"There is a spectre haunting Britain," Ken Loach warned a packed conference hall at the first national meeting of a political movement in its genesis. "It’s called Nigel Farage."
There will be few more haunted by the spectre of Farage’s UKIP than David Cameron as he heads into conference season. With the European Parliament elections looming – traditional high ground for UKIP – the Prime Minister will not be able to ignore a boisterous Tory right, both nervous and emboldened by Farage’s forward march and all the more dangerous for it.
Ed Miliband, by comparison, has had a relatively easy ride from the Labour left, comfortable in the assumption that there is no alternative. Miliband matches Conservative spending plans and where is the left? He refuses to pledge to repeal the bedroom tax and where is the left? He turns his back on the trade unionists who supported his leadership bid and where is the left?
Unfortunately for the working class people most devastated by the cuts, and for democracy as a whole, we now have three main parties fully signed up to an austerity agenda, while UKIP’s rise tugs the national debate even further to the right.
The left, divided and weak, has not yet been able to change the course of that debate, to make the case that it was not welfare spending that wrecked the economy, but a crisis of unfettered capitalism. But things are beginning to change.
In response to an appeal by Loach, almost 10,000 people have signed up to the Left Unity campaign to form a new party of the left, with around 100 local groups springing up organically across the country.
While for many this is not their first shot at uniting a fractured left and the painful experiences of the Socialist Alliance and George Galloway’s Respect are still fresh in their mind, there is a sense that there is something different about Left Unity. Undominated by a central charismatic figure, and uncontrolled by a single Trot group such as the SWP, Left Unity is a movement that is genuinely being built from the bottom up by local activists sick of austerity and fearful of the future of the NHS.
As Left Unity moves towards its founding conference at London’s Royal National Hotel on 30 November, the task of harmonising such a large choir of angry voices will not be easy. But the space is certainly there for a left-wing party to fill.