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How Ed could rescue what will be a challenging year

Today the corridors of power will finally be re-populated, as MPs and peers return from their Christmas break.

Few people relish the return to work after a holiday, but for Ed Miliband, the January blues will be particularly acute.

Like many of us, the Labour leader will stumble, punch-drunk and bleary-eyed, back into the office. For him, the cause, rather than too much mulled wine, was a torrid first week of 2012.

In his New Year's message, Mr Miliband spoke of the need to convince voters that "optimism can defeat despair".

But despair he might, as Labour peer Maurice Glasman attacked his leadership, grassroots activists revolted over the party's backing for benefit cuts and Diane Abbott's crass "divide and rule" tweet caused a storm.

Speaking of Twitter, Mr Miliband ended the week trending for all the wrong reasons after managing to mess up a tribute to gameshow host Bob Holness. Even a strategically-leaked party memo, dismissing comparisons with failed Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, didn't help.

Nonetheless, much of this will be forgotten once Parliament is back in full swing and real politics takes over again.

His task is simple: recreate the poll bounce he enjoyed in 2011 at the height of the phone hacking scandal.

The battle to be toughest on corporate pay and bankers' bonuses is winnable and March's Budget will put the spotlight back on the UK's economic slump.

His 'squeezed middle' concept has arguably struck more of a chord than David Cameron's 'Big Society', so he's likely to flesh out that concept, focusing on a cost of living 'crisis' facing households.

Vitally, he must also avoid letting David Cameron claim the credit for the Olympic Games.

Mr Cameron, on the other hand, is already staking his claim, telling anyone who will listen that "the global drama" of the games will get the country back on its feet.

The PM will also receive some plaudits if Boris Johnson retains the top job in London, although this would also highlight the popularity of his Etonian colleague and potential leadership rival.

The Prime Minister's success depends largely on signs of growth returning to the economy.

Nick Clegg, meanwhile, will continue to hang on for dear life. One thing in his favour is that an early General Election is a remote possibility because the coalition has introduced fixed-term parliaments, meaning Mr Cameron would need two-thirds of MPs to support a move to dissolve Parliament. But the Lib Dems will take a battering in local elections in May unless they can persuade voters of their impact on Government policy.

Plenty for all three men to contemplate on the first day back.

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