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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 March 2007, 06:04 GMT
Iraq: has it changed UK politics?
Mark Easton, BBC Home Editor
By Mark Easton
Home editor, BBC News

BBC home editor, Mark Easton, visited one English city to see if local views reflected a BBC poll's findings on attitudes to the war in Iraq, and if the war had changed political allegiances.

Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes' architects have been invited to redesign Najaf

Milton Keynes seems a long way from the battlefields of Iraq. In our shrinking planet, though, one quickly finds links.

For instance, the designers of Milton Keynes have been invited to redesign the war-damaged Iraqi city of Najaf. But I travelled to this rapidly-expanding Buckinghamshire city to find out how, four years after the invasion of Iraq, that war may have redesigned the social and political fabric of towns like Milton Keynes.

Back in 2003, if Milton Keynes is typical - about six out of every 10 people here supported the war.

Today? A BBC poll shows six out of every 10 now believe the war was a mistake - although three out of every 10 people still think it was the right thing to do.

In one of the huge shopping centres that dominate Milton Keynes, I talked to shoppers about the war and was surprised how quickly you meet someone directly affected.

I spoke to the father of a soldier who had just returned from Iraq. "I am not happy about it", he told me. "I'm not happy at all. I didn't support the war but obviously you support the troops. They've got a job to do and they sign up to do it."

Mark Lancaster
It may well be much harder to get the British public to back other overseas adventures by the military because of what's happened in Iraq
Mark Lancaster,
MP for North East Milton Keynes

His wife joined the conversation. "They are doing a job, but the army doesn't want to be there", she said. "They want to come home."

At Milton Keynes railway station the message was more emphatic.

"End the Occupation of Iraq" demanded a "Stop the War" banner draped over a trestle table. Tom Bolton was one of the hundreds from the city who joined the million or more on the anti-war march in London four years ago.

"I am still as angry as ever about it", he told me. "We felt at the beginning that it was an illegal and immoral invasion that would cause unnecessary suffering and after four years of occupation too many lives are still being taken."

As we chatted, a group of young men drove by and let loose a stream of racist invective at the protesters. "Nuke Iraq" one angry face shouted - a hint that the war has put community relations under strain.

Outside a local mosque I found graffiti which read "Muslims Hate You..." and in the largely Bengali community in Duncombe Street in Bletchley a young Asian man told me how, at the time of the invasion, tensions ran high.

"When it first started there were a few incidents in the street. A few bricks and bottles were thrown at the mosque," he told me. "But now everything's back to normal and people are just getting on with what they're doing."

It was a widespread view among Muslims I met. "I am more worried about paying the gas bill than what's happening in Iraq," a young Bangladeshi father told me at his garden gate.

Political legacy

Back at the shopping centre, it was clear that however deep the passions over Iraq may have been four years ago, it was not a burning issue for most today.

"It's almost history" one man told me. "You hear about it on the news and you hear about the soldiers who have been killed, but it's kind of gone from the mind."

Is there a political legacy, though? The MP for North East Milton Keynes is Mark Lancaster, a Conservative who believes his long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq helped him win the seat at the last election. Now a Tory Whip, Mr Lancaster is also a Major in the Territorial Army with experience in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo.

I asked whether he thought the invasion of Iraq had long-term consequences. "It has had an impact on the political agenda", he replied.

"It may well be much harder to get the British public to back other overseas adventures by the military because of what's happened in Iraq."

Continuing bloodshed

However, our poll shows that almost six out of every 10 people would still support British military intervention overseas - to stop genocide or for disaster relief - even if there was no direct threat to Britain.

And even Mark Lancaster agrees that Iraq is not an issue on the doorstep these days.

As another shopper carrying a young baby put it to me: "I did the march at the time because I thought it was quite confusing as to why we were going there. But now, sadly, because you hear about it less, it goes away from your mind."

Despite the continuing bloodshed, for Milton Keynes at least, it appears that the Iraq war is fast heading into history.

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