Friday, 31 May 1991


Tribune leader, 31 May 1991

According to reports in most of the quality papers, the Tories have decided to give a high priority during the forthcoming general election campaign to alleg­ing that Labour offers only a return to the politics of Harold Wilson. If these reports are true, and there seems to be no compulsive reason to disbelieve them, the Conservatives are making a quite extraordinary political blunder.

Most apparently, they are assuming that the British people remember the Wilson years with horror. But, although Wilson has few admirers these days among politicians, journalists and historians, it is far from obvious that his reputation among the electorate as a whole, insofar as he still has one after so long out of the political limelight, is particularly bad. Indeed, Labour might even benefit from being associated with the man who was Prime Minister when England won the World Cup and the Beatles recorded all their hits.

More important, it is difficult to see how the Conserva­tives can seriously draw parallels between Wilson's Labour Party and Neil Kinnock's. There are, of course, superficial similarities. Kinnock, like Wilson, came from the Left of the party and has ditched much ideological baggage in pursuit of electoral success. Labour today, like Labour in 1963-64, has a clean-cut managerial image, is strong on the rhetoric of economic and social mod­ernisation, and is well ahead in the opinion polls.

Beyond this, however, the differences are immense. In particular, Wilson came to power in 1964 with promises of massive state intervention to transform the British eco­nomy, including widespread nationalisation, with the trade unions playing a key role in planning. By compar­son, Labour's proposals today are extremely modest. Nationalisation and corporatism are out; so too is increas­ing state expenditure unless growth allows it. If unethusiastically at times, Labour does recognise the limits on state economic intervention now imposed by multination­al capital. Should the Tories claim that nothing has changed in Labour's outlook since the early sixties, it should not be difficult to prove them wrong.


Nato's announcement on Tuesday that it is to res­tructure its forces, with a "rapid reaction force" under a British commander playing a key role, had been trailed so widely beforehand that it barely made the evening television news bulletins. The announcement is nevertheless worthy of note - largely because it shows how inadequately Nato's planners have responded to the transformation of Europe in the past two years.

Despite the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, Nato remains as committed as ever to the out-dated core assumption that it is necessary to deter a Soviet attack on central Europe by threatening to esca­late any conflict into all-out nuclear war. The force reductions which it is now putting forward are depress-ingly modest, while the proposal for the "rapid reaction force" will exacerbate fears that Nato ispreparing for a much greater "out-of-area" role.

The Labour leadership has tried to calm critics of Nato's intransigence by claiming that the Alliance is hi a state of flux and increasingly open to new ideas about the future security structure of Europe. This week's announcement shows that the Nato planners know only one tune and cannot be taught another. It is time for Labour to stop kidding itself that a bloc-free, peaceful, secure Europe can come about without the winding down of Nato.

Friday, 17 May 1991


Tribune leader, 17 May 1981

Last week's admission by the Ministry of Defence that 50 workers at the nuclear submarine base at Faslane have received doses of radiation above official safety limits is extremely worrying.

The workers have been exposed to excessive radiation because cracks have appeared hi the cooling systems of the nuclear reactors hi Britain's first-generation nuclear-powered submarines – among them the four Polaris boats that constitute Britain's "independent nuclear deter­rent".

These cracks need to be repaired if the submarines are to be kept hi service, and there are few workers willing and able to do the job. Those employed are being worked right up to radiation-exposure limits and some­times well beyond, at severe risk to themselves and to the health of their children and their children's children.

The reason for this is simple. The Trident nuclear-missile submarine programme, which is supposed to replace Polaris, is running behind schedule because the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston is having severe difficulties with the warheads. If Britain is to maintain without a gap the independent nuclear deterrent, the lifespan of the Polaris boats must be extended until Trident is ready. But is this really worth the risk of ever-increasing exposure of repair workers to radiation?

Tribune, which has long considered British nuclear forces to have no role except that of deluding the British people into thinking that their country is still a major player on the world stage, believes that it is not. But in current international conditions one does not have to be a convinced unilateralist to take such a position.


The six-year prison sentence imposed on Winnie Mandela this week creates problems for the African National Congress, but it would be a mistake to exaggerate them. The credibility of the ANC will inevit­ably suffer some short-term damage among those, black and white, who believe Mrs Mandela to be guilty, and in the short term the beneficiary will be F W de Klerk's white government, which has an interest in weakening the ANC to extract concessions in negotiations over the future of South Africa.

But Mr de Klerk knows that he needs ANC participa­tion hi the talks if his promises to end apartheid are to have any international credibility, and he knows that time is not on his side. The outcome of the trial will inevitably give added impetus to the already growing pressure on the ANC to withdraw from negotiations with the Government. With reason, black South Africans do not trust apartheid justice. Whatever the truth of the matter, many believe Mrs Mandela to be the innocent victim of a state frame-up, and take the verdict and sentence of proof that nothing has really changed hi the Government's attitude. Mr de Klerk may have to make concessions to keep the ANC talking.