Labour leadership candidates reluctant to take a stand on arms trade issues

By agency reporter
September 8, 2010

Where do the Labour leadership candidates stand on arms trade issues? Do they believe that the UK government should give financial and other support to arms exports? Would they act to redirect public funds from the promotion of arms exports to investment in renewable energy technologies? And how would they deal with private security companies? These were the questions that Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) directed to the five leadership contenders – Diane Abbott, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, David Miliband and Ed Miliband.

To date, three of the five candidates have replied to CAAT's questions. Two candidates – Ed Balls and Ed Miliband – have yet to comment.

Diane Abbott stated that she opposed government support and subsidy for the arms trade; that UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation should be closed; that export credit cover should not be used for military goods and that private military and security companies should be licensed.

Andy Burnham had no firm views on the issues. On the question of UKTI DSO, he stated that the organisation should perform well for the taxpayer while posing no risk to to health and security at home and abroad. He would welcome questions on whether and how UKTI DSO should carry out its work. He said that he would welcome debate within the Labour Party on the other areas brought forward by CAAT.

The leading contender, David Miliband did not answer CAAT's specific questions. His policy team sent a four-paragraph statement which focused on Mr Miliband's work as Foreign Secretary in the Brown government. It stated his continued support for the proposed Arms Trade Treaty and for the new Cluster Munition Ban. It also reiterated his support for continuing multinational nuclear disarmament.

As Foreign Secretary, David Miliband decided not to regulate the private security industry, despite calls to do so from the industry association and from NGOs. Media reports state that his leadership campaign received a donation from lobbyist Anthony Bailey, whose clients include arms company BAE Systems.

Sarah Waldron, CAAT's Core Campaign Co-ordinator, said: "All the candidates for the Labour Party leadership have stated that they want to see the best economic and social outcomes for Britain, yet most seem willing to ignore the vital ethical, security and economic issues around the arms trade."

She continued, "David Miliband's statement focuses on issues around the Arms Trade Treaty, which will not affect UK arms exports, and ignores the questions posed by CAAT. Andy Burnham is non-committal on all areas. Diane Abbott is the only candidate to respond and pledge an end to government support and subsidy for arms exports."

Read the candidates' full responses here


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