A new chapter? Forging a truly progressive response to the threat of terrorism

A progressive consensus

Compass Youth would like to thank all those who participated in the debate. There was a great mix of people and we will be organising other events and campaigns in the new year.

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Kind regards and a happy new year!

Gavin Hayes focused on how we could forge a truly progressive consensus on dealing with the threat of terrorism by discussing the government’s plans to extend the detention period for terrorist suspects.

He recalled how in 2005, Compass took the decision to help lead the campaign against 90 days detention and favoured the compromise and consensual position of 28 days detention that later became law. This proposal has now secured a clear consensus both in Parliament and in the country.

“I strongly favour the notion that our basic liberties and human rights are the bedrock of democracy and to curtail them requires not only extensive debate but firm justification.”

Charge or release

Sabina introduced Liberty’s latest campaign “Charge or Release” and advised that the government’s announcement to extend pre-detention was a lost golden opportunity to achieve the consensus. The proposals have several key flaws:
o Government can extend detention without consultation
o Weak parliamentary and judicial oversight
o Parliament isn’t the right place for dealing with individual cases

The human cost of pre-detention

What has been overlooked by the mainstream media and political arena is the human cost of pre-detention, warned Sabina. This affects real people with real lives – there are huge personal costs for people not charged. They lose jobs even families.

There is also a misconception only terrorists can be detained. None of the people arrested so far under the 28 days rule have been charged and one detainee said that “12 days felt like 12 years…this experience has changed my life forever”.

The existence of the law itself serves to increase the distrust and unwillingness to cooperate with the police. We should be reminded that internment was the best recruitment tool the IRA ever had.

An evidenced and principled detention policy

Liberty commissioned a legal study of comparative pre-detention periods and the UK is far ahead already in the length of time.

The evidence shows

o We already have the longest maximum period of detention without trial in Western Europe

o There has never been a case in the last two years since the last time the limit was voted on in Parliament where the authorities have needed to detain anyone beyond 28 days

o Adequate laws and powers already exist to tackle the threat. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 allows temporary extension of pre detention periods in a terror emergency. This act could be invoked if the Government thought a serious enough threat warranted it.

After successive admissions by the ex Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions and the Mayor of London, why does our Home Secretary and the police want more powers when they haven’t even needed to use the ones they’ve already got?

Manipulating the war on terror

Lord Ahmed reminisced he was involved in the Compass Youth of his time, as a young community activists and college president. He warned that many countries were using the narrative of the war on terror as a pretext of abusing human rights, dictatorships and democracies included. Although he was glad Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith had changed their languages when addressing terrorism, he was concerned about the lack of due process in the legislation.

Ruqayah Collector, the NUS Black Students Officer, said that six years after defining the war on terror our civil liberties have been curbed and many ethnic minorities and student activists have been systematically stopped and searched and being woken up at any time of the night to be arrested. We need to tackle wider discrimination issues in society, such as racism or Islamophobia.

Ethnic minorities need to feel supported and not isolated. Sometimes community cohesion feels like assimilation and they wonder “am I not British enough?”

Peter Facey, from Unlock Democracy would like the government to remember the “ethical foreign policy” it talked about in 1997, that we can link trade to democracy and human rights, like in Botswana. Indeed, we cannot allow the perception that we can complain about lack of due process in other countries, when at home there are serious shortcomings. He would be happy for international observers to monitor the elections in the UK and learn lessons from other countries with better democratic standards, such as in Croatia.

Tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism

Gavin Hayes advised we should be guided by the spirit of the Madrid Agenda’s view that “we owe it to the victims to bring the terrorists to justice. Law enforcement agencies need the powers required, yet they must never sacrifice the principles they are dedicated to defend."

Rebuilding trust, cultivating cohesion

The police and the Government need to promote and defend civil liberties to cultivate the cohesion, support and trust of all the communities it needs to beat terrorism. Using draconian measures against British citizens is only likely to inflame and alienate sections of society.

Will young Muslims seeing their friends and family members dragged away for months without trial, or even being given any reason for their detention not seriously damage any efforts made to tackle terrorism?

