Published on Wednesday, November 17, 2004 by the lndependent/UK
Britons Reject Blair's Closeness to the US
by Andrew Grice
Tony Blair's "shoulder to shoulder" support for America is rejected today by a majority of British people, who believe it is more important to have good relations with European countries.
A poll by NOP for The Independent found that 64 per cent of people think that having good relations with Britain's European Union partners is more important than with the United States, while only 25 per cent believe the relationship with the US should take priority.
The findings are a setback to Mr Blair and may embarrass him on the eve of tomorrow's visit to Britain by Jacques Chirac, the French President, who wants Europe to become an alternative centre of power to America. Although Mr Blair is determined to act as a "bridge" between the US and EU, he vowed during a visit to Washington last week that Britain's strong bond with America would continue for as long as he remained Prime Minister.
Despite public scepticism about the EU, people would rather Britain keep closer to Europe than America. The poll's results will be seen as evidence of hostility to President George Bush in Britain and opposition to Mr Blair's decision to back him over Iraq rather than pursue a "European solution".
There is better news for the Prime Minister on other fronts. According to NOP, Labour (on 39 per cent) has opened a commanding nine-point lead over the Tories (30 per cent), with the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent, enough to give Mr Blair a majority of more than 150. Labour is up three points since month's last NOP/Independent survey, the Tories down four points and the Liberal Democrats down one.
NOP also found that people reject the Tories' plans to fight the general election on a pledge to cut taxes without damaging public services.
A majority (58 per cent) believe it would not be possible to lower taxes without harming services such as the NHS and schools, while only 37 per cent think it would be possible to do so. Tory supporters have not been convinced by the party's proposed tax pledge. They are split evenly on the issue.
NOP's findings on Britain's "special relationship" with the US will worry Labour strategists, who have said that foreign affairs such as Iraq and global terrorism will play a key role at the next election.
The survey reveals clear age differences on Britain's priorities. People between 44 and 54 are the most favourable towards good relations with the rest of Europe rather than the US, while people aged 55 and over are most keen on good relations with America. Women are much keener on good relations with Europe than men, who are more likely than women to regard US links as important.
Almost seven in 10 women (69 per cent) believe relations with Europe are more important, compared with only 59 per cent of men. Some 32 per cent of men regard a good relationship with the US as more important, while only 19 per cent of women do.
* NOP interviewed 953 people across Great Britain between 12 and 14 November. Data were weighted to be representative of the population as a whole by age, sex and region.
© 2004 Independent Newspapers, Ltd.