- Should Blair be painted as a left-winger in disguise? That analysis produced the disastrous New Labour, New Danger devil eyes campaign.
- Or should he be painted as an unprincipled lightweight? Phoney Tony?
- What about attacking him through the people who he gathers around him? Mandelson. Campbell. Derry Irvine. Tony’s Cronies.
That kind of strategic uncertainty seems to have been inherited by Labour’s strategists as they consider how to respond to the arrival of David Cameron:
- Should DC be framed as a smiling frontman for extreme policies on Europe (EPP), the flat tax and marriage? Labour Chair, the often incomprehensible Ian McCartney, has said: "The Conservatives’ current rebranding exercise is simply putting a new gloss on the same old Tory politics."
- Should DC be presented as lightweight and inexperienced – particularly when set against Gordon Brown?
- Should his Etonian background and Notting Hill set be attacked? The too-posh-to-understand-real-life attack is certainly being sharpened for possible use against Shadow Chancellor George Osborne who will inherit the Osborne and Little wallpaper fortune. If there is an economic downturn Labour strategists believe that Brown will be more trusted to get hard-working families out of trouble than a bunch of inexperienced toffs.
Today’s Times notes that – predictably – the Blair and Brown camps can’t agree on how Mr Cameron might be defeated.
The strongest (and riskiest) attacks on Mr Cameron will be executed by surrogates. Thursday’s Skinner attack on George Osborne may have been a freelance operation but it will certainly be a model for things to come.
It is undoubtedly true that Labour is worried about David Cameron. This comes from Martin Bright in this week’s New Statesman:
""We realise we are up against a Premiership team now, when we have been dealing with a Championship side so far," is how one senior aide to the Prime Minister described the Tory challenge to me. In the laddish world of new Labour, where football is the lingua franca, this is a considerable compliment to David Cameron. Admittedly, it was followed by a swift qualification: "We are fighting a proper oppo-sition, but it is not Chelsea." Yet Tony Blair’s team believes Cameron will give Labour the first real competition it has faced in a decade, and that is a tribute to the 39-year-old newcomer, who has been playing in the top league for only four years."
Policy change must also form part of Labour’s response. Just as many Tories urged John Major to put "clear blue water" between him and the new Labour leader in the mid-1990s some left-wing Labour MPs are urging more redistributive policies in the imminent post-Blair Labour era.
Today’s Independent reports suggestions by a former Downing Street adviser, Patrick Diamond, that Labour should make the tax system more progressive: "As Mr Cameron tries to invade Labour’s traditional ground on social justice, Mr Diamond says that Labour must show this is incompatible with the Tories’ "minimal state" Thatcherite ideology."