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Can this go on with little public support?

November 6th, 2009

Is Brown right to acknowledge that the deployment might fail?

We are in for a glut of opinion polls in the coming days on the question of Britain’s continued presence in Afghanistan – the latest being on C4 last night from YouGov which had 73% wanting an immediate or early pull-out.

Today, according to the Telegraph, Mr. Brown is to make a key speech on the issue in which he will acknowledge that the British mission which has cost so many lives might not succeed. But, according to the report, he will describe the Afghan mission is a “conflict of necessity not choice” and insist that “we cannot, must not and will not walk away”.

Certainly today’s front-pages are going to do nothing to ease the growing concerns and the pressure will continue to rise.

But the government is fortunate, so far at least, that this has not become a party issue. Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems are part of the consensus that supports the ongoing presence and, as yet, there is no political outlet for the “bring our boys home” sentiment.

At the 2005 election there was a specific choice, Charles Kennedy’s Lib Dems, for those opposed to the Iraq war. That doesn’t exist at the moment over Afghanistan.

But could that change? We have already seen doubts being raised by one or two prominent Labour figures and could the Lib Dems be planning to shift their position this side of the general election?

At the moment my guess is that all factions would prefer to wait until after polling day. A change by Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems at this juncture, for instance, could be portrayed as a cynical manoeuvre to win votes and, in any case, what does Paddy Ashdown think?

It might be that withdrawal becomes a key issue in a post-general election Labour leadership contest.

Mike Smithson