There are four new polls in today’s papers; first up we have ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian. This is actually the same poll that the figures on A-Levels were drawn from last week, the second half was simply held back to fill more of those long, empty August columns! It’s worth bearing in mind, therefore, that the questions on civil liberties and terrorism were all asked prior to the leaks from the IPCC’s investigation into Jean Charles de Menezes’s death. None of the questions directly refer to the shoot to kill policy, but these things still have the potential to affect people’s opinions.

The topline voting intention figures (for what little they are worth in this post-election, pre-Conservative leadership election phase) are CON 31%(nc), LAB 38%(-1), LD 22%(-1). The Guardian incorrectly reports Labour support as having increased one point since last month, but unless there has been some cunning change in methodology though ICM’s tables definitely had them at 39% last month. For those who follow these things, ICM’s topline adjustment for the spiral of silence – the manual re-allocations of don’t knows they make to their topline figures to account for people too shy to give their true voting intentions – actually harmed Labour this month. For the past couple of years it has tended to work in Labour’s favour.

ICM show the same boost in people’s satisfaction with Tony Blair’s performance as MORI, YouGov and BPIX have recorded since the London Bombings. 47% were satisfied with how he is doing his job as PM, with 45% disatisfied. This is Blair’s most positive rating in an ICM poll since the fall of Baghdad back in April 2003.

ICM went on to ask if respondents thought it was right to sacrifice some of our civil liberties to improve out security against terrorist attack. The majority (73%) of respondents thought this was right, with 17% disagreeing. Asked about some of the specific policies that have been floated in recent months, the strongest support was for allowing the police to hold suspected terrorists for up to 3 months without charge – this was supported by 68%, with only 19% opposing it. There was also strong support for deporting foreign nationals spreading radical Islamist views even – and this was specifically pointed out in the question – “if it means sending them back to countries that use torture”; 62% supported this, with 19% opposing it.

The lowest level of support was for the suggestion of banning organisations that promoted radical Islamist views, “even if they don’t advocate violence”. This is an uncomfortable area for the Guardian, since last month it was revealed that they had employed a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of the organisations that Tony Blair has subsequently announced will be banned. Support for the ban is less clear cut than the other two measures but people supporting it still outnumber those against, 45% approve of such a move, 31% disapprove.

Finally ICM asked about faith schools, a question which I don’t think the Guardian has published. The question was worded in quite an interesting way. Past polls have produced some contrasting figures for public attitudes to faith schools – back in 2001 MORI asked if people supported or opposed faith schools “run by religious groups such as the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church?” – 35% supported them, 27% opposed them ,the rest were neutral. An ICM poll for BBC Three in April 2004 found that 44% of people were in favour of faith schools, with 21% against, the rest were neutral. Last December, YouGov found that 56% of people thought that “The Government should encourage the parents of children of all faiths, including Christians, to send their children to the same schools.”

Compare these to a YouGov/Observer poll back in 2001 which found 80% against when it asked if people wanted to see the extention of single faith schools, including “religions such as Islam and Judaism”.

The difference comes when polls mention that faith schools will include faiths other than Christianity – people will tend to be broadly positive when asked about “faith schools”, presumably imagining nice cuddly CofE and Catholic schools in little country villages. Ask them about “faith schools, including religions such as Islam” and views suddenly turn negative.

So, turning to today’s poll, ICM gave people what amounted to a forced choice – they were given the options of opposing all government funded faith schools, explictly saying that the government should support faith schools for other religions but not Islam, or saying that the government should support faith schools including Muslim ones. The result was that a large majority (64%) of people said they opposed faith schools alltogether, rather than support Muslim faith schools (25%), or explictly discriminate against one religion (8%).

This does raise the question of what is the true public opinion? Do people support or oppose faith schools? I suspect the simple answer is that most people haven’t really thought about it at length, hence the different answers depending upon whether you make them consider Islamic schools or not.


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