PAUL WILENIUS: Imagine a world without
war. No killing , pain, or suffering. Such a place of innocence and peace
does indeed seem a distant dream. But these peace protesters in London
are still hanging on to that dream, just as many did in the 1960's. Then
they took to the streets outside the American Embassy, to protest at the
war in Vietnam. The anti-war feeling was so strong it spread through parts
of Harold Wilson's Labour Government and Party. Now Tony Blair is standing
shoulder to shoulder with the United States, as it hovers on the brink
of a global war on terrorism.
The American Embassy here
in Grosvenor Square is now a symbol - not only of the revulsion at the
recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but also of the determination
to fight back. Yet although there is clear public support for military
strikes, the first signs of unease within the Labour Party are starting
to emerge .
OONA KING MP: In my view you don't
meet barbarianism with barbarianism. You don't respond to the deaths of
innocent civilians, by killing innocent civilians.
GLENYS KINNOCK MEP: Many of us would, would
feel enormous pain if we were to see a number of innocent civilians affected.
Hundreds, thousands of people trying to get through closed borders to
refugee camps. So I, I do think that - I think what we've seen and what
maybe we continue to see is, is a whole failure of the diplomatic process
to deal with this crisis.
WILENIUS: The sheer scale
of the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan was ignored for years by many
in the West. It's a country already shattered by military conflict, pounded
back into the dark ages by decades of war . Although there's widespread
backing inside Labour for some kind of military action, there are fears
it may only hurt more innocent people , casting doubt on the wisdom a full
scale assault to fight terrorism.
How widespread are
these worries? On the Record tried to contact all four hundred and twelve
Labour Party chairs in seats with sitting Labour MPs. We spoke to almost
half of them, one hundred and ninety four, and found that a clear majority
are against giving the Americans a free hand on military action , or extending
the war to attack other countries like Iraq. When asked : Do you believe
that Britain should "support whatever military action the United States
decides to take " in Afghanistan? One hundred and six said No, and seventy
nine said Yes.
NEIL GERRARD, MP: Certainly talking to members
of my own party recently, most I think believe that we've got to take action
after what happened in, in New York. How far they support military action
is, is another question and I think perhaps most of all, the, the mood
was one of concern of being uncertain about what was going to happen, and
being worried about where in the end it might lead us.
WILENIUS: On the question : Would
you back the spread of military action to other countries as part of a
war on terrorism, ninety-seven No, with seventy-four saying Yes.
GERRARD: I can see no justification
at the moment for suggesting that we should attack Iraq, Sudan, some of
the other countries, that, that have been mentioned. No evidence that they've
had any direct involvement in what's happened in, in New York.
WILENIUS: But the party activists
we consulted did want to be tough on the Taliban , when asked whether :
One of the aims of military action should be to bring down the Taliban
Government in Afghanistan? One-hundred-and-eight said Yes and seventy-seven
KINNOCK: It does require a, a great
deal of, of thinking about how we do it, and how we do it in a way that
limits the, the effects on, on civilians and the, the enemy is bin Laden
and it is then to overthrow the Taliban and then to restore democracy in
Afghanistan. Those are the three processes, all of them hugely difficult.
PAT MACFADDEN: Well there's always been
a pacifist thread in the Labour Party but I believe that its less strong
now than it was say for example in the 1980's. And I think that in the
support that the Prime Minister's received so far, is not because that's
less but because of the sophistication of his response to the crisis. As
I say quickly aligning himself with the United States on a military level,
but also making clear, as has President Bush, that people mustn't take
this out on the peaceful law abiding Muslim community in Britain and in
the United States and also saying that there must be a humanitarian response.
WILENIUS: Oona King the Labour
MP for Bethnal Green and Bow arrives for a meeting about the forthcoming
conflict with anxious party members. More than half of her constituency
in East London is Muslim, and there are real concerns that if the military
strikes on Afghanistan are too ferocious, they could make things much worse.
UNNAMED MAN: Children are dying overnight
and so on. Okay many innocent people have died in America as a result of
what's happened, but many innocent people are dying in Afghanistan as a
result of war, or threat of war. Now you know something needs to be done
about that as well.
UNNAMED PERSON: I think we also need to ask the
role we actually played and the role now we need to play and I think it
is bringing to account our politicians as much as those who are responsible
for the attack that they have committed.
WILENIUS: Oona King is worried
about the impact of the expected war on refugees. She fears that the steady
flow of Afghans fleeing their country could become a torrent.
KING: If the action that's
taken results in many more millions of people, and there are already more
than a million Afghanistani's walking towards the border with Pakistan
that haven't already got there. If the response that we see sparks off
more and more millions of people flooding into that area, it will destabilise
the entire region and that's not a policy objective that anyone wants.
