JOHN HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair is worried that
we might be getting a bit faint hearted about the campaign, he wants us
to evoke traditional British resolve, because as he put it "Britain is
a very moral nation with a strong sense of what is right and wrong." To
judge by the polls, the vast majority of us do support the attacks against
Afghanistan. But in the past week or two there have been some rumblings
of unease, not least within the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
A small group of back-benchers set up an outfit called Labour Against
the Bombing. Well I'm joined on the line now by two Labour back-benchers,
one of them is the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Bruce George
and the other is a former minister in the Defence Department, Peter Kilfoyle.
Can I come to you first,
Mr Kilfoyle and ask you whether you think it's a good idea for Tony Blair
to present this as a moral war?
PETER KILFOYLE: Well it depends on your
perspective in terms of morality. I think that the original premise for
this war was quite rightly the apprehension and bringing to trial of Osama
Bin Laden on the grounds that there was prima facie evidence against him.
I think the problem that Tony Blair faces and we all face, is the fact
that the war aims have become somewhat blurred and we now have people like
Donald Rumsfeld, the America Defence Secretary, saying Bin Laden may never
be apprehended and it does lead many people to question what the purpose
of the exercise is.
HUMPHRYS: Given all that then,
do you think the bombing should stop?
KILFOYLE: I don't think the bombing
is very effective frankly. I can't understand what it is that we are bombing
nearly three weeks' on. I certainly can't understand why we are using things
like cluster bombs if we are to believe that many of these Taliban are
said to be moving in amongst the civilian population. It's bound to cause
indiscriminate damage to those innocent people who have been subject to
the Taliban and many other depredations down the years.
HUMPHRYS: So it should stop?
HUMPHRYS: Right, let me put that
to you Mr George. What do you think, should it stop?
BRUCE GEORGE: I don't think it should stop.
I think the United States should make far more efforts in ensuring that
non-civilians are the ones who are targeted. Peter and I know each other
very well, I don't think we are all that miles apart in our view that the
Prime Minister has made every effort to convince the British public and
the Parliamentary Labour Party and Parliament that the cause is just, that
the whole endeavour has United Nations' approval, it is a proportionate
response to an appalling, an appalling and provoked attack and I think
a very large majority of the British public and the Parliamentary Labour
Party are behind him. Those people who oppose this war and I do not point
a finger at Peter but many of those who oppose this war oppose every other
war that I can remember, going back to the Falklands and certainly every
HUMPHRYS: But the point that Mr
Kilfoyle made and the point that many other people make is and you acknowledged
it yourself that in war innocent people get killed and obviously the longer
this war goes on, the more, inevitably, the more innocent people will be
killed. There must be a point - do you believe - there should be a point
to which it stops?
GEORGE: Well I don't think it's
after three weeks. And anyone who believes that a war can be over by Christmas
or Ramadan or in a short period of time, I think has no sense of history.
I think the Prime Minister is right in saying, most people have said this
is going to be a long haul and the government have said endlessly it very
much regrets the errors that have led to civilians being killed but there
is clear evidence, clear evidence John that the Taliban are taking full
advantage and using propaganda that we could not even resort to in building
up resentment towards those mistakes and magnifying the number of people
who have been killed, or wounded. They are very shrewd at how they are
trying to persuade public opinion.
HUMPHRYS: Given all of that, how
do you respond when Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, says as he did a
couple of hours ago that this campaign might go on "indefinitely" was his
words, does that worry you?
GEORGE: Well I suspect the fight
against terrorism will go on..
HUMPHRYS: ..sure, but that's slightly
different isn't it.
GEORGE: ...years and years and
years. And this is a terrorist act and I suspect it will go on for a long
time. I hope it doesn't for everyone's sake but I really do suspect that
although there has been some success in the bombing it has not been as
successful as its supporters would have wished and we are in for the long
haul and that is a matter of great regret.
HUMPHRYS: Mr Kilfoyle, how do you
respond to that, Jack Straw saying indefinitely? - perhaps indefinitely.
KILFOYLE: I'm very confused by
some of the statements from Jack Straw because on Friday he wrote an article
in which he said you had to bomb in order to reconstruct. I think there's
a real confusion creeping in to the government in terms of its war aims
and objectives. But I do take the point made several times by previous
people on the programme here today, who said that the greater objective
is a campaign against terrorism to eradicate terrorism. And the longer
this bombing goes on in the way in which it does, and let's remember that
there's nothing tangible left to bomb, all we do is we create more terrorists,
we don't diminish the chances of terrorism.
