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The ever narrowing gap between money and war

SOLOMON HUGHES investigates the ‘business friendly’ reforms which have put banking, oil and management consultancy executives into positions of power in the MoD

WHO is in charge of our armed forces? Well, thanks to "business friendly” reforms, bankers, management consultants and oil firm executives are.

In 2010 the Tory-Lib Dem coalition created “Whitehall Boards” — groups of business executives who serve as “non-executive directors” of each department, including the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

These boards were created by then Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude in order “to make government operate in a more businesslike manner.”

This “businesslike” approach means bosses from the City and oil industry are partly in charge of our armed forces.

The “lead non-executive director” of the MoD, who has been in place since 2011, is Gerry Grimstone.

He is the chairman of Barclays Bank. A long standing “City” man, Grimstone has risen from being an investment banker at Schroders to the top job at Barclays, with time as the chairman of TheCityUK — one of the City of London’s lobbying organisations. 

Marxists often say the state represents the capitalist class — in Marx’s words: “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

Some argue this is a slightly crude analysis. But not as crude as the head of one of the biggest British banks being a director of the MoD. 

The Tories have collapsed the gap between capital and force and just put a banker in charge of the bombs.

When you start in the City of London, you often end in the Middle East.

Grimstone has another part time job. He is the board adviser to the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. This is the state bank of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) .

The UAE is a junior partner to Saudi Arabia in the vicious war on Yemen — they’ve provided fighter jets, and run a network of torture prisons in Southern Yemen.

Britain is helping the Saudi-UAE war on Yemen. British military advisers are helping the air war, and British weapons are being used to kill Yemenis.

At the same time, the banker on the board of the MoD is working with a UAE government bank. The gap between money and war is very narrow.

Grimstone is not the only businessperson on board. In January 2018 Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson made Simon Henry an MoD non-executive director.

Henry is also a banker — a non-executive director of Lloyds. He also came up through the oil business. He was a Shell executive director from 2009-2017.

Critics often say British military adventures — like Iraq or Libya — are about trying to keep influence in oil producing regions. They use the slogan “no war for oil.” Now it turns out our war machines are directed by an oil executive.

Even more remarkably, Williamson is so keen on business that he has put a director of a firm owned by a foreign government on the MoD board.

Henry is also a director of Petrochina. This is an oil and gas firm owned by the China National Petroleum Corporation, which in turn is owned by the Chinese state. 

Petrochina is the business arm of the Chinese government’s own oil industry.

Another Shell man sits on the MoD board, just to underline the links between oil and war. Paul Skinner was group managing director of Shell, as well as chairman of Rio Tinto, an international mining firm.

Now he sits on the MoD board. Skinner also sits on one of the boards of accountants and management consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The fourth MoD director, Danuta Grey, also has links to the world of management consultancy. She is the chair of the Advisory Board of Accenture Ireland.

There are two basic features of the armed forces run by the MoD. First, they have very expensive, often overpriced weapons ready for war, especially in the Middle East.

Second, the “poor bloody infantry” — the troops and sailors — are often treated badly. The big money is spent on the weapons system; the people expected to carry or use the weapons get crap housing and poor pay.

The appointment of banking, oil and management consultancy executives to the MoD board fits in perfectly with this culture.

The City and oil bosses like the idea of having weapons to “project power” in the same areas we have investments. They also have lots of practice in treating the people at the top well and the people at the bottom very badly.

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