Why to refuse the census

Chris Browne from the 'Count me Out' campaign, on the need to protest Lockheed Martin's involvement in the census.
20 March 2011

In March this year, as in 2001, Lockheed Martin UK, a subsidiary of the world’s largest arms manufacturer, will be helping to run the census. Their specific role, contractually valued at £150 million, will be “delivering data capture and processing support services” for the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This seems innocent enough, but the job description is vague to the point of obfuscation. This is not unique to Lockheed, either. Ambiguity in both language and aesthetics is a hallmark of the arms industry’s PR. This is all arguably in aid of lending legitimacy to an industry that deserves none. When laid bare, the arms trade produces weapons, and benefits from the proliferation of war. To offer up such an unadulterated truth to the wider public would be a disaster in an ongoing strategy of legitimization.

Lockheed Martin, for example, are best known for their production of cluster munitions, F-16 jets and Trident Missiles. Their arms sales to Bahrain and other repressive regimes are an ongoing controversy.

Most civil corporations will endeavour to gain legitimacy in the public mind - achievable perhaps through a policy of corporate social responsibility. Arms companies are similar in wishing to present themselves as leaders of industry; however this presentation is orientated towards governments whose lucrative contracts they seek.

Conversely, by mimicking the language and even the work of generic corporatism, arms companies hope to appear to the public as just another corporation. This is not in order to stand out, but rather to sneak under the radar of citizens’ political and ethical interrogation.

Running the census is one such foray into the civil sector that Lockheed Martin –whose 2009 military sales amounted to over $33 billion, over 74 percent of total sales figures- has cultivated since 2001.

Relative to its military sales, the ONS contract represents an insignificant fraction of total annual income. But perhaps not all benefits come in pounds and pence…

With both the high profile investigations into BAE Systems’ corruption over the last few years, and David Cameron’s much criticized weapons-selling tour of North Africa, public awareness has grown surrounding the arms trade. It is surely a natural strategic reaction of an industry facing a potential legitimacy crisis to diversify into surveillance and civil sectors.

Put simply, in addition to the revenue earned, every successful census contract Lockheed Martin wins provides it with credibility that is in turn used to secure future contracts.

This cycle must be interrupted by an articulate and informed public. With this in mind, ‘Count Me Out’, an open network opposing Lockheed’s involvement in the census, has launched a UK-wide campaign to raise awareness and highlight action against it.

With a day of e-action and protest in the works, ‘alternative census forms’ being submitted, and full-scale boycotts planned, people are engaging in the campaign with a healthy attitude of creative dissent.

Count Me Out isn’t the first campaign to have taken action against the arms industry’s involvement in the census. It isn’t even the first to have used the name –Canada had its own indigenous ‘Count Me Out’ group protesting Lockheed’s contract in their 2006 census, which a number of people boycotted on conscientious grounds.

During the last UK census, 6,100 incidences of refusal were reported by the ONS, of which 38 prosecutions were taken forward. Whilst this percentage (0.6%) may be comforting to those considering non-cooperation, the price of civil disobedience is still alarmingly high: refusing to complete the census is a criminal offence under the Census Act 1920, carrying the possibility of a £1,000 fine.

Nothing speaks worse of a democratic system than when the conscientious objection of its citizens renders them criminals in the eyes of the law. But the most troubling thing for dissenters is the number of people who are still completely unaware of the integral involvement of the arms industry in running our census. This is sadly unsurprising.

When announcing the contract, the ONS referred to Lockheed Martin UK as “a unit of Lockheed Martin Corporation…[and] a leader in systems integration working on major programmes spanning the aerospace, defence and civil sectors.” Whilst this information is factually accurate, it uses the default descriptors of ‘aerospace’ and ‘defence’ instead of ‘military’ or ‘weapons manufacturing’. As to what the ‘major programmes’ entail, we are only left to guess.

Lockheed Martin’s corporate branding gives nothing away on the surface level either. Their website’s ‘About Us’ employs opaque phrases like “establish a long-term presence … develop industrial alliances for growth, and match corporate breadth with customer priorities.”

For the campaign is to have any lasting success it must start with the building blocks of language. Framing the debate has always been half the battle. The census is too valuable a resource to be tarnished by the political maneuverings of an illegitimate industry. If the government refuses to be up front about the nature of the companies it employs, then it must fall to us to offer a loud, articulate corrective.


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Andrew J Chandler 20 March 2011, 21.02

The Census is the wrong target for those on the Left, and those who oppose the Arms Trade. Since at least 1911, it has been an important way for us to support our arguments with indisputable facts, for example on occupation, unemployment and migration. As an historian, it has been a vital source, only surpassed in this by the Registrar General and MOH reports, plus the Rowntree reports. We may be able to do without it in 2021, but we need the results now.

The way to proceed on the Arms Trade is to support CAAT and lobby the Labour Party to pledge to put an end to British involvement in the trade, when it returns to power, which may not be as far away as some may think.

Bobbie 21 March 2011, 08.36

Notwithstanding Lockhead’s involvement in destructive weapons, the fact that the ONS are saying that our data is going to a UK company is bending the truth.

