Labour finally comes out fighting in a 'summer offensive'

First, pour scorn on the Tory record. Second, identify the damage David Cameron could wreak with another five years in power. Third, set out Labour's plan to do things differently.

It may be a formulaic recipe, but four speeches following this prescription by Ed Miliband and shadow ministers have begun to land some blows on the Conservatives over the past few days.

The structure is deliberate and was dreamed up in a "brainstorming session" overseen by Douglas Alexander, the party's election coordinator, according to party sources. At this meeting it was settled that the theme of the summer would be "the choice" – a binary decision facing voters over which man will be PM next year.

This "summer offensive" is in marked contrast to last year, when the party's senior figures were criticised for joining the rest of Westminster as it sloped off on its six-week holiday while parliament was in recess. This time there has been a conscious effort to increase the strength of attacks on the Tories. It started with Miliband's decision to embrace his own awkward image in comparison with Cameron's PR slickness, and was followed by Yvette Cooper on the Conservatives' poor record on domestic violence, Andy Burnham on the threat of NHS privatisation, and Ed Balls raising fears of another Tory attempt to cut tax for the wealthiest.

"We're pleased with how it's gone so far," one Labour aide said. "It's been three shadow ministers on the Today programme in three days. It's now about keeping up the momentum."

Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society centre-left thinktank, said Labour was definitely doing better than last year when there was "a sense of drift", but the Conservative rebuttal machine has also got much stronger.

"You can really see the effects of Lynton Crosby running the operation, although whether that's getting through to people who don't engage with politics in an obsessive way, I don't know," he said.

"Both sides are really upping the intensity. It feels like the start of the campaign already."

He said Miliband's speech last week was a big hit because it got people talking, adding: "It started a conversation about why we perceive Ed in the way we do and what that says about politics, which was really good. The Burnham intervention was as well, and it was good to see him speak because he's been under-used recently. Labour need all their heavy hitters out doing stuff."

Framing the debate as "the choice" was an attempt to make it feel like there was a lot at stake and make clear what the difference is between the parties to people's lives, he added. "The aim is to move on from seminar-talk."

Not everyone is happy, though. Some within the party are still anxious about the polls that suggest Labour's lead is slightly narrowing. Graham Stringer, the Labour MP and former minister who last year criticised the "deafening silence" from the shadow cabinet over the summer is still not convinced the party is doing enough to win over voters.

"Yes, we have policy where there was an absence of policy last year, from energy to house building to other areas," he said. "But in terms of the organisation of the campaign, I am not sure it has improved.

"More recently, I think the self-analysis that Ed did pointing out that he looked like Wallace, and that elections that are won by policy, were a mistake. The self-angst is not a way of communicating policies.

You have to compete for the space and that was the problem last summer. There seems to be some sense that lessons have been learned.

"But it's also about how well it is organised and how clear the messages are. It's obvious the Tories are only focusing on four messages. That is what the Labour party needs to do. Focus on a limited number of messages that are intellectually coherent and easily understood."

The veteran MP Frank Dobson, a supporter of Miliband, who claims he is confident Labour will win the election, has also expressed concern that other members of the shadow cabinet could be doing more to "knock lumps off opposite numbers".

Nevertheless, a poll of grassroots members for Labour List does suggest the mood within the party is optimistic, perhaps lifted by Miliband's meeting with Obama and a successful National Policy Forum meeting last week on "big reform, not big spending".

"The adrenalin has got going," said one shadow minister. "We just need to keep this up for the next nine months."

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason, for The Guardian on Wednesday 30th July 2014 20.55 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010