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The real ‘threat to our security’ comes from the warmongers

DIANE ABBOTT takes down the attempts by the Tories to distract from their abysmal handling of the economy and public services by making one last desperate pitch to be the party of ‘defence’ by banging the drum of war

THE Tory Party is clearly in desperate straits heading into the general election. That has led it into a situation where it is now promoting security and defence as its major campaigning issues.

In a recent speech, Rishi Sunak effectively launched the long general election campaign with a series of wild claims and promises on military spending and state security. There is a right way and a wrong way to respond to these claims.

Every school pupil knows the saying that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” But we should understand the power of this type of messaging. Of course, there is no mileage in chasing the vote of the jingoists, xenophobes and outright racists. Labour is always likely to come second-best (or worse) in the contest for their votes. But there is a reason that politicians in trouble so often reach for the flag and the defence budget when they are in difficulties.

Most elections are won or lost on the basis of economic wellbeing, and which party is seen as the best defender of living standards. However, economics can be trumped by issues of national security, war, terrorism and so on.

This is for the very practical reason that higher pay, or for example worse public services do not matter so much if voters genuinely feel insecure about their own their family’s or their communities’ safety.

Therefore, the correct approach to such genuine concerns is not to dismiss them, but to address them. No-one can sensibly argue that we are living in a world that is becoming increasingly safe. Unfortunately, people are right to feel insecure.

Not only is economic insecurity growing, but there is also the increasing reality, no longer merely a threat, of war and climate change. So, Sunak is trying to tap into something real, not entirely concocted.

But what he abysmally fails to do is to identify the sources of that insecurity, or the real threats. Instead, he offers a combination of scaremongering, outlandish promises and unsubstantiated accusations. This is not serious politics. But, as I said, the Tories are desperate.

Readers of this newspaper are well acquainted with all the key aspects of insecurity in economic life in the current period, and they have been discussed frequently in my columns. Climate change is a potentially catastrophic disaster facing humanity and the entire planet. But the focus of this piece is the threat of war.

War involving this country is already a reality in Ukraine. It is a war that is not necessarily going to the West’s advantage. The AFP news agency, reproduced in the Guardian, reports that Russian gains in recent days are the largest in the last 18 months. It is also undoubtedly true that this country has invested enormous amounts of money and political capital in the Ukraine war.

But Ukraine is far from the sole serious armed conflict this country is actively participating in. The bombing of Yemen by both Britain and the US is also taking place currently. This follows years of bombing of Yemen by our ally Saudi Arabia, with logistical support from this country and the US.

These bombing raids are clearly part of the wider war in the region, centred on the onslaught on the Palestinians in Gaza — however much leading politicians in this country and among Israel’s other allies might deny it.

We should never forget though, that Russia remains a nuclear-armed power. And Putin has already threatened the deployment of nuclear weapons in response to threats from both David Cameron and Emmanuel Macron. CND continues to do good work to highlight the inherent risks of this conflict, which look set to increase in the next period.

Overall, British foreign policy is to remain in complete lockstep with the US, which is also deploying increasingly warlike rhetoric against China. The $95 billion package recently adopted by Congress includes around $9bn for beefed-up military capability for Taiwan. Britain itself has sent an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea.

Naturally, the main focus for international attention remains the onslaught on Gaza. This is quite right. Britain’s role in this series of massacres has been a completely shameful one. Following in the footsteps of the US, but in a slightly more cowardly manner, Britain has provided all manner of political, diplomatic, intelligence and weapons support to the Israeli war machine. If war crimes have been committed, and it seems clear to many of us that they have, then this government is complicit in those war crimes.

This policy is so far removed from British public opinion that there is now a chasm between parliamentary politics on the one hand and public opinion on the other. A recent public opinion poll for YouGov showed that 69 per cent were in favour of an immediate halt to military action in Gaza and a ceasefire being called, while just 13 per cent favour continuing the onslaught.

Clearly, the public does not believe Britain’s support for Israel is making us safer. It would be impossible to achieve such polling numbers if that were the case.

We also should tackle head-on the spurious claim that arms industry spending is jobs-rich. It is not. Arms manufacture and supply are capital-intensive, not labour-intensive.

As a backdrop to all of this, the MoD budget is being increased. This is at a time when the intention is that public spending will be cut again sharply after the next election. These departmental cuts have been detailed in the last Budget in March. There is no “magic money tree” we are told, except for the budget for war.

This is an intolerable situation and will be seen as such by wide layers of the public, especially when austerity hits once more, post-election. At the moment, in the long run-up to the election, austerity is being temporarily held in check and there is even one-off funding for the NHS in a pre-election drive to get waiting lists down. But none of this is intended to last beyond polling day.

The exception will be the military budget. Voters are thus being presented with the double whammy of increased military spending which is not making us safer, and then renewed austerity measures which will cut welfare spending and public services once more.

Sunak’s scaremongering and warmongering should be opposed on these grounds.

Diane Abbott is MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. Follow her on X @HackneyAbbott.

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