Conservative plans to legalise fox hunting if they win the General Election in May is like handing a politicall weapon to Ed Miliband, but then asking him if he knows how to use it.
For many, myself included, it initially seemed like a belated Christmas present for the leader of the opposition. At a time when the Tories continue to enjoy a comfortable lead over their rivals when it comes to the economy, it sounds strange for them to detract attention from this strong point and instead talk about an issue that would surely turn swing voters off from them rather than on.
Lynton Crosby, an election advisor to Cameron, had previously repeated this very argument. Why would the Conservatives want to jeopardise losing swing voters by taking a controversial stance and detracting attention from more important areas where they are doing well?
Traditionally, the party that goes into an election as the most economically competent in the eyes of voters will win. It is the issue that trumps all else. But then again, this is by no means a traditional election.
What the Tories seem to be doing with this issue is appealing to the right of Britain; the Tory voters that they fear losing to UKIP in rural constituencies where they are used to pro-hunting group support. While the SNP could sabotage Labour next year, the Tories are just as worried about Mr Farage denting their chances in rural England. It isn’t just their MPs that are defecting after all.
Publically, the Tories are not concerned about the challenge of Labour in May and with this recent announcement of removing the ban on fox hunting, it seems that the feeling behind closed doors is exactly the same. Cameron is counting on Labour being unable to win Lib Dem seats, hoping that his coalition partner can retain enough left of centre voters, while also expecting a wipe out of Labour in their heartlands.
The opinion polls in Scotland look no different following Jim Murphy’s takeover as party leader. In fact, the recent ICM poll had Labour down to a feeble three seats north of the border according to Professor John Curtice, crediting the SNP with electoral domination in an area once considered a safe haven for Labour. It is exactly this type of news that fills the Tories with so much hope and gives them a free hand to concentrate on their own supporters.
If Miliband is on course for these losses, then the Tories do not want to risk UKIP ruining their parade. For Cameron, the message; ‘vote UKIP, get Ed’ is a real one. That is why the Tories want to cement their footing on the right of the political scale in the coming months. Let the other parties damage Labour, while they focus on their own seats and preventing further momentum to UKIP.
So what will Labour do? Usually, the Tories wanting to lift the fox hunting ban would be lapped up by them. They would reiterate that the Tories haven’t changed from the nasty party, they represent an out of touch elite, they haven’t got their priorities correct and then think about all the other right wing policies you would get if Cameron, Johnson, Hague, Osborne et al get elected.
Except that this isn’t Labour’s battle at the moment. They’re still well behind on the economy, are losing badly to the SNP and need to attract Lib Dem voters by telling them why they are better.
Trying to create a social class division of us versus them, left versus right, is not the message that will win these battles. Swing voters want to know why Labour can reduce the deficit better than the present Government, not that the Tories are terrible.
Whilst public opinion is against legalising fox hunting according to the latest Ipsos MORI poll, Cameron is not intending to win over swing voters with this issue. It is an attempt to reach out to the rural Conservative heartlands, as well as the pro-hunting groups, and stake his claim as the voice of the right. After all, it is no surprise that following the announcement, Farage was in complete agreement as he attempts to convince traditional Tories to join UKIP and win these rural areas himself. Not to mention, the electoral benefits of having the pro-hunting groups on your side in rural constituencies when it comes to campaigning.
Had the Tories had less of a lead in the economy and were under more direct threat from Labour, I don’t think that they would have supported lifting the ban.
However, in an election where the winning party will be one who can come out with the minimal amount of damage rather than the overriding support, the Tories seem to have a slight edge at this stage. So much so, that they can afford to take their eyes off Labour for a while and try to fend off UKIP as much as possible.
In the meantime, Miliband needs a better political weapon, but not for the Tories or the foxes.
By Jonathan Adamson, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.