After the vote
I've already blogged about the violent minority who hijack demos for their own political ends so I won't repeat my take on that. They are responsible for their own actions which are deplorable, have damaged the cause they claim to support, and ought to be universally condemned, but the context in which this kind of political violence can thrive is a Government which is promoting policies that are extreme and socially divisive and for which no mandate exists. You don't get riots against policies that have public consent or a clear electoral mandate. The mandate that exists if the LDs and Tories form a coalition is for policies to the left of the Tories' manifesto - not for the radical rightwing government we have.
The vote itself on fees was infinitely depressing in that half the LDs stuck with the Tories despite their pledge on the issue making this one where they were particularly vulnerable to pressure, and where the people affected were a core component of Lib Dem support. It suggests there is little hope they will see reason on other issues like cuts to DLA mobility allowance for care home residents or the Housing Benefit changes. I worry that in both those cases the victims - the disabled and those on benefit - lack the organisational infrastructure and the tradition of protest and indeed parliamentary lobbying to mobilise as the students (the mainstream NUS ones not the violent idiots) have. Solidarity with the most vulnerable victims of Coalition policies is going to be important, otherwise the fees issue will be seen as the high-water mark of protest, not the seeds of a bigger movement.
The LDs have voted to hit one of their own core groups of voters very hard. This suggests they will have even less compunction about hitting groups of voters who are either overwhelmingly Labour or excluded from the political process.
We are in for a very bleak five years, leaving us with a harsher society which will have taken on some of the worst characteristics of the US economic system. Key pillars of the British version of the North European social democratic consensus that Thatcher never dared attack will be eroded. And with the majority to vote through those policies being supplied by people who ran for election as progressives and have systematically cheated the electorate, led by Ministers like Cable and Huhne who were SDP defectors from Labour.
It will be easy to punish the LDs - they are already down to 8% nationally and 3% in the North - but a lot more difficult to stop the Tories splitting the country as they did in the '80s, carefully ensuring that they keep just enough people on their side to win the 2015 election and indeed being relatively generous to groups such as pensioners with a high propensity to vote. The big danger is that we end up as a coalition of victims: the young, the poor, ethnic minorities, public sector workers, the unemployed. Do the maths - it isn't enough to win a General Election. One bonus is that unlike the '80s there is a united opposition the LDs having left the progressive cause to Labour. But the scale of the mess the country is heading towards is truly terrifying and Labour activists need to guard against thinking that just because we can see how awful the Coalition is, that will lead to an election-winning coalition of votes in 2015. It's going to be a long haul.