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Nice is not enough

David Cameron has suggested Britain’s streets are anarchic, while Giulliani’s opponents in the US presidential race are attacking his colourful private life. Polls consistently say that going negative turns off the voters, so why do it? The short answer is that it still works.

Labour lost the election in 1992 in part due Tory scare tactics over its spending plans and The Sun’s virulent attacks on Labour leader Neil Kinnock. Across the pond, Clinton did the same to Bush, running ads that carried his opponent’s broken “read my lips” promise not to raise tax. This could be considered revenge of sorts for Bush Snr’s attack on Michael Dukakis four years earlier, who came unstuck with the Willie Horton affair. In 2004, Bush affiliates questioned John Kerry’s war record, while in Britain’s last election, Michael Howard’s Conservatives captured far more seats than they should have done by focusing on dirty hospitals and immigration.

There are two types of candidates who do not go down the down and dirty path, however. The first are those such as Dukakis, who take the moral high ground and refrain from responding to the mud slinging. They lose big when it sticks.

The second types are those who are too well ahead to resort to these kinds of tricks. Perhaps this is why Hilary Clinton feels confident enough to focus on healthcare reform. Maybe this is why Gordon Brown did not feel the need to mention David Cameron once during his Labour Party conference speech, other than to dismiss the Tory leader's silly claims that Britain is in chaos.

The case for violence

Keep Britain civilised