David Cameron may well be wishing he had never made a commitment to repeal the 2004 ban on fox-hunting. A bone thrown to the Tory right, a section of his party whose concerns he has often ignored, the pledge is in danger of coming back to haunt him.
As the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, makes clear in today's Independent, Labour is speculatively eyeing the fox hunting question, along with inheritance tax, as key weapons in its so-called "class war" strategy against the Tories.
Mr Benn does not, of course, use so crass a term in his article. But the direction in which Labour is heading is clear, which is towards concentrating on "outing" David Cameron and George Osborne as toffs – men out of touch with the pulse of life in modern Britain. In fact, Labour might make the threat to the wellbeing of foxes more of an election issue than it does inheritance tax, since polls have suggested that Tory plans for the latter were not as unpopular as Labour strategists thought. The sport of ripping apart foxes, on the other hand, is decisively opposed by large majorities whenever a poll on the subject is taken.
Labour appears confident that the public will not warm to a pledge to repeal the 2004 act, whether or not the Tories maintain that the act has proved almost unworkable. Gordon Brown senses that in spite of the debacle at last year's Nantwich and Crewe by-election, where Labour attempts to highlight the Tory candidate's social background backfired, class could still prove the Tories' Achilles heel – if it is handled the right way. Learning from the errors made at Crewe, the accent is to be placed more on policies than personalities. That means less about leaders' and candidates' family backgrounds and more about how their policies will benefit only the rich.
One problem with this approach is that maintaining such a fine division will prove difficult in practice, and assaults on the Tories' supposedly elitist policies are bound to shade off into more personal jibes. If so, it could prove a strange ending to the New Labour era, which under Tony Blair had moved decisively away from the old, destructive tactic of pitting class against class. If we find ourselves back where we were, it seems unlikely we will be any better off for it.Reuse content