Parliament’s suspension shouldn’t surprise us – the London arms fair shows there’s no democracy in the UK

A stall inside the DSEI arms fair
Tom Anderson

Boris Johnson has suspended parliament. His “unlawful abuse of power” has shocked many people around the country into taking to the streets and forming assemblies across the UK. Many are marching under the banner of “defend democracy”.

But there is no democracy to defend in Westminster. If we want real democracy then we need to create it.

The DSEI arms fair shows that democracy is a sham in the UK

Every two years, the world’s largest arms fair takes place in east London. The exhibition is attended by thousands of international arms dealers and manufacturers. Representatives of some of the world’s most repressive regimes attend the fair to shop for weapons.

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At least 116 people were arrested protesting against this year’s event. Protesters have been blocking the two vehicle gates of the ExCeL Centre.

This year’s show of resistance is the latest chapter in the 20-year history of opposition to Defence Security and Equipment International (DSEI). Over the years, people have risked arrest countless times in their determination to prevent the fair from taking place.

In spite of this massive public opposition, the arms fair enjoys the enthusiastic backing of the British state. Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade told The Canary:

Events like DSEI could not happen without the fundamental support of government. UK civil servants will be on hand to greet the array of human rights abusing regimes and dictatorships in attendance. Meanwhile government ministers will use it as an opportunity to sing the praises of arms dealers and do everything they can to sell even more weapons.

Smith concluded:

It’s not just DSEI that must be stopped, it’s the policies and mindset that allow these arms sales in the first place.

Newham council condemns the arms fair

Councillor Daniel Blaney of the London Borough of Newham (where the arms fair takes place) tabled a motion in June, criticising the arms fair:

The London Borough of Newham is dismayed at the hosting of the world’s largest arms fair [and] rejects the economic arguments cynically deployed in defence of this trade, and resolves to work for a local and wider economy that promotes peace and sustainability.

The motion went on to say that the council should offer:

reasonable use of council owned buildings to those organising peaceful and lawful opposition to DSEI 2019.

The motion was agreed. Newham Council confirmed to The Canary that council buildings were used for an anti-arms fair event on Tuesday 10 September.

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz sent the following statement to The Canary:

It is abhorrent that such an event should happen in Newham and it is important than we make clear our opposition to DSEI going ahead in our borough.

Newham is a very diverse borough and many of our communities have links across the globe to those areas that have been affected by conflict, displacement and the horror of war.

This council is taking a stand and, in line with the motion approved at Full Council, is doing everything we can to prevent DSEI coming to Newham ever again.

The people of Newham have been organising to oppose DSEI since it moved to the borough in 2001. Public opposition to the fair now runs very deep. The British state is imposing this immoral event on the people of Newham against their will. This is a clear illustration of the absence of democracy in the UK.

London mayor opposed to DSEI

London mayor Sadiq Khan also came out in opposition to the fair:

London is a global city, which is home to individuals who have fled conflict and suffered as a consequence of arms and weapons like those exhibited at DSEI.

Khan also said:

I will take any opportunity available to prevent this event from taking place at the Royal Docks in future years.

But even the opposition of the mayor and council of Newham, the mayor of London, and thousands of ordinary people has not been enough to stop the fair.

If we want power, we have to take it back

If we want power over what is happening in our lives and in the world around us, then we need to create a society that is truly democratic – a society where the state cannot force the people of London to stand by as arms dealers peddle suffering and misery on their doorstep.

We need to reject the façade of democracy represented by Westminster and create our own democracy from the bottom up. We have the power to do this – we just need to seize it.

Featured Image via The Canary

Tom Anderson is part of the Shoal Collective, a cooperative producing writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism.

Get involved

  • Find out about the protests against the DSEI arms fair
  • Check out Newham Against the Arms Fair’s website

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  • Show Comments
    1. I agree that we can create a genuine democracy and can exclude Westminster and the other current “democratic” institutions. The question I have about this, though, is that this would take money, either that collected by HMRC or fiat money created by government. For a democracy to be created separate to what currently exists would mean all taxes collected remaining local, rather than being transferred centrally, and also for any fiat currency created being agreed by a consensus of a network of local democratic centres across the country. These centres, perhaps of the scale of a small parish, would need to agree to no longer act on behalf of Westminster, no matter what the inducements might be. Also, we would need to abandon the idea of a specific centre, but instead the idea of a distributed network holding co-ordination meetings to agree large-scale decisions that need to be made, with each centre holding its own votes on decisions so that democracy is massively direct and millions of voices influence decisions instead of the farce we’ve had throughout most of the history of civilisation. We don’t need Westminster’s permission to do any of this, since its legitimacy stems from what we believe to be the case – it has no legitimacy outside of this. This work involves changing many people’s minds, and seems bewilderingly implausible. How do we, collectively, take the reins, without creating another centralised government structure which would lead us right back to where we are?

    2. The answers are already here, real Democracy has never been more possible or plausible (ever) than now.

      The Internet –

      makes it possible to connect us, and enables us to vote on multiple issues that in times past just were not possible. Forums such as this one are not a new thing, but are a real demonstration of how that can, and could work.

      De-centralization –

      not a new concept, Democracy after all IS decentralisation if practised as intended, i.e. Rulership BY The People, FOR The People.

      because of computer and communications technology, the very mechanism used for highly secure financial transactions – The Blockchain, upon which things like Bitcoin (for financial security), and Jami, a free and open-source Audio/video communication client (also for the security it offers) prove that decentralization can work.

      The Internet and The Blockchain are both living examples that decentralization works better. It cuts out the middleman, and makes for a very secure mechanism to ensure that de-centralized government (all the way, not the Tory version) is possible.

      Not only is there no better time to have true Democracy (not even Athens had the opportunities that now exist for it) our times demand it. We simply cannot go on the way we have been doing for centuries.

      Our civilization is falling apart at the seams, it is worn out, propped-up and patched so much, it is a mismatch of elements that don’t stick well together. It needs continual patching, continual maintenance, and way too much blood and money for it to keep going as is.

      The price is too high, the quality is too low, it’s time to change and grow into something better, and better is decentralization of government to the point WE are the government, decentralization of our financial system, and decentralization of The Internet (it is possible to have an Internet that is totally decentralized, without the need for ISPs).

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