Clive Lewis and the Trident Speech.
Clive Lewis’s first conference speech as shadow defence secretary has been overshadowed by a row over a last-minute change to his speech, when a section saying that he “would not seek to change” Labour’s policy on renewing Trident submarines disappeared.
Lewis took the stage expecting to make the announcement and was only notified of the change via a post-it note, having reportedly signed it of with the leader’s office in advance.
Lewis was, I’m told, “fucking furious”, and according to Kevin Schofield over at PoliticsHome, is said to have “punched a wall” in anger at the change. The finger of blame is being pointed at Jeremy Corbyn’s press chief, Seumas Milne.
One of Corbyn’s more resolvable headaches on the NEC is the GMB, who are increasingly willing to challenge the Labour leader, and who represent many of the people employed making the submarines themselves. An added source of tension in all this is that the GMB and Unite compete with one another for members in the nuclear industry, and that being seen to be the louder defender of their workers’ interests has proved a good recruiting agent for the GMB in recent years.
Strike a deal with the GMB over Trident, and it could make passing wider changes to the party rulebook through party conference significantly easier. (Not least because the GMB also accounts for a large chunk of the trade union delegates on the conference floor.)
So what happened? My understanding is that Milne was not freelancing but acting on clear instruction. Although Team Corbyn are well aware a nuclear deal could ease the path for the wider project, they also know that trying to get Corbyn to strike a pose he doesn’t agree with is a self-defeating task.
There are three big winners in all this. The first, of course, are Corbyn’s internal opponents, who will continue to feel the benefits of the GMB’s support. The second is Iain McNicol, formerly of the GMB. While he enjoys the protection of the GMB, there simply isn’t a majority on the NEC to be found to get rid of him. Corbyn’s inner circle have been increasingly certain they cannot remove McNicol and will insead have to go around him, but this confirms it.
But the third big winner is Lewis. In his praise for NATO – dubbing it a “socialist” organisation, a reference to the fact the Attlee government were its co-creators – and in his rebuffed attempt to park the nuclear issue, he is making himeslf the natural home for those in Labour who agree with Corbyn on the economics but fear that on security issues he is dead on arrival with the electorate. That position probably accounts for at least 40 per cent of the party membership and around 100 MPs.
If tomorrow’s Labour party belongs to a figure who has remained in the trenches with Corbyn – which, in my view, is why Emily Thornberry remains worth a bet too – then Clive Lewis has done his chances after 2020 no small amount of good.
Politics Home states,
A senior Labour source said: “Clive punched a wall when he came off the stage because Seumas altered his speech on the autocue.
“He was fuming as he sent a post-it note on stage as he was sat there ready to speak and didn’t know what the exact change was. Apparently Clive had agreed it with Jeremy but Seumas changed it.”
The Huffington Post reports,
Former Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry and Lewis both co-chair the Trident review, which had been expected to resume its work as part of the new International Policy Commission, once fresh members and officers are appointed.
Lewis and Thornberry both abstained from the Commons vote on Trident renewal this year. Corbyn voted against.
Thornberry today told the BBC that the defence review was continuing.
And HuffPost has been told that the reason Lewis was angry was because he was already nervous about his first major conference speech, having been an MP for just over a year and in the defence job for a few months.
He did not object to any of the substance of the changes to his speech, but only to the last-minute nature of them, one source claimed.
Despite the last-minute watering down of his speech, CND was still furious that Lewis had declared party policy was to keep Trident rather than review it.
CND’s Kate Hudson accused him of a “U-turn”: “Lewis has clearly signalled that the Labour leadership will not seek to change Labour policy and appears to have abandoned its defence review conducted extensively over the past year.
“The majority of Labour members oppose Trident replacement, so where is the democracy in that?”
Green party leader and MP Caroline Lucas added: “It’s deeply disappointing to see the Labour party failing to oppose Trident replacement.”
But moderates welcomed the shift, with Labour MP John Woodcock saying: “The Trident vote is now behind us, the manufacturing work is going ahead and the matter is settled.
GMB On Trident Renewal Vote July the 18th 2016.
GMB Calls On Politicians To ‘Stop Playing Fast And Loose’ And Get On With Trident Renewal Government needs to push ahead with approval of the Trident successor programme to give stability and security to workers and industry says GMB.