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Arms Fair Fiasco: Performative Or Plain-Spoken?

Scally Mag Team

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ScallyMag looks at the Arms Fair, the resistance against it, and if this will be enough to achieve the desired outcome…



An Arms Fair is scheduled to take place next month in Liverpool. The council owned ACC building in the Albert Dock area is set to host the event on the 12th of October. Different arms manufacturing companies are due to meet at the exhibition centre and parade their respective weapons of death here in Liverpool.

AOC Europe 2021- formerly Electronic Warfare 2021- are the group expected to host the event. They explain on their website that you can “meet world-leading experts to discuss their understanding of the issues, technology and capabilities that underpin evolving electronic warfare abilities”.

In other words, come and learn about how we make millions of pounds and dollars from destroying the lives of others. There is no room for this in Liverpool, or anywhere else for that matter. Arms manufacturers are complicit in the atrocities in the middle east and beyond. They are expected to set foot in the city in order to effectively propagate their deadly agenda.

Last year, a duplication of this event was cancelled after widespread pressure from local Liverpool civil society organisations. As a reaction to this, the then Mayor of the City, Joe Anderson committed to introducing an ethical charter to help mitigate such events happening in the future.

Yet here we are, just over a month away from the same event taking place.

Questions have been raised as to why the city has found itself in such a position, and there has been a local mobilisation alongside this to provide resistance to the event.

A demonstration against the arms fair has been organised by local activists which will see a march from Princes Park Gates in Toxteth, to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Alongside this are ‘Councillors for Peace’- a cross party collection of local councillors- who have signed a statement condemning the event and all that it represents. Current Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, has also put her name to this statement.

What seems like a collective show of solidarity against the arms fair is not quite that. Some sections of the local political and activist community in Liverpool appear to have used the fact that this arms fair has not been cancelled as a stick to beat the current Mayor with, and politically point score, despite her unequivocal opposition to the event. She stated that “…there is nothing that I as Mayor, or the council, can do to prevent this event from taking place.”

Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council, Tony Reeves, told the Liverpool Echo that it is ‘untrue’ that former Mayor Joe Anderson stopped the last Arms fair from going ahead as no Mayor holds power to direct events that go ahead at the ACC.

Comparisons have been made to a similar situation in London. An article in The Independent with the headline suggesting, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan told organisers to cancel an arms fair in the city, actually states towards the end that “as mayor he has little power to prevent the event from taking place.” The key difference, however, is that the building in London in which the event is taking place is not owned by the local authority. 

The local electorate could be forgiven for being sceptical about what a local Labour Council says it has the power do in Liverpool. Very recent history has left many people scarred, and trust in local government feels like it is at an all-time low. One could argue that any metaphorical stick should rightly be used to beat and prod the transparency out of elected representatives. 

To add to this dynamic, the factions within local Labour in the city may naturally push an agenda to portray those not part of their respective ‘clique’ as an unworthy representative. This is par for the course one would assume. A good friend recently told me that the Labour Party is too broad a church for everybody to pretend to agree.

We would like to think that given the current Mayor has come out and condemned the event, that if she had the power to cancel it then she would. However, it is clear that there are likely contractual and financial obligations- some of which may impact the council considerably from an economic standpoint- that are acting as barriers to any cancellation. Nonetheless, the council’s sheer lack of transparency as to why this event is going ahead has not helped anybody, and has caused feelings of disenfranchisement to deepen.

Despite any local factional Labour disputes, or shady contracts from previous regimes, there is a mobilisation of resistance to the arms fair in the city, and rightly so. Although the planned march- which is due to have Jeremy Corbyn as a speaker- is a positive demonstration of solidarity against the arms fair, it may take more than this to truly have the desired outcome.

Liverpool has a chance to show global solidarity with the world’s most oppressed by ensuring this arms fair does not go ahead. It will take maximum disruption and, in some cases, personal cost to truly have the practical and material effect needed to shut this event down. It will be interesting to see if this extreme course of action- similar to that of Palestine Action– is adopted by those involved, or will feelings of performative notions with the underlying agenda of political point-scoring on a local level take precedence over the necessary sacrifice to truly make a difference.