Lynton Crosby: globetrotting, spreading dirty dog whistles
Crosby employs a particular nasty brand of politics, and it seems his consultant strategy works: since January this year he's been pottering around in the UK, helping the Tories under Michael Howard (no relation to little Johnny down here in Australia) to improve his chances to steal government from Tony Blair's Labour, and soon he's off to New Zealand.
This morning we heard that after the UK election, to be held on May 5th, Crosby's off to New Zealand - that is, if we can't stop him. We wrote a letter to Helen Clarke, the Prime Minister of Kiwiland.
On this page, a line-up of the British and Australian press about Lynton Crosby's travels and meddling in UK politics. The media is not sparing him, but he does his grubby work in a climate that seems to be befitting his approach. In March this year I wrote in the script of the forum Don't Mention the Refugees:
Globalisation? Well, sort-of - that is, globalisation of the politics of storing, locking up, warehousing, and banning of refugees and asylum seekers, and excluding them from the massive wealth of western countries.
Below our press release is the report we received this week from New Zealand. It's followed by media reports from January through to April. And there's more to come.
Block Lynton Crosby's visa for New Zealand, says refugee groupProject SafeCom Inc.
Monday April 19 2005 9:00am WST
For immediate Release
"John Howard's former advisor Lynton Crosby, who currently acts as the campaign director for the British Tories, and who was the campaign director during the 2001 Tampa election and beyond, should be barred from entering New Zealand on character grounds," WA Refugee group Project SafeCom stated today.
News is breaking in New Zealand (item below) that Mr Crosby will be employed by the NZ conservative party 'National' as a campaign consultant in that country's election after he finishes his role for Michael Howard's party after the May 5 UK election.
Lynton Crosby has refined 'refugee wedge politics' and 'dog whistle politics' to such an extent that he hires himself out as a campaign director to conservative parties 'around the world' in order to improve their chances to win elections. Crosby is currently the campaign director for the British Tories under Michael Howard, while New Zealanders are said to have their next election around September this year.
"Mr Crosby election tactics are deliberately designed to create a considerable degree of xenophobia and fear for 'refugee invasions', and his strategy consists of creating the most shameful and grubby tactics - spreading mis-information and uninformed but sensational opinion and debate - we have seen and experienced in Australia since the Tampa election in 2001, and we're now seeing the same phenomena developing from the conservatives in the UK," Project SafeCom spokesman Mr Smit said.
"It is vitally important that the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and her Immigration Minister Paul Swain discern his approach as an attempt to embed low gutter politics in New Zealand society. We would not wish the amount of division and animosity - divisions which are still tearing Australia apart in many ways - upon anyone, especially not on New Zealand, a country that may these days well carry, rather than Australia, the label of 'The Lucky Country' for asylum seekers."
"New Zealand has an admirable record in terms of their refugee treatment, so much so, that they've been willing to take up the 'slack' for Australia, for example in accepting many Tampa refugees, while not exposing John Howard's scandalous post-Tampa politics in a generous employ of diplomacy."
"Mr Crosby is not an honourable man, and his entry into New Zealand should be stopped on character grounds. Project SafeCom is currently developing communications with Prime Minister Helen Clark, Immigration Minister Paul Swain and his Associate Immigration Minister Damien O'Connor."
New Zealand: National to import Australian guruMolesworth and Featherstone's report
5 April 2005
(Molesworth and Featherstone's is a weekly email with politics gossip with a very good reputation. In an earlier edition there was a rumour the strategists would be arriving after the Brit election)
Negotiations are believed to be well advanced to bring a top Australian strategist to work with the National Party for two days a week.
Conservative strategists across the Tasman have produced remarkable success for John Howard's Liberal Party. British Conservative leader Michael Howard recently imported former Australian Liberal director Lynton Crosby to help organize for the UK election likely to be called in May. Mr Crosby's influence has been noticed in a reinvigorated Tory campaign and a heavy emphasis on race, immigration and asylum.
For National, the appointment of an Australian advisor will help to relieve mounting pressure on Don Brash to make changes to his strategy team. While he is resisting, particular criticism is being directed at Chief of Staff Richard Long.
Ban Tory tactician from NZ, refugee advocates sayUK Guardian
Matthew Tempest, political correspondent
Friday April 22, 2005
Refugee groups have called for the Conservative party's controversial election strategist, Lynton Crosby, to be banned from New Zealand, after it was reported that the country's centre-right National party want to hire him to fight their next election.
Mr Crosby, an Australian, is credited with targeting the Tories' message on immigration - a tactic he honed in four election successes for John Howard and the right-wing Liberal Party in Australia.
This week the Australian newspaper reported that he may leave the Tories after the May 5 election to help the New Zealand National party fight the September election to defeat Labour prime minister, Helen Clark.
Project SafeCom, an Australian group which campaigns on behalf of refugees, has called on the New Zealand government to refuse him a visa on 'character grounds'.
Spokesman Jack Smit said: "Mr Crosby's election tactics are deliberately designed to create a degree of xenophobia and fear for 'refugee invasions'. His strategy consists of creating the most shameful and grubby tactics - spreading misinformation and uninformed but sensational opinion and debate - we have seen and experienced in Australia since the Tampa election in 2001. We're now seeing the same phenomena developing from the Conservatives in the UK."
The newspaper also reported that the National party - in opposition in the Wellington parliament - is "in negotiations" with Mr Crosby.
