In the Public Interest: A Devastating Account of the Thatcher Government’s Involvement in the Covert Arms Trade, by the Man Who Turned Astra Fireworks into a 00m Arms Manufacturer

Paul Foot writes:

If you’d scanned the British industrial and financial scene in the boom spring of 1988 you would not have found a more successful, cockier City gent than Gerald James. A public school education and a distinguished career as an accountant among the big names of the City (Barings, Ansbacher, Singer and Friedlander, Hill Samuel) had prepared him perfectly for his chairmanship of Astra, a burgeoning, middle-ranking arms and explosives company which he had built up since 1981 with the help of the directors of a Scottish fireworks company. Elegant, hard-working, well-mannered, with two sons in the Army and an MP on the Board, James was breaking into the big time. He was invited to dine at The Parlour, a secret club whose purpose is to introduce politicians and businessmen to intelligence chiefs. He lunched regularly at the Institute of Directors. He was even invited to attend the British industrialists’ equivalent of Mecca, the ICI golf championship at Troon. He had become, fleetingly, an honorary member of the ‘Savoy Mafia’, a group of arms manufacturers and dealers who met in the Savoy suite of Alan Curtis, a close friend of Denis Thatcher, to discuss their contracts and the chances for more of them. He had met everyone he needed to know. He had met Denis Thatcher and Mark at an arms fair. He had several times come across Stephen Tipping, Mark’s ambitious and thrusting partner in the defence business. No establishment door was shut to him.

(LRB 8 February 1996)