Government 'at each other's throats' over defence

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The Government's defence policy is being decided through "spin, squabbles and speculation", shadow defence secretary Bob Ainsworth said today.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are "at each other's throats" as the coalition carries out its Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), he said.

The root-and-branch review of the UK's military is being conducted alongside a review of spending across Government.

Mr Ainsworth told Labour's annual conference in Manchester: "So far the Government are doing it so wrong - proceeding at breakneck speed with George Osborne in the driving seat and no effective consultation.

"A rushed review held behind closed doors is bad for our defence, bad for our Armed Forces and bad for Britain.

"The Government are at each other's throats so we get nothing but leaks and counter-leaks. Spin, squabbles and speculation are not the way to decide our defence policy."

Mr Ainsworth urged the coalition to "listen to the Armed Forces, listen to industry where 300,000 jobs are at stake, and listen to the wider public".

He added: "The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats need to stop the squabbling, stop the point-scoring, stop playing politics and put this country and our Armed Forces first."

Earlier this month, the Commons Defence Select Committee warned that planned spending cuts for defence were so deep that they could jeopardise the Armed Forces' ability to maintain current military operations.

Tory James Arbuthnot, chairman of the committee, told MPs that the SDSR was being completed in less than half the time of the last major review in 1997/98.

On Afghanistan, Mr Ainsworth said British troops should come home "as soon as possible - as soon as the Afghans can take control of their own security".

He warned that the UK could not walk away from the conflict.

"It's a powerful reminder that the West walked away from Afghanistan before - at the end of the Cold War," he said.

"We must not do so again and risk reopening the door to the terrorists."