Magazine article The Spectator

Stoking Panic

Magazine article The Spectator

Stoking Panic

Article excerpt

Having had a peek through the gates of Downing Street, the next item on a tourist's itinerary is a short stroll across Horse Guards Parade to the Cabinet War Rooms, from where Winston Churchill directed operations in the second world war. We don't yet know where tourists of the future will be going to view Tony Blair's own war rooms, but to judge by this week's pronouncements from the Home Office it may well require a boat trip to the Outer Hebrides.

Should London be struck by a terrorist attack, we are told, the Prime Minister will be removed to a secure base outside London where he will continue to be 'visible'. Other senior ministers and their civil servants will be relocated to their own departmental headquarters at undisclosed locations throughout the country.

It would be reassuring to believe that these provisions were all part of normal planning for national emergencies. But coming from a government which responded to the foot-and-mouth outbreak by sealing off every turnip field, and which reacted to the Hatfield rail crash by leaning on Railtrack to slow inter-city trains to 20 mph, it is hard not to have suspicions. Many have already questioned whether the deployment of armoured vehicles at Heathrow a fortnight ago was more publicity stunt than sensible response to the terrorist threat: such a vehicle is not ideal for countering an attack launched by a small gang of terrorists with a mortar. Similarly, it is hard to appreciate the wisdom of staging a mock chemical attack on the Tube -- which has been arranged for Bank station on 23 March - other than to make a point to the public. Given that the 'victims' will be played by actors and that the emergency services have been given three weeks' notice, conditions will hardly echo those of a real attack.

None of this is intended to detract from our support for the Prime Minister's stance on Iraq. The Iraqi leader has consistently flouted UN resolutions. He has attacked Israel and Kuwait and poisoned his own people. In retreat, he sabotaged Kuwait's oil industry. He has deported UN weapons inspectors and been obstructive on their return. It will make a nonsense of the UN if that organisation does not now seek a second resolution warning him that if he will not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed forcibly.

In sticking to a line in the face of bitter opposition from peaceniks, many of them within his own party, Tony Blair deserves praise. But his bunker mentality does not help to make the case for war. …

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