November 25, 2004

Blair Stokes Up The Fear

One thing stood out in Monday's Queen's Speech - fear is going to play a major part in Labour's election strategy. Principally the fear of crime and the fear of terrorism. Additional anti-terrorism powers and a new serious crime squad (SOCA) are being touted by New Labour, together with the mooted jury-less trials for terror suspects. It seems likely that the strategy will be based, in part at least, on that used to such great effect by the neo-conservatives in the US. As Bush discovered in the recent Presidential election, fear is a powerful weapon in ensuring incumbents win elections. After all, if the public believe that they are in mortal peril from bands of marauding fundamentalists they're less likely to 'change horses in mid-stream'. Yet there are key differences between the US and UK public that may mean this strategy backfires on our Tony. Firstly, the UK public has never bought into the 'war on terrorism' in the same way that the US public has. Secondly, Tony's attempts to link the Iraq war and the fight against terrorism, and hence build up the fear, went spectacularly wrong. Nobody believes him - so it takes a leap of faith to believe that we're under direct threat from terrorists in the UK too. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, negative messages have rarely worked in the UK. Polls show that people want ideas - for healthcare, education, transport and the economy. Give us those ideas, and let us believe in the power of hope, not fear.