One thing that was noticeably absent yesterday was Tory crowing about Labour having signed up to the coalition’s current spending plans. Instead, George Osborne’s response to Balls concentrated on whether Labour would borrow more.
Given the Osborne-Balls relationship, you might have thought that the Chancellor would have relished the idea that Balls had been forced into an intellectual surrender. But the Tory leadership is acutely aware that going on about Labour having accepted their spending limits undercuts their argument that it is the same old Labour party, addicted to spending and borrowing. So instead they’ve chosen to argue that Labour’s pledges of fiscal rectitude simply aren’t credible.
The Tories faced a similar dilemma over their personal attacks on Miliband. As one senior Tory puts it, ‘Ed Miliband can’t be a bastard who killed his brother, and weak too.’ Given how much their focus groups show that the weak charge resonates, they’ve decided to stop mentioning that Miliband ran against his brother. Although given how much the Flashman in Cameron relishes bringing up the elder Miliband at PMQs, it remains to be seen if Tory discipline can hold on this point.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.