are you thinking what I'm thinking?


The Tory billboards for the coming UK election are clear:

‘Kids should be expelled for attacking teachers – it’s that simple.’
‘My council tax goes up and all I get is a wheelie bin.’

At the bottom of these billboards is the line: ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’

The stamp of Lynton Crosby is a clarity and simplicity that is instantly recognisable. Lower Interest Rates (and stick the word ‘comparatively’ on a post-it note for after the election). As we know all too well, a couple of good one-liners will work wonders in a campaign. It’s a simple recipe: target something that resonates with the voters’ hip pockets, and/or address your audience as part of a silenced or forgotten majority, and then bludgeon the voting mind senseless with it.

Here comes another one: ‘It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration.’

UK Conservative Party leader, Michel Howard

UK Conservative Party leader, Michel Howard

One is forced to concede that this will, immediately, strike a chord. For me, and perhaps other New Matilda readers, the first thing that springs to mind is a reply which is something along the lines of, ‘Well, actually, no-one said it was.’ Certainly none of the recent incarnations of Labour (give or take a ‘New’ or a ‘u’) would ever dream of saying it was.

So what is going on here, other than a clear case of shadow-boxing?

A dog-whistle can only be heard by dogs, it is beyond the range of human hearing. But it is too easy to dismiss this one-liner as simple encoded prejudice. There is, as always, a solid body of lies that gives such messages their power. In order to be effective, certain assumptions must be taken for granted: that there actually are illegal people, judges are soft on criminals (and jail is a holiday anyway), the youth of today are out of control, lower taxes are good, and, all boiled down, that only you matter.

Alongside these working assumptions, watch for anyone that tells you what the average voter thinks, as if they were in no way responsible. You’ll see it scattered everywhere in press releases. ‘The forgotten majority / people in [insert name of constituency here]believe / are tired of being marginalised by [insert name of opponent here]/ will not be silenced by the politically correct.’ The genius of those who talk about political correctness all the time is that they provide a simple outlet for the complex array of factors that builds a feeling of resentment in people’s lives. The causes are made out to be clear: it is being told what to say and think by the same imaginary forces that say that limiting immigration is racist. It is a monster that feeds itself.

I’ve written with feigned admiration about ‘clarity’ and ‘simplicity’ and even ‘the genius’ of this sort of campaigning. But any credit to be given to the architects of such campaigns pales alongside my sadness at a general public that allows itself to be so easily led, or worse still, that does not care. I would like to say that, if people had the facts about the reasons for war, or children in detention, or the type of person who would throw their child overboard, that they would so resent being played for fools that they would vote out those who treated them with such contempt (despite the opposition). But, as Julian Burnside (see New Matilda article) points out, enough people had the facts this time. We confirmed back to our political leaders that we agree with their view of us as a people for whom a threat to the hip pocket will trump a broken child behind razor wire every time.

I have a few slogans of my own: ‘No-one should be detained indefinitely on suspicion alone’, ‘Sorry shouldn’t be the hardest word’, or ‘Let’s focus on why they came, (it’ll be cheaper than Nauru…)’. Not very catchy are they?
What’s that I hear? I think it is the sound of Lynton smiling.

I await another speech by another Howard, where he declares, ‘We will decide who comes into this country, and the circumstances in which they come.’ I read on their website that the Tories have also promised to withdraw from the Refugee Convention if elected (see link ). I fear that they will actually get closer to New Labour this way. After all, it is clear, and much too simple.

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