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.
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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle