Interviewed for today's FT George Osborne attempts to lower expectations of (a) the scale of David Cameron's victory over David Davis and (b) the nature of any honeymoon.
Mr Osborne predicts that the victory over Mr Davis will "be closer than people think" and not a "walkover" (today's two surveys of opinion amongst Tory members suggest a two-to-one victory). He says that anyone who expects that there will be a "complete turnaround in the political environment which has existed in this country for ten years... is going to be disappointed." "I think this is going to be a long hard slog," he predicts.
Mr Osborne's long, hard slog will begin on Monday when he responds to the Chancellor's pre-Budget report. Mr Osborne's message will be 'Blame it on Brown' - 'it' being "poor productivity, investment, skills and transport infrastructure". David Cameron may be promising less 'Punch & Judy' politics but there is a lot of punch in Osborne's assessment of Gordon Brown:
“It’s very difficult to have any kind of relationship with him as the shadow . . . Perhaps the prime minister’s people put it best when they said he had psychological flaws. In my dealings with him he’s just pretty unpleasant and brutal. That character may have suited him in the job he holds at the moment but it will not be what people want in a prime minister.”
Writing for The Times after last year's Republican Convention George Osborne noted how Bush used surrogates to attack his principal opponents. Mr Cameron may be unleashing Mr Osborne as his surrogate against Mr Brown whilst remaining above the fray himself.
Cameron and Osborne - who is now strongly expected to stay shadow chancellor - are often compared to Blair and Brown. Mr Osborne believes that they represent tomorrow's fresh start in a similar way to that represented by New Labour in 1997:
"Gordon Brown looks like a figure from the past, and we're going to look like figures from the future... We're of a new generation... We learnt our trade in opposition, we were never government ministers, we don't yearn for the old days."
Mr Brown appears aware of this threat and in today's Independent Andrew Grice suggests (payment required for access) that he will "reinvent himself". Grice says that Tories will be presented as a leap in the dark whilst he will be the candidate of "continuity and change" - offering "a re-energised leadership and experience, moving beyong Blairism by building on its successes." ConservativeHome expects Mr Brown to attempt to fashion and then lead a domestic equivalent of the Make Poverty History campaign.
An article in Saturday's Guardian by the always interesting Martin Kettle warns against a strategy that presents Brown as a "block to progress": "Brown's vulnerability is in the way he works. Attack him as a control freak whose plans don't work."