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). Continue reading “Spirit of Christmas Fair media stunt”

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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The UK Arms Industry

When campaigning against the arms trade, I’ve always found it interesting how few people disagree with the moral case we’re making. Discounting those few rare souls who see the production of weaponry, in itself, as a morally worthy activity, the general opinion tends to be one of resigned acceptance. That there is a demand for such weaponry is seen to be a sad fact of life and that supplying this demand benefits our economy an unfortunate boon. After all, if we didn’t do it, surely someone else would?

Yet the initial perception of inevitability demands examination. Certainly, leaving aside more utopian aspirations, we can accept armed conflict as a sad fact of global politics. Yet the vast industrial and commercial machinery which exists to service this demand is no such given. The arms industry is not just supported by government (as, perhaps, one might expect to happen with regards to any major industry) but is in fact subsidised to a rather considerable degree. The full extent of the subsidy is estimated to stand at up to £890 million per year. Given around 65000 people working in the arms trade within the UK, this roughly amounts of each job costing the tax payer over £13000 a year in subsidy. Until this year when, hopefully as a sign of things to come, Gordon Brown announced the decision to close it, the defence export service organisation (DESO) existed within Government solely to market and sell UK arms. Employing nearly 500 civil servants within the Ministry of Defence, the head of DESO was a post always filled by an arms industry executive with a portion of his salary ‘topped up’ by the arms industry. Could you imagine the outcry if the department of health had a similar organisation working within it at the taxpayers expense to promote pharmaceutical sale? Yet DESO was sadly indicative of the connections between government and arms industry and they extend far beyond it.
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Students campaigning against arms investments plan to meet in July

Back in March a few anti-arms trade campaigners from UCL, Warwick and Nottingham met in London to discuss the “Unis against the arms trade National Action Day” held in February. It was really great and inspiring to hear what other students at other unis are up to.  One of the things we all wanted was to try and arrange as many opportunities as possible to meet and swap experiences and ideas.

So – if you are a student campaigning against your uni investing in the arms trade here’s the next opportunity to meet up and discuss the issue:
Continue reading “Students campaigning against arms investments plan to meet in July”