The 1982 Falklands War, for those old enough to recall it, was an historical moment for Britain’s post-war generation. Having been raised on the tales of relatives from another era who had fought for their country in two world wars, we now found that friends of our own age had gone to fight a war in our own time. For many in my generation the memories of that war were stirred by a particularly poignant scene in the film The Iron Lady in which Margaret Thatcher considers how to deal with the threat from the Argentine naval vessel General Belgrano. In the film Thatcher magisterially pronounces her verdict: sink it!
Every few years since Argentina was ejected from the Falklands, their Government has made grumbling noises about Britain’s claim over the islands, but this time around – even though Argentina is no longer ruled by a fascist junta – the sabre-rattling has a more serious feel to it. As Cristina Fernández, the Argentine president, goes to the UN to make a formal complain about the ‘militarisation’ of the Falklands, what is the current mood in Britain towards this little cluster of islands some 8,000 miles away?
We can shed some light on this question having conducted a (hitherto unpublished) poll for ITV News on 20-22 January, investigating whether the public is in any mood to resist Argentina’s demands. They are…..
“The British Government should keep all options open, including military ones if necessary, in responding to any possible threat of Falklands invasion”
Don’t know 24%
However, bearing in mind the poll was conducted before General Sir Mike Jackson said publicly that he thought it ‘just about impossible’ for Britain’s armed forces to retake the Falklands, it seems that he was reinforcing what a lot of people actually think:
“I doubt that Britain would have the military capability to defeat an invading Argentine force should Argentina decide to invade the Falklands”
Don’t know 29%
What of the merits then of actually trying to keep the Falkland Islands British? The trump card, which has consistently formed the basis for the British Government’s case ever since 1982, is that it should be up to the Islanders themselves to decide on their future. The British public are very solidly behind this argument:
“The future of the Falkland Islands should be determined by the Islanders themselves”
Don’t know 18%
Set against this, however, is a potentially very significant degree of public scepticism about why the British and Argentinian Governments are so keen to assert their respective rights over the islands. The majority of the British public think it all comes down to filthy lucre:
“The dispute over the Falkland Islands is more about oil & mineral rights than about the rights of the islanders”
Don’t know 30%
Surprisingly, though, many people still believe this to be worth staking a claim over – by a ratio of two to one:
“The UK should strive to keep control of the Falklands due to the economic and geographic benefits which the Islands give”
Don’t know 36%
Finally, we tested a battery of statements about whether the conflict is just an unnecessary distraction. While many people are robust in urging a vigorous response to any threat, the poll finds about three in ten people are distinctly uncomfortable either because of the Falklands’ distance from the UK, the more pressing issues closer to home, or (more strikingly) simply that it’s just too politically expedient for David Cameron:
“It should not be Britain’s job to worry about defending a group of islands as far away as the Falklands”
Don’t know 21%
“The Government should be focusing its attention on the needs of people in Britain, rather than those in the Falklands”
Don’t know 18%
“David Cameron is making an issue with the Falkland Islands now to divert attention away from the state of the British economy”
Don’t know 25%
Without wishing to sound too cynical, resisting Argentine pugnacity may do David Cameron little harm – as long as he carries with him the female population, who are markedly less jingoistic than men.
It is also striking just how much older age cohorts would support military action more than their younger counterparts would. Which is particularly relevant when you consider the direct correlation between age and propensity to vote – although the age groups that are least enthusiastic about weighing in with military action are whose most likely to be required to do the fighting.
ComRes interviewed 2052 GB adults online between 20th and 22nd January 2012. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables available at www.comres.co.uk.