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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 14:05 GMT
Blair fudges Trident vote
Prime minister's questions sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

The old Ming Campbell - and I mean that in the non-ageist sense - is back.

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies demanded a vote on Trident options
His early, shaky question time performances - which left some of his own backbenchers staring at the ceiling wondering, presumably, whether they had made a terrible mistake in electing him - have gone.

For the past few weeks, we have instead been presented with something more akin to the elder statesman figure - an image which previously fitted Sir Menzies like one of his pinstriped suits.

His choice of subject has also been spot on, as far as his own MPs are concerned at least.

So his decision to challenge the prime minister over the possible replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent was well aimed.

This is classic Liberal territory, but it has the added advantage of helping rub salt into the open wounds on the Labour benches over an issue set to cause Mr Blair and his successor serious trouble.

No vote

Many Labour MPs believe Trident should not be replaced or, at the very least, that serious alternatives should be examined fully. They also want a vote on it.

Tony Blair
Blair refused to offer Commons vote

And they are angry at suggestions Mr Blair has already made his mind up and will be announcing the government's preferred option - presumably replacement - before any Commons debate.

So Sir Menzies' call for a promise from the prime minister that there would be a Commons vote on all the options went to the heart of it.

And it worked. The prime minister confirmed the white paper on Trident would come before Christmas - as defence minister Lord Drayson told MPs on Tuesday - but he failed to pledge a vote on all the options.

So Labour backbenchers, many of who have been confused by different messages coming from ministers, now know pretty much for sure that they will not get what they want.

And that means the campaign can move up a gear. Until now, the lack of clarity has succeeded in stalling that campaign.

That is no longer the case and this is an issue that will now loom large on the Labour benches for months to come.


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