Bright's disarmament calls echo through to 2009

Date published: 09 November 2009

After a morning of successful campaigning in the town centre, last Saturday (7 November), Rochdale and Littleborough Peace Group took the campaign for nuclear disarmament (CND) to John Bright's statue in Broadfield Park.

The group wanted to recognise the inspiration that he and other members of the Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace have given to peace campaigners across the years and to look forward to the forthcoming bicentenary of Bright's birth.

In the walkway above the bus station, the campaigners collected many new signatures on the CND’s current national petition and distributed postcards for to be sent to the foreign secretary, David Miliband. The foreign secretary is calling for a change in government policy.

The postcards and the petition call on the government to recognise that the Trident nuclear weapons system and plans to replace it are not only expensive and militarily useless, but also contravene the obligation in the Non-Proliferation Treaty to negotiate the abolition of nuclear weapons. They urge the government to give full support to a Nuclear Weapons Convention to eliminate nuclear weapons world-wide.

Speaking on behalf of the Peace Group, Philip Gilligan said: "150 years ago, John Bright was reminding his audiences that excessive expenditure on armaments squandered resources and undermined the well-being of people in Britain and across the world. We can only speculate what Bright would have said about the £2billion spent annually on the existing Trident nuclear weapons system and plans to spend £76billion on upgrading it during the next few years.

However, I think we can safely assume that, like almost everyone we speak to in Rochdale, he would have preferred this money to be spent on education, health, and social services, rather than nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Bright's many campaigns against unnecessary and costly wars in the nineteenth century and against excessive expenditure on armaments remain an inspiration to peace campaigners today.

In Rochdale, we are right to honour Bright with a statue overlooking the Esplanade and to note the words on the plinth. In relation to spending on 'Welfare not Warfare' and on 'Nurses not Nukes', one quotation seems particularly telling.

In 1866, Bright told the House of Commons, 'my conscience tells me that I have laboured honestly only to destroy that which is evil and to build up that which is good.' The Peace Group will strive to follow the same course. We will labour to ensure the scrapping of Trident and the building of decent public services."

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