Ordinary life must go on, the government persuaded us while administering its warning two weeks ago of a possible terrorist attack: if we allow the threat of bombings to disrupt our normal activities, then we give the terrorists what they want. Fine words, indeed, except that they seem to apply only on British soil. If you are thinking of taking a holiday abroad, on the other hand, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is ready to bombard you with a thousand reasons not to go.
Those who remember the lengths to which the government used to go to promote Britain to foreign travellers during the IRA's mainland bombing campaign could be excused a little puzzlement over the FCO's advice following the Bali bomb: 'We advise against all travel to Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia.' Poor countries which rely on foreign tourists for hard currency, and whose businesses could be destroyed by such advice, are spared little thought by the killjoys in Whitehall. The poorer the country, it seems, the keener the FCO is to prevent us going there. The advice against all travel to Indonesia has been based on a single bomb attack. Prospective visitors to the United States, notwithstanding the World Trade Center attacks, are given much more gentle advice: 'Most visits to the United States are trouble-free.'
One wonders whether the objectivity of the FCO's advice on America might not just be affected by worries that the US could retaliate by advising its citizens to steer clear of London. Reading through the FCO's latest travel warnings, one would never imagine that London has one of the worst records for street muggings in the Western world. One of the latest newsflashes on its website warns anyone venturing to the badlands of Portugal: visitors should be aware that petty theft is increasing in major tourist areas. Visitors to Australia are advised to 'keep to the main streets', while Britons are strongly urged not to attend the Indian festival of Pushkar Mela. Can this really be the same government which has tried to promote tourism in Belfast?