Ken Livingstone sidelined from Labour's defence policy review

Ken Livingstone has been sidelined from Labour’s defence review looking at whether to drop support for Trident, as the party published plans to release an interim report by June.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow defence secretary who opposes the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, has been put in ultimate charge of the project, though Livingstone remains a co-convenor of Labour’s defence policy commission.

Livingstone, an ally of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who also opposes renewing Trident, has given numerous interviews in recent weeks talking of his plans for authoring the review alongside the shadow defence secretary.

On Thursday, he told the BBC: “We will focus on the Trident issue ahead of the rest of the defence review … With a bit of luck that can be done in eight to 10 weeks. It will take a lot of work for me and Emily [Thornberry], but that’s good.”

But it appears Livingstone, who infuriated Labour MPs with his interventions on defence, is no longer considered vital to the review after Corbyn replaced the previous shadow defence secretary, Maria Eagle, who was in favour of Trident, with Thornberry.

It is understood Corbyn had been pressed by senior colleagues to remove or downgrade the role of Livingstone, who had to apologise after suggesting former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones needed “psychiatric help” for questioning his role.

However, some Labour sources tried to claim on Friday that Livingstone had never really had the job of helping to write the policy in the first place.

In a further complication, this contradicted Livingstone’s own claim that he had voluntarily stepped down because his views coincided exactly with Thornberry’s.

Livingstone told the Guardian: “Emily and I had lunch last Friday at the Drapers Arms, a nice little pub in her constituency. After an hour and a half, I just said we’ve agreed on absolutely everything so you should lead on this review. It would have been different if it was Maria Eagle because we didn’t agree. I said I’ll support her in any way she wants.

“One of the things we kicked around last Friday was whether we should have an interim review solely about Trident before the vote, but we’re not going to be able to do that.”

Livingstone, who caused alarm earlier this year when he said the review would look at Britain’s membership of Natio, said he would still contribute evidence and believed there would probably be a free vote on the issue if one was called before the report was concluded.

Publishing her terms of reference, Thornberry said she would consult widely, encouraging the widest possible participation of party members and the public, before releasing initial conclusions on a range of defence challenges, including the future of Trident, in six months’ time.

This means that Labour will be without a firm policy if David Cameron decides to call a parliamentary vote on renewing the UK’s nuclear submarines this spring, potentially as early as March.

Livingstone earlier this week claimed the review was being speeded up in the hope of having a conclusion on Trident by the time of the vote.

There is no time limit on its conclusions but initial contributions are invited before the end of April and Thornberry is aiming to publish an interim report in June. This will be presented to the national policy forum and annual conference for agreement.

Although the party’s conference confirmed its pro-Trident position last year, Corbyn may argue the policy is no longer valid because it is now officially up for review; he can also point to his mandate from the membership after standing on an anti-nuclear weapons platform during the leadership contest.

Thornberry said it was a “great privilege to be leading Labour’s defence review, at Jeremy Corbyn’s request”.

She said: “This will be a comprehensive review of Britain’s defence challenges and options for the 21st century. It will be open, transparent and inclusive, and its conclusions will be based on the evidence.

“We will encourage the widest possible participation of Labour party members and affiliates, as well as defence specialists, NGOs and the armed forces. At every stage of the process, we will give full scope to the wide range of views on this subject in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.”

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for on Friday 15th January 2016 17.30 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010