Labour is to launch its election campaign this week with a dossier claiming that the Conservatives will destabilise the economy with uncosted spending plans.
In a mirror-image of the "tax bombshell" strategy John Major waged against Neil Kinnock in January 1992, the document, stretching to hundreds of pages, will attempt to undermine David Cameron's claims that he can shepherd Britain out of recession with public spending restraint.
The shadow Chancellor, George Osborne – whom Labour officials believe is the "weak link" in the Tory line-up – is to be targeted in the party's opening salvo of the election "phoney war".
The long campaign for the 2010 election began yesterday with a speech by Mr Cameron promising to get the country "back on its feet" and to introduce change based on the values of responsibility and aspiration.
In a speech in Woodstock, west Oxfordshire, the Tory leader laid out an optimistic vision for a Conservative government comprising a "better NHS, an aspirational economy, a big society and new politics".
Mr Cameron also pledged that if he won the election, likely to be held this May, he would invite opposition leaders to a regular war cabinet to show a united front over Afghanistan.
He will publish the first part of the Tories' draft manifesto tomorrow during a visit to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. Mr Cameron will pledge to divert billions of pounds of NHS spending to the most disadvantaged areas of the country in a move designed to rebuff claims that his party cares only for the privileged few.
The announcement came as Kenneth Clarke, the shadow Business Secretary, said VAT may have to increase under a Tory government. He told The Sunday Telegraph: "Coming out of a recession when you have such a severe deficit, you can't rule out putting up taxes."
The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, will launch Labour's attack dossier at a conference as early as tomorrow. The document has been masterminded by Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson and the Chancellor. Party officials in No 10, the Treasury and Labour headquarters have spent the past two months poring over Tory spending commitments.
Election strategists refused to go into further details of the dossier last night, but said that, unlike Labour's 2005 campaign, there would be no single figure for the cost of Tory spending plans. One strategist said: "This is a more detailed forensic attack on individual Tory promises to show they are not credible. It will show the dangers facing voters under Tory plans."
The 1992 Tory campaign team, including a young researcher named David Cameron, launched the now famous poster on 6 January 1992 warning that Labour was planning a "tax bombshell" of £35bn, or £1,250 per family. Labour strategists are pinning their hopes on a similar campaign turning the election around for a government behind in the polls, in a repeat of 1992.
Despite claims that the new era of austerity outlined by Mr Osborne could mean the party tacks to the right, Mr Cameron pitched for the centre ground yesterday. He said: "We are progressive Conservatives. Our goal is to create a fairer, safer, greener country where opportunity is more equal. It's because we are progressives that we will protect the NHS. In its bricks and mortar, care and compassion, it is the embodiment of fairness in our society."
Responding to Labour's "class war" tactics, the he added: "We will support aspiration so that people from every background, not just the rich, have the chance to get on in life.
"We can't go on with an old-fashioned, left-wing class war on aspiration from a government that has seen the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We can't go on with another five years of Gordon Brown."
The Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, said: "No amount of slick PR can disguise the fact that the Conservatives would scrap your right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks and target tax cuts on the wealthiest few."Reuse content