Article for West Suffolk Mercury

Friday, 21 March, 2003

Our part of East Anglia always figures prominently in time of war. From the Second World War to the last Gulf War to Afghanistan, our Armed Services at Suffolk military bases prove their importance to the life of this country.

So it is no wonder that at times like this we in Suffolk are probably experiencing the anxieties of war that much more sharply. The servicemen and servicewomen of Wattisham, Honington, Lakenheath and Mildenhall, who put themselves and their professionalism on the line, live among us. They participate in our community life. Many live in our neighbourhoods, not on their bases. They are part of the Suffolk family.

That is why I am so proud that the quiet majority of the Suffolk public are getting behind our local service personnel. I know that many people have been passionately opposed to the war. Others have been in two minds, unconvinced that there was a case yet for war, preferring to give Dr Blix more time to inspect.

But what I now see with each day that passes is a sense that any doubts should be put on to one side until the hostilities are over. My view is that there should be plenty of time for vigorous debate on both sides of the political argument- but after our troops are safely home.

Of course we have seen local protests, some involving school pupils, since war commenced. It is a virtue of our democracy that people are free to express their conscience and opinions. I know that protest is directed at the politicians, not our troops. However, care is needed here. We politicians can take the brickbats, it is a professional hazard. But soldiers in the field are different: when they put themselves in harm's way they need to know that the country is fully behind them.

So it would be tragic if the morale of our local servicemen and servicewomen is in any way inadvertently sapped. One of the most moving letters I have ever received arrived in my post two days before war began. It came from a soldier from the Wattisham base and he had written it from his tent in the Kuwaiti desert. It was on blue Army airmail paper. He wrote movingly to me about his fears and his love for his family. He has bought a house in Mid Suffolk and has a wife and two young children. He wanted to know from me that local people would be behind him and his comrades when the bullets started flying. He wanted that reassurance.

Who are we to deny him that?