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17 November 2015

Ken Livingstone to co-convene Labour’s defence review

Trident opponent given new role but shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle will still lead work, says aide. 

By George Eaton

After several days of struggle within Labour over foreign and security policy, the news that Ken Livingstone will co-convene the party’s defence review has provoked further unrest. To the surprise of some, the Trident opponent and former London mayor revealed the appointment at a Left Book Club event last night. 

The fear among pro-nuclear MPs is that Livingstone’s involvement will increase the chance of the review endorsing unilateral disarmament. But an aide to Maria Eagle, the shadow defence secretary and a Trident supporter, emphasised to me that she would “still be leading” the work. It is standard practice for each commission to be co-convened by a National Executive Committee member (as Livingstone is). 

When I recently interviewed Eagle, she told me that the review would examine Trident “with a completely open mind” on “the basis of facts and figures”, adding that she was “not ruling out” backing unilateral disarmament. But the shadow defence secretary, who rebuked Jeremy Corbyn for saying that he would never press the nuclear button, also conceded that it was “unlikely” she would change her view. Before the review concludes, Labour will be forced to take a stance on Trident in the Commons, with most shadow cabinet members expecting Corbyn to offer a free vote. After the recent annual conference voted not to the debate the issue, the party’s official policy remains to support full renewal. 

Since Corbyn’s election, Livingstone has been one of his most prominent and loyal allies. Two of his former City Hall aides, Simon Fletcher and Neale Coleman, serve as the Labour leader’s chief of staff and director of policy. Following the recent suspension of Corbyn aide Andrew Fisher from Labour, for allegedly supporting rival candidates, Livingstone told me: “All the MPs pushing the campaign against Fisher are people who want to get rid of Jeremy. It’s no good all this lot saying we can never win with Jeremy when they’re doing everything to undermine any chance of winning the next election by being divisive.” He added that disciplinary action should be taken against Simon Danczuk, for revealing details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, for urging Labour MPs to trigger by-elections and run as independent candidates if deselected by left-wing activists. 

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