The pollsters have been out in the streets and busy on the telephone finding out how the general public views the terrorism crisis and possible measures to deal with it. Thus far in Britain and the United States the men in charge have been given a strong vote of confidence: 91 per cent of Americans believe that George W Bush is doing a good job and 83 per cent of the British people think the same of Tony Blair. There is nothing surprising about such figures because in a crisis people naturally rally to the flag provided that the man in charge shows single-minded leadership.

A Guardian-ICM poll suggested that the real test will come when the specifics of any military action are spelt out, as they may be by the end of this week - there was 66 per cent approval of “military strikes against the terrorist groups responsible” but this support slumped to 49 per cent when the question was varied to include the scenario of “the US and NATO, including Britain, getting into a war”. This latter finding is particularly interesting given that both Mr Bush and Mr Blair have insisted that we are already “at war”. Opinions in Britain and the United States diverge when the possibility of “collateral” casualties among civilians comes up. In the United States at least 75 per cent of those questioned said they believed this was an unavoidable risk that had to be taken. In Britain only 43 per cent thought the same way preferring to take the view rather surprisingly put forward by Clare Short, the International Development minister, that killing innocent people would not be acceptable regardless of the importance of a target from a military standpoint.

Ray Fleming

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