The week in review: Have an unhappy new year

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Have an unhappy new year
Have an unhappy new year

The festive period is an odd time of year to be a politician. It is the only real bit of the calendar where MPs are really allowed to relax – apart from the entirety of August and half of July, of course. Even then, there are silly stories to keep the newspapers occupied. Not Christmas, when most journalists are taking time off, too.

So the last fortnight has been no different to previous years: it's an opportunity to look back on some of the appalling gaffes and scandals of 2012, and realise exactly how pesky the Tory backbenchers have been over that period. Apart from some rather outspoken sermons on gay marriage emerging from Catholic pulpits on Christmas Eve, there has not been much to report. So naturally we look to the year ahead. There's a fair amount of headscratching over what's to come in 2013 – we've had our own go, of course, about prospects for what lies in store.

This year began with all three parties scratching their heads. After a Christmas week in which the spectre of gay marriage hung over traditionalists, ruining the cosy family image with the prospect of adding to their number, all three party leaders issued new year's messages deeply compromised by their constrained positions. Nick Clegg's firm resolve to stand up for the Liberal Democrats' interests was completely original, and said as much about his failure to do so to date as his prospects in 2013. David Cameron played politics by insisting Britain was making progress through austerity – less than a month after his chancellor had extended austerity for yet another year. Ed Miliband simply decided he ought to come up with some actual policies.

Plebgate seems to have fizzled out over the festive period, but Andrew Mitchell's allies in parliament will no doubt begin their agitating once again when parliament returns next week. In the absence of that bizarre phenomenon, a scandal in reverse, the actual day-to-day politics as the new year began was all rather predictable. Broadcasters played up the looming battle over benefits ahead of next week's Commons vote, but this was mostly because there was no other news to report. Commuters faced rail misery as fares went up again. On Monday, child benefit becomes conditional on income.

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