As British government ministers start to make the case to MPs for the Royal Air Force to bomb Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria, opinion polls suggest that the British public are wary of the benefits of such action.
A poll by Survation, where 1546 people were surveyed (and on Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union), shows the public to be less than enthusiastic, to say the least, about extending air strikes on IS in Syria. The poll was conducted in the aftermath of the Paris atrocities on 16 and 17 November.
56% say that the bombing of IS so far has made the UK less safe, with only 18% saying that the action had made the country safer.
When asked which option the public believe would be the best way to combat the threat posed by IS, only 15% believe that the UK, like France should independently launch airstrikes on IS targets immediately, only slightly higher than those (13%) who say the UK should stay away from the situation completely. A majority (52%) would support a more measured, multilateral response, military or otherwise, backed by a UN resolution.
These figures indicate that if MPs do go along with the government’s desire to engage in air strikes in Syria, they will not be supported by a large section of the public. It could well be that the British people are understandably nervous in the wake of the Paris attacks, but they have also witnessed the counter productive nature of recent similar interventions in Iraq and Libya.
Another opinion poll by BMG Research for the London Evening Standard again after the Paris attacks found a significant shift in favour of bombing raids in Syria though, but still showed an even 50/50 split over the proposed action.
Half the public thought the bombing raids being carried out in Iraq should be extended to IS heartlands in Syria. The same proportion did not. Opposition was higher among women (56 per cent) and those aged 18 to 24 (64 per cent). The momentum though is towards backing the air strikes say BMG.
MPs are believed to be coming around as well, to authorising bombing raids in Syria, after failing to endorse the move in 2014 (when the Assad regime would have been the target).
The Labour leadership will probably oppose extending the campaign into Syria, but many Labour MPs are said to be supportive of the government and there are not many Tory MP dissenters. The Scottish National Party and Democratic Unionists Party MPs have also said they will consider exactly what the government puts forward in an open minded way.
What seems to have changed MP’s mind is not just the scale and horror of the Paris attacks but that because one of our closest allies has been attacked on its home soil, a response would be more like self defence from Britain’s point of view.
Air raids on IS are not going to bring about its demise, which will need ground forces to dislodge them from the land they hold at the moment. This I think, would not be popular at all with the public or MPs, if British forces were to be deployed in this way.
But even if IS was driven out of the parts of Syria and Iraq that it now controls, the problem of Islamic terrorism would not go away. It would rise in another form somewhere else in the world, and the problem of domestic support for Islamic terror in Britain and other western countries would remain.
Dropping a lot of bombs on Syria will not be solve our problems, even if it does allow people to think that ‘something is being done.’ The regional powers who are easily strong enough to deal with IS, need to take control of any ground operations in Syria and we need to develop our intelligence domestically as well as internationally to cope with any possible attacks on the UK.
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