The next few weeks will be tough, the Prime Minister warns

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has been told bluntly by one of his own senior backbenchers that the coalition is losing the propaganda war with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

According to one source at a private meeting of Labour MPs, a leading backbencher told him: "We have to recognise we are losing the propaganda war. It not enough just to say we are right."

The Prime Minister responded by telling the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party at the Commons that it was going to be "a difficult few weeks" ahead and he warned: "We have to stick with the strategy."

Mr Blair's appeal to his own backbenches underlines the concern in Downing Street over the propaganda successes of the Taliban, including the use of videotapes to get their message across.

As part of the fight back designed by Downing Street, Mr Blair succeeded in persuading a group of Muslim Labour politicians to sign a statement supporting the military action.

Mr Blair's official spokesman cast doubt on the accuracy of the claims by the Taliban about civilian casualties in a village hit by US bombers. "In the past two days we have heard that a convoy has been hit allegedly with refugees. We have no verification of that. In a time of combat, not everything will go right but that stands in marked contrast to the Taliban who issue propaganda on a daily basis, not a word of which we suggest you can really believe."

Mr Blair has been at pains to persuade his backbenchers that the Taliban are to blame for the growing threat of a humanitarian disaster caused by famine in Afghanistan. The War Cabinet is also having to cope with public panic at home. A Downing Street spokesman said: "The public should be aware of the contingency planning that we are putting in place but what terrorists want to achieve is to affect the way people go about their daily lives."

Alastair Campbell was attached to Nato headquarters during the Kosovo war in order to improve the propaganda effort. So far, there are no plans to give him a more central role in a strategy that is in American hands.