It's 11:18 on the evening of Tuesday 20 July and I've just read that George Osborne's Welfare Bill has passed through the House of Commons in the face of fierce apathy from the Labour party. At a time like this it's pretty easy to feel that people on the left have been effectively abandoned by politicians. Watching the Conservative administration introduce a raft of measures which cushion the well off against the privations of austerity and punish the unemployed, the disabled, the poor and the young is a grim and depressing spectacle even if, despite not being in the firing line yourself, you actually care about the people worst hit by them. Watching Harriet Harman shrug her shoulders and saunter off on a nature ramble us enough to make you wonder whether parliamentary democracy has anything to offer you anymore.
Well Labour doesn't, that's pretty clear. Fair enough, they're currently leaderless, but they're going to need to get into gear pretty quickly. Every day they not only waste doing nothing but actively pollute waving through spending cuts and cheering on austerity for the poorest is a day when the people they were long ago set up to support are under bitter attack with nobody to stand up for them. That may sound a bit histrionic, but the Conservative party, rightly or wrongly, have a clear agenda and there is currently nobody to oppose it. Not only does that leave those on the wrong side of the agenda exposed, it means the Government's approach is not exposed to scrutiny and debate and challenge in the way that is pretty much the whole point of parliamentary democracy.
The Liberal Democrats didn't really start the election as the party of the left and they are in major rebuilding mode, having not only lost their leader but found themselves more battered by the last five years than any of the other main parties. What about the Green party then? Caroline Lucas, who voted against the bill, has been a vocal and articulate opponent of austerity and has often defended Labour better than labour have.
The Green agenda may be muddled in places but what it represents is a genuine alternative. If you want to vote for the not-the-Tory party, the Greens are a good choice in many ways. The trouble is that opposition needs to happen now, and the Greens don't have the numbers in parliament to do that.
All of which seems a bit depressing, and might leave you wondering who you should support. Well my answer, odd as it may seem, remains: the Labour Party. My argument in the run up to the election was that if you didn't vote, nobody in power would care about you. It will be a while now before we get to vote for the next Prime Minister. But Labour Party members will all be able vote for the next leader very soon. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the £3 membership fee is 'just the price of a latte'. I'm well aware that for many people -even more now- the price of a latte is more than they have left at the end of the month. I'm not going to poverty shame people, but if you can spare a few quid, a labour membership might not be a bad investment. This is a real opportunity to make your voice heard, just months into an election result which surely demonstrates the the potential fallout if you don't speak up for yourself. The complaint that 'they don't care about me' isn't an argument to sit quietly in the corner and sulk. It's an argument to shout louder, and longer and harder. I'm not suggesting that you join Labour because they are your party, but because they can be. You have the opportunity to try to shape a major political force into the image you want. If you don't, nobody else will do it for you.