At the last election UKIP polled 4 million votes. They haven't gone away. Indeed anyone who talks to a wide range of people with differing opinions will quickly discover that their narrative has gained in strength. A dangerously high number of people now believe in all sincerity that we cannot cope with 'waves' of immigrants and that they and the EU are the real cause of all our problems. It is important not to make the mistake of assuming that people who are that badly wrong are going to disappear without a very hard fight. The left in France made that mistake and the Front National is now more popular than any party of the left.
The Conservatives are trying hard to give the impression that they are strongly united behind their recently elected leader. They aren't. One section wants to turn the EU into nothing more than a free trade area with strong borders or get out and will not settle for anything less. The other section, rightly in my view, is absolutely convinced that leaving the EU would wreck the UK industrially and commercially and leave us a steadily declining irrelevance with all the international importance of a once great power like Portugal. Those two views cannot be reconciled by any amount of skilful negotiation, spin and bluster. They will have to fight it out and it is very hard to see how the losing faction can remain in the same party. It is therefore logical to expect a split. The only questions are who will win the fight, how big the split will be and how soon it gets really nasty.
Labour MPs are even more badly split. The bulk of the party members and a few of the MPs think that the reason they lost the 2015 election and achieved so little in power is that they ceased to be a Labour Party and became wiffly waffly Blairites. The bulk of the party's MP's think that Tony Blair put them in power once so that if they could only bring back a clone of him then everything will get back to normal and the public will love them again. Once again these are such fundamentally different viewpoints that it is very hard to see how the two camps can exist within one party.
As regards the Liberal Democrats they are both divided and defeated. A few of them think the coalition was a success whilst many members recognise it as a huge failure. The Lib Dems have lost so many seats, so many councillors and so much money that even if they can unite they will find it very hard to fight effectively. Even worse their alliance with the Conservatives and the raising of tuition fees has toxified their brand with young people. Voting to bomb Syria will only add to that toxicity. They used to be great at campaigning because they had an army of activists. Now they have desperately few of them and they are demoralised. The main reason to avoid writing them off as an irrelevance is that there is a significant degree of overlap of political belief and interest between the right of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. A re-emergence of a Social Democratic Party is a real possibility.
Then we have the SNP, which has emerged as an astonishingly successful force largely because it has some genuinely coherent and radical ideas about how we can run society and the economy more collaboratively and use the best of both the state and the free market. Their common sense anti austerity politics proved incredibly popular in Scotland at the last election. Unfortunately the people of Scotland are getting more austerity, Trident and another bad war from a London government that is ignoring an overwhelming mandate across an entire nation. It is hard to see how this can result in any strengthening of the support for the Union. Cameron's invasion of Syria may just have guaranteed Scottish independence - not a legacy he will have anticipated.
Added together all these changes mean that we are living in a period of political fluidity where there is a real chance to influence events. Few voters have a blind political loyalty based on tradition. They will not turn out reliably to always vote for the same political party. The commonest view of voters is that they are all the same and they will either not vote or grudgingly do so when required. Yet this cynicism and despair has another side to it. It means that as soon as a significant minority of voters spots a leader or better still a movement that they think is serious about responding to their real problems then they are responding with phenomenal degrees of enthusiasm. You could see this in the Scottish referendum, you could see it during Corbyn's election campaign and you could see it in the surge in membership of the Green Party before the election. Dangerously you can also see it in the genuine enthusiasm of many ordinary people for Farage.
So the question for the next era is who will best succeed in enthusing the most activists and in using them to persuade the passive non voters that it is worthwhile giving their trust to an organisation that can make a difference. The SNP has done that with real skill. Plaid Cymru with slightly less skill. UKIP keeps doing it well for a few months and then collapsing under the weight of the bizarre views of some of its members.
In my view there is no prospect of a middle of the road Social Democratic party pulling off that trick. Their ideas are just too stale and they have no explanation for the 2008 crash other than bad luck. So those of us who share a lot of the views of Corbyn and the Greens and of organisations like 38 degrees have a real opportunity on our hands. We have a great deal in common and a set of views that has proven ability to inspire people in England just as it has so successfully done in Scotland.
Unfortunately some people in both parties are not doing that very well just at the moment. Corbyn is being undermined by having too few reliable MPs as supporters. Much more importantly he is being undermined by the inexperience and bad tactics of himself and John McDonnell. So a budget that was wide open to attack was ineffectively challenged. Instead we got a weak joke about Mao's little red book. More importantly Corbyn's principled and correct stance against a bad war was seriously undermined by failing to say clearly enough at the right time that some terrorists really do need shooting by police and sometimes you do need to go to war. Corbyn made it too easy to portray him as a pacifist whilst speakers from the SNP, the Greens and the right of the Conservative party delivered brilliant attacks on Cameron for taking the country to an ill thought out war without a strategy. An unpopular war was undermined at a critical moment by poor leadership of the fight against it.
In a time of very fluid and changing politics it is important that people articulate as clearly as possible the things that are absolutely central to their beliefs. It is also important that they take care to neutralise vicious attacks from those who are ideologically determined to undermine their beliefs. There is every chance of persuading an open minded public that austerity politics can be fought, we don't have to enter into every bad war that comes along and we can build secure public services which they will value. There is real room for a party that protects the real and immediate needs of ordinary women and men trying to live their lives not just at election time but though effective local voluntary work between elections. People will trust those they see working in their communities to build some worthwhile services. They will trust people who fight to protect the environment for their children and are seen to be constructing a new and modern economy around future sustainable industries and commerce. What they won't do is to follow a bunch of political hobbyists who use neocon every second sentence and come across as not understanding that there is a difference between ISIS and Cameron. One of them really is very much worse than the other. One of them really does have to be fought. But with a coherent strategy not a pointless bombing campaign.
At the last election the Green Party managed to persuade 1 million electors to back their policies. The massive vote of the SNP shows that this number could and would have been massively higher if its brave and serious policies hadn't been undermined by ones that came across to ordinary people as rather silly. People on the street were very ready to accept that the environmental crisis needed tackling and were hugely impressed that Greens had opposed the Iraq war and had sound ideas about how to avoid austerity. But they were utterly turned off when the press had a field day by pulling out every daft idea on the Green's web site from positive money to banning horse racing. The Greens and many of Corbyn's supporters badly need to learn a hard lesson from this. It is getting very nasty out there and giving your opponents easy victories is not a great idea.
It is now critical that both the Greens and the Corbynites learn the lesson. In an era of fluid politics those of us who want to create a constituency behind radical change for the better have an obligation to put in the hard work of formulating well thought through policies that will work in practice to make the UK a secure community of people who look out for each other and the planet. We also have an obligation to try very hard to road test our ideas before we put them forward to the public and make sure that they can survive intense scrutiny.
What is needed is to create a radical political grouping in England that takes its duty to think clearly about what it will actually do in government as seriously as the SNP and Plaid have had to. I don't care what label that grouping holds. We each of us need to work hard in the organisations where we have been most active and we have the most influence to ensure that the public hears serious radical alternative ideas that genuinely do protect and promote their real vital long term interests. We then need to work together across party and organisational divides to fight hard for those interests. The time for self indulgence is over. We need to get professional and learn from the SNP.