If, as I suggested in my last post, the revealing thing about yesterday's PMQs was that it set out what the Conservative message for the next election might be then there have been some interesting suggestions recently about how Labour should respond.
It's worth looking at some of these, to see how they stack up.
1. Stand Firm
One option would be to ignore (or rather, rebut) the Tory attack and do our own thing. This argument is employed mostly by those who feel that Labour is firmly in charge of the debate now, will remain so in future, and who believe that the Conservatives have little or no room for polling improvement, and who therefore do not feel in any way threatened by a potential Tory narrative.
The argument here is that the Tory message can't work, either in economic or political terms, so Labour has political space to do it's own thing, whether by 'expanding the electorate' a la Obama, or by motivating working class voters.
Good examples come from Jon Trickett and Owen Jones. Owen Jones has argued that the Conservatives are extremely unlikely to outperform their 2010 election result, and given their poor performance among C2DE voters in recent opinion polls, face an 'existential crisis'. Why concern yourself with their narrative when they are so palpably failing?
Trickett takes a similar approach. He argues that the Conservative electoral coalition is pulling in very different directions, and that if Cameron is to gain the support of his 'base' he will lose the chance of securing the Conservative 'Considerers' he needs for victory. Given this Tory tension, Trickett argues that "the Labour party now has the space to put an end to this triangulation and to establish its own independent identity based on our abiding values of community, justice and equality".
So do the Tories face a crisis?
Looking at recent YouGov polls, current Conservative support is around 3-4% lower than their performance at the last election. Taking a recent poll with the Conservatives at 33%, we can see that 9% of Conservative 2010 voters are currently voting UKIP. A further 15% of 2010 Conservative voters are saying that do not know how they will vote*. These figures seem reasonably consistent across recent YouGov polling.
This represents almost a quarter of the Conservative 2010 support, a level far higher than that of Labour, only 10% of whose 2010 voters now say they don't know how they'd vote, and only 3% of whom are planning to vote for "minor" parties.
There are two ways of looking at this data. The first is to say that those votes are lost to the Conservative party, and this shows their weakness.
The second is to say that while these voters are clearly dissatisfied, they represent a pool of the electorate which the Tories may well be able to get back.
If the Conservatives were to retain only half of the 2010 Con voters who have switched to UKIP/Not voting, this would immediately take them to the levels of support they got at the General Election (The difference is made up by a sliver of 2010 LibDems who now support the Conservatives).
Indeed, on some of the more positive recent polls for the Conservatives, those with the party on c35%, it would clearly take them above their general election performance.
Given that we are now two years into a coalition government, there has been a post-budget collapse in Conservative ratings, an economic recession and little sign of the planned turnaround in the public finances, the resilience of the Conservative vote is more interesting than it's slight decline.
If the Conservatives are able to persuade 2010 Tory switchers to UKIP/Not voting to return, plus a few Conservative-aligned Lib Dems, plus swing voters. It is easy to see how they could construct a Poltical coalition at or around the 40% mark.
Since they weree been at this level in the polls at the turn of the year and at the start of 2011, surely it isn't politically unthinkable that such a performance is at least possible?
(It's worth noting that such a performance would not give the Conservatives victory. Labour were also on about 40% in the polls at that time. Still, we are only considering Conservative potential here)
Of course, past performance is no guide to future success. The Conservative decline since the budget shows that performance follows results. That's one reason why it's so important for the Conservatives to claim their medicine is working.
However, if the Conservatives can claim little success in their political and economic project, the best card they have to play against Labour would be fear.
To Tory inclined voters tempted to vote UKIP, or to not vote, the message would be "you can't risk another Labour government after what happened last time". It is no surprise that this is the sort of language Cameron described Labour's record.
In other words, there are two routes to a renewed coalition for the Conservatives. The first is to re-assure voters that the government is delivering. The second is simply to say that Labour would make things much worse.
The Conservatives would obviously rather both arguments were effective, but they might be able to get a surprising amount of mileage from the latter alone.
Call it the 1992 Strategy. Can it be dismissed as entirely ineffective? Personally I think not, even if the economy continues as it is now for the next three years.
Further, I'd argue that the Fear card will be more powerful the more Labour appears to not be addressing the concerns of marginal conservative voters.
In other words, do something that would worry a Tory considering swing voter, such as open yourself up to the 'Shirkers, not workers' assault, and you may also give the Tory disappointed a reason to return to the fold.
Here we descend into the murky waters of the qualititive, and I have no data to support that suspicion.
However, I do pray in aid this image.
Are we likely to follow the Hague path?
Of course not, we are in a much better place than that. However, for those who voted Tory in 2010, such an argument will be effective if we have not clearly shown how we are adressing their concerns (These seem to highlight the economy, deficits, crime, immigration, cost of living -petrol, especially- and welfare).
Will this, in and of itself, give the Tories a path to victory?
Personally, I doubt it. Labour has had an influx of support from disillussioned LibDems, and it's own supporters are motivated. There is also the possibility that Labour can indeed 'Expand the electorate' by motivating non and young voters, even if you're something of a sceptic about the scale of that opportunity, as I am.
If the Tories want to win they probably have to appeal to more swing and Liberal voters than they do now. That will require a more successful, and in my mind more centrist, governing strategy than the one they are adopting now.
That said, it's at least plausible that the Tories could fight Labour to a draw by playing the fear card.
It would seem good political sense to not allow them to do so.
How might we do that? An option from the Liberals will be considered next.
*these figures are not precise, as the 9% voting for UKIP figure is based on excluding the 18% of 2010 Tory voters who either say