Campaign contrasts: land of hope and fears

“Be afraid, be very afraid”. Hardly an inspiring rallying call in progressive politics, but scaremongering is a strategy that often wins elections, and we cannot ignore that.

The Labour party used that very slogan in the 2001 general election, depicting William Hague on a campaign billboard resplendent with a Margaret Thatcher hairdo, It worked and Hague’s Conservatives took a humiliating beating at the ballot box.

Fast forward to 2017 and the party that wins the battle of hopes and fears is still likely to come out on top. Fear of the liberal elite, used so effectively by Trump in last year’s US election, is going to be a big factor in the coming weeks. The Conservatives and UKIP would have us believe that the liberal elite is trying to defy democracy through the courts and in Parliament. This Conservative narrative is helped hugely by the massive machinery of big money donors and media moguls are backing this message. The Tories outspent all the other political parties put together in 2015, and with the daily artillery fire on whingeing liberals and dangerously deluded Corbynites from Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, the odds are stacked heavily in their favour.

So between a heartless right wing machine and a clueless left wing opposition led so ineptly by Jeremy Corbyn, where does this leave the Liberal Democrats? With our yellow ‘liberty bird’ emblem, we have never been an angry party, but now is the time to harness fear and righteous indignation because our principles are under attack.

The Conservatives will undoubtedly try to keep the debate on Brexit – an issue where Theresa May feels she has popular support – but that may backfire in Remain-voting constituencies such as mine in Lewes. We have already seen this in Richmond. People are fearful of a hard Brexit and, businesspeople, who have usually seen the Conservatives as their party of choice, must realise that so many Tories are willing to see Britain crash out of the EU with no trade deal.

However, we must not let the Conservatives make this election all about Brexit. A BBC Populus poll at the last election showed that the NHS and the economy were the biggest issues, ahead of immigration, and that welfare and education were far more important to voters than the EU.

On these issues, we know that there is much to be fearful about another five years of Conservative government. Let off the leash from a moderating coalition, the Conservatives have hacked away at the welfare state. The NHS is in crisis with creeping privatisation, crippling debts and rock-bottom morale, our schools are under threat from funding cuts, and the most vulnerable in our society are seeing their welfare payments reduced.

Of course we cannot go knocking on doors scaring people like some kind of yellow peril, but there is a lot on the line. The elderly need to realise that the Conservatives are imposing cuts on social care budgets that mean nursing homes cannot cope, and it is the Conservatives who preside over a health system on the brink of collapse. Parents need to realise that the Conservatives are overburdening schools with tests, while quietly cutting budgets.

We need to address these fears, harness the energy and indignation, and transform it into a positive message that we are the only party that combines compassion with economic competence. The Liberal Democrats will stand in the way of Conservative policies that will do harm to every sector of society, as we did with some success during the coalition government. Both hope and fear can drive us forward. Be afraid yes, but be inspired too – this just might be the biggest political fight of your lives.

* Ben Westwood is a journalist, author and lecturer in politics and media at University of Brighton.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Sue Sutherland 28th Apr '17 - 2:20pm

    Apparently it was the elderly who voted more in favour of Brexit than any other age group so we should be highlighting the effect of Brexit on social care, the Health Service, pensions and also education because they may have grandchildren. Labour will do this too almost as a knee jerk reaction, so we need to adopt a more measured approach rather than scaremongering.

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