At a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) briefing a few weeks ago, a young man sat facing thirty disarmament campaigners and non-governmental organisations in a room in a government building close to Admiralty Arch in London. His task was to brief those assembled on the UK's position on the possession of nuclear weapons. What was striking about his presentation (which he read from pre-prepared notes) was his ability to deliver hypocritical statements with aplomb and without any evidence in his voice or mannerisms about the irony of these statments.
The UK, we were informed, is committed to nuclear disarmament (sub text: 'for everyone else except the exclusive 'P5' club – the UK, France, the USA, China and Russia'). This comes from a government which defends its retention of nuclear weapons on the vague grounds that it must guard against an undefined future threat involving a potentially resurgent Russia or nuclear blackmail, as though such threats only apply to the UK.
The UK is also, we were told, in favour of nuclear weapons-free zones in the Middle East and in Asia. Evidently the UK does not see the need for a nucear weapons free-zone in northern Europe, which could be initiated by a decision by the UK not to renew its Trident programme in 2016.
Finally, our FCO representative addressed the proliferation of nuclear arms. Ignoring the facts that the UK is positively encouraging proliferation by exporting nuclear technology throughout the world; that the safety and security authorities at national and international level are incapable of adequately regulating the movement and potential diversion of nuclear material; and that there is a clear, routinely acknowledged and unequivocal link between the development of civil nuclear power programmes and the eventual possession of nuclear weapons, we were told that the UK is working to prevent proliferation. Had the FCO representative been Pinnochio, his nose would have been pressed up against the window, twenty feet away.
This Orwellian 'doublespeak' is worrying enough. What is even more chilling, however, is that this young man could deliver it without having the ability, the insight, the courage or the decency to acknowledge the scale of the hypocrisy he was delivering. When challenged by his audience he simply reverted to his notes and trotted out the ministerial line, impervious, so it seemed, to the contribution he was making to a world where lies, obfuscation, double standards, hypocrisy and circumlocutory language obscure the truth and convolute politics to the point where the extreme becomes the norm.
What should the peace and disarmament movement do when faced with such a wall of untruth, mis-speaking and dangerous, bare-faced nonsense? What should we do when this country's politicians speak of peace but prepare for war? What should we do when they plan to spend £100bn of taxpayers' money on replacing a weapons system designed to incinerate innocent people in their tens of thousands? What should we do when the government refuses to provide documentation about the humanitarian impacts of the weapons of mass destruction it deems essential by telling us that 'This information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost'?
Firstly, the peace movement should unite around a common goal. That goal should be to utilise 2015 as the window of opportunity in which a gargantuan, collective effort to change the political climate on nuclear weapons will be undertaken. The movement should pool its resources, seek grants from appropriate bodies, generate an appropriately-sized fighting fund and run a public awareness campaign like no other. The biggest enemy we face is ignorance and it is the job of the disarmament movement to show the public the cost, the consequences and the political ramifications of the system the government tells us we have to retain for our security.
We should demand that the tail of Westminster stops wagging the dog of the electorate in this country. We must demonstrate in a manner which politicians cannot ignore that the majority of people in the UK are sickened and appalled by the thought that this country builds and deploys weapons which are inhumane, eye-wateringly expensive and dangerous even to ourselves, and which cannot and will not ever be used in a sane world.
The role the UK could and should play in the international arena on the disarmament question is massive. A decision in the UK to reject nuclear weapons would have a major and immediate positive effect throughout the world and would be a major step towards negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban treaty. If Scotland's independence and membership of the European Union are topics worthy of being put to a referendum, then so, surely, is the possession or rejection of weapons which have cursed the world since the 1940s. It is time to reject them and only the public can wield the necessary power to achieve a long-overdue objective which our politicians seem incapable of delivering.