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  • The Middle East has traditionally been treated as a foreign policy issue by the two main parties, and thus been the subject of consensus.  Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation helps to highlight a change.  Labour is now treating it as a domestic issue to be exploited for votes (thus joining the Liberal Democrats). Watch for it to make hay with her attack yesterday on George Osborne.
  • Ed Miliband’s boarding of the anti-Israel bandwagon has already been accompanied by a Labour push in the Commons before the recess, in constituencies where Muslim voters are concentrated then and since, and in the ethnic minority media.
  • Hostility to Israel, or opposition to the effects of its intervention in Gaza, or both, isn’t confined to Muslim voters.  But there can be no doubt that they are more engaged by the matter than their non-Muslim counterparts.
  • The view of senior Tories last weekend was that the Government’s stance on the current conflict will not affect their decisions next May if it ends quickly. This was always questionable.  In the wake of Warsi’s resignation, it is even more so.  She will seek to revive the issue during the election run-up.  Labour will be delighted to assist.
  • The Conservative reaction should neither be to join Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the race to the electoral bottom, nor to seek to keep the domestic debate about Israel and Gaza going – especially since Operation Protective Edge is now poised to end.  But there’s a big difference between making the wrong response to Labour’s exploitativeness and making none at all.
  • Very simply, the Labour machine has so far left the Conservative one standing.  Number Ten simply can’t allow this to continue over the coming months.  It’s true that most Muslims don’t vote Tory and are concentrated in Labour seats.  But enough supported the Party in 2010 and live in marginals to matter electorally – especially in the north and midlands.
  • There are three main actions that Downing Street and CCHQ should take during the run-up to next May.
  • Get William Hague up and about on the media over the Middle East.  Rightly or wrongly, the former Foreign Secretary is seen as being more pro-Palestinian than the present one – or, more importantly, Cameron and Osborne.  He must therefore be seen to row in behind the present approach during the coming months.  The point of moving him to Leader of the House was to free him to campaign more in any event.
  • Use Sajid Javid and other Conservative Muslim MPs and candidates more.  Yes, the Middle East is not simply a Muslim or Jewish issue, and shouldn’t be treated as one.  And, yes, no Tory MP wants to be treated as a token – let alone Javid (who is out and about as an anti-Labour attack dog this morning).  But Labour is ruthless and effective at deploying their forces where they matter most.  On the Conservative backbenches, Rehman Chisti is able and thoughtful.  Nusrat Ghani in Wealden is poised to join him.  Both should be deployed more – as should Alistair Burt, the thoughtful and experienced former Foreign Office Minister who covered the Middle East brief.
  • Push pro-Palestinian Conservatives into the marginals that matter – and publicise their work. There is no shortage of Tory MPs who, while being strongly anti-Hamas, are none the less critical of Israel and sympathetic to the Palestinians.  CCHQ should ask them to visit suitable marginal seats as next May approaches.  And when they make a statement or a speech, it should ensure that minority media know about all it.

All this campaigning can be done without compromising or changing the Government’s position on the Middle East.  And unless Downing Street simply wants to give up on a growing electoral demographic and some key marginal seats, it should be.

184 comments for: Labour is out-campaigning us on the Middle East. Here’s how to fight back.

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