Lord Ahmed advised Muslims want respect and identity. They feel strongly British but also demonised at times. We shouldn’t blame religion for terrorist activities. Muslim values are no different from any others, they want to feel and practice their religion. They have always made a contribution to British society. Their ancestors worked for 18 hours without being unionised and helped make Britain the fourth biggest economy.

“Hearts and minds”

We need to deal with extremism through education. There is no reason why we cannot regenerate these communities, like we did with the coalmining communities. A multiculturalism that emphasises reluctant acceptance of the other as long as they stay away from us is a dangerous path, we need to work with people not force them to come together.

The danger of abuse of power will always remain

Anti-terrorism laws have already been used against peaceful protest such as at this year’s Climate Camp at Heathrow. It was justified by saying that these protestors would reduce the police’s ability to tackle terrorism, a dangerous precedent to set. Anti-terrorism laws are always in danger of being abused or used for purposes other than they were intended for.

The teddybear paradox

If we compare the following cases, we can be perplexed by the government’s contradictory vision of democratic process. The government campaigns both for

o The release of a British citizen who had been arrested, tried and sentenced for naming a teddy bear Mohamed

o The power to put British citizens who’ve not yet been found guilty of anything, under lock and key without even informing them or their families of what they have been put under lock and key for, with no trial for up to 42 days

“It’s no good paying lip service to liberty and democracy on the international stage in the name of a so called war on terror, when we are willing to play fast and loose with such values at home.”

We need to stand up to these groups, let’s not give them the sexy appeal of being dangerous and trendy.

The constitutional approach to civil liberties

Peter Facey wondered if in some ways, it’s because we don’t have a constitution that we’re having this debate. We need to remember the difficulties of internment without trial when we removed the liberties of citizens in the Northern Ireland, when people felt the state was against them.

He proposed we stop using the term of “war on terror” – if we use the language of Bush, we will have the consequences of Bush, we’ll do the terrorists job for them.

Enshrining human rights in a bill of rights

The Human Rights Act is not strong enough. Our human rights need to be rooted in constitutional reform and that’s why he couldn’t think of a better time to have a national discussion on the Bill of Rights.

Celebrating our values, taking the debate to the streets

Next year, we will have a citizen summit to draw up a British statement of values. Let’s take the opportunity to have this debate – we need to celebrate what makes us British, the values of democracy, civil liberties, rule of law and human rights. Let’s take the government at their word, let’s take the debate to the streets, the trade unions, the churches, the mosques, etc.

The other threat – tackling climate change

A participant asked if we looking at answers through the same frame as the “war on terror” itself? A participant proposed that the threat of climate change was far greater than the threat of terrorism and was astonished that Gordon Brown was terrified of charging people a few pounds for their recycling but comfortable with detaining others for close to two months without…charge.

Another member asked what could be done to protect citizens when there may be a threat but not enough evidence? A participant advised that investigations don’t begin on the day of detention while another was concerned that increasing the pre-detention period could compromise relations between policy and the community.

Hope against hate – to ban or not to ban?

One member of the audience asked if we should ban extremist groups. The NUS have a no platform policy for groups who incite hatred. A participant declared he couldn’t stand the BNP for example, but believed they should exist. One of the bigger tests of democracy is being able to deal and argue with even the most offensive groups.

We need to stand up to these groups, let’s not give them the sexy appeal of being dangerous and trendy.

Campaigning for dignity in detention centres

Another participant asked what could be done about asylum seekers in detention centres whose rights have been violated not for 28 days but for sometimes over a year. Someone pointed out that detention centres are run by private companies and the conditions are appalling. Someone else said it was urgent to start a campaign on this.

Compass have just published proposal for a more progressive immigration policy and Liberty are calling for a public enquiry into the events at Harmondsworth detention centre. These could provide the platform for a campaign for dignity for asylum seekers.

Stop caving in, stop looking tough – towards a politics of hope

The speakers agreed that New Labour never want to be outflanked. We need to take away the incentives from targeting swing voters. At the heart of Compass is changing the terms of debate. The Prime Minister has changed the tone but the real worry is sticking to the politics of triangulation, trying to look tough, talking about giving “British jobs to British workers” reminiscent of slogans of the far right. Ruqayah Collector warned that for many ethnic minorities they don’t feel like its aiming at them. It feels like the BNP is setting the agenda.

