This morning faith communities closed both entrances to the DSEI arms fair in east London. The sight of hundreds of people blockading, singing and peacefully protesting was inspirational. And people power is what we need, whether it’s at the arms fair, on the streets against the Prime Minister’s attack on parliamentary democracy, or in opposition to climate change and the burning of our planet.
Peace and war are part of this – we live in a hugely dangerous world. And nuclear is central too. Arms companies are profiting from huge sums being spent on new nuclear weapons – and many of these will be present at the fair. UK companies BAe systems and Rolls-Royce will be there; BAe is building new submarines to carry our nuclear weapons and Rolls-Royce makes nuclear reactors to power them. But they aren’t the only companies involved in nuclear weapons at the fair. The US company Lockheed Martin will be there too. It’s not only the world’s number one arms producer, it is also responsible for managing the UK’s nuclear warheads.
A key issue that should concern us all is the level of government expenditure on weapons – so much of the profits in the arms trade come from public spending. Billions of pounds of tax payers’ money go every year on nuclear weapons and more than £205 billion will be spent on building and running a new nuclear weapons system. When we hear from the government that there is no money for public spending and that local services have to be cut, that money for health, housing, social care and everything needed for a decent society is not available, we know that isn’t true. The money is there, it’s just being spent on the wrong priorities. I am sure we would all rather our public money was invested in feeding our children and caring for our elders. This is the message we have to get over when we oppose this arms fair: we are talking about supporting values that dignify all our communities and our society, not backing profit from death and untold suffering.
While the UK government backs this trade in death, it’s great to know that Newham Council, in whose borough the fair takes place, is resolutely opposed to it. I would like to thank the Mayor and Council in Newham for their principled stand – they are an example to others around the country and internationally, and they provide hope to all those communities around the world that suffer as a result of this deadly trade.
Through our people power let’s cooperate in whatever ways we can, in opposition to the fair, making links across our movements. Let’s raise public awareness and understanding of what the exhibitors are actually responsible for and above all the terrible humanitarian impact of this trade.