How Lynton Crosby helped another Howard to win 4 elections in Australia
An interesting feature in the Guardian today by Sandra Laville on the methods of Lynton Crosby – the Australian who has been drafted in by Michael Howard to run the Tory campaign – gives a sense of what we might expect from the Tories in the final 45 days of this campaign.
Based on interviews with those who have worked with and against Crosby during his four succesful campaigns for the Australian PM, John Howard, the feature sets out how he approaches his task and what’s likely to come.
…..Those who have worked against Mr Crosby believe he will take on any issue. As director of John Howard’s 2001 campaign, he was part of the team involved in the exploitation of the row over the Tampa, a Norwegian vessel carrying 438 refugees, which the prime minister turned away from Australian shores. At the same time newspaper advertisements showed Mr Howard with clenched fist stating: “We decide who comes into this country,” amid claims that refugees were throwing their children overboard to blackmail their way in.
Mr Howard was accused of playing the race card, but many believe the issue swung the election in his favour. “You didn’t have to have unique insight into the Australian psyche to know that blocking the arrival of refugees would be extremely popular,” said David Marr, co-author of Dark Victory, an examination of Mr Howard’s 2001 victory.
“Crosby and others were daring enough to exploit this for electoral purposes and pander directly to the innate fear in the Australian psyche that slanty-eyed people from the east are going to invade.” Such “daring” is also involved in the exploitation of local community divisions, a tactic employed by Mr Crosby to take the debate away from the national agenda.
“The kind of stuff he seems to be really interested in is the grubby low-level stuff of tapping into a community’s prejudices and exploiting them,” Mr Marr said. “The fact, for example, that what poor white Australian communities are irritated by is the fact that Aboriginals in Australia are getting secondary school scholarships.”
Mike Kaiser, who as Labor campaign manager was at the receiving end of Mr Crosby’s technique in 1992 state elections in Queensland, believes the British Labour party should be warned that his tactics will not change despite the different culture he is operating within.
“In 2001 he ruthlessly exploited sentiment against boat people and immigration in general and Labor found itself very much on the wrong side of public opinion. He seems to be using the same tactics in the UK.” In Australia he’s called ruthless and grubby but he helped to win four elections. Can he win one for Michael Howard?
The scale of the challenge facing the Tories is enormous – still behind in the polls and facing an electoral system that makes it very hard to achieve a majority. But there’s little doubt that the Labour Party campaign here has affected by Crosby’s approach for the Tories and it will be interesting to see how they counter it.