Herald letter 10th November: Multilateralism (No £wall)

IAN W Thomson (Letters, November 9) might wish to consider that the various positions taken by the Labour Party on nuclear disarmament reflect the differences to be found across the population in general, and are therefore to be expected (and indeed welcomed) in a political party which seeks to represent a broad spectrum of its opinions.

At the same time, there are a number of issues in his letter which should be pointed out to your readers.

The first is that when the UK first acquired its nuclear capability, it was at the time when the Soviet Union was imposing its tyranny across the whole of Eastern and Central Europe. In this context, the UK needed to respond; Ernest Bevin as Foreign Secretary was not only the scourge of pacifists and Communists, he had also been wartime Minister of Labour, and saw the need to demobilise men quickly to rebuild the country’s productive economy. Nuclear weapons were considered a solution which both faced up to the Soviet threat and allowed the size of the standing forces to be reduced.

Secondly, Mr Thomson describes the rejection of Labour in the 1980s as a “middle England” phenomenon. My own experience at the time was that unilateralism was especially unpopular amongst working class voters. Their views varied from “we should not give up ours while others have got theirs” to Far East veterans of the Second World War, whose experience had convinced them that nuclear weapons had cut their war shorter than it might otherwise have been.

Finally, it is a huge omission to mention Attlee, Bevin, Kinnock and co but ignore the contribution to the nuclear debate of Aneurin Bevan, He described nuclear unilateralism as “an emotional spasm” and advised against “sending a Labour Foreign Secretary into the [disarmament] negotiating chamber naked.”

Bevan’s multilateralist view is one followed by many of us in the Labour Party, including Kezia Dugdale. It is also party policy, although, as Mr Thomson says, it is rejected by Jeremy Corbyn.

Peter A Russell,


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