Philip Collins, in The Times (£), has written one of those columns that ought to be handed to the relevant party leader with the words, "Just go and do what it says here". The leader in this case being Ed Miliband (actually, if Mr Miliband wants to win the next election he could do a lot worse than treating PC's collected columns as an instruction manual). I can't liberate the whole thing from behind the paywall but the key paragraph is this one:
The first thing Labour has to do is to counter Mr Osborne’s argument that these welfare cuts are “inevitable”. This is the line of a man who has thrown you out of a balloon and told you it is inevitable you will hit the ground. But Labour has no plan and so nobody listens. If Mr Miliband had even a rudimentary account of the cuts he was prepared to make then there might be an audience for his protests at the cuts that he thinks are unjust.
Labour needs a plan on public spending that goes beyond "Don't let those heartless Tory bastards cut everything," which is basically where they are. Right now, the voters are in the mood for a government run by heartless bastards, as long as those heartless bastards are considered more competent (or less incompetent) than the other lot. The next election won't be won on who is nicest.
Collins goes on to suggest a couple of policy postions that Labour might adopt to prove it's taking the responsibilities of governing in austere times seriously. One is to limit child benefit to the first two or three children. The other is to lift the exemption that NHS has from the cuts. The drastic cuts to other departments are only made necessary because of the commitment Cameron made, to get elected, not to cut the NHS budget, which represents 40% of public spending.The exemption is a crazy policy, in policy terms. Politically, it was smart.
Labour has a different political problem than Cameron did, of course. As Collins puts it, Labour could "create more room for its anger" by taking tough positions like this. Of course, lifting the NHS exemption would enable the Tories to point at Labour and say, "They want to cut your beloved health service." But this kind of attack would only redound to Labour's benefit. It is the perfect example of a policy that works for one party but not for another.
Policies are never just about policy. They are signals - and the meaning of a signal depends on who is sending it. The signal that this kind of policy sends about Labour would be a very powerful one. It would kill the Tory claim that Labour hasn't got a plan to deal with the debt. It would vaporise the perception that Labour only wants to spend and borrow.
Even better, it's good policy.