Last night, as Londoners, in 30 degrees of heat, began to dream of going to the beach, MPs voted 472 to 117 to continue renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system. Theresa May, our new prime minister, seemed almost to slap the dispatch box with glee, when she said yes, she would press the button. She has already written the letter we are told, by hand.
In Parliament Square, waiting for the vote, along with the sensible families who had brought beer and pizza, I had a vision of one of those drawings of the seaside you find in children’s books. In the drawing there’s everything you might find on the beach: seagull, starfish, lighthouse, boat, sailing boat, water-skis, below and above the water line. In my version I added the Vanguard nuclear submarine, everlastingly prowling around. As any child knows there’s only some of these things. The fish and starfish and crabs are invisible, unless they’re dead and get washed up by the surf. This submarine is also invisible but real enough.
The majority of MPs have voted that we must have Trdient, on constant invisible patrol beneath the sea, so we can be safe , so we can have a holiday, so we can keep ‘our way of life’. I wonder often if they really think that. The fact that SNP and Plaid Cymru don’t think this gives me much hope. I wonder, with all the other members of my family, what is the matter with all the MPs who seem to be afraid of the power that they have, of the possibility of real change. They prefer to keep on with the absurd, even though the rest of us don’t need any military experts, lawyers or faith leaders to tell us that Trident is useless, illegal and immoral.
Highly respected activists and politicians spoke out on the podium last night, as they have been doing for years and years, including my own MP for Hackney North, Diane Abbott. But the BBC showed in its report a choir singing terribly. Anti Trident activists are woolly, nutty people who can’t sing it seemed to be saying. Those who voted for the motion tell us that to get rid of them would be foolish. It is playing politics with people’s livelihoods. No one ever asks what kind of a livelihood is it that prepares for mass destruction.
I read some of the comments the day before the vote. Our Trident submarines they seem to be saying, under the hash tag #Trident, are patrolling night and day, keeping us safe night and day. Out there beyond the starfish and the light house.
No one ever says what kind of a beach holiday it is that calls for mass destruction. There’s nothing like a day on the beach watching the huge waves crashing in from across the Atlantic to remind us how connected we all are, that the same sea, where we paddle our sunburnt toes, stretches out to the West, joining together all the countries. The same sea is hiding the nuclear submarine that we have to pay for.
The nuclear arsenal is necessary, we hear, in case someone, some city, threatens us. But which city no one knows. Mercifully, Theresa May has no idea which city. But we do know that it would be a city, here, on this planet, in this world. And we do know this is the only world we have.