Labour entered its annual conference with a substantial poll lead but an equally substantial credibility gap. It is not simply a question of Ed Miliband's standing with voters but more a question of what Labour stands for.
And Ed Balls's pre-conference pledge to choose his policy options from the same menu of spending cuts as the coalition offers the dispiriting prospect of an election agenda defined by choices that only the banks and big business favour.
The political dilemma faced by the working class, the trade unions and that broad swathe of opinion that makes up the progressive consensus is bundled in with Labour's failure in opposition to propose a convincing alternative and in government to break with the the neoliberal agenda.
There are policies enough to float a flotilla of think tanks. Over two decades the unions, individually and at the TUC, have abandoned the policy planks that bound them into capitalist consensus. This is significant. Unions are by far the most inclusive, representative and deeply rooted popular organisations in Britain and an audience of trade unionists is a far more effective barometer of working people's opinion than tabloid editors.
Combine the settled views of millions of trade unionists - and workers generally - and big sections of middle-class opinion and we have the popular basis of a genuinely alternative government programme. Not driven by abstract theory. Not arising from an ideology. Not manipulated by media. But arising from real lived experiences.
Consider the elements. Millions both experience and oppose public service cuts - and fear what is threatened.
A clear majority would happily see tough regulation of the banks extended to public ownership while a substantial number would welcome penal servitude for bankers as a class.
On the NHS the impending plague of privatisation has few supporters that dare speak openly while its unpopularity has already claimed one Cabinet scalp.
The fragmentation and creeping privatisation of the education system has also united professionals in opposition and, as the individual bricks fall out of Michael Gove's wall of shameful appeals to privilege, even the middle-class champions of "choice" begin to see how little they can actually buy.
From the railways to rubbish collection to prisons, venue security to gas and electricity, privatisation is a toxic brand.
Even the business class is growing concerned at the shrinking productive and manufacturing base and the domination of the finance sector and decision-making by a tiny sliver of bankers and bureaucrats.
And a foreign policy that serves only those sections of capital most tied to the US, that makes Britain an outpost of US interests in our own continent - and a subaltern combatant in its global wars - is opposed by those who see opportunities in more diverse economic relationships as much as by those appalled by wars of imperial conquest.
The European Union "social model," which many in the union movement saw as a mechanism for protecting workers' pay and conditions and buttressing the welfare state, is now seen as the instrument for forcing social dumping, deregulating labour, depressing wages and wrapping resistance in a stifling cocoon of anti-union laws and legal judgements.
This is why Manifesto Press has chosen this moment to publish Building An Economy For The People.
The book is edited by Jonathan White and features contributions from Mark Baimbridge, Brian Burkitt, Mary Davis, John Foster, Marjorie Mayo, Jonathan Michie, Seumas Milne, Andrew Murray, Roger Seifert, Prem Sikka, Jonathan White and Philip Whyman.
It takes these strands of opinion and weaves them into a coherent programme that would immediately stimulate demand and economic growth and begin the recapitalisation of productive and sustainable industry and the renewal of the infrastructure.
Strands of this thinking already find acceptance in Labour but the distinctive contribution of this book, beyond the ambitious sweep of its detailed policy proposals, lies in the political calculation that such a programme would command decisive support among voters, mobilise Labour's lost millions of working-class voters and renew the alliance with progressive middle-class opinion.
The book faces with unusual frankness the obstacles that a progressive government intent on such policies would face. It argues that an alternative economic strategy must be accompanied by a political strategy that would mobilise mass support to weaken the power of the City and big business and strengthen democratic institutions.
The core of such a government's appeal would lie in a clear rise in the spending power of working people and their families, a tax regime that would narrow the wealth gap and establish a renewed democratised public realm able to counteract the malign effect of the money markets.
Building An Economy For The People is available for £6.95 (+£2 p&p) from www.manifestopress.org.uk.
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