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.

Getty
Show Hide image

The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

0800 7318496