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Monday, February 21, 2011 

The secret to arms sales is timing.

Say what you like about David Cameron, he has a sense of timing that many aspiring comedians would die for. Other prime ministers might well have thought twice about going ahead with an ordinary trade tour of Gulf states just as the region is in tumult, being rocked by wave after wave of protests against those very autocratic rulers he's in popping in to see. It could after all seem slightly sordid and tasteless to be flogging the nation's wares at such a time to those that are buying it with the stolen national wealth of their own citizens.

David Cameron isn't just any prime minister, though: he's the head of a government that's decided the best thing our ambassadors and embassy staff abroad can do is get out there and sell Britain. Literally.

"I want you to ask yourself every day: 'What am I doing to promote British business?' If you want to keep Britain's great ambassadorial residences then I want you to show me that every day you are using them relentlessly to open new trade links and to generate new business for Britain."

Never mind things like just how utterly revolting the regime is or whether or not doing business there involves the everyday use of backhanders; get out there and start promoting!

We should then see Cameron's decision to travel to Kuwait with eight of our finest arms manufacturers in tow as him just doing his bit for British business. Even he, blatant and brazen as he is, must have had more than a slight twinge about how this would be seen just as the Bahrani and Libyan security forces have respectively turned their Western supplied and British manufactured weapons on those demanding the same freedoms their brothers in Tunisia and Egypt have won in the last month. Whether it was his own plan or not, his time in charge of PR at Carlton still serving him well, the decision to stop off for an "unannounced" "surprise visit" in newly liberated Cairo was a master stroke. It's also the most blatant and cynical piece of spin yet resorted to by the new government, the kind which had it happened under our previous overlords would have resulted in spirited denunciations of ZaNuLiarBore and its despicable media management practices.

In any case, the main whoring out is being spiritedly conducted by Gerald Howarth, long a shadow defence minister and also one who condemned the Guardian as a "communist newspaper which has it in for BAE [Systems]", the paper having had the temerity to suggest that some of its dealings had been corrupt. He's out in Abu Dhabi, for now a haven of stability in an uncertain Middle East, at the largest regional arms fair of the year, where 93 individual British companies are touting for business. On public display will be the very equipment being deployed by those who wish to put down peaceful protest, such as rubber bullets and CS gas, and doubtless under the table as previously documented by Mark Thomas amongst others will be other devices which can easily be used to torture and shackle the more obstreperous citizens.

We can't of course put any blame on the coalition for the policy carried over involving engagement with Libya, which along with Gadaffi's giving up of his nuclear program and other weapons of mass destruction involved selling him exactly what his armed forces needed to be able to put down the current protests, the licences only now being hastily withdrawn. It's the same story with so much of the weaponry we sell - we never actually expect it to be used, and then only when the proverbial horse has bolted do we (temporarily) stop supplying it. We did however go somewhat further with Libya, as has been noted: we can be proud that ours was the biggest pavilion at the very recent Libyan arms fair held back in November.

Among the weapons on display were these ME-7,62mm Rangemaster sniper rifles, manufactured by RPA International of Tonbridge, Kent. It's a fair bet that a similar weapon fired the high calibre bullet which did this, a link you most certainly shouldn't visit if you're at work or squeamish.

The final word should then be left to Peter Luff, the defence procurement minister, speaking last year:

"There’s a sense that in the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There’s no such embarrassment in this government."

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And look who are coming to the Event of the Century:


I'm hoping those in Brunei join the uprising (although south east Asia doesn't seem involved so far), then maybe more Britons will find out about this guy:


And our government's support for him:


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