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A shrivelled campaign

Posted by Richard Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Back on the stump this week, once again it is the voters and not the policians who are rasing the issue of the European Union.

It thus takes Mark Steyn to make sense of this phenomenon, which he does in The Telegraph today with a piece headed "Big ideas? This feels like a local election".

His theme will be very familiar to readers of this Blog as he bemoans the claustrophobic narrowness of the election, and he focuses on the immigration issue which he analyses as a tactic used by the Right to "shore up the Tory base, boost turnout, and prevent further haemorrhaging to UKIP and worse."

But, he writes, UKIP arose from the Conservatives' Europhobia-phobia - the party's wariness about becoming too explicitly anti-EU, and he doubts you can woo the lost lambs back to the fold by using a lot of anonymous Balkan deadbeats as a proxy for the A-list foreigners you're not quite confident enough to have a go at.

Putting his finger on the curious gap in the campaign, Steyn observes that Mr Howard "would rather risk being portrayed as xenophobic than as anti-European."

That calculation is very telling, he adds: "I'm one of those who think France's Euro-referendum will be much more decisive than the UK's general election when it comes to determining how Britain is governed. If the French reject the European Constitution, they'll have rejected it for these islands as well. If they sign up for it, it will probably be a fait accompli for the British, too."

His conclusion is brutal: "For that reason," the Steyn complains, "the Tories at the very least owed us a campaign fought on big grand Thatcher-sized themes. This one just feels like a shrivelled local election - which tells you as much as anything about where British politics is really heading."

The word that grabs is "shrivelled" – sums it all up really. There is no breadth, no vision and there are walls around this campaign, keeping the candidates in check, excluding whole area of public policy from the discourse. No wonder the voters are tunring off.