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EDITIONS
Friday, 14 February, 2003, 15:38 GMT
Labour's Mr Angry blasts his critics
Troops at Heathrow airport
The terrorist threat is 'genuine and specific'

David Blunkett is clearly an angry man. And he was absolutely furious when forced to make a Commons statement about the new security clampdown around Britain.

The home secretary was angry because the Tories had dragged him there in the first place.

Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett forced into statement
He was probably also angry at suggestions - roundly denied by Downing Street - that Tony Blair over-ruled him to order the tanks into Heathrow.

And he was quite clearly livid in his belief that his Tory shadow, Oliver Letwin, expects a "running commentary" on his anti-terrorism activities and wants the creation of a US-style homelands security minister.

But, like most in the government from the prime minister down, the Home Secretary is also angry at claims that the public suspect the security clampdown is part of a pre-war stunt aimed at winning over public opinion.

'Dodgy document'

But, no matter how passionately ministers insist such a suggestion is offensive, people are suspicious.

Tory MP Michael Portillo hit the nail on the head by accusing the government of a record of spin over the looming war, most notably with the publication of its "dodgy document", lifted from the internet.

The day before, Falklands veteran Simon Weston claimed the government had such a history of spin and "lying" that voters no longer knew what to believe.

Security at Heathrow airport
There are suspicions of spin at work
And some say ministers are probably reaping what they sowed here.

Claims that the government is ruled by spin have stuck and have inevitably led to a growing scepticism, even cynicism, among voters.

Genuine threat

What is now absolutely clear, however, is that ministers genuinely believe there is a specific and pretty major terrorist threat - particularly to Heathrow airport.

It is a deeply serious issue and should not be allowed to descend into this sort of squabble.

What has landed the government in difficulties is their reluctance to offer any detailed explanation of precisely what is going on.

The comments from Labour chairman John Reid suggesting the threat is equivalent to 11 September have only made matters worse.

Current threat

Mr Blunkett was very angry indeed about that. It was all media misrepresentation, he said.

But he then compounded the problem by again persistently refusing to spell out the nature of the current threat.

The great fear here is that the government is looking increasingly shifty over the whole issue.

Mr Letwin summed up the problem, insisting it was better to have "measured and comprehensive" Commons statements than to "allow a running public commentary to be provided by confused and conflicting signals given by other ministers on the airwaves".

No one expects ministers to blab security secrets or spook the public with warnings of imminent catastrophe.

What they clearly do need to do, however, is to have the trust of the public when they talk about such important issues.


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07 Feb 03 | Americas
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