Every year, party leaders do this kind of New Year’s message and every year party leaders try and come up with a reason why the next twelve months will be more important, or significant, or eventful than the last. Some kind of exciting, breathless prediction. But not this year. Not from me.
After a long period of drama and upheaval in the economy, how about a year of stability rather than surprises? More steady-as-she-goes than spectacular-highs-and-lows. Finally there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
The economy’s growing. Businesses are hiring. 30 million people are now in work – that’s a record high. So how about we make 2014 about one thing and one thing only: locking in our recovery. The people of Britain have already sacrificed an extraordinary amount.
The Coalition is trying to help in every way we can: cutting income tax; freezing petrol prices; providing free school meals for young children. But, ultimately, we’ll only take the pressure off for good by building a stronger economy, paying down Labour’s deficit, investing in the things that drive growth, schools, roads, railways.
And by building a fairer society, where everyone can get on in life, through fairer taxes, more jobs, more help for parents balancing work and home. And by sticking to our plan we’ll do both. There is a potential threat to all this.
In May you are going to choose who represents you in the European Union. Two of the parties on offer could help lead Britain out of Europe, the surest way to throw our recovery away. And the other one won’t lift a finger to help us stay in. UKIP want out. The Conservatives are flirting with exit. And Labour just don’t have the courage of their convictions on this.
All three would put narrow political interests ahead of the national economic interest. So, in a few months, I’m going to ask you to make a different choice. The Liberal Democrats are Britain’s Party of In. Not because we’re in love with the EU, or we think it’s perfect. But because being in Europe means jobs, trade and prosperity.
The country’s biggest firms have worked out that our membership is worth around £3000 to every British household every year. And this country only stands tall in the world when we stand tall in our own backyard.
In the 21st century, nations are stronger together and poorer apart and for exactly that reason I hope this year the people of Scotland choose to stay in the UK too.
So in May, be for IN. Don’t wait for a referendum. Don’t wait for the General Election. Make your voice heard now. Once Britain finds itself with one foot out the door we won’t just be able to turn back. So don’t take that risk. Don’t let anyone jeopardise our recovery. This year let’s keep Britain in Europe, in work; no shocks or surprises, just better times ahead.
* Nick Clegg is the MP for Sheffield Hallam