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PM condemns Ken Livingstone for claiming British troops are 'discredited'

Published 28/11/2015

Ken Livingstone
Ken Livingstone

David Cameron has lashed out at Ken Livingstone after the former London mayor said British troops are "discredited" and Chinese forces should go into Syria.

Mr Livingstone, who has been put in joint charge of a review of Labour's defence policy, made the comments as he backed Jeremy Corbyn's opposition to air strikes against Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

Arguing that bombing could not work without boots on the ground, the ex-MP told LBC radio: "We cannot put British troops on the ground because they are too discredited after Iraq and Afghanistan.

"But we should look to countries like China. I think China would jump at the opportunity to be involved because it would bring them on to the global stage. They have got millions of troops."

Mr Livingstone also suggested that Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) - on which he sits - should have a role in deciding the parliamentary party's position on support for air strikes.

"That would be the case for Labour's National Executive, which is the body that oversees the party, not the PLP," he said.

There have been demands for Mr Livingstone to be removed from the party's defence policy review - which he co-convenes with shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle - after he said shadow defence minister Kevan Jones needed "psychiatric help".

Many moderates believe Mr Livingstone - a close ally of Mr Corbyn - has been put in the role because he shares the leader's desire to scrap the Trident nuclear weapons system.

Speaking at a press conference at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Malta, Mr Cameron said: "I have the highest possible regard for the British Armed Forces.

"The person who frankly seems to be letting himself down is Ken Livingstone with the remarks that he makes."

Labour backbencher John Woodcock urged Mr Livingstone to "clarify" his comments, and said his suggestion about Chinese troops was "not in any way credible".

"Given his role in Labour's defence review, I hope Ken Livingstone will clarify that he does not believe that the UK's superb armed forces were in any way discredited by recent engagements," he told Press Association.

"There is a strong case to say that western troops would not be as effective as local forces who know their communities in Syria, but the suggestion that Chinese troops could go in is not in any way credible."

Mr Woodcock also dismissed the idea of the NEC playing a role in dictating parliamentary party positions.

"MPs should listen to all views on this critically important matter but the British Labour Party has long operated as a representative democracy in the tradition of Clement Attlee, not a Maoist Politburo," he said.

"Clem Attlee sent hard left challenger Harold Laski packing when he said the Labour NEC should decide on peace in 1945 - I think he would treat Mr Livingstone in the same way."

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