UK Politics

Ed Miliband wants Trident rethink - ex-defence minister

New Labour leader Ed Miliband is ready to rethink the party's policy on replacing Trident, a former defence minister has claimed.

Mr Miliband has said he wants Britain's nuclear weapons to be part of the government's strategic defence review.

But Eric Joyce said Mr Miliband had told him he was open to going further than that.

The former minister was speaking at a CND fringe meeting at Labour's annual conference in Manchester.

Mr Joyce, who last year resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then defence secretary Bob Ainsworth over the war in Afghanistan, told the meeting that Labour's current position on Trident, and Afghanistan, is "tending at the moment to be more conservative, with a small c, than the Tories".

'Whacked'

He predicted the coalition government would postpone the final decision on Trident for "four or five years" due to the cost, estimated be about £20bn.

And he said Labour could not afford to go into the next election on the side of right wing Conservatives who were committed to replacing Trident no matter what.

"The orthodoxy in Labour is to stay on the conservative side of the Tories and I think we will be whacked all over the place", he told the meeting.

At the moment Britain had no independent foreign policy, he argued, and was simply locked into "US electoral cycles".

"We could say in two, three, four years down the line we could make a decision and actually that's what the Tories have done," he added.

He said there was no practical argument for replacing Trident and he believed Mr Miliband could be persuaded of that view.

During the Labour leadership contest Ed Miliband said he was committed to a continuous nuclear deterrent, which would involve a like-for-like replacement of Trident, but also called for it to be part of the government's strategic defence review, to "consider what the priorities are in the changing economic climate".

"Ed Miliband accepts the argument - and he has said as much to me - that we need to have a proper, as best we can, review, as best we can with the resources we have got, review of our defence and foreign policy," said Mr Joyce.

"That clearly should take Trident in. Whatever our position, it should reflect the views of the public and the views of our members."

'Rigorous analysis'

He said he had spoken to David and Ed Miliband about where they stood on replacing Trident during the leadership campaign, after which he had decided to back Ed.

"I had a long conversation with the two of them about their position.

"They are quite open to the idea of a proper rigorous analysis of the Trident replacement. Well that's a step forward. They don't have to be convinced of the merits of getting rid of Trident at this point.

"As soon as you commit yourself to a rigorous analysis then you know what's going to come out the other end. It's hard to defend the status quo, frankly."

But despite David Miliband's openness to a change of direction on key issues, he could not continue as shadow foreign secretary, "because he can't flip over and put the other perspective".

"It's harsh, but I don't think we can have a new foreign and defence policy with David in place."

'Last war'

Defeated Labour leadership contender Diane Abbott told the same meeting that Labour had to seize the moment to push for the scrapping of its nuclear weapons, now that even military chiefs were arguing for it.

"The problem we have at the top of the party is they are locked in debates from years ago. They are still fighting the last war," she added.

At last week's Liberal Democrat conference defence minister Nick Harvey said delaying the Trident decision by a few months, until after the 2015 general election, would make Trident a "hot potato" for Labour.

Shadow defence secretary defence Bob Ainsworth accused him of "immaturity" and "playing politics" with Britain's security.

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