The date is Thursday 7th May. People up and down the country are heading to the polls to answer one fundamental question: am I better off now than I was five years ago?
At his home in Doncaster, Ed Miliband, who announced his exit from Parliament just three years earlier, is watching the ITV coverage of the 2020 election. Dimbleby (who moved to the channel following the recent privatisation and subsequent demise of the BBC) led the coverage with the question of whether the next government would be able to address the myriad of new problems facing the nation.
Since his departure from front-line politics in 2015, Ed had spent the time mulling over the reason behind the shock election result that had ushered David Cameron back into Downing Street – along with his right-wing, nutty backbenchers pressing a gun to his back.
Many commentators at the time had pointed out his perceived weaknesses – the shadow of New Labour and the economy – as possible reasons. Letting out a deep sigh, Ed recalls the anticipation he’d felt five years to the day: the opinion polls had made it seem all too likely that he’d be Prime Minister of a minority Labour government.
All that had come crashing down. His initial shock came as the sudden realisation that he’d failed to turf the Tories out of office; the ensuing anguish had been for the millions of people he knew would truly suffer. The £12 billion cuts to social security, the continuation of the bedroom tax, further increases made to tuition fees, the selling-off of NHS services to private contractors, resulting in the fragmentation of health and social care, had all added to the burden on the most vulnerable in society.
Just as he had warned whilst Opposition Leader, all this was coupled with a further reward for millionaires, as the top rate of income tax was further lowered to 40%; Osborne’s announcement, which came on “Margaret Thatcher Day” in 2017, had been met with restrained demonstrations, as a new change to labour law made it increasingly difficult for trade unionists to call strike action, with the turnout requirement of 50% forcing workers into silence. This had been quickly followed by a slashing of business regulations and a consequent spike in the number of private sector workers exploited by zero-hour contracts.
As he leans back in his armchair, his wide-eyed gaze turns to the ceiling. “Ed Balls”, he mutters.
He had concluded that his Shadow Chancellor’s speech to the Fabian Society in 2012, in which Balls accepted the Coalition’s spending cuts and public sector pay freeze, had been the very undoing of his leadership. To offer little alternative to deeply unpopular austerity measures not only left many Labour activists dissatisfied, but also caused votes to be haemorrhaged to the SNP. The SNP’s explosion in popularity was entirely at Labour’s expense, and had been the final nail in the coffin, with fears of a coalition between himself and Nicola Sturgeon leading English voters to re-elect the Tories.
What if the he and Balls had held their pro-growth, pro-investment course? If they had, perhaps he wouldn’t be sitting at home, in Doncaster, but would instead be campaigning for a second term as Prime Minister?
His focus turns to the coffee table, where today’s copy of the Daily Mail stares back at him. “LET’S GO FOR A HAT-TRICK!” is the headline. He remembers the day it had declared, “THE MAN WHO HATED BRITAIN”. The right-wing print media had made many personal, vindictive attacks against him and his family, but Lord Rothermere’s paper had produced some of the most vile articles, all of which had affected the public’s perception of him, creating an image of incompetence, ultimately leading voters to fear the prospects of him walking into Downing Street.
His 11 year-old son, Daniel, walks into the living room. He’s been revising for his SATs. He hands him a geography textbook. “Could you test me on flags?”. Upon finding the correct page, Ed immediately notices the now blue-less, anaemic Union Flag alongside the Scottish Saltire. Scottish nationalism had grown to breaking point during Cameron’s second term, with further cuts north of the border driving Scots to vote their way out. The 2019 independence referendum of course would never have taken place, had the Tories not led Britain out of the European Union in 2017. Now it seemed, their greatest legacy had been to further isolate and split up Britain.
Ed stares contemplatively into his son’s eyes and whispers, “I’m so sorry”. Looking back with some confusion, Daniel replies, “Don’t worry Dad, I’m sure Mum can help”. Alone again, he rises to his feet. The rain outside is showing little sign of subsiding. “I’m so sorry for not stopping them.”