How much longer can the coalition blame Labour for the cuts?

In the 2000 film Traffic, Michael Douglas’ character is given advice about surviving in politics:

When they forced Khruschev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said, “When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter”. Well, soon enough, this guy found himself into a tight place, so he opened the first letter. Which said, “Blame everything on me”. So he blames the old man, it worked like a charm. He got himself into a second situation he couldn’t get out of, he opened the second letter. It said, “Sit down, and write two letters”.

The current government took the advice of the first letter even before coming to power. The day David Laws published a very different letter (“Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money… good luck!”) further reflected their reliance on Khruschev’s advice.

But that line may now be losing credibility.

Since the election, YouGov have been asking respondents who they blame most for the spending cuts. In June last year, Labour were seen as to blame by 31pts more than the coalition. Now that lead is just 14pts:

Labour’s position is still not good. Their argument, that the crisis was international and the UK’s debt was a necessary investment to avoid a worse recession, has apparently still not won through. They haven’t gained much ground on this question the last few months.

But half the country now blames the coalition for the cuts, at least in part. The present switch in the government’s line from “we’re clearing up Labour’s mess” to “we’re facing a European crisis” perhaps reflects a recognition that the first letter has had its day.