Preparing for the backlash
The You Gov poll after the European elections makes fascinating and depressing reading. The most interesting stats, though, aren't connected to the BNP. Instead, they show that those of us on the left are losing two arguments on important policy areas where our ideas have dominated for the past decade.
The anti-discrimination and equalities campaigns have achieved great successes over the past thirty years. The idea that women, black and ethnic minority people, LGBT people and other minority groups face discrimination, and that it is the duty of government and public services to help them get equal opportunities is currently part of the political consensus.
But when the public were asked which group faces the most unfair discrimination, 40% chose white people, more than those which chose any other group. Only 7% think that white people benefit from unfair advantages, while more than a third think that Muslims or non-white people get unfair advantages.
Furthermore, right-wing people who want to whip up anger about this have the benefit of all the experience from the Republican Party in America, as well as most of the national newspapers "on message" and happy to continue to push this line.
In a similar way, one of the most cherished causes for any leftie is about reducing global poverty, and one of Labour's greatest achievements has been to increase the amount spent on international development, and get the Tories to commit to continue this.
But a majority of the public want to see spending cuts on international development. It's the most popular choice for the chop after government "waste" and quangos, more popular than getting rid of nuclear weapons, cutting benefits or tax credits or any other domestic spending priority.
So if the Tories win in 2010, and find themselves having to make big spending cuts, how long is their pledge to increase international development spending going to last? Politically speaking, it might even be advantageous to get criticised by lefties for a spending cut which most people support, particularly if it distracts attention from other, more unpopular, cuts.
Unlike immigration, which pits pro-business right-wingers against populists, or the EU, which hardly anyone cares about, equalities and international aid are two great issues for the right-wing to unite and mobilise "Backlash Britain" against an "out of touch" liberal elite. They will have their talking points ("it's now white people who are discriminated against"; "why should we give money to India and China?"), and well funded lobby groups with close connections to the newspapers.
So us lefties need to be ready to meet and defeat the backlash against some of our best achievements. The NGOs and lobby groups who stand up for equality and against global poverty need to work out how to make new and more persuasive arguments to win a majority of people over, rather than just preaching to the converted. We need to check and get rid of any examples where policies have gone wrong or could be seized on by our opponents, and we need to make sure people know about who really faces the most discrimination in our society, and how the money which we spend on helping others living in dire poverty saves lives and enriches all of us.