Which do you think is the best investment? asks Brian Eno. A war machine which incurs contempt and hatred everywhere for Britain? Or funding for hospitals, nurses, schools and child-care?
By Brian Eno
Stop the War Coalition
9 October 2011
Brian Eno -- one of the world's most influential musicians and artists, and producer of U2 and Coldplay, among many others -- is also a committed activist in the anti-war movement. This is a transcript of the speech he made at Stop the War Coalition's Antiwar Assembly on 8 October 2011.
Brian Eno speaking at the Antiwar Assembly, 8 October 2011.
Video by Harry Fear
Many of the speakers today will be addressing the moral issues of the war. I want to talk about the economic facts. So far the war in Afghanistan has cost us 20 or 30 billion pounds.
Billions are hard to grasp, so another way of looking at it is to say that the war is currently costing £12m a day. I'll repeat that: £12million a day.
What else could we be doing with that amount of money?
Well, how about building some decent schools? For £20 million pounds - that's less than two days of the war - you could build a very modern and large school.
That means about 15 big schools a month. For 20 days of the war you could build a big regional hospital.
And what about the people who work in them, the people who build our future and look after us? How about a pay rise for all our teachers and nurses? An extra £1000 a year for all 800,000 of them would cost us just 2 months in Afghanistan.
How about child-care? Britain, with the third largest defence budget in the world after America and China, has the highest childcare costs in Europe. British families with young children spend nearly a quarter of their income looking after their children - primarily because we pay so much for childcare. In Germany, by contrast, the figure is 3%. We could become equal with Germany for less than the cost of three months in Afghanistan.
You might have been impressed that in August the government promised £6.5 pounds to train people in renewable energy technologies - that is until you realise that's about thirteen hours in Afghanistan. Our whole clean-energy research budget was cut dramatically over the last year, and almost crippled as a result. The saving? A few days at war...
And how about culture, one of our country's biggest exports? Well, earlier this year The Arts Council had its budget cut by £100m: that means small theatres, arts labs, etc - the places where future talent is discovered and nurtured - are closing down. The saving? Eight days in Afghanistan.
The BBC World Service had its budget cut by £46m, which meant that it lost about a sixth of its foreign listeners. What did we save by that brilliant piece of international diplomacy? Three days at war. Which do you think is the best investment? A news service whose impartiality is respected all over the world, or a totally ineffective war machine which incurs contempt and hatred for this country?
Even BBC Online, whose total annual budget amounts to 24 minutes in Afghanistan, had its budget cut to pay for an extra 12 seconds of war.
But it's not only the Arts that are being cut back. It's the sciences too. Government funding of science research was reduced by about a billion pounds over the last year. That's a huge loss for British science - and ultimately for our economy - but we shouldn't be too fed up because it'll pay for a whole 11 weeks in Afghanistan.
What about youth centres? In the wake of the recent riots you might think that it would be a good idea to invest in anything that would help young people find their feet. For the cost of the war, you could build at least two a day - and those would be top-of-the-line places. Build a bit more modestly, and you could probably manage five or 10 a day.
Council housing anyone? Very unfashionable at the moment but, as someone who grew up in one, I think I know their value. We have nearly two million people on waiting lists, and we aren't anywhere near keeping up with demand. What would it cost? And how much more would it stimulate our economy to build houses than to fight pointless wars?
We're constantly being told that these are hard times and we have to tighten our belts, but as far as I can see the belts round the biggest bellies aren't tightening at all. As usual, it's the people at the bottom who suffer - both here and in Afghanistan.Brian Eno has spoken at numerous Stop the War Coalition events and in 2005 was the curator of a fund-raising concert featuring Rachid Taha, Nitin Sawhney, Mick Jones from the Clash and Imogen Heap, the video for which is available on Amazon. The version played that night of the Clash's Rock the Casbah is now quite rightly regarded as a classic and can be seen in a video clip here. Brian Eno's latest album is Drums Between the Bells, a collaboration with poet Rick Holland.