Labor’s opposition to the government’s planned tax cuts was just the start of a fight that would continue all the way to the election, shadow treasurer Wayne Swan told the National Press Club yesterday in his Budget response speech. So he’s to blame for the strategy, is he? He was talking like a man obsessed with his own brilliant ideas yesterday.

He said voters demanded such an approach that included policy and holding the government to account for its own flawed decisions: “That will be the type of approach that you will see from this opposition in the next couple of years. I believe there’s a hunger for it in the community, there’s a yearning for it in the Labor Party. They want us to take a stand. We took it, and we’re out there engaging in the debate, and we want to be there in the debate. We want to be in the arena with this government all the way.”

What? Making futile gestures? Swan had a point. “While someone earning $125,000 a year pays three times more tax than someone on $62,500 a year, their tax cut is more than ten times greater. This is a disproportionate skewing of tax relief of the most extreme kind” – see Ross Gittins today – but the message doesn’t seem to have made it through to voters.

Is the federal opposition trying to adopt strategies from the Bill Clinton play book with their tax cut stand? “Get better tactics. Don’t wuss around. And quit saying, ‘They’re so mean and vicious’. They only do it because it works,” Clinton told his party last year.

If so Labor needs to do more work – which takes us into the party backrooms. This week’s list of top Labor advisers has been controversial. First, we’ve been accused of gender bias. Crikey as blokeland again? No. It’s Crikey publishing what we’re sent – and yesterday all the messages praised Nick Sherry’s adviser Jane McGill.

“Personally, I think she’s one of the best operators they’ve got,” one read. “You should add Jane Magill to your list – and quite frankly she should be in the top five if not top three,” another began. “Jane is worth her weight in gold several times over – a former merchant banker she knows finance and economics backwards and more importantly she can relate it to the political context extremely well. Her greatest talent is explaining complicated issues to people who have no affinity with numbers… She was pretty much working for and advising Swannie all of last week and I would bet she’s had a lot of input into his speech for the Press Club.”

And we’ve attracted stick for running the list itself, with the suggestion that it’s rough to make opposition staffers a public issue. It’s been pointed out that the factional sins of their bosses often get visited upon them. That’s true – but many staff are players in their own right. It’s also been said that opposition staff are there out of passion and commitment. I know. Been there, done that.

This is a time of historical challenge for the ALP. Can it rise to the occasion? Asking whose hands are on the tiller is surely a legitimate question.