Saturday, 5 April 2008

Boris Johnson and the Politics of Fear

Like a bunch of rotting flowers tied to a lamppost, yellow boards calling for witnesses have become a grim fixture of city life. The boards help to catch violent criminals and to solve violent crimes, but like a bundle of roadside flowers, they also mark a lost life.

So when Boris Johnson's campaign use these boards to win votes they are playing with powerful and dangerous imagery. And not only are they playing with our fears, but they are also deliberately raising them.

Because the message of these leaflets is clear: London is a scary place. Be afraid. Be even more afraid. And then vote for us.

Of course the politics of fear is nothing new. Like Hilary Clinton's 3am ad, or the Republican's use of 9/11, politicians have always used fear to scare us into their arms. 

However, these leaflets are just one part of a broader campaign. Under the direction of Lynton Crosby, Boris has stoked up many existing fears. From the fears of a man cycling beside a bus, to the fear of a pensioner riding on the top deck. And from the fear of a commuter sharing a carriage with people drinking, to the fear of family living in an area with gangs of kids.

Critics of Crosby call this 'wedge' politics. Crosby won elections by driving wedges between refugee and resident communities in Australia. Fears were deliberately stoked up and false horror stories circulated at a time when community relations were already at a low. 

Now in London we are seeing the same tricks played again. Bad cop's threats are scaring us into good cop's arms. Already fearful people are encouraged to be even more fearful still. And once they've all run in to hide, a new fresh blond guy pops up and smiles.

After the capital was attacked on 7/7, Ken Livingstone spoke to a rally in Trafalgar Square. He was widely praised for his  speech. Rather than raising our fears of more attacks he expressed his pride in a city that had stayed united. He told the crowd:

"Those who came here to kill last Thursday had many goals but one was that we should turn on each others like animals trapped in a cage and they failed. They failed totally and utterly. There may have been places where that would have happened but not here."

However, despite what Livingstone says, there is nothing inherently united about London. Like anywhere else people are easily scared and easily divided. For Lynton Crosby, this division and fear is just another cheque in the bank, but for those of us who live here these are dangerous games to play. 


angelneptunestar said...

Rather than stoke up peoples' fears, Boris Johnson is empathising with the present feelings of Londoners. He is trying to reassure them that he understands and intends to do everything in his power to fight crime and keep kids and old people safe.

The Tory Troll said...

I do not know what Boris' intentions are, but the campaign and this leaflet in particular are clearly playing to peoples fears. Apart from anything else, this
leaflet is tasteless and insensitive. Lynton Crosby has form on this and will have been chosen accordingly.

angelneptunestar said...

I honestly don't think the leaflet is designed to play to peoples' fears.

People do have fears. I am scared to come home on public transport late and so are a lot of people and when kids are stabbed or killed, mothers always think "Oh God what if that was my child" or "Will it get worse".

Boris is a father of four and he has the imagination to understand that people do feel this way. that is just my opinion of course.

Anonymous said...

"I honestly don't think the leaflet is designed to play to peoples' fears."

But given who is running campaign would it not naturally follow?