YOU wouldn’t know from the weekly battering the Tories face on Question Time that they’re still surging ahead in the polls.
You wouldn’t know that this is a party that is so comfortable in power it can almost afford to be complacent.
But you would know that the Labour Party is a political force that is frustratingly at crossroads, lacking direction and an answer that provides clarity.
The travesty that is our economy, being sharply pulled towards another financial crisis, is almost eclipsed by Labour’s inability to do anything about it.
The last time the crash happened, the blame was pinned on Labour by an opponent who spent years agreeing with practically all of the economic policies laid out by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
This time when Labour stands in the shadows, it seems completely unable to find a narrative that punches the Tories in the guts and triggers a widespread resentment towards austerity and a longing for something different.
What that something different is has always been an issue for Labour, and perhaps broadly speaking, the left.
We have defined ourselves as being against inequality, poverty, austerity, privatisation, deregulation of banks and tax-dodging corporations.
But what we stand for is less clear for the average voter. Contrast this with the Tories who are easily defined by their staunch beliefs in low taxation, low welfare and a “strong” private sector.
We know what they are against and what they are for.
It is this lack of clarity that dogged Ed Miliband, who went into the election as too left wing for some and not left wing enough for others.
The underlying feeling, however, that resonated strongly was that there was a message muddled by inconsistency and uncertainty, a lack of ideological clarity.
Having a clear narrative is vital for Labour and explaining how it ties into helping ordinary families is even more so.
The current social and economic crisis opens up an opportunity for Labour to expose the Tories. But it means more than just having criticisms — it means providing an alternative.
Labour needs a plan for a sustainable economy built around the principles of social justice and ecological responsibility. It means creating a more ethical and socially responsible financial system through closing down tax loopholes at a time when benefits are being cut and wages are squeezed.
It means laying down an argument for fairer distribution of wealth to stimulate economic growth, currently collapsing, by reducing the grotesque levels of inequality and pumping money into the pockets of those on low incomes, allowing them to spend.
Government debt has rocketed because of banking bailouts at the taxpayer’s expense; financial regulation has been called for by numerous economists, journalists and politicians around the world.
Forcing employers to pay living wages and landlords to reduce rents brings down the spending on welfare. It helps the government control its own spending and provides greater economic freedom for families.
The NHS is at the moment on its knees, cash-strapped and forced to make huge cuts. It needs billions flowing into its system to revitalise it. The mess of partial privatisation has left it hurting deeply and there is universal anger over this.
This is the point Labour must confront. No-one likes the Tories.
They are unpopular and backed by only a quarter of the country. For Labour to win, it has to attack the Tories’ record on the deficit and debt while finally laying to rest the myth that Labour was responsible for it.
It means making a passionate plea for saving the NHS and providing social care for the elderly, a crucial voting bloc but more importantly a vulnerable group of people who have been shockingly abandoned.
If we are going to be patriotic about anything in our country it deserves to be the NHS, a fine public healthcare system.
Yes there are problems but it never needed the institutional reconfiguration it has suffered under the Tories.
They have destroyed the NHS, driven up inequality by cutting tax credits while ignoring tax avoidance and slowed growth.
The deficit has picked up and the debt has got worse.
Council homes are being flogged off and sold at ludicrous prices, well beyond the reach of ordinary families.
Affordable houses have a deceptive meaning today. It is the market that determines what an affordable price is rather than the government intervening to set the rates based on people’s earnings, making it fairer.
The housing crisis from prices to rents has left many homeless and created a huge spike in spending on housing benefit.
It is another thing that the Tories have destroyed along with council homes.
On the issue of education, this is not something Labour needs to press too strongly about in my view. Its support for free education and bringing back maintenance grants has universal popularity.
The student vote is a given. For all that Labour is presented as a party that stifled aspiration, the Tories have made universities the preserve of the rich and privileged.
Maintenance grants are a lifeline for students, such as myself, from poor, struggling backgrounds. Cutting them while trebling tuition fees is a massive kick in the faces of those who have been told to work hard and get real jobs.
How are they supposed to if they’re going to begin their post-university adult life in serious debt because of this?
Anger at the Tories over housing, NHS, welfare cuts, negligence towards tax avoidance and failure to tackle inequality is there.
What is not there is Labour’s ability to take that anger and turn it into hope.
The politics of hope, as Owen Jones is fond of saying. A strong advocacy for living wages, jobs for the future like investments in the renewable energy sector, public ownership of railways, localising the control of the NHS and a provision of council homes is a clear indication of an alternative being offered.
At the moment, Labour has occasionally hummed at it during the pauses in their civil war over Trident and foreign policy.
These are issues that Labour should be presenting forward-looking, progressive, hope-laced ideas on because they have a strong public support for massive reforms.
Not the reforms the Tories want. We know about them and have criticised them enough. Something different. What that is has to be explained clearly and concisely by Labour.