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As I walked out...

Idil Sukan

Walking to the edge of the flat roof I stand, legs apart, hands on hips, looking through the hazy winter sunlight and to the distant hills. Two men, Palestinians, are standing behind me and together we survey the route we are about to take. Slowly, I raise my arms and point to a spot on the horizon.

‘There,’ I declare with all the gravitas of an Old Testament prophet. ‘That is where we start our walk.’

‘Where?’ inquires a man called Fadhi, with a voice that sounds as if he is squinting.

‘There, where my finger points. That is where we will start.’

The wind blows lightly, and high, high above a black bird circles. Then a voice behind says, ‘but this is Jordan’.

Fadhi pauses with the natural timing of a man who has spoken at many meetings before he diplomatically suggests: ‘You can start in Jordan if you want, but it will take some time to arrange...’

The bird circles closer and I remain still, facing the hills, looking out to the valley and saying one word. That word is, ‘Ish....’

‘I am sorry?’ says Fadhi.

I wobble my pointing finger, as if I’d always intended to be vague. ‘There... ish is where we will start.’

PULLQUOTE_TEXT_GOES_HERE_GOES_HERE_GOES_HERE_GOES_HERE

Fadhi is the Jordan Valley co-ordinator of the umbrella organization, Stop the Wall, which has agreed to help with translators and guides. He joins me in pointing and declaiming. ‘That is the no-man’s land, the border, we shall walk up to there…and see,’ he says, leaving the final words hanging in the air, surrounded by possibilities.

Jacob, the second Palestinian on the roof and our translator for the day, smokes and smiles.

‘Jacob farms this land,’ says Fadhi, ‘so he will be able to take you westward, right up to the Wall. What can the soldiers do? Tell him not to farm? We will see.’

The two of them debate where to start the walk, but I am distracted. From up here, the Barrier is some 400 metres in front of us, and it appears as a rather dull-looking long fence, stretching across a plain and disappearing into the wonderfully crimpled geography of the Jordan river valley and the hills beyond.

The mundanity of this first impression of the Barrier is confounding. A line of wire mesh doesn’t fit into the image of ‘The Wall’; from my visual lexicon of walls that carve through countries, I expected romantic martyrdom, a dash of Expressionism, a nod at George Orwell, and the odd soundtrack of David Bowie songs recorded in Berlin. I expected the Barrier itself to be more dramatic, more epic, perhaps. The last thing I expected was a long mesh fence in a flat muddy field. I am about to spend eight weeks walking alongside this Barrier and will come to see it dominate the land in the most dramatic ways but for now this could be Runcorn on the outskirts of an industrial estate, guarded by a 60-year-old bloke with a dog and a Portacabin that smells of rolling tobacco and messy divorce.

The first day of any journey is full of emotions, but I wasn’t expecting disappointment to be one of them. I just don’t think I envisaged myself saying, ‘Well, it doesn’t look very oppressive’. But one thing is sure: if the view from the roof is anything to go by, the walking should be easy. A nice flat plain, with no major rivers, mountains or fjords that we can see; just flat farming land, a slight incline and a main road to cross about halfway through. There are a few clouds in the sky but these are wispy specks that quickly get blown across to Jordan. The going appears to get a little hilly towards the end, but it doesn’t look hard. This is what you need on the first day; no big climbs, or real prospect of rain; no surprises.

Twenty minutes later I get a familiar feeling of worry and excitement as we cross the fields towards no-man’s land. Phil the camera operator, Jacob, Fadhi and I are trudging directly towards a mass of barbed wire covered in red signs. The writing on them is indecipherable at this distance, but red signs on barbed wire rarely say: ‘St Luke’s Church Fête this Saturday’; they’re generally more likely to read: Blah blah Do not blah blah own risk blah blah death.’ (Later it transpires I am virtually fluent in red signs.)

Phil is a good judge of the mood and his eyebrows signal his emotional well-being. They are currently half-raised, set to ‘Caution’.

‘Is it OK to be here?’ I ask Fadhi.

‘No,’ Fadhi says calmly. ‘We are not allowed.’

‘Not allowed,’ I repeat dully as we keep walking.

‘Not allowed to be even here.’

But still we keep on towards the wire, doing the very thing we are not allowed to do.

‘Is it safe, though?’

Fadhi shrugs.

‘What will the authorities do if they find us here?’ I ask.

Fadhi mimes bringing a gun to his shoulder.

