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Protesters take Vince Cable to task over his support for arms sales

Rhiannon Rees reports on Kingston Peace Council’s vigil outside Vince Cable’s constituency office

Vince Cable talks to the protesters

On Friday 18 March I joined constituents of Vince Cable who were lobbying him at his constituency office in Twickenham to end government support for arms exports to repressive regimes.

As Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills he is the Minister responsible for the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the government agency that has been promoting arms exports to Libya, Bahrain and other governments that abuse human rights…surely an uncomfortable position for a leading Liberal Democrat MP!

The lobby was organised by Kingston Peace Council (KPC). Two of their members had visited him in his constituency surgery the previous week to express their concerns, but his replies had been unconvincing.

When I arrived, KPC members were putting searching questions to him as he arrived for his weekly surgery. Some had placards saying ‘Cable, where’s your conscience?’ or ‘Vince, don’t sell arms to dictators!’

He said that he disagreed with us, in that it was acceptable to sell military equipment to ‘stable’ countries. He tried to justify arms sales to countries that had large populations of poor people and spent massive amounts on ‘defence’, such as Brazil and India, by saying that ‘they were entitled to defend themselves’. He said he had recently personally helped to sell two frigates to Brazil.

He said that export licences were under constant review, but did not say when any review would be completed and published. He also said that sales to (unspecified) countries where there was trouble at the moment had been cancelled, but did not explain why they had been allowed in the first place.

Protesters with banners outside Vince Cable's constituency office

Protesters outside Vince Cable’s constituency office

We were not convinced and stayed near his office with our banners, as constituents went in for his surgery. Two local newspapers covered the protest and it was also mentioned on a local radio station.

A rival, but friendly, group protesting about cuts in further education were on the opposite side of the road. Some friendly motorists hooted as they passed.

Congratulations to KPC for organising a very effective protest, taking the moral argument to a key member of the Government in his constituency and getting local press coverage.

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