General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Apart from your current organisation, which other organisations that campaign do you admire?
There are many organisations today that bring something positive and dynamic to the campaigning table. To mention just a few that I have a regard for: the Stop the War Coalition for articulating the views of the overwhelming majority of the population in an accessible and inclusive manner and facilitating the biggest demo in British history; the London Feminist Network for its youthful radicalism and reviving the Reclaim the Night marches; and Plane Stupid for its creative non-violent direct action approach.
Who is the campaigner you most admire?
Bruce Kent. Bruce was the key player in CND in the 1980s and was more or less pushed out of the catholic priesthood for his anti-nuclear campaigning. He was vilified by the right-wing press and Tory politicians for his exceptional leadership of CND but stuck to his principles throughout. He remains extremely active today on anti-nuclear and other issues. The best thing about Bruce is that he never looks back and expounds on how he did things in the past. For Bruce, campaigning is all about now and the future.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in campaigning today?
They have to believe in the cause they are championing and it has to be more important to them than anything else. And there is no room for cynicism. Cynicism and campaigning definitely do not mix. Optimism is essential, with confidence in humanity and the belief that you can win.
What three things make a good campaigner?
- an understanding of the wider world and the overall political context in which you are operating, and how to put together alliances within civil society to bring about political change
- a strategic approach to creating the conditions for achieving your campaign’s goals
- a positive approach to your own campaign combined with respect for others
Which of these three do you have most of?
Well I like to think I have all of them, but maybe number one is my main strength.
Which of these three do you think is missing most out of people who campaign or want to?
Perhaps number one although people have many different strengths and skills.
Generally are organisations getting better at campaigning since you began your career? If so, what’s changed?
I wouldn’t really describe it as a career, but during my campaigning life perhaps! I don’t think that question is quite right somehow. It is really the political balance of forces in wider society that determine whether campaigns succeed or not, not just what the campaigns themselves do and what methods they choose. One of the most successful campaigns was the Anti-Apartheid movement, but apartheid wasn’t overthrown solely or even largely to do with AA. It was the struggle of the ANC, backed by progressive states and opinion world-wide. AA linked in with that in a very effective way and was able to play its part. There are many examples of success – and failure – at all points over the decades I have been a campaigning activist. I think methods and style have changed because of technological changes but the fundamental issue is getting the politics right and that can happen – or not – at any time.
If you weren’t a campaigner, what would you be?
I have only been employed as a campaigner since September 2010, because before that, as Chair of CND, I was an elected political officer but not an employee. So my ‘career’ has been as an academic – I am a historian by training, and taught, until joining CND staff full-time, at London South Bank University. I was fortunate to teach, research and write in my areas of political and campaigning interest, so there were obvious synergies between the two parts of my life. I plan to continue writing but campaigning is my great love – working to change the world for the better!