The Labour Party in Brighton: Leadership stares down barrel over Trident: Benn tells soldiers everywhere to 'go home' - Divisions remain on electoral reform

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The Independent Online
TONY BENN was cheered to the echo yesterday when he told the Brighton conference he would like to see all soldiers everywhere go home, taking a big step for world peace.

The veteran left-winger's plea for 'a massive transfer of resources from military waste to the means of life' briefly raised the temperature in a defence debate which generated little of the fervour of past years.

Tradition, however, was preserved in the standing ovation for Mr Benn and the customary difficulty for the party leadership over unilateralism and defence spending.

Today, conference will be told the result of card votes on motions immediately to scrap the Trident nuclear weapons programme and cut the pounds 24bn defence bill to the average level of other western European countries.

The delay fuelled speculation that the leadership will be defeated on the Trident motion, but last night officials rejected suggestions that the counting of the vote had been deliberately postponed in order to limit adverse publicity.

The commitment to cut arms spending, opposed by the leadership, has been reaffirmed each year since 1989. Last year a move to cancel Trident was defeated by a narrow margin and with an increased share of votes for constituency parties, the unilateralists are optimistic of success in the vote.

Moving the 'scrap Trident' motion, David Coates, of the FTATU furniture union, said that according to independent studies, if the Trident programme was completed it would have cost pounds 33bn. Cancellation would save about pounds 13bn, which should be reallocated to creating jobs.

'Our days of empire are over, and trying to maintain military capability as if we still ruled a third of the world has a lot to do with the bankrupting of British industry,' Mr Coates said.

He warned that increasing nuclear fire-power with Trident could be the last straw that broke the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. 'Instead of a nuclear-free world we may end up with a nuclear free-for-all.'

Party leaders were able to take comfort in the easy passage, on a show of hands, of a motion which implicitly endorses their multilateralist position. Tony Clarke, on behalf of the National Executive Committee, said the party shared the common objective of a nuclear-free world.

'We cannot ignore that solemn obligation,' he said, but added that by the time of the next election most of the expenditure on Trident would have been incurred. The NEC objected to spending motion because it called for a cut to a level which was undefined and unrelated to Britain's defence requirements. The party wants a full defence review.

Mr Benn, who this week lost his seat on the NEC after a term of 34 years, thanked the conference for putting him on the executive for so long. The Chesterfield MP said he was of a generation which thought it could do everything - defeat fascism, create full employment, build a welfare state and a health service. 'And we did. This generation has been demoralised and crushed and told there is no alternative. What we have to do is to offer them a new vision, not of what we are going to do but what they are going to do.

'As an old soldier, I know another thing. Every soldier serving abroad wants to go home. I would like to see the Americans go home from Cuba and Britain . . . to see the other soldiers go home from Germany. I would like to see all the soldiers go home, and that would be a big step for world peace.'