By Tracey and Tim Cheetham
This week has seen Cameron jetting around, trying to bolster his reputation as an International Statesman, while at the same time, clocking up an impressive list of nations to insult, including his own. His most recent visit was to be the “Jewel in the Crown” (see what I did there?) of the trip, an attempt to build links with the modern India, a fast-developing nation, second only to China in terms of population.
On the surface, a diplomatic visit to India could be a good idea; many UK companies have Contact Centres based in the country and links with the UK are strong. Historically, India has been a cheap supplier of goods and services to the UK, but now it has one of the fastest growing economies and trade opportunities are opening up in the opposite direction – Cameron would have us believe this is why he popped in for a cup of chai.
There is a clue to the true purpose of the visit though, when one examines the list of people included in Cameron's surprisingly large delegation. In addition to the Prime Minister, there were six other Cabinet Ministers, these included Foreign Secretary William Hague, Chancellor George Osborne and Business Secretary, Vince Cable. Fair enough for a trade jolly, you may think, but keep going down the list and you will find 50, (yes FIFTY) business 'leaders', you know the type, the kind of bigwigs who may also be major Conservative party donors, who knows? Significantly the list includes the likes of Dick Olver, Chairman of BAE Systems, Graham Cole, Managing Director of Agusta Westland and Rolls Royce, Director of Global Corporate Development, Miles Cowdry. What do these three men have in common? Simple – they are three of the biggest manufacturers and suppliers of arms. BAE Systems is Europe's largest Arms merchant, in fact.
Currently on the table is a £700Million arms deal for the supply of fifty-seven Hawk Jets to India. This would appear to be the real reason for Cameron's visit to the subcontinent – he is acting as a salesman (at our expense) for the British Arms Industry. Now, don't get too proud of that, it's not a nationalised industry or anything like that. These are privately held companies and PLC's who make enormous profits every year. We don't benefit from that, they're arms dealers, hardly anyone benefits from their trade, except them. Cameron and Co. saw the deal being signed on 28th July at the Hindustan Aeronautics' Headquarters in Bangalore.
The scale of the cuts that the British public are having to face, pales into insignificance when considering the poverty that exists in parts of India. Still, the moral implications of this deal are far from the minds of those involved in brokering it. The apologists for this sort of Governmental wheeler dealing will defend it by citing the high number of UK manufacturing jobs it will create, but this idea is a fallacy. The Jets are to be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics at their plant in Bangalore and BAE Systems will provide “support” from the UK. According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), only 200 UK jobs will be created by the deal, that's £3.5million per job. Hands up anyone who could create 200 jobs for less... Forgemasters of Sheffield were going to do precisely that, with a LOAN of £80Million, but the ConDems apparently feel that this arms deal is better value.
UK taxpayers, who are facing the consequences of the Government's short-sighted economic policy are subsidising the UK Arms Industry to the tune of at least £453Million and up to £936Million. In fact, using jobs as a justification for arms exports, or this subsidy, is ridiculous when they account for just 0.7% of total UK employment and of that figure, less than 6% are employed in manufacturing. The ConDems have already cut the Future Jobs Fund, a scheme of subsidising work and funding training and development for young people and the long term unemployed. Yet, the UK employs around 65,000 people in the 'defence' industries at, (according to the MoD's own figures) an average subsidy of £13,000 per job, per year. Part of that subsidy amount is the estimated £5Million per year spent on 'Official Visits' of the sort Cameron and his massive entourage have recently enjoyed.
When Cameron dedicates so much of his energy, (and our money) to this deal, we are again reminded of the priorities of his ConDem coalition. This is yet another concession to big business, a Conservative tradition that Cameron has been keen to distance his party from. In February, when he launched an attack on lobbying by business, he bemoaned “Crony Capitalism” and promised to shine a light on:
“an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”
Perhaps most worrying of all, is the political rhetoric surrounding the trip. Cameron has faced criticism for his inflammatory words about Pakistan. Words that have caused outrage and anger and even lead to the burning of his effigy on the streets of Karachi. It would be easy to dismiss this, as many commentators will, as foolish. When considering the background and the facts above, stoking the fires of tension in a region where he has a vested interest in the sale of conflict weapon systems, looks anything but foolish. It looks deliberate, calculated and most of all, very sinister.