Lynton Crosby will soon be appointed to run the Conservative strategy for the next election, say reports. Unnamed sources accuse him of saying rude things about Muslims; people mutter about the ‘dog whistle’ campaign of 2005. Such stories involve two great subterranean passions — the desire of rival polling groups to make money and the competition among backroom boys to get credit for electoral success. The public should not be unduly concerned about rows in the servants’ hall, so long as the master is in charge. Possibly it is doubt about this which gives the story legs. But what the anti-Crosby stories also reveal is a weird prejudice about Australians. It is assumed that Australian voters are racist, sexist Les Patersons, and so policies which they like are disastrous here. In fact, Australian public culture is even more politically correct than our own, and no saloon bar bigot can win there. John Howard, the great Australian prime minister, won four times. He did so with tough moderation — a mixture of economic liberalism and social conservatism, in which openness and freedom were balanced with continuity and reassurance. He paid a lot of respect to the lower middle classes and not much to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In two of these victories, Lynton Crosby ran his campaign. He then did the same for Boris Johnson, who could not have won in multi-ethnic London on a platform of right-wing extremism. If David Cameron means what he said in his excellent conference speech about restoring growth through the efforts of people rather than government, he is right to hire the Wizard of Oz.
John Howard’s social conservatism should also teach something about the gay marriage question. George Osborne may be right that support for gay marriage makes some anti-Tory voters less hostile to his party.