Owen Jones: Arms and the men from the military

Over two years ago – at the fag-end of Gordon Brown's then-collapsing administration – the unabashed greed of some of New Labour's high priests was exposed in pitiful detail. Posing as lobbyists scouting for new talent, journalists from The Sunday Times allowed former ministers to crucify themselves on camera. One was ex-cabinet minister Stephen Byers, who had made the clichéd journey from Trotskyist revolutionary to Blairite ideologue. He had claimed to have shifted government policy at the request of corporations such as Tesco; he was, in his own degrading description, "a taxi for hire".

It turns out that the taxi rank of the ruling elite is crammed – and not just with discredited ex-politicos. Some of Britain's top military brass have now been caught fluttering their eyes at private interests. Again ensnared by Sunday Times reporters – this time masquerading as arms manufacturers – decorated generals offered up their state connections. Ex-army chief Lord Dannatt spoke of "targeting" the Ministry of Defence's top civil servant because they went to the same school, though he says The Sunday Times was painting a "totally false picture".

As the Campaign Against Arms Trade points out, arms companies are very keen to have ex-military people on their books: it is a "revolving door", as they put it.

The overlap between the military's great-and-the-greedy and private arms companies more than merits the "revolving door" label. The links between the state and the arms industry are not just about personnel: the likes of BAE Systems depend entirely on the patronage and funding of the Government and civil servants. When millions of Arabs were in the midst of a life-and-death struggle for freedom and democracy at the beginning of February 2011, David Cameron toured the Middle East with arms traders in tow.

Other than once again exposing the greed endemic among the upper crust of British society, this scandal surely should make us question the hold of the arms industry over the state. Those who challenge these links are accused of imperilling British jobs, even though the number employed in defence jobs has plummeted from half a million to about 200,000 since the early 1980s. While the Government provides £2.598bn for research and development for arms, it is just £42m in the case of renewable energy. There is a huge shortage of engineers, not least to help to develop green-energy technology.

Yet we will never be able to challenge the hold of British arms companies until their links with the British Establishment are severed. By all means, tut at the shameless greed. But don't forget this is only part of the story. It is time that this whole intricate web – linking politicians, civil servants, arms traders and murderous despots – is taken apart.