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We didn’t think we’d get in. The UKTI DSO Symposium is the biggest event of the year for Britain’s arms exporters – so you’d think they’d have better security.
(UK Trade & Investment or UKTI is the government department that promotes all of Britain’s exports, and DSO is the part of UKTI that promotes arms sales. Arms make up only 1.2% of UK exports, but more than half the staff in UKTI belong to DSO.)
On 26 April, we wandered into the hotel past the police and made our way to registration.
Amazing how far a nice suit can get you.
So we got in and I sat down at a table and I was absolutely bricking it. I hadn’t thought what I’d do if we actually got this far.
I had a look at the programme and saw the business minister Vince Cable was on second. Now, Vince used to support the closure of DSO, but power (or perhaps proximity to power in the Lib Dem case) changed all that.
So I decided I was going to interrupt Vince.
After a long, spectacularly dull, speech by the head of UKTI DSO, Vince stands up, says about two words, and I run across and take the stage.
I wanted to say I was there for everyone in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Palestine and everywhere else who had had British-made weapons used on them. For everyone in Tanzania, India, Pakistan, South Africa and everywhere else whose governments were so swayed by the arms industry that they spent more money on arms than on health and schools.
I wanted to say that I was there for everyone in Britain who thinks the arms trade is morally-abhorrent and wrong, and that everyone there should get down the job centre and do something useful with their lives.
What came out was slightly different, partly through nerves and partly because I was swiftly grabbed by two burly fellows who dragged me out to the street.
For me, taking responsibility for your actions is important as well, although I respect and work with those who would disagree.
So I turned around, went back into the hotel and walked up to some police officers. It turned out they did want to talk to me. We had a little chat and I was searched – nothing worse than what happens to many black or Muslim men my age.
A manager then explained to me that I was now banned from all Park Plaza Hotels.