I recently thought that right leaning bloggers, such as Dale + even more independent minded ones were wrong to demand that the conservatives should be honest about tax cuts.
I knew Brown's boys would never admit to a penny off any department and would be proclaiming ever higher spending, financed out of exaggerated, badly rounded, misrepresented and just plain untrue tractor stats.
Labour have been proclaiming Tory cuts mean an end to hospitals, schools and even food for pensioners.
My argument was never give your opponent the argument they crave. Brown desperately wanted the Tories to say they would make cuts of any size, to let him make his social concious, spending is just investment arguments, against the heartless Tories of the 80's.Labour are the party of investment, the Tories are the party of cuts. Today the shadow chancellor decided to do just that in a piece in The Times.
Having seen Question Time last week when Peter Hain tried just such a tactic, he was eventually reduced to pleading that if the audience didn't vote labour then they would only have themselves to blame when the cuts came. The audience , by around 2/3 , did not agree. People do appear to have understood that there is no money. No money today and no money tomorrow. Even more astounding was the media. The bloggers pointed out the holes in the Labour arguments immediately, but the newspapers, the networks and even the BBC were not fooled either. Instead of reading the press release , they actually analysed it. Just yesterday John Pienaar again contradicted the studio anchor and his 'Tory are milk snatchers' guest, making the point that what the Tories propose and what Labour propose are within a hair of each other.
The new strategy of telling a version of the truth, that I thought very risky, does seem to being received quite well.. the people do appear to understand. Whether this will continue when they are told the details, like schools must merge, class sizes must rise, train tickets must go up 15%, parking charges will triple etc remains to be seen. For now it appears that Gordon Brown is making a mistake. He is fighting a previous war, with old, obsolete tactics. He does not seem to have learnt, post Expensegate, that saying "I will be more open and honest"is not enough. He needs to be seen to be open and honest and with Malik and Iraq he is off to a very bad start.
The Conservatives can manage to simplify their message to chime with all the workers being asked to take zero or minus pay rises, or who have had to cut out holidays or luxuries. If you spend £4 when you get in £3 you will eventually have maxed out your credit card, and will be paying a hell of a lot of interest on what you have spent. This message does have power. It points out the previous overspending of Labour and highlights that further continuous overspending is impossible. It can highlight the astronomical black hole in government spending and income, and allows the Tories to say at least they are being honest, unlike ponzi Brown who promises what he knows he can't deliver. There is the rich vein of broken manifesto promises, from student fees to the top rate of tax, for Mr Osborne and the shadow cabinet to mine.
If the media continue to probe and expose the economics of the situation, George Osborne's new found honesty may just be letting Gordon Brown dig himself into a verbal hole increasingly difficult to spin his way out of. It allows the Tories to steal the PMs 'prudent'cloak, his trans-pear-en-sea rhetoric, his honesty helm and move Gordon's favourite 'public investment' ground onto the less certain 'debt crisis' territory.
I was wrong to worry. Rather than be the argument trap that Brown has laid for Cameron, it appears to be the argument that Cameron wants, and Brown may fall for.