Owen Jones has been criticised by much of the Corbyn left after he published a deeply loaded blog piece entitled Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer.
Peddled as an 'emergency appeal' to "Labour and the left teeter[ing] on the brink of disaster", there can be little doubt that, in the middle of a coup-enforced leadership contest, Jones's article was a precisely calculated intervention intended to undermine and cast doubt on Corbyn.
Mark and remember, also, this similar 'confession' piece from Jones in which, while 'honestly' outlining the 'formidable obstacles' faced by Corbyn and Labour, he gives vital exposure to Corbyn's 'weaknesses' and sustenance to the would-be coup-makers.
Rather than take a firm campaigning position, Jones has hidden behind the evasive veil of 'all-enquiring journalist', giving ample interview slots to Owen Smith and his backers, such as Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips, as well as Corbyn and allies like Clive Lewis (whom Jones admits he'd been seeking to install all along). This has allowed Jones a convenient façade, a 'neutral space' to 'question' and 'debate', while suggesting to his wide readership the 'deep flaws' and 'worrying implications' of a Corbyn leadership.
Note also, in this regard, how Jones re-tweeted the link to a rather smart hatchet piece on Corbyn and his supporters by LRB writer Tom Crewe.
My own prior twitter question to Jones asking for clarification of which candidate he actually backs in the contest went unheeded.
Before listing his 'nine key questions', Jones lays out a tortured account of his 'humble devotion' to radical causes, his 'left CV', and a listing of his left-liberal friends. In almost martyred tones, Jones says that he:
cannot even begin to put into words how much I’ve agonised over Labour’s terrible plight.All this is offered as 'essential personal explanation' in preparation for the 'urgent' issues he wants Corbyn backers to reflect upon:
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.Jones's outpourings culminate in the hyperbolic plea that:
the questions below need answers. Not just for my own sanity, but for the future of the Labour party.For all the 'modest angst', the questions Jones subsequently asks are largely straw man, media-speak abstractions, pondering on, for example, Labour's 'lack of vision'. But the intent and indictment is clear enough: a charge sheet aimed at Corbyn and the 'perilous state' he's brought the party to. None of the questions are pointed at Owen Smith and the Parliamentary Labour Party coup-makers. In effect, believing that a snap Westminster election is probably on the cards, Jones gives 'crisis notice' that Labour are unelectable under Corbyn.
Jones talks about the leadership's 'failed media strategy', and his 'anxious concern' about the left not getting its message across. So, wouldn't he better serve the left's immediate cause by focusing directly on the mass media onslaught against Corbyn? Jones insists that he has repeatedly addressed such attacks, using this sleight of hand to deny criticisms of his own participation:
To criticise is to join in a chorus of media attacks, goes the argument. There’s a difference: the vehement media attacks on Corbyn come from those who do not want the left to succeed. But my starting point is exactly the opposite. I worry about the left failing, and even disappearing forever.If so, where's the real exposure and challenging of that corporate-establishment campaign from this 'leading figure of the left'? With damning evidence at hand of widespread bias against Corbyn across all 'mainstream' outlets, notably the BBC, why hasn't Jones shone his sharpest spotlight on the media's dark proclivities, rather than Corbyn's media 'inabilities'? As blogger Kate Buffery notes:
The irony is that if Owen Jones were really driven about media strategy, he’s better placed than any of us to have an impact in redressing the current imbalance in the press. Instead he writes an article which has the PLP and their supporting media, singing from the rafters.And where, more readily, is his denunciation of the Guardian's own relentless and leading assault on Corbyn? Convenient silence. In an astonishing piece of 'acceptance', the Guardian's Roy Greenslade even asks what harm is there in Corbyn getting such a negative press, including from the Guardian, as documented in a major LSE study. The response from Jones? As ever, none. Jones isn't, and doesn't need to be, gagged by the Guardian. He understands perfectly the self-enforcement expected.
Jones also laments Corbyn's national poll ratings, bewails his 'lack of leadership', and claims he's been "entirely missing in action" in response to Theresa May's ascendancy and other Tory actions. Yet, doesn't Jones see that people are routinely sick of such dreary soundbite politics? The very appeal of Corbyn to so many, notably young, voters is that he doesn't conduct himself in the same mechanical ways. Which other figure can draw thousands to street meetings, all eager to hear a sincere and authentic voice? Jones, of course, recognises this populist appeal, but chooses to ignore it's electoral potential.
