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EDITIONS
Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 23:15 GMT
Analysis: Ministers struggle to communicate
Police at Gatwick Airport
There is much scepticism about terror warnings

Details, that's what it's really all about. They know something that we don't.

So far Tony Blair seems to think it is safer for us for him not to say any more, and carry on as though it's business as usual.

But he and David Blunkett have not been striking the right note on the nature of the terrorist threat - not according to the opposition anyway.

The government is visibly struggling with the dilemma of warning us without telling us

Trying for more clarity, the opposition managed to get Mr Blunkett to the Commons, to talk about the decision to put troops round Heathrow. He wasn't happy.

"I do not believe that it is responsible to provide a running public commentary from the despatch box on every end and turn - any more than previous governments did over the past 30 years when facing the threat from Irish terrorism," he said.

In bad-tempered exchanges, he accused the opposition of scaremongering. That infuriated them.

Guesswork

But the government has a real problem. It's visibly struggling with the dilemma of warning us without telling us.

"We cannot and shouldn't start disclosing details of everything we know or may know, but it's important we take every precaution we can in order to keep people safe," said Mr Blair.

But in the war against terrorism no government can really keep us safe. This isn't science, its guesswork.

Ministers are certainly determined not to say much more, but a lot of MPs think they could tell us a little bit more.

If we can't get the best information available, and there are attacks, then there's going to be a great deal of public irritation

And here is the difference. If this is about keeping schtum in order to catch terrorists and protect agents, then there's nobody in this building who's against that.

But if it's about saying very little in order not to alarm people, that's something different again.

Because all of us make decisions about our daily lives - whether to fly or not, whether to hang around a building like this - on the basis of the best information we can get.

And if we can't get that information, and there are attacks, then there's going to be a great deal of public irritation and anger.

This is something that has to be renegotiated, if you like, between state and the people.


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13 Feb 03 | Politics
13 Feb 03 | Politics
13 Feb 03 | UK
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