Peter Hoskin

Guess what Miliband and Mandelson are going on about...

Guess what Miliband and Mandelson are going on about...
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Fourteen years on from "education, education, education," Labour seems to have hit upon three new priorities for government: "Ashcroft, Ashcroft, Ashcroft".  Sure, we all knew that they would push this story as hard and as fast as it could go.  But it still says a lot about how they will go about their election campaign, when two senior ministers are still going heavy on the Tory Lord this morning.  

In interview with the Guardian, Peter Mandelson says that Ashcroft has got Cameron "by the balls".  And, in the Telegraph, David Miliband claims that William Hague "can’t be an effective Foreign Secretary," after his role in the affair.  Some of their arguments are valid enough – as when they ask why Cameron didn't get to the truth of the situation sooner.  But most are laced with a sharp dose of hypocrisy and disingenuity – as when Miliband talks about the unspecified "sins" of Lord Ashcroft:

"Surely if Labour so wished, it could have legislated long ago to end loopholes benefiting rich party donors. Did the Government omit to do so because of its own non-doms, such as Lord Paul?

'It would take a particularly ingenious [argument] to blame the sins of Lord Ashcroft on the Government,' [Miliband] says." You can see why Labour are doing this, even if the way they're going about it is somewhat less than heartening.  They hope to smear the Tories as the party of dirty money, and perhaps even sway hearts and minds in the marginals where Ashcroft's efforts have been focussed.

But the real question is whether it will work.  So far, the polls suggest that voters don't much care, and they'll probably care exponetially less as the story is dragged on and on.  Indeed, as I said last week, the risk for Labour is that their focus on Ashcroft actually does them more harm than good – making it seem like they aren't getting on with what Miliband has called the "serious business" of government.  Now that would be a sin.