Sunday, April 17, 2005

The dog whistle strategy

Here is Friday's Election Points from Liberal Democrat News. Sorry for the delay in posting - I have been in Shropshire. I even saw the offices of the Shropshire Star!

Whistling in the wind

The Conservatives are fighting this election on what insiders call “dog whistle” issues. In other words, their campaign concentrates on subjects that tickle the Tories’ core voters but leave the rest of us cold. This approach is the brainchild of Lynton Crosby, the Australian strategist hired by Michael Howard. (He’s one economic migrant the Tories do approve of.)

So when you read a speech by Howard you have to work out what diehard Tories will hear him saying. It can be very different. Let’s try a few sentences from the launch of the Tory manifesto on Monday.

Of course, we have moved on.
Don’t worry, we haven’t moved on.

People are realistic about tax.
I want tax cuts and more public spending. And I want you to repay the national debt too.

People long for more police on the streets, to enforce respect, discipline and the law.
We fight for liberty and then people go and do exactly as they please.

People long for their children to be taught in disciplined schools.
When I was a boy we got six of the best every day. Made me what I am.

Cleaner hospitals.
Matron. Hattie Jacques. Bed baths. Nurse, the screens!

Surely it's not that hard for an island nation to control its borders?
The doctor’s as black as your hat and my Women’s Weekly smells of curry.

Will the dog whistle strategy work? Of course not. The idea that the Conservatives lost in 2001 because William Hague did not appeal strongly enough to traditional Tory voters is ludicrous. It’s like saying that Michael Foot lost in 1983 because he wasn’t enough of a socialist.

After a brief attempt to win back the middle ground (involving a baseball cap and the Notting Hill Carnival) Hague did nothing but appeal to traditional voters. He flattered their every prejudice, even telling them that, under Labour, Britain would become “a foreign country”.

The only wonder is that Michael Howard has found ways of being even more right wing than Hague. What the Tories should do, of course, is tell their core voters a few home truths and try to appeal to voters beyond this increasingly narrow enclave.

As long as they follow their present strategy we Liberal Democrats have little to fear.

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