Wednesday, June 18, 2008

dog whistle politics

There was some talk during the last election about dog whistle politics. The idea was that the conservatives were saying certain things about immigration that your average voter would just ignore, but those who really cared would definitely vote for you. This is something that can be seen in any system like ours, where swaying the minority vote without losing any core vote can win you elections.

The most obvious example of this is Bush, with his pandering to the religious extremes in the US. The figuring was no republican with somewhat liberal values was going to vote against moves against gay marriage, and certainly not against abortion (mainly because most American's assume that no president is really capable of banning abortion, which is certainly true while the supreme court remains in the delecate balance it maintains).

The issue with this is brand awareness. Everyone knows about branding these days- the wonders of Nike excetera trying to provoke one particular image for themselves. This is actually vital for politics to do. Basically, every party is trying, or should be trying to maintain some kind of image. This broadly should be their ideology- so in case of labour equality, and the conservatives freedom (to simplify things to a complete extreme). When you do dog whistle politics, your brand will usually take a knock.

For example, the ten pence tax rate thing has given a big knock to the idea that Labour is the party of helping the unfortunate, even though it is probably still true. While I expect Gordon Brown believed that this might be the best thing to do, I really don't believe it for the upgrading of cannabis and the 42 day detention. There is mixed evidence that it is necessary to have a longer detention, and there are a lot of good reasons not to do it in terms of liberty. I'm fairly certain that Labour would not be doing this if they did not want to appear tough on terror. So it does not come across as a principled stand, it comes across as Labour trying to appeal to a demographic that normally doesn't care. But along the way it damages this idea that Labour is interesting in social liberties. The same with cannabis, only it is much, much worse. There really is no sensible reason to upgrade cannabis other than the absurd idea of wanting to look tough. The fact is a large proportion of the population have smoked or know someone who smokes cannabis, and I suspect the large majority of them wouldn't want to see someone who smokes it get a jail sentence.

I hate this form of politics, and I think ultimately it is damaging to the parties election prospects. An on message policy of an inspiring nature is required to save Labour, and right now I'm not seeing it.

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