‘We might get shot?’

‘Perhaps,’ he says cheerfully. ‘Who knows? ... We shall see.’

It is hard to tell how serious he is because it sounds as if he is making a political point rather than expressing a genuine possibility. Phil’s eyebrows are now at DEFCON 1.

Fadhi continues: ‘If the soldiers ask you what you are doing, you must tell them you are writing about birds and flowers.’

‘Well, there might be a mention of birds and flowers, I suppose…’

‘Don’t mention anything else. Birds and flowers, that is all. Do not tell them the truth.’

‘OK.’

‘If you want to walk the Wall, you have to be a very good liar.’

And with that Fahdi departs, leaving Phil, Jacob and me next to the barbed wire and the barrier.

Standing in the corner of the field, we are exactly where we want to be. We about-turn and start walking.

We have begun. The walk to Jacob’s farm is a relatively short and simple one, but we’re distracted 10 minutes in by the whining hum of an armoured vehicle on the Israeli side of the barrier. It stops, sitting squatly behind the wire. Then it sounds a siren, an electronic honking sound, a warning squawk. It is an odd noise, this whoop; a mixture of draconian disco and electro camp, but it saves the soldiers from having to get out of the vehicles and shout, ‘Fuck off’ in Hebrew, Arabic and English. It works, too, as we are all startled by it, and possibly a little embarrassed by that.

‘We should move further from the Wall,’ says Jacob.

‘Is that what the noise meant?’

‘They do not want us so near.’

Jabob smiles, but I am slightly nervous. The path twists away from the wire, on to the farm’s dust tracks for a while, and the military departs. Ditches run by these tracks as we leave the Wall behind us, crowded with the burnt stalks of reeds, their short charred stems leaving black lines of soot on our trouser legs as we brush past. We circle around an Israeli settler farm planted with tall date-palm trees; cut through a grove of short trees where grapefruit-like pomelo fruit hang unripe and low; turn up a stony track and in front of us, once again, is the Barrier.

‘When do we get to your farm?’ I ask Jacob, as we stop for some water.

‘You are on it,’ Jacob grins, spreading his arms open then laughing his throaty laugh. His looks are rakish, his chin chiselled, his hair swept back; his natty roll-neck jumper, however, is tattered and frayed, but you can’t have everything: if Edward Fox was a Palestinian farmer, Jacob would give him a run for his money.

Right alongside the Barrier’s barbed wire is an old blue tractor, parked sideways on an incline.

‘Is it yours?’

‘Yes,’ he says, cocking his head playfully.

‘Hell’, I think, ‘even his parking is rakish.’

Jacob’s rented farm stretches out over 45 dunam (just over 11 acres) and slopes right up to the barrier. His fields are covered with thin lines of plastic wrapping, under which plant life vies for space; leaves push out from under the edges and the tears in the material reveal squashes, their stems twisting to fruition. He leads us across his land, past his greenhouses, calling out the names of vegetables.

And pointing: ‘Aubergine… cucumber.. beans ...’ until we reach the very edge of the Barrier, where he tells us, ‘Here we can walk right by the wall.’

The Israeli use of the term ‘fence’ (eschewing the term ‘wall’ as an inaccurate and pro-Palestinian term) is somewhat disingenuous. True, actual concrete wall accounts for only four per cent of the barrier, but that does not make the rest a fence. In reality, and for the most part, it is a standardized configuration of fences, razor wire, ditches, roads and military patrols. It starts on the Palestinian side with six rolls of razor wire stacked three at the bottom, two in the middle and one topping it all off in a pyramid formation; this is normally about two metres high and uncoils along the ‘fence’. Next to the wire is a trench one or two metres deep: sometimes it is a ditch dug in the dirt, sometimes it is a concrete contraption. After the wire and the trench comes the sand path, enabling soldiers to see if anyone has come near the ‘fence’. Next to the sand path comes the actual bit of fencing; this is an electric fence with motion detectors and is about three to four metres high. There is then another sand track, making two in total, one on either side of the electric fence. Alongside the second sand track is an asphalt road, along which military vehicles drive. After this is another trench and finally the ‘fence’ is finished off with another pyramid. The whole thing is constantly patrolled by soldiers and/or the border police in Humvees and armoured Land Rovers, and a series of communication watchtowers monitor just about the entire length with cameras and state-of-the art spy equipment. From start to finish red signs adorn the ‘fence’, saying: ‘MORTAL DANGER: MILITARY ZONE. ANY PERSON WHO PASSES OR DAMAGES THE FENCE ENDANGERS HIS LIFE’ in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

A simple rule of thumb is if you can’t buy it in B&Q then it’s not a fence and if you can buy it in B&Q then you are probably in the Phnom Penh branch. To be accurate it is a military barrier that has some fencing in the construction. But the word ‘fence’ suits a certain way of seeing the conflict here, because it reduces it to the idea of a neighbourhood dispute, a local tussle between equals. Few neighbourhood disputes involve, however, one neighbour putting another under military occupation...

