The politics behind Nick Clegg's 'alarm clock Britain'

By Norman Smith
Chief political correspondent, BBC Radio 4

  • Published

Nick Clegg's team say he wants to stand up for "alarm clock Britain".

By this, they mean pretty much the same group of people that Ed Miliband called "the squeezed middle".

These are basic rate taxpayers who, the deputy prime minister says, get up in the dark, get their children ready for school and then go out to work. People, who Mr Clegg accepts are seeing their already fairly modest living standards hit by pay freezes, job losses and price rises.

Image caption,
Nick Clegg wants to make clear the coalition is on the side of middle income earners

Mr Clegg argues that the coalition is supporting these people by raising tax thresholds in April. A move the Lib Dems claim will take 880,000 people out of income tax and benefit all basic rate taxpayers by about £200 a year.

He also points to the government's welfare reforms which he believes are popular with working families, who perhaps resent claimants on housing benefit who are able to live in homes they cannot afford.

It carries echoes of Chancellor George Osborne's assertion last year that the government was going to put an end to the "benefits lifestyle" - where he said some claimants were able to lie in with their curtains closed while "hard working families" headed off to work.

The significance of "alarm clock Britain" and the attempt to present the coalition as on the side of these basic rate taxpayers is that Mr Clegg and the prime minister clearly feel vulnerable to the charge that it is middle income families who are having to bear the brunt of the austerity measures.

The argument being that it is middle income families who will be hit hardest by the rise in tuition fees, the VAT rise and the steady erosion in their salaries and living standards through inflation.

The better-off and the less well-off, it is claimed, do not have to worry in quite the same way. The rich because they can shoulder the pain. The poor because the government has promised to shield them from the full impact of the cuts.

What is interesting is that politicians of all parties appear to have identified these burdened, middle income voters as the key group when it comes to the political battle over the government's austerity measures.

Ed Miliband's team are also determined to make the "squeezed middle" central to their attack on the coalition in the year ahead.

However it is understood Mr Miliband's team are casting around for a different phrase to replace the "squeezed middle" after Mr Miliband appeared to get into a bit of a tangle on the radio over who actually constitutes this group.

But 2011 looks set to be the year when all parties seek to present themselves as on the side of the early rising, struggling middle classes.

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