Thursday, 23 October 2014

Owen Jones, his No advocacy and the Establishment

Following previous discussion, a further comment on Owen Jones and the referendum.

Jones has tweeted in an exchange that:
I never advocated a vote. Here’s some pieces
Not true. Firstly, the Guardian pieces he cites (the latter already referenced in my previous blog piece) are criticisms of political bullying and establishment blackmail. Fair enough. It's denouncing what should have been obvious. He's also saying it's up to the Scottish people, another obvious truism. But he's certainly not advocating for Yes. 
Listen here to Jones in this Huffington Post interview (also previously referenced) and decide whether he's advocating a No vote.
He's asked, via a tweet: 
"How can you be be anti-establishment, Owen, and not campaign strongly for Scottish independence?"
Jones responds that, if he had a vote, he would vote No. 

After making various appeals to historical class unity, and targeting the SNP - a diversionary line consistently adopted by the No establishment - he tries to mitigate his declaration by saying he will "cheer on" Scotland if it votes Yes. This is the classic prevarication of the Guardian liberal. He wants it both ways, to cover his 'radical' back. How can you "cheer on" a result you didn't actually advocate?
Billy Bragg showed his radical advocacy in decisively supporting Yes. So did Tariq Ali. So did Ken Loach. So, for that matter, did Guardian columnist George Monbiot. None had a vote. But they all argued openly and hopefully for radical independence. Owen Jones is supposed to be the defining 'people's radical'. He took a No position. Why? Essentially, because, unlike most of those real radicals mentioned, he's deeply wedded to Labour. None of which precludes him from criticising that party. He regularly attacks New Labour, and denounced its conduct in the referendum. But that's quite different from abandoning the party or, as was shown, taking a Yes line. In particular, given Jones's major standing amongst Labour supporters, his decision not to advocate for Yes is likely to have helped floating Labour voters sway to No.

Jones is closely tied to traditional Labour and its trade union hinterland. He speaks regularly at Labour, union and May Day events. There's even talk he may stand as a Labour MP. Even if critical of neoliberal Labourism, he's not likely to venture very much from that core affiliation. Even then, his distance from Miliband isn't that far or disapproving. As noted, Jones is also on a particular mission to rescue Labour - as in talking up Alan Johnson's possible return to the ranks as next May's election approaches. This is not someone who was ever likely to pitch in with any anti-Labour Yes movement.

Obviously, in case it needs saying, none of this is to question Jones's right to sit where he likes. But, as the whole might of the establishment was rolled out to secure a No, we're surely just as rightfully entitled to ask how 'radical' Jones was in failing to take an authentic anti-establishment position.    

Of course, claims that Jones is 'just part of the establishment' need to be qualified. He's quite obviously not part of any elite business establishment. However, he is part of a Labour establishment which, as the referendum showed, serves all the required functions of political hegemony. He's also, in effect, part of a Guardian-circled liberal establishment, which plays a similar political-cultural role in limiting the boundaries of radical left thought and change. This isn't just to do with Jones's Oxbridge education - even if it may have helped secure his approved place at the Guardian. The issue is what he says and does in relation to that journalistic position. And here Jones is found similarly wanting. If he's so dedicated to attacking the establishment, where's the exposure of the Guardian and its key liberal establishment function? 

Tony Benn, who Jones considers a hero and role model, wrote this of the Guardian:
'As I came away , on the bus, I thought: The Guardian represents a whole batch of journalists, from moderate right to moderate left – i.e. centre journalists – who, broadly speaking , like the status quo. They like the two-party system, with no real change. They’re quite happy to live under the aegis of the Americans and NATO; they are very keen on the European Union because the Commissioners control everything. They are very critical of the left, but would also be critical of a wild right-wing movement. They just are the Establishment. It is a society that suits them well. I should think that probably most of them send their kids to private schools. I should think a lot of them don’t use the National Health Service, but they tolerate it as the price you have to pay in order to keep the populace content. They’re not interested in me any more because they don’t think I have any power, and I can’t say I’m very interested in them, except as exhibits in a zoo'.
Benn, Tony (2013). A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine: The Last Diaries (Thanks to Peter, as cited at the Media Lens message board.)
Benn was unequivocal about the Guardian: "They just are the Establishment". Why can't Jones be so critically candid?

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