This analysis is spot on. The LibDems must fear that Gordon Brown will shoot their fox by shoring up support on the left, particularly in the north. But the danger for the Conservatives is different.
For the other two main party leaders, Mr Blair's departure will also have
consequences. For Sir Menzies (Ming) Campbell, the LibDems' increasingly
beleaguered leader, the danger is that Mr Blair will take with him his own
party's best issue for the past four years: opposition to the Iraq war. Squeezed
by the Tories on greenery and civil rights, Sir Menzies will find it hard to map
out ground that is both distinctive and attractive to Lib Dem supporters, who
have already begun to slide away.
For Mr Cameron, however, the passing of Mr Blair from British politics is the opportunity he has been waiting for. Over the past few months, attacking Mr Blair has been a frustrating task for the Tory leader, partly because he often agrees with him and partly because Mr Brown was the real target. With Mr Brown at last in charge and Mr Blair gone, Mr Cameron can now complete the final part of his own metamorphosis.
The trick that Mr Cameron will attempt with ever more daring, like Mr Blair before him, will be to become a figure who soars above and beyond party. Mr Cameron's appeal will be not to Mr Blair's “progressives” but to all voters of decency, optimism and goodwill—what he will no doubt in due course call a coalition of the socially
responsible. Should he succeed, a Tory victory is now there for the taking. And
that may be the most important consequence of Mr Blair's going.
There are many Tories who believe the next election is all but won and that Gordon Brown is a leader who will not be able to appeal to middle England. They may be right, but they shouldn't count on it. Brown should never be underestimated. He has spent the last ten years planning for this moment and he will not give up the levers of power easily.
The key is how David Cameron responds. He wouldn't be human if he didn't feel a tad intimidated by the Great Clunking Fist. Brown is the first political leader in years to become Prime Minister with a firmly rooted intellectual and philosophical position. In fact, I can't think who the last one was. Lloyd George perhaps? This gives him an incredibly strong base to build on, but it also means that he can be more easily second guessed. Most of his beliefs have been articulated in books, pamphlets and articles over the last twenty five years. He will be under no illusion about the level of resources that CCHQ have put in to building up the Brown Dossier. Somewhere, deep in the bowels of CCHQ there is someone - I know not who - who has become a world authority on Gordon Brown. This man or woman will be much in demand by David Cameron and his team.
As I said in my Telegraph column yesterday, I don't think Cameron should do much by way of attacking Brown over the next few weeks. Let him get into office and then spend July using the Brown dossier to build up a sustained level of attack on him. The Opposition will have to become much more confrontational between now and the end of the year, and as the Economist hints at, herein lies a danger for David Cameron. He's at his best when he seems to float over party politics, rising above the left-right debate. How he combines this talent with an ability to knock Gordon Brown without appearing to do so may well determine David Cameron's success between now and the next election.