I have spent every available hour this week campaigning against the biennial DSEi arms fairs, whose 2013 event just finished in London. 1400 exhibitors, 30,000 attendees, including military delegations and arms companies, trading in weapons and military equipment.
One of the questions I was asked was, "if the enemy was in Calais, would you still be against the arms trade then?"
This is not a theoretical question. Within the living memory of local people, an invading enemy was indeed in Calais. At least one of the campaigners has physical scars from the bombing in East London, where the arms fairs take place, to prove it.
Yet the truth is that today it is British submarines floating off the coast of other countries, with American-made cruise missiles pointed at their capitals; it is the British army flying French/Israeli-made drones in other nations' skies. It is also British-made weapons and surveillance equipment, paid for with oil money and base-leasing deals, that kills and imprisons democratic activists in places like Bahrain. It is British-developed teargas fired at Turkish and Brazilian protesters. The explosives and gases used on people, are tested on animals in British laboratories.
The most terrifying aspect of the whole business is that not only is the British Government quietly complicit in arms deals: it actually promotes them. Hundreds of people work facilitating arms sales in the UKTI DSO part of Vince Cable's BIS government department.
Leaders of countries like Bahrain have been invited to London, and their arms buyers, along with those from places like Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan have been attending the arms fair at the invitation of the UK Government. David Cameron has repeatedly travelled to developing countries, arms company bosses in tow, seeking to impoverish these countries twice over: once when they buy the bombs, the second time when they drop them. It is as if, not content with intensifying the current Middle Eastern war, (Syria's Russian arms dealer was here too), he wants to start the next one.
The argument is, "if we didn't do it, other people would" and "it creates jobs". Well, these arguments could be applied to the narcotics business and the human trafficking business. We don't promote these because they are prejudicial to the general good. Are British jobs really worth being the fourth largest exporter in a business that kills at least 300,000 people a year, and critically injures many times that? This, when the same skills are in short supply in the renewable energy business? As vehicles made in Britain were used to crush human rights protesters in Bahrain, was it really worth the money we made from selling them? If nothing else, it makes anything our diplomats say on human rights anywhere frankly risible.
Those objecting to the arms fair this week have been arrested by the dozens, many held overnight in Police cells; dragged or carried bodily off public transport or prevented from travelling; harassed, followed, profiled. To protect our trade in weapons, the oppression that we are exporting was here at home. Pictures of it have been beamed into homes in China and Iran as an example of the perfidy of the West. Yet even some Police have quietly said, "it's my job to arrest you, but you're not wrong". They understand that the guns and grenades used on the streets don't come from Mars: they come from arms companies.
The enemy of our freedoms is not in China, Iran or even Calais. It is much, much closer to home. It is here, with us. We should end it.
Stop the trade in arms. Stop the arms fair.