Half a century of CND

Bruce Kent, one Britain's most prominent peace campaigners, writes to mark the 50th anniversary of C

When the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament launched with a mass meeting in Central Hall Westminster on the 17th February 1958 it was with the backing of some prominent British figures.

In fact CND grew out of discussions within the pages of the New Statesman magazine. Among early supporters were novelist JB Priestley, politician and journalist Michael Foot, historian AJP Taylor and Canon Collins - then Dean of Paul’s Cathedral.

The first of the Aldermaston marches took place at Easter 1958. In subsequent years those marches went not to Aldermaston but from the nuclear bomb factory to central London, until they came to ended in the late 1970s.

The new movement touched a national chord and rapidly grew, with branches all around the country. The campaign was largely was focused on the Labour Party. That was because CND's leadership and many of its supporters believed if Labour could be persuaded to give up aspirations for a British nuclear bomb, then this example would set in motion a worldwide shift in attitude about nuclear weapons. Global abolition was the goal with a unilateral British example showing the way to the two superpowers.

CND’s hope in the Labour Party was misplaced. Though at one conference a unilateralist policy was agreed, there was a strong fight back by right-wingers. Aneurin Bevan, no right-winger, struck the final blow when he said that CND type polices would send a British Foreign Secretary ‘naked into he conference chamber’.

The first era of CND mass activity came to an end in 1964. Harold Wilson had been elected on a promise that he would not continue with the Polaris nuclear weapon programme, but when he came into government he announced the Polaris programme was further ahead than he had thought. It was, he said, too late to cancel it.

CND numbers then went down steadily and many activists became involved in anti- Vietnam war actions. Meanwhile Polaris was built and deployed. CND did not give up but for a while its activity gained little public notice. However at the end of the 1970s it revived in dramatic force. The neutron bomb deployment project created new campaigning opportunities. The First UN Special Session on Disarmament in 1978 brought to peace groups worldwide a global programme and vision previously lacking.

Major new CND expansion began in 1980. The country was then told that it would host American cruise missiles, that Polaris would be replaced by a system with a much longer range - Trident - and that a Government plan for civilian protection in the case of nuclear war was to be launched.

This last was a clear suggestion that nuclear deterrence, on which the country was supposed to rely for protection, was not as certainly safe as had been suggested. Worse, the ideas for protection were so ludicrous as to be entirely unconvincing. Within a few years CND’s national membership numbers went from a few thousand to more than a hundred thousand and groups grew mushroom-like all over the country.

CND was accused of ensuring the defeat of the Labour in the 1983 elections even though it had itself split into two separate parties by that time. CND had become a strong political force with support in the churches, the trade unions and civil rights groups.

During the days of the Soviet Union, CND members were often vilified, subjected to bitter unfounded criticism. The organisation was even accused of receiving Soviet funding and of wanting to see Britain undefended. Similar accusations were made about the women of Greenham Common, who made great personal sacrifices to highlight the dangers and costs of cruise missiles.

Many links were built with peace groups around the world - and on both sides of the Iron Curtain. CND supported the European-wide movement END which focused both on weapons and on human rights.

With the coming of Mikhail Gorbachev and the end of the Cold War, interest again subsided only to surge once more as a response to the wars especially of Iraq and the Middle East and amid renewed fears about nuclear proliferation.

The current focus of CND is on the 2010 review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is perhaps fair to say the campaign today is less focused on whatever example Britain might give the world than on the opportunities offered globally for nuclear weapon abolition.

However in Britain there is now a majority opinion opposed to the spending of vast sums of money on the replacement for Trident which would do nothing to meet the real threats that we, and the rest of the world, face together.

A final report on 50 years? Initial aims not achieved but full marks for persistence. New opportunities on the way.

Bruce Kent is a peace activist and long-time campaigner for CND. More details about his "Scrap Trident Tour" can be found here.

 

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.