According to a spuriously scientific study, today is the day when festive excess gets the better of us, with one in two Brits opting to stay on the sofa with the curtains closed fretting about bills and weight gain. So how fortunate it is that Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have chosen to rouse a hungover nation today with their stirring new year messages.
Ed Miliband promises that he will be setting out ‘concrete steps’ on how One Nation Labour will work, citing business, education and welfare as examples. He does add that he doesn’t ‘offer easy answers and I’m not going to offer false promises either’. But it’s difficult to see how the Labour leader can make any promises at all on areas such as welfare without talking about money. And how can he talk about money when Ed Balls has pledged a zero-based spending review which delays the tricky decisions until after 2015? Perhaps the Labour leader’s ‘concrete steps’ are made of a slightly less robust material.
On schools, he can set out a general direction, which will certainly come as a relief to poor old Stephen Twigg, who has spent his front bench career so far avoiding questions on whether or not he really supports the expansion of New Labour education policies. As for business, well, there are plenty cuddly One Nation policies that Miliband can continue to talk about which don’t really involve any commitment from government: the Living Wage, for instance, which for the Labour leader hinges on him pulling faces at business leaders until they up their employees’ pay – if they can afford to, that is. But will his ‘concrete steps’ include admissions that certain benefit cuts won’t be reversed, or that there won’t be a big new capital spending pot for schools?
Meanwhile Nick Clegg is determined to portray the Lib Dems as being made of stern, weighty stuff that’s sufficiently heavy to anchor the Coalition in the centre ground. His new year message says:
What I can tell you is that, whatever 2013 throws at us, the Liberal Democrats will continue to anchor this Coalition in the centre ground and we will hold firm to our key purpose in this government: the Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy, in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.
So I want you to hear it from me, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, that this Coalition Government is not going to lurch one way or the next.
He also pledges to help with childcare bills, a key Coalition battleground. The Times reports that Clegg is keen to reject plans from Liz Truss for deregulating the sector to drive down childcare bills in favour of his own plans. Perhaps when the mid-term review is published, Clegg will argue Truss’ emphasis on regulatory reform would have been one of those ‘lurches’ away from the centre.
The PM hasn’t released his message yet. But it will be interesting to see whether he too lays claim to the centre ground. His aides certainly have been keen to emphasise the Tory commitment to remaining there, rather than obeying backbench calls for a lurch. How he frames his message depends on whether he currently fears his own MPs or his Coalition partners more.