As we walk next to the barbed-wire coils, occasionally peering through the fence beyond, I catch sight of what appears to be a small trig point...

‘Is it a milestone?’

‘I don’t know.’

With one hand resting on its top, I lean in to look at its four sides. There is writing.

‘It’s in Arabic, I think. Jacob, is this Arabic?’

The words have been worn slightly by time and weather. Jacob peers to translate.

‘“Palestine. We are coming.”’

‘What?’

‘That’s what it says: “Palestine. We are coming.”’ Jacob straightens up.

We are right next to the Barrier, which follows the 1949 Armistice Green Line, the de facto border with the West Bank. Across the wire is Israel, and someone has stuck a plinth here reading, ‘Palestine. We are coming.’

‘Does it mean, “We are coming” as in: the state of Palestine will soon exist; in effect “Our state is becoming”? Or does it mean, “We are coming! Beware!” or “Charge!”?’

If it is the latter, you have to admit, it is a classy bit of gang graffitti.

‘“We are coming, Palestine is coming”.’ Jacob shrugs, indicating the former.

Extracted with permission from Mark Thomas’s new book, Extreme rambling, just published by Ebury Press, and available from the New Internationalist online shop

As I walked out...

Idil Sukan

Walking to the edge of the flat roof I stand, legs apart, hands on hips, looking through the hazy winter sunlight and to the distant hills. Two men, Palestinians, are standing behind me and together we survey the route we are about to take. Slowly, I raise my arms and point to a spot on the horizon.

‘There,’ I declare with all the gravitas of an Old Testament prophet. ‘That is where we start our walk.’

‘Where?’ inquires a man called Fadhi, with a voice that sounds as if he is squinting.

‘There, where my finger points. That is where we will start.’

The wind blows lightly, and high, high above a black bird circles. Then a voice behind says, ‘but this is Jordan’.

Fadhi pauses with the natural timing of a man who has spoken at many meetings before he diplomatically suggests: ‘You can start in Jordan if you want, but it will take some time to arrange...’

The bird circles closer and I remain still, facing the hills, looking out to the valley and saying one word. That word is, ‘Ish....’

‘I am sorry?’ says Fadhi.

I wobble my pointing finger, as if I’d always intended to be vague. ‘There... ish is where we will start.’

This could be Runcorn on the outskirts of an industrial estate, guarded by a 60-year-old bloke with a dog

Fadhi is the Jordan Valley co-ordinator of the umbrella organization, Stop the Wall, which has agreed to help with translators and guides. He joins me in pointing and declaiming. ‘That is the no-man’s land, the border, we shall walk up to there…and see,’ he says, leaving the final words hanging in the air, surrounded by possibilities.

Jacob, the second Palestinian on the roof and our translator for the day, smokes and smiles.

‘Jacob farms this land,’ says Fadhi, ‘so he will be able to take you westward, right up to the Wall. What can the soldiers do? Tell him not to farm? We will see.’

The two of them debate where to start the walk, but I am distracted. From up here, the Barrier is some 400 metres in front of us, and it appears as a rather dull-looking long fence, stretching across a plain and disappearing into the wonderfully crimpled geography of the Jordan river valley and the hills beyond.

The mundanity of this first impression of the Barrier is confounding. A line of wire mesh doesn’t fit into the image of ‘The Wall’; from my visual lexicon of walls that carve through countries, I expected romantic martyrdom, a dash of Expressionism, a nod at George Orwell, and the odd soundtrack of David Bowie songs recorded in Berlin. I expected the Barrier itself to be more dramatic, more epic, perhaps. The last thing I expected was a long mesh fence in a flat muddy field. I am about to spend eight weeks walking alongside this Barrier and will come to see it dominate the land in the most dramatic ways but for now this could be Runcorn on the outskirts of an industrial estate, guarded by a 60-year-old bloke with a dog and a Portacabin that smells of rolling tobacco and messy divorce.

