UK Politics

Labour Party: Bob Ainsworth's speech to Labour Party Conference

News   •   Sep 27, 2010 15:00 BST

Bob Ainsworth MP, Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary, speaking to the Labour Party Conference today, said:

Conference, whilst we are here in Manchester - braving no more than an Autumn chill - many of our troops are in Afghanistan.

Every day putting their lives on the line for us.
I hope you will join me in paying tribute to them, their courage, their commitment, their sacrifice and the immense contribution they make to our nation.

Join me in paying tribute to their families – to people like Julie who support them at home and to those having to cope with the unbearable tragedy of losing a loved one.

And most importantly join me in remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives in the service of our country.

We must honour them and we will never forget them.
Conference on this very day – 14 years ago. Kabul fell to the Taliban.

A ferocious regime that terrorised the people of Afghanistan and sheltered Al Qaeda – allowing them to launch attacks on our streets.

That’s a powerful reminder that we went to Afghanistan t o protect our national security.

And it’s a powerful reminder that the West walked away from Afghanistan before - at the end of the Cold War.

We must not do so again and risk reopening the door to the terrorists.

Those who say there is no military solution in Afghanistan are picking an argument that doesn’t exist.

Nobody believes there is a purely military solution.

But development opportunity and political progress can’t take root without security.

That’s what our troops are there to help provide as part of an international effort, mentoring and training the Afghan National Security Forces.

We all want our troops home as soon as possible - as soon as the Afghans can take control of their own security but our ongoing responsibility to Afghanistan will not end there.
Conference, the year ahead will be crucial for our mission in Afghanistan. We must see progress there.

But it will also be crucial for the future of our Armed Forces, crucial for defining the UK’s security agenda and crucial for determining our place in the world.

In just a few weeks the government will set out their Strategic Security and Defence Review.

Shaping our Armed Forces and our defence policy for the future.

Not just for months or even years but potentially for decades to come.

The government must ensure we have the capabilities we need to defend ourselves and our interests in the future and to make sure we have the ability to contribute to the peace and security of the world.

Conference, compared with many - we in this country enjoy a high level of securit y. Let’s not forget that. But we cannot take it for granted – not in this rapidly changing world.

That’s why this review is so important.

But so far the government are doing it so wrong - proceeding at breakneck speed with George Osborne in the driving seat and no effective consultation.

A rushed review held behind closed doors is bad for our defence, bad for our Armed Forces and bad for Britain.

The government are at each other’s throats so we get nothing but leaks and counter-leaks.

Spin, squabbles and speculation are not the way to decide our defence policy.

Yes there are difficult decisions to take but these are important issues and the government should listen;

Listen to the Armed Forces,
Listen to industry where 300,000 jobs are at stake and,
Listen to the wider public.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats need to stop the squabbling, stop the point scoring, stop playing politics and put this coun try and our Armed Forces first.

Conference, people say we should stop fixating on the past.

And they are right. We must look ahead. And with our new leader – Ed Miliband – we can now do so.

But we must also defend our achievements.

Transformed Armed Forces - ready to take on the challenges we faced.

Tough decisions - to ensure our troops got the new equipment they needed.

Action at home to support service families.

Our role now is to be a responsible opposition.

Holding the government to account for their promises.

Standing up for our Armed Forces and their families.

And helping to make sure their voices are heard.

We will not do what this government did in opposition - playing politics with our Armed Forces and ignoring the facts.

Remember how many times - again and again - the Conservatives said we were failing to provide enough helicopters for our troops.

But do you know what the y’ve done? After all they said?
Delayed an order for new helicopters - claiming that there were enough all along.

The 22 Chinook helicopters we announced for Afghanistan last year – on hold.

In opposition – they clamoured for more helicopters, in government they push the pause button.

In opposition – they called for better pay for our servicemen and women. In government they announce a pay freeze for our troops.

In opposition – they promised a bigger army, an extra three battalions. In government they won’t rule out cuts.

With every U-turn they make we will be there reminding them of their outrageous hypocrisy.

Conference – the government cannot afford to get this review wrong. It is too important for our Armed Forces, for our security and for our nation.

They must make the right lo ng term decisions in the interests of the country.

I had the enormous privilege to serve as Defence Secretary in a Labour Government. An outstanding job which gave me the immense honour of working with the brave men and women of our Armed Forces.

I have been humbled by their sacrifice, their commitment, their courage and their unfailingly cheerful attitude – ready for anything they are simply the best of the best and we can be very proud of them indeed.

Conference our Labour government achieved many great things – in education, in health, and for the economy. All things which we are proud to talk about and rightly so.

But conference we also have a record to be proud of in defence.

On our watch - dramatic improvements in support for our Armed Forces and their families - in housing, in education, and in healthcare of which this party can also be proud.

Do not forget that and do not let this government rewrite history.