Grant Shapps’ latest broadside against Labour shows how keen the Tories are to frame the next election not as a referendum on their performance in government but as a choice between them and Labour. Shapps wants voters to think about the fact that the alternative to David Cameron as Prime Minister is ‘Miliband and Balls’ driving up Downing Street before they cast their ballots.
The Tory Chairman’s speech, due to be delivered at Policy Exchange this morning, also shows where the Tories think Labour are vulnerable. Tellingly, he talks about ‘Miliband and Balls’ rather than just Miliband; the Tories believe that Balls’ presence is a reminder to voters of the links between the current Labour leadership and the Brown era.
There are also attacks on what the Tories believe to be the trinity of Labour weaknesses: the economy, welfare and immigration. Shapps argues that Labour’s spending plans would lead to higher mortgage rates. He claims that Labour would make claiming benefits a human rights, a reference to this story, and that this could lead to ‘prisoners – serving a life sentence at Her Majesty’s Pleasure to be entitled to housing benefit’; a claim that is certain to infuriate Labour. He also argues that under Labour, immigration would start going up again.
Shapps’ speech is the start of the Tories’s summer offensive against Labour. Various Tory big beasts will follow up his sallies in the coming weeks. The Tories believe they’ve driven Labour onto the defensive and are keen to keep them there.
One other thing that Shapps’ speech is a reminder of is how oddly quiet Labour is being for an opposition party in summer. Normally—and especially less than two years out from a general election—oppositions try and make hay in the summer, embarrassing the government on a host of issues. But with the exception of Andy Burnham on 111, Labour has been oddly quiet.