(Click on the image above to watch Vernon's speech in full)
Vernon Coaker MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, in a speech to Labour’s Annual Conference 2014 in Manchester, said:
Conference, the defence of our country has never been more important and the challenges facing us never more complex.
We live in a dangerous and unpredictable world, with new challenges emerging and old challenges re-emerging. Britain’s global role in responding to these must be based on strength, safety and stability, and that is why defence, and our party’s approach to it in preparing for government, is of such critical importance.
Those of us who believe that Britain in the world stands for progressive values, humanitarianism and internationalism are delighted and relieved that we still stand together as one United Kingdom. Scotland plays a critical role in the defence and security of our nation. I am glad, proud and grateful that will continue.
And I want to thank my team not just for their incredible work on their departmental briefs, but on their effort in campaigning for our Armed Forces, our critically important defence workers, Britain’s successful and developing defence industry and indeed our country over the last number of weeks and months. I feel very lucky to have such hard-working and committed Shadow Ministers and I am hugely grateful for their support.
Conference, British servicemen and women are today in harm’s way, serving our country. Let me pay tribute to our Armed Forces who have worked in the most challenging of conditions to bring security and stability to Afghanistan. 453 of them have died since 2001.
Their sacrifice and the work of our Armed Forces has made a remarkable difference to the Afghan population, with the security they have provided allowing for the provision of education, healthcare and governance and improvements in the rights of women and girls.
However, the task is not yet over and the danger faced by those British troops who will remain in Afghanistan until December is very real.
And we will and must remain involved in assisting the fledgling Afghanistan as it takes important steps to manage its own security. And it is only with the international community’s enduring support can we work to ensure that hard-won gains in Afghanistan are not lost.
Our Armed Forces have also shown in recent weeks that the military can have a vital role to play in responding to the humanitarian crises that so often accompanies conflict. The RAF’s aid drops over Iraqi towns have provided life-saving humanitarian assistance to those desperately in need. While reconnaissance missions over Iraq have provided invaluable intelligence to our allies as to IS positions on the ground. The very real danger this brutal terrorist organisation poses to our national security, and British citizens abroad, is here and now. It cannot be ignored. We must do everything we can to work with international partners, particularly in that region, to continue to monitor and respond to events.
And the common theme across our evolving role in Afghanistan, in tackling the threat from IS at home and abroad and in meeting the changed security environment in Europe, is, of course, the need for clear strategic direction about the UK’s role in the world, how we work multilaterally within NATO, the EU and the UN, and how our Armed Forces are equipped to meet that.
That’s what Britain has been missing. And that’s where Labour will lead.
Because under the Tories, the lack of any strategic vision sits together with prolonged mismanagement of projects and neglect of our troops that risks diminishing Britain’s ability to effectively respond to known and unknown threats, while also weakening our standing on the international stage. A rushed Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010 led to mistakes in planning and implementation, as well as a complete absence of focus on national security and future threats.
Labour won’t make the same mistakes as the Tories.
Because I have promised that we will hold a SDSR that will be strategically-led and financially responsible. That’s getting things in the right order.
And I want an inclusive, transparent discussion about the future of Britain’s defence and security. The current government want to do it behind closed doors. But you can’t do that and have public confidence and support.
That’s why today I’m announcing that we will put the Strategic Defence and Security Review on a statutory basis. We will bring it before Parliament for consultation, ensuring that it is robustly scrutinised. And we will make it mandatory for the government to undertake one during the lifetime of every Parliament because our Armed Forces need direction.
Our servicemen and women, veterans, and their families have been badly served by this government. I’m proud that many of them are becoming involved in our party, and some of them here today are standing for Parliament – Jon Wheale in Burton, Sophy Gardner in Gloucester and Laura Davies in Shrewsbury. They are great campaigners and candidates who are sending a message that we won’t take our Armed Forces for granted. That’s why Labour will outlaw discrimination against members of the Armed Forces, and prioritise support for them, for veterans and for service families. They are the best of British and their efforts for our country should be acknowledged by ensuring they are recognised, supported and celebrated.
So at next year’s election, the British people face a choice on defence. A choice between the Tories, who consistently fail to deliver on the promises they make, leaving the country with dangerous gaps in its military capability, who mismanage large procurement projects wasting millions of taxpayers’ money; and who continue to show a distinct disregard and lack of respect for our Armed Forces or Labour, who will ensure Britain has a clear, strategic vision of the role that we and our Armed Forces can and should play in the world, while maintaining financial discipline, efficiency and while treating our servicemen and women, and veterans, with the respect they deserve.
And in setting out that choice, I will be clear. I am proud to be Labour, proud to be British and proud of the servicemen and women, veterans and their families who make up our Armed Forces community. Because I believe that Labour is the party that has prioritised defence and security, promoted a vision for British leadership in global affairs and stood up for our Armed Forces.
We are the patriotic party, the party of Britain.
We have the ideas, the determination and the commitment to lead for Britain.
And together with Ed Miliband, I know we can win the next election and deliver a strong, secure and stable Britain that is a force for good in the world.