War on Terrorism: Labour Party - Our Activists Are Worried about the War, Says Clarke

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CHARLES CLARKE, the chairman of the Labour Party, admitted yesterday that party activists and the general public are "apprehensive" and "worried" about the looming military response to the terrorist attacks in the United States.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Clarke sought to allay the concern in the party ahead of its annual conference in Brighton next week. He said it was the Government's policy that the military response would be targeted on those responsible for the terrorist acts and that it wanted to keep "collateral damage" to a minimum. He also suggested that Tony Blair had helped to restrain the US from launching an immediate retaliation.

In a frank summary of the party's mood, Mr Clarke said: "Generally, the attitude is positive support for a strong global response to terrorism and this threat. Secondly, the very strong desire for it to be targeted and focused, and really focus on the people who are responsible for these terrible acts.

"Thirdly, there is a sense of apprehension about how events will go, and people won't lose that sense of apprehension until the actions move forward."

He added: "All of these emotions are entirely understandable ... I don't think it is just in our own party. I think across the country people are waiting to see how things emerge and they are worried about what it will be and how it will be."

Mr Clarke, a close ally of the Prime Minister, moved to cool the controversy over remarks by Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, who is widely seen as the party's conscience in the Cabinet. Mr Clarke said: "What Clare was talking about was the need ... for the action to be very focused and targeted on the people responsible for these acts. That is what the Government has been seeking to ensure.

"On the other hand, it is very clear indeed that those people who are sheltering those who have taken this action can't continue in that position. That has to be drawn out; we cannot allow that to continue."

Asked if he believed Labour Party members would accept casualties, he replied: "Yes, I do. The fact is that all these actions are very, very difficult, but I think people are very, very clear: the people who committed this terrible act should not be allowed to get away with it.

"Targeting them in a way that will succeed in bringing them to justice is a very difficult process. But people know that if you don't stand up to this sort of thing now, you will end up with up with a much worse situation in the future. …