KINNOCK: We are an internationalist
party, we have very strong feeling of solidarity, and we would have a feeling
of solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, with the women of Afghanistan,
the most persecuted human, huge abuses of human rights that you could imagine
in the whole world in Afghanistan, and our party would be deeply worried
about the humanitarian crisis that is occurring and is likely to get worse,
were there to be a big military conflict in the region.
WILENIUS: It's not just the extent
of the military operation overseas that's worrying many Labour Party members,
like these in East London but there are real fears that a prolonged war
on terrorism would threaten civil liberties and human rights back here
East London, not Kabul.
But the tension in the air is still palpable. Muslims gather in the local
mosque, worried about revenge attacks on them after the terrorist atrocities
in America. Fears of a violent and political backlash disturb some Labour
MPs. There are concerns draconian new security measures could be counter
productive targetting asylum seekers and other refugees.
KINNOCK: I very much believe that
none of those measures should contravene the human rights act, that civil
liberties and human rights are very very important and in amongst all of
this we should not be demonising and criminalising all Muslims, we risk
having people picked up simply because of their ethnic background, their
nationality, the way they look, where they came from, that's very dangerous
and I think could be very divisive .
WILENIUS: Despite anxieties in
the Muslim community, there is pressure on the government to be seen to
do something in Britain to fight terrorism. Home Secretary David Blunkett
is preparing a package of measures to give extra powers to the immigration
and security services, although doubts are surfacing over identity cards.
MIKE O'BRIEN MP: We looked at the issue
of identity cards in the first Blair government and I certainly was convinced
that we didn't need identity cards. It was an illusion that they would
really provide much greater security. We decided against it for much the
same reasons as the Conservatives decided to abolish identity cards in
the 1950's, and that is, it undermines the relationship between the police
and the public. The forgers are able to reproduce them, usually relatively
easily, and therefore it provides us a false sense of security.
FRANK DOBSON MP: Whether it would contribute very
much to actually combating professional dedicated terrorists, I'm not at
all sure. And it would probably cost more than a billion pounds and there
might be better ways of spending a billion pounds protecting the people
of this country.
WILENIUS: Tony Blair will direct
the forthcoming military campaign from here in Downing Street. But many
in the Labour Party have told me they're concerned the war could become
so all consuming that the government is blown off course, on the economy
and public services.
JOHN MCFALL MP: Well, the American economy
was going down before the events of September 11th and they were heralding
a recession there. With a knock on effect throughout the world its important
that we cushion that effect as much as possible in the UK; Gordon Brown
has already laid out his comprehensive spending revue figures and we have
the pre-budget report in November and the Departmental Spending limits
going to be announced next year. I think in the light of this, that there
will have to be some revue in the Treasury on these spending limits and
WILENIUS: But being hailed as a
true friend by President Bush, could have a high economic price for Tony
Blair. As a British battle group steamed for the Gulf one Cabinet Minister
all too aware of this told me last week, war costs a lot of money. This
combined with a downturn in the economy will put heavy downward pressure
on the public spending promises made before the last election.
O'BRIEN: There are concerns in
the Labour Party about the impact of the war and the economy on public
expenditure. Our key commitments as a Labour Government were to improve
public services, Health and Education. We must ensure that throughout the
next year or two that we give the highest priority to ensuring that that
is done. We need to win the war against terrorism, but we also need to
ensure that we keep our promises to the British people. If it's a choice
between public services being cut, or looking again at Taxes then we'll
have to make some difficult decisions.
GERRARD: People will expect us
to deliver those improvement on public services whatever's happening in
terms of foreign policy. So I think if it comes to choice on spending or
even tax increases, it will be fatal for us to use spending on security
or anti-terrorism measures, as a reason for cutting public expenditure
on public services.
WILENIUS: The looming conflict
has breathed new life into the anti-war wing of the Labour Party. But even
before this crisis, opposition to some of Tony Blair's peacetime policies
had been re-invigorated. Many of the traditional elements of the party
had come together to oppose policies for more private sector involvement
in public services.
DOBSON: I think one of the problems
has been that during the election there was a lot of sort of ill defined
talk about further private sector involvement in managing the health service,
but quite frankly, I don't think it's a runner, I mean the average private
hospital has about fifty beds. It doesn't have any emergency admissions.
Its fairly low tech, easy to run. I don't think anybody who's just been
running some two-bit private hospital is going to make much of a contribution
to improved management, do you?
WILENIUS: Until a few weeks ago,
it seemed this sort of open discussions and dissent would dominate the
party conference this week. Now it appears it will be pushed to one side,
for the moment, by the worries and anxieties over the coming conflict.
But the war has only added to Tony Blair's problems, in keeping his party
united behind his vision over the next few years.