It is a fairly uncontroversial statement to say that politicians as a class are unpopular. This is not a new phenomenon, not particularly surprising and not always fair. People are divided by the party they support and are rarely in admiration of the leaders or representatives of the parties they oppose.

Even by this standard, however, we may have reached a low point.Sir  Keir Starmer leads Rishi Sunak in popularity polls by 7%, however, neither has a positive rating individually. As things stand it’s no better up here for the leader of the Scottish National Party. Across the board, politicians as a profession are, on polling measures such as trust and admiration, a country mile behind the doctors and nurses in the popularity stakes.

This is something that the Prime Minister might do well to remember when he takes them on over pay, whilst refusing to negotiate further to resolve the current dispute. The erstwhile Chancellor and his buddies might have quickly forgotten how they clapped for carers, but a good section of the British public certainly has not.

It has been instructive over the past year to see the Tories trying to demonise public service workers, postal workers and many more besides. Having lorded over the dismantling and disintegration of our public rail system, the Tories confidently embarked on having a pop at the frontline rail workers who heroically deliver that under-resourced service. But even that was not to be. Far from Mick Lynch becoming the new demon, he became the new darling for people starved of straight-talking politics. His style and approach, but more fundamentally his ideas, struck a resonance with a majority of the public. As with so many of our other trade union leaders who have risen to prominence, Mick would be first to point elsewhere. He would point to the collective solidarity and sacrifice of his members.

Read more: It's time we took back control of our buses

The growing engagement and support we have seen is evidence of a public appetite for debate and democratic participation that goes well beyond watching the weekly political bun fight at Prime Minister’s Questions.

To stick with the railways for a moment: a trade union campaign to save our ticket offices has ballooned into one which is gaining support from the general public across the political spectrum. A recent opinion poll found that 51% oppose the plan to close ticket offices, with just 21% in support. Four in five (79%) are worried the changes will make it more difficult and less safe for the disabled, elderly, and vulnerable to buy tickets or seek assistance.

Which brings me to the night buses in Glasgow, which I wrote about recently. The immediate response to our concerns for the welfare of late-night workers hit a chord that resonated well beyond our membership with community groups, local businesses and politicians coming together to support the cause. In the face of this response, we have seen that even competing businesses such as First Bus and McGill’s can come together if the collective voice is loud enough.

It has also been incredibly heartening to see communities, local trade unionists and anti-racists coming together in towns such as Erskine and Elgin to oppose the far right and their attempts to capitalise on the cost-of-living crisis and the Tories’ failed and heartless refugee policies.

The more they fail to impress the electorate, the more our political class is increasingly reliant on single-issue moments designed to sway particular sections of what they consider to be an otherwise apathetic electorate. The Uxbridge by-election apparently swung on the issue of whether better-off Londoners should be exempted from the LEZ scheme, designed to reduce our carbon emissions at the same time as large parts of the world were in flames. Climate is the latest casualty of this trend, but it won’t be the last.

If you can’t demonise trade unionists, demonise environmentalists seems to be the ploy. It has been widely reported that the Conservatives will be embarking on an intense campaign of amplifying “divisive” issues - launching an aggressive political campaign on crime, migrant boats and transgender rights in an attempt to drive down Labour’s lead in the polls.

Whether such policies will achieve their jaundiced objective is open to question. It’s true that when asked a majority want to stop “illegal migrants” and “small boats”. However, if the question is put differently and the words “illegal migrant” are replaced by “refugee” and when people are asked if, instead, they support quick assessments of needs, the poll numbers change quite rapidly.

In any case, and whatever their views, only 7% of people actually believe that the Tory "boats" policy will be successful. The truth is that however people currently position themselves on a particular issue they can spot very quickly when they are being manipulated.

UK Labour would do well to recognise this. I wrote recently of my intense disappointment at its U-turn on the two-child cap. Only this week, we have seen its leader forced to “nuance” that U-turn as it becomes a subject of debate in the Hamilton and Rutherglen By-election. A by-election, incidentally, which is happening because 8,000 electors signed the recall petition to sack SNP MP Margaret Ferrier – hardly an act of apathy.

Read more: Two-child benefit cap: Dismay over lack of vision from Labour

It is often said, and there is some truth in it, that many of the community and democratic institutions which were the antidote to top-down parliamentary rule have been hollowed out. Trade union membership has fallen, the tenants’ movement is weaker, local councils have less power and many community facilities have closed in the face of austerity.

However, led in part by our members who balloted and acted in their hundreds of thousands over the past year, and evidenced by the growth of organisations such as Living Rent, the green shoots of collective recovery are coming through. I predict that as government, at all levels, seeks to further cut public services at the same time as bearing down on ordinary workers wages, community alliances will grow and campaigns such as "save our ticket offices" and "save our night buses" will just be the start. If I am right, individual unpopularity may be the least our politicians have to fear.

Roz Foyer is General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress