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Peter Hoskin

Hancock strikes again<font size=”1”><font face=”Helvetica, Verdana, Arial”><span style=”font-size: 9pt;”><br /> </span></font></font>

Hancock strikes again<font size="1"><font face="Helvetica, Verdana, Arial"><span style="font-size: 9pt;"><br />
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Yesterday, Matthew Hancock constructed what you might call the defensive part of the government's argument on cuts: an explanation of how spending restraint can be good for the country. Today, he strides forward with the offensive component: an attack dossier that asks of the new Labour leader, "What would you cut, Mr Miliband?" By Hancock's calculations, David Miliband needs to set out £55 billion of cuts to meet his deficit reduction plans. For Ed Miliband, that figure hits £67 billion.

The attack is two-pronged. First, it pushes the idea – contra Ed Balls – that cuts are necessary. And, second, it puts the Labour leader immediately on the back foot. Outside of government, the Tories would have deflected similar questions by saying that they hadn't yet seen the books. That excuse will be much harder to swallow from Labour leader who only had his hands prised off the books a few months ago.

What we are witnessing, no doubt, is the Treasury road-testing a new message on the deficit. Chuck in the argument that Nick Clegg made in his conference speech, and signs are that the government is set to be much more robust on this over coming months.