Andrew Grice: The Week in Politics

Brown will reinvent himself to wrong-foot Cameron
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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown and David Cameron, two men who will dominate British politics for the next few years, have been rehearsing the arguments that we will hear repeatedly at the next general election.

Addressing the Confederation of British Industry on Monday, they gave business leaders a sneak preview of the battle ahead. Mr Cameron did not mention Tony Blair but concentrated on the Chancellor's record - a sign, perhaps, that we are moving towards the post-Blair era.

That evening, Mr Brown used the private weekly meeting of Labour MPs to try to demolish Mr Cameron. Despite a slick leadership campaign in which Mr Cameron has pitched his tent on an increasingly crowded centre ground, Mr Brown said the "dividing lines" between the two main parties remained as clear as ever.

"We should not be taken in by the rebranding and new image," said Mr Brown. "The Tories are not a policy-free zone." He added: "David Cameron's claims that he wants to share the fruits of growth simply do not add up, so under the Tories there will be more spending cuts."

It is going to be a fascinating battle - in many ways, a David versus Goliath contest, a remarkably inexperienced 39-year-old against a political heavyweight 15 years his senior who is itching to get his hands on all the levers of power after a very long wait.

On Monday, Mr Brown will present his pre-Budget report against a more favourable backdrop than looked likely a few months ago. True, his growth forecast will be scaled down, but he will argue that his policies have enabled Britain to weather the global storm in a way it would not have managed in the past.

The Chancellor chose Monday to deliver his statement with a purpose: he is keen to frame the choices at the next election now. He also wants to do battle with George Osborne, his Tory shadow and Mr Cameron's closest political ally, on a big set-piece occasion before Mr Cameron is confirmed as Tory leader on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mr Cameron will enter the ring for his opening round against Mr Blair at Prime Minister's Questions. Don't expect blood. To show he is different, I suspect the incoming Tory leader will not try to land a knockout blow but adopt a more consensual approach. Mr Blair will doubtless be armed with plenty of Cameron quotes designed to show he is more right-winger than midfield dynamo.

Mr Cameron knows he has to make an early impact. As Iain Duncan Smith rightly observed, the public's impressions of a party leader are forged in three or four months. Mr Cameron will try to talk about the issues the party is not associated with, such as the environment, and reject traditional Tory tunes such as immigration and Europe.

There is much about Mr Cameron that reminds me of Mr Blair when he was in opposition, which is no surprise since he has studied his strategy closely. But there is an important difference. Labour convinced the public it had changed because it changed its key policies. "You've got to show the change goes all the way through like the letters on a stick of rock, and is not just on the outside," said one Blair aide. That is the test for Mr Cameron.

Ultimately the next election will turn on whether Mr Brown or Mr Cameron emerges as the "change candidate" the public want after the end of the Blair era.

Mr Cameron, whose Tory leadership campaign slogan is "change to win", will present himself as the man to bring change to the country too. He believes he can brand Mr Brown as part of the ruling establishment after 12 years in power, and an obstacle to the reforms the country needs - a charge which gets under Mr Brown's skin more than anything else, since it is usually made by ultra-Blairites.

Mr Brown will offer both continuity and change, a re-energised leadership and experience, moving beyond Blairism by building on its successes. He will try to portray the Tories as a leap in the dark. He will have plenty of reforms up his sleeve. "Gordon will be the change candidate," one senior Labour strategist told me. "The Tories are basing their plans on Gordon as he is now. They will be surprised. He will be very different as prime minister. We will have the last move."