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The cuckoo has landed… at UKTI

CAAT media co-ordinator Kaye Stearman writes…

Monday morning, 30 March, at 8.30am. and the pavement outside Kingsgate House, the unlovely concrete box that houses United Kingdom Trade and Investment (UKTI), was in deep shadow. I had volunteered to do the early shift at CAAT’s UKTI demo and was freezing as a result. As the wind whistled down Victoria Street I almost envied the civil servants, arriving for work in a warm building.

As those same civil servants pushed through the rotating door (the title of one of CAAT’s earlier campaigns) they were puzzled to be handed a copy of UKTI’s Defence and Security Organisation (DSO) “performance report”. Like most civil servants they are familiar with glossy government reports. They know that most are exercises in box ticking, highlighting perceived successes and hiding more dubious activities – or spin as we laypeople call it.

One confident chappie declined to take the report. “I already have a copy. I know this report because I wrote it”.

No he didn’t! The “performance report” was actually a carefully crafted spoof concocted by CAAT, to mark the UKTI Board meeting scheduled for later that day. The report contained sections on DSO’s disproportionate staffing, poor value for money, support for arms fairs and for companies like BAE Systems (still under SFO investigation in several countries). I won’t detail the iniquities here – you can read all about them on CAAT’s website.

As the morning wore on, the pavements warmed up a little and so did the reception from passers-by who stopped to listen to our reasoned arguments (hard when your teeth are still chattering) and take our UKTI postcards. But one of my CAAT colleagues found a novel way to keep warm. Not only was Claire seven months pregnant but she was prepared to dress up as a giant cuckoo, complete with beak, wings and two rather scrawny looking chicks (not an indication of her own mothering skills I hasten to add). A few hearty squawks and she was the best show in this part of town. Billy Elliot just down the road could not compete.

By lunchtime I was ready to leave for the comparative comforts of the CAAT office. But by now word had spread that the report was not all that it seemed and staff were heading downstairs to get extra copies. After a few snaps of the camera lens, I left Claire squarking happily on the pavement, secure in the knowledge that when the novelty wore off, there would be more volunteers to take over.

I might have guessed that who they would be since both had form. Ian had been a hit only a month before as CAAT’s “armed baby”, demonstrating outside the Baby Show at the ExCel Centre. You can see how convincing he was from the photos on CAAT’s website (NB this may scare small children). The other was Todd who has impersonated a civil servant, a BAE business executive and a pixie at various times for CAAT (you can find him in various guises on the CAAT website).

I am told that both made fine cuckoos, although not being heavily pregnant, I don’t believe that they could bring the same poignancy to the role as Claire. In any case, they must have been effective as a few days later CAAT received a signed postcard from a passer-by saying that he received the card from a giant bird in Victoria Street.

Our spoof UKTI DSO report proved to be a great success. Once the spoof was rumbled, many UKTI workers were happy to take copies. Some told us how unhappy they were to have such unsavoury goings-on in their department. Demand for the report was so great that our supply was exhausted by 4pm.

But don’t despair, we want to share the report with everyone. Just look on CAAT website at: www.caat.org.uk

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