Progressives shouldn’t cave in; we should promote a politics of hope, not a politics of fear.

If we can change the terms of debate, then we can give the government some space to innovate and drive forward more equal and democratic policies.

Community, community who art thou?

Marcus Shukla, founder of Compass Youth East Midlands advised that we need to be careful about what we mean by community leadership to avoid glossing over problems. Another participant warned that we shouldn’t shadow out consulting groups who don’t agree with the government or create new groups that have no legitimacy. Lord Ahmed informed that an organisation designed to train imams around English and conflict resolution had been launched very recently and this was a hopeful sign of improving understanding between religious representatives and their communities.

Show me your ID – belonging and shared identities

Daniel Elton, Compass Youth Secretary proposed a debate on the progressive identity politics, asking how helpful it was to target individuals by identity when we all have diverse and shared identities. Peter Facey agreed that we shouldn’t get into cul-de-sacs over this agenda.

Proposals from the floor

o Learn the painful lessons of the past, such as the approach with the IRA and the optimistic ones, like the Madrid Agenda

o Use of intercept evidence
o Post charge questioning
o Use the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to allow temporary extension of pre detention periods in case of a terror emergency

o Enshrine human rights in a future bill of rights
o Tackle extremism through education and wider discrimination issues
o Regenerate neighbourhoods at risk of extremism like we did with those at risk of social exclusion
o Empower communities to re-engage with institutions, like the police and government

And last but not least, let’s take the debate to the streets!

Next steps – we want you to shape the debate

In the coming weeks Compass will be facilitating a wide-ranging informative debate and consulting on this very issue as we did in 2005, we’ll be putting a consultation on the government’s proposals – with information on the arguments, both for and against in a balanced way, out to our email list very shortly, please do respond to it – last time we got over 1000 responses in less than three days.

Take a look at other articles in our "social and civic justice" series. If you'd like to join the social and civic justice network please fill in the survey here.

Another triumph for the sweatshop

John Harris is right to express indignation at the latest negotiating "triumph" in Britain's seemingly endless struggles with its European Union partners. He is also right to deplore the fact that the British media almost totally failed to report a major story which speaks volumes for the kind of government Gordon Brown is leading.

Unfortunately this is only another chapter in a story of reaction policies pursued by New Labour in a consistent effort to slow or if possible derail any attempt to build a social Europe. A few weeks ago it was the UK refusal to be bound by the provisions of the charter of fundamental rights as part of the proposed new EU reform treaty.

The extraordinary point about this is that all other EU citizens - including British citizens living in other EU countries - will be able to take full advantage of the provisions of these modest and basic legal rights. But it is all too much for this allegedly "Labour" government.

Now it is the British block on a decision favoured by an overwhelming majority of other EU governments to implement a new directive giving some of the same rights enjoyed by full-time employees to temporary or agency employed workers.

The UK campaign against the legislation comes in spite of the fact that the British labour force includes a growing number of part-time workers - particularly migrant workers - some of whose terms and conditions of employment are more reminiscent of Victorian times than the 21st century. Of course over the years this government has frequently set its face against many of the most fundamental working rights reforms which enjoy the support of pretty well every other EU government. The only other government to demand an "opt out" from the charter of fundamental rights was the bizarre administration of the Kaczynski twins in Poland which has now, thankfully, been booted out of office.

The irony in all of this is that Brown can really only lose the ratification of the reform treaty in the House of Commons if he loses the support of sufficient Labour MPs. But even the more Eurosceptic Labour MPs fully support both the charter and the improved rights for part-time workers. The trade unions - including their most moderate leaders - are outraged by the arrogant determination of New Labour to pursue Margaret Thatcher's jihad against any fragment of a "social Europe". But trade unionists need to understand that without the EU reform treaty they will be in a weaker position to prevent the kind of British veto tactics we have seen over the rights charter and the measures to help part-time workers.