Mr Crosby refuses to speak to the press, and no one was available at the National party headquarters to confirm the reports, but if true it would cement Mr Crosby's reputation as one of the world's foremost, if controversial, globe-trotting political fixers.
He is credited with a so-called 'dog whistle' strategy in Britain, appealing to Conservative voters on sensitive issues such as immigration and asylum under the radar of the other parties and the media.
The Tories have reduced their core messages to just five simple slogans: controlled immigration, more police, cleaner hospitals, school discipline and lower taxes. But the repeated emphasis, and the pledge to pull out of the Geneva convention on refugees to set an annual quota for the number of accepted asylum seekers, has outraged race relation campaigners and angered the other political parties.
Tony Blair today made his first keynote speech on immigration of the election, accusing the Tories of trying to stoke up public fears during the campaign.
He said leader Michael Howard had made the Tory campaign "a single issue" effort on immigration policy, and added: "Their campaign is based on the statement that it isn't racist to talk about immigration. I know of no senior politician who has ever said it was. So why do they put it like that?"
He said: "It is an attempt deliberately to exploit people's fears, to suggest that for reasons of political correctness, those in power don't dare deal with the issue.
"So that the public is left with the impression that they are being silenced in their concerns, that we are blindly ignoring them or telling them that to raise the issue is racist, when actually the opposite is true."
The National party in New Zealand has already raised immigration as an issue for the election there in five months' time. Last month their immigration spokesman, Tony Ryall, accused New Zealand's Labour government of presiding over "chaos in immigration policy".
He said: "With refugees, Labour is so keen to do the humanitarian thing that they take far too many that we can't support, and five years down the track 80% are still reliant on welfare.
"Labour's immigration policy is in disarray and it has become clear that it will not meet its targets, particularly those relating to skilled migration."
A spokeswoman at Conservative campaign headquarters said merely: "Mr Crosby does not speak to the press."
There was no immediate response from the National Party headquarters in Wellington, or its leader Don Brash.
Mr Crosby was hired at the end of last year by Michael Howard, after the Tory leader was impressed by his masterminding of John Howard's surprise re-election, coming from behind to defeat a strong challenge from the Labour opposition under Mark Latham - who then resigned.
John Howard declared after his win: "There's no better political strategist in Australia than Lynton Crosby."
However, during the 2001 election, Mr Howard and Mr Crosby used controversial tactics in a row over a refugee ship called the Tampa. False reports that asylum seekers were throwing their children overboard in an attempt to blackmail their way into Australia, prompted Mr Howard's notorious campaign slogan: "We decide who will come into this country."
Detention deficitProgress - Labour's Progressive Magazine
January 05/February 05
Are the Tories thinking of copying Australia's hardline policy on asylum seekers, asks Sam Hardy.
There seems to be an antipodean air wafting around Conservative Central Office at present. November saw the second Australian arrival at the Tories' Victoria Street base, with Mark Textor joining Lynton Crosby in making the change from John Howard's office in Canberra to Michael Howard's in London. This mini-influx of Australians at CCO, however, may have a more sinister outcome than the sharing of electoral know-how.
Earlier this year, the Australian Liberal party won re-election on the back of a buoyant economy and an unashamedly xenophobic approach to asylum. Its hardline policy was born in 2001 after Howard and Textor realised that targeting the fears of a handful of swing voters over asylum could reap electoral benefits. The worry for Britain is that Michael Howard and his team may see this election strategy, twice successful in Australia, as the best way forward for their beleaguered electoral machine. Indeed, in 1995, before the triumvirate of Howard, Textor and Crosby reinvigorated it, the Australian Liberal party was a sinking ship, going through three leaders in a year and falling well behind Paul Keating's Labor government. Fast-forward ten years and you don't have to be a political genius to work out the parallels with today's Tories.
The approach favoured by John Howard on immigration dwarfs even the most reactionary of European measures. Unlike in the UK and the majority of Europe, refugees attempting to claim asylum in Australia are immediately detained. Under what is called the 'Pacific Solution', refugees are held on remote Pacific islands surrounding Australia such as Nauru, where they are kept in high security camps. This is not a policy directed only towards men suspected of links to terrorism: the offshore camps accommodate all asylum seekers, whether men, women or children. Conditions in the camps are difficult: a recent report by the UN Human Rights and Equal Opportunities commission recommended the immediate release of all child detainees.
The Australian approach to refugees is even more indefensible when compared to Sweden, which every year receives a similar number of refugees to Australia. Yet Sweden is only about a fifteenth of the size and detention is only used when a person's identity needs to be verified and criminal checks carried out. Detention times in Sweden are negligible in comparison to Australia: child refugees can only be detained for six days. In contrast, Australian Department of Immigration figures put the number of child detainees at 174 in February of this year alone.
Australia argues that it is forced to be more rigorous in its handling of asylum seekers because of the sheer number arriving on its shores. But this is also undermined by the facts: currently Australia hosts approximately one refugee to every 1,500 Australian citizens, compared to one to every 500 in the UK and one to 80 in tiny Tanzania. In fact, in 2000, while 300,000 refugees arrived in Europe and over a million arrived in Iran and Pakistan alone (largely from Afghanistan), the number in Australia was far smaller, with some estimates putting it as low as 4,500, or one refugee to every 1,666 square kilometres an area larger than the Bahamas.
Indeed, when asylum seekers' appeals do finally come to be heard, over 90 per cent of cases are accepted as legitimate. But even if they become part of the lucky 90 per cent, an asylum seeker's path to freedom in Australia is far from smooth. Immigrants are given a Temporary Protection Visa, limiting their right to education, social services, foreign travel and family reunion. On top of this, the TPV usually runs out after three years, once again requiring refugees to justify their status.
