Ming Campbell looks forward to Harrogate

From Ming Campbell’s email sent to party members today:

In a little under a month’s time, the Federal Party’s spring conference in Harrogate (2nd-4th March) will get underway. The Final Agenda and accompanying papers are now on their way to local party representatives.

This conference will signal a change of pace for the Party as we gear up for a crucial round of elections in May. We are approaching these elections with confidence – but there is no room for complacency. We are well placed to win more votes and more seats in Scotland and Wales, and in the English local elections. But this will depend as always on the hard work of our members getting our Liberal Democrat message across locally. My diary is now full with campaigning up and down the country. So if I don’t see you in Harrogate, I hope to see you in the months before May.

At Harrogate itself, the focus will be on crime and the community. We have two policy papers from the Federal Policy Committee to debate on crime itself and also community regeneration. (You can find these papers on the party website).

The message is straightforward. Crime is a liberal issue. Working together we can cut crime and reinvigorate our communities. If you want to get involved in this campaign visit the website www.wecancutcrime.com and take part in your local party initiatives.

Other debates include a campaign to save Britain’s historic waterways which remain a vibrant link to our past and a focus for some much-needed community redevelopment and economic growth. We will also be discussing motions on sustainable housing, and international development.

But perhaps the most interesting debate will be on the Federal Policy Committee’s proposals on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent (see our consultation website).

Conference will be asked to set a new Liberal Democrat policy to reduce significantly Britain’s nuclear weapons by 50% – bringing Britain’s warheads down to a maximum of 100. If approved these proposals mean that the Liberal Democrats would be pressing for a radical reduction in the size of the British nuclear deterrent so that Britain can take the lead in kick-starting the stalled international disarmament talks.

We are all committed to nuclear disarmament. Working towards global elimination of nuclear weapons is a central principle of our international and defence policies. By cutting Britain’s nuclear weapons by 50% and keeping our seat at the table, Britain has the best chance of driving forward the disarmament agenda.

The proposals are not only progressive, they are responsible too. They recognise the delicate situation that the world finds itself in 2007 with regards to proliferation. We must recognise the danger over the next decade of states such as Iran developing nuclear weapons, and the pressure this will place on other powers in their regions to acquire nuclear weapons themselves. Such proliferation could lead in the longer term to one or more such states possibly posing a threat to Britain, its neighbours or allies.

So disarming completely now – just as the security situation looks more potentially alarming than for many years, when we have an effective deterrent with many years life left in it and when the need to take a final decision to replace Trident is some years away – would I believe be the wrong course to take at this time.

In reality, Britain doesn’t need to take a final decision on replacing Trident until well into the next decade. Tony Blair has jumped the gun on this because he wants the decision made while he is still Prime Minister. Liberal Democrats should not fall into his trap and be bounced into accepting his flawed logic. Scheduling the final decision for a more realistic date in the next decade would give Britain a number of years to try to create the circumstances in which replacing Trident could prove strategically unnecessary.

If Britain used all its influence to spearhead a renewed drive towards disarmament, and with a better American administration post-George Bush, we could encourage other countries considering nuclear development to sit down and discuss a non-nuclear future. This means keeping Britain’s options open for as long as we are able.

So our conference in Harrogate looks set to be an interesting and, I hope, successful event. If you are able to come to Harrogate and help us set the agenda for the elections in May, I look forward to seeing you there. If not, I hope to see you out and about over the next few months as we face the electoral challenge yet again, in Scotland and Wales and across England. Remember, where we work we win. Britain needs more Liberal Democrats at every level of government arguing for and implementing Liberal Democrats policies to cut crime, to save the environment and to make Britain a freer, fairer and greener place to live.

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