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Tales from the council chamber
Lewisham leads the way
LEWISHAM COUNCIL in south London became the first local authority to oppose the government's planned replacement of the Trident submarine nuclear weapons system - after a motion moved by Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood.
When Blair introduced the government white paper on Trident last December, he tokenistically called for a 'public debate' on the issue. Accepting this 'invitation', Lewisham's Socialist Party councillors submitted a motion declaring the council's belief "that the £20 billion earmarked for a Trident replacement, plus the annual running costs of £1.6-£1.9 billion, would be better spent on improved public services".
It called on Lewisham's three Labour MPs to vote against replacing Trident when it comes before parliament in March.
Opening the council debate, Ian Page contrasted Trident's huge cost over its 30-year life span with the estimated resources needed to meet the Stern Report's target of cutting Britain's carbon emissions from 150 million tonnes to 60 million by 2030.
Both figures come in at around £76 billion - but a new nuclear weapons system is of little use in fighting global warming!
Some New Labour councillors attacked the motion by pointing to the 'dangerous new world' since 9/11 and the new 'nuclear threats' that could emerge. "Who knows what the world will be like in 30 years time?", one councillor asked rhetorically.
But this argument should be reversed. The Stern Report predicts that if global warming hasn't been contained, in 30 years' time there will be intense conflicts for resources in the ecologically ravished world that will exist then. If society is still organised on a capitalist basis divided into competing nations (nuclear-armed or not!), the prospects for humanity will be bleak indeed.
The Green councillors unanimously backed the motion (with their group leader, Darren Johnson, interjecting, 'now you can't attack us in the socialist'!).
Tory councillors opposed it. Liberal Democrat and New Labour councillors were split, but enough people from both groups voted to ensure that the motion was passed.
Also passed was another Socialist Party resolution committing Lewisham to support the 3 March Day of Action organised by the TUC-initiated NHS Together campaign. While Chris Flood made it clear that the proposed action is insufficient - a national demonstration is needed - defending the NHS against cuts and privatisation is an urgent necessity.
Realising the anger over the NHS, New Labour councillors didn't dare oppose this motion. But the lesson for Labour Party political fund-paying trade unionists is that, if it wasn't for the Socialist Party, there would not have been a motion backing the NHS Together campaign.
These 'little victories' in one council chamber won't change Blair's policy on Trident or the NHS. But they show on a small scale what impact a new, mass vehicle for working-class representation in Britain, a new workers' party, could have in shaping the political debate.
This is the first article in an occasional series on the work of Socialist Party councillors. The next item will be a report from Coventry on a victory won by disabled tenants in a campaign involving their Socialist Party councillors and the local community.
In The Socialist 1 February 2007:
Socialist Party news and analysis
War and terrorism
International socialist news and analysis