Faced with objections to their stance UK ministers merely chant the same litany about their determination to protect "Britain's competitiveness". As John Harris notes they are again singing from a hymn sheet provided for New Labour by its "business" mentors. Of course this kind of propaganda seeking to protect backward British labour market conditions ignores one fundamental fact about competitiveness: the Nordic countries which have spearheaded the charter and the rights directive score far higher in global measurement of competitiveness than the UK.

The question is: for how long will the Labour party - or what is left of it - tolerate this hypocrisy? At what point will someone - anyone - in the Labour party say "enough is enough?" This issue will come back on the table in Brussels early next year. When that happens the government must not be left to continue its wrecking tactics on measures designed to bring some civilised standards to the most vulnerable of workers by the silence of the media and the political class.

John Palmer

Article first published here

If you would like to share your ideas and issues on how we can shape more equal and democratic policies through Europe, why not participate in the PES Manifesto consultation? Compass will be organising workshops on this in the new year. If you are interested, please email noel.hatch1@gmail.com.

Campaign for the vote at 16

Julie Morgan MP will strike a blow for equality for 16-18 year olds today, as she presents a private members bill to lower the voting age. If passed, The Voting Age (Reduction) Bill 2007 would see a reduction of the voting age to 16 in all public elections in the UK. The bill is supported by MPs from all parties, together with the Electoral Reform Society and the Votes at 16 coalition.

Julie Morgan MP said:“There is a growing consensus amongst parliamentarians that 16 and 17 year olds should have the right to vote. “Not only is this the right thing to do for today’s young people, it is the right thing to do for our democracy as those who vote young tend to continue this habit for the rest of their lives. “There exists now a real opportunity to get this historic measure onto the statute books and to re-invigorate political engagement in Britain”

Luke Springthorpe, Member of Youth Parliament (Hastings & The Rother), said:“Lessons on citizenship are now compulsory, but we are denied the basic right given to all citizens: the right to vote. How is it right that we’re taught how to be citizens until we’re 16, but then we’re not allowed to put those lessons into practice just when we’re most motivated and knowledgeable?“We can pay tax, we can work, and we can start families. We can even fight for our country. Yet we are denied a voice. “When it comes to the vote, we are ready, we are responsible, and we want it.”

Ken Ritchie, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said: “Britain’s young citizens will not be truly represented in parliament until they can exercise their right to vote. “We commend Julie Morgan’s efforts to bring badly needed change to Westminster. If her colleagues in the Commons are as serious as their soundbites when it comes to engaging young people in politics, we trust she will receive the whole hearted support of the House.”

The Voting Age (Reduction) Bill 2007 Briefing pack is available for download here.

Do you think the voting age should be brought down to 16 years old?
What would be the impact?
What other rights should be improved to improve equality of age?

Adele Reynolds: Don't break the union link

Labour: protecting the voice of working people in politics

The link between the Labour Party and the Trade unions has recently been coming under increasing scrutiny. Especially amongst the tories and elements of the press, who talk of bungs, favours and labour being in hoc to the unions. Trade Unions affiliate to the Labour Party by making collective membership payments on behalf of their members. So attacking trade union funding, attacks the very existence of the Labour Party and exposes the Tory agenda of trying to ensure that working class people do not have a voice in politics. These narrow, cynical, partisan attacks must be resisted. If we do not, then the labour party as we know it today will be destroyed.

The tories are attempting to buy the next general election by pouring millions of Lord Ashcroft’s money into marginal seats. Compare this to the way in which 2.5 million trade union members are balloted and give their collective support to engaging with the Labour Party. That is a democratic system that we can rightly be proud of.

I joined the Labour Party as an USDAW member working at Tesco’s and I know that on issues like rights at work and the minimum wage, my life really is better because we have a Labour Government. I know that public sector workers like my Mum who spent the 80s underpaid, undervalued and demoralised really are better off with labour. And I am proud that the trade union movement has been at the heart of fighting and winning on issues like rights at work and investment in public services.

The link is so important because it ensures a political voice for working people. It keeps the needs of working people at the heart of everything Labour does in Government. Of course the trade union movement doesn’t agree with everything the Government does; but they also recognise that the lives of our members are so much better because labour is in power.

