Peter Hoskin

Cameron has shifted the spending debate to Labour’s home ground – but the Tories still have an aggregate lead

Cameron has shifted the spending debate to Labour's home ground – but the Tories still have an aggregate lead
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So, is David Cameron's shift in emphasis on spending cuts a u-turn, a clarification, or something else?  Well, when it comes to existing Tory policy, it doesn't actually change much.  We were always rather taking it on trust that Cameron & Co. would cut spending by much more than Labour this year.  The cuts they've announced so far aren't really that much deeper – and most folk in Tory circles were waiting for George Osborne's potential Emergency Budget to see whether that would change.  So, when Cameron says that his party wouldn't introduce "swingeing cuts" this year, the position is still remarkably similar: we still need more details to judge the true extent – not the publicised extent – of any Tory cuts.

Which means that, for now, the change is more presentational than anything else.  And there's little doubting that that presentational shift has made things a bit more comfortable for Labour.  From being up against Brown's crude "investment vs cuts" dividing line, Cameron is now rowing back to something which, at the very least, sounds quite Darling-esque.  For Labour, it may well seem like the battle has moved onto their home ground – and they've already set about exploiting that development with some relish.

The question now is whether Labour will really capitalise from all this.  Myself, I can't see it.  Sure, the debate may have become more comforable for them, but the public finances are still in a mess and plenty of voters will know just who to blame.  Besides, Labour's message is hardly clear and consistent itself.  In the end, the real worry remains just what the folk buying our debt are making of all this...