Full text: David Cameron's new year's message

"We are on the right track" he says. Are we?

David Cameron's new year's message (see video below) is unusually pugnacious: even his parting shot "so happy new year" sounds like he's banging a table whilst saying it. It's a broad defence of the government's actions this year, and their plan for the next - but hardly a proper one, as it fails to mention any of the highly publicised slip-ups comprising the omnishambles which was Cameron's 2012. Leveson, the series of U-turns (pastygate, petrol tax, caravans tax), Rebecca Brook's horse, are all ommited. Neither does he mention the EU, or Syria, or the rise of UKIP, or even Nick Clegg's autotuned apology for the rise in tuition fees.

He concentrates on defending the government's approach to the economy, pointing to increased employment and a £13bn fall in the deficit this year. He says "we are on the right track. On all the big issues that matter to Britain, we are heading in the right direction and I have the evidence to prove it."

But Labour vice chair Michael Dugher is not so sure. In response to the message he said:

"It's a case of more of the same from David Cameron. In his New Year message, Cameron talks of people who work hard in this country but he's the one hitting hard-working families on lower and middle incomes whilst cutting taxes for millionaires.

David Cameron stands for the old divide and rule Tory approach of the past - he can't be the One Nation Prime Minister Britain needs.

Cameron promised change but nothing is changing for the better. Britain's economy is failing under his policies over the last year, with nearly one million young people out of work. Prices are still going up faster than wages and borrowing is going up not down, over 7 per cent higher this year than last year. This Prime Minister is out of touch, he stands up for the wrong people and he's failing to deliver for working people."

Here's the full text from Cameron's speech today:

"2012 was an extraordinary year for our country. We celebrated our Queen with the Jubilee. And with the Olympics and Paralympics we showed beyond any doubt that Britain can deliver. It was a great year. But, if we are honest, it was a tough one too. We are still dealing with debts that built up over many years. And for many families, making ends meet is difficult. So to anyone starting this new year with questions about where we are heading and what the future holds, I want to reassure you of this: we are on the right track. On all the big issues that matter to Britain, we are heading in the right direction and I have the evidence to prove it.

This government inherited a huge budget deficit that was dragging our country down. Well, this New Year, that deficit is forecast to be £13bn smaller than last new year, down by one quarter since we came to office. We inherited a welfare system that was frankly out of shape, that paid people not to work. So we made some big changes, and this new year almost half a million more people are in work than last new year. That is real progress. We inherited an education system where too often mediocre was deemed good enough and discipline in many schools was slack. We said we need more discipline, tougher exams and more academies because those schools consistently get better results. Well, this new year we’ve got more than 1,000 academies open than last New Year. The numbers studying science and languages are going up. And teachers have more power over discipline than they’ve had for years.

This is, quite simply, a government in a hurry. And there’s a reason for that. Britain is in a global race to succeed today. It is race with countries like China, India and Indonesia; a race for the jobs and opportunities of the future. So when people say we can slow down on cutting our debts, we are saying no. We can’t win in this world with a great millstone of debt round our necks. When people say we’ve got to stop our welfare reforms because somehow it is cruel to expect people to work, we are saying no. Getting people into good jobs is absolutely vital, not just for them, but for all of us.

And when there is a fight on our hands to change our schools, we are ready and willing to have it because having a world-class education is the only way our children are going to get on in this world. And we know what we are doing all this for: not just to get our country up the rankings in some global league table but to get behind anyone who likes to work hard and get on in life. It’s for those people that we made changes to our tax system in 2012, cutting the income tax bills of 24 million workers. It is for them that we have frozen the council tax for three years in a row, to keep bills as low as we can. And we did the right thing by our pensioners too, in 2012, bringing in the biggest ever increase in the state pension.

This is what this government is about: making sure Britain succeeds in this global race and, above all, helping our people succeed, the people who work hard and aspire to a better life for their families. So this is my message to the country at the start of 2013. We can look to the future with realism and optimism. Realism, because you can’t cure problems, that were decades in the making, overnight. There are no quick fixes and I wouldn’t claim otherwise. But we can be optimistic too because we are making tangible progress. We are doing what’s right for our country and what’s best for our children’s future. And nothing could be more important than that. So happy new year and best wishes for 2013."

Cameron delivers an unusually pugnacious message. Photograph: Getty Images.
David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide