Scottish party move to scrap Trident embarrasses Blair

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair's campaign to persuade voters that he leads a transformed Labour Party suffered a setback last night with the decision of the Scottish Labour Party Executive to back a call to scrap Trident nuclear weapons in defiance of an appeal by the Labour leader.

Mr Blair faces two embarrassing defeats today at the Scottish Labour Conference in Edinburgh, after the executive decided to back two motions on policies specifically condemned in Mr Blair's speech to delegates yesterday afternoon.

A senior Labour official said the conference was expected to carry unanimously a motion urging a Labour government to "discontinue the Trident programme".

Yesterday Mr Blair appealed to delegates not to "indulge in posturing" by backing unilateral disarmament.

A second motion, which the executive is also recommending to conference, criticises the plan by Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, to cut benefit for young people who refuse to take up work or training schemes.

The motion says: "Benefit sanctions are an inappropriate way of motivating young people to undertake work programmes."

Mr Blair had earlier dismissed critics of the scheme saying: "I rage at their stupidity just as I rage at the waste of young lives spent on the dole."

The decisions by the Scottish executive appear to rebuff Mr Blair's warning that "government is about hard choices", and his plea to delegates not to back policies that could not be delivered. "We will not lie, as the Tories did, and will not make promises we cannot keep," he said.

Labour spokesmen last night sought to play down the significance of the motions. One official said the wording on Trident for the first time attached conditions to the ending of the nuclear programme, saying that it had to be "concurrent with the formation of an Arms Conversions Agency", which would protect jobs.

It was also argued that the phrase "benefit sanctions" applied to the total withdrawal of benefit along the lines of American "workfare" schemes, rather than the 40 per cent cut proposed by Mr Brown for youngsters who refused places.

A spokesman for the Shadow Chancellor pointed out that the original criticism of Mr Brown by name had been removed and that the motion endorsed the "genuine choice to be offered to the young unemployed" of work, training, education or community service.

The spokesman said: "The resolution endorses Labour's plans for a billion- pound package for the under-25s, and that is welcome."

In his speech yesterday Mr Blair defended the plans: "These are not the despised skivvy schemes of the Tories. These are real employment and training opportunities, with proper qualifications written into them and I say that if a government is going to make that its first specific spending pledge ... then those young people have a reciprocal obligation to participate. Rights going hand in hand with responsibilities."

Mr Blair underlined his demand that the party face up to the responsibilities of government by telling the conference that he had asked Shadow ministers to find spending cuts in order to free resources for Labour's priorities.

"I have asked the Shadow Cabinet to submit to me their written bids spelling out their priorities and their legislative demands. And I tell them, as today I tell you, that some of those will be disappointed," he said.

"And I have asked them to look for savings in their own departmental areas, so that we can change priorities too."