The National Insurance contributions row is running on and on - the Tories appear to have a steady stream of extremely highly paid business people on hand to argue that closing £6bn of the public spending deficit by raising NICs in 2011 is a bad idea.
This should be an easy slam-dunk for Labour to respond to. All it needs to say is that the Tories would be deliberately opening up an extra £6bn hole in the deficit at a time when the financial markets would expect them to have a clear plan to close that deficit (and indeed until 2 weeks ago they had a plan, of sorts).
The Tory counter-argument will be that they can find £6bn extra "efficiency savings" in public spending that Labour can't. Now, to be sure, this efficiency savings stuff is largely BS. You can - at least in theory - get modest efficiency savings out of the public (and private) sector every year through productivity growth - technological improvements which allow you to do more with less. What you can't do is invent several tens of billions of EXTRA efficiency savings - on top of that gradual drip-drip improvement. There is a problem here, because both Labour and the Tories have conjured ridiculously large efficiency savings estimates out of thin air - have a look at some of the suggested savings in various departments in the 2010 Budget and you'll see what I mean. The cuts which are already scheduled will DEFINITELY hit front-line services. In other words, both Labour and the Tories are already engaged in a con-trick with the electorate.
However, daft as this situation is, it doesn't harm Labour's case on this particular issue, because Labour can point out that, given that the announced cuts are ALREADY going to bite into front-line services, an additional £6 billion will hurt that much more. In other words, this opens the door towards portraying the Tories as the "slasher" party in the way that Labour did quite successfully in 2001 and 2005.
All of which may explain why Gordon Brown seems relatively pleased about the NICs row so far: it enables an opportunity to put "clear red water" between Labour and the Tories. To be clear, this won't be about Labour defending public services vs Tory cuts (even though as it should be if Labour had the guts); instead it will be about Labour's savage cuts vs the Tories' complete destruction of a huge proportion of the public sector. It's the wrong place to put up a battle ground - but it's still a battle ground, and played the right way, having this fight could actually help Labour as the campaign goes on.