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It's the defence cuts, stupid

Posted by Richard Saturday, August 21, 2004

Despite Newlab and the Tories droning on in their bids to outdo each other on schools 'n' hospitals, duly echoed by the increasingly dire media, I have for some time felt that these were not truly the issues of main concern to the electorate.

It is something of a relief, therefore – to say nothing of vindication – to see The Daily Telegraph leader today commenting on the Mori poll issued yesterday by the Financial Times which reported that, whereas, three years ago, nearly 60 percent thought the NHS was the most important issue facing Britain, now only 34 percent do. Instead, 38 percent believe defence/foreign affairs is the biggest concern, more than any other policy area.

Amongst other things, there is a belief that "the proposed defence cuts are daft" and so strongly does that Telegraph feel this issue will play that it believes that, "Next year we could see a khaki-ish election like 1945 or 1918".

Equally interesting was the Telegraph's comment that "Europe positively sends the electorate to sleep (UKIP, take note)", although this must be taken with a pinch of salt.

I carried out an analysis of opinion polls some time ago which demonstrated that responses to the "Europe" question depended very much on how it was asked, and in what context (now there's a surprise). Basically, specific polls about EU issues elicited higher responses than when a "Europe" question was tacked on to a more general poll.

This notwithstanding, what the poll indicates is that the electorate (or, at least, the sample questioned) has not understood how closely defence and foreign affairs are bound up with the EU, and the extent to which both agendas are being determined by the EU.

Clearly, Col. Tim Collins's comment in the Mail on Sunday last week, that "The massacre of our proudest regiments isn't about efficiency ...it's about surrendering our soldiers to fight in a Euro-army", as recorded in this Blog, have yet to hit home and need a wider airing.

One suspects that this will not come from the Conservatives, whose shadow spokesman on defence, Nicholas Soames, is distinctly of the Europhile tendency. Whether UKIP is up to the job remains to be seen but, to judge from its recent record, it is more comfortable with commenting on women cleaning behind 'fridges.