Overall, the path John Howard has created for those seeking asylum in Australia may make good politics but it makes bad policy. However, this is unlikely to make any difference to Michael Howard.
The other Howard's way won't work hereDividing refugees into 'good' and 'bad' won an election for John Howard. Now Michael Howard hopes to emulate him
Tuesday January 25, 2005
Separated by half the world though they are, Michael Howard and John Howard have a lot in common. Both are lawyers by training and lead rightwing parties in English-speaking nations. But unlike his political cousin Michael, for whom electoral success seems elusive, John is enjoying a record-breaking regime in Australia, where his Liberal party has won four elections on the trot.
So Michael covets what John has. First he hired his campaigns guru, Lynton Crosby. Now he has popped the immigration pill, the magic ingredient that won John the election in 2001.
Our Mr Howard has taken more from Australia's Mr Howard than just the headline-grabbing ideas of immigration quotas and a points system for economic migrants - allowing the government to correct labour- market shortages and attract particularly desirable foreign workers. The immigration system pioneered by John Howard advances a more subtle argument against asylum. It also steadily undermines the ability of the persecuted to seek the protection of another nation, a right first enshrined in the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.
At first glance the Australian immigration system appears a rational way to regulate the free movement of human capital and crack down on the vexing problem of people smugglers. In practice John Howard has created a regime that divides asylum seekers into good and bad.
Economic migrants and their families must apply to enter Australia through its migration programme. In 2002-03, 108,070 people entered the country this way, with 66,050 skilled workers and 40,790 family members. Compared with skilled migrants, the Howard government has set a much smaller quota for refugees: 12,525 en tered in 2002-03 under its "humanitarian programme".
However, many believe that the subtext of these economic and humanitarian categories is to divide migrants into useful human capital and charity cases. Points-scoring migrants are young, educated and fluent in English. Refugees pass no test apart from oppression, helping spread an assumption that they are an unskilled drain on society rather than the engineers or teachers they often turn out to be.
But the key division is between good and bad refugees. Formally, John Howard's government still pays lip service to the refugee convention. Australia's humanitarian programme comprises "offshore resettlement for people in humanitarian need overseas; and onshore protection for those people already in Australia who arrived on temporary visas or in an unauthorised manner". In practice, the government's policy may be seen to stigmatise those who reach Australia independently.
Good refugees patiently wait in a "queue" in UN camps, according to the Howard government. They have the authentic stamp of the refugee: they are assessed by the UNHCR and can be seen, suffering, in their temporary tents. Bad refugees "jump the queue" by paying people smugglers to help them reach another country where they can claim asylum. At best they are wealthy middle-class refugees who can afford to pay thousands to be taken to the destination of their choice: Australia, rich in benefits and sunshine. At worst they are terrorist conmen who fake their identities and hold beliefs that are dangerous to western democracies.
When setting a cap on the number of refugees admitted each year, John Howard explicitly said that every "queue-jumper" given refugee status is denying those waiting in camps for the Australian government to pluck them to safety. And so it was with electoral backing that John Howard virtually halted the trickle of the "bad" refugees who arrived on Australia's shores independently: 5,577 arrived in 2000-01 compared with 869 in 2002-03 and a projected 750 for 2003-04.
As Michael Howard has spotted, John Howard's immigration policy is virtually bulletproof to criticisms that it is racist. How can it be argued that the government does not embrace a vision of Australia as a skilled and multicultural immigrant nation when it increased its admissions of skilled migrants and their family members from 70,200 in 1999-2000 to 108,070 in 2002-03? How can it be suggested the government does not allow the right to claim asylum when it admits 12,000 people a year under its humanitarian programme?
In reality it is not the asylum seekers who are choosing their safe haven but the country that is cherry-picking its refugees. The Australian government notes it has the "discretion" to choose its own refugees. Last week it welcomed 376 from Sierra Leone and Liberia, pointing out that 60% were Christian and many were young women taken under a "Woman at Risk" visa programme helping those who lack the protection of a male relative. To fearful voters these are a far more reassuring kind of refugee than the Muslim men who arrive under their own steam.
Any popular anxiety about male, Muslim refugees remains unchallenged, despite a recent government report finding that the biggest influx of "illegals" last year came not from Asia or the Middle East but from Britain and the US.
John Howard's way is now Michael Howard's way too. With Tony Blair desperate not to be seen as soft on immigration during this election, a Dutch auction could see it become the British government's way as well.
The only - big - proviso for desperate politicians is that John Howard's policy of division is unlikely to work so well in Britain. When the Australian prime minister declared his unofficial war on unauthorised asylum seekers, he was aiming to repel 5,000 each year, far fewer than reach British air and sea ports. It could be much harder for a UK government to shut the door quite so firmly on persecuted people arriving to claim their right to asylum.
Patrick Barkham is the Guardian's former Australia correspondent
Lynton Crosby's shameful British wedgeCrikey
By Martin Suiteach
Crikey Westminster Correspondent
(and nervous expat)
Britain's Howard plays the cheap and easy card Aussie John style - with more than a little help from Lynton Crosby. And read on for Christian Kerr's analysis as well.
25 January 2005
Well, it's official. Britain is being overrun by foreigners. So much so that Tory leader Michael Howard felt obliged to run a full page ad in The Sunday Telegraph (natural readership - retired military types who love huntin', shootin' and fishin' and hate immigrants) saying the UK can't cope with the influx.
