On December 6th, Labour CND hosted a webinar on the Conservative government’s announcement of the biggest increase in defence spending for thirty years. Below we reproduce Nadia Jama’s speech.
The comprehensive spending review should have been the moment the government addressed the problems people are actually facing. Instead, they chose to announce an unprecedented increase of £16bn for Defence spending – a department which is already allocated a massive annual budget of £41bn. And it was all justified with right-wing soundbites about ‘defending the realm’.
But who are we defending it from? 70% of children in this country live in poverty. That’s not due to some threat from beyond our shores: it’s down to Tory policies, over decades, that have driven down living standards and employment rights.
We’ve seen this dramatically increase during the pandemic and it’ll continue to get worse if nothing is done – thousands have lost their jobs, private renters face evictions, and unscrupulous bosses have used fire and rehire tactics to drive down terms and conditions for workers.
While government ministers were dragged kicking and screaming into providing free school meals to the poorest children in society, and while they announced a pay freeze for public sector workers, they handed over £12bn to Serco to set up a track and trace system that doesn’t even work.
So don’t give me grandstanding and medieval rhetoric about “defence of the realm”. It’s the corporations and this government that the British people need protecting from.
That £16bn could have been used for so much more.
We should be funding the lives of the millions of people impacted by the Corona Virus. The economy has contracted by a fifth, job losses and unemployment are projected in the millions, and we’ve endured ten years of austerity under Tory misrule.
We should invest in things that will make a material difference to our lives, during and after what has been the worst crisis we have faced as a country since the war – not weapons and equipment used to kill people.
To get the economy moving again, we must demand public ownership of key utilities and investment in public services, housing, and education to create well-paid, unionised jobs. People need help keeping a roof over their heads, a job and food on the table. We need to dismantle the rigged economy that put profits and shareholders first, and people’s lives and livelihoods second.
Covid-19 has highlighted the under-funding and under-resourcing of the NHS and social care. We need proper investment in healthcare.
If we really want to protect workers, we should increase the amount of Statutory Sick Pay, so they can recover and isolate and not worry about whether they can pay their bills if they have to have time off work.
If the Tories really want to keep people safe and secure, let’s have a real living wage of at least £10 per hour – let’s build more council housing, so people don’t have to be at the mercy of landlords.
And if we really want security in the future, we also need a serious commitment to tackle the climate emergency. Those billions could have been allocated to help our fight for a proper Green New Deal to invest in renewable energy, green infrastructure and to provide a just transition by the 2030s, taking on the big polluters. That’s how we protect people, not only in the UK but across the globe.
Because, as far as I can see, people need protecting from the virus that’s killing them. They need protecting from poverty pay, from the landlord that wants to evict them, and from the bosses who fire and rehire them on worse pay and conditions.
They need protecting from the racism that’s seen Black people and people from minority ethnic backgrounds disproportionately killed by this virus; from the violence and hate directed at LGBT+ and Disabled people; and from the discrimination faced by women in their homes and workplaces.
And if I want these protections for people here in the UK, I want them for people across the globe. Real patriotism and internationalism isn’t £16 billion pounds for bombs, ships and military boots on the ground. It means developing an ethical foreign policy that promotes negotiation, diplomacy and human rights for everyone, wherever they are on the planet.
Because my solidarity doesn’t end at the beach-head in Dover; it extends to all those, across the world, who fight against a rigged system, who fight for their right to a decent standard of living and who – like me and like you – fight for a better world.
Nadia Jama is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.
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