Mark Thomas - It creates jobs? So does burglary

They say arms sales generate jobs. So does burglary. But do ministers hand out awards for Most Innov

Prince Charles once said in support of the arms trade: "If we didn't do it, someone else would." Put aside the fact that he is an inbred buffoon cosseted in a haze of abject luxury and Viagra. Put aside the fact that the only decent thing he has ever done is fall off a polo pony, and what you have left is a common but crap excuse for the arms industry.

If it were a credible argument, then more people would use it in a court of law. And as far as I am aware, no defence counsel has ever stood before a British court and said: "Your honour, my client did embezzle several million pounds from the company but if he hadn't done it . . ." Nor has any judge ever interjected: "You have no need to finish the sentence. Case dismissed."

These kinds of hackneyed arguments will be in full flow as the new Labour government gears up to help host the top London arms fair, the Defence Systems and Equipment International exhibition.

No doubt Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, will use all his powers of persuasion to explain why Britain should flog guns to psychos, accelerate human rights abuses, help to destabilise democracy and charge people (through the debts created by arms purchases) for their own oppression.

No doubt he will insist that it has nothing to do with him: he wasn't at the meeting when the decisions were made, and he was as shocked as the rest of us to realise that he was actually the Secretary of State for Defence.

No doubt Hoon will insist that the arms trade generates jobs and income and is good for economic growth. But so is burglary. Think how much money we spend on locksmiths, window fitters, alarm systems, outside lighting, movement detectors, vicious guard dogs and pet sundries, insurance, police, invisible marker pens, counsellors, statisticians, courts, probation officers, prison warders, social workers, and so on.

But you won't see Hoon sitting on a podium at Sandhurst with a load of generals and civil servants while a bunch of squaddies put on a display, wearing black-and-white-striped vests and carrying swag bags. Geoff won't be addressing City financiers with "the burglary sector has been and will be a mainstay of our economy". He won't be giving out awards at a CBI dinner for Most Innovative Use of a Crowbar.

The myth that the arms trade is crucial to British industry is exactly that: a myth. In a report published in 2001, The Subsidy Trap, the Oxford Research Group calculated that the government subsidised every arms-export-related job by more than £4,600.

And, incidentally, British military personnel will be doing displays at the London arms exhibition. Since when is it OK for state employees to help flog stuff for private companies? Would you expect teachers to demonstrate their equipment at an education trade fair? All right, that's a bad example because they don't have any equipment. But you get the point: you wouldn't expect the ambulance service to demonstrate its work publicly while GlaxoSmithKline flogged Night Nurse off the back of it.

Hoon will argue that states have a right to self-defence. But how does Morocco's invasion and occupation of Western Sahara constitute defence?

Or China in Tibet? Or Indonesia in West Papua? How does Israel's forced removal of Palestinians from their own land equate with legitimate self-defence?

If this is defence, then I vote we all go round to Geoff's house, turf him out, set it on fire and punch him till his toes bleed, in as defensive a manner as possible.

On 21 August, the company organising the arms fair, Spearhead Exhibitions Ltd, had its offices occupied by protesters. Last Monday, 40 people blocked the entrances to ExCeL, the centre where the exhibition will be held from 9-13 September, by erecting tripods and sitting in them for four hours. Contractors and exhibitors were prevented from getting on site and the tailbacks included several tank-like objects.

The Defence Systems and Equipment International exhibition is turning into the activists' Ascot, a social gathering not to be missed. This year's exhibition looks like it could be a big one for anti-globalisers and peace campaigners.

But for new Labour, it will be business as usual. Ministers will ignore the Amnesty reports on oppressive regimes and just keep pushing the corporate line.

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