The first day of any journey is full of emotions, but I wasn’t expecting disappointment to be one of them. I just don’t think I envisaged myself saying, ‘Well, it doesn’t look very oppressive’. But one thing is sure: if the view from the roof is anything to go by, the walking should be easy. A nice flat plain, with no major rivers, mountains or fjords that we can see; just flat farming land, a slight incline and a main road to cross about halfway through. There are a few clouds in the sky but these are wispy specks that quickly get blown across to Jordan. The going appears to get a little hilly towards the end, but it doesn’t look hard. This is what you need on the first day; no big climbs, or real prospect of rain; no surprises.

Twenty minutes later I get a familiar feeling of worry and excitement as we cross the fields towards no-man’s land. Phil the camera operator, Jacob, Fadhi and I are trudging directly towards a mass of barbed wire covered in red signs. The writing on them is indecipherable at this distance, but red signs on barbed wire rarely say: ‘St Luke’s Church Fête this Saturday’; they’re generally more likely to read: Blah blah Do not blah blah own risk blah blah death.’ (Later it transpires I am virtually fluent in red signs.)

Phil is a good judge of the mood and his eyebrows signal his emotional well-being. They are currently half-raised, set to ‘Caution’.

‘Is it OK to be here?’ I ask Fadhi.

‘No,’ Fadhi says calmly. ‘We are not allowed.’

‘Not allowed,’ I repeat dully as we keep walking.

‘Not allowed to be even here.’

But still we keep on towards the wire, doing the very thing we are not allowed to do.

‘Is it safe, though?’

Fadhi shrugs.

‘What will the authorities do if they find us here?’ I ask.

Fadhi mimes bringing a gun to his shoulder.

‘We might get shot?’

‘Perhaps,’ he says cheerfully. ‘Who knows? ... We shall see.’

It is hard to tell how serious he is because it sounds as if he is making a political point rather than expressing a genuine possibility. Phil’s eyebrows are now at DEFCON 1.

Fadhi continues: ‘If the soldiers ask you what you are doing, you must tell them you are writing about birds and flowers.’

‘Well, there might be a mention of birds and flowers, I suppose…’

‘Don’t mention anything else. Birds and flowers, that is all. Do not tell them the truth.’

‘OK.’

‘If you want to walk the Wall, you have to be a very good liar.’

And with that Fahdi departs, leaving Phil, Jacob and me next to the barbed wire and the barrier.

Standing in the corner of the field, we are exactly where we want to be. We about-turn and start walking.

We have begun. The walk to Jacob’s farm is a relatively short and simple one, but we’re distracted 10 minutes in by the whining hum of an armoured vehicle on the Israeli side of the barrier. It stops, sitting squatly behind the wire. Then it sounds a siren, an electronic honking sound, a warning squawk. It is an odd noise, this whoop; a mixture of draconian disco and electro camp, but it saves the soldiers from having to get out of the vehicles and shout, ‘Fuck off’ in Hebrew, Arabic and English. It works, too, as we are all startled by it, and possibly a little embarrassed by that.

‘We should move further from the Wall,’ says Jacob.

‘Is that what the noise meant?’

‘They do not want us so near.’

Jabob smiles, but I am slightly nervous. The path twists away from the wire, on to the farm’s dust tracks for a while, and the military departs. Ditches run by these tracks as we leave the Wall behind us, crowded with the burnt stalks of reeds, their short charred stems leaving black lines of soot on our trouser legs as we brush past. We circle around an Israeli settler farm planted with tall date-palm trees; cut through a grove of short trees where grapefruit-like pomelo fruit hang unripe and low; turn up a stony track and in front of us, once again, is the Barrier.

‘When do we get to your farm?’ I ask Jacob, as we stop for some water.

‘You are on it,’ Jacob grins, spreading his arms open then laughing his throaty laugh. His looks are rakish, his chin chiselled, his hair swept back; his natty roll-neck jumper, however, is tattered and frayed, but you can’t have everything: if Edward Fox was a Palestinian farmer, Jacob would give him a run for his money.

Right alongside the Barrier’s barbed wire is an old blue tractor, parked sideways on an incline.

‘Is it yours?’

‘Yes,’ he says, cocking his head playfully.

‘Hell’, I think, ‘even his parking is rakish.’

