I don't use the word 'immoral' lightly; it brings back memories of Mary Whitehouse and 'My Ding-a-Ling', and I wonder how much meaning it still retains. I don't know what other word to use of the arms trade, though, and the emerging scandal over illegal munitions and shackling equipment on sale at the DSEi fair in London. It's not even the first time such stuff has been on offer.
There have been times - Sierra Leone (I declare an interest here; it's where my wife and kids come from), probably Libya, where the UK armed forces have done real good. There have been too many occasions when they've been nothing but a bloody disaster; the only unique aspect of Bloody Sunday was the publicity it gained. Behind it all, though, lies the murky world of arms dealing, in which Britain is an international leader. Again, I have an interest; the civil wars in Sierra Leone and so many other places would never have been possible without Europeans eager to buy smuggled diamonds or whatever, and snaffle up the cash in return for weapons.
It's easy to justify a small arms industry, producing weapons for national self-defence. A multinational juggernaut manufacturing machinery designed wholly and solely for killing human beings in all sorts of ingenious ways, and selling it to all comers with as few questions asked as possible, however, is something else. I wonder how many deaths the British arms industry has been responsible for over the last decade?
Surely there's an answer. Over a decade, say, we could retool the vast majority of those factories, and employ the skilled workers there to produce something useful. British industry has been hollowed out over a generation by turning asset stripping into a national pastime. Who knows; there may be a chance here to rebuild some of it, given sufficient ingenuity. We need a government with the guts to bite the bullet, preferably before it's fired.