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Sunday, March 13, 2005


"I'm not racist, but..."

Just when you thought Michael Howard's powerful assault on Tony Blair at last Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions meant that maybe the Tories weren't so bad after all, comes more news of what they're up to in their election campaigning.

Saturday's Guardian carries a
report on the Tories' anti-immigration campaign. The original print version of this article (but not the online version) includes a photo of a new Tory billboard. It reads:

"It's not racist to impose limits on immigration."
Underneath is the strapline,

"Are you thinking what we're thinking?"
This is part of the Tory strategy of 'dog whistle' politics, messages that are heard only by those for whom they are intended. If the turnout is as low as it was in 2001 (59%) or even lower, then much will hinge on differential turnout. The Tory objective is to mobilise the party's core support. This narrow appeal makes little sense until you realise that New Labour built a coalition of support in 1997 and 2001 that was wide but not deep. There is increasing disillusionment among erstwhile Labour voters, particularly women (see the ICM poll in today's News of the World). The Tories don't need disillusioned Labour voters to vote Tory; they just need them to abstain.

There is a general tendency to underestimate the Tories. Most of their campaigning is going on 'under the radar', through techniques such as phone-polling and targeted letters. They're unlikely to win, but will do much better than most people think.

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