Owen Jones is not a favourite of most of us here at Shiraz: in the past we’ve considered him smug, annoying and all too ready to present banality as groundbreaking original thought.
Nevertheless, there can be no denying his genuine commitment to left reformism and to the creation of a fairer society. He is a personal friend and long-standing political ally of Jeremy Corbyn and supported the Corbyn leadership bid from the get-go (even if, like Corbyn himself, he didn’t expect victory).
Now Jones has come under sustained criticism and (in some quarters) attack for criticising aspects of Corbyn’s leadership, and for warning that “Labour – and the left as a whole – is on the cusp of a total disaster.”
Some of those criticising Jones are serious comrades for whom we have considerable respect; their central objection seems to be not so much the content of Jones’s criticism, but the timing of it, during the leadership election. In response, I’d point out that all the evidence suggests a strong Corbyn victory and it seems highly unlikely that Jones’s comments will significantly effect the final result.
Other objections are just plain silly, and verge on “don’t be nasty to Jeremy“. Accusations to the effect that Jones is a “Blairite”, “careerist” , “sellout” etc are simply ridiculous and should treated with contempt.
The fact is that Jones raises some serious questions that those of us who support Corbyn’s relection (as well as the man himself and his immediate team) must address as matter of urgency: Jones is correct that Labour now faces an “existential crisis.”
Here’s the blog post that’s causesd the row:
Labour and the left teeter on the brink of disaster. There, I said it. I’ll explain why. But first, it has become increasingly common in politics to reduce disagreements to bad faith. Rather than accepting somebody has a different perspective because, well, that’s what they think, you look for an ulterior motive instead. Everything from self-aggrandisement to careerism to financial corruption to the circles in which the other person moves: any explanation but an honest disagreement. It becomes a convenient means of avoiding talking about substance, of course. Because of this poisonous political atmosphere, the first chunk of this blog will be what many will consider rather self-indulgent (lots of ‘I’ and ‘me’, feel free to mock), but hopefully an explanation nonetheless of where I’m coming from. However long it is, it will be insufficient: I can guarantee the same charges will be levelled
These are (in short) the crucial points:
- How can the disastrous polling be turned around? “Labour’s current polling is calamitous. No party has ever won an election with such disastrous polling, or even come close. Historically any party with such terrible polling goes on to suffer a bad defeat.”
- Where is the clear vision? “What’s Labour’s current vision succinctly summed up? Is it “anti-austerity”? That’s an abstraction for most people. During the leaders’ debates at the last general election, the most googled phrase in Britain was ‘what is austerity?’ — after five years of it. ‘Anti-austerity’ just defines you by what you are against. What’s the positive vision, that can be understood clearly on a doorstep, that will resonate with people who aren’t particularly political?
- How are the policies significantly different from the last general election? “It’s less than a year in to Corbyn’s already embattled leadership: there hasn’t been the time to develop clear new policies. Fine: but surely there needs to be a clear idea of what sort of policies will be offered, not least given what is at stake?”
- What’s the media strategy? “..there doesn’t seem to be any clear media strategy. John McDonnell has actually made regular appearances at critical moments, and proved a solid performer. But Corbyn often seems entirely missing in action, particularly at critical moments: Theresa May becoming the new Prime Minister, the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, the collapse of the Government’s economic strategy, the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, soaring hate crimes after Brexit, and so on. Where have been the key media interventions here?”
- What’s the strategy to win over the over-44s?
- What’s the strategy to win over Scotland?
- How would we deal with people’s concerns about immigration?
- How can Labour’s mass membership be mobilised? “a movement will only win over people by being inclusive, optimistic, cheerful even, love-bombing the rest of the population. A belief that even differences of opinion on the left can’t be tolerated — well, that cannot bode well. So how can the enthusiasm of the mass membership be mobilised, to reach the tens of millions of people who don’t turn up to political rallies? What kind of optimistic, inclusive message can it have to win over the majority?”
Jones closes with this:
Labour faces an existential crisis. There will be those who prefer me to just to say: all the problems that exist are the fault of the mainstream media and the Parliamentary Labour Party, and to be whipped up with the passions generated by mass rallies across the country. But these are the facts as I see them, and the questions that have to be answered. There are some who seem to believe seeking power is somehow ‘Blairite’. It is Blairite to seek power to introduce Blairite policies. It is socialist to seek power to introduce socialist policies. As things stand, all the evidence suggests that Labour — and the left as a whole — is on the cusp of a total disaster.