Rather than agonise over the electorate's "first impressions" of Corbyn, why doesn't Jones highlight his integrity and talk-up his refreshing political persona? Why not give his fullest energy and substantial platform to promoting Corbyn's new economic agenda, rather than denigrating his political style?
Instead, we see Jones and the Guardian fall back on 'liberal reality' politics: even if he's popular with party members, they cry, this won't play well with the wider electorate. In effect, let's pander to cautious conservatism rather than lead with radical programmes. Jones has already 'gifted' much of his 'all-seeing advice' to Corbyn on how to moderate his policies and placate the 'national mood', and seems stung that the Corbyn camp has effectively ignored it.
The Guardian is similarly displeased. Following every editorial, op-ed and 'news report' it could muster to stop Corbyn becoming leader, another desperate appeal to 'liberal reason' is now being waged by the Guardian select. Typically, the paper's liberal house matron Polly Toynbee 'commends' Corbyn for his efforts, but urges that he now stand aside for the more 'realistic' leadership of Owen Smith. It says much that Toynbee and arch-Blairite John McTernan both tweeted Jones's blog article with glowing approval.
Smith is being hailed as the latest white-shirt-rolled-up-sleeves-let's-get-things-done-politician. The problem for the Guardian and Jones is how to re-invent this corporate-groomed, Trident-supporting neo-Blairite as a bona fide 'leftist' and saviour candidate. He may be a bit "wobbly", a gushing Guardian editorial concedes, and has to lose a bit of the smooth PR polish to reach the masses, but he's getting there. How reassuring.
It's not just that the Guardian and PLP coup circle are ideologically terrified of the Corbyn project. It's that they can't even see anything other than the Guardian template of what a 'serious' politics and leader should look like. Their own 'vision' of politics, and journalistic careers, have been shaped by the safe, myopic view that only 'respectable', business-attuned people like Smith are credible figures able to deliver 'realistic change'.
The Guardian class have been in a similar state of high anxiety over the prospect of a Trump presidency. In common voice, Jones berates anyone 'stupid enough' not to endorse Clinton. We must be realistic and back Clinton, he cries: she may have her 'faults', but Trump must be stopped.
The Guardian's nauseating promotion of Clinton tells us all we need to know about liberal-establishment conformity to power. No focus here on Clinton's voracious warmongering, her support for war in Iraq, her promotion of the carnage in Syria, her key part in the annihilation of Libya, her unstinting devotion to a murderous, apartheid Israeli regime. It's all about glitzy conventions, celeb endorsements, Obama handing over to another 'benign leader.'
Yet, the proclaimed antidote to Trump, the 'needs-must' Clinton, is widely reviled, particularly among young Americans. And just as Sanders had hopefully filled that gap, so do people see in Corbyn a welcome and realisable alternative, even to the Guardian's 'needs-must' Smith.
Something meaningful is unravelling beneath the assumed body politic. People are not only rejecting neoliberal doctrines, but turning their backs on the 'sensible liberal-left' which sustains that dominant order. And Guardian boundary police like Jones and Toynbee are finding themselves uncomfortably exposed as they try to mitigate and temper such feeling.
Union leader Manuel Cortes has criticised Jones's "back-stabbing" and behind-the-scenes efforts to undo Corbyn, noting:
I would not like to be in a trench alongside Owen under heavy shelling.It's a charge Indy left progressives in Scotland will remember only too well. When the entire establishment machine, including the Guardian, was mobilised to stop the Yes movement, Owen Jones, again using the cover of 'balanced observer', showed his real colours in declaring for No.
Alas, Jones still hasn't come to terms with the actual Yes reality. Among his nine questions, he agonises over Labour's 'problem' task in Scotland. But, as with many respondents to his question, he offers no imaginative answer other than to attack the SNP as a way of 'rebuilding' Labour in Scotland.
It's almost tragi-comic to observe this line of argument. Following generations of betrayal, Scottish Labour is now on the verge of extinction after siding with the Tories over independence. Its leader, Kezia Dugdale, is part of the coup against Corbyn, clinging desperately to her unionist line. And still Jones shows no inclination to support the case for radical independence.