Jacob’s rented farm stretches out over 45 dunam (just over 11 acres) and slopes right up to the barrier. His fields are covered with thin lines of plastic wrapping, under which plant life vies for space; leaves push out from under the edges and the tears in the material reveal squashes, their stems twisting to fruition. He leads us across his land, past his greenhouses, calling out the names of vegetables.

And pointing: ‘Aubergine… cucumber.. beans ...’ until we reach the very edge of the Barrier, where he tells us, ‘Here we can walk right by the wall.’

The Israeli use of the term ‘fence’ (eschewing the term ‘wall’ as an inaccurate and pro-Palestinian term) is somewhat disingenuous. True, actual concrete wall accounts for only four per cent of the barrier, but that does not make the rest a fence. In reality, and for the most part, it is a standardized configuration of fences, razor wire, ditches, roads and military patrols. It starts on the Palestinian side with six rolls of razor wire stacked three at the bottom, two in the middle and one topping it all off in a pyramid formation; this is normally about two metres high and uncoils along the ‘fence’. Next to the wire is a trench one or two metres deep: sometimes it is a ditch dug in the dirt, sometimes it is a concrete contraption. After the wire and the trench comes the sand path, enabling soldiers to see if anyone has come near the ‘fence’. Next to the sand path comes the actual bit of fencing; this is an electric fence with motion detectors and is about three to four metres high. There is then another sand track, making two in total, one on either side of the electric fence. Alongside the second sand track is an asphalt road, along which military vehicles drive. After this is another trench and finally the ‘fence’ is finished off with another pyramid. The whole thing is constantly patrolled by soldiers and/or the border police in Humvees and armoured Land Rovers, and a series of communication watchtowers monitor just about the entire length with cameras and state-of-the art spy equipment. From start to finish red signs adorn the ‘fence’, saying: ‘MORTAL DANGER: MILITARY ZONE. ANY PERSON WHO PASSES OR DAMAGES THE FENCE ENDANGERS HIS LIFE’ in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

A simple rule of thumb is if you can’t buy it in B&Q then it’s not a fence and if you can buy it in B&Q then you are probably in the Phnom Penh branch. To be accurate it is a military barrier that has some fencing in the construction. But the word ‘fence’ suits a certain way of seeing the conflict here, because it reduces it to the idea of a neighbourhood dispute, a local tussle between equals. Few neighbourhood disputes involve, however, one neighbour putting another under military occupation...

As we walk next to the barbed-wire coils, occasionally peering through the fence beyond, I catch sight of what appears to be a small trig point...

‘Is it a milestone?’

‘I don’t know.’

With one hand resting on its top, I lean in to look at its four sides. There is writing.

‘It’s in Arabic, I think. Jacob, is this Arabic?’

The words have been worn slightly by time and weather. Jacob peers to translate.

‘“Palestine. We are coming.”’

‘What?’

‘That’s what it says: “Palestine. We are coming.”’ Jacob straightens up.

We are right next to the Barrier, which follows the 1949 Armistice Green Line, the de facto border with the West Bank. Across the wire is Israel, and someone has stuck a plinth here reading, ‘Palestine. We are coming.’

‘Does it mean, “We are coming” as in: the state of Palestine will soon exist; in effect “Our state is becoming”? Or does it mean, “We are coming! Beware!” or “Charge!”?’

If it is the latter, you have to admit, it is a classy bit of gang graffitti.

‘“We are coming, Palestine is coming”.’ Jacob shrugs, indicating the former.

Extracted with permission from Mark Thomas’s new book, Extreme rambling, just published by Ebury Press, and available from the New Internationalist online shop

Arms, farts and bribe fairies

*John Entwhistle, the now dead bass player for The Who,* once said that liking heavy metal music was akin to passing wind; you didn’t mind the smell of your own farts but object to everyone else’s. Given Entwhistle’s proclivity for cocaine it is a small miracle that he could smell anything. However, in the world of government and big business nowhere is this analogy truer than with regard to bribery and corruption. For some reason governments cannot stomach bribery unless their companies are involved in it, when its rancid stench is sweet rose petals to their nostrils.

Cast your mind back to the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles and all that rich world concern about ‘corruption in Africa’. You could be forgiven for thinking that bribery was a practice that involved only one party. Had anyone approached the British government delegation at Gleneagles and asked ‘What of the companies that pay the bribes?’, civil servants and Whitehall mandarins would have looked aghast: ‘People pay bribes? Good Lord, I thought it was the bribe fairies.’ It was almost as if African leaders went to bed at night, leaving entire nationalized industries under their pillows and woke up with Swiss bank accounts full of money.

