That’s it. The first five-year, fixed-term parliament is over, limping to an exhausted, shabby end. This cursed coalition has disbanded.
Yet, with the official campaign finally underway, the voting public is not exactly thrilled at being pursued by the escapees from London SW1. The noisiest sound from the streets is that of millions of shoulders shrugging. With so many undecided voters, they are now the group holding the key to Number 10.
How does Labour get to reach these voters? Millions of voters sat it out in 2010, including nine million women (arguably the group that suffered the most under coalition cuts). They must not be allowed to sit out this election, emitting the war cry of the apathetic: “Why bother, they’re all the same?”
Occasionally the primary colours the voters hunger for can be seen in flashes. The recent leak of Tory plans for the welfare state, should they get five years to “finish the job” off, was just the sort of reminder that this is the nasty party that no amount of Lynton Crosby stage-craft can shake off, and ought to drive people to the booths on polling day fired up to stop this mob.
Still, I know that Unite’s members want to see Labour do more to set down its pastels and paint a more powerful, distinctive picture of life under Ed Miliband. There are some great Labour policies – but we need the campaign managers to be less sotto voce and much more loud-hailer when fighting for votes.
Start with the clear dividing lines. Labour is determined to fight for decent work and living wages, for secure and affordable homes, for the full return of the National Health Service to public hands. These may be policies that spook our, in the main, right-wing media but they are promises that will resonate with the millions of ordinary people in this country who have given up hope of getting ahead because the daily struggle is now one of getting by.
So shout more loudly, Labour, tell the people that you are on their side. Do not be mealy-mouthed or half-hearted about the promise to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020. Not only does this illustrate that Labour realises how important a secure home is to people, it is also economically sensible. House-building puts construction workers back to decent work, it gets our supply chain moving, it spreads economic prosperity and it tackles the housing shortage.
A government committed to house building cannot come too soon. Harrogate council has announced it would build its first council houses in 30 years. Hooray for that you say. Not so fast, though – despite thousands on the waiting list, the council says it will be building just two houses, one for every 15 years of housing stasis. There, in a nutshell, is where Labour can – and will – make a difference.
Then there’s an end to the hated bedroom tax and a new mansion tax to help fund the NHS.
Contrast the repeal of the disastrous Health and Social Care Act plus the establishment of the NHS as the preferred provider with the Tories’ absence of any serious plans to save the NHS – a silence which speaks volumes about the reality of that party’s sinister intent. As the Kings’s Fund reminds us, the stand out claim that the government can make about its stewardship of the NHS is that it has managed to take it backward, right back to the starvation years of the last time the Tories won an election, the 1990s.
But it is in the workplace that Labour can really convince working people that there is a difference. It is the party committed to a proper inquiry into the disgraceful practice of blacklisting, the secretive and systematic smearing of innocent people, denying them a chance to earn their living for the “crime” of being a member of a lawful trade union.
It is Labour that will face up to the spread of zero hour misery and take it on. It is Labour that will end bogus self-employment and create genuine, high quality apprenticeships. Crucially, when it comes to taking apart the frauds peddled by UKIP, it is Labour that will close the Swedish derogation loophole and make it a criminal offence for bosses to only advertise and recruit abroad for jobs in Britain.
These are policies that will make a real difference to ordinary families and will provide a platform for tackling the crippling inequalities in our society.
So don’t be shy, frontbench team. Find your voice. Start shouting the alternatives from the rooftops.