Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sending a message

For any established political party, the euro-elections are a nightmare. There is no point in producing a manifesto as there is no means by which it can be honoured. Nor can they address the hard questions – like what would you do about the CFP … or the CAP … or …

Hence, we get that certain air of unreality that so often pervades EU politics, encapsulated in the new slogan picked by the Conservative Party for this particular round of elections. "Tell Labour you want the referendum they promised. Vote Conservative on 4th June," it runs, complete with the graphic shown above.

Tory Home makes a meal of it, The Times does a dutiful piece and The Daily Telegraph puts in a show, but none remark on the central incongruity of the campaign.

Looking at it dispassionately (if one can actually do that), what we have is the main opposition party asking the electorate to vote for it solely in order to send a message to the government. That, in itself has to be an innovation. We are not getting, "vote for us because …". The ballot box has been turned into a megaphone.

The big problem for the electorate is that the Conservatives are directing the message in the wrong direction. After all, if the current raft of polls is to be believed, after the general election we will have a Conservative administration. Thus, the Conservatives could ask voters to send them a message, such as: "Tell the Conservatives you want the referendum you were promised…".

Unfortunately, that promise is not on the Conservative table. As The Times remarks, Mr Cameron again refused to say whether the Conservatives would hold a referendum if they won the next election but the treaty had already been ratified by all the member states. He simply repeated the previous formula that "they would not let matters rest there".

On this, we are then asked to trust the Tories. But what are we trusting them to do? To deliver something they have not promised, like a referendum?

On the other hand, should they have made an unequivocal promise, there would be no difficulty is deciding where to place a vote. That the promise is not forthcoming invites suspicion. There are questions, but no answers.

Presumably, the Conservatives are confident that they can rely on the groundswell of antipathy against Brown to carry the vote for them. Certainly, The Times is suggesting that, with the demise of UKIP some gains will be made, upping the 26.7 percent received in 2004 by at least seven points.

Missing entirely from this analysis, however, is any mention of the BNP. And with this party gaining ground, the Conservatives may have made a tactical error. By framing the election as a mechanism for sending messages, the electorate may take the Conservative lead and use its votes for precisely that purpose.

The danger – for the Conservatives – is that the message it sends might be altogether different.