Urban life - Darcus Howe gasps at a policeman

We are not facing 50 years of terror, just a policeman trying to improve his job prospects

I almost fell off my chair at the breakfast table when I read that Peter Clarke, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had declared that we are in for a 50-year war on terror. My thoughts turned to my grandson, born last October. For the next five decades he faces exploding bombs, mass murders, even nuclear strikes - misery for him and his offspring.

The implications go beyond my family's welfare. The urban guerrilla needs a favourable population in which to operate. Clarke apparently believes that such a population is present in the UK and will continue to be for a long time. Safe havens exist perhaps in Leeds, Bradford and east London, where thousands of Muslims live. Clones of Abu Hamza will proliferate. The only way to counter them is to dismantle the restrictions put on police by the justice system. The laws of evidence are too tightly drawn, our police chief says. He is keen to retain the power to stop and search - on grounds of terrorism.

I gasp at his audacity. He is not the Commissioner, not even his number two . . . just a deputy assistant commissioner. A man dressed in brief authority.

If we are to be engaged in a war of this magnitude, I would expect the Prime Minister to summon the citizenry in a special broadcast, calling on us to rally round in this emergency. I would expect him to form a war cabinet to plot on our behalf against the enemy. Troops would be sent on to the streets of Manningham, Beeston and Spitalfields. Travel to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia would be possible only with permission from the War Office. Camps would be opened to detain dissenters.

All this would happen if Clarke was correct. Frankly, I do not believe him. He is scaremongering, but to what end I can only speculate. The position of Ian Blair, the Met Commissioner, is looking shaky and will become more so if the report on the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes goes against him. Clarke is staking his claim for the top job and thinks that spreading fear will help his chances, given the political culture of our times.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 27 February 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Shamed