BAE plea ends Labour conference

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Labour's annual conference ended today with calls for the Government to protect jobs at BAE Systems, as some of the 3,000 workers being laid off by the defence giant visited the gathering in Liverpool.

Party leader Ed Miliband called on ministers to "get stuck in" on the workers' behalf, while Unite union leader Len McCluskey said the Government could prevent job losses by investing in an upgrade to the Typhoon fighter jet.

Deputy leader Harriet Harman said the conference had been "overshadowed" by bad economic news, including the job losses at plants in Lancashire and East Yorkshire.

In her traditional end-of-conference address, she told delegates: "People are worried - here and throughout the country. Worried about their job, the prospects for their kids, about what's going to happen in their local area.

"And there is only one party leader who understands that. It isn't Nick Clegg. And it certainly isn't David Cameron. It's our Labour leader - Ed Miliband.

"He spoke up for the squeezed middle and he's right. He's understood people's fears for their children - and their ambition for them too. He shares the anger that the bankers are getting off scot-free and he's said that as prime minister he would end reckless irresponsibility from the bottom right to the top."

After a week punctuated by admissions of mistakes by the former Labour administration, Ms Harman indicated that the leadership believes it is now time to draw a line under the apologies.

"The two Eds both acknowledged what we all know, that not everything we did in government turned out right," she said. "And people need to know that over the past year we've taken a hard look at what we did and we've learnt lessons.

"But it's time now to move on. Because we've got important work to do."

Ms Harman accused Conservatives and Liberal Democrats of a "shameful assault on people's democratic rights" with changes to electoral registration which the Electoral Commission has warned could deprive up to 10 million people of their votes. And, as the conference closed to the strains of The Red Flag and Jerusalem, she told delegates that the gathering had been "a turning point" for Labour with a "bold and optimistic vision" from its leader.

Seven workers from BAE's Brough and Samlesbury plants were given a standing ovation as they took seats in the front row to hear Mr McCluskey make an emergency statement on the job losses.

The Unite general secretary said the solution to BAE's problems was "in ministers' hands".

"The Government must abandon its blinkered procurement policy," he said.

"If they don't, UK taxpayers' money will be spent on American equipment instead of supporting UK jobs. They need to press ahead with radar developments which would make the Typhoon more exportable."

Mr Miliband, who met with the BAE workers last night, said: "It's a great British company and we have got to leave no stone unturned in looking to see how we can help them.

"I'm not making false promises, but what we need is a Government that is willing to get stuck in and not stand aside."

Sources close to Mr Miliband played down rumours of an impending reshuffle, after conference voted earlier this week to grant him the right to choose his own shadow cabinet.

The demise of the practice of Labour MPs electing the shadow cabinet has sparked speculation that Mr Miliband will move swiftly to assert his authority by reshaping his top team. Unconfirmed press reports today suggested shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis, shadow energy secretary Meg Hillier and Northern Ireland spokesman Shaun Woodward could lose their jobs, while John Healey could be moved away from the health brief.

Several members of the 2010 intake were touted for possible promotion to give a more youthful feel to the front benches, including Wolverhampton North-East MP Emma Reynolds, prolific Twitter-user Stella Creasy, former Bank of England economist Rachel Reeves and defence spokesman Michael Dugher.

And in an apparent olive branch to Blairites, Tony Blair's former flatmate Lord Falconer - who backed David Miliband in last year's leadership election - was tipped for a return to the front benches.

Mr Miliband today voiced his disapproval of the jeers which greeted the former prime minister's name in his speech on Tuesday, saying that those booing were "no friends of mine".

But asked whether he was preparing to wield his new powers to hire and fire, he said only: "I've got an excellent team. I think it's right to change the rules though, because I don't think the public want us looking inwards having shadow cabinet elections - the old system - but looking outwards to them."

Labour sources responded to queries about an imminent reshuffle by saying: "Don't hold your breath."

Responding to Ed Miliband's suggestion that train companies were "ripping people off", the chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, Michael Roberts, said: "Ed Miliband is at best suffering from amnesia or at worst displaying rank hypocrisy.

"Train companies are subject to rules laid down by the Department for Transport, rules that were created and rigorously implemented by successive Labour transport secretaries.

"It was also his party in government that switched from annual below- to annual above-inflation fares rises in 2004 to reduce taxpayer subsidies to the railways.

"At a time when Britain needs the private sector more than ever to boost economic growth, this unsubstantiated slur seems to confirm an anti-business bias at the very top of the Labour Party and is a unwarranted insult to the tens of thousands of people who work on the railways day in and day out to help keep the country moving."