That meant that the only politicians which had any chance of success were ones who fought for the centre ground and said what they were expected them to say. Over recent years, however, there are a number of politicians who have done things very differently and proved rather successful. This seems to be true both on the left and on the right.
The list of those who have not obeyed the old rules but have got a lot of votes is a disparate one. It includes Nigel Farage, Nicola Sturgeon, Syriza, Podema, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and the Green Party. There is even an avowed socialist standing for the Democratic Party nomination and winning double digit percentage support.
What all of these have in common is not immediately obvious but it is clear that they are not just trying to occupy the centre ground and then occupy office. Each of them has a vision that was written off as so far beyond the norm that it couldn't be taken seriously. Each proved unexpectedly popular - some of them to a phenomenal degree. It is now possible to say and do extreme things and still win votes.
This could be a very good thing. But it ain't necessarily so. Some of the most dangerous people in history sincerely believed in what they were saying. Adolf Hitler spoke with passion and really did want to clean up the world from the filth of Jews, Gypsies, Communists and gays. Stalin and Moa were conviction politicians.
So why has this change to conviction politics come about and how do we make the best of the change? I think the first reason for the new situation is social. People no longer trust the smooth operator. The techniques of mass marketing have been used to sell politicians for so long that they have become counter-productive. Any whiff of the fake or the polished professional and a politician's career is now at risk.
It is, however, the second cause of the change that I think is more important. In 2008 the times changed. One economic era ended and another began. The collapse of the banks and the failure of the unregulated free market took us into genuinely new territory. Many of our politicians have tried to deal with this by pretending that it was just a blip and everything is now back to normal. It isn't because the core problem of an unstable economic system isn't remotely fixed. Witness how easily panic set in over a relatively small change in China's growth rate. The public feels in its bones that something isn't quite right. Most people want the crisis to be over and for things to be back to normal and in the UK the Conservatives won a small parliamentary majority because they promised that it would be. An awful lot of folks don't agree and sense the need for something radical and new to sort out the problems.
If the economy really is fixed then almost all of these non standard political movements will die rapidly. In the UK if the Tories really have got the economy back on track then they will reap the rewards and walk the next election. If, as I believe, the economy is still weak and vulnerable and the public has no appetite for another round of cuts then the key question will be which form of non standard politics will win out.
Will it be the narrow selfish politics of UKIP? Is there going to be a retreat into fear of the outsider and a horribly dangerous attempt to shut ourself off from our neighbours in the hope we can weather the storm alone. Or will in the UK and enough other nations go for a bigger vision? An attempt to use the power of government effectively in Britain and to put together a cross border international plan to tackle worldwide problems?
For the left to win this battle I think we are going to have to put forward credible solutions to the following problems:
1. How do we ensure that a world economy is guided and managed internationally instead of being exposed to the wild fluctuations of uncontrolled market forces?
2. How can we raise the living standards of 9 billion people to a reasonable standard of living without destroying the planet? How quickly can we establish effective subsidies for helpful actions, tax those that cause long term damage and invest in a move to less environmentally damaging technology in the face of fierce opposition from vested interests?
3. Can we demonstrate a commitment to greater liberty that is every bit as strong as to greater equality?
4. How do we keep all the advantages of a free enterprise system whilst dealing with its downside?
5. How do we tax the rich and international corporations reasonably without them taking their money across borders resulting in countries competing to offer ever lower rates of taxation?
6. How skilfully can we increase and use public investment so that we do it without creating pressure on the environment, inflation or debt?
7. How do we create strong collaborative international organisations without them turning into faceless bureaucracies?
8. Can we get agreement on purposeful collective action to tackle international conflicts and the hardships generated by them without creating more problems than we solve?
None of these questions have simple easy answers to them but they all badly need thinking through in very short order. The left needs to do that hard thinking. It will only convince people that it can take us forward and lead the way through the next era of human history if it comes up with good practical solutions that are on a scale to match the size of our problems.
I take the view that any organisation or leader who is at least trying to do that deserves our support and we should be working with them to help create practical solutions regardless of what party or organisation they belong to. Anyone who simply wants to take us back to a previous era and has a nostalgia for the failed arrangements of the old Soviet Union is part of the problem. I would like to think Corbyn is in the first camp and that he should be given every support to succeed. I sincerely hope he isn't from the second.