Sunday, October 03, 2010

John Rentoul: If Ed is a gift to Dave, he's a Trojan horse.

We've all read how delighted the Tories are to be facing Ed Miliband rather than his brother David.

Now John Rentoul - Blair's biographer of all people - is warning Cameron that, if Miliband is a gift, then he is a Trojan bloody horse.

We know two things about how the general public will view the early clashes between Cameron and Miliband. One is that they know next to nothing about the new Labour leader; the other is that they tend to give a new face the benefit of the doubt. Cameron finds himself in a similar position to that of Tony Blair when, as Prime Minister, he faced his fifth and last Conservative leader.

Cameron's own arrival at the despatch box to which Ed Miliband will step up next Wednesday prompted furious discussion in Blair's office and between Blair and Brown. Blair took a "wait and see" approach, feeling his way to Cameron's weaknesses, sizing up his new opponent. Many Blair advisers, having read books about American politics, knew that it was a priority to "define your opponent before he can define himself", and urged him to paint Cameron as a Thatcherite, Norman Lamont's adviser and a public relations man.

Brown agreed with them. The most vivid image from the House of Commons in those days was of Brown almost pulling at Blair's arm, his body language shouting: "Let me at him!" But Blair understood the danger of seeming too nasty about his untested foil. When Brown got the chance, he called Cameron a "salesman", which came across as elitist, and then tried the "playing fields of Eton", which backfired because people thought Cameron was polite.

It is being reported elsewhere that Cameron is planning to use the term "Red Ed" as a rallying call for the Conservatives. I find this idiotic. It might be a nice piece of alliteration, but it is nowhere near the truth, and the public won't be so stupid as to accept it as such.

Indeed, Cameron's worry should be that, as the cuts become painful and real, Ed Miliband might be speaking out for an awful lot of people when he states that Cameron's coalition is going in too hard and too quick.
Mr Cameron attacked Mr Miliband's move to the left of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown after backing tax rises while delaying action to reduce the deficit. The stance left "a massive gaping hole of credibility in his entire approach", the Prime Minister told the The Sunday Telegraph.

It follows a claim by the Chancellor, George Osborne, that Labour had made a "historic mistake" in electing Mr Miliband: "They have chosen to move off the historic centre ground of British politics. He is a man without a mandate or an answer to the deficit, and that makes him weak."
This appears to be the new Tory strategy; to portray Miliband as having "no answer to the deficit", rather than simply having a different answer than the one they are committed to.

This is okay as long as cuts to reduce the deficit are merely something which we are all talking about; but this will change once the severity of the Tory cuts becomes clear.

At that point Miliband's calls for less severity will start to resonate with an awful lot of people.

Who is to say that a Labour leader with a basically leftish tilt, against a coalition finally making deep cuts, is going to be unpopular? Who is to say that he doesn't face a strategic opportunity at the next election, when that coalition includes the Liberal Democrats, who have an "itch to switch" to working with Labour? Not just because they feel an ideological closeness but because they want to stay independent by avoiding being glued to one party for too long.

One of the most intriguing things about Cameron's speech this week is how he will deal with Ed Miliband, a box marked Handle With Care.

The Conservative approach to Miliband so far has been an extremely childish one. Cameron can please his base with name calling this week, but the public won't like it, any more than they appreciated Gordon pointing out Cameron's public school past.

Miliband represents a serious threat to the Tories. His position in a new poll confirms this.
A YouGov/Sunday Times poll last night put Labour ahead on 41 per cent with the Tories at 39 and the Lib Dems on 11.
That's no gift to the Tories. And it's idiocy to think that you can sell it as such.

Click here for full article.

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