Top Tory spells out case for war

By Sheena WalsheSHADOW foreign secretary Michael Ancram took time out of a hectic schedule to tell schoolchildren why he was backing Tony Blair's stance on Iraq.

By Sheena Walshe

SHADOW foreign secretary Michael Ancram took time out of a hectic schedule to tell schoolchildren why he was backing Tony Blair's stance on Iraq.

The political heavyweight faced a grilling from Haverhill sixth-form students on the threat of war and a range of other subjects during a visit to the town's Samuel Ward Upper School yesterday.

Afterwards Mr Ancram, a former Northern Ireland minister and Conservative Party chairman, said it was vital to engage with young people and connect them to the political process - especially as only 50% of the adult population turned out to vote for the three major parties at the last General Election.

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He added it was important to listen to public opinion, but said political parties had to make decisions at to what they thought was in the national interest - as was currently the case with Iraq.

“I don't regard it as the role of the opposition to make the Government's case, but we are doing what we are doing (over Iraq) because it is in the national interest,” said Mr Ancram.

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“The easiest thing I could do would be to say 'the Government has got it wrong' and bask in the support of people protesting against war. That would be wrong.”

Mr Ancram said the Government needed to do more to convince people of the case for war and added UN chief weapons inspector Dr Hans Blix had made a report, not released to the public, about stocks of nerve gas and anthrax which inspectors said Iraq had four years ago, but was now unaccounted for.

“I do criticise the Government for not having done more to make sure this kind of information was available to the public,” he added.

“With every passing day war becomes more possible, but we still hold out the hope that Saddam Hussein will realise he has run out of space and the only effective way out is to comply with UN resolutions.”

Mr Ancram also criticised the French position over Iraq and said deep differences between EU countries had shown a single European foreign policy would never work.

Richard Spring, the Conservative MP for West Suffolk who hosted Mr Ancram's visit, said: “We cannot afford to have a split between the democracies of the United States and Europe.

“Nowhere is this more true than in west Suffolk where there are thousands of American service people (at RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall).

“The American commitment to Europe through defence has been a source of stability.

“Britain has always served as a bridge between Europe and the America and we must put a stop to anti-Americanism that has been voiced in various parts of the (European) community.”

Earlier in his visit, Mr Ancram praised Haverhill as “an exciting and growing community” and said Samuel Ward Upper School was “a good example of a technology college”.

Headteacher Howard Lay said the visit was “great publicity” for the town and important for helping students develop their own views.

The group of youngsters who met and questioned Mr Ancram included sixth-formers and political studies pupils from both Samuel Ward Upper School and the nearby Castle Manor Community Upper School.

In the afternoon Mr Ancram attended a buffet lunch with members of the West Suffolk Conservative Association in Newmarket before flying to Edinburgh to take part in last night's BBC Question Time programme.

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