The public fears that Britain's armed forces will be sucked into a long, Iraq-style military operation in Libya, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent.
David Cameron has insisted that Libya is "not another Iraq", but voters are not convinced and appear scarred by the long, bloody aftermath of the 2003 invasion. Seven out of ten people (71 per cent) are concerned that the action in Libya could result in Britain being "dragged into a prolonged conflict like the Iraq war", while 24 per cent are not. The fears are greater among Labour supporters, 77 per cent of whom are worried that Libya could turn into another Iraq. That view is shared by 67 per cent of Conservative supporters and 70 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters.
The findings chime with the private views of many MPs who support the intervention in Libya but want to see an "early exit strategy". Mr Cameron may come under pressure to spell out an "end game" when he addresses the private weekly meeting of Tory MPs at Westminster tomorrow. One senior Tory said: "Our MPs are supportive of going in but there is anxiety about being stuck there for a long time."
By a margin of 47 to 43 per cent, people do not believe the Government was right to commit British forces to action in Libya. A majority of Conservative voters (58 per cent) back the intervention, compared to 46 per cent of Labour and 45 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters. Despite that, 46 per cent think the operation would be justified in targeting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi himself; 40 per cent do not.
The survey also found evidence that people believe the wholesale review of Britain's defence strategy last year may already have been overtaken by events – a claim denied by ministers. Some 68 per cent of the public agree that the decision to commit forces to action in Libya shows that Britain should not be planning to cut spending on defence, while 25 per cent disagree.
According to the poll, Labour (41 per cent) has a six-point lead over the Conservatives (35 per cent), with the Liberal Democrats on 13 per cent and other parties on 11 per cent altogether. The latest figures would give Labour an overall majority of 68 if they were repeated at a general election fought under the existing first-past-the-post system. The Liberal Democrats would see their number of MPs reduced from 57 to 21.
I am concerned that the military action in Libya could result in Britain being dragged into a prolonged conflict like the Iraq war
Agree: 71 per cent
Don't know: 5 per cent
Disagree: 24 per cent
The Government was right to commit British armed forces to action in Libya
Agree: 43 per cent
Don't know: 9 per cent
Disagree: 47 per cent
The decision to commit British armed forces to action in Libya shows that we should not be planning to cut spending on defence
Agree: 68 per cent
Don't know: 7 per cent
Disagree: 25 per cent
The coalition of armed forces in Libya would be justified in targeting Colonel Gaddafi himself
Agree: 46 per cent
Don't know: 14 per cent
Disagree: 40 per cent
ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1,000 GB adults between March 25-27, 2011. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk