Surprise as Green Party opposes census boycott

By staff writers
10 Feb 2011

The Green Party of England and Wales has opposed a boycott of this year's UK census, despite support for a boycott from within its own ranks. The contract for co-ordinating the census has been awarded to Lockheed Martin, a US-based multinational arms company.

Lockheed's role in the census has triggered calls from peace activists for a boycott. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) have condemned Lockheed's involvement. While not calling on all their supporters to boycott the census, CAAT have made clear that they respect those who choose to do so.

The census, which is conducted in the UK every ten years, will be carried out on 27 March.

The Green Party were at the forefront of the 2008 campaign against awarding the contract to Lockheed Martin. But a spokesperson for the party told the Friend, an independent weekly Quaker magazine, that they are encouraging participation in the census because "the census is extremely important and needs to be accurate".

But the geographer Geoff Meaden, who recently retired from the University of Kent, has strongly urged support for people who refuse to participate in the census. Meaden has twice been a Green Party parliamentary candidate.

Lockheed are frequently criticised for arming oppressive regimes and for their central role in supplying the US armed forces. Their bid for the census contract arose from their work on intelligence and data collection.

Meaden said, "There will be a range of ethical reasons why people may not wish to comply, from concerns about the security of their personal data to not wishing to boost the profits of a weapons manufacturer".

He rejected assurances from the Office for National Statistics, who insist that there are "stringent operational and contractual processes and safeguards in place to maintain data security and confidentiality". Meaden said, "We have no legal precedents as to whether, under the pretext of national security, this census information can be acquired by the US government".

One activist, Lili Kathleen Bright, told Ekklesia that she had only recently heard about Lockheed’s involvement and has chosen to boycott the census.

"I don't want government money, which is the people's money, to go towards the arms trade," she explained, "It's important not to be complicit in supporting the arms trade and I can’t in good conscience participate, knowing what I know".

Others are considering protesting about Lockheed without boycotting the census. Quaker activist Simon Beard said "the census is a very important way to help decision-makers obtain the information they need" but he does not want to "assist an arms dealer to make money".

He explained, "I think I will fill in the form and make sure that I submit it eventually, but I will not do so at the first time of asking. Instead I shall be deliberately and obviously obstructive".

Amongst those who object to Lockheed Martin are some who are also prepared to boycott the census for other reasons. The anarchist pacifist Albert Beale told Ekklesia that he has been boycotting the census since 1981.

He said he would not object to a basic count of the population but that the census goes beyond this in the questions it asks. "One of the reasons that I would at least refuse to co-operate fully is the race question, which makes me feel as if I'm in apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany," he said.

When asked if collecting information about race would help to develop projects that tackle racism, Beale insisted, "It's because people classify one another by such an illogical and unscientific category as 'race' that we have racism".

Completing the census is a legal requirement for people living in the UK on the date in question. In practice, very few people are prosecuted for failing to do so. Some estimates suggest that over a million people went uncounted in the last census in 2001.

[Ekk/1]

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.