Dead Men Left

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Woof woof bark bark

That Tory dog-whistle in action:

...a Bletchley reader sends news of the poster thoughtfully placed 200 yards from a local mosque. Promptly sprayed beneath "It's not racist to impose limits on immigration" were the rather less debatable words "Pakis out". She immediately informed central office, who were horrified enough at this turn of events to get round to removing it several days later. Lovely people.

But as Jonathan Freedland said, there's the risk of attracting the wrong sort of dog:

Michael Howard's 'dog whistle' immigration strategy is encouraging more reluctant Labour voters to return to their party than recruiting new Tory voters, according to the results of this week's Guardian/ICM election poll...

The ICM findings suggest that Mr Howard's hardline stance on asylum and immigration is putting off more voters than it is attracting. The Conservative lead on the issue has fallen from 13 points to 10 over the last week.

Immigration is also slipping down the list of "most important" concerns, being named by only 8% of voters this week compared with 12% 10 days ago.

It's been building for a good few years now, but the polarisation in British politics is becoming more and more evident. Against a vocal and vicious right, clustered around the old stalwarts of race and crime - inseperably linked in certain voters' minds - there is an clear left tendency, biased against privatisation, favouring the environment and issues of social justice to which the Labour leadership is desperately appealing. They will have some difficulty: though the invasion and occupation of Iraq is rated by only a very few as the most important issue in the election, it is the issue that defines this left pole and has made its emergence possible.

How, then, does a party of the "Third Way" centre cope? Very badly: though the appalling mess of Iraq acted as a catalyst, the tensions within New Labour's coalition were already becoming apparent. The clear opinion poll majorities to the left of the government on such issues as renationalising the railways (PDF file) and redistribution (PDF file) indicated a certain friction.

Triangulation has become increasingly difficult in such circumstances, since the left cannot now be easily bought off. New Labour's solution has been to make a bee-line for simple authoritarianism: expecting neither support nor acquiescence for its substantive programme, it has drifted towards a heavier and heavier reliance on the supposedly apolitical claims of the "war on terror" and crime. Crime and terrorism can be easily presented as merely dysfunctional errors in the smooth running of society, requiring only technical solutions: ASBOs, control orders, and - at the junction of both - ID cards. This a technique New Labour has applied most assiduously in economic policy, deliberately delegating key decisions to unelected bodies and, as far as possible, removing questions over the economy from political debate, turning them instead into squabbles over management style. (That, in the last few days, politics should have rudely intruded on economic management in the form of Rover indicates how flawed the technique is.)

"The centre cannot hold," and all that. The two main parties, pressure-cooked under First Past the Post, will continue to represent broad coalitions. Depending on the election's outcome - dependent on Labour's eventual majority - the task of doing so is liable to become increasingly difficult. New Labour, crippled by the war, is scarcely up to the job.