I one had a conversation with someone who said they were depressed about "all these immigrants". This person lived in a nice house, in a nice area, had a secure job and I reckon the only immigrant that had crossed her path in the previous six months was me.
This is exactly the constituency Michael Howard is aiming at. By playing the cheap and easy race card he knows he can push a few buttons in the electorate because his economic plans won't stand up to scrutiny and other policies are either have no meat on the bones or disappear without trace. The issue of immigration figures large in opinion polls surveying people's concerns about their daily life. Yet like the person I mentioned before, most of them can come up with nothing better than: "Well there's too many of 'em, isn't there?" Even the United Kingdom Independence Party -- which wants controls on immigration -- called the Tories' plan as "irresponsible".
You don't have to be Einstein to detect the hand of Lynton Crosby behind this latest piece of garbage from a political "leader" who wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Britain's historical willingness to take in refugees. The parallels with Australia are being used widely by the media here. An Associated Press reporter told me AAP picked up his story on Howard's stunt within minutes of it hitting the AP wire.
Of course Howard denies he is being racist, adding that his system will make the asylum system fairer for genuine claimants, but under his plans, refugees would have to apply outside the UK. So the oppressed will have no option but to find their way to a British Embassy (if there is one) and pray they A). Aren't picked up by the people oppressing them or B). That Howard's proposed quota hasn't been filled and they are turned away.
He also wants to use the points system employed by Australia on issuing work permits.
It's hard to work out what's more depressing. The fact that John Howard got away with this kind of crap in 2001 (and we should all be ashamed at that). The fact that the Conservatives are so lacking in ideas they have to rip one off from the Liberals or the fact that the Tony Blair has not condemned the Tories on the grounds of bigotry, but that the plans don't stack up in terms of cost.
There is a skills shortage in this country. Last year Blair made no apology for luring South African nurses away from their homeland because Britain could not recruit enough locally to work in the UK's filthy hospitals. His own spokesman said there are currently 600,000 jobs going begging across the country.
Immigration works in cycles. People arrive with skills and do a job, or they arrive with no skills and do the jobs the locals don't want to do. That's how dishes get washed in restaurants and floors cleaned in factories. Australia was built in this way and is culturally richer for it - despite the undercurrent of bigotry that lurks not too far beneath the surface. Britain is no different and there is no evidence the economy or population is suffering major difficulty. As the Labour peer Lord Desai (also known as Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai) reportedly once said, if there were no immigrants, who would clean the toilets?
Michael Howard claims 160,000 immigrants come to the UK each year. What he doesn't say is that most of them come from the EU, Australia, New Zealand, the US and South Africa.
As for that last lot, you can ship them out straight away. They're taking London bar jobs off Australians.
The Tories' troubles with the hired help
Political correspondent Christian Kerr writes:
Perhaps the Conservative Party is only used to Australian nannies - or Aussie bar staff at the Palace of Westminster and the nearby watering holes.
The latest Lynton Crosby stories have that Barry McKenzie touch once again. They tell of an innocent Austral lad stumbling into trouble amongst the great and good of Pommyland, months out from an election.
Look at what The Times had to say yesterday abut the former Liberal Party federal director:
"Michael Howard's election guru has told him that the Conservatives have no hope of winning the next general election.
"The crushing blow from Lynton Crosby, the Australian campaign expert hired by Mr Howard at great expense to bring about a surprise Tory victory, came as Mr Howard attempted yesterday to put immigration and asylum at the heart of the party's election campaign?"
Poor Lynton was stung into action. "The Conservatives' campaign director has denied a report claiming he warned Michael Howard the party could not win the next general election," the Beeb reported.
"The Times on Monday said Australian Lynton Crosby told the party leader to focus on trying to increase the Tories' Commons presence by 25 to 30 seats.
"But Mr Crosby said in a statement: 'I have never had any such conversation... and I do not hold that view.'
"Mr Howard later added there was not 'one iota' of truth in the report."
You can read a wrap of the whole feeding frenzy in The Guardian, but this is the second time Crosby has got into trouble for this sort of thing.
He is fast becoming a household name in Britain, largely for all the wrong reasons. That isn't really the British way.
Michael Howard has made much of his refugee past, of his family's suffering at the hands of the Nazis.
The Tories have been squeezed off the middle ground by New Labour - a tarnished brand, but one with an irrepressible salesman in Tony Blair - and are under threat from the right from the anti-European Union and soi distant racists of the UK Independence Party.
Crosby is clearly trying to win back these latter voters by programming his boss up with sub-Tampa lines.
Does he realise that he's making the British Howard look like an utter hypocrite, or can't he look beyond his wedge obsessions?
Lynton Crosby's big weekendChristian Kerr
Crikey's political correspondent
British media laps up Lynton
31 January 2005
His tactics mightn't be pretty - but they're pretty effective. Former Liberal party federal director Lynton Crosby has had a big run in the British meeja for his work for the Conservative Party as an election draws ever closer.
The Labor leaning Daily Mirror tabloid managed to turn a few pars from The Guardian profile on Thursday into an "EXCLUSIVE" on Saturday.
"TORY GURU 'EXPLOITED' TEEN KILLING," it screamed.
"A sinister new election guru hired by Tory leader Michael Howard exploited the murder of a teenage girl to win votes in his native Australia.
"Lynton Crosby sparked a huge outcry after using the horrific stabbing of Cheree Richardson in the 1992 TV advertising blitz.
