Thatcher future unfazed by mild Falklands report

What price the so-called ''Falklands factor'' in Britain now? Is it a significant factor determining how British people will vote - or a fast-fading political event, for all its heroism and loss of life?

These are the questions politicians and analysts are trying to answer following the release of the long-awaited public inquiry into the Falklands war.

The government itself is relieved at the findings of the Lord Franks report, which said the government could not have foreseen or prevented the Argentine attack last April 2.

The report specifically says that ''no clear intelligence'' about the invasion before it took place came from the United States, either by satellite or any other means.

Government officials also believe the criticisms coming out of the report - aimed at the government decisions and intelligence-gathering in the months leading up to the invasion - are mild and will make no significant dent in public opinion.

The day before the report was issued, a Market Opinion Research International (MORI) poll showed the government leading the opposition Labour Party by 44 to 35 percent, with the Liberal-Social Democratic alliance slipping back to 20 percent.

Faced with this remarkable Thatcher lead, at a time of high unemployment and recession, the Labour Party is extremely anxious to turn the Franks report to its own advantage by focusing on its criticisms.

Opposition leaders emphasize findings that the government lost the initiative in mid-1981 by offering Argentina only talks based on the islanders' wishes, that the government should not have announced that the icebreaker HMS Endurance was to be taken from service, and that the Foreign Office ''misjudged'' the crisis early in 1982 (although Lord Franks concludes that the Foreign Office view was reasonable at the time).

Labour makes much use of the phrase used by Lord Carrington when he resigned as foreign secretary after the invasion, that Britain had suffered a ''national humiliation.'' (The report will set off weeks of further discussion, starting with a lengthy House of Commons debate set for the week of Jan. 24.)

The trouble for the opposition, however, is that the public may not be really interested in analyzing the minutiae of the Falklands campaign now that six months have passed.

To many people here, Argentina was wrong to have attacked, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was right to repel them.

Yes, people say, the war should never have begun in the first place. The government's huge intelligence-gathering network should have seen it coming more clearly and perhaps Mrs. Thatcher should have done something more to prevent it.

''But I'm not at all sure that the average person thinks more of the war than that,'' a political analyst comments. ''The point is, we won. Mrs Thatcher showed she is a leader. That's what stays in people's memory.''

Initial indications after the release of the Franks report were that its criticisms were not damaging enough to hurt the credibility of Mrs. Thatcher herself or of her government.

The date of the next election, the weakness of the pound sterling, and the state of the economy are far more pressing matters in the flow of daily news and concern. When the prime minister returned from her recent visit to the islands, she gave an hour-long television interview Jan. 16 during which neither she nor her interviewer referred to the islands at all.

Clearly, the way the government coordinated the political side of military intelligence was at fault in the 18 months before the invasion. ''The assessment machinery should be reviewed,'' the report says.

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