Q: What do the following have in common: George Bush snr; George W.Bush; Donald Rumsfeld; James Baker; disgraced Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra; former Reagan defence secretary Frank Carlucci; John Major; Bill Clinton. A: They have all served on the board of, or as consultants to, the Carlyle Group, the private equity firm who walked off with 34% of Qinetiq when the MoD R&D wing was privatised.
That privatisation hit the headlines this week when the National Audit Office slammed the obscene profits made by Qinetiq managers after the sell-off. For an investment of £500,000, ten men pocketed an incredible £107 million. Carlyle, meanwhile, had been given preferred bidder status despite six other firms competing for what amounted to a licence to print money. Why? Because profiting from war depends on the collusion of politicians- and no-one represents the cosy relationship between arms suppliers, the armed forces and politicians (the “military-industrial complex”) more comprehensively than the Carlyle Group.
The high price of Qinetiq shares did not happen by accident. The market was clearly anticipating a healthy rate of profit. Key to this was an upcoming £16 billion contract for a new military super-academy. Qinetiq was a key player in the Metrix consortium which proposed to site this school of death at St Athan in the key marginal seat of the Vale of Glamorgan. As has been well documented by Permanent Revolution, the Metrix bid, fronted by ex-MoD insider Sir John Chisholm, won out, applauded all the way by Welsh AMs of every party, the Wales TUC, and the local media.
Clearly, however, the campaign to stop St Athan, in which PR are playing a significant role, is beginning to rattle Metrix. The contract to build the academy is not due to be signed until April next year, and opposition is growing fast. With this in mind, the shadowy “St Athans Communications Working Group” has stated on its website (now mysteriously inaccessible) that there needs to be a “bulwark” against the “Campaign to stop the St Athan academy from being built”
The comments of Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru MEP, opposing the academy, have put St Athan back in the headlines in Wales and prompted a hysterical backlash, orchestrated by BBC Wales and taken up enthusiastically by Labour and Tory politicians, including supposed left wingers such as Newport West MP Paul Flynn. However, if Metrix are worried about Plaid coming out against the scheme, they can sleep easy. Now junior coalition partners in the assembly government, the ‘party of Wales’ have thus far supported the murder academy to the hilt, and at the recent meeting of the No2St Athan campaign, Jill Evans admitted she had not pushed the issue to a vote at Plaid national council because she knew she would lose.
What makes the coalition against St Athan dangerous to Metrix is not its ability to lobby MPs and AMs – an exercise unlikely to bear much fruit – but its potential to become a campaign with mass support not only within Wales but throughout the UK and beyond. Now that PR have won the UK Stop the War Coalition to the cause, we are now carrying out our aim to get meetings on St Athan in every major town and city with a Stop the War group, in order to build for a mass demo in South Wales before any contract is signed. We have also successfully argued within the campaign to take the issue into the unions, in particular those directly involved, such as the PCS and UCU (the Open University is a partner in Metrix and Barry College is being drawn into the project). Already Cardiff PR have won FESC (further education lecturers’ council) to the campaign, despite the nominal support for St Athan of Wales TUC. In practice, this is the support of a few bureaucrats, since no workers in Wales have been consulted and the whole package has been sold on a completely bogus claim that St Athan will create 5,000 jobs.
However, there are dangers for the campaign in simply following the demands of PCS members in Cosford and elsewhere whose jobs are threatened by the “rationalisation” of defence training represented by the new super-academy, which will of course, like all “rationalisations” actually involve a net loss of jobs. We do not need the Stop St Athan campaign to become a campaign to save RAF Cosford. The campaign should instead call for the reemployment of all redundant military trainers, at equivalent wages, in socially useful jobs.
Permanent Revolution are quite clear in our view on defence spending. We agree with Liebnecht’s dictum of ‘not a penny, not a person’ for the war machine, not because we are pacifists, but because we are anti-imperialists. The armed forces of the UK do not exist to defend us, but to defend the interests of the powerful corporations who carve up the world in search of markets, raw materials and cheap labour. Time and again throughout history, ‘our boys’ have been used to break up our strikes, suppress dissent, and crush rebellions here and abroad. That is why we support all efforts of rank-and-file soldiers, sailors and airforce personnel to democratise their services and be in a position to choose which actions they will perform at the possible cost of their lives.
However, we do not expect the campaign against St Athan to take up such demands. What we do agree with is the call for a public debate on the militarisation of Wales, and at the recent campaign meeting we argued successfully that the only bodies large and representative enough to carry out such an inquiry are the trade unions – unless of course, people would prefer Lord Hutton.
If Metrix’s fears are to be fully realised, the No2St Athan campaign has a way to go. At present it is campaign dominated by peaceniks of a certain age, meeting at the forbidding Temple of Peace in Cardiff, over-concerned with lobbying and short of activists on the ground. While there is certainly an important role for CNDers and the like in the campaign, it needs to reach out to a wider audience, drawing in that layer of young radicals who protested so actively against the onset of war in Iraq. Such people will not be enthused by the likes of the Green Party whose resolution to party conference commits its leaders to no more than writing a letter to Rhodri Morgan. Equally, however, they may be alienated by the arrest-hungry stunts of South Wales anarchists, who lack nothing in boldness but have no perspective on building an effective mass campaign.
Permanent Revolution are quite clear on the kind of campaign St Athan needs. A campaign that utilises the massive potential power of the organised working class, alongside the creativity and energy of young radical students, overseen by a coherent strategy for maximising political pressure through mass action and the widest possible public awareness. If you agree with that, get in touch with us and help build such a campaign. Nobody wanted George Bush when he paid his ill-fated visit to the UK – now let’s ensure he and his buddies in the military-industrial complex do not get into Wales by the back door.