The War on Terror

A new YouGov poll for this week’s Spectator suggests that British people believe that we are in a world war against Islamic terrorism and we aren’t winning it. They are are deeply pessimistic about both how long it will last and how bad it will get.

The overwhelming majority (73%) of respondents thought Britain was in a global war against Islamic terrorists who threaten the West’s way of life, as opposed to 8% who though Islamic terrorism was a regional problem that did not genuinely threaten the West. Asked how long they expected the conflict against groups like Al-Q’aeda to last, there was very little optimism – only 6% thought it would be over within 5 years, with 44% of people thinking it would last more than twenty years. The majority (60%) expected the risk of terrorist attacks to increase in coming years, with 22% of people saying they expected “the risk of terrorist attacks to get much worse, with frequent atrocities and constant terrorism alerts.” Only 8% of people said they thought we were winning the “war on terror”.

34% of people thought that a major terrorist attack upon Britain was “very likely” to occur within the next 12 months, with a further 52% thinking it was “fairly likely”. Despite thinking there was going to be a further terrorist attack, people didn’t believe it when they heard it from politicians – 35% thought politicans were exaggerating the threat of terror, either deliberately (23%) or through their own ignorance (12%).

Asked about possible safety measures, 64% said the extra security on planes made them feel safer. 55% of respondents said they would support the further introduction of passenger profiling and 69% said they would support the extention of the period for which terrorist suspects could be held to 90-days (despite what Alistair Heath says in his report in the findings, this figure isn’t particularly extraordinary – it’s pretty much the same level of support for the 90-day option that polls showed prior to the orginal vote on the then Terrorism Bill).

On Britain’s future foreign policy there was a contradiction in the answers given. Asked if, in response to the threat from terrorism, Britain should change her foreign policy, 53% said yes – it should be more aggressive (12% said we should be more concillatory and 24% said no). However, asked in general whether Britain should continue to align herself with the USA on foreign policy, or move closer to Europe, 14% said the USA with 45% saying Europe. If one – reasonably enough – characterises US foreign policy as far more aggressive and “gung-ho” than that of most of the countries of the EU, these two answers seem contradictory. I think what is happening is that the answers are the result of two different emotional responses – on the first hand, peoples’ natural response to terrorism is to fight back and not give in to the terrorists. On the other hand, previous surveys have shown that President Bush and current American foreign policy are deeply unpopular in the this country. People want an agressive response to the terrorist threat…but clearly not the particular brand that President Bush is offering.

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