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[casi] new (ARROW) anti-war briefing Public Opinion

ARROW Anti-War Briefing 46
PUBLIC OPINION AND THE WAR ON IRAQ: Warnings for Blair and for the anti-war

Hi folks

This is the latest ARROW Anti-War Briefing - now a renamed series of *JNV*
Anti-War Briefings. To receive these briefings regularly, please sign up to
JNV on the website

Briefings should be coming out regularly from now on. Apologies for
interrupted service. PDFs of briefings will be available from the site
(double-sided A4s).

Please feel free to forward this mail, or link to the site. My apologies
for any cross-posting

Best wishes

Milan Rai
JNV (taking over from ARROW)

Blair And Bush Lose ‘Trust’
ARROW Anti-War Briefing 46 (18 July 2003)

‘I thought it was gangster capitalism, nothing to do with morality at all.
Did Tony Blair mislead the country? I suspect he did.’
John Peel, radio presenter (Independent, 4 June 2003, p. 1)

The Unpersuaded Public
British public support for the war on Iraq was shallow and brittle. A
review of the polls in the Guardian at the end of April noted, ‘The war
against Iraq saw one of the most dramatic shifts in British public opinion
in recent political history’—but this was not because the British people
were persuaded by the arguments. It seems they felt but to ‘support the
troops’ by supporting the war, despite its illegitimacy.
        The Guardian/ICM war tracker poll saw Tony Blair’s personal poll rating
plunge over 15 months from plus 42 in November 2001 to minus 20 in
February—his worst personal rating in six years in Downing Street. ‘Polls
also show that it was the prime minister's reputation which took the hit
while Labour's standing in the country escaped without suffering serious
damage. Labour's lead in the polls was cut from 13 points in January to six
points in March but the party was never in the kind of trouble Mr Blair
faced.’ (Alan Travis, ‘Voters alienated by prospects of conflict finally
swung behind military action’, Guardian, 26 Apr. 2003, online version)
        Public opinion was anti-war from Aug. 2002 until mid-Mar. 2003 (with one
exception: a poll taken in the aftermath of the Bali bombing). ‘From
November anti-war feeling grew progressively stronger and peaked over the
February weekend of the mass demonstration in London, when a majority of
British voters—52%—said they opposed the war.’ (Guardian, 26 Apr. 2003)
        We know now that the 15 February demonstrations in London and Glasgow put
enormous pressure on the Government. On that day Tony Blair was in Glasgow
to sell his strategy to the Scottish Labour Party. ‘This really was the
moment of maximum pressure on him,’ said one of his closest aides. ‘As he
travelled up there, we just didn’t know whether the event would turn into a
fiasco.’ (FT, 29 May 2003, p. 17)
        However, by 23 Mar.—four days after the first bombs had begun to
fall—‘opposition had slumped to just 30% and support for military action
soared to 54%.’ The Guardian comments, ‘Once it became clear that British
troops were going into action anyway, those who had been calling for a
second resolution as a condition of their support had to make a choice—and
the polling evidence appears to be that most, including Labour voters,
chose to support the war.’ (Guardian, 26 Apr. 2003)

The Second Resolution: tony blair lied
At the beginning of the year, 68 per cent people questioned for Channel 4’s
Powerhouse programme opposed war without a new UN resolution. ‘The figure
is up 11 points on when the question was asked in September.’ (Mirror, 7
Jan. 2003, p. 11) On the other hand, most people supported war in the event
of a new UN resolution authorising it. By 20 Feb., 59 per cent of people
held this position, but this was down from 72 per cent a month earlier.
Without UN endorsement, only 21 per cent supported war.
(Sunday Times, 23 Feb. 2003, p. 13)
        There was a large bloc of ‘anti-war’ opinion willing to be swung by the
passing of a Resolution which could be presented as authorising the war.
(The draft Resolution proposed by Britain did not actually do this—see
Anti-War Briefings 36, 37, 38 and Regime Unchanged by Milan Rai.)       This
soft bloc crumbled and supported the war despite the fact that Tony Blair
had promised not to go to war without a second Resolution, unless the
inspectors reported Iraqi non-co-operation (they didn’t), a majority of
Security Council members were in favour of the Resolution (they weren’t)
and there was an ‘unreasonable veto’ by one or more of the permanent
members of the Security Council (no such veto ever needed to be cast
because the British withdrew the Resolution before it came to a vote). The
Prime Minister made his fateful promise in a press conference on 13
January, and on the BBC’s Newsnight programme on 7 February 2003:

The only qualification we have added . . . is if you did have a breach,
went back to the UN but someone put an unreasonable or unilateral block
down on action, now in those circumstances we have said we can’t be in a
position where we are confined in that way.     If the inspectors do report
that they can’t do their work properly because Iraq is not co-operating
there’s no doubt that under the terms of the existing United Nations
Resolution that that’s a breach of the Resolution. In those circumstances
there should be a further Resolution. If, however, a country were to issue
a veto . . . If a country unreasonably in those circumstances put down a
veto then I would consider action outside of that . . . Firstly you can’t
just do it with America, you have to get a majority in the security council
. . . because the issue of a veto doesn’t even arise unless you get a
majority in the security council. (13 Jan. <http://www.number->; and ‘Tony Blair on Newsnight—part one’, 7
Feb., search Guardian online version).

