UK People Still Back Iraq Action

Just over a year ago, the received wisdom was that the British people did not support Tony Blair's stance on Iraq.

 Just over a year ago, the received wisdom was that the British people did not support Tony Blair's stance on Iraq.  So I was forced to write an article pointing out that the polling figures did not back up that interpretation.  Today, the received wisdom once again has it that Tony Blair's stance on Iraq is unpopular.  The failure to find WMD has seriously dented the British people's enthusiasm for Iraq and similar adventures, the argument goes, and the supposed "whitewash" of the Hutton Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the famous dossier Her Majesty's Government used as the basis of its case for war has led to the action becoming much less popular in retrospect.  Pro-Europeans contend that Britain would be better off severing its ties with America and joining the sophisticates of Old Europe instead.

So goes the received wisdom.  Once again, it is inaccurate.  A new poll for the BBC, whose coverage of the war was such that sailors on HMS Ark Royal demanded they receive Fox News Channel's coverage instead, finds that the British people, though divided, remain mostly of the opinion that the war and the American alliance were and are in Britain's interests.

The poll is so interesting, it is worth quoting in full, with explanations where necessary:

1) War - right or wrong 

Thinking about the build-up to the Iraq war and everything that has happened since, do you think that taking military action was the right thing to do, or the wrong thing to do?

Right: 48%
Wrong: 43%
Don't know: 9%

A plurality of Britons still believe the war was right, even given "everything that has happened since."  If the commentators who allege that support for the war has been damaged by the Hutton/WMD issues, then support must have been very strong indeed at some point.

2) Was the war legal? 

Legal: 37%
Illegal: 39%
Don't know: 24%

This issue is complicated somewhat by the Government's refusal to release its law officers' advice on the legality of the war.  Despite Government assurances that the Attorney General advised that the war would be legal, a large swathe of the people believes this may not be the whole truth.  If the Government is telling the truth here, it would serve it to release the advice, in whole or in part.

3) Did the government lie about WMD? 

In the run up to the war with Iraq, do you think Tony Blair and his government...

Told the truth: 29%
Exaggerated but did not lie: 40%
Lied: 22%
Don't know: 8%

This is a very interesting result.  Fully 70 percent reject the notion that the Government deliberately misled them.  The commentators who suggest that the British people think they were lied to may be getting the public response confused with the sentiment expressed in the answers to the next two questions.

4) Trust in Blair after the war 

Trust him more: 4%
Trust him less: 42%
Makes no difference: 52%
Don't know: 2%

5) Satisfaction with Tony Blair 

Satisfied: 37%
Dissatisfied: 57%
Don't know: 6%

It is Tony Blair's personal reputation that has paid the price of the questions raised, not support for his policies.  Public perception of the handling of the war, with its "dodgy dossiers," the Hutton "whitewash" and the refusal to release legal advice, has led to the public making its mind up on Tony Blair.  When questions were first raised about the ethics of the Blair government, early in his first term of office, he responded by asserting, "I'm a pretty straight sort of guy," but a pattern of scandals and misjudgments have contributed to the public rejecting that assessment.  The war was just the latest in a series of incidents that led the public to doubt the Prime Minister's straightforwardness.  Yet the next question puts this in context.

6) Who would you trust to decide next time? 

If the British government had to decide again whether to take military action, who would you trust to make the best decision?

Tony Blair: 32%
Michael Howard: 22%
Charles Kennedy: 17%
Don't know/ None: 28%

Despite public misgivings over his integrity, he is still the party leader most trusted to do "the right thing."  The public may have doubts over his methods, but they still prefer his outcomes.

7) Performance 

Thinking of the following and their performance over the Iraq war, can you mark them out of 10, with 10 meaning they have done an excellent job and with 0 meaning a terrible job:

British forces: 8.3
US military: 6.6
BBC: 6.4
UN: 5.8
British intelligence: 5.6
Tony Blair: 4.9
Clare Short: 4.4
George W Bush: 4.3
France: 3.9
(Average scores out of 10)

British pride in the effectiveness of its military still clearly remains strong, but the public clearly has misgivings about all the other actors in the drama.  It is interesting to see that, for all the attacks President Bush has endured from the UK media, its people still rate him above the performance of France.

8) Security

Do you think the war with Iraq has or has not contributed to the long-term security...

Of the UK?

Has: 34%
Has not: 55%
Don't know: 11%