Labour Conference: Leadership wins battle over Trident missiles

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The Independent Online
Calls for the Government to scrap Trident and cut defence spending failed at Labour's conference yesterday. Fran Abrams heard defence workers' representatives argue that job security should be paramount.

Suggestions by Labour sources that the party's leadership could suffer a conference defeat on nuclear weapons turned out to be ill-founded yesterday. In the event, the leadership won a vote on the issue by 56 per cent to 44 per cent.

Even if the vote had been lost, the decision would have made not one iota of difference to the Government's policy. George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, said there would be no return to the unilateralism which he claimed had kept Labour out of power for 18 years. "If there is one lesson that we have learnt from the general election and 18 long years of opposition, it is that the British people will only elect a government which they trust with the defence of our country. We have now regained that trust but only because of our clear commitments ... which I for one have no intention of breaking."

Cherry Mosteshar, from Oxford West and Abingdon, who has been writing a column for The Independent this week, led the calls for Trident to be abandoned. "This isn't the last stand of the loony left. This is a call to all of you and to our ethical government for unity against the weapons of mass destruction," she said. The pounds 1.5bn per year spent on the weapons could be put to better use in the education service, she said.

Representatives from more than one union argued in favour of a strong defence industry. Bob Elsom from the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said ministers should think about British jobs when applying their ethical defence exports policy. "As a union with many thousands of members employed in the defence industry, I must argue that their employment interests are first fully considered before revoking export licences."

The conference also heard commitments from ministers to a more ethical foreign policy. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, told delegates that he hoped soon to meet the French foreign minister with a view to extending Britain's new policy across Europe.

Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, announced a change of policy on aid to Indonesia. Her department would no longer fund training of the police force, which has been used to put down pro-democracy demonstrations, but will instead begin supporting human rights projects in occupied East Timor.