Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Politics of Fear Fizzle

Apologies to all while I turn serious for a while. Many on the left have wondered whether the resurgent right-wing has the monopoly on political spin and framing political issues in such a way as to win over the “hearts and minds” of voters. Republicans’ ongoing success in the US suggests this to be true. But sometimes, a glimmer of hope appears.

The UK is in the midst of an election campaign in which the right-wing Conservatives have run on one of the most racist and reactionary platforms in recent history. They seek to impose a limit on the number of asylum seekers allowed into the UK, regardless of whether these people’s human rights claims are legitimate or not. Moreover, they have overtly targeted gypsies, and are promising to be even tougher on crime than the Labour party. This is the politics of fear. Their slogan, characterized by some as a “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” appeal to the worst in human nature, is “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” Coupled with posters that say, “It’s not racist to control immigration” it is clear what’s going on here. The Tories want the white middle-class and working-class majority going to the polling stations trembling with fear of the “other.” The Tories will be the benevolent but stern patriarch that offers the promise of safety and protection to these scared voters.

The great news is this doesn’t seem to be working. The latest polls show the Tories, who started neck-and-neck with Labour, slipping badly. They are now five to ten percentage points behind. Some forecasters see Labour winning another majority, perhaps by 130 seats or more. Moreover, the Tory campaign appears to be frightening Tories themselves. Insiders report that high-ranking party officials have asked the leader, Michael Howard, to tone down the rhetoric.

What the Tories tried to do is shape a campaign so that they could talk exclusively on a limited number of issues that they felt had the most popular appeal. Problematically for them, they tried to fan the flames of fears that for the majority of people were smouldering at best. Frankly, voters don’t seem to be as afraid of the “other” as Tories themselves. Now the party leadership is left with egg on its face. They seem like children that can’t sleep because of in monsters in the closet. The real monsters are them. They have targeted society’s underdogs in a way that I, as a former UK resident, would never have expected.

Sadly, these diversionary tactics do often work. Many US voters saw moral issues, such as gay marriage, as the only ones that mattered in the 2004 presidential election. Doubtless, here in Canada, the right will attempt the same thing. What a gift to them that a gang of crooks in Quebec have created the biggest diversion witnessed in Canadian politics in years. I’m talking, of course, about Adscam. Will there be any room in the inevitably imminent election campaign for talk of those things that touch the lives of all of us – ie. infrastructure, schools and hospitals? It is seeming increasingly unlikely. However, I would like to believe that at least one party will rise above gutter politics and practice the politics of hope rather than the politics of fear. Maybe that party will be the NDP.