By Steve Latchford
If there is one sure rule in politics it is this. No matter how much politicians think they will be able to manage the news agenda, events stubbornly get in the way. It is safe to say that Liverpool’s new Mayor, Joanne Anderson, wouldn’t have expected protests about the possible staging of an Arms Fair in the city to be at the forefront of her concerns. But this Saturday thousands of people will join a national demonstration called by the campaign group Liverpool Against the Arms Fair. Among the headline speakers are Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and rapper Lowkey.
The roots of the present controversy can be found in 2020 when an event called Electronic Warfare Europe, scheduled to take place at the Liverpool City Council-owned ACC Exhibition Centre was cancelled, or more accurately postponed, though people did not know that at the time. Leading weapons manufacturers ply their destructive wares at such events, including companies like Elbit Systems and Raytheon.
Unsurprisingly, there was outrage when the event was discovered to be happening at the ACC on October 12th to 13th. The broad-based campaign group was revived, demanding the event be cancelled. Letters and statements followed from four Liverpool MPs and other colleagues from the Socialist Campaign Group, Councillors for Peace and faith leaders. Momentum was building.
Mayor Joanne Anderson made clear her opposition to the Arms Fair, but said that the arm’s length ownership of the ACC meant there was little she could do. In an official statement in the Liverpool Express, she said:
“I have made it clear that I am opposed to the Electronic Warfare Conference that is being hosted by the ACC Exhibition Centre in October.
“I know that many of us feel it is at odds with the socialist and peaceful values held by the council and that it raises moral and ethical questions.
“However, as a council we are very limited in what we can do… I have explored every possible legal option but sadly, while we may want to do more, the position is that lawfully we can’t.”
A recent letter from Chief Executive Tony Reeves talked about commercial and reputational consequences if the Arms Fair was cancelled. Many responded that human rights concerns and the commercial and reputational consequences of the event going ahead were more compelling.
Campaigners and councillors have since tested the advice given to the Mayor and Cabinet with vigils, FOI requests, letters, petitions and questions at Select Committees, all adding to the pressure on the ACC and the new City Council leadership. The Public Interest Law Centre has called for a Judicial Review arguing that the council has engaged in an “improper and unlawful delegation of powers.”
Finally, and ominously for the ACC’s directors who are ploughing ahead with the event despite numerous representations, the National Education Union has written to the ACC board indicating the staging of the Arms Fair might change its view on holding union conferences at the centre.
With the country’s leading anti-war figure Jeremy Corbyn among the speakers on Saturday, it is likely to be large and the pressure on the ACC and Liverpool City Council intensify.
Assemble Saturday 11th September at 11.30am: Princes Park, Entrance at End of Princes Avenue; 12.30pm: Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
More details here
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