Friday, 12 October 2012

Chuka Umunna champions commercial arms companies again

I chaired an event last month as part of Streatham’s Little Big Peace festival, at which Streatham MP Chuka Umunna spoke.

It is particularly disappointing therefore to see him just a few weeks later promoting British Aerospace – the UK’s largest commercial arms manufacturer.

In an article in the Huffington Post he urges the UK government to help companies "such as BAE acclimatise to the future, investing in skills and capabilities as well as supporting exports."

This is not the first time he has championed BAe. At the end of last year, Umunna placed British Aerospoace at the heart of Labour’s economic plans citing it as something the Government should spend more money on and "calling on the Government to use its consumer power to reward companies doing the right thing."

BAE was one of the two firms which David Cameron was heavily criticised for taking to the Middle East, when weapons sold by the UK were being used to suppress civilians in Libya.

Another notorious recent deal was the sale of 200 Tactica armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. These vehicles were used by Saudi troops helping to suppress pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in March 2011. It has also been repeatedly fined for corruption and breaking export rules.

The press release from the Labour Party at the end of last year, in which Umunna celebrates BAe, cited the company as a long-term success, and urged the Government to “use all the tools and levers at its disposal to shape the rules of the game so they support long-term business success”. The latest article about BAe is Umunna’s strongest call yet for the Government to put more money into the commercial sale of arms.

The Shadow Business Secretary's concern however is first and foremost a business one. So it should be noted that in addition to the extensive human rights issues involved, support for the commercial arms trade also doesn't automatically make good economic and business sense. There is a strong economic case against supporting commercial arms companies like BAe, and instead using the money to pursue policies and long-term strategies of moving workers into more productive and secure industries. The arms industry already receives around hundreds of millions in taxpayer-funded subsidies every year. And as job losses at BAe once again demonstrate, the industry is volatile by nature.

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