The next few weeks are crucial to the Tory leader. He didn't want a cuts debate: the hapless Lansley blabbed and it all kicked off. But now Brown has instructed his ministers to put "cuts" into every sentence they utter on television. The Tories should not keep silent, or say that "Brown's lying". Now this issue is live, they need to own it: to say what cuts they would introduce, to understand that 72% of the public want cuts and to say they would implement them best.
Brown's narrative is that every cut means one less policeman, soldier etc. As he tells the Sunday Mirror "44,000 fewer teachers, 15,000 fewer police, 10,000 fewer soldiers and, each year, 32,000 fewer university places. Those aren't just numbers on the page, but real jobs hanging in the balance." Brown has committed to cut, we know that from the Budget. But it seems he does not know where to start.
I often wonder if the Tories realise what an own-goal this is. They can say, now, that "Brown doesn't understand cuts, he can't distinguish fat from flesh. We have a fiscal crisis, everybody knows cuts are inevitable, so we'd do them better but cutting the right things." This would grate against the modernisers' instincts, and doubtless bring back flashes of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from previous election campaigns. But they really should get over it.
It is time, now, to realise that cuts is no longer a four-letter word - and pledge to cut waste, inefficiency, debt, bureaucracy and everything else the electorate want shot of. Obama spoke about the "change we need" for America - in Britain it's the cuts we need. Let's see if Cameron has the nerve to promise to deliver them.
(Thanks to NotW for permission to reproduce the graphic)