The hard left attack the link because they just do not want to admit that labour has delivered and will continue to deliver for trade unionists and working people. Instead, using the services that people depend on to wage a ridiculous class war, trying to score minor ideological points. An even greater threat seems to come from the ultra right within the Labour party who seem to find the link an embarrassment and an inconvenience. When in reality the Labour Party only exists because of the Trade Union movement.

The power of business is always increasing so why are some people so keen to cut working people out of the political process? Together we are so much stronger. Whether campaigning to win for labour, fighting for full employment or stopping unrepresentative extremists gaining seats on the highest decision making bodies of the labour party; trade unionists really do matter. The link matters now more than ever and really is worth fighting for.

One million voices to end the conflict

OneVoice organised its One Million Voices to End the Conflict campaign at last month’s Annapolis Peace Summit.

A OneVoice delegation of staff and volunteers joined in Annapolis to deliver a symbolic OneVoice Mandate representing the 600,000 + Mandates signed by Israelis and Palestinians as part of OneVoice’s campaigns. There had been fear that the only voices being heard in Annapolis would be those who stood against not just these negotiations but also the very idea of delivering a viable Two State solution.

At Annapolis, the OneVoice delegation was the loudest to be heard and received significant media coverage. Please see for an interview on CNN and http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/ for some pictures.

The declaration that came out of Annapolis – a commitment from the leaders to “engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and…make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008" was a real endorsement of the content of OneVoice’s mandate demanding leaders "immediately commence uninterrupted negotiations until reaching an agreement, within one year, for a Two State Solution, fulfilling the consistent will of the overwhelming majority of both populations."

The hard work begins today, December 12th, with the first meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams in Jerusalem. We’re launching 11 electronic animations on billboards across Israel and Palestine as part of a public awareness campaign to engage the citizens in this process and will be consulting with our Young Leaders in the UK as to how we can bring this message home to our own government as the teams in the Middle East begin to mobilize again, to drive the agenda again, from the ground.

One Voice would like to thank everyone at this time for the huge amount of support that came in since October and are looking forward to publicly launching a completed programmatic plan for the next 12 months in January as well as details of some readjustments to strengthen the organization in the run up to this critical year.

Hope defeats hate in Sandwell

Compass Youth helped Searchlight and Labour defeat the BNP in a crucial council by-election in Sandwell last night, in a ward in which it had won several seats over the past few years. A big delegation of Compass Youth members and London Young Labour headed up to join in the training and go out campaigning.

The election in Princes End was caused after BNP councillor James Lloyd was thrown out for non-attendance after he had not been to a meeting for over six months. Labour fought a model campaign and in Delia Edwards had an excellent candidate who now, as a councillor, will serve local people well.

The BNP distributed at least four leaflets across the ward, including two full-colour leaflets, but was never able to answer for Lloyd's awful record.

Searchlight played a significant role in the campaign, producing one colour leaflet before the election was formally called and another distributed over the final weekend. We focused heavily on Lloyd's poor record and it was gratifying to hear so many voters on polling day make reference to our material. We were supported by dozens of activists from around the country who came out in awful weather over the last weekend to campaign for us and the Labour Party. Compass Youth supported Searchlight throughout this weekend on the doorstep.

Samuel Tarry Chair of Compass Youth and Anti Racism Officer for London Young Labour who ran one of the training sessions commented: "It was great to meet other young people from across the country engaged in the battle against the fascist BNP, we shared ideas and learnt about some of the most up to date community campaigning techniques direct from the USA. Many of us came up from London where we have a grave threat from the BNP in the forthcoming GLA elections and where in East London we already have over a dozen BNP Councillors elected. We know that the lies they spread about migrant workers and immigrant community's can really damage community relations and lead to working people seeing the problems they face over the allocation of housing or the competition for jobs through the warped prism of race and immigration. Instead the analysis of the difficulties faced by working people should be made on the basis of the modern and radical social democratic analysis put forward by Compass. Make no mistake, the ultimate goal of the BNP is an all white Britain; a Britain in which the BNP deny the long term economic and social gains made by working class people moving here from across the empire to help to rebuild our country after the devastation of the Second World War. A war which would have seen the likes of the BNP marching alongside Oswald Mosley's fascist Blackshirts in support of Hitler and the Nazi movement in Germany. Working closely with Searchlight, Compass Youth will use this training to full effect to take forward the fight against the BNP in 2008, exposing the racism, corruption and criminal actions within the BNP itself and the failure to properly represent the needs of working people, we will pushing a message of hope over hate that we know from experience resonates with working people."

