Should Clegg call for a withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Should Clegg call for a withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Would this be as popular as their pre-2005 Iraq policy?

One of the huge areas of government policy which is increasingly being opposed by voters is the continued deployment of British troops in Afghanistan.

A YouGov poll for the Telegraph a week ago found a split of 26% in favour and 62% against to the question “Do you favour or oppose the continued deployment of British troops to Afghanistan?. Surprisingly the party whose voters are most in favour of pulling out are the Tories with the Lib Dem just behind and Labour more supportive. But even supporters of Brown’s party split 38% in favour to 51% against.

As each new report of British casualties comes in electors seem to be growing in their scepticism about the whole point of the exercise.

So why don’t the Lib Dems, the party that gained so much in the 2005 election for being opposed to Iraq, become the first to call for a withdrawal? Wouldn’t this give them a distinctive position from the big party consensus that could pay dividends on polling day?

This might be being considered. Last week James Forsyth at the Speccie’s CoffeeHouse blog picked up on Clegg’s phraseology in a statement on the issue.

Clegg said: “I think there’s a tipping point where we have to ask ourselves whether we can do this job properly, and if we can’t do it properly we shouldn’t do it at all. I don’t think we are there yet”. It was the use by Clegg of the word “yet” that suggested to Forsyth that this might be on the cards.

The danger of such a policy stance is that they’d be accused of “going soft on terror” but that doesn’t seem to resonate in the way that it used to and, in any case, Brown’s foundering over the release of the Lockerbie bomber has made it difficult for him to get much mileage out of such an attack.

The view that we should get out is growing and I just wonder whether we’ll see something from Clegg at the Lib Dems conference which starts at the end of next week. Being the first would be consistent with Iraq and looks increasingly like the right thing for Britain to do.

Mike Smithson

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