“We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics,” Brooks Newmark MP, the new Minister for Charities said. “The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting”.
So last month, up and down our country, thousands of people knitted an incredible 7-mile long, 60cm wide peace scarf that was stretched from Aldermaston Nuclear Weapons Establishment in Berkshire to the Burghfield warhead maintenance facility. They call on the UK Government to take a lead on nuclear disarmament. See Wool Against Weapons.
Our Churches have closely studied developments in non-proliferation and disarmament negotiations over the years and have attended Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conferences alongside UK Government delegations. At this moment we are convinced that the UK Government must look afresh at the new opportunities to lead in this area. These opportunities are represented by recent inter-governmental conferences in Oslo and in Nayarit, Mexico that have highlighted the incompatibility of nuclear weapons with international humanitarian law.
Inconveniently for Brooks Newmark, while UK charities were present at these inter-governmental meetings the UK government was not.
As citizens we have an expectation that our Government represent us at these crucial meetings. The Presidents and Moderators of our churches have appealed to the Foreign Secretary to urge the presence of our Government – but to no avail. The majority of the world’s governments will come together in Vienna in December to develop a new impetus for multilateral nuclear disarmament but it seems likely that the UK Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs will stay at home.
Brooks Newmark’s grossly patronising statement appears to imply that you and I have no business in challenging underlying structural issues that perpetuate poverty or conflict. We should stick to handing out food at foodbanks and not challenge our politicians by questioning why foodbanks are in so much demand. But charities and voluntary groups contribute to our society in diverse ways and have unique political insight to offer. Importantly, their advocacy work on behalf of others is required to overcome political inertia, one example of which can be seen in our Government’s international engagement on nuclear disarmament.
Brooks Newmark – we will continue to challenge. We hope that while the churches and charities meet with government delegations in Vienna, our Geneva-based UK Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs is not left to attend to his knitting.
UPDATE – 2 DECEMBER 2014
UK Government has been persuaded to attend the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Conference in Vienna next week after the US signed up in November.