Monday, 18 September 2017

London's silent hypocrisy

We were in London last week on the day the homemade bucket bomb failed to explode on the District Line. The response to what was a badly executed attempt to explode a badly made bomb on the underground was both quick and on a colossal scale. The PM was involved, there were a series of Cobra meetings and London transport was disrupted for much of the day.

According to reports over 2500 police and security experts have been investigating the incident and a number of arrests have been made. The fear on the faces and distress of those who witnessed, or were in the proximity of the bomb, was fully understandable. However the near hysterical media coverage for the next few days seemed disproportionate and raised the fear level of London residents as did the escalation of the terror level to critical by the government.

Meanwhile at the other side of London the Defence and Security Equipment International  event was being held at the ExCel exhibition centre. It is sponsored by the Ministry of Defence and Department for International Trade as well as some of UK's largest defence equipment manufacturers. Four cabinet ministers attended as keynote speakers although there was little reporting of the event. It used to be described as the World's largest International Arms Fair but that sobriquet seems to have sunk into oblivion following much adverse criticism of UK weapons being used in various global trouble spots resulting in the loss of thousands of innocent lives.

As well as the heavy involvement of government ministers there is high level representation from all of the armed forces. The Royal Navy have a warship moored alongside as a venue for corporate hospitality. This is hosted by retired, rear and real admirals acting as or along with consultants for Britain's defence businesses. 4000 delegates were expected from all over the world with a strong presence from the Middle East and other regimes that struggle with the basic concept of democracy. The weapons and systems on display are capable of huge destruction, incorporating latest technologies with commensurate costs: planes, helicopters, drones, missiles, radar, surveillance technology and GPS equipment. As in previous years there were demonstrations outside the event and over 2000 police were deployed in protecting the event over five days.

The juxtaposition of these two events probably explains why the streets of London no longer have adequate community policing. However there seems scant justification for having twice as many admirals (37) as fighting ships (19 surface combatants), although there are 10 submarines and various patrol boats. The admirals seem to be acting as ambassadors for Britain's defence industries.

The efforts of government, the police, armed services and security services to minimise the threat from random localised terrorists using intermediate technology is a justified but massively costly response.  The duplicitous involvement of same cast of ministers, police and armed services to promote the sale of high technology weaponry to dubious regimes often resulting in mass killings in global trouble spots is a different matter. I do wonder whether the UK government's moral compass has been switched off entirely in these days of austerity.

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