Voters in Scotland have been stuffed three time over: a stolen opportunity for independence in 2014; as a consequence, a Tory government inflicted against its will in 2015; and now in 2016 - after Cameron's calamitous efforts to quell conflict in his own party - forced into a referendum and taken out of the EU against majority wishes.
The real question for EU referendum voters in Scotland wasn't whether to remain or leave. It was, and is, at its core, about having the right to make such decisions unencumbered by Westminster. All through this process, that more pivotal issue has lay unresolved: the ability of people in Scotland to determine their own political will. Little wonder the penny has now finally dropped for so many No voters. Little wonder so many are now converts to the case for independence.
There is a strong strand of support for Corbyn across the Yes left. Even Alex Salmond defended|Corbyn and denounced the "disgusting, organised coup". Yet, for all that empathy, there can be no true uplift for the Labour left in Scotland until it embraces the resilient demand for independence.
Hopefully, we are at a new and more productive point of political engagement. As the coup daggers are wielded, all people of a progressive persuasion, including SNP supporters, should be backing Corbyn. In turn, Corbyn Labour, particularly in Scotland, must now acknowledge and work with Yes Indy. This has to be a movement politics, rather than party politics, a major accommodation of left political forces.
After EU Project Fear, peddled as both 'Immigration Nightmare' and 'Economic Armageddon' (recall Osborne's invented threat to slash £30 billion from public services, and the banks' threat to exit the City), we can see that fear and negativity only breed more fear and reactionary responses. A cycle of bad political karma. If nothing else, as in 2014, this has been another learning curve in cynical manipulations. And for the main establishment network, it's the sorest of all lessons, as, despite the City elite's market 'intelligence' and private polling, the brooding alienated of Sunderland, Hartlepool and other austerity-battered locales defied their condescending warnings.
Owen Jones doesn't specify the Brexit issue in any of his blog questions. But you can be sure that Corbyn and McDonnell have a much healthier and more progressive view of what the EU really stands for, and the positive potential of the vote, than the kind of shrill, apocalyptic language ("terrifying" and "weep for your country") used by Jones, the Guardian and other establishment voices.
As Jonathan Cook puts it:
This is where we on the progressive left are, and the Brexit vote is a huge challenge to us to face facts. We want to believe we are free but the truth is that we have long been in a prison called neoliberalism. The Conservative and Labour parties are tied umbilically to this neoliberal order. The EU is one key institution in a transnational neoliberal club. Our economy is structured to enforce neoliberalism whoever ostensibly runs the country.Ultimately, we can keep hoping for the delivery of people and planet through enduring neoliberalism, or try to make decisive breaks from those repressive rules and institutions. Scottish or British, young or old, EU or non-EU, we're all controlled and exploited by this brutal doctrine.
Little of this crucial reality was up for discussion as the coup cabal used the Brexit moment to purge Corbyn. Jones issued no such indictment sheet against Alan Johnson (the Iraq war-supporting Blairite he once courted as a replacement for Miliband), Angela Eagle or the other plotters. Rather, it was Corbyn's 'failings' over the EU that became the pretext for 'necessary action'. The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland even castigated Corbyn for 'betraying the young', and for avoiding a Remain event part-lead by war criminal Tony Blair. Again, Jones had precisely nothing to say about this virulent assault by his Guardian peers. His silence is all part of the contrived Guardian recrimination against Corbyn and those who dare cross the establishment line.
Corbyn's leadership is perhaps the last chance to make his party a serious force for change. The coup against Corbyn offers an historical moment to push back and finally break Blairism and the neoliberal stranglehold. The BBC, Guardian and other service media have done all they can to present Corbyn as a 'crisis' for Labour and 'the country'. Lamentably, Owen Jones has given ready amplification to that jingo-ridden narrative. Beyond all the personal 'soul-searching' and 'desire to save the left', Jones has used his considerable platform to undermine and break Corbyn. And what an unedifying spectacle to watch him placate and pal along with the PLP while trying to maintain his 'popular-man-of-the-left' credentials. A pretentious liberal positioning, very much the Guardian man.