Sunday, April 16, 2006

Cameron's Dog Whistle

Margaret Hodge believes that there is going to be a big rise in the numbers voting for the BNP in her constituency and others like it. Apparently concerns over housing combined with an influx of immigrants have proved fertile ground for an anti-immigration challenge in Labour safe seats.

It should not be too much of a surprise that it is Labour dominated areas which are seeing the rise of the BNP. Immigration is an overwhelming economic good but it has to be accepted that there are winners and losers. Increased competition for low skilled work threatens those who are already poor. These people are generally Labour voters. Conservative voters are concerned about immigration but are mostly better off and, hence, for them immigration is a far more abstract issue. They do not live in the areas immigrants move to and do not work in the sorts of jobs that immigrants generally compete for. Equally, they are not in competition with immigrants for housing and other limited resources. Instead they have the luxury of worrying about more distant issues such as the environment.

This logic raises some interesting questions about whether David Cameron is really attempting to convert enemies who will never vote for him. Environmental issues and the other elements of being a 'nice' party matter most to the middle classes for whom other issues, like immigration and social breakdown, are less pressing. Talk of the 'metropolitan elite' who the Conservatives cannot recruit from misses the simple point that it is the votes that the Conservative party most needs to win, the swathes of the middle classes who did not return to the fold at the last election, who will base their vote most upon a broad conception of whether a party is one they would invite for dinner. Of course, issues like tax and the management of public services will still form the central battleground by the time of the election but while those policies are still being formed and the election is years away changing the perception of the party such that we cannot be dismissed as nasty is a fine way for Cameron to be spending his time.

Of course, this focus upon becoming acceptable to the middle class who have deserted the party since we last won elections does not mean that our long term fight for the votes of the northern cities needs to be sacrificed. Talking about the environment is a dog whistle which those who spend their time worrying about immigration will not hear. As we are still committed to maintaining a tough stand on issues like law and order we will retain the policies required for the slow struggle to revive our presence in the north.

Cameron using dog whistle politics to pursue Conservative core voters? More plausible than it sounds.

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