Peter Hoskin

Darling enters election mode

Darling enters election mode
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There must be something about stepping back onto Scottish soil that invigorates Alistair Darling, because his Edinburgh speech is one of the most political and confrontational he has delivered for some time.  Sure, Darling is a Labour man, so it's part of his job to oppose the Tories.  But, compared to his Cabinet colleagues, he's normally so restrained about it.  Here, though, the gloves are well and truly off.

The Chancellor calls Cameron a "real risk to Scotland's future," and throws in a dash of Thatcher-baiting ("The Tories ... are as out of touch now as they were 30 years ago").  But, really, there are two passages worth dwelling on, for what they might tell us about Labour's election campaign.  First, this:

"We should know how [the Tories] intend to reduce the deficit. In how many years? How much would they spend next year to support the economy and have they any plan for growth?"

Over the past few months, we've been used to Darling pushing the case for cuts more than anyone else in the governemnt.  But notice what he does here: he turns the debate around by asking the Tories what they would spend, not what they would cut, next year.  It's a question which doesn't quite chime with Peter Mandelson's speech yesterday.  But it does suggest that Labour are going to approach this issue more on the frontfoot than they have recently.  I suspect Cameron's shift in emphasis on cuts might have something to do with that.

And then there's this:

"The choice we make will shape this country for the next 20 years and genuine choices between a Labour government encouraging growth and prosperity, and David Cameron's low ambition, low growth age of austerity."

Again, he's turning things around - changing Cameron's austerity-thanks-to-Brown into austerity-under-the-Tories.  Brown did the same a few weeks ago, when he deployed an election-ready line about Labour being the party of "prosperity not austerity".  Only problem is, as I wrote at the time, "it's hard to imagine this working for a governing party which has presided over one of the most spectacular busts in our history."  But I guess that won't stop them repeating it ad nauseam for the next few months.