This is NOT the official weblog of Mark Thomas; this is a place to post his articles and news to bring them to a wider audience. This blog is in no way endorsed by the activist/comedian Mark Thomas. Most of the posts appeared on - hopefully they won't object to them being republished here.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Selling torture in London's Docklands

The Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) arms fair in London this month was an interesting time for me. A mugshot of me from the CO11 Public Order Intelligence Unit is part of a "spotter card", designed to help police identify troublesome protesters at the biennial arms-fest before they can commit any nefarious acts.

Each spotter card has pictures of 24 individuals, lettered A to X. I am Suspect H. And I have just one thing to say to the police: I am delighted. Suspect H! Wanted by the police at the arms fair! This is the activist equivalent of an Oscar nomination, although my manager and agent, Ed, is furious; he has written the police a letter of complaint insisting that at the next arms fair I should have top billing and be labelled Suspect A.

The bill for protecting those attending DSEi 2005 from the hordes of anarcho-peaceniks came to £4m this year. Paradoxically, the arms industry, flogging its wares under the banner of making the world secure, refused to pay for its own defence and security. One of the DSEi staff said: "Of course, you wouldn't have the police bill if protesters didn't protest." So maybe at the next arms fair the police can give their bill to the demonstrators. They could call it the protest charge, and Ken Livingstone could paint big red circles all over London with the letter P in the middle, indicating to demonstrators that they are entering a protest zone and should use their phones to pay the charge by credit card.

For all the security around the fair, however, it was neither the Metropolitan Police nor the DSEi - nor even compliance officers at the MoD - who discovered three firms at the arms fair dealing and brokering banned torture equipment. It was Suspect H.

On arrival at the fair, I was assigned an "escort" to accompany me around. Angus, a former standing military officer now in the Territorials and working in PR, was a charming minder in a Sandhurst-meets-the-Soviets kind of way. He escorted me everywhere; he even came to the toilet with me.

Somewhere among the missiles and guidance systems, machine-guns and night vision goggles, I found Stall 704, occupied by an Israeli company, TAR Ideal Concepts Ltd of Tel Aviv. On display were three brochures, Riot Control, Homeland Security and Company Profile, offering for sale stun guns, stun batons and leg-irons, all of which are banned in the UK. Amnesty International describes stun batons as the "universal tool of the torturer", and here they were, on offer to buy. I phoned later posing as a potential buyer, and TAR Ideal's international marketing man, Michael Simon, arranged to meet me at the fair to discuss a deal.

He talked me through the new stun gun, which fires a liquid through which the electric charge is conducted, enabling the operator of the weapon to "treat a large number of persons at the same time". Basically, you get sprayed and shocked at the same time. I bet torturers the world over will rejoice at the opportunity to torture so efficiently. Mr Simon was very helpful, even offering to remove the company's name from the product and replace it with something else, should political sensibilities come into play.

A second company, Imperial Armour of South Africa, was at the fair selling body armour. Although there was no literature offering stun equipment, it is sold from the company's HQ in Durban. I know this because I was quoted, by e-mail on 20 September, a price of E60.12 for a stun baton ("visible shock sparks act as added deterrent"), and the company staff offered, by e-mail on the same day, to schedule a meeting with Imperial's named representative at DSEi to discuss a deal. (I still have those e-mails.) So, even when the weapons are not advertised on the stall, an arms trader is still ready to fix a deal under the counter in the UK.

Let me remind you of the law. According to two orders under the Export Control Act 2002, dated 2003 and 2004, "no person [in the UK] shall indirectly or directly do any act calculated to promote the supply and delivery" of controlled goods, even where the transaction is between two other countries. The 2004 order specifically identifies leg-irons and stun devices not just as controlled, but restricted, an even tighter category.

Although I was accompanied throughout my visit to the fair, DSEi took no action against TAR Ideal until Suspect H had informed the Guardian. It was only when that story appeared, on the final day of the fair, that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs was called in. The stall was closed and taped off, and the company thrown out of the fair.

As new Labour delegates gather in Brighton, they will pay homage to Robin Cook. They might just remember that it was Cook who made the effort to outlaw the torture equipment. And they may even congratulate themselves on Britain having one of the world's strictest sets of controls on arms sales. But, given all that, they should ask themselves how it was that no fewer than three companies attending the DSEi fair in London's Docklands were dealing in or brokering restricted torture equipment.

