Political boffin, keen fisherman looking forward to retirement.

Monday, March 19, 2007

New Labour and the Politics of Fear

Below is an article in the Scotsman in relation to Labour's negative campaigning there. We are witnessing the same thing in Wales, perhaps the Scotsman article will provide an insight to Labour's (lack of) strategy here.

How can Labour combat SNP's political blitzkrieg?
HAMISH MACDONELL
EVERY SNP activist in the country has received a glossy, colour calendar wall chart from party headquarters, setting out a detailed, day-by-day timetable for the election campaign.
Destined to become a feature on the wall of every campaign office the party hold, the chart shows every important event of the campaign, from the dates of party election broadcasts to the timing of postal vote forms being dispatched.


It will
allow the local campaigns to chase up every possible vote and, more importantly,
enable the SNP to run a co-ordinated campaign throughout the country, with all
local branches following the same overall pattern but adapting it to local
needs.
This is
just one of a number of Nationalist innovations that have left Labour trailing.
Party managers have planned this campaign like a chess game. They want to be at
least one move, hopefully more, ahead of Labour at every stage - and that is
what has happened.
Last week
was a case in point. The Nationalists were preparing for their spring
conference, their last real attempt to finalise campaign plans and generate
publicity and funds. Labour, on the other hand, wanted to overshadow the SNP
conference, so Tony Blair came to Scotland to deliver a harsh
anti-independence warning to Scottish business.
But the
Nationalists were already a step ahead. Alex Salmond knew Sir George Mathewson,
the former chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, wanted
to declare his support for the SNP, so Mr Salmond managed to co-ordinate Sir
George's bombshell announcement in The Scotsman with the morning of the Prime
Minister's visit.
Mr Blair
was caught out, he had to go on the defensive and ended up attacking Sir George
himself, rather than the SNP. It was one-nil to the Nationalists before they had
even started their conference. But Mr Salmond wasn't content with that, he had
another trick. Brian Souter, the Stagecoach millionaire, had told Mr Salmond
several weeks ago that he wanted to donate a sizeable amount of cash to the
campaign, but the SNP leader kept this quiet, and kept Mr Souter in the wings.
On
Saturday, Mr Souter and his massive £500,000 donation were unveiled, giving the
SNP the best possible publicity for its conference, dominating the agenda for
the weekend and building on the impression, started by Sir George, that there
was now real momentum in generating business backing.
It has been
like this for the past eight months. It is as if Mr Salmond's party has planned
its campaign with military efficiency and, at every turn, Labour is being forced
into reacting rather than leading the agenda. The SNP has a clear, and clever,
strategy, to use Mr Salmond's name on every ballot paper to exploit the
proportional representation system to the full. Labour has nothing similar.
The SNP has
developed the most advanced internet database system ever used in British
politics to target voters with pinpoint accuracy: Labour has not. And the SNP
has £1.3 million in its election war chest, with a target of raising £1.75
million: Jack McConnell will fight the election with between £750,000 and £1
million.
Part of
this organisational success comes from fear, even desperation. SNP leaders know
this election is their best chance ever and if they fail this time, serious
questions will be asked as to whether they will ever do it. This fear of
failure, aware that they will never have a better chance of beating Labour, is
driving them on in a way that Labour cannot even contemplate after two terms in
Edinburgh and mid-way through a third term in London.
Cracks are
already starting to show in the Labour campaign. One member of the Chancellor's
team made it clear, last week, that this was Jack McConnell's campaign. "It
always has been," the source said. And if the blame game is starting already in
the Labour campaign, it really is in trouble.
Labour has
been accused of being negative but, in truth, this is not new for a party in
power. It is hard to sell the "vision thing" when you have been in power for two
terms and the public is getting a little tired of you.
"And, if
you do try to promote a new vision, the electorate has the right to ask: "Why
didn't you come up with this before?" So Labour has fallen back on the tried and
tested strategy of engendering fear. Its latest campaign slogan says nothing
about Labour and everything about the Nationalists' agenda: "Break up
Britain and end up broke." This is a
variation on its "Divorce is an expensive business" slogan from the last
election and, at its core, has an assertion that families would face increased
taxes of more than £5,000 a year under independence. Of all Labour's campaign
tactics, this has the most chance of success, simply because it goes to the
heart of what voters fear most - being taxed more. But it is still negative and
it contrasts badly with the SNP's "It's time" message.
Most people
will vote on gut feeling about the politicians running the country, and this is
Labour's problem. Many traditional Labour supporters feel uneasy about the
governments in Holyrood and Westminster and will either find someone else
to vote for - with the nationalist vote the most likely channel of expression
for this protest - or will stay at home.
This is why
Labour has gone negative. It needs to scare voters to such an extent that, above
all, they vote against the SNP, rather than for Labour.
The smiles
at the Glasgow Science Centre yesterday were as big as the Clyde because SNP strategists know that, if they enter the
final weeks of the campaign ahead of Labour, it will be hard for them to lose
that lead by polling day.
But they
also know they have a huge gap to make up. The SNP has only half as many seats
as Labour in the Scottish Parliament. It has to recover the ground it lost to
Labour in 2003, and it has never managed to worry Labour in its central and west
of Scotland heartlands.
Labour has
been losing ground for the past eight months but it has a long way to go before
it loses the election.
So far, the
SNP is doing everything right: it is setting the political agenda, it is
dominating the news agenda and it has not - as yet - made any gaffes of the sort
which crippled its campaign in 1999.
So far, for
the first time in a Scottish election, Scotland's nationalist party is ahead
in every area, including finance, and Labour is playing catch-up. Both parties
are in uncharted waters and the election will ultimately be decided on how each
reacts.

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