Residents and campaigners in the London Borough of Newham have reacted with angry astonishment as Newham Council's Labour Group quashed plans to take action against the international arms fair controversially held in the borough, despite the Council's previous calls for the arms fair to be cancelled.
A motion at the full council meeting on Monday night [5th Dec], brought by Councillor Alan Craig, called for Mayor Robin Wales to chair a Citizens’ Enquiry into the DSEI weapons fair. Such an enquiry would bring together Newham residents and community organisations with the fair's organisers - the Ministry of Defence and Spearhead Exhibitions - as well as representatives of Docklands' ExCeL Centre, where the arms fair is held every two years.
Yet Labour councillors, instructed by the Mayor, voted to remove the only section of the motion requiring them to take concrete action by holding the enquiry. Instead they simply resolved to condemn the arms fair but not to take any specific action.
Their vote ignored a previous Council motion passed unanimously on 20 June, calling the weapons fair “totally immoral” and demanding that it should not return to Newham in 2007. It also ignored the recommendation of the Council's own Scrutiny Commission - whose findings the Council welcomed on Monday – which has called on the Mayor to “ensure that effective mechanisms are put in place to ensure that local residents' interests are placed at the centre of future planning” over the arms fair.
Contrary to the Mayor's argument that the Council has little leverage over the ExCeL Centre, the Council have themselves continued to take on new contracts with the ExCeL Centre, including a major booking to hold an Olympics consultation there in Feburary 2006. This also ignores the Scrutiny Commission's recommendation to investigate an “ethical lettings policy”.
An ongoing petition against the weapons fair's return, started by local groups East London Against the Arms Fair and Newham Opposition to War and Racism (NOWAR), is currently canvassing support from community groups, voluntary organisations, churches and mosques. The petition was was welcomed by the Council's final motion. The two groups issued a joint statement yesterday [6 Dec] together with the national Campaign Against Arms Trade:
“Newham Council has called explicitly for the arms fair to be cancelled. Yet when the Mayor and his
councillors were finally asked on Monday to back up their words with deeds, they refused. Rather than upset the
Ministry of Defence and big business, they have ignored residents, community groups, and the Council's own advice,
rejecting Newham residents' right to a direct say over what goes on in their own community.
The Mayor continues to talk about his private meetings with the ExCeL Centre. Yet on Monday he could neither tell us what the subject of those meetings were, nor point to a single concrete outcome. The Labour Group cannot have it both ways. With council elections looming, and the prospect of the deeply disruptive return of the arms fair in 2007, councillors need to explain what they are actually doing to stop the arms fair from coming back to Newham. Judging by their actions on Monday, we're not holding our breath for answers.”
 For the findings of the Council's Arms Fair Scrutiny Committee, click here