David Cameron wants 2014 to be the year "Britain rises"

Answers on a postcard if you know what he's talking about.

David Cameron has delivered his New Year message, and with it a slogan we will no doubt be heartily sick of by February: Britain is on the rise. 

He writes in the Times that the "difficult decisions" he has taken since forming a government in 2010 are now beginning to pay off. "After three and a half years, it’s time for the next phase of that plan - 2014 is when we start to turn Britain into the flagship post-Great Recession success story. A country that is on the rise."

Later, he adds: "During the recession I insisted that we were all in it together. As we recover, let me be clear: we are still all in it together. The question now is how we move forward and make sure Britain and its people rise."

He then claims that Labour's policies - "more borrowing, more spending and more debt" - would be catastrophic (perhaps, following his earlier logic, people might sink? Perhaps Britain as a whole might sink?) and instead advocates a five-point plan.

1. Continuing to reduce the deficit, and "help keep mortgage bills low" - although how far he can control the latter, when the Bank of England sets interest rates, is questionable.

2. Continue cutting income tax, raise the personal allowance and freeze fuel duty. 

3. "Backing small business".

4. Capping welfare and controlling immigration.

5. A new national curriculum and a commitment to "deliver the best schools for every child".

Cameron concludes: "We’ve come a long way already. Let’s make 2014 the year when Britain really starts to rise."

The article distils the key messages we are likely to hear from the Tories until the next election: cautious optimism, budget responsibility, plus hard lines on immigration and welfare. As Mark Wallace writes at Conservative Home: "This article is the crib-sheet to [Cameron's] campaign plan – now we must see whether he sticks to it, and if it survives contact with events and the enemy."

Also noteworthy is the unsubtle dig at France in there - "If you doubt how disastrous a return to Labour-style economics would be, just look at countries that are currently following that approach. They face increasing unemployment, industrial stagnation and enterprise in free fall".

In recent days, Francois Hollande's flagship policy of a top tax rate of 75 per cent has been approved by France's highest court. This will no doubt lead to more protests from football clubs, showbusiness stars and business leaders in the coming months, although it has popular support. Hollande's personal polling is dire, so expect to see more attacks linking him and Miliband. 

David Cameron. Photo: Getty

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.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.