In the debate about Tony Blair’s ‘trustworthiness’, the betrayal of this
pledge should be playing a central role.        On the eve of war, a poll found
that most people in Britain favoured giving Iraq a deadline for completing
the inspection process. 29 per cent said, ‘The UN inspectors are making
progress and need more time’. 65 per cent said, ‘Progress is limited—a
deadline is needed for military action’. (Sunday Times, 16 Mar. 2003, p. 2)
Iraq was not given a deadline for co-operation. Saddam Hussein and his sons
were given a 48-hour ultimatum to leave Iraq.
        This same poll found that, ‘Nearly half, 49%, say that to go to war
without a second resolution would be against the will of the British people
and that Tony Blair should not continue in office in these circumstances.’
(Sunday Times, 16 Mar. 2003, p. 2)

It seems that the soft central bloc of anti-war opinion—around 40 per cent
of British public opinion—fell in behind the Government not because of any
new evidence or any new arguments, but because British soldiers were in the
firing line, and they had to be ‘supported’. The danger for the Government
is that this same bloc of unpersuaded and coerced support is (again)
shallow and brittle. Hence the recent swing against the war.
        ‘Thinking about the build-up to the war in Iraq and everything that has
happened since, do you think that taking military action was the right or
wrong thing to do?’ Wrong thing to do June 2003: 34% (up from April 24%)
Right thing to do June 2003: 58% (down from April 64%). (Peter Riddell,
‘Trust for Blair slumps over Iraq war handling,’ Times, 14 June 2003, p. 2)
        Same poll: ‘Britain and America deliberately exaggerated the evidence that
Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in order to win support for going to
war.’ Yes 58%. No 39%. This was before the current round of revelations.

Warning for the movement
‘Regardless of whether Iraq actually did have weapons of mass destruction,
the war was justified because it got rid of Saddam Hussein.’ Disagree 27%.
Agree 70%. Labour voters: 84% agreed. Liberal Democrats: 54% agreed. The
argument about the war cannot be won simply by arguments about the weapons
issue. We have to take on the ‘regime change’ argument. See previous Anti-
War Briefings, and Regime Unchanged: Why The War Was Wrong, by Milan Rai
(Pluto, September, available at a discount via the JNV website).

        Another warning for the movement from the June poll: ‘The issue of whether
Iraq had weapons of mass destruction is only being raised again now because
people who opposed the war throughout are trying to find a new reason for
sayiong it wasn’t the right thing to do.’ Disagree 29%. Agree 68%. This was
in June, but this underlying attitude may persist.

President Bush suffers
A 12 July poll in the US found President Bush’s overall job approval rating
dropped to 59 percent, down nine points in the past 18 days. That decline
exactly mirrored the slide in public support for Bush’s handling of the
situation in Iraq, which slid to 58 percent. Seventy per cent believed the
US should continue to keep troops in Iraq, even if it means additional
casualties. 57 per cent still thought the war with Iraq was worth the
sacrifice, down 7 points from late June, and 13 points since the war ended.
        Fifty percent on 12 July said Bush intentionally exaggerated evidence
suggesting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, while nearly as many—46
percent—disagreed. ‘Taken together, the latest survey findings suggest that
the mix of euphoria and relief that followed the quick U.S. victory in Iraq
continues to dissipate, creating an uncertain and volatile political
environment.’ (Washington Post, 12 July, p. A01)

Noam Chomsky once wrote, ‘one who is seriously opposed to the use of force
to control the empire—the “integrated world economy” dominated by American
capital, to use the technical euphemism—must pay careful attention to the
actual state of American opinion’, and work to alter its condition. The
level of culture that can be achieved in the United States ‘is a life-and-
death matter for large masses of suffering humanity’.         With Britain’s
significance as a ‘legitimator’ of US violence (in the eyes of US public
opinion at least), much the same can be said of British public opinion.
Whether the ‘soft bloc’ of British anti-war opinion can be won back by
persuasion and information, and that sector of opinion can be ‘hardened’
into principled opposition to war, will have enormous significance.

Some members of ARROW are taking the work of the group onto a new level,
with a new group ‘JUSTICE NOT VENGEANCE’ (JNV), which is offering to be the
hub of a new network. JNV will be producing Anti-War Briefings and
developing the ARROW website.
More briefings can be downloaded from the JNV WEBSITE <>
JNV BOOK Regime Unchanged: Why The War Was Wrong by Milan Rai (Pluto, 2003)
PLEASE SUPPORT JNV (Justice Not Vengeance) 0845 458 9571
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printing/distribution by sending cheques to ‘ARROW Publications’, 29
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