Blair Gov't Fails to Benefit From Foiling Terror Plot

By Kevin McCandless | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

London ( - As 11 Muslims suspected of planning to bomb U.S.-bound planes were arraigned in court here Tuesday, a new opinion poll showed that the British government failed to win a predicted ratings boost following the smashing of a major terror plot.

Eight of the 11 suspects have now been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and terrorism. They are accused of plotting to blow up around a dozen transatlantic flights, using liquid explosives.

The remaining three suspects were charged with lesser offenses of aiding the conspiracy. Another 11 suspects remain in custody but have not yet been charged.

Nine of those charged -- eight men and one woman -- are reported to be British citizens of Pakistani descent, with the remaining two British converts to Islam.

Police sources said investigations would take several more weeks to conclude and that any trial would not likely take place for at least a year.

In an ICM poll of more than one thousand British adults released on Tuesday, 72 percent of the respondents agreed that their government's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan had made Britain "more of a target for terrorists."

The poll also showed the opposition Conservative Party taking its largest recorded lead over the Labor Party in 19 years.

Forty percent of respondents indicated they would vote for the Conservatives, 31 percent for Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor. Most of the rest backed the Liberal Democrats, the third largest party in the House of Commons.

Some commentators had over the past week predicted a boost for the government after it exposed the alleged terrorist plan. On the contrary, however, many British citizens have voiced skepticism, with some wondering publicly whether it had been exaggerated.

Tuesday's court appearances may counter that perception. The ICM poll was conducted over the weekend.

Another opinion poll, conducted by YouGov after the arrests last week, found 79 percent of respondents expressing the view that Western nations were not winning the war against Islamist terrorism.

The poll also revealed that a growing number of Britons are wary of their Muslim compatriots. Only half of the respondents believed that "most British Muslims are moderate." Twenty-eight percent said they were not and another 22 percent did not know.

In a USA Today poll this week, President Bush's approval ratings jumped five points to 42 percent following news of the bombing plot.

Wyn Grant, a political science professor at Britain's Warwick University, said Tuesday the contrast in British and U.S. poll trends was probably due to cultural differences between the two countries.

While Americans tended to view their president as more of a larger-than-life iconic figure, he said, British citizens usually saw their prime minister as simply another politician.

"In times of emergency, there's a tendency [in the U.S.] to rally around the president," he said. "In the U.K., on the other hand, Blair has been seen responsible mainly for matters of policy."

The Labor Party is due to hold its annual conference in October, and Wyn predicted Blair would face increased pressure from discontented Labor lawmakers to name a date when he would resign.

Many commentators have predicted Blair might hold on to the position until 2008.

But Wyn said that it was now more likely he would step down next year - possibly handing the job over to longtime rival and heir apparent, finance minister Gordon Brown, or alternatively to Home Secretary John Reid, who as the minister responsible for law and order has dominated the headlines over the past fortnight.

As for the Conservative surge in the polls. Wyn urged caution.

Although Conservative leader David Cameron appeared to be benefiting from public discontent over Iraq and security concerns, the next general election may be more than three years away and the Conservatives should not count on the sentiment lasting.

"It may be reflected in polls over the next few months," he said. "In the long term, I think it's much more doubtful."

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