YouGov polls over recent months have shown consistent opposition to British military involvement inSyria, a position that did not change after an alleged chemical weapons attack by Assad forces on 21 August.
Polling for the Times on Tuesday and Wednesday shows that British missile strikes on Syria are opposed by 51 per cent of people, with 22 per cent in favour.
Presumably with Iraq in mind, 63 per cent believe missile strikes would make matters worse, with 15 per cent disagreeing.
Opposition is so strong that there is also a majority opposed to sending defensive military supplies, such as anti-aircraft guns, to the Syrian rebels (52 per cent are against and 20 per cent per in favour).
Even the alleged use of chemical weapons does not sway people. Some 60 per cent say chemical weapons are “especially terrible” and there is a “moral duty to do what we can to stop them being used in Syria”, with 24 per cent disagreeing.
But when push comes to shove, 46 per cent say that “what happens in Syria, however bad, has nothing to do with Britain and we should not get involved in any way”, with 40 per cent disagreeing.
There is also strong support for UN involvement, with 65 per cent agreeing, and 16 per cent disagreeing, that “except where Britain is responding to a direct attack on us, we should take military action ONLY when this is specifically authorised by the United Nations”.
It was a similar story 10 years ago in the week before the Iraq war began. YouGov polling found that only 32 per cent of people were prepared for British troops to be sent to Iraq without UN approval.
This did not materialise, and Tony Blair decided to hold a vote in the Commons just before hostilities started. The then prime minister suggested in his speech that he would resign if he lost the vote, and the government managed to secure a thumping majority of 412 votes to 149.
By this time, public opinion had shifted the government’s way: 50 per cent of people backed military action and 42 per cent opposed it.
As the war progressed and Saddam Hussein was toppled, those in favour increased – to 66 per cent when US troops entered Baghdad. But this was to prove the high water mark of public support for the war.
By mid-2004, public opinion had moved against the war and it has not shifted since. In March 2013, YouGov polling found that 53 per cent were against the war and 27 per cent in favour.
David Cameron told the Commons on Thursday: “The well of public opinion was well and truly poisoned by the Iraq episode.”
This is reflected in people’s feelings about Syria: the prime minister’s objectives may be limited, but military action can have unintended consequences, as the post-invasion violence in Iraq shows.
The day after the alleged chemical attack in Syria, Channel 4 News visited Keswick as part of its #c4newspopup series (see video above).
People there were shocked about what had happened, but wary of military intervention after Britain had “come a cropper” in previous foreign ventures.
Iraqi public opinion
The views of the Iraqi people have varied since the 2003 invasion from optimism to gloom.
Initially, there was hope, but as sectarian death squads began their killing spree and infrastructure collapsed, the mood of the public shifted.
It was not until 2007, when the “surge” in US troops took place, Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda and Iraq won the Asian Cup football tournament, that confidence returned.
This changed in 2010 when the security situation deteriorated, and with more than 1,000 Iraqis killed in July 2013 – the highest monthly death toll since 2008 – it is difficult to feel positive about the future.
See on www.channel4.com