After spending £4m on policing, our leaders still couldn't catch the real criminals. That was left to a fat dad, comedian and police suspect. A law is only as good as its enforcement, and until the government genuinely commits time and effort to this, Labour's attempts to control the arms trade will amount to nothing.

One last thing: the more alert readers among you will have noted that I have named only two companies at DSEi that were involved with electro-shock goods. The third company and its activities will be revealed during the Labour party conference, at an Oxfam-sponsored debate on the arms trade. There, I shall show the trade minister who is charge of arms licensing how to buy electro-shock weapons the easy way - from the UK.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Becoming Richard Littlejohn

Mark Thomas's original plans for this column were to present a constructive yet critical analysis of new Labour's promise to introduce a law of corporate killing, which is to replace the old corporate manslaughter law, making it easier to prosecute companies and individuals for health and safety failures that result in death. New Labour pledged to introduce this law back in October 1997. This pledge proved to be so popular that new Labour also promised it in its election manifestos in 2001 and 2005. Since new Labour promised a law of corporate killing, approximately 2,000 workers have died at work in the UK (this figure does not include members of the public). Thomas intended to compare the pace of this legislation to the speed with which the new anti-terror laws are being introduced.

Ironically, Thomas was working on a machine to teleport living creatures through space when an experiment went wrong. Genetic material from the ex-Sun columnist Richard Littlejohn, possibly skin oil, was accidentally left in one of the capsules. The result was a hideous fusion of the two men's DNA. Thomas went into hiding, ashamed of the creature he had become. But a few days ago he finally succumbed to his animal urges and e-mailed this column.

Well, all I can say is that when we do finally catch Osama Bin Laden, we can all thank God that al-Qaeda is a terrorist gang rather than a corporation. Were al-Qaeda found to be a registered company, what would the Crown Prosecution Service do? All they'd manage to charge Bin Laden with would be a couple of breaches in the health and safety regs. Would Osama get done for murder and crimes against humanity? Don't be daft. The most he would get done for is sending suicide bombers to work without proper goggles and a mask.

Two thousand people killed at work since October 1997! When are we going to hear the wake-up call? We've been lenient with these boardroom merchants of hate and their twisted ideology of privatisation for too long. We all know that companies go for bigger profits by sacking staff, undermining unions and cutting costs and corners, which is a murderous recipe for destruction and mayhem.

So why do we put up with those who spout this ideology of evil? These so-called "bosses" have an option: shut up or get out! We won't put up with these preachers of hate spewing their extremist message from the pulpits of the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors. We've had enough of their fat-cat fatwas. We've been tolerant of these ideologues of insanity for far too long and now it's time to kick 'em out.

I don't care if Charles Clarke needs to negotiate a non-torture policy or not. If we need to do it, do it! Sort it out! Sign it! And ship 'em out! Send them to Algeria, Jordan, Saudi or Afghanistan. Send 'em anywhere, but send out a clear message to the corporate murderer: you want to be a British citizen? Then stop killing them! It is not enough that these scum carry out their "industrial accidents" and attacks upon us, but then they gloat about it. We need a new law that makes "glorifying acts of privatisation" a criminal offence and we need it now. Shut down the Telegraph, with its perverted Thatcherite ideology posing as a religion. It is madness that we allow people to openly sell extremist literature by the mad mullah Milton Friedman and the Prophet Adam Smith. Let us say there is no room in a civilised society for such sick barbarism.

This in itself is not enough; we desperately need to clamp down on directors who visit "training" camps. Officially, these are called "management awareness courses" and so on. They claim to teach team building and efficient working practices, but, behind the raft building and paint-balling, what really goes on?

Nothing less than the indoctrination of young British managers. It is here that these young, impressionable managers are schooled in buy-out techniques, internal markets, hostile takeovers and creating flexible workforces: let's call a spade a spade and a corporate training course by its proper name - a management madrasa. The CBI and its apologist ilk say these are innocent "skill learning centres", which form a traditional part of their corporate culture. Well, bollocks to that, say I. It is time the politically correct brigade realised that multinational-culturalism is a failed experiment that was forced on the ordinary men and women of this country, who didn't want it in the first place.

To add insult to injury, what do we find? Only that these managers get taxpayers' money. Oh yes, there's nothing free about the free market that Peter Mandelson and the other Hampstead trade liberals bang on about. Look at the railways, up to the eyeballs in public subsidy. These bastards are on benefits! No wonder these extremist directors and non-executives love it in Britain. We're a soft touch!