Paul Tippell is a member of Twickenham, Richmond and Kingston Network against the Arms Trade (TRAKNAT, www.traknat.org.uk), which is co-ordinating a public meeting on 29 November to quiz Vince Cable and Zac Goldsmith on the arms trade. We spoke to him about how constituents are lobbying the Business Minister, and his tips for the future.
Why did local groups come together to form a Network Against the Arms Trade?
Our local MP, Vince Cable, is responsible for the licensing of weapons exports and also the government agency that promotes arms exports (UKTI DSO). As constituents we are in a unique position to influence this key decision-maker.
How did the network start?
Kingston Peace Council organised a demo outside Cable’s offices during the Arab Spring to challenge the fact the UK routinely arms dictators. We decided that it would be good to form a local network with other groups. We went round and gave presentations, asked them to sign the petition and to join the network. TRAKNAT now includes local Amnesty, Green Party, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and World Development Movement groups. We’ve also had support from local churches and local Liberal councillors. The groups involved are quite broad, but the arms trade is an issue which brings people together. Because Vince Cable is our local MP, it gives us a responsibility to put the pressure on him since it easier for us to do that than for people outside his constituency.
What is the focus of the network?
We campaign for Vince Cable to shut his arms promotion unit, the UK Trade & Industry – Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI-DSO), and stop underwriting loans through UK Export Finance which enable the sales to take place. Until the government stops promoting arms sales, it will continue to ignore its own rules which prohibit arms sales where they may be used for internal repression, or external aggression.
Some countries are still paying Vince Cable’s department for debts that were run up by the UK selling weapons to their former dictators. We call for these, and other unjust debts, to be cancelled. We also call for the withdrawal of export support for climate-wrecking fossil fuel projects and other projects which fuel climate change, result in human right abuses and third world debt.
UK exports overseas can have a massive impact either positive or negative, and the exports our government chooses to promote and support speak volumes about its commitment to human rights, environmental sustainability and social justice worldwide. TRAKNAT is campaigning for the UK government to support responsible, sustainable exports which demonstrate a respect for peace, human rights, and a safe environment and create positive, sustainable jobs in the UK.
We have a petition calling on Vince Cable to:
- Stop arming repressive regimes. It’s time to end government support for the arms trade and close the DSEI arms fair.
- Substantially restrict arms sales to countries where this will divert resources from development and exacerbate poverty.
How has the public responded to your network’s campaigning?
Often when campaigning, if you stop somebody in the street, you’re lucky if 10% respond. But we get at least a 60% response from people we ask to sign the petition. People are very surprised that Vince Cable is actually responsible for this. They regard him as Mr Nice Guy and can’t believe that he is in fact responsible for licensing and promoting weapons.
What are your plans for the public meeting in November?
The Public Meeting will provide a rare opportunity for us to hold Vince Cable to account for the policies his Department is pursuing, and to call on Zac Goldsmith as a member of the ruling party to exert pressure on the Government. Local constituents will present our concerns and then ask him some very directed questions designed to expose the immorality of UK arms export practices and also seek specific policy changes.
I urge everyone who can to join us at the meeting to give your support to local campaigners and lend your voice to those calling on Vince Cable to change direction on UK arms trading.
Why is it important to hold this public meeting?
We want to raise the profile of the issue locally. It’s a rare opportunity to actually get Vince Cable to respond to specific, very direct questions. We will call on him to end government promotion of weapons and will seek specific policy changes. For example, greater transparency about arms exports, and the idea that arms export licenses should be scrutinised by a select committee first.
Have you got any advice for groups who would like to set up similar groups to lobby in their constituencies?
The network idea has proved surprisingly successful. Each group has nominated one person to represent them, and they often come to meetings. Everyone does just a little bit so the work gets shared out and through our groups we can reach a much wider audience. That has worked really well.
Support local constituents to hold Vince Cable and Zac Goldsmith to account at a public meeting:
“The Arms Trade and its impact on Human Rights and Poverty”
Thursday 29 November 2012 at 7pm, Duke Street Church, Duke Street, Richmond, TW9 1DH.
Admission free. All are welcome.
More info: www.traknat.org.uk