Less than a week ago, David Cameron announced that the government would push through emergency data laws to ensure that communications companies retained phone, text, and email records for at least 12 months, for the purposes of government surveillance. This sudden scramble followed a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union that such open-ended surveillance was disproportionate. But the British government is not willing to change with the times since the heady panic and crackdown on civil liberties post-7/7 bombings, instead using these laws to maintain the dynamic.
This same reluctance is now on show again, as David Cameron will today unveil an additional £1.1bn spending package for defence - at least £800m of which is to be spent on “intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance”. Against the backdrop of austerity-Britain, and ex-MI6 chief Richard Dearlove stating that Islamist terror threats to the west were “blown out of proportion” , David Cameron continues to be the biggest arms and defence industry cheerleader to occupy the prime minister’s office in living memory. Even setting aside the myriad ethical concerns, does the hyperbole of plentiful job-creation and industry growth really stand up to stand up to scrutiny?
Well for one thing, despite David Cameron’s frequent trips abroad as a salesperson for the UK arms industry, the UK government remains its biggest consumer. This new spending package merely maintains the cycle of spending between the UK government and the defence industry, which is already heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, and despite a marginal decrease in defence spending over the last 2 years (against an upward trend over the last 10 years) the UK remains 5th in the world for the highest military expenditure. In other words, we’re both the sales person and our own biggest customer in an arrangement more befitting of a pyramid scheme than the supposed shining light of British exports.
As for the number of people employed within the UK defence industry, the figures are around 200,000. But that figure is an estimate that offers no breakdown of full-time to part-time workers or whether those workers reside in the UK, and yet also includes members of the service industries that maintain or service defence properties and businesses. That’s not a lot when you consider that in 2011 there were 438,000 full-time teachers, working in state-funded schools, in England alone. Or that the UK still contains over one million call-centre workers despite increased out-sourcing overseas. There’s also the fact that unlike the large-scale engineering projects of the past, the increasing focus on electronics and surveillance tech (£800m of the £1.1bn) creates far more manufacturing jobs in Asia, Israel and North America than it does here.
Yet the cycle of taxpayer subsidies, government defence spending, and the governing/industry cheerleading dichotomy in office seems it will continue unabated. The status quo rumbles on, patting itself on the back regardless of fiscal or security realities, whilst the average UK citizen increasingly becomes both the piggy bank and the surveilled.
A mixtape of the best late-night beats and bass - from chilled to earth shaking - on offer at Beacons Festival 2014.