Alley cats versus fat cats. Labour calculates that there can be only one winner. And it is not the non-doms in their fur-lined boots.
Ed Miliband’s strategy has been clear for months. Shore up the core vote (public sector workers, benefit claimants and pensioners) and get to the winning line of 35 per cent of the vote. Yesterday’s announcement by the Labour leader, that he will scrap non-dom status, which benefits the jet-set wealthy, some of whom are genuine foreigners, is all about firing up the base.
No matter that Labour has looked at the idea before and rejected it. No matter that Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls appeared to pour cold water on the idea a few months ago. No matter that in a globalised world it sends a dreadful signal: come to Britain by all means but not if you have pots of money to spend and invest.
Miliband appears to be taking rather seriously the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”
But the merits of the policy (which Labour claims will raise a few hundred million extra, but which Balls admitted would end up costing us money) are beside the point. This is all about positioning. This is about Labour portraying Cameron and Co as friends of the fat cats. It is about the politics of envy. It is about ratcheting up that Labour vote to the meagre winning line of 35 per cent.
And the fact that the best the Tories could do was to point to the evident contradictions in Labour’s stance and condemn yet another “shambles” suggests they knew they were on the back foot.
The best Conservative response is to change the subject. Of course, Britain benefits hugely from the fact that wealthy people want to come here, want to live here and want to spend and invest their money here. Would you rather live in a country that attracts cash or repels cash? Would you rather live in a rich city, like London, or a poor one, like Detroit? Where are you more likely to get a job?
But Miliband’s hired cynics don’t care about that. Let’s play one of our favourite tunes: the politics of envy. Most people are not rich. Many people resent the rich. Ergo bash the rich.
Watching glaciers melt is more thrilling than observing this campaign. Nothing moves. The polls are stuck with the two big parties marooned in the low to middle thirties – the level at which Labour inches home as the largest single party.
So how long can Tory campaign chief Lynton Crosby hold the line? When does panic set in in the Tory high command? Not yet. Like a patient Aussie batsman building a big score in the blazing heat of the MCG, Crosby wants to grind this one out. Days will pass with no evident movement in the public mood. Manifestos will come and go. But as the public readies itself for the polling booth and May 7, reality will kick in.
Ignore the siren voices urging a bolder, more vivid approach. Forget about chucking bones at Farage’s Purple Army. They will come back to us when they confront The Choice: Cameron versus Miliband. There is only one answer to that.