Labour has decided that the cost of living is the best way to attack the Tories while it tries to fathom what its own policies are. This is a rich seam to mine, and the party wants to ask voters whether they are really any better off than they were five years ago. But Ed Miliband and his team may be reckoning without the energetic attack dog mood that the Tories are in at the moment.
They are keen to fight Labour on this turf, too, rather than giving any ground. So confident are the Conservatives that rather than defend their record, they are also going on the defensive, launching Cost of Labour, a new website which estimates, based on personal circumstances, how much a Labour government would cost you.
Like all CCHQ initiatives of late, it includes an all-important email field. By filling out this form, the Tories will be able to gather a great deal of data about where you live and your circumstances:
As you can see from the above picture, a Labour government would cost me an extra £335 extra a year. Being a young, city-dwelling, non-driving, non-pensioner, I would only be liable for increased energy bills and council tax. The £210 rise in council tax is based on projections for a Labour rise in band D (while the Tories have frozen it since 2010) and the £125 in energy bills comes from Ed Miliband’s decarbonisation targets.
Attempting to gain as much momentum on the topic before conference season, Cost of Labour is the Tories' second attempt to raise online awareness of Labour’s spending plans. Just two weeks ago, CCHQ were bandying around the figure that a Labour government would cost ‘every hardworking family’ £2,960. Miliband has yet to announce concrete spending plans so many of the figures used for these calculations are based on historic statements, all liable to change before 2015. Chris Grayling made a ferocious attack in the Sunday Telegraph last week, arguing all we've seen is the same old, same old from Labour on the cost of living.
The Tory campaign machine has been much maligned over the past few years, showing itself to be unwieldy, unresponsive, and frequently failing to take the initiative. But this Cost of Labour attack is yet another sign that CCHQ has changed significantly recently, and that it can play Labour at the opposition tactics game with quite some aplomb.