Going Full Circle…

In this blog post Dr Steve Wright, Reader in Politics and Applied Global Ethics, reflects on his long-term and varied engagement with the arms industry.


Half a century ago, believe it or not, I used to work in an arms factory. It wasn’t just any arms factory but the famous Vickers-Armstrongs on the banks of the Tyne, in Newcastle, seen by many as the original template for factories mass producing weapons, from 1842 .

Lord Armstrong was an entrepreneur inventing hydraulic cranes to power the business of mass producing large guns and tanks. His German style chateau, Cragside in Northumberland, entertained other arms dealers like Krupps in style – it was the first building on Earth to have electric light – pioneered by the first lightbulbs manufactured just up the Road by Swann, The factory is part of Geordie legend featuring in the 1862 Anthem of Tyneside, ‘the Blaydon Races‘.

Last month I went back. Actually during my time there, I was just a kid, and no; I wasn’t a junior arms dealer! My original job was rising at dawn and selling morning papers to the wraith like assembly workers, making tanks. For them it was hard, dirty engineering work. And thirsty – there were more pubs along the Scotswood road then anywhere else in Geordie land.

5 decades later, I am attending a briefing by Pearson Engineering. Two years ago because of a loss of MoD contracts, the then BAe systems owned factory went bust. Then in August 2015 there was a phoenix-like resurrection of tracked vehicle fitting out on the banks of the Tyne. This time the factory is ultra-clean, machine tooled production, high precision assembly by the Reece Group of companies. It is a much smaller  workforce of  over 100 a far cry from the 25,000 people who worked there at its peak. Indeed, almost everyone I spoke to on my journey to the factory had a close relative who used to work there.


Courtesy of The Chronicle

Nowadays, the markets for this kind of arms production are seen as very volatile. My interest is in the impact of the associated sub-component business on the North East economy. Was this the answer to the Government’s claim to be building new Northern Powerhouses?

Sadly not. Coinciding with the rebirth of the Armstrongs site was the demise of the Five Quarter energy Plan which would have created over 500 new jobs in the region which had been promised government support to produce cheap energy. But the government subsequently welshed on the deal.

How different the North would look if government investment and industrial support in the South was matched pound for pound in the North. What is really needed is a new form of Marshall plan to finance, train and reinvigorate Northern Industries and not just ones working in the defence and security sectors. The same engineers making tanks have vast experience in marine engineering and are situated in a region which has the densest concentration of wind energy in the UK.

So much could be achieved If only we had more joined up thinking and political leaders with vision and ambition.


Tears for Fears



By Dr Steve Wright

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 19.40.08

What a week it has been after the PAGE Festival.  Yesterday students from my Theories of Peace class shared their excellent presentations on the various speakers with me and our new staff member, Dr Jess Gifkins.

What was startling is that even a week later the politics had changed.

All the hand-wringing about ‘to bomb or not to bomb’ had been decided by a parliamentary vote for the UK to get busy. The vote which was preceded by a ten hour debate in which one of last week’s key note speakers, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, spoke with such eloquence in favour of bombing, that he drew Tory cheers. I wonder what his father would have said? Was the case so compelling? Did the attacks on Paris bounce it in favour? Was the £12 billion re-armament and security expenditure decision already made? For sure there was enough confidence this was a done deal for the UK’s bomb dropping mission to leave an hour later.  Ready and prepared in advance then.

In a week which saw the Security Expenditure Review authorize the purchase of new planes, there must have been a huge sigh of relief since we had new aircraft carriers ordered but no planes. So now despite the austerity, there will be bombers aplenty. We are also going to have two 5000 strong rapid Strike brigades, but only in 2025, such is the urgency. Does it all make sense in making us all feel more secure? I doubt anyone of us now believes that.

The headlines today warn of years of war to come in Syria. The sessions we heard on human rights at PAGEfest come into sharper focus as we take in the reality of bombing of targets where ISIS is hiding amongst 9780745336961all those civilians with faces like those refugees now on the run at our borders. I remember what Ben Hayes said whilst promoting his new book on the Secure and the Dispossessed and the Securitization of Climate Change…And the Climate Change demonstrations long planned in Paris are banned because of the security clamp down. The students yesterday also covered Dr Michael Crowley and Alistair Hayes talks on Chemical Control. It had seemed theoretical but then now we have news that European police forces are tear gassing the Syrian refugees in Calais and on the Serbian/Greek Border.

As I write this, the wind is howling in and for the most part the plight of hundreds of thousands of Syrians in a new version of Exodus, have left our headlines. But they are there tonight shivering in the streets and borderscapes of an ever more paranoid Europe. How will this be dealt with in the months and years which now lie ahead, of war without end. Dr Crowley sent me another paper yesterday which gave a clue – its on remote control mass teargassing and you can read it here.


Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 19.35.04

Courtesy of the University of Bradford, 2015.

Click to access Tear-Gassing-By-Remote-Control-Report.pdf

None of us knows what the long term fall out of this weeks decision to bomb will be. I remember previous times when government spokespersons with weasel words reassured us of the wisdom of bombing, at UN microphones placed in front of a copy of Picasso’s magnificent Guernica. They had to ask for the image to be covered up since its capacity to break through the spell was too powerful -600,000 corpses later, we know who was more accurately telling the truth.

Another group of our students reported on Rex Bloomstein’s lecture, Does Anyone care about human rights? Rex had very powerful clips. Previously unseen footage of Nazi court cases before executions; in another, torturers who recanted when asked to torture children. There are echoes today somehow, like we know we are entering a darker time. If barely 20 guys bearing guns supplied by member states of the UN Security Council can facilitate the lockdown of one of Europe’s capital cities, we know that none of the military solutions proferred, will make a long term solution. More such swarm attacks are inevitable. The counter attacks are likely to kill many more.

But our students eloquently answer Rex’s question – they do care about Human rights……passionately so.


Dr Steve Wright is a Reader in Politics and Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Beckett University.



Dr Steve Wright

Blog Post by Dr Steve Wright, Reader in Politics and Applied Global Ethics, Leeds Beckett University


Ruth Sivard died last month but her work continues to inspire. A sociologist and economist by training, she lived an extraordinary long life of almost a century. After joining the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1961, Ruth will be best remembered for her pioneering work on World Military and Social Expenditures, a series of 16 publications which ran from, 1974 – 1996.

The nub of her work was about excessive, nay grotesque, military expenditures which can be so vast, they are measured as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which few readily understand. Few of us can imagine what a billion actually means or can buy. So for example, if we accepted CND’s calculation of Trident replacement costs of £100 billion, or nearly $150 billion dollars: it is easier to understand this if we said it is a equivalent to a million dollar heist, each week, every week since Christ was a lad some 2000 years ago.

Ruth’s genius was to convert such astronomical sums for aircraft missiles and tanks into their social expenditure equivalents – the sort that you and me are being told we can no longer afford. Check it out for yourself… http://www.ruthsivard.com/


Ruth Sivardn1915-2015

Challenging the re-prioritization of military over social expenditures continues to be a vital task as the well heeled military advisors, lobbyists and consultants feed the paranoia of seeking ever more militarisation as the price of security. Ruth deconstructed such activities with a crystal clear mind to the extent that her work was removed from US government reports in the Nixon era since it was undermining pentagon propaganda. Nothing much has changed since except the global military budget has grown to over 1.7 trillion dollars and each of us makes a significant donation to the military, police, security, university, media, entertainment complex – but without the ever elusive payoff of peace – as if people mattered, It is time for all of us to walk a distance in her shoes if we can….. See – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Sivard