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acronyms and activism

Eight O’clock one rainy morning outside Victoria Station, a crew of CAAT activists assembled with high hopes and higher necked woolly jumpers. Their aim, to descend on the unwitting offices of Kingsgate House, the home of UK Trade and Investment, and alert them to the rather clandestine and immoral activities now taking place within.

Considering the keenness of the hour and the biting frost, spirits ran high. In the moments to be grasped before the zero hour, we debated whether or not it was credible to combine ridiculously base pop anthems with a catchy acronym to achieve a campaign chant. In the case of Daphne and Celeste’s turgidly dire “U.G.L.Y.” the answer was deemed no. It seems however well one could substitute “U.K.T.I you ain’t got no alibi you ugly” into its insipidly feverish brogue, the price of being associated with such bilge was deemed too high. The decision was postponed, but it was decided to float the idea of a new workshop at the next national gathering entitled: “the art of incorporating acronyms into catchy campaign chants.” We did however congratulate ourselves on having higher standards and considerably more scruples than your average pop music producer.
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VICTORY FOR DISARM UCL

For just over two years now I have been campaigning together with other students at University College London (UCL) to get our university to ditch its shares in arms company Cobham and adopt an ethical investment policy.

And now…just before Christmas…victory has finally come. UCL has announced its ethical investment policy, which will come into force on 1 January 2009. It feels great ! Over the past two years many of us put a lot of effort into the campaign to Disarm UCL. It was a great campaign: I have made many wonderful friends, our photo stunts in UCLs main quad have become legendary and I feel I learned more from this campaign (media work, communication skills, lobbying and the ins and outs of ethical investment) than throughout my entire postgraduate degree at UCL.

Graduation from the University of War

Disarm UCL: Graduation from the University of War

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The government’s golfing gunrunners

Looking through the media after arriving in the CAAT office this morning, I was greeted by unexpected coverage of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) – a government unit that is the focus of CAAT’s new core campaign.

UKTI promotes exports – including arms exports.  However, the news today was not about the arms trade. It was about golf.

Tory MP Humfrey Malins discovered that UKTI has spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on branded golf balls – £12,030.50 in the last three years to be precise.

However, wasting taxpayers’ money seems to be par for the course at UKTI. Although arms make up less than 2% of the UK’s visible exports, UKTI employs about as many staff in its arms promotion unit as in all its civil industry-specific sectors combined.

That’s before we’ve even considered the human costs involved in the export of arms to conflict areas and oppressive regimes.

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Spirit of Christmas Fair media stunt

Spirit of Christmas Fair

Spirit of Christmas Fair

A group of 8 CAAT staff members and volunteers took part in a media stunt outside the Spirit of Christmas Fair run by Clarion Events on Wednesday November 5th. Steve Tully utilised his bushy beard to play a very convincing Santa, accompanied by three mischievous elves (Anne-Marie O’Reilly, Ian Pocock and Sam Walton) who just loved playing with the missiles on hand as props!

After a photo opportunity attended by the Hammersmith Gazette, we headed down to the fair at Kensington Olympia to hand out some leaflets (brilliantly designed by Ian Mackinnon). Read more »

My latest activities

It has been a busy time on the arms trade campaigning front for me. First up was a stall at the London Vegan Festival. The stall was well positioned in the main hall and there was a steady stream of people for most of the day. Badges were brought, T-shirts sold, campaigning postcards given away and petitions signed (so much that a blank sheet had to be photocopied so that signatures could continue to be collected!).

The main focus of the stall was BAE Systems and the halting of the Serious Fraud Office’s corruption investigation into the Al Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia. All in all, it was good day as a receptive audience was educated about what CAAT do and a fair amount of money was collected. A second stall at the Anarchist Book Fair on October 18th was also successful and we hope to do other festivals in the future.

Then there was the Merchants of Death walking tour organised by the London CAAT group. This is the second tour London CAAT have done and this one was even more successful than the first. We over doubled the number of attendees (from 10 to 25) and people found it a useful and interesting day. I’m sure London CAAT will be organising another one for the future so keep an eye out for that.

