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Brown is in a hole on National Insurance and is still digging

Nick Wood gives his latest take on the events of election campaign

New Labour's big tent is looking more like a wigwam this morning. You can hardly move for fear of being trampled underfoot by captains of industry stampeding for the elegant marquee erected by Mr Cameron on the manicured lawns of Tory Towers.

Make no mistake. The campaign has begun well for the Conservatives with the row over national insurance.

Cameron's pledge to scrap much of Gordon Brown's planned NI rise next year is dominating the front-pages today, three days after the commencement of hostilities. The Tory Leader, fighting a commendably energetic campaign, is setting the election agenda - essential to winning the battle for public opinion.

That, incidentally, is the message of today's YouGov tracker for The Sun, which gives Cameron a clear lead on putting his message across.

Even more important, the NI story is leading all the TV and radio news bulletins, forcing Brown onto the back foot. Sir Stuart Rose, executive chairman of the country's best-loved store Marks & Spencer, is one of some 70 business leaders going public with their support for the Tory pledge.

Sir Stuart had his results out today, giving him ample opportunity to tour the studios and repeat his charge that Brown is insulting the intelligence of the business community with his fatuous claim that they have been duped by Cameron and Co.

When you are in a hole stop digging, as Denis Healey once said. But Brown was at it again today, claiming that the Tories have dreamed up their cut on the back of a fag packet. Has he looked at a fag packet recently? You can hardly write your name for all the gruesome pictures showing the perils of smoking.

Of course, there is some strategic sense in Brown's determination to prolong the row. The last three elections have all been won on Labour's core message that higher spending trumps tax cuts.

But past performance is no guide to the future. One senses that we have reached a tipping point on the spending v tax debate and that a straitened public want a break from ever higher taxes, especially, as Sir Stuart and Co point out, when they threaten jobs.

Now the nation's best loved actor, the famously outspoken Sir Michael Caine, has sauntered into Cameron's marquee. From the Italian Job to the Election Job. One has to hope that Sir Michael - who has condemned the 50p tax rise - remembers that he is only meant to blow the bloody doors off, not tip the battlebus into the ravine.

Don't interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake, observed Napoleon. Dave should let the NI show run for as long as there are businessmen ready, willing and able to desert the Brown wigwam. And for as
long as Gordon wants to go on insulting them.

His team have already had the wit to hold back on firing off the next bit of heavy ammunition - a tax break for marriage. That should come when Gordon has alienated every boardroom in the land.

Nick Wood, Managing Director, Media Intelligence Partners Ltd.

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