Vince Cable's extraordinary attack on David Cameron's immigration speech means that Labour's response has received little attention. But the party's decision to attack the PM from the right, rather than from the left, is highly significant.
Unlike Cable, Labour chose not to accuse Cameron of pandering to extremists. Instead, it criticised him for talking tough but acting soft. The party pointed out that the coalition's cap applies to only 20 per cent of non-EU migrants and that Cameron is cutting the UK Border Agency by over 5,000 staff.
It also noted that the Conservative pledge to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands a year" had been downgraded to an aim or an aspiration (as Cable rightly pointed out this morning, it was not included in the Coalition Agreement). In other words, as far as Labour is concerned, the problem is that Cameron hasn't been tough enough.
Many shadow cabinet ministers now prefer to attack the coalition on practical rather than ideological grounds.Yvette Cooper, for instance, said today:
Whether it is immigration, the NHS or student fees, once again we are getting grandstanding from the Prime Minister to hide the chaos within the government. David Cameron tried desperately to change the agenda today but it has completely backfired.
Politically speaking, it's a smart approach. Voters might be divided on the cuts, but both the left and the right will nod in agreement when Ed Miliband accuses the coalition of serial incompetence. Miliband's call for Cameron to "get a grip" is one that the Tories used to devastating effect against Gordon Brown. It's likely to prove a winning strategy for Labour as well.