The Poms have been discovering the joys of dog-whistle politics – and
all the virtually endless possibilities for moralising on the subject –
for months now as Lynton Crosby has thrashed the Tory party machine.
You can see a typical example of it in a profile of Conservative young
turk George Osborne from yesterday’s Independent.

“Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” the Tory ads read – read being
the operative word. Britain does not have electronic election ads of
the kind we are used to in Australia. The posters list six simple
slogans from the Conservative manifesto in facsimile handwriting – what
top Tories call “the simple longings of the British people.” Much of
their focus is on two familiar issues to observers of Crosby’s work
here – immigration and asylum seekers.

Crikey moles in the UK campaign, however, tell us that wits have cut
the tag to “Are you thinking?” – because the Conservatives just aren’t
getting traction. Have a look at the BBC’s poll

of polls. Labour remains solidly in front. Voting in Britain is not
compulsory. The protest vote against Tony Blair may well involve
staying at home, not swinging back to the Tories.

Last weekend, The Sunday Times
published a detailed memo from
Labour strategist and former Blair press secretary Alastair Campbell
that declared his boss was “home and dry”. Quoting from Campbell, The Sunday Times
reported
“The Tories’ focus on immigration has the effect of ‘skewing the
perception of the party to the right’ and ‘turns off’ crucial voters in
middle Britain.”

The Times
covers the issue again today

– but do the strategies that scared Australians into voting for John
Howard simply turn Britons off voting? The polls suggest so – but
perhaps we should look back at the last close British election, the
1992 poll.

Then, a Labour victory was expected. All the polling – public and
private – suggested so. John Major and the Conservatives, however,
snuck back in. Labour leader Neil Kinnock stayed bunkered in his home
for a couple of days while the tabloids reported that the new wardrobe
his wife Glenys had purchased in anticipation of the happy event was
returned to Harrods.

After the nastiness of the poll tax and the knifing of Margaret
Thatcher and the limpness of Major, voters felt obliged to tell
pollsters they were voting Labour – but didn’t. Conservative leader
Michael Howard has long been controversial – fellow frontbencher Anne
Widdecombe famously said he had “something of the night” about him –
and Crosby’s campaign is only enhancing this in public debate. But are
voters still thinking what he’s thinking? We’ll know next Friday, our
time.

Peter Fray

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