"The Liberal Party campaign said Australia's Labour Party had 'the blood of the victim on their hands'.
"It had to be abandoned after complaints from her family.
"Mr Crosby, 48, has been blasted for his hard-hitting campaigns on race and crime..."
There were High Tory sneers at Crosby's positioning of Conservative leader Michael Howard - the son of Jewish refugees from the Nazis - on race and immigration over at The Sunday Telegraph, the party's paper of choice.
"Howard is no racist. But this was an error," Matthew d'Ancona wrote.
"Does Lynton Crosby exist? There are certainly those at Conservative Party headquarters, jealous of his influence, who wish that he did not, and were hoping that Michael Howard's General Election Campaign Director would not return from his Christmas visit to his native Australia. The name Lynton Crosby always makes me think of a minor and infrequently serviced village station in Yorkshire, as in: 'This service will not stop at Lynton Crosby. All passengers for Lynton Crosby should alight at Scarborough, and take the special bus provided...
"The Australian strategist insists fiercely that he believes that the Tories can win. But his prescription suggests a conviction that damage limitation is the best Mr Howard can hope for now."
D'Ancona was writing after a Telegraph/ICM poll put support for Labour on 37 per cent, five per cent ahead of the Conservatives on 32 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent. The survey put the Tories up one point and Labour down one since the last ICM poll, taken before Howard's promise to limit immigration last week.
The left-leaning quality Independent on Sunday, however, suggested Crosby's tactic had left Tony Blair rattled.
"Labour plays its own race card to trump Tory migration plan," Andy McSmith and Francis Elliott wrote on its front page.
"Tony Blair will steal Michael Howard's key policy when he launches Labour's own crackdown on illegal immigration next week, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.
"The Prime Minister has insisted that an Australian-style points system to grade would-be migrants seeking a new life in Britain is included in a raft of measures. The deportation of thousands of failed asylum-seekers will also be made a top priority. Labour fears that Mr Howard scored a direct hit with the electorate when he launched the Conservatives' policies on asylum and immigration last week.
"Mr Blair's nervousness over the issue will increase today as a poll conducted for this newspaper shows two-fifths of voters could switch allegiance over the issue..."
The Independent's poll had Labour up one on 40 per cent, the Conservatives down two on 32 per cent and the Liberal Democrats up one to 20 per cent, with support for other parties - including the "I'm not racist, but..." UK Independence Party and the overtly anti-immigrant British National Party - unchanged on eight per cent.
Still, it warned of volatility in the electorate - 37 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the statement: "I would vote for the Liberal Democrats if they had a realistic chance of winning in my constituency". Under Britain's first past the post electoral system, that would give the LibDems a shot to form their first government since World War I.
A third poll, in The Observer, claims Howard is "the most unpopular opposition leader approaching a general election since Michael Foot," the Worzel Gummidge look-alike who lead Labour to disaster in 1983.
As we have observed before, New Labour is a tarnished brand - but Blair remains a master salesman and an expert in claiming the middle ground.
Lynton Crosby, however, is a down and dirty fighter.
Throw in UKIP, throw in the LibDems and we are looking at the most interesting British elections since John Major confounded the pundits back in 1992.
Our PM's key role in the UK electionThe Daily Telegraph
by David Penberthy
February 9, 2005
"WE will decide who comes here and the circumstances under which they come." - John Howard, 2001
And so will the English, who are in the middle of a political brawl over the asylum question which is every bit as heated as the debate in Australia in 2001.
Oddly, we're starring in it. It is impossible to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television in London without hearing a reference to the Australian immigration and detention laws, and how they should (or shouldn't) be replicated in the UK.
The impetus for the debate comes from the British Conservatives who according to every poll are worse than unelectable in the lead-up to a general election expected on May 5. They hold 165 seats and need double that to form government. It is almost impossible.
In a move which at best looks politically desperate, the Tories, who have retained John Howard's tactical mastermind Lynton Crosby as campaign director, have opted for a very obvious lift of our immigration laws amid concerns here over Britain's open borders.
Now, Labour has hit back, with Tony Blair's Government announcing its own crackdown, which goes further than the Australian model by making asylum-seekers sit English language tests.
No one is disputing the level of anxiety in Britain over unchecked immigration. In many of the pre-election opinion polls, as many as 70 per cent of voters readily identify immigration as an issue of concern.
The argument, as it was in Australia, is whether the Tories are trying to pander to race prejudice by going after working-class Labor voters with a nudge-nudge campaign against an imagined foreign peril or whether, to use the above famous line from John Howard's 2001 launch, it's simply about countries reserving the right to control the integrity of their borders, especially in a post-September 11 environment.
If John Howard proved that being vilified as a dangerous racist is a path to electoral glory, his namesake, British Tory Leader Michael Howard, is off to a flying start. Indeed, Howard even went out of his way to invite debate as to whether he was racist.
Pointing to his Jewish heritage and the fact that Britain gave his Romanian parents a safe haven after World War II, Howard employed the classic straw man argument by railing against race accusations even before he'd been called a racist.
He did so before he had delivered the speech outlining the new Australian-style immigration policy, which imposes annual caps on the refugee intake, limits family reunions, and targets migrants on the basis of skill shortages in the workforce.
Tactically, it has worked. The Pavlovian response from sections of the media and Labour has been that Howard, despite his background, is a political grub, and all of a sudden he's attracting a sympathy vote.
