Labour Conference: Party stands firm on Syria but claims it won’t neglect ‘global responsibilities’
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Sunday 22 September 2013
A Labour government would be ready to send British troops into conflict zones even though Ed Miliband blocked David Cameron’s attempt to intervene in Syria, the party conference will be told on Monday.
Jim Murphy, the shadow Defence Secretary, will disappoint Labour MPs who hailed the party’s opposition to immediate military action in Syria as a decisive shift away from Tony Blair’s interventionist doctrine. Mr Miliband’s refusal to back the Government last month led to the Commons defeat which forced Mr Cameron to rule out UK involvement.
Mr Murphy will insist that Labour totally rejects “isolationism”. He will tell the conference: “We hope that we don’t have to place our personnel in harm’s way, but in the knowledge that sometimes that gravest decision of last resort is unavoidable.”
Stressing that intervention will “always be the last option for our party”, he will say: “On Syria we rightly required stringent tests over evidence, regional impact and a UN process before voting on military action.” Mr Murphy will add: “Labour has never turned our back on our international responsibilities and while some consider us a small island, we remain a big country with a global reach. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership we will continue that tradition of knowing that our duty to stand for what we believe in travels well beyond our borders.” But in a nod to critics of Mr Blair, he will promise that Labour would “learn lessons” from Iraq and Afghanistan and take multilateral action “in new ways” – with “prevention before intervention” and greater focus on turning weak states into secure ones before they fail.
Mr Murphy will say: “Despite wariness and weariness, the military component to our security is something our country and our party have always understood, whether in our eulogising the socialists who defied their government to volunteer in the Spanish civil war, or supporting a controversial government here at home who stood up to an Argentinian junta, or in the 1990s acting to stop a European slaughter in the Balkans.”
The shadow Defence Secretary will announce that a Labour government would introduce a Bill of Rights for armed service personnel and veterans going much further than the Coalition’s “military covenant” to stop them being disadvantaged.
Specific rights would include personalised care budgets for veterans with serious injury or disability; an independent justice system; in-service training to provide transferable skills; more help with finding jobs when they leave the forces; protection against discrimination and workplace rights for Army Reserve volunteers.
Labour claims that many servicemen see the existing covenant as a public relations exercise. Mr Murphy will say: “We would offer veterans who face severe injury or disability arising from service personalised budgets so they can choose the resettlement and care package that best suits their needs.”
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