Battle lines drawn, as Plaid appear on Clegg's radar

Happy New Year from Westminster.

Election campaigns are often described as the longest in history but this time that might actually be true. On day one, the two largest parties have been focusing on what they believe to be their strongest cards.

Ed Miliband has been talking about the NHS, talking up what he sees as the threat to it posed by another five years of the Conservatives in power. (The Tories deny they plan to privatise the NHS and say Labour's record in Wales is poor).

George Osborne and four other Conservative cabinet ministers have been trying to talk about the economy, publishing a "dossier" that highlights what they say are Labour's unfunded spending commitments. (Labour deny the Tory claim that criticism of a coalition spending cut amounts to a pledge to reverse it).

Nick Clegg has been trying to put the case for a coalition anchored by - you've guessed it - Liberal Democrat ministers. Interestingly, he also went out of his way to criticise some of the smaller parties who could be keen on doing deals with a minority administration after May 7.

Mr Clegg told a Westminster news conference: "UKIP, SNP, the Greens, Plaid: all in their own way threaten our recovery. They all peddle their own brand of divisive populism based on grievance, blame and fear. They won't act in the national interest. They all want to put their narrow claims above the needs of the country."

He added: "What we did in 2010 was not some sort of bargain basement sale where all the parties pitched in from left, right and centre. We stepped up to the plate, assumed our responsibility for the national interest because the economy was teetering on the edge of a precipice, and we had to do big, controversial, unpopular things to pull the country back from the brink.

"And the notion that you can do that with this smorgasbord of nationalists, UKIP, SNP, Plaid, Greens, and so on, I think is fanciful. They don't seem to me to take the notion of the national interest seriously enough. They take their own narrow interests terribly seriously but they don't take the national interest seriously enough."

Plaid Cymru seemed flattered by the deputy PM's comments. A spokesperson said: "To be attacked by the most discredited man in UK politics is a badge of honour. Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have nothing to show for their five years in government and face a meltdown in May.

"Plaid Cymru always has and always will act in the best interests of Wales. We will be fighting to secure the best deal possible for Wales following the election.

"People are losing faith in the Labour-Tory-Lib Dem gang in Westminster. Plaid Cymru provides the only alternative to Westminster business-as-usual."

In case you were wondering, there are just 121 days to go until the election. If you lose track, there's a handy countdown clock here.