Headline news as the courts review whether it was really “security” issues that caused the British government to pull the Yamamah arms enquiry then being undertaken by the Serious Fraud Office, or whether, as those who are bringing the case maintain, it was simply a matter of money. Well, well. Surely this has nothing to do with the British Council? Does it?
Cooperation between the British Council and BAE is a matter of public record, and anybody who wishes to know more about their projects in Saudi – and there are plenty - has only to Google using obvious key words. Let’s look here instead at the organisation’s involvement in India.
The British Council’s UKIERI (UK-India Education and Research Initiative) has come up with a programme for India which involves school exchanges - see the 2006 press release featuring the (then) Prime Minister, Baroness Blackstone, Lord Kinnock, Bill Rammell and of course the corporate sponsors (“champions”) – GSK, Shell, BP and BAE Systems.
But a central player here is the Hawk fighter aircraft and this BBC report from a few years ago tells of a (then) forthcoming deal with India for the beast worth £1 billion. Today the British Council manages a project which involves school exchanges between Brough in Yorkshire where BAE make the Hawk and schools adjacent to Hindustan Aeronautics in Bangalore where they make the plane for the Indian air force. As in Saudi, “soft” diplomacy is involved in these matters. Does it matter?
Look at this PPT file and check out the slides. Slide number 7 includes, for example, this:
– Exchange of Teddy Bears and Dolls in school uniforms.
– The bears will go on a journey around the schools bringing back exciting story of their adventures to their home school.
Now you may perhaps feel that there is something a little disturbing about the involvement here of children and dolls and teddy bears. But what should perhaps be more a matter of concern is that this mixing of cuddly imagery and arms is orchestrated by an organisation that claims to act in our name, which we pay for through our taxes, and which enjoys the status of a registered charity. Charities cannot of course as a rule be representative or publicly funded, but as we know there is a notable, embarrassing and somewhat hideous exception. And it does things like this, and such things damage the status of all charities.
Let’s step back. Wherever we stand on the issue of arms sales, let’s question whether an organisation that has no status in our education system should be allowed to involve children in soft diplomacy designed to lubricate and massage the sales of arms. Let’s question whether it is an appropriate use of our money. Let’s ask whether Britain should use its official resources to foster links between charities and the arms trade.
For us in Britain to do this is, we might say, a democratic imperative.