Late last week David Cameron promised an "absolute bare-knuckle fight" with Labour over the 40 maternity units and 90 A&E units currently under threat of downgrading or closure. It's a good subject for him to choose. His commitment to the NHS is clearly authentic. He saw how local hospital staff cared for his son Ivan and he believes deeply in the NHS' values.
The need to attack Brown is the advice coming from the leader-writers at The Sunday Telegraph and Michael Portillo in his Sunday Times column. It's good advice. ConservativeHome has already recommended a guerilla war against Brown during the summer months. We need to rattle Gordon Brown. We need to erode his poll lead so that he fears the result of an autumn election campaign. The longer we manage to delay an election the more likely it is that Brown will eventually lose. The fundamental failures of the Brown-Blair years will steadily reassert themselves.
For The Telegraph the number one target for the Tory charge should be Labour's manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on the new EU constitution/ treaty. Europe may not be a big concern for voters but the issue of a broken promise will resonate widely.
Michael Portillo lists other (and I think better) objects for attack:
- The early release of prisoners from our overcrowded, underfunded jails.
- The disastrous new system for appointing junior doctors and the denial of life-prolonging drugs despite the huge expenditure of taxpayers' money.
- The incompetent BAA monopoly that presides over the misery that is Heathrow airport.
- The extent of Britain's broken society.
We need daily activity over the summer and ideally the attacks will poke fun at Gordon Brown. ConservativeHome's LabourDoNotDo series could be turned into a series of YouTube ads, for example.
Let's have Chris Grayling coordinating the attacks. Liam Fox can target Labour's deadly under-equipment of the armed forces. David Davis can lead on prisons and immigration. George Osborne can remind voters of Gordon Brown's stealth taxes and pensions fiasco.
The grassroots will react well to a period of strong opposition. David Cameron should largely stand above the fray. As soon as the F&M situation is clear he should take his holiday. He needs a break. A period of refreshment will allow him to return with more strategic clarity.
Postscript: Michael Portillo also uses his column to defend David Cameron's Rwanda trip. He writes:
"Cameron has every right to feel unlucky. He deserved a good press for his visit to Rwanda. The Conservative party initiative was not just a photocall. Eight Tory MPs spent two weeks doing voluntary work there in an experience that has changed their lives. Cameron’s journey was not to pose with photogenic children but to pay respects at the genocide memorial and to address the Rwandan parliament. Before leaving home he had already been to the flood-afflicted areas of his constituency. To have stayed longer posing in wellingtons would have been merely a stunt. If Britain thinks that inundated British homes are more important than thousands of murdered Africans, that is an indictment of our values, not Cameron’s."
I couldn't agree more with Portillo's last sentence. The timing of the Rwanda trip was unfortunate but a deep commitment to the poorest people of the world should be a central characteristic of our party - the party of William Wilberforce.