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If George Osborne could have designed an ideal Labour opposition he would have chosen the Ed Miliband operation

By Tim Montgomerie
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Cutting Rose

George Osborne is ready to attack the Labour brand

In my column for The Times (£) I argue that if David Cameron and George Osborne could have designed an opposition party then it would look a lot like that which is led by Ed Miliband. The Labour leader's ratings remain incredibly low. Voters still can't see him as prime minister. His team is populated by people associated with the failed Brown/Blair years, notably Ed Balls. Third, Labour hasn't taken steps to detoxify their reputation as a party of debt, waste and taxes.

In my article I'm careful to explain that Labour's weaknesses don't mean that the Tories are on course to win the next election. Far from it. Although Labour is a weak electoral proposition so, unfortunately, are we. The Right is split, the cuts are still to bite, the recovery is unlikely to be strong and voters don't see Conservatives as on the side of ordinary people. The point of my Times article isn't to argue that we will win but that Labour is, in theory, beatable. Tory MPs tell me that they can't find evidence of any enthusiasm for Labour on the doorsteps. Labour's lead is reasonably wide but desperately thin. Its lead has, however, been enough to tempt the Labour leadership into avoiding any serious party modernisation.

My understanding is that the Tory guns are about to open fire on Labour. The guns have been silent until now for two reasons. Conservative HQ, under instruction from George Osborne, wanted to carefully research the best anti-Labour messages and then focus on just two or three. Mr Osborne is determined to avoid the errors of the 1996/97 attack on Tony Blair when the attacks were too inconsistent and too personal. The Chancellor/ Chief Election Strategist has also wanted to wait until a stage in the parliament where it would be hard for Labour to change direction in response to the bombardment.

I've established that the Tory onslaught is likely to focus on three key weaknesses:

  1. "Target one is Labour’s borrowing plans. Using estimates from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, there’ll be a campaign reminiscent of the famous tax bombshell posters from 1992. It will be directed at Labour’s implicit plans to borrow £200 billion more.
  2. Target two will be Labour’s opposition to the coalition’s caps on benefits and immigration. Mr Osborne, in particular, sees these issues as possessing the potential to drive a wedge between Mr Miliband and Labour’s heartland, blue-collar voters.
  3. Finally, there’ll be a focus on the Labour leader himself. I’m reassured that the negativity won’t be personal but it will focus on Mr Miliband’s opposition to all of the coalition’s big deficit-reducing measures. The latest polling suggests the Conservatives enjoy a four-to-one advantage when it comes to a sense that they, rather than Labour, will take tough decisions."

Point two in that list of three is what I've previously described as the "Dukakis campaign" - focusing on the metropolitan Leftism of today's Labour Party. The latest British Social Attitudes data - published today - do suggest that this is VERY fertile territory for the Conservatives. Attitudes to immigration and welfare are much harder than they've been for a very long time. The British people are increasingly rejecting the idea that the state is the best deliverer of welfare. They're right to think this. New evidence from America confirms that the family is the key driver of social mobility and social justice.


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