One of the most striking things about this debate, and our starring role in it, is that it jars with the widely-held assertion on the Australian Left that our standing has been destroyed in the eyes of the world.
Rather and especially in the wake of our widely-reported $1 billion commitment to Indonesia following the tsunami Australia is held up as an example of how to maintain a policy which is firm but humanitarian.
The Sun, which despite its support for British Labour has given the Tories an extensive and favourable run over the asylum policy, declared in one of its editorials that no one is accusing the big-hearted Aussies of being racist, suggesting a degree of detachment from the self-loathing on the letters pages of The Sydney Morning Herald.
But while the mainstream debate is favourable towards our policies, the British Left is so addled in its fury that it has distorted our track record to suit its arguments.
On the morning radio news program on Channel 4, playwright and author Johann Hari made the extraordinary claim that John Howard had used our immigration laws to win the 2001 election by deploying the navy to blow up and murder 350-odd Iraqis off the Australian mainland.
It made for an interesting John Clancy-style reworking of Children Overboard.
But the absent feature of the debate as is so often the case in Australia is the infernally slow processing of asylum-seekers in mandatory detention.
In Britain, as in Australia, the slowness of the system attracts much less criticism than the overblown claims about the harshness of detention centres themselves.
Here, the likes of Johann Hari have swallowed the concentration camp rhetoric misrepresenting our detention centres, which to my knowledge still remain free of gas chambers.
But in a week when it emerged that a mentally ill Australian woman has been held at Baxter for four months, neither the Brits nor Australians should be blase about the time our system takes to assess peoples' bona fides.
It's perfectly fair to detain people who arrive without any documentation but there's no reason why it should take two, three, four, more than five years to do so.
Lynton Crosby: Maestro of the dark artsThe Independent, UK
By Andrew Grice
26 March 2005
Two weeks ago, the grandees of the Conservative Party gathered for a late-night champagne reception in suite 120 of The Grand hotel in Brighton, where the party was holding its spring conference. The man most in demand among the fundraisers and wealthy donors present was Lynton Crosby, the shadowy Australian credited with transforming the Tories' morale and prospects since being appointed their general election campaign director last October.
In his dark pin-striped suit, a smiling and relaxed-looking Crosby could, at first glance, have been mistaken for a senior Tory MP. But when he spoke, Crosby's unmistakable drawl - and his tendency to call people "mate" - marked him out as an outsider. As he sipped vintage Pol Roget, Crosby confessed that he couldn't understand why anyone would go to Brighton for a holiday because there were no sandy beaches - and, typically, cracked a joke about the consequences of sunbathing nude on its shingle beach.
Yet there is much more to 48-year-old Crosby than his one-dimensional public image as a crude, red-necked Aussie who has taken the Conservative Party by the scruff of the neck and enabled it to claw its way back into an apparently lost game by raising issues such as asylum, immigration, illegal Gypsy camps, abortion, burglary and individual cases such as Margaret Dixon, the 69-year-old woman whose shoulder operation had been cancelled several times.
Labour claims that Crosby has imported "dog-whistle politics" into Britain. Used by the Australian Liberals, the Tories' sister party, it means sending a message which - the way a dog whistle is inaudible to humans - is heard only by the people at which it is aimed. Labour also accuses him of running a "wedge" campaign - dividing the support base of the rival party by targeting specific groups with messages on emotional issues such as abortion or immigration.
However the tactics are labelled, there is no doubt that Crosby has got under Labour's skin. Since the pre-election campaign began in January, he has helped the Tories to set the political agenda for a sustained period for the first time since Black Wednesday in 1992. He is credited with turning a rusty party machine into the Rolls-Royce it was in Margaret Thatcher's heyday.
Indeed, Labour has paid Crosby the ultimate back-handed compliment by calling for him to be sent back to Australia. It is also attacking Mark Textor, Crosby's partner in a market research and strategic consultancy, who arrived in Britain this week to lend a hand at Tory HQ, where he is known as "Text". Textor is said to be an advocate of "push polling" - telephoning voters on the pretext of conducting an opinion poll and then implanting damaging rumours about a rival candidate. Textor and two others had to pay £33,000 damages to Susan Robinson, Australian Labor Party candidate in a 1995 by-election, after a survey suggested she favoured abortion up to the ninth month of pregnancy. The Tories say Textor is not being paid and insist that all their polling is carried out within the rules.
A 1992 advert bearing Crosby's name, later withdrawn, said the Australian Labor government had "the blood of victims" such as murdered Cheree Richardson on its hands because of its early release scheme for prisoners. Then there was the damaging controversy over the Tampa, a Norwegian ship carrying 430 refugees, which John Howard turned away during the 2001 election amid claims that the passengers were throwing children overboard in a desperate attempt to gain entry to Australia. The claims were later shown to be wrong - but not until the saga had destabilised Labor and helped Howard to retain power.
The youngest of three children, Crosby was intent on escaping the cereal farming community of Kadina in South Australia in which he grew up. Following a degree at Adelaide University, he had planned a career in the Treasury but, after several jobs, stood for the Liberals in Queensland in 1982. He lost, decided to become a backroom boy, and rose to become the party's state secretary.
