By Kate Hudson | Last month, Boris Johnson announced the withdrawal of London’s membership of the global ‘Mayors for Peace’ initiative. This was founded by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1982, in an effort to prevent any other city going through similar suffering.
In 1945, atom bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US air force, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and the devastating consequences of radiation poisoning affecting subsequent generations. Since that time, mayors of those cities have felt a responsibility to make sure people understand the consequences: ‘to prevent any repetition of the A-bomb tragedy, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have continually sought to tell the world about the inhumane cruelty of nuclear weapons and have consistently urged that nuclear weapons be abolished.’
Mayors for Peace is hardly an extremist organisation. There are currently 2,277 member cities in 129 countries, including Paris, Berlin, Rome, Ottawa, Los Angeles and Sydney. Members are drawn from across the political spectrum. Tadatoshi Akiba, the Mayor of Hiroshima, believes that the role of city mayors in raising awareness of nuclear weapons is key, given that cities are the targets of nuclear weapons.
We were aware when Boris Johnson was elected that he supported Britain’s nuclear weapons system Trident, as well as the war on Iraq, but there is no reason for him to reject participation in an international body committed to the global abolition of nuclear weapons.
Every Conservative government has supported Britain’s participation in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the goal of which is global nuclear disarmament. This decision suggests that Boris Johnson is retreating from that common goal.
This decision is insulting to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the work of their mayors for global peace, and goes against the views of the majority of the British people, who support global nuclear disarmament.
So why has Boris Johnson pulled out? Does he have no concern for peace? Mayors for Peace was established so that cities and their residents need no longer fear nuclear annihilation – that cities should no longer be the targets of nuclear weapons. Is Boris Johnson giving up on that goal?
Johnson’s approach is in marked contrast to that of the former mayor, Ken Livingstone. Ken is a strong supporter of the peace movement and was a staunch ally during his terms in office and his moral commitment to peace and disarmament helped to work towards a culture of peace in London. This was demonstrated in many ways, not only on the nuclear issue, but also on the anti-war issue and – drawing this more widely – on building constructive and harmonious relationships between London’s many communities. In all of these areas, I believe he was in line with the majority opinions of London’s residents and working in their best interests. As Tadatoshi Akiba says, it is the residents of cities that suffer most in war.
In very stark contrast recently, was the different experiences of the two visits of President Bush, firstly in 2003, and secondly just a few weeks ago. In 2003, Mayor Livingstone supported our protests against Bush’s visit, and he welcomed the disabled US Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic to City Hall, to pay tribute to his work for peace. Our rally and demonstration proceeded peacefully and unimpeded. During Bush’s recent visit, the anti-war movement was prevented from demonstrating in Whitehall – signalling unnecessary restrictions on our right to protest – and a number of protestors were on the receiving end of police brutality. It is to be hoped that these incidents are not symptomatic of a new attitude in London, contemptuous of those who struggle for peace and disarmament, and cavalier with our right to peaceful protest.