Is England sleeping again as danger gathers? George Osborne, who has a name right out of Thackeray and writes for the Spectator (the London one), thinks that this is, indeed, the case.

Osborne’s thoughts on the subject were sparked by receiving a pamphlet from the government on what to do in the event of “an emergency”:

“It was a white envelope marked with six chunky coloured circles under which was written: ’Inside: Important Information from HM Government.’ I assumed the ’important information’ would be that I had been specially selected to win a prize draw and almost threw it away. In fact it turned out to be a leaflet from something called the National Steering Committee on Warning and Informing the Public telling me ‘What to do in an Emergency’. This mysterious Committee obviously didn’t want to alarm anyone by telling them what the ’emergency’ might be — although I guessed from the rather severe picture of Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of MI5, that it wasn’t about what to do when the babysitter fails to turn up. There were references to chemical, biological and radiological ’incidents’ and ‘serious terrorist crimes’. The advice seemed to boil down to this: fit a smoke alarm, get some spare batteries for your torch and, if an ’emergency’ does happen, to ’Go In, Stay In, Tune In’ — some clever PR person on the Steering Committee had obviously misspent their youth tuning in and dropping out with Dr Timothy Leary. If the leaflet wasn’t so banal it would be terrifying.”

The evasive tone of the leaflet, says Osborne, a supporter of the Iraqi war, stems from a failure of Brits to recognize the danger that confronts them in the form of terrorism. Of the current atmosphere in England, he writes:

“It is all a big change from three years ago, after September 11. Then the nation was glued to the nightly news, debates in Parliament were packed, people stockpiled water and tinned food at home, and City firms bought job-lots of gas masks and anthrax vaccine. Now it is Faria’s love life and Nadia’s sex-change rather than the arrest of al-Qa’eda’s alleged British mastermind that are dominating the papers. In the House of Commons, I’ve watched as the debates on global terrorism become so sparsely attended that only Tam Dalyell turns up. The bottled water has all been drunk, the vaccines have gone off and the tinned food has been thrown away — contrary to the advice, as it happens, of the new government leaflet.

“So much for 9/11 being a ’wake-up call’ to the threat facing the West. England is going back to sleep. And little wonder when we’re told every day by sages in our national media that the war on terror is misconceived, that the terrorist threat is exaggerated, that what we’ve done in the last three years has only made matters worse, and that the Iraq war was a ghastly mistake that is best forgotten. With one or two honourable exceptions, there are few voices to be heard putting the other view: that the terrorists pose a fundamental threat to our way of life, that fight them we must, that Iraq was part of that fight and that we are winning.”