Tuesday, October 17, 2006

shut DESO

Yesterday, I was in London to support the shut DESO campaign. DESO is a rather pathetic little government department charged with promotion of British arms to customers abroad. It employs around 500 civil servants and has a budget of £14 million per year.

Given that the arms industry in the UK receives more than £1 billion per year in direct and indirect government funding, you'd think that they'd at least have the grace to pay for their own advertising. According to CAAT when government ministers travel abroad, they are frequently expected to represent British arms manufacturers to foreign governments. Obvious when you think about it, I know.

Anyway, we did the obligatory chain around the DESO building - a non-descript low-rise block above an army careers centre - then spent a bit of time trying to engage the public and went to lobby our MPs.

The event was organised by CAAT along with the Fellowship of Reconcilliation (we're going to their conference in a couple of weeks) and my friends in the SPEAK network. I also met Jez from the Quaker Youth Movement (amoungst various other things) and bored him stupid on various issues.

Lobbying my MP was a bit of a non-event. I had written to my MP, Geoffrey Robinson in advance, but maybe it was a bit too late as he did not reply. You can turn up and request a meeting using a system known as 'green-carding', which involves filling in a bit of paper, giving it to the old-guy in funny clothing (why do they wear such impractical and pointless clothes?) and waiting on a seat until the MP comes to see you. Or not, in my case. Barely worth the effort emptying my pockets on the way in.

There were a bunch of us there involved in the mass-lobby. Around 25-50% were not seen at all - MPs not around, not available or not interested. Of those that were seen, the responses were varied. Some MPs were generally sympathetic. Some were wildly unsympathetic (we need to promote British arms to the Canadians said one. Clearly that explains and justifies everything).

Generally came away unsatisfied. I had a fairly interesting day and spoke to various people about different stuff. But ultimately didn't really feel like we were getting anywhere quickly. When we were in the street, few people seemed to be at all bothered by the issues.


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