On the bottom of each page of the form you will see a bar code and a number. This is a computer phone line. The number on my form is 303 918 3191. Please, please, please type this into Google before you send your forms in.

2nd paragraph of Google says. Denver, Colorado phone number, Lockhead Martin database.

This is certainly not a UK company.

May I ask for more information on the “alternative census form” mentioned above?

Chris Browne 21 March 2011, 13.29

To Bobbie,

That’s really interesting and a little disturbing. I’ll have to try that with my own form, and see what happens.

As for the alternative forms, the Count Me Out website is hosting a couple of different ones, put together by different people. You can find both of them at http://www.countmeout.me.uk and then click on the ‘resources’ tab. You can print it out, fill it in with whatever questions and answers you like, and send it off to the ONS.


Bobbie 22 March 2011, 08.54

Thank you, Chris, I will go and have a look.

I am also disturbed by the fact that they have linked my home “and castle” to a blessed barcode. I will be wearing one on my forehead soon.

Whatever I do with this Census, I know that barcode must come off. It is near the address (which is incomplete – by the way – and addressed to the Occupier)

Our strongest weapon is that they have not been able to link name, barcode & address to the person living in specific homes. Once they do this, you will just become a barcode to them.

I am convinced they must be stopped from doing this as they have done in Germany.

Freedom is our most treasured commodity, do not let them put a price on it.

Public Servant 22 March 2011, 13.24

Oh just grow up and fill the damn thing in and stop playing such silly self indulgent games.

Chris Browne 24 March 2011, 11.16

I understand why on the individual level it might seem like little more than symbolic action, even self-indulgent, but the truth is that thousands of acts of small-scale dissent do add up. When it comes to activism and de-legitimisation we’ll always be talking in terms of years rather than days. But saying ‘no’ to something that’s wrong should always be at the forefront of our understanding of democracy, and not considered acts of narcissism.

RoyalWeddingFan 24 March 2011, 11.26

Perhaps this is useful.



Day 1: fill in census form as an obedient citizen.
Day 2: Cut through the spine of the form. Now you have 16 loose pages.
Day 3: Put the front page, with its big bar code, CORRECTLY in the official return envelope. Add some waste paper to bulk it out, so that the envelope now has the same thickness as one with a complete real form. Now post it, as instructed.
The effect of this is that the Royal Mail will scan the barcode without opening the envelope and register “form returned”, feed this information to the census enforcers’ organisation who will then remove your address from the list of (potential) addresses to be visited. The envelope itself will go unopened to Lockheed Martin’s perocessing centre to await dealing with, together with the piles of a few million outwardly identical other envelopes.
Day 4: Take the 2nd page, put it in an envelope of your own (as allowed in the census form instructions). Write on it, as instructed: FREEPOST 2011 Census, Processing Centre, UK (no stamp needed, and post it.
Day 5: as day 4 but for the 3rd page.
Day 18: as day 17, but for the 16th page. JOB DONE.

Richard Craven 26 March 2011, 23.27

Good article, even though my political beliefs are slightly to the right of centre, and I disagree with some of your reasoning.

Basically, you argue that we should boycott the Census because of the involvement of Lockheed Martin, i.e. we should not give succour to weapons dealers.

I agree that we should boycott the Census, but disagree about Lockheed Martin.

My reason for boycotting the Census is that private people should not be compelled to divulge the minutiae of their private lives to the state, except where this is unavoidable e.g. for the purposes of assessing tax.

I wish I did not have to disagree with you about Lockheed Martin, but I think of the weapons industry as a necessary evil. Today I read of residents of Misrata in Libya, telephoning the BBC and imploring Nato to arm the anti-Gaddafists so as to avert a massacre.

That said, the Blair/Brown administration’s choice of Lockheed Martin to play such a prominent role in the delivery of the Census has had consequences – protests and boycotts – which could easily have been foreseen, and which should have been foreseen. The Census protests would have been considerably diminished in scale had a more anodyne organization been selected instead of Lockheed Martin.

Taxpayer 24 April 2011, 18.45

“Oh just grow up and fill the damn thing in and stop playing such silly self indulgent games.” – Public Servant

Actually, that’s the best argument I’ve heard yet for why people should co-operate with the Census. Which is not to say it’s a *good* argument, it’s just that you’ve gone for pompous petualance with an air of arrogant entitlement, whilst most of the other arguments I’ve heard have involved illogical rhetoric about how a Census with data that’s 10 years out of date somehow nonetheless magically helps government to plan services flawlessly (whilst at the same time that same government can’t even provide efficient bin collections or keep roads open in the Winter, which comes around regularly every 12 months). Neither the illogical justification approach nor your childish petulance has convinced me that it’s OK to co-operate with a Census that’s being conducted by a company that was involved in torture at Abu Ghraib, so if it’s all the same to you (and even if it it isn’t) I’ll just keep putting those little green reminder cards that the Census staff keep putting through my door in the same bin that I put my form into. :)

Comments are now closed on this article.

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