Tory minister Gerald Howarth: friend of the arms trade

The defence minister’s shameful links to the arms industry.

While David Cameron delivered his much-praised speech to the Kuwaiti National Assembly, Gerald Howarth, one of the coalition's defence ministers, attended an arms fair in Abu Dhabi at which 100 British companies sold "crowd control" weapons including tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.

But Howarth's shameful record as a pimp for the arms trade made his presence at the fair no surprise. In 2004, while a shadow defence minister, he rewarded one weapons lobbyist with a House of Commons pass. Michael Wood, managing director of Whitehall Advisers, whose clients include BAE Systems, was listed as a member of his staff on the official register.

Further examination of the register of members' interests reveals the hospitality that Howarth has enjoyed courtesy of the arms trade. Here are some notable entries:

26-27 January 2009, to Warton in Lancashire, to visit BAe Systems for a tour of facilities and briefing meetings as Shadow Minister for Defence Equipment and Support. My return flights from London to Warton and one night's accommodation were provided by BAe Systems.

4-7 December 2006, to Washington DC, to address a conference on defence. Cost of the air fare and hotel accommodation met by the Hudson Institute. The conference was part sponsored by Fimeccanica. The visit included a visit to Sikorsky Aircraft, with my air transport from Washington Stratford, Connecticut paid by Sikorsky.

25 February-1 March 2007, to Washington DC, sponsored by the UK Defence Forum to promote defence technology transfer. Air fare and accommodation paid for by the UK Defence Forum, themselves sponsored by BAe Systems, Rolls Royce, QinetiQ and Smiths Detection.

Little wonder that the Conservative MP, a former member of the ultra-right Monday Club, once declared: "People who decry the defence industry should hang their heads in shame because it is a noble industry."

Cameron may have declared that "denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability", but his decision to travel to the region with men like Howarth suggests that it remains business as usual for the arms trade. The coalition should not have waited until Bahrain and Libya opened fire on their own people to revoke its arms exports licences.

It is in the nature of such regimes to crush dissent. For this reason, it is neither practical nor ethical to sell weapons to them in the first place.

If Cameron is truly on the side on the protesters, he should impose an immediate and comprehensive arms embargo and remove the repugnant Howarth from his government.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad