On my bookshelf of hefty political tomes stand 4 volumes steeped in relevance to the Labour Party: Aneurin Bevan by Michael Foot, Red Queen (Barbara Castle) by Anne Perkins, Kinnock by Martin Westlake, and Courage: 8 Portraits by Gordon Brown, the latter two signed by the Labour leaders past and present themselves. Yet how today’s announcement about nuclear power has put views of courage and party history in stark contrast. Nuclear weapons and disarmament, and nuclear power, have divided Labour since Bevan, but Kinnock (pictured) made it a point of principle – despite internal opposition – to speak at the major CND march in London on 22 October 1983 and committed the party to multilateral nuclear disarmament in a resolution at the 1988 Labour Party conference. Where is the principle on show today?
While the debates in the 1980s about nuclear weapons drew millions onto the streets, Labour supporters and members prominent among them, today’s decision to commission a new generation of nuclear power stations has drawn barely a whimper within the party. Peter Hain opposed nuclear during the Deputy Leadership election but maybe he’s too busy dodging scandals to put his head above the parapet. Then there’s Joan Ruddock, one time chair of CND – I wonder what’s going through her mind? How has the party become so beholden to the nuclear lobby?
And party members – what do they think? Well, if today’s means of political activism – blogging – is anything to go by, the members don’t give a damn either. Paul Linford has an excellent piece, while LabourHome has a measly 4 lines in favour of nuclear (NEC hacking is obviously much more important) and my previous post on the subject is the only one that deals with the issue in the Bloggers4Labour recent posts for today. Other parties are more predictable – Iain Dale is positive, ConservativeHome quotes Alan Duncan, while LibDem Voice has a couple of critical articles.
What has happened here? Labour is losing its soul it seems. For goodness sake, the Chernobyl Disaster was in 1986 – it’s not as if the controversies of nuclear power are old history. That’s even in living memory for most Labour bloggers. So stand up for your beliefs on important questions like this!
[UPDATE – 11.1.2008, 0900]
Seems that at least Ken Livingstone has not lost his principles. He said this yesterday:
“New nuclear power stations will do little to combat climate change, but will poison Britain’s future with a legacy of radioactive waste for which the government has advanced no serious strategy for dealing with.”
My old MP, Paul Flynn, is also standing up against nuclear. He’s part of the reason why I joined the Labour Party and I’m very happy (although not surprised) that he’s taking this stand.
[UPDATE 2 – 11.01.2008, 1730]
This from Dizzy makes me want to cry.
[UPDATE 3 – 19.2.2008]
Sussex University is organising a big public debate about the issue – go along if you care about this issue!
Yes but Jon, the disaster in Ukraine is very unlikely to happen to any nuclear power plant in Western Europe. The Chernobyl plant used a very dangerous form of reactor, which has notâ€”to my knowledgeâ€”ever been used in the West. A few of these old-style reactors linger in the Baltic states and there are plenty still in Russia, but any remaining in the European Union are being phased out, part I thought due to enlargement obligations.
In an ideal world, it would be nice to get rid of fission plants, but these seem the best of a gaggle of bad options. We can’t burn coalâ€”even though we have plenty of it in Europeâ€”because it is too polluting. Our oil reserves are running out, and this is also polluting. Our gas is running low in the North Sea, and we don’t want to have to import any from the Russians, as we can see what bag of worms that will bring about. And while we should certainly be investing far more into renewable sourcesâ€”including nuclear fusionâ€”these are still in their infancy, while the only economically viable source of clean power is wind, but the sporadic nature of the wind means that wind turbines can only supplement our needs.
Nuclear energy therefore seems to be a plausible and appropriate response to the energy dilemma. That is why Iâ€”as a Labour Party memberâ€”support its enhancement. I also support the continuance of our nuclear deterrent, although I think we should work with France to upgrade it, seeing that our needs in this area should really be coterminous. I may be an idealist, but I do know that nuclear disarmament is a pure fantasyâ€”and probably dangerous too!