I have been a passive supporter of the Campaign Against Arm Trade (CAAT) for many years, having been introduced to it by a member of one of my WEA Classes who was an enthusiastic anti-arms campaigner as well as an advocate of the wit and wisdom of the Methodist Recorder.
I regret that I've never found the time to come to grips with the detail of the iniquity of Britain's trade in arms but of the following broad principles I am sure:
1. We supply arms to all sorts of unsavoury regimes. The excuse is that every country is entitled to defend itself and there are rigorous rules about what we sell and to whom. Such rules are either meaningless or flouted and much of what we sell can equally be used for internal repression. Tear gas to Colonel Gaddafi is just one example. David Cameron's embarrassing trip flogging arms in the Middle East at this highly inappropriate time just highlights the hypocrisy that has been going on for years.
2. A powerful excuse is that the arms industry is highly profitable and provides lots of employment. In truth this is only so because it is heavily subsidised by the government. If our universities were subsidised to a fraction of the money poured into arms they would continue to be world class without either difficulty or charging tuition fees to domestic students. Umpteen other worthwhile industries would also thrive if the subsidies were diverted to them (wind and wave power technology to name but two).
3. Employment could be maintained be converting arms factories to other more worthwhile products. For example, anyone who has ever travelled on an unsurfaced road in the Third World would know that any resemblance between a bus and a tank is to be welcomed. Hence the tank factory in Leeds could be converted to building robust buses and trucks for export to Africa.
CAAT is currently organising a petition, "This is not OK",the first tranche of which will be presented to Downing Street on Wednesday 9th March. Please find it by clicking this link and then adding your name to this very worthwhile manifestation of the Big Society.