Saturday, 20 June 2009

Time to start worrying about the bomb?

This week a commons select committee concluded that Britain should do more to promote nuclear disarmament; despite having the best record out of the five major nuclear nations in this area the UK is perceived as doing to little to encourage fellow members of the nuclear club to fulfil their obligations.

Committee Chairman Mike Gapes welcomed the government’s plans to ‘scale down’ Britain’s nuclear arsenal, including the decision taken by Gordon brown the Trident armed submarines would carry fewer warheads in future. He was critical though of the lack of information regarding the country’s nuclear commitments provided to the committee, making it hard to judge if the weapons retained truly constituted the ‘minimum’ requirement for a nuclear deterrent.

The question, once you’ve got over the shock of reading about members of parliament doing something constructive rather than fiddling their expenses, is just who these days are we trying to deter with our nuclear arsenal.

The various strands of radical Islam would, I don’t doubt, love to get their hands on enough fissile materiel to build a bomb and some of their number may be mad enough to use it, but the horrors of 9/11 and the London bombings show that the lunatic fringe is only too capable of causing mayhem without going nuclear.

For developing nations, who feel having the bomb is a means of joining the club of ‘major’ nations, the cost of building even a modest nuclear arsenal is ruinous for their economy and forces them into political allegiances that threaten their budding democracies.

During the dark days of the cold war only the most idealistic of campaigners would have denied there was some wisdom to having the nuclear card available, if only because it prevented anyone else from attempting to play it, but those specific dangers have, thankfully, passed.

In our new and no less frightening world Britain and the other major powers have to take the lead in nuclear disarmament and use the resources, both financial and technological, to build lasting security at home and abroad.


‘Has nobody heard of magna carta? Did the brave Hungarian peasant girl who forced King John to sign the pledge die in vain?’

Lovers of liberty can sleep a little easier this week as a poll conducted for the campaign group of the same name discovered that 95% of Britons still consider the right to a fair trial and respect for privacy, the home and family life to be important.

You could make a cheap joke at this point by saying the problem is the 5% who think otherwise are all in the cabinet or hold senior position in the police force, but that isn’t really the point.

The slow decline in public trust in politicians that has gathered momentum during the scandal over MP’s expenses could well have led to a growth in the number of people who subscribe to the dangerous idea that strong leadership matters more than the preservation of a democratic system that sometimes throws up legislators who are either venal or inept.

That is hasn’t, despite the electoral success of the BNP, and so many Britons still subscribe to the ideas that underpin democracy, which are always the first casualty of the sort of ‘strong leadership’ provided by dictators, suggests there is still much about which we can be hopeful.


Terence Stephenson, the new head of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has called for adults to be banned from smoking in cars with child passengers.

Writing in his ‘Scrubbing Up’ column on the BBC website he said ‘You can’t inflict this (second hand smoking) on your colleagues any more. Why should we treat our children’s health as a lower priority?’

Similar bans have already been put in place in Cyprus, California and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The proposal has attracted support from anti-smoking group ASH and a spokesperson for the Department of Health said the government would be reviewing the laws around smoking next year.

Once you climb over the obstacle set up by an instinctive and often justified distrust of the nanny state it is possible to see the sense in banning adults from smoking in cars when they have child passengers. Banning smoking has made many public places much more pleasant and trying to control a car whilst smoking a cigarette, whatever the age of your passengers, no safer than trying to do whilst using a mobile phone.

The problems arise when practicalities intrude upon good intentions, for example how would the law be enforced? Using a mobile phone whilst driving has been illegal for several years but many people continue to do so because they know the likelihood of getting caught is minimal. Perhaps a better route to go down is the more subtle one of trying to educate the public and letting cultural change solve the problem over time.


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