Have Brown/Darling mis-judged the public mood?
It’s perhaps worth reminding ourselves how Tony Blair’s NuLab won his famous victory in 1997. The strategy, executed brilliantly, was to persuade large swathes of electors who had never considered the party before in their lives that it was safe to vote Labour.
Blair’s task, admittedly, was made much easier by the Tories who were in self-destruct mode, but it was that “making Labour a safe choice” for the middle classes that won the day. In broad terms this worked again in 2001 and to a lesser degree in 2005.
The only way that Labour had a chance of stopping a Tory majority government next time was by evolving a proposition that would retain a number of the 1997 switchers. The continuation of tax and spend and the “tax the rich” rhetoric will, I believe, end all hope of that. Labour’s election aim now seems to be damage limitation.
Essentially everything comes down to the level of public spending and Brown/Darling seem to have decided that this should be the dividing line – “Labour investment versus Tory cuts”.
The massive danger of the core votes strategy is that of itself it might encourage more Tory supporters to come out and vote. That surely was the lesson of Crewe & Nantwich last May.
I think Labour has mis-judged the mood of the country. Yesterday we wanted to be told how bad it was and how it was going to be hard. The pre-budget polling seemed to suggest that electors were bracing themselves for bad news and a cuts message would have resonated. For those massive debt figures and the projections of how long it will take to pay it off are going to be central to the Tory case and seem to be more in line with public opinion.
Any remaining hopes that Labour might have had of carrying on in some form beyond May 2010 might have been lost yesterday lunch-time. I could be proved wrong but yesterday was an opportunity missed.