‘We want peace and love not war,’ declared one of the dozens of homemade banners floating through the sea of international flags that washed through Liverpool at the weekend as thousands protested at plans for an international arms fair to be held in the city’s exhibition centre next month.
Chair of Liverpool Against the Arms Fair Lawrence Brown urged the council-owned venue to cancel the event in the face of the widespread protests that have also seen Massive Attack cancel a gig, and the National Education Union and National Union of Students warn of future boycotts.
The Massive Attack gig was designed to set new benchmarks in carbon-reduced touring after the Bristol-based band produced new research with the University of Manchester showing the music industry’s impact on the environment.
The band said that it recognised warnings from the International Committee of the Red Cross that linked climate change to increased risks of war and couldn’t use a venue that promoted conflict. It wanted to show its solidarity with those in the city campaigning for peace.
The ACC Exhibition Centre is also on the regular annual conference round for trade unions and political parties. Global Greens used the venue in 2017.
Councillor Brown is one of four Green representatives on the city council. He warned that the city could ill-afford to lose such ground-breaking bookings. “Massive Attack are doing brilliant globally important work in exploring how bands can perform, tour and minimise harm to the environment. Liverpool should be offering a stage for their work.
“Instead, we’re losing out because the Labour-controlled council says it can’t prevent a venue it owns hosting an arms sales jamboree that will attract countries and companies with dismal human rights records.”
The European Electronic Warfare Convention is organised by the Association of Old Crows, which says it offers an opportunity to ‘exchange ideas, develop relationships and showcase a range of high-tech electronics’ in line with international law, while the ACC venue points to the economic benefits for the region of aligning with the defence industry.
Green Peer Natalie Bennett told the crowd gathered outside the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral that the arms fair tried to relocate to Seville, Spain after being forced out of Liverpool once before, only for the local council there to ban it. “They did the right thing. Liverpool City Council is now doing the wrong thing – and we’re here to fix that,” she said to cheers.
Over 70 of the city’s 90 councillors have backed a motion opposing the arms fair, including the Mayor Joanne Anderson, but she insists she has no legal powers to actually stop the weapons exhibition taking place between 12 and 13 October.
However, Mayor Anderson and the majority of Labour councillors rejected a stronger motion from the Green Group that would have forced the council’s hand. Instead, the council now faces legal action from campaigners who say that it does have the power to determine what takes place in venues it owns.
The march set off from the city’s historic Princes Park, an area which has long offered a welcome to people fleeing hunger and war from as close as Ireland in the 19th century to Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan today. It paused at the city’s Catholic Cathedral to hear former shadow Chancellor John McDonnell declare he was ‘very angry’ that his home city’s reputation for international solidarity was being undermined and actor Maxine Peake to lead the crowd in a rendition of ‘War, What Is it Good For’.
The final rally, alongside the city’s St George’s Hall, saw actor Tayo Aluko dressed as a funeral director silence the crowd as he performed Paul Robeson’s Dere's a Man Goin' Round' Takin' Names.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged people to come together to tackle the climate crisis, hunger and poverty rather than fuel more wars, themes amplified by two more home-made banners waving in the crowd – ‘Buy Chip Barms Not Arms,’ and ‘Make Scouse Not War.