How many weeks ago did we ask what might happen if the British Conservative Party’s exercise in Australian dog-whistle politics on race and immigration goes wrong? We suggested that they might win seats, that Lynton Crosby might come back to Australia with his campaign credentials strengthened – but that the image of the Conservatives might also be dealt a further crippling blow.

We warned that what you can get away with in government in Australia in a system of compulsory preferential voting is very different from what a British opposition with first past the post voluntary voting might expect. The Poms go to the polls a week today, but the party’s house journal, The Daily Telegraph, was already exploring the issue in detail yesterday.

By reinforcing the Tories’ image as the ‘nasty’ party, Mr Howard may meanwhile have delayed his party’s long-term recovery by several years,” Rachel Sylvester warned. “Instead of using the intensive publicity generated by an election campaign to reposition the Conservatives towards the centre ground, the Tory leader has simply entrenched the negative impression many voters have of his party…

Even if voters agree that the asylum system is flawed, most do not like politicians playing on their darker instincts. They would rather be driven out to the polling booth by hope than by fear. It is true that the Conservative Party’s image will grow back. But after this campaign, how much longer will it take…

In Australia, Lynton Crosby campaigned on immigration and he is doing the same thing, deliberately, here… Even if the Conservatives do take a few seats in areas where immigration is an issue – such as Kent and Essex – more general long-term damage will have been done. One senior strategist admitted to me that the focus on immigration had increased the ‘shame factor’ – particularly among middle-class voters – about supporting his party, insisting that the opinion polls therefore underestimate the Conservative vote because people will overcome their embarrassment in the privacy of the polling booth. But the Tories will never regain power until they stop making people feel ashamed to support them.”

As another Australian familiar to the Poms might say, “Spooky, possums!”

PS: Time to be unfair all round, in good Crikey style, and also take a baseball bat to Wayne Swan’s comments on the UK poll. As shadow treasurer he should have plenty to do, with the Howard Government lurching from questionable economic indicators to policy backflips and international incident – but, no, Wayne has to go and get quoted in posh Pommy papers like The Independent on what’s really happening in the British campaign. Election advice from Swan? Wasn’t he the bloke who advised that the punters would believe Latham when he told them during our campaign that anuual rebates weren’t real money?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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