In the end the Labour Party won the seat comfortably with just under fifty per cent of the vote, with the BNP trailing in third place with less than 20% of the vote.

Labour 796 (48.1%)
Conservatives 517 (31.2%)
BNP 314 (19.0%)
Lib Dems 29 (1.6%)

We would like to thank Searchlight for its hard work over the weekend. It is clear from the result and the doorstep feedback that their intervention over that weekend played a major part in turning voters away from the BNP.

Tate Modern Living Wage Action

Compass Youth proudly supports the Tate Modern Living Wage Action, taking place on 14 December and organised by the LSE Citizens for Social Justice.

Despite spending £200 million on an expansion programme and £250,000 on a crack in the floor to represent the gap between the rich and the poor, the Tate Modern does not pay its cleaning staff a living wage! After the success of Living Wage actions at the LSE and Citigoup we feel that the Tate is an ideal place to continue the campaign, due its status as a key London landmark and its proximity to LSE's Bankside Halls.There will be a protest at the Tate Modern on Friday the 14th of December to put pressure on its Directors to grant all its staff a Living Wage of £7.20 an hour.

Please come along to support the campaign and help get a step closer to a Living Wage London!We will be meeting as a group at LSE at 4.15pm outside the Old Building before heading over to Bankside Halls to pick people up from there. There will a premeeting at Christchurch, Blackfriar's Road, SW1 at 4.30pm.

The Action will be at the Tate modern from 5.30pm. If is important that you come to the pre-meeting if at all possible. It should be finished by 6pm, so you will have plenty of time to fit it in before some end of term drinking.If you would like more info on the Living Wage Campaign you can visit http://www.livingwage.org.uk/

When? Friday 14 December @ 4:30pm - 6:00pm

Where? Tate Modern (Pre-meeting at Christ Church Blackfriar's Road), Bankside, SE1 9TG, London

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Join our networks to develop your skills and campaign on the issues that matter to you

Compass Youth aims to build and facilitate a dynamic and vibrant network that campaigns for greater equality and democracy and nurtures progressive values across society.

We recognise the need to engage the next generation in being the actors of that change. We feel it is time to engage in distinctive and influential ways to shape our future.

We want to make connections that will keep us in touch with the most dynamic and innovative ideas and campaigns, but also enhance our mutual understanding between the Labour party and the wider progressive movement. Please fill in the survey here so we can find out about...

your skills, your interests

We want to unlock your skills and interests to develop the ideas for a more equal and democratic society and campaign to ensure they become reality.

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your community, your activities

We will connect you with other members where you are, so you can get involved in local activities together and help develop Compass Youth where you are.

That could be in your region, university or even community group. It could be sharing advice and ideas about how to become a youth officer or student/trade union rep or even a councillor.

your ideas, your activities

We will provide the space for innovative ideas that influence government and practical solutions for our communities, and enable you to meet other members and shape what we do in the areas you are interested in.

This could be bringing an issue network together to build a campaign, working with other organisations on an issue or developing a manifesto for youth.

your voice, your compass youth

We want you to help us track emerging issues and unmet needs for young people and build campaigns around them. So if there's an issue or an activity we've forgotten about or an interesting campaign which is looking for support, then we'd love to hear from you.

Please click here to complete this survey so we can enable you to turn your ideas into action for a better world.

Should we reconsider our role in US Missile Defence

Ben Folley Compass Youth writes: The Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair, Labour MP Mike Gapes, has criticised the way in which the government announced the inclusion of the Menwith Hill military base in the US Missile Defence system. A report by the Committee released on Sunday criticised the government for quietly announcing the decision in a written answer one day before the Summer recess.

