I don’t claim to be an expert at making political predictions. Some of my predictions have been woefully off-course. But yesterday (26 September) I made what must surely be the most precise political prediction of my life.
Speaking about the arms trade at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, I was asked about the impact on jobs if the UK stopped exporting arms. I replied that even if arms exports are not reduced at all, arms industry jobs will gradually disappear from Britain, as companies such as BAE move employment to India and elsewhere. Later in the day, BAE confirmed nearly 3,000 job losses in the UK.
The redundancies are already being blamed on the government’s military cuts. The reality is that cuts to the military budget (or the “defence budget”, as its euphemistically known) have been relatively slight when compared to the coalition’s swingeing attacks on public services and the welfare state.
Furthermore, BAE have got form for being misleading about employment. When they signed a major deal with India last year, they said it would protect jobs at their Brough plant. Within months, they were announcing job losses at Brough. In 2006, when arms dealers were lobbying to end a criminal investigation into BAE, they claimed that the latest Saudi arms deal would provide 16,000 jobs in the UK (and both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph put the figure at 50,000). Once the deal was signed, BAE cynically announced that most of the jobs would be based in Saudi Arabia, with very few new jobs in the UK.
In this context, it would not be a surprise to hear an announcement from BAE pretty soon about the creation of new jobs in India or the USA. If this happens, it would be naive to think that this had no connection with the job losses in Britain.
There is no future in the arms industry. Apologists for the arms trade try to justify it by speaking of the number of jobs it creates (a tactic also used by supporters of the transatlantic slave trade over 200 years ago).
In reality, the arms industry is subsidised with about £700 million of taxpayers’ money every year. Future generations will look back in disbelief, unable to understand why, when faced with the horrors of climate change, we chose to throw millions into arms production. We could be using those millions, and the skills of thousands of British workers, to research and develop renewable energy and technologies that can help us to tackle the physical, economic and security threats resulting from climate change. Let’s start by retraining the workers that BAE have so callously thrown on the dole.
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia. To read more on arms trade issues, please visit the Campaign Against Arms Trade at http://www.caat.org.uk .