Notes From the Margins…

Of Floods, Gays and Wars

  • February 16, 2014
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National security is not a concept I generally have much respect for.   As we’ve seen more than once over the last decade or so, it’s a term that governments like to use to cow and overawe civil society through the constant invocation of threats and emergencies, that become a justification for domestic repression and the shutting down of democratic politics, secrecy, executive privilege, militarism and war.

That said, I can’t help but think that the fact that Ed Miliband has declared climate change to be an issue of national security is, at least potentially,   a positive step.   That isn’t because I would like the consequences of climate change ‘securitized’ in the way that terrorism has been.

But if there is one good thing that might come out of the terrible series of weather events we have seen both in the UK and beyond this this winter, it must surely be to reach a common consensus that we are facing a real emergency –   not the pseudo-terrorist emergency that has been so wildly exaggerated and blown out of all proportion since September 2001 – and used for all manner of objectives that have nothing to do with anyone’s security.

On one level ‘national security’ is a misleading prism through which to view climate change.     What we are really talking about – or should be talking about – is human security, and the need to develop common national and international policies that can mitigate the worst effects of global warming and try and prevent some of the catastrophic disclocations that seem almost certain to take place if we don’t do anything.

If governments could dedicate anything like the kind of expenditure and effort to this concept of security, rather than wars and the preparation for war, that would be achieving a great deal.     Just to put things in proportion.   . Last year it was revealed that the UK has spent £37 billion on the Afghan war.     In 2010, the UK had spent roughly £9 billion on the Iraq war.     Both these wars were supposedly intended to ‘keep us save’ and both of them were presented by the UK government as essential for our ‘national security.’

Yet today, we have a country that has spent vast sums of money on futile militarism; that is currently preparing to spend another £2 billion or so on a fleet of fighter planes so that Britain can continue to ‘punch above its weight’, yet which cannot – or will not – find   the £500 million shortfall identified by the government advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, to strengthen the country’s flood defenses.

These priorities must change, or we are going to see some truly horrendous events over the coming years.       Miliband has said, quite rightly, that ‘ because of political division in Westminster, we are sleepwalking into a national security crisis on climate change. The terrible events of the last few weeks should serve as a wake-up call for us all.’

They should indeed. But some people have no interest in waking up, and probably won’t even if the waters wash over their own houses.   Take, for example, the Daily Mail.   Today that flagship of journalistic integrity carried a feature which suggested that the UK’s flood defenses might have been weakened by the environment agency’s supposedly feckless expenditure on   ‘equali-tea’ gay awareness mugs ( £639), and on gay pride marches ( £30,000).

Unlike whackjob Ukip councillor David Silvester, the Mail didn’t say that the floods were God’s punishment for   same-sex marriage, but it was definitely in the same ball-park.   Supposedly an indictment of ‘bizarre’ spending by the environment agency, the article was in fact a bleakly obtuse testament to the wilful and dangerous stupidity of Dacre’s newspaper and the political constituency it was appealing to.

Whatever else can be said about this winter’s floods, £639 on teacups and £30,000 on gay pride marches is neither here nor there, compared to the vast waste of   blood and treasure that has been drained away by the ‘national security wars’ of the last decade.

The Mail may prefer not to talk about that, but the rest of us really should.


  1. Richard Carter

    16th Feb 2014 - 8:22 pm

    … and it’s not just the stupid waste of money on stupid wars and on buying military aircraft but the spending on two aircraft carriers and, even more stupid because there’s no one to deter, the spending of many billions on the “deterrent” Trident. And good though it is that Miliband recognises global warming as a threat to the security of the country, he still supports renewing Trident!

    • Matt

      16th Feb 2014 - 8:41 pm

      Yes, that’s right. And he hasn’t said anything about the F-35 fighter project either, nor about the misuse of ‘national security’ by previous Labour governments. Nevertheless, if what he says can help develop a consensus regarding the urgency of this issue, then it will have achieved something…

  2. Paul Seligman (@PaulMSeligman)

    17th Feb 2014 - 11:24 pm

    We need national forces whose priorities are dealing with domestic emergencies and genuine home defence if needed, not attacking and occupying other countries. Unfortunately, the armed forces help to people affected by the flood is likely to strengthen support for the state’s overseas adventures – I’d like to think some people may see it as an alternative.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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