Key findings / Tough on threats home and abroad

Tough on threats home and abroad

While attitudes haven’t moved in a constant direction, the growing desire for more tax and spend sits alongside continued high support for a strong state on issues of crime and terrorism. This is with fieldwork being completed before the recent terrorist attacks in
Manchester and London.

During a time of suspected terrorist attack, half of the public (53%) support the government being able to detain people indefinitely without putting them on trial. The current legal limit is just 14 days. Outside of the two world wars, internment has only briefly been permitted twice during the 20th and 21st centuries. Once was very controversially in Northern Ireland
between 1971 and 1975, as an attempt to deal with ‘the troubles’. The other occasion was in respect of international - and therefore non-UK - terrorist suspects, between 2001 and 2005 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US. In addition, the majority of the public (70%) also support authorities having the right to stop and search people at random during times of terrorist attack.


One issue raised by recent terrorist attacks is whether the security services have adequate powers of surveillance in order to stop an attack in the first place. A significant majority (80%) think the government should have the right to monitor people by video in public areas, and 50% think the government should also have the right to monitor emails and other information exchanged on the internet.

On international threats, 4 in 10 people (39%) back more spending on defence, whereas only 2 in 10 (20%) want to see it cut. Support for more defence spending has never been higher, even though – and perhaps in some instances because – no less than 72% think the government has been successful at dealing with threats to Britain’s security. The trend may also be a reaction against the long-term decline in UK defence expenditure, and the uncertainty created by well publicised conflicts in Ukraine and Syria where the post-Cold War sense of order and international rules have been up-ended (Observer, 2016).

Author: Roger Harding, Head of Public Attitudes, The National Centre for Social Research