Married with two grown-up children, in 1996 he became the Liberals' deputy campaign director, helping John Howard to a surprise victory over Paul Keating, the Labor prime minister. John Howard has said: "There's no better political strategist in Australia." A commentator added: "If the word apparatchik did not exist, it would have to have been invented to describe Lynton Crosby." It is easy to see why Michael Howard wanted to recruit the man who helped his namesake to four successive victories. The Tory leader was deeply impressed by Crosby when he visited Australia as shadow foreign secretary after the 1997 election. They kept in touch and met up when Crosby made occasional visits to Britain. He gave informal advice to the Tories on an ad hoc basis. Last autumn, Mr Howard persuaded Crosby to come on board full time for the election.
His arrival put some noses out of joint - notably those of Lord (Maurice) Saatchi and Liam Fox, the party's co-chairmen, who thought they were running the election show. The early rivalries now seem to have cooled. The stuffy rabbit warren at Conservative Central Office in Smith Square, Westminster, well suited to cabals and plots, has symbolically been replaced by an open-plan office in nearby Victoria Street which Crosby has renamed "Conservative Campaign Headquarters".
Although initially viewed with caution by some new colleagues, Crosby soon won their confidence, giving the staffer who writes the best press release of the day a public herogram. His first priority was to inject some much-needed discipline. He was appalled that Tory frontbenchers ploughed their own furrow and floated policy ideas without thinking them through. With the party apparently heading for a third crushing defeat, Howard suspected that some shadow cabinet members were thinking more about the next Tory leadership election than the general election.
Crosby ordered such indiscipline to stop, and for all announcements to be properly road-tested, approved centrally and to be part of a coherent strategy. He will be appalled by the lack of discipline shown by Howard Flight, the Tory deputy chairman sacked on Thursday for suggesting that the party would opt for deeper spending cuts than it admits.
"Crosby is the perfect man for the job," says one close ally of Howard. "He has no agenda of his own. He is only interested in one thing - winning. He's not thinking about what happens after the election. He'll head back to Australia as soon as it's over."
Crosby is good at raising morale. With no sign of a breakthrough, staff members were gloomy as Christmas approached. He gave an impressive pep talk, telling them to ignore newspaper reports that the Tories could not win, have a good break and to "kick and kick hard" when they returned.
They kicked, and it seems to have worked. The Tories have a spring in their step. Confidence creates a virtuous circle and many Tories now believe they have a fighting chance of achieving a hung Parliament. True, the party has not yet made a breakthrough in the opinion polls. But its private polling in the 160-odd marginal seats where it is concentrating its fire is much more optimistic. "We can win," Crosby told Tory MPs during a Powerpoint presentation on Tuesday. "We have a strategy. This is it. We are sticking to it." Some commentators believe that Crosby knows the Tories cannot win in one go and is putting their energy into winning a smaller number of target seats on 5 May. This could explain the recent emphasis on issues more likely to appeal to natural Tories, in the hope that they turn out in greater numbers than Labour supporters.
When The Times claimed that Crosby had advised Howard the election could not be won, he started legal proceedings. Crosby told the paper that "second place" was not a phrase that entered his vocabulary. It eventually published a correction.
"What makes Lynton tick is winning," says a member of Howard's inner circle. "He has a very good feel for what is happening out there in the country. His instincts are very similar to Michael's. This is not Lynton Crosby's strategy. It is Michael Howard's strategy being executed by Lynton Crosby."
Crosby has won over all sections of the party, not just the right-wingers who are more inclined to preach to the Tory core vote. Alan Duncan, a moderniser and the shadow International Development Secretary, says: "I would be happy to go into the jungle with him. He's entirely a positive influence, a force for good. He has drawn all the elements together into a formidable team. People have found it invigorating."
Some moderates fear the "guerrilla tactics" adopted by Crosby may reinforce the Tories' image as the "nasty party", saying the Tories have left it very late to spell out a positive vision of what they are for. One former minister says: "There are things some of us would do differently. It's not perfect. But it's infinitely better than what we had before - which was no strategy at all. Lynton has been terrific in bringing a proper focus to what we are doing. For the first time for 15 years, we have a serious strategy."
To Westminster journalists used to trading gossip with political apparatchiks, Crosby is an elusive, even reclusive figure. He stands in the shadows at the back of the room during Tory press conferences, and does not do interviews. Friends say he is determined not to "become the story" like Alastair Campbell, his opposite number, recalled to Labour's colours for the election.
Crosby took a risk in signing up for the Tories when their prospects were at a low ebb. But he should now emerge from the election with his reputation intact: even if the Tories don't deprive Labour of its majority, they may yet "win" the campaign - and enough seats to give them hope of returning to power in 2009. Crosby, of course, has not given up hope for 2005. After all, in 1996 he helped an unfancied, apparently dull leader of the opposition unseat a clever, smiling Labor prime minister who was apparently on course for a comfortable victory. Sound familiar?
A LIFE IN BRIEF
Born: 1957, Kadina, South Australia.
Family: Married to Dawn Crosby. Two daughters.
Education: Economics degree, University of Adelaide.
Career: 1982: Official with the Liberal Party in Queensland, after unsuccessful attempt to stand for a seat in the state parliament; 1996; deputy campaign director for Liberals; 1998: campaign director for Liberals and credited with John Howard's second victory; 2001: campaign director for Liberals; 2002: co-founded Crosby-Textor political consultancy; 2004: consultant to John Howard's election campaign.
