Until recently, the Tory leadership has been reluctant to plan how they would respond to a Corbyn-led Labour party. They just couldn’t believe that Labour were actually going to elect him. At the Cabinet’s pre-holiday get together at Chequers, the conversation about how to take on the new Labour leader was premised on the idea that either Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper would win. But now the Tories are working out how they would tackle Corbyn. (Though, two Cabinet Ministers have told me this week that they expect Cooper to pip Corbyn at the post).
The Tory leadership is keen to avoid sounding triumphalist about the prospect of facing the MP for Islington North. One of those closest to Cameron stresses that he will take Corbyn seriously because, as they put it, Corbyn would do serious damage to the country if elected. But the Tory leadership also knows that Corbyn will force them to make the case for deficit reduction from first principles again.
One of those who has spent time thinking about how to take on Corbyn points out that because the veteran left-winger doesn’t sign up to the need for cuts, you can’t pin him down on what he would cut instead. Combine this with the fact that Corbyn isn’t interested in defending the record of the last Labour government and so won’t rise to that bait and the Tories won’t now be able to use two of the arguments that were most effective for them in the last parliament.
Rather, Cameron and Osborne will have to go back and make the whole case for the nation living within its means from the start again. In time, I suspect that this approach will work. Corbynomics won’t stand up to much scrutiny; it fails the common sense test. But the austerity debate is a sign of how tackling Corbyn will require the Tories to make their arguments from first principles again.