CAAT researcher Joe Lo reports from the arms industry’s glitziest annual dinner
An arms dealer’s social calendar is a busy one – filled with champagne receptions and three-course dinners which are often enjoyed in the company of politicians and civil servants, the people whose job it is to represent us and spend our money. While this kind of schmoozing is an almost weekly affair, no event typifies the close relationship between politicans and the arms trade more than the annual dinner of the arms industry association, the Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space (ADS) Group, which was held on Tuesday night.
Previously, the £250 a head dinner had been held at the Park Lane Hilton hotel but after protestors kept gatecrashing the event, the Hilton decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and the Grosvenor House Marriott took over the task of helping arms dealers and politicians dine without disturbance from an angry public.
The event organisers promised arms dealers “the perfect opportunity to network with colleagues, entertain guests or simply just enjoy a relaxed atmosphere”. The arms dealers entrance to the hotel though was anything but relaxed. They grimaced as they got out of their taxis into the rain and shuffled, eyes down, past banners reading ‘Arms Dealers Dine as Yemen Starves’, ‘Arms Dealers Here Today, This is not OK’ and ‘Stop Arming Saudi’. They pretended to ignore protesters’ calls to get a proper job, one which doesn’t involve killing, and use their skills for good instead of death and destruction. They stepped over the bodies of activists, angry at British-made weapons being used to kill civilians in Yemen. They covered their faces in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid being caught on Campaign Against Arms Trade’s Facebook livestream. Clearly, they’re not proud of what they are doing and they don’t want the public to know about it.
Once inside, past the over-zealous security guards, they may have started to relax at last, safe from the real world in their five-star hotel. If they thought they’d heard the last from us though, they were wrong. Protesters had infiltrated the cocktail reception and soon made their feelings known, bursting the arms dealers bubble for several minutes before they were carried out to applause from the rest of the protesters outside.
Once finally free from opposition, the arms dealers and politicians settled down to their three-course dinner and wine. They listened to a speech from the president of Airbus, a company which owns 37.5% of the MBDA venture, whose missiles have been used in the bombing of Yemen and on all sides in the 2011 war in Libya. This speech was followed by one from former foreign secretary William Hague, a regular guest at ADS dinners whose after dinner speeches are advertised as costing over £25,000.
Unfortunately, ADS has managed to keep the guest list a secret and so the public has no way of knowing which of our representatives were wined and dined by which arms companies. Previous years’ guest lists though, show the number of politicians which typically attend these events and the immoral companies which shell out hundreds on hosting them. In several months, when ministers finally declare their interests, we’ll be able to tell you which ministers attended. Ordinary MPs however do not have to declare hospitality unless they accept over £300 from a single source so, shockingly you may never know if your MP was cavorting with arms dealers.