On the 13th March, the incumbent Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party were 4 seats behind in the polls. On the 17th March, Netanyahu not only celebrated winning, but increasing Likud’s seat count by 12 seats from the previous election (which admittedly was contested on a joint ticket with Yisrael Beiteinu, who themselves won 6 seats), and is currently in the process of trying to form a coalition government. Even on the day of the election, polls were signalling a dead heat.
So just how did he close that 4 seat gap – eventually finishing 6 seats ahead – in such a small timeframe?
Well, aside from the unreliability of Israeli polls, he toughened up. The campaign he ran up until the last week was comparatively moderate (still right wing mind), and as the opposition had a respectable grasp on the moderate, centre ground vote, Likud suffered. In the final week, Netanyahu moved to the right, and campaigned more vigorously on the ‘dog-whistle’ policies to siphon votes from the other right wing parties. Significantly, he not only pledged to continue to build settlements on the contested lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but in a speech the day before the election, he reversed his support for a two state solution, saying that while he is still Prime Minister, there will be no Palestinian state.
Having seen a move to the right and the promotion of dog-whistle policies prove successful in the close run election of Israel, might the Conservatives see this as a plausible strategy here? The circumstances are certainly similar. Like Israel, the polls are both close and unpredictable, while the incumbent government is both a coalition and to the right of the political spectrum.
Thus far, the traditional dog-whistle Conservative policies – tax, immigration, crime, and the EU – have not played a prominent role, this despite the prominence of the economy and the continual rise (and in the light of recent scandals and issues – falter) of UKIP.
Whether you rate George Osborne as a Chancellor is one thing, however his astuteness as a political strategist since the presentational miscalculations of the ‘Pasty Tax’ budget have not been called into question. He, along with Lynton Crosby who, having deployed a dog-whistle campaign in the Tories 2005 election campaign, should be more aware than anyone as to their lack of success. He will have taken note of the historical ineffectiveness of a rightwards shift, cases in point are William Hague in 2001, and Michael Howard in 2005 – and they will do their upmost to avoid repeating history.
The recent budget did not reflect or signify a move to the right, nor did it appear to incorporate many traditional Tory dog-whistle policies either for that matter. Rather, it was a comparatively centrist, populist budget that is more reminiscent of New Labour, and dare I say it, but Blair and Brown would have been proud of it. I can even see them at the dispatch box delivering and defending it. Frankly, it’s no wonder Labour haven’t done much to oppose it. It was the budget most of their MPs would have loved to have been behind.
As the budget is essentially the base of the upcoming Tory election campaign, its centre ground position can be seen to signify the Conservatives campaigning position. With this, it is difficult to foresee a rightwards shift. The Conservative electoral machine – lead by Lynton Crosby and Jim Messina – will ensure a disciplined campaign that will see the party stick to its current rhetoric of defending the electoral record of the coalition. Simultaneously, the Tory campaign will focus on the perceived flaws of Labour, namely their lack of economic credibility and the poor poll figures of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, especially in comparison to David Cameron and George Osborne.
In addition to this, I think they’ll also secretly cross their fingers that the Lib Dems don’t get obliterated, and wish the SNP every success north of the border.
By Daniel Dean, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.