British peace activists Sam Walton and Reverend Daniel Woodhouse were arrested in January for breaking into a BAE Systems factory. Their aim was to “disarm” Typhoon fighter jets. “We did not want to take this action, but were compelled to do so in order to stop the UK government’s complicity in the destruction of Yemen,” they said in a statement. Their trial took place this week. They were acquitted.
In theory, this is the kind of civil disobedience that the new Labour party claims to encourage. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has spoken of “insurrection” when trying to rouse his troops. Jeremy Corbyn has a long history with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament who were famous for these kind of stunts. Momentum, a Labour-affiliated organisation that campaigns for Corbyn, is a movement that has roots in direct action groups spread across the country.
It was not just the style of the protest that Labour should have approved of – it was the substance. At their annual conference, Labour party chiefs disallowed Saudi Arabia from attending over its appalling conduct in Yemen. Corbyn has made clear in multiple speeches and interviews that he is opposed to British backing of Riyadh in Yemen, where plausible accusations of war crimes, on both sides, continue to mount.
Read: UK ‘attentively’ watching Saudi Arabia weapons use
Yet when the same arms company, BAE Systems, announced earlier this month that 2,000 jobs were to be cut in the UK, the Labour party found itself offering remarkable praise for the same arms manufacturer who has profited the most from the war in Yemen.
The Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Nia Griffith, praised “a vibrant defence industry” saying the BAE cuts were “nothing short of devastating”. Dan Carden, a newly elected MP very much of the Corbyn clan, wanted to part-nationalise the arms industry. Others joining the throng were Cat Smith (“one of Corbyn’s most eager groupies” according to Private Eye magazine), Liz McInnes and Mark Hendrick; all fiercely defended the so-called “merchants of death”. Hendrick asked :“What actions are the government taking to win contracts around the globe, to fly the flag and to sell the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Hawk?”
Corbyn claims to be opposed to the war, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and almost everything about our relationship with the Saudi monarchy. The rest of his party are realising that there is a potential downside to pulling the UK out of the arms business. Thousands of manufacturing jobs, the kind of solid traditional working class fare socialists want to defend, are clearly at risk in the UK.
Read: ‘UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia risks poverty and civilian casualties’
Faced with these jobs disappearing rapidly (1,000 more were reported to have gone last year), the Labour party is responding poorly. They are calling for the dominance of the arms trade to be further entrenched, and for it to enjoy even more state sponsorship than it already does, and receive even more lucrative subsidies. Then they are disinviting their primary client from their Labour party conference, and wondering why the sums aren’t adding up on the BAE Systems pay-roll.
Perhaps these less than imaginative new voices might listen to Campaign Against the Arms Trade, for example, who say that these arms jobs could be replaced by jobs in the sustainable energy sector. There are plenty of transferrable skills which could be taken from the aircraft workshops and naval shipyards of BAE Systems and used by the same workers to put up wind turbines, build solar energy plants and off-shore tidal energy farms.
Instead the Labour party is collapsing to the pressure of the arms lobby almost as fast as the Conservatives. For all the bluster – it’s the same old. The British establishment, albeit temporarily tinged with socialism, can’t get enough of BAE Systems, or the Saudi’s war in Yemen.
OPINION: What next for Britain in Yemen?
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