This should be the decisive factor
For Labour supporters the worst moment of the General Election campaign came a week ahead of polling day when Ed Miliband was ambushed by Tory activists in the BBC Question Time audience and left floundering over whether the Labour government spending had been too high.
We didnâ€™t need the Guardian/ICM poll which scored evening 44% for Cameron and 38% for Miliband to tell us that their guy had won and ours had lost.
The significance of that evening was that it stemmed from to one of Labourâ€™s failures post 2010. While the party was absorbed in electing a new leader then the Tories and their Lib Dem buddies were able to establish a narrative of Labourâ€™s mess that needed cleaning up.
Is there a danger of the same thing happening again? At a leadership event on the evening of Budget Day I asked when one of the contenders to convince me that in 2020, with George Osborne replacing Cameron â€œour guyâ€ would come out on top.
On this occasion the question was directed at Andy Burnham but I plan to put the same question to Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall when the opportunity arises. (Jeremy Corbyn is a fine human being but not a credible leadership contender.)
The point is what Labour members need to judge is who they should send into that virtual head-to-head with Osborne. The contenders would do well to remember that they if they get too caught up on fighting each other they are missing their most important target.
They should pay heed to Richard Angell the pugnacious director of Prospect who has written â€œThe job of the party leader is to beat your opponent not your predecessorâ€ or he might have added your leadership rival
Angell made his comment in the course of demolishing the idea that in May Ed Miliband outperformed Tony Blair in 2005. â€œIt is going around that â€˜Ed Miliband in 2015 got more votes in England and Wales than Tony Blair in 2005â€². It is factually accurate but misleading because the population and the turnout were higher in 2015. What matter is how votes are distributed says Angell. The fact is that â€œBlair got more votes than his opponents in every election he fought matters.â€
So for Burnham, Cooper and Kendall the job of challenging and undermining Osborne needs to start now at the very moment he is strutting his stuff and glorying in his â€œliving wageâ€ kleptomania.
Labour supporters ought to be encouraged that the trio seem to have got the point with some trenchant comments on the Budget. Cooperâ€™s angle was that Osborneâ€™s â€œshameful betrayal of parentsâ€. The Â£4.5bn to tax credits in the budget which will hit women twice as hard as men, she said.
Burnham came at it from the point of view of young people, accusing Osborne of dividing young and old in a â€œTwo Generations Budgetâ€. Burnham said â€œThe biggest slap in the face for young people in this budget is what George Osborne has done on pay. His flagship proposal of a national living wage only kicks in at 25, but his cuts to tax credits affect people of all ages.â€ Young people also be hit by the withdrawal maintenance grants and the loss of housing benefit from 18- to 21-year-olds.
The shadow health secretary was particularly critical of the chancellorâ€™s decision to exempt the under-25s from the new national living wage. Burnham wrote “He was not honest about this before the election and has no mandate for his plans. There is a real risk this will cement a two-tier workforce between young and old as he brings down the deficit on the backs of young people.â€
Kendall, tweeted that the chancellor was guilty of a â€œgrandtheftOsboâ€. His national living wage would be Â£1,000 a year less than a real living wage. Donâ€™t let the Tories get away with their living wage con.â€
Corbyn, said: â€œPublic investment is being cut even further, and our assets being sold off to a total of Â£30bn. This is a path to economic decline and failure.â€
The comments of the leadership contenders got scant coverage outside the columns of the Guardian. But they need to keep Osborne in their sights. The Budget has reinforced his position as Cameronâ€™s heir apparent. If he can be damaged â€“ by events as well as by criticism — to the extent that the Tories are scared off electing him as their leader it will count as a major achievement.
Don Brind, a former colleague of Mike Smithson’s at BBC news, is one of PB’s regular guest contributors