he very clearly has not done so has been a depressing exhibition of the power of the media to create and sustain the Tory narrative.  He’s handicapped, of course, by the lack of support for his viewpoint within his own party, particularly from those unions who seem to see preparing for nuclear annihilation as just an expensive job creation scheme, but refusing to change his mind, or even just pretend that he’s changed his mind to please a particular audience, is surely a sign of strength and conviction rather than the weakness as which it’s been portrayed.
The hounding of him on the issue during the Question Time non-debate left me feeling that there’s something very wrong in a country where a gung-ho willingness to incinerate millions by launching a first strike is deemed one of the most important tests of leadership.  It’s about time someone challenged the established consensus on nuclear weapons, and it’s a great pity that his own party has prevented Corbyn from doing that effectively at an election for the first time in a generation.
It also raises a question in my mind about the much-vaunted ‘British values’ which the Prime Minister keeps banging on about.  In the light of recent events, she has quite rightly condemned those who are prepared to strap on a suicide vest and go out and kill as many randomly selected civilians as they can as being something which is completely contrary to those values.  But at the same time, she tells us that being willing and ready to launch a nuclear strike which will kill millions of randomly selected civilians (as well as probably being suicidal for the UK if the target country itself possesses nuclear weapons) is a key test of support for those same values.
Now some will no doubt object to that comparison, and argue that the whole point of having nuclear weapons is never to need to use them; that the very act of possessing them acts as a deterrent.  And obviously, they can only be a deterrent if the ‘other side’ completely believes that the PM of the day will be ready and willing to use them if the UK is attacked or if he or she believes that the UK is in imminent danger of attack.  All of that is true, of course.  But my point is simply this: a Prime Minister who declares publicly and repeatedly that she is ready and willing to order the deaths of millions of civilians – men, women, and children alike – is not in a particularly good position to argue that attacking and killing civilians is somehow alien to her core values.  Of course there are differences of opinion about the circumstances in which it can be justified, but having stated that there are indeed circumstances in which it’s not only justified, but she’s willing to do it, she’s lost the argument about values and principles.  Corbyn, at least, is still in a position to argue on the basis of values and principles - May is not.
None of this can or should be taken to provide any sort of excuse or pretext for recent attacks, but ridding humanity of its propensity to resort to extreme violence isn’t a problem restricted only to ‘others’.  The UK’s continued possession of nuclear weapons is a clear and unequivocal statement of a willingness to use them, and thus is itself a provocative act.  And it’s the sort of act which tells us more about the true values of our political leaders than any amount of rhetoric ever can.

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