I popped off back to Blighty last weekend to visit aged parents and attend a do (with them) at my alma mater, Magdalene College, Cambridge. My parent's constituency is Harwich, a seat currently held by Labour but which was once a solid Tory one until 1997.
Anyway as I walked and drove around the area I noticed just a couple of boring placards for Labour and a far greater number of (generally larger) placards for his Tory challenger, Douglas Carswell.What was interesting about those posters was that I initially assumed Mr Carswell was a UKIP candidate, because of the prominent union jack and "Independent Britain" slogan on them. Indeed the Harwich conservatives website seems to be a hotbed of Euroskepicism, with a page about the local Tory MEP who 'opposes British adoption of the Euro and an EU "Constitution"' and pages that say things like this:
Douglas Carswell says:
"No to the Euro. No to the Euro constitution.
What part of No doesn't Tony Blair understand?
When we joined the so-called "Common Market" people thought it was only going to be about trade.
I believe Britain must be an independent country once again - trading with Europe - but governing ourselves.
I believe it with a passion"
The EU referendum blog notes that official Tory policy on Europe is rather less stridently anti-EU so perhaps it is no surprise that the redirect from the official central Conservative Party page to the Harwich one reads as follows:
You are now leaving Conservatives.com - The web site of the Conservative Party.
The Conservative Party is neither responsible for, nor necessarily endorses the content of the Website to which you are going.
This does of course rather invalidate the claim by Vicki Wood's daughter in the Torygraph (linked to in the next EU referndum blog entry) that its all about "Schools'n'hospitals" and focus groups. Nationally I have absolutely no doubt this is true because as Vicki correctly points out other issues are tricky for the main parties to talk about due to internal party fissures and the economy is doing OK - not so wonderfully good that it can be a point for Labour, but not so direly that the Tories can resurrect their 1979 slogans:
What I suspect we will see as the campaign progresses is a lot of local emphasis on immigration and Europe by the Tories even if nationally both get less focus (though Howard certainly got the lefties worked up with his weekend immigration speech).
Don't mention the War
The issue that will be most studiously avoided by all is Iraq. This is a crying shame as the country really needs to have a proper debate on Iraq and on British foreign and military policy. We won't get it in this election and I rather doubt we will ever get it unless the BBC decides that intervention by the UK in (say) Darfur or Zimbabwe and we get people looking back at the overall success of Iraq. The New Sisyphus blog, who is looking at the election purely from a foreign policy perspective says:
British friends: please vote for the socialist.
and that does rather echo the views of Oliver Kamm and Stephen Pollard that the Tory leaders are imitating a certain Escroc and being remarkably amoral and cycnical in their foreign policy. I have agreee with that analysis yet I disagree with the conclusion. Despite their foreign policy silence the Tories are far more sound on domestic policy - even if they fire people who tell the truth - and considerably better on Europe. The problem with the Tories is that they are running scared of Labour's generally strong agenda setting - hence their weaselling over both Iraq and government cuts - but I think if they were to win we would see less weaselling and more action.
Tony Blair = Harold Wilson 30 years on
However while I want the Tories to win I don't think they will do so this time. I believe the Labour party will win this election albeit with a somewhat reduced majority. I also believe that Blair will quit in 2006(ish) especially if(when?) the UK rejects the EU constitution in a referendum. At that point Gordon Brown will have to follow in the unfortunate footsteps of Jim Callaghan and try and pick up the pieces. What Brown will do, I have no doubt, is unleash even more government spending on "Schools'n'hospitals" while raising taxes and doing very little to address the issues that really bother British people such as crime, Europe and immigration. The result will be that in 2009/2010 the Tories can resurrect their 1979 campaign and win on similar grounds as the wheels will have totally come of ZaNu Labour.