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‘From Lincolnshire and Leicestershire’: on the Respectable Arms Trade


Here is a found poem by the Lancashire poet Jill Cragg. She culled the material from two reports in the Guardian about British firms making weaponry destined for dictatorships in the Middle East and North Africa, much of it being sold this week at the Abu Dhabi arms fair. Robert Booth, the paper’s correspondent at Idex 2011, said the fair provided a snapshot of “a world perpetually preparing for war”. It was a state of affairs Karl Marx observed in his own time, but one that need not be permanent, he thought. Writing in 1870 at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, he declared that “the alliance of the working class of all countries would ultimately kill war.”  It’s an assertion often referred to by his detractors in order to show what a poor prophet he was. But Marx was writing at a time, much like the present, of growing internationalism, in which workers were casting off the “political delirium” of the “old society” and beginning to see they had more in common with foreign workers than their war-mongering bosses.

He was not wrong. Nearly a century and a half  later the question remains one of “alliance”, of solidarity and imaginative empathy: how do today’s workers in the English heartlands – at Primetake in Lincolnshire, Chemring in Hampshire, and NMS International in Leicestershire – supppose the products of their labour (armoured vehicles, CS gas shotguns, stun guns, rubber ball shot, teargas cartridges, baton rounds and the like) will be used by the regimes around the world that buy them?

It is time that this – the ‘respectable trade’ of the 21st century – was abolished. You can get involved by following Campaign Against the Arms Trade on Twitter @wwwcaatorguk, or join Amnesty’s Control Arms campaign and sign their petition demanding an immediate arms embargo to Libya.


The market is up in the air

and  it’s too early to tell

where it will all end up.

An ethical policy is in place.

We defend our right to sell.

We can’t legislate on how

the buyers use our products.

They are security solutions.

Our armoured cars are not

in any way, designed to be

deployed in a hostile fashion.

For crowd control we sell

some tear-gas cartridges,

but, honestly, our bedrock trade’s in

cartridges to scare off birds.

Do not name us in this turmoil.

Given what is going on,

no-one is likely to be talking.

Our trade is respectable.

We have nothing to say today.

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