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Home > Special Topics > Europe Report Last Updated: 15:16 03/09/2007
Europe Report #75: March 24, 2004

Iraq Anniversary in Europe Part Two: UK divided over Iraq War

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

In Britain, the one-year Iraq milestone was greeted with anti-war demonstrations and a high-profile protest on London landmark Big Ben. Prime Minister Tony Blair's approval ratings have nosedived due to his support for the pre-emptive war which has deeply divided the nation. Marking the first anniversary, the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, summed up the national mood, "One year on and the country is still split." He added, "We play into the hands of the terrorists if we are divided."

In the capital, thousands of demonstrators gathered in heavy rain at Trafalgar Square to protest against British involvement in Iraq. However, their numbers were substantially fewer than the massive prewar rallies, indicating that the issue has lost some of its earlier momentum.

The independent lawmaker George Galloway told the rain-soaked London rally, "Last Sunday, the Spanish voters rejected the false dichotomy between war and terrorism. War is terrorism." Galloway was expelled from Blair's Labour Party for his strong anti-war stance. Former conservative Defense Minister, Michael Portillo, totally rejected Galloway's view. He said, "People outside Iraq criticize the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but the majority of Iraqis are grateful he has gone and happy to be free."

A short distance from Trafalgar Square, two Greenpeace activists grabbed the headlines by breeching the British parliament's security barrier to scale the famous Big Ben clock tower. On the monument's giant clock-face, they unfolded a banner reading, "Time for Truth." This was highly embarrassing for the government as after the Madrid bombings the country is meant to be on a heightened state of security alert. The incident certainly underlined the capital's vulnerability to terrorist attacks.

Londoners fear terror attack
Since the Madrid bombings, the British media has speculated on the possibility of an attack on London. The capital's staunchly anti-war mayor, Ken Livingstone, has already said that it would be "miraculous" if London avoided a terror incident. At the weekend, London Police commissioner, Sir John Stevens, said, "There is an inevitability that some sort of attack will get through." His comments were echoed by Cabinet minister Peter Hain, who told BBC Radio 4, "Of course, we are all frontline targets."

Since the Madrid terror atrocity, most ordinary Londoners have felt uneasy. There are a wide range of views on the terrorist threat. Frank Curran, a builder says, "What the Spanish did was wrong. By giving into the terrorists, they have encouraged the terrorists to bomb London." Jeremy Cope, an accountant, offers the opposite view, "The Americans just don't seem to understand the Spanish. They have not bowed their heads to the terrorists. They are just saying that fighting terrorism and fighting the war in Iraq are two completely different things and there is no link between the two. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan not Iraq."

Paul Gore, a heating engineer, sums up a view common amongst Londoners who are not particularly interested in politics, "Who really cares about bringing democracy to Iraq? I mean, yes, it would nice and all that, but let them do it themselves. We should not be involved in problems of other countries. Especially not dangerous ones."

Susan Thomas, a hairstylist, describes the fear many Londoners now feel when they travel to work. She says, "Bush and Blair, they make all these macho pronouncements about fighting terrorists. But it's so easy for these people to say these things. They are surrounded by bodyguards, live in bomb-proof buildings and drive around in armored cars. They never have to sit on a crowded train every morning like millions of ordinary people and worry about being blown up because your country is involved in another person's war."

These diverse, and sometimes simplistic, views illustrate the current volatile nature of public opinion. Should an attack actually occur in London, it could have serious political consequences for the government. The former Conservative Defense Minister, Michael Portillo, comments, "If there were a terror attack in London, regrettably there is a strong possibility that it could benefit those parties which have taken an anti-war stance."

Portillo is referring to the junior opposition Liberal Democrats, who have increased their popularity by opposing the war. A strong showing by the Liberal Democrats in the next election would completely change the dynamics of British politics.

Iraq Anniversary in Europe Part One: Iraq War has Little Support in Europe

Iraq Anniversary in Europe Part Three: Iraq War changed the Finnish Government

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