In the meantime we are focussing on the upcoming protests outside events organised by Clarion. Anyone wanting to get involved in London CAAT can contact us on londoncaat(at)riseup*net

Sitcoms don’t kill people, guns do…

A few weeks ago I was sat in a large canteen basking in the modicum of glamour that had been injected into my day. It may have merely manifested itself as a mediocre cappuccino at the BBC building (mediocre being as positive as I can be), but the company I was keeping more than made up for any beverage based shortcomings.

I was speaking to Laurence Howarth, a funnyman who writes funny things for Radio 4 as well as penning gags for a whole host of performers you would know and love. To be more specific, he recently penned a sit-com about arms dealers called Safety Catch. Now I know what you’re thinking, canned laughter and cartoonish characters are hardly the crucible in which an anti-arms trade ideology can be forged.  Well you would be wrong.

The show takes a satirical sideswipe with a warts-and-all portrayal of the life of death merchant Simon McGrath, and raises a few ironic chuckles along the way. Though it may seem a strange topic to base a comedy show around, Laurence is keen to argue the case for raising awareness through a vector such as this. Some of the murkier aspects of the civil service were brought to rib tickling life in Yes Minister to popular and critical acclaim, and in my mind this is no different.
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Reasons to be cheerful

So the Law Lords have overturned the victory CAAT and the Corner House won in April, declaring that the SFO was in line with the law when it closed a corruption inquiry after pressure from the government. They said this because it was decided amongst themselves that the law cannot be bent, unless ‘national security’ is perceived to be at stake.

Whilst it is clear that in theory we have lost, I urge you friends, campaigners and sympathisers not to be disheartened. We at the CAAT office don’t feel too bad, because we know that not everyone agrees with the Lords’ decision; and this is clearly exemplified by the plentiful coverage and debate there has been in the media throughout this week. If Wednesday had been just another day, another average judgement then that would not have been the case.

So we thank all of you, our supporters, for the help that we’ve been given and steer your eyes towards the disproportionately large silver lining of this small, just-passing-over cloud.

Below you will find Annabelle’s top three reasons to be cheerful.
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Appellate Acrimony

On the 30th July the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords delivered their legal verdict on the Serious Fraud Office’s decision to cancel the now famous corruption investigation into Saudi Arabia and BAE Systems. Having been present at the hearing, I had heard the very eloquent and erudite arguments put forth by CAAT and The Corner House’s legal team. Thus it was with considerable chagrin I discovered the Law Lords had contradicted the superlative glory of the High Court judgement last summer.

Central to the case was the apparent disregard shown to article 5 of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention, which the UK is a signatory to. Although not incorporated into UK law, the Director of the SFO and the Attorney General both publicly avowed that the decision to discontinue the investigation was taken with the OECD Anti-bribery Convention in mind and, crucially, that the decision was permitted under its terms. However, it was later argued in the courtroom that had these actions breached the treaty after all, they would have continued regardless and broken it.
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Help raise money for CAAT whilst you surf

Just a quick note to let you know a new way of raising money for CAAT.

All you need to do is use search engine everyclick.com and select the Trust for Research and Education on the Arms Trade (TREAT) as your chosen charity.

Just visit www.everyclick.com/trustforresearchandeducationonthearmstradetreat/CT3693

TREAT will donate all proceeds from Everyclick to CAAT for our research and educational work.

Thank you!

House of Lords July ’08

On the 7th and 8th of July I went down to Parliament to watch CAAT and the Corner House return to court, this time for the Serious Fraud Office’s appeal hearing in the House of Lords. If you make it past security, agree to wear a little picture of yourself around your neck and meander round the stony labyrinth we call Parliament, you can sit in a little room with regal, furry wallpaper and watch the proceedings.

The results of this hearing – sadly not expected until October due to the Summer recess – will be crucial not only for CAAT and the Corner House, but also for the government. The case has brought under the microscope one of the main facets of Britain’s unwritten, tacitly approved constitution: that our legal system is, or should be, independent of the government. Whilst this is something that has been unanimously accepted as right for aeons, there are odd occasions when the principle is called into question. A decision on this matter is important as, having a legal system based upon precedent means that if a person can prove a particular principle in a British court, then it will open a gateway for all similar cases in future.
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