It started at the Labour Party conference, where Ed Miliband triumphantly announced that his party would promise a freeze in energy prices if they were to be in power come 2015. Since then it seems that the cost of living crisis, specifically how best to deal with it, has evolved into the biggest dilemma facing Britain today, a dilemma which will clearly be the focal point of the next general election. Whichever party comes up with a credible and workable plan in order to tackle it in the meantime, has a good chance of stealing power in 2015.
Shunning Labour's idea of an energy price freeze, Chancellor George Osborne believes he has a better proposal. By offering a £50 cut in household energy bills, the Conservatives feel that they can go a step further in actively helping to assist with the cost of living. With reports that energy prices are set to soar in the next 17 years, a price cut may appear at first glance to be a more attractive offer, but then, dealing the 'Big Six' will be another question in itself.
Across the political field the Lib Dems are also aware of the political potential in the cost of living debate. Stating that the party would seek to raise the income tax rate to £10,500, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has also been quick on the uptake. The problem with his solution is, of course, that this policy would not help the poorest members of society who are suffering from unemployment, but still, it proves he is on the side of the everyday worker. The Lib Dems would also jump at the chance of introducing a mansion tax for the rich, a proposal resolutely dismissed by their Tory Coalition partners. What's interesting to note is that both these policies are deeply liberal rooted, ideas which may well have an impact in paving the way for a future Lib-Lab Coalition?
Although on the outside David Cameron attempts to present the image of a Prime Minister in control, on the inside, it's a different matter. Realising that a Lib-Lab partnership may not be off the cards in 2015, the PM and his Chancellor have clearly softened to the Lib Dems of late, evident in the layout of Thursday's Autumn Statement. In particular, the creation of a further 20,000 apprenticeships for job seekers and the expansion of the startup loans scheme for new businesses suggest that Lib Dem ideas have not gone unnoticed.
However, aside from the commotion surrounding the row on energy prices, other areas affecting the cost of living remain a high concern. The Tory 'Help to Buy' scheme is not going far enough to halt rising house prices and a fall in unemployment is not benefitting the mass of those still struggling in poverty. Cancelling a planned fuel duty increase and limiting an escalation in train ticket fares is a start in helping the cost of day-to-day living, though many will still feel that such measures do not hit where it really hurts. Britain's economic plan may be working, as the Chancellor pointed out on Thursday, but both he and the PM know that until they can conjure up a long-term plan to deal with the cost of living crisis, the 2015 general election is still all to play for.
By Emily Stacey