Ed Miliband's Trident challenge

By Symon Hill
September 26, 2010

I don't seem to have a very positive effect on Ed Miliband. The first time I met him, he practically ran away from me, while on the second occasion, he broke into a serious coughing fit. If there's a third time, I hope it will be a more positive experience for both of us.

To be fair to Ed Miliband, the first occasion was during the general election campaign when he was rushing from one engagement to another. I approached him as he was leaving a public event, introduced myself as a journalist with The Friend (the independent weekly Quaker magazine for which I'm a part-time news reporter) and asked him about government subsidies for arms industry research as compared to research into renewable energy. He assured me that he did not have figures to hand as I walked with him down the street and his aide rushed him to his next appointment.

The second time was after the Labour leadership hustings organised by the Christian Socialist Movement. Like the other candidates, he was clearly working himself enormously hard. As I approached him and asked about his position on faith schools, he broke into a forceful burst of coughing, he spluttered, "I think I'm going to collapse. You'll have an exclusive for The Friend - 'Candidate Expires'".

I hope Ed Miliband's feeling much better now, after being declared Labour Party leader yesterday afternoon. He has quickly moved to distance himself from the 'Red Ed' image that some of the right-wing press have conjured up. This is likely to be a disappointment to those who hoped he would move Labour on from the enthusiastically pro-market and pro-war policies of Blair and Brown.

But on some issues at least he seems to be standing firm. An early test will be whether he sticks to his view that the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system should be included in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). In holding this view, he was at odds with most of the other candidates for the leadership. But public opinion on the issue is far more progressive than most Labour MPs - polls are consistently showing a majority against Trident renewal.

The Liberal Democrats' conference revealed their members' hostility to Trident and the reluctance of some of their MPs to accept renewal. The coalition agreement allows Lib Dem MPs to abstain on Trident, but will some of them have the courage to rebel on this issue and vote against the government?

If Ed Miliband leads Labour MPs into voting for Trident's inclusion in the SDSR, significant rebellion by Lib Dem MPs could lead to government defeat. This is all the more likely given that even those Lib Dems who don't rebel will be abstaining.

For this to happen, Miliband will need to stand against those elements of his own party who are devoted to Trident and still frightened by their memories of the 1980s. That could give Labour's new leader an early fight wihin his own party.

Is he up to the challenge?

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