An excellent piece over at Dave Osler’s blog on the issue of Owen Jones got me thinking about a few things.
Pondering. Ruminating. Philosophizing. I do it occasionally when I’m in a reflective mood.
Dave is right to say that Owen Jones is seen right now as the great white hope of the British left, particularly the milieu around the Labour Party and what remains of the Labour left.
GWHs do emerge within the socialist movement, occasionally. Telegenic, or at least not too odd-looking. Capable of articulating radical ideas in an accessible way.
Jones’ book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, and his regular columns in the Independent are a refreshing and principled but also populist antidote to the prevailing media narrative. His work with trade unions to build the intellectual foundations of policies that can challenge the austerity consensus show that his focus, i.e. class politics is essentially the correct one, and not just the abstract, empty theorizing that characterises most ‘Marxist’/’Marxian’ academia.
Osler is right to say that right Jones is probably the left’s most formidable public figure, although if the alternative is the increasingly seedy and compromised George Galloway then there isn’t much in the way of competition for that accolade. In fact I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head. Luke Akehurst maybe…….?
I admit I like Jones. He talks a great deal of sense and right now the left is in desperate need of anyone willing to forcefully articulate an alternative, and I find the condescending attitudes (equally prevalent on the left and right) with regard to the fact he looks like he’s 12 years old unhelpful in the extreme.
In years to come that youthful visage will be a blessing. He’ll have the last laugh on that score I’m sure.
(Admittedly if he was in UKIP writing polemics denouncing the labour movement it would be the first thing I would grab at to discredit him but as he’s one of our own naturally he’s let off………)
I like lots of people though, although reading this blog you wouldn’t know it I suppose. Okay, okay, DC likes lots of people.
The thing is none of the people I like, politically or otherwise, are going to change the world by themselves. They need a movement behind them that they are merely the public face of.
Dave Osler is right to use the example of a previous Labour left GWH, Mark Seddon, to highlight that someone who seems like they might have all the answers can disappear into relative obscurity.
Let’s leave aside Seddon’s politics. Even if he was the fount of all wisdom, an awe-inspiringly charismatic figure and the greatest political strategist the world has ever seen, by himself he would not have been able to change much. He was always fighting a losing battle if he was part of a numerically and physically weak left.
To use a football analogy, one good player doesn’t make a good team, even if that player is Lionel Messi, or even Geoff Horsefield. Dave Osler makes the point forcefully and soberingly:
Sadly, the reality is that Labour has not had a functioning left since the failure of the Benn/Heffer leadership campaign in 1988.
Yes, I know about the various conclaves and networks that bring together a few hundred scruffy ex-Trots and fellow travellers, and the handful of Campaign Group and other MPs that still describe themselves a socialists. But they are not important enough to count.
In the sense of constituting a sizeable current of identifiable opinion, with an intellectual life of its own and a weight inside the Labour movement and wider society, leftwing Labourism has effectively been non-existent for a quarter of a century.
He could have substituted ‘left-wing Labourism’ for ‘meaningful left-wing alternative in the UK of any sort’ and still have been correct incidentally………
What I’m trying to say is that Jones needs help, and by going down the actually rather novel path of working directly alongside the trade unions that are interested in a political alternative to the status quo, rather than the usual academic or ‘Trot’ route of doing fuck-all, basically, he stands a stronger chance of success than many who preceded him.
So praise Jones when he gets things right. But imagining that he is the answer (I’m certainly not accusing Dave Osler by the way, it’s a wider philosophical point of the way that the left ‘needs’ leaders) is the route of fools and only serves to highlight the left’s lack of confidence in itself.