Gapes said ‘We regret the manner and timing of the announcement. And there's a resulting lack of parliamentary debate on the issue. Our job is to hold the government to account and to scrutinise its behaviour and we are not happy with the way they have dealt with this.’ The report comes just days after Defence Secretary Des Browne wrote to another MP that the Ministry of Defence ‘have no plans to hold a further public consultation on this issue’ following the consultation paper published almost five years ago.

However, even those who may have accepted the government’s justification for involvement in US Missile Defence in 2002 will recognise the political situation has changed significantly since then. Even then there was significant concern amongst Labour backbenchers. Opposition to George Bush’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in December 2001 was compounded when in the same month he released a new Nuclear Posture Review that outlined proposals for a new generation of nuclear weapons such as the as part of an ‘offensive strike system.’

In response, an Early Day Motion tabled by Malcolm Savidge was signed by 275 MPs; 214 of them Labour.However, the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee states that US officials only gave initial indications that sites in Poland and the Czech Republic were being considered for US Missile Defence deployments in March 2006. Russia is fiercely opposed to the plans, believing itself to be the main target just as it was under the programme’s predecessor, Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative.

The threat of a new arms race was clearly raised in last week’s report to the European Parliament Security and Defence subcommittee. One passage states ‘The credibility of the Russian nuclear arsenal would be significantly reduced by a credible and extensive US missile defence system. Russia would be obliged to invest more in countermeasures, increase the number of deployed nuclear warheads, and potentially develop a missile defence system of its own.’However the US does require the consent of a number of European governments in order to build the necessary military bases to operate the system. Our own government’s current position of support matches that of the Czech and Polish governments who also intend to host US bases as part of the programme, despite mass public opposition in all three countries.

A YouGov opinion poll this Summer showed that 54% of the British public agree that "the siting of US missiles and early warning bases in the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic as part of the US National Missile Defence programme, increases the security threat faced by the UK and Europe" whilst only 24% disagree. A CBOS poll in Poland in August showed 56% oppositon in that country to the proposed interceptor missile base at Gorsko, whilst opinion polls in the Czech Republic have regularly shown opposition of up to 70%.

The major difference between the three governments is that in both Poland and the Czech Republic, the leading conservative party is in power and Labour’s sister parties are questioning the wisdom of facilitating the latest US military initiative.In the recent election in Poland, Labour’s sister party the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) demanded there be a national referendum on the proposed US missile base, whilst in the Czech Republic the Social Democrat party, the CSSD, have become increasingly outspoken in their opposition to the proposed radar and have surged ahead of the governing Civic Democrats in opinion polls, who are only kept in government by the narrowest of margins through an alliance with the Greens. This unexpected ally of the right is set to hold an internal ballot to decide its policy on the radar, increasing the pressure on the strained coalition.

Opposition from Labour’s sister parties is also spreading across the continent. The National Executive of Germany’s SPD held a wide ranging discussion on foreign policy which concluded that ‘attention must be paid to the consequences in terms of disarmament policy. The SPD rejects a new arms race.’ On 14th September, a regional conference of party leaders and heads of government of socialist parties in central and eastern Europe agreed a statement of opposition to US Missile Defence. Signatories included Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and the leader of the German SDP Kurt Beck. Hosted by the Czech Social Democrats (CSSD) in Prague, the statement read, ‘We are concerned about the decision to deploy the system and are at one with the large majority of our populations in rejecting it … We do not want any new missiles in Europe.’

MEPs in the Socialist Group in the European Parliament are also expressing concern. In a debate in March this year Socialist Group’s chair, Germany’s Martin Schulz argued, ‘This missile defence system will solve nothing and get us into a new arms race,’ whilst in the same month a group of MEPs, including Czech and Polish members wrote to the speaker of the US Congress, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, to express their concerns.

The contact that Labour MEPs have with their European counterparts should be channeled back into the Labour Party at home. Since the MoD does not want to consult the public, it is unsurprising it has yet to be discussed by the National Policy Forum, the Foreign Affairs Committee report is therefore a reminder to delegates attending its next meeting. Gordon Brown should reconsider the UK’s role in US Missile Defence and seek to develop a strategy with our allies in Europe to prevent the US starting a new arms race.