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Interview: Simon Hoggart Discusses The Mood Of The British Public On An Iraqi Invasion

All Things Considered: September 15, 2002

Brit Public View



KARLA DAVIS, host:

President Bush has enjoyed the unwavering support of British Prime Minister Tony Blair; however, many Brits do not share the same enthusiasm for making war against Saddam Hussein. With us today to talk about this apparent disconnect is Simon Hoggart, political writer for The Guardian newspaper in London.

Hello, Simon.

Mr. SIMON HOGGART (Political Writer, Guardian): Hi.

DAVIS: Simon, what's going on? We see Prime Minister Blair here near Washington at Camp David. He's sort of shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush in making speeches that he absolutely supports US policy with regard to Iraq, but we hear that the British public feels very differently. What's the mood there?

Mr. HOGGART: Well, the mood, I think, is the same as it is through Europe, which is of grave doubt. But I think Tony Blair has to come down on one side or the other. You can't be a half-hearted supporter of the possible attack on Iraq. You're either with George Bush or you're against him. I think the public finds it much more difficult to make up its mind and there are really serious doubts here, and they're particularly strong within Tony Blair's own Labor Party. So he's taking what is without doubt the greatest political gamble of his career.

DAVIS: Why do think he's opted for that particular political strategy?

Mr. HOGGART: I would suspect he actually agrees with George Bush, that he thinks Saddam Hussein is the threat that he is depicted as. And he made quite a moving speech to labor union leaders last week, which I attended. Blair is very good as sounding sincere. On this particular occasion I think he was sincere when he said he couldn't live with his conscience if he'd known there was something he could do or should have done, but hadn't done until it was too late. And I think he actually is convinced by the evidence. He believes that the rest of the Parliament and the British people will be convinced by the evidence when they see it in a week or so's time.

DAVIS: What exactly will happen at that special session of Parliament that Mr. Blair has called?

Mr. HOGGART: What can happen at the debate a week on Tuesday is that Blair will stand up, he will outline the evidence, he'll say why this shows that Saddam is a real and present threat, that if we don't act now it may be too late and that there will be no excuse for not having acted if he deploys his chemical and nuclear weapons. The opposition leader, the conservative leader will then stand up and on the whole he's almost certain to back Tony Blair and, indeed, George W. Bush and give the support of his party. It is an opportunity for members of the Parliament to say what they think and to express their doubts. And I think an awful lot of doubt is going to be expressed very loudly and, from the point of view of Prime Minister Blair, very uncomfortably.

DAVIS: What is the evidence that Mr. Blair is expected to reveal this later this month and how important is it?

Mr. HOGGART: It'll have to be good. He may have to go slightly further in exposing material publicly, which perhaps the White House would rather was kept under wraps for the moment, simply because he's got a tougher political problem on his hands than George Bush has. I don't think there'll be anything sensationally new. And I think it will be a whole series of segments about the particular factories, the plants, weapons, equipment and the scientific research that Saddam has been involved in and explaining that this is coming very near fruition. And he has to get that message over to the Parliament, to his own party, to the British people.

DAVIS: Is there significant outcry? Do you see people on the street saying, `Look, I don't want my son going over to fight a war I don't believe in'?

Mr. HOGGART: Oh, there will be demonstrations against the war, and you can't go around London without hearing people with electronic megaphones shouting about how it shouldn't happen and being incredibly rude about George Bush and Tony Blair, but they're on the whole what we call the usual suspects, you know, people of a fairly left wing or pacifist bent, and I don't think that they're entirely typical yet. The mood, I'd have thought here, was--rather than outright opposition, it's grave anxiety, a feeling that this could all go terribly wrong, that it could increase the amount of terrorism. And, of course, then we have an enormous, very large Muslim population in this country and they're showing serious signs of feeling alienated and very anxious themselves about what's going on. There's a feeling that things could spiral out of control. That's not quite the same as militant opposition. It's anxiety, I'd say, rather than outright opposition. But it's going and there's a lot of it, and a great deal is going to depend, I think, on the dossier of evidence which Tony Blair says he's going to produce for us early next week.

DAVIS: How does Britain's experience with terrorism, particularly the IRA, play into this?

Mr. HOGGART: It's important. That does not mean that people felt that the Americans got what they deserved, but there was a certain sense that at last the United States would realize that terrorism threatened everybody and not just people in Europe.

DAVIS: Simon, thank you so much for being with us today.

Mr. HOGGART: My pleasure.

DAVIS: Simon Hoggart, a political writer for the Guardian newspaper in London.

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