Brown strikes upbeat note for 2010

Gordon Brown will on Wednesday strike a positive note in his new year message to the nation amid concerns that Labour is heading towards a historic defeat at the general election.

Britain is a country which is always “reaching higher, dreaming bigger, aiming for ever greater things”, Mr Brown will say in an address designed to sound uplifting. 

He will take a gamble by forecasting a strong economic recovery, predicting that unemployment will have fallen by the end of the year.

While Labour has in recent weeks narrowed the gap with the Tories in the opinion polls – in part by reaching out to its core working class supporters – the party is on track for defeat on election day.

Mr Brown will seek to cast the Conservatives as the dolorous party, criticising their supposed enthusiasm to cut public spending.

“There are some who say we must plan for a decade of austerity and unfairness, where the majority lose out while the privileged few protect themselves,” he will say. “I believe we can create a decade of shared prosperity.”

The prime minister will predict that unemployment will “start to drop this year” with more small businesses opening. This is consistent with a report on Tuesday from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development which suggested the jobless tally would peak at about 2.8m in summer.

“My message today is simple: don’t wreck the recovery,” he will say. “The recovery is still fragile.”

In reality the public spending plans of Labour and the Tories are not as distinct as both parties like to portray. Mr Brown himself will admit on Wednesday that one of his main priorities for the year is cutting the UK’s record deficit, albeit at a “responsible pace without choking off the recovery”.

While Mr Brown looks ahead, the new year in Westminster is set to be marked by a conspiratorial mood as Labour ponders who would lead the party after an election defeat.

David Miliband, foreign secretary, is expected to stand in any leadership contest, having rejected the post of the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs. Other challengers could include Ed Balls, education secretary, Harriet Harman, leader of the Commons, Jon Cruddas, the leftwing MP for Dagenham, and Andy Burnham, health secretary.

There is widespread speculation about what could occur in the event of a hung parliament. Sunday’s new year message from David Cameron, Tory leader, was interpreted as a “love bomb” for the Liberal Democrats, who are key to any coalition government.

But the message on Tuesday from Nick Clegg, Lib Dem leader, struck a distinctly independent note, accusing Labour and the Tories of “parroting” the language of change without meaning it.

Both parties, he claimed, had blocked attempts to allow constituents to sack MPs, clean up party political funding or shake up the City of London.

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