Saturday, October 17, 2015

Would there really be support for "A Very British Coup?"

My first reaction to the Yougov poll about what proportion of people in Britain would support a military coup against the government was that this was a bit of a joke, with a foolishly worded question that was bound to produce an apparently horrifying result.

Then I saw the answers to the second question and considered the possibility that this was a bit more worrying than I had initially assumed.

The exact wording of the first question, in which I have put certain words in italics, was

"Do you think there would be any situation, however unlikely, in which you could imagine yourself supporting the British armed forces taking over the powers of government?"

ANY situation. However unlikely!

So that would include if the government had ordered the police and armed forces to round up thousands of their opponents and put them in concentration camps, or worse, gas chambers?

Or if the armed forces had proof that the government had no intention of calling any more general elections?

It is not remotely an indication of a threat to democracy if people could imagine themselves supporting a coup to restore democracy in such extreme circumstances.

I am totally convinced, as I believe the vast majority of people in our armed forces are, that they have an absolute duty to obey any legal orders from an elected government.

I also believe that the armed forces are not bound by illegal orders and might in some circumstances might have a duty to disobey illegal orders.

Many of the people hanged for murder after WWII tried to defend themselves at the Nuremberg tribunals with the words "I vos only obeying orders!" That defence was rejected, and rightly so.

Unfortunately the result of the second question in the YouGov poll suggests that some of the people who answered "Yes" to the first question would be willing to support a coup on much less extreme grounds - though I can't help wondering how many of the respondents were joking. Here are the results from the YouGov site:

A majority of those who said they could imagine themselves supporting a coup also said they would do so if there was an attempt to dismantle the armed forces, and around 40% if the government abolished the monarchy or scrapped Britain's nuclear weapons. That's a worryingly large number of people.

34% of those who said "Yes" to the first question - 9% of all participants - would support a coup against Jeremy Corbyn.

22% of those who said "Yes" to the first question would support a coup against Boris Johnson.

I think that last result may be an indication that not all participants were taking the poll entirely seriously.

We had conclusive evidence on General Election night that the pollsters sometimes get it badly wrong, and I'm inclined to dismiss most of the results from this survey as an example of the kind of polling which should not be taken too seriously.

However, one result may be linked to the fact people were prepared to consider supporting a coup is the one which tells us how much of a catastrophic fall there has been in respect for politicians, irrespective of the colour of their rosette or the position of the voter on the political spectrum, compared with other professions including military officers and police officers.

The columns on the right in the following table shows the part of this YouGov poll which I take very seriously indeed, as it matches all too well with what people tell me on the doorstep and in social conversations, and it should be a warning to politicians of all parties of a problem we have to address:


Peter McCall said...

Chris, really interesting. As a serving officer I cannot foresee any scenario where the UK military would even contemplate the thought of coup, it simply is never ever a remote consideration. What could be a reality is mass resignation, we choose to serve, but as a volunteer Army may choose not to. And you are correct, it is not lawful to follow illegal orders - tho' that is a complex legal area.

Very interesting to note the views of the public vis a vis trust in military officers over politicians - of great interest to me personally right now!

Chris Whiteside said...

I'm sure you are right that most serving officers would find the idea of a coup practically unthinkable. Equally if a government were to overstep the mark in the orders given, resigning rather than carrying them out might be an option.