So let us consider Britain’s endeavours to combat multinational corruption and the most bribe-licious of industrial sectors: the arms trade.

Britain didn’t get a law making the bribing of a foreign official illegal until 2002. That’s right folks, up until that point companies like BAE Systems – Britain’s largest arms manufacturer – would get caught making payments into Jersey bank accounts owned by the Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, Foreign Minister of Qatar at a time when BAE was negotiating an arms sale with... guess which country... Qatar. In keeping with past precedents of the ruling class looking after its own, the British authorities decided that no investigation would take place into those payments as it was not in the public interest. Meanwhile BAE announced that they had done nothing that broke the law, which is kind of true as there was no law at that time.

Back in 2001, I spoke to Mark Peith, chair of the Working Group on Bribery in Business Transactions at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Britain had signed up to an OECD treaty to introduce laws and effective measures to fight bribery but was just not doing it. I asked Mark Peith how the other members of the OECD saw Britain?

‘They no longer regard Britain as a peer,’ he replied.

‘When it comes to fighting corruption and bribery, who are Britain’s peers now?’ I asked. Without hesitation he replied: ‘Brazil, Turkey and Argentina’.

None of which seems a particularly firm platform from which to criticize others. During a massive rearmament programme in South Africa involving arms companies from all over the world and nigh constant allegations of corruption, BAE Systems had secured a piece of the pie. The deal was supported by the Export Credit Guarantee Department – the department that underwrites British business abroad, so if someone fails to pay their bills the British taxpayer steps in and stumps up to cover the losses. Amidst the investigations and court cases involving government officials it emerged that BAE Systems had paid commission amounting to millions of pounds. ‘Commission payments’ is one of those phrases that attempts to normalize the unpalatable in a similar fashion to the phrase ‘adult entertainment’. Commission payments normally go to people who help secure the deal and are notorious conduits for bribes. Trade minister Patricia Hewitt defended the BAE payment, admitting it amounted to ‘millions’, but refused to say just how many. Just that it was ‘within acceptable limits’.

Britain’s fight against corruption is just window dressing with little political will to take on the issue in a serious way.

Consider the case of The Corner House, a human-and environmental-rights organization and the Government’s Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD). In March 2004 the ECGD announced new guidelines to combat bribery and corruption. Given that most of the deals that it is involved with are for medium to high risk markets (ie slightly dodgy places to very dodgy places) like Indonesia or Nigeria, there was a real need to start clearing the stables of bent deals.

The new guidelines included some simple rules: provide details of commission payments, who was getting the money, where they live and what relationship the commission agents have with the deal. The ECGD extolled their new measures as a ‘balanced package... to the ultimate benefit of all UK companies’.

Sure. This measure would have been invaluable for a company like Alvis (now owned by BAE Systems) when they were selling tanks to Indonesia; the ECGD would have known then that the commission being paid for the deal was going to the President of Indonesia’s daughter Tutut Suharto.

Such a measure would have been useful for Rolls Royce when they were working on another ECGD-backed deal in India, the Godavari power station. In this case the commission paid for the deal was going to Towanda Services, a company in the British Virgin Islands, owned by the managing director of the Godavari power station, responsible for awarding the contract.

In May 2004 the ECGD Advisory Committee noted that the new anti-corruption guidelines were not proving popular with its ‘major customers’. Who were the major customers upset by the quest to stamp out bribery? BAE Systems, Airbus (then 20 per cent owned by BAE Systems) and Rolls Royce, to name a few. They promptly held a series of meetings with the ECGD and proceeded to whittle the anti-corruption measures into something more palatable, effectively submitting the anti-corruption guidelines to death by a thousand cuts. The British government had watered down its anti-bribery work.

It was Nick Hildyard and Sue Hawley from The Corner House who spotted that this had occurred and threatened to take the Government to court. Facing up to the might of a government which was working at the behest of BAE Systems and Rolls Royce, not to mention the Confederation of British Industry, is a pretty big deal. But that is exactly what Sue and Nick did. And they won. They forced the Government into one of its most humiliating climb-downs, leading to the revival of the anti-corruption guidelines. Which isn’t bad going.

Britain is being forced slowly to change its ways. But it will be the work of activists and campaigners and academics that get us there and certainly not government or its allies in the arms trade and other dodgy businesses. •