Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What is Michael Howard Thinking?

The latest polls are all showing that the Tories campaign is faltering quite badly. Indeed, it is beginning to resemble the ill-fated Hague campaign of 2001. It never really got going, and then derailed when Bill tried to turn it into a referendum on the euro. Only this time there are increasingly sinister undertones to the Howard rhetoric.

I think Anthony Howard was spot on in today’s Times when he said that “dog whistle” tactics ran the risk of shoring up the Labour vote far more effectively than Blair ever could.

Lynton Crosby may have won several elections in Australia by a major focus on immigration. But the hyperbole of the Tory campaign was never going to be sustainable for a month. What was a very effective means of making the Tories seem to be major players in the campaign is now making them sound shrill, reactionary, and dangerous. Getting Alan Milburn to apologise for Home Office handling of an individual case has failed to be turned into an advantage.

Surely this must put into doubt Crosby’s status as a know-all guru? A focus on immigration could have shifted subtlely on to an issue like crime, and then from there to a debate on public services. Now any change in tactics will look like reacting to the polls rather than the Tories setting the agenda themselves. If it wasn’t for the severe unpopularity of Blair, another landslide would surely be almost inevitable.