HUMPHRYS: You, along with most
of your colleagues, the vast majority of your colleagues signed up to this
campaign, right at the very beginning, is there a sense in which you feel
perhaps you've been misled?
KILFOYLE: Can I correct you there
John because we didn't sign up to this campaign. There hasn't been a vote,
what we did is that we deferred to the privileged information which the
Prime Minister had. Personally, I made the point that it ought to be considered,
it ought to be focused and it ought to be proportionate, the response that
was taken and increasingly I find that that is not the case. I don't necessarily
point the finger at Tony Blair or our government on this because I get
increasingly the impression that we are along for the ride and decisions
are being made by people with other agendas far away in Washington.
HUMPHRYS: So what, in that sense
we are just doing what Washington tells us in effect, is what you are saying?
KILFOYLE: Well I think effectively
this is an American war. I think that our active engagements, I think you
pointed out two Tomahawk missiles so far in air refuelling. I think it's
been extremely useful in terms of the presentation of it being more than
American reaction and many would argue it's perfectly understandable given
the terrible events of September 11, that the Americans should take this
view, but I believe that the decisions are made in Washington and nowhere
HUMPHRYS: And do you believe that
makes us a greater target unnecessarily perhaps?
KILFOYLE: I think it certainly
drags us in in ways in which we might not wish to be dragged in if we considered
this a little more deeply and the ramifications throughout the rest of
the Muslim world and beyond.
HUMPHRYS: Let me put those points
to you Mr George. Do you think that this is, as Mr Kilfoyle was saying,
an effectively an American campaign and we've been kind of pushed into
it really. We've just done what they want us to do and that adds to the
risks for us, for the British people?
GEORGE: I think the risk would
be very high anyway, if we had done what a number of other countries had
done and that is, kept their heads down. The fact the Prime Minister offered
British support very very quickly, while President Bush was still flying
around the United States, brought his way into, morally, into the decision-making
process, and I believe the experience of the United Kingdom and of the
Prime Minister, is, and has been, and will be of enormous restraining influence
upon the United States and I think we do have to support those in the US
administration who are not of the hawkish hue and people like Colin Powell
and Condoleezza Rice and I believe that these are the people who Prime
Minister Blair is giving a great deal of support to.
HUMPHRYS: You say a restraining
influence, some people might say it's quite hard to see that restraint,
particularly if the Americans are using Cluster bombs.
GEORGE: Well, Cluster bombs are
designed primarily to destroy heavy armour and light vehicles and I suspect
these are not being used as extensively as is being said. One of the problems
with the campaign is that every programme and every newspaper, I'm not
blaming you John, although I read your article today, we're all amateur
Wellingtons and Clausewitzs and we don't have all the information and therefore
all one can do is to pontificate, but one hopes that the strategy that
has been devised and has been agreed is going to yield success, but one
thing that really frustrates me and I must say, angers me, is that many
of the people who are opposing the US and secondarily, the UK government's
position, are not presenting any realistic alternative and as you yourself
said this morning, well what else could one do? There had to be a response,
and I'm afraid the military strategy has not yet appeared to meet the aspirations,
but those people who say no, we shouldn't be doing this, and you've all
sorts of arguments as to why we shouldn't be doing it I'm afraid have not
come up with anything remotely that would yield the results that we want.
HUMPHRYS: Let me ask someone who
says the bombing should stop, that very question, Mr. Kilfoyle, what is
KILFOYLE: Well I think it's an
easy response, certainly I don't mean in Bruce's case, but in terms of
those in government to throw the onus on other people. The original criteria
stand that the response should have been considered, focused and proportionate.
HUMPHRYS: What though, what?
KILFOYLE: If it was considered,
let's be honest here John, the amount of time that was taken before action
was taken, was literally the amount of time it took to get the logistics
into place, including the fuel and the carriers in the Arabian Sea. The
reality of that suggests that it wasn't necessarily considered and by considered
I mean, all of the ramifications thought through. I understand how America
must have felt and Americans must have felt after September 11, in wanting
some reaction, but the stated aim was the apprehension of Osama Bin Laden
and the destruction of the Al-Qaeda network. There was not mention made
at that time of the kind of bombing which has been going on for three weeks.
There was certainly no mention as Sir Michael Boyce has said, that this
war may be prosecuting for four years and there was certainly, as far as
we were concerned in the British parliament, no mention of those clarion
calls from the Pentagon for this war to be extended into other Arab and
HUMPHRYS: Peter Kilfoyle, Bruce
George, thank you both very much indeed.