If the Tories appear to be gaining traction in the political debate of recent months it may reflect the decision to focus on a small number of core “wedge issues”: immigration, benefits, the economy, the unions. On these the Conservatives know they have an electoral advantage: in contrast to say “NHS” or “jobs”.
That stategy was drawn up at Chequers two months ago at a gathering of senior Conservative figures including David Cameron; Grant Shapps, chairman; and Craig Oliver, head of press.
It was there that the decision was taken to take the gloves off over the Labour links with the unions: the fruits of which could be seen at a bruising session of prime minister’s questions not long before recess began.
There will be more to come on the unions, with Michael Gove, education secretary, to lead the charge on this at the end of the month, I hear. (You may remember that the controversial lobbying bill – which includes an assault on union funding – comes in early September to coincide with the TUC gathering in Bournemouth.)
The strategy of drawing up firm dividing lines can already be seen, with the benefit cap kicking in and the anti-illegal immigrant van adverts in some parts of London. (The Advertising Standards Authority is currently examining these.)
It also co-incided with a decision to get more proactive: as you can see with the omni-present David Cameron media presence last week. (Some commentators such as Patrick Wintour thought it all too much: others contrasted it with the relative silence of Labour.)
CCQH insiders believe the strategy is bearing fruit: the poll lead of Labour has narrowed to around 5 points in recent weeks, which is too narrow for comfort.
The Conservatives have also drawn up what they believe is an effective “grid” as designed by Mandelson/Campbell in the early New Labour years.
I’ve picked up that Theresa May is next out of the traps on Monday with a Home Office intervention.
The idea is to fill the space left by Labour’s lack of policy ideas: for as long as Miliband holds back on showing his hand on a full roster of policies (and there is a logic to his slow progress on this) there is space for the Tories to keep making the noise.