He says...: "If that's your attitude I suggest you piss off right now." - to a young Tory who suggested Michael Howard's hopes of victory were doomed
They say...: "I would be happy to go into the jungle with him. He's entirely a positive influence, a force for good." - Alan Duncan, shadow International Development Secretary
Playing the fear cardIn The Observer on April 3, Nick Cohen writes in Playing the fear card:
[Michael] Howard has acknowledged the power of the global movement by bringing Lynton Crosby from Australia to run his campaign. In the language of the Daily Mail, Crosby is an economic migrant who has sneaked into Britain and taken bread from the mouths of our own snake-oil salesmen. Yet Howard and, indeed, the Mail make an exception in Crosby's case because there isn't a huckster in the land who can match his special skills.
He's won election after election ever since he organised the victory of the Australian conservatives - who call themselves Liberals, but aren't - over an apparently invincible Labour Prime Minister a decade ago. Last time around, he played up a report that boat-people refugees from Saddam's Iraq were throwing their babies into the ocean and forcing the Australian navy to fish them out and give them asylum. It was only after the election was won on a wave of public revulsion against the barbaric aliens that the story was revealed to be - how to put this gently? - a lie.
As an Australian Labour leader warned The Guardian's Sydney correspondent, Crosby and his team 'will play to the basest of opinions in the coming weeks. There's a dark underside to any human being and they pander to people's fears'. His prediction was spot on and the pandering will continue until 5 May.
The standard response to the well-bred contempt that Crosby and his kind arouse is that democrats can't complain if they give the public what it wants. The excuse doesn't wash because, like the media, the world's Crosbys are caught in the paradox of populism. On the one hand, they know that fear sells better than sex and that if you are a newspaper, political party or television channel, the best thing you can do is present yourself as the friend of the common man, ready to take on the 'elitists' who are threatening his way of life. On the other, falling turn-outs, readerships and viewing figures across the developed democracies prove that the more populist politics and the media become, the less popular they are with the common people.
There's no way out of the paradox for the media which are everywhere caught in spirals of decline. What's chilling about Howard is that for politicians of his type falling turn-outs can be a bonus.
The Liberal Democrats, being shot by both sides in this campaign, pointed me to a gigantic study of American elections in the 1990s to explain how. Going Negative by Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar showed how Crosby-style negative campaigning can help you to victory exactly because it depresses turn-out. The trick works like this. You attack your opponent with a ruthless disregard for the truth - Tony Blair is organising the rape of the voters' daughters or whatever. Potential Labour supporters may not vote Tory as a result. But the Labour vote will be depressed if they believe there's a grain of truth in the charge and decide to sit the election out.
Alternatively, voters may not believe a word of the attack propaganda but decide it confirms what they had always suspected: all politicians are vicious creeps and there's no reason to vote for any party. Again, Howard is happy because parties of the right are supported by the wealthy who are most likely to vote. The lower the turnout, the better they do.
At about the same time as Ansolabehere and Iyengar were conducting their study, Christopher Hitchens was interviewing Pat Caddell for an essay on the dismal effects of professional manipulators on democratic life. Caddell, one of the best pollsters in the business, had been hired to run the re-election campaign of a clapped-out Californian senator who was faced with a challenge by a smart, young rival. It seemed an impossible task, but Caddell realised that his man had the advantages of a stronger party machine and core vote. He also noticed that much of the electorate was mildly alienated and hated negative campaigning.
'So I told them, "Run the most negative campaign you can. Drive the voters away. Piss them off with politics."' It worked and the senator won against the odds. 'The day after, I realised what I had done and got out of the business.'
Many - far too many - stay in and they're getting more cunning by the day. New Labour, of course, had planned to run a negative campaign against Howard which might have driven away Tory supporters. But Crosby showed his genius by stopping it when he successfully branded New Labour as anti-semitic. We're now in the situation where Howard plays the race card two or three times a week against gypsies, asylum seekers and immigrants from every country except Australia. Yet when you attack him for it, the race card is played back at you and you are accused of being an anti-semite. This is the racial politics of the politically correct age. As I said, nothing like it has been seen before.
The chief constables complained that Howard was misleading the public about the true level of crime. They were right but won't get anywhere because the media have as much of an interest in exaggerating crime as the Tories.
The Archbishop of Canterbury told all parties: 'Despite the best of intentions, election campaigns can quickly turn into a competition about who can most effectively frighten voters.'
As a well-meaning man, he assumed that operators such as Crosby had good intentions which were momentarily lost in the heat of battle when the truth is that they have spent years calmly and cold-bloodedly refining their techniques. Don't forgive them, your grace, for they know precisely what they do.
Lynton's legacy reaches LondonBy Christian Kerr
Crikey's political correspondent
April 4, 2005
Lynton Crosby should do well out of the Tory campaign. They'll most likely get a swing which will, as happens with campaign managers, be interpreted as evidence of Lynton's genius...
But will the Tories find this John Howard dog-whistle stuff returning to haunt them? It's one thing to do it and succeed: winners are grinners... But if the Tories lose, the court of public opinion will be seen to have repudiated 'grubby politics' and there might be some harsh judgment. Crosby can always bugger off back to Australia, where a fawning media still treats him as a hero... but poor [Conservative leader] Michael Howard will remain in England.
Westminster watchers point out that the huge difference between John Howard in 2001 and Michael Howard in 2005 is that John Howard was in government. As prime minister, he was able to define the national interest in a way that opposition leader Michael Howard will never be able to do in 18 months.
John Howard was able to prevent the public service, especially Defence, offering alternative sources of opinion over the Tampa episode and the entire illegals imbroglio in 2001. Michael Howard can't come up with his own 'Pacific solution' to deal with the sensitive issue of asylum in Britain because the Blair Government will be able to wheel out plenty of 'independent' civil service experts to say "you can't do that".