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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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HomeDemocracy in DecayWhy Owen Jones had to quit Labour

Why Owen Jones had to quit Labour

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THE least surprising political news of the week has to be Owen ‘Squealer’ Jones announcing his departure from the Labour Party. The only question is what took him so long. Jones has been cursing and damning the Labour leadership for over a year, the level rising in parallel with Labour’s polling.

2024 being election year, Jones was facing the prospect of turning around after all his denunciations and still telling people it was time to vote Labour yet again, presumably on this occasion while holding their noses. It would have been ridiculous for him to do so, and this would have come from a person who spends his time being ridiculous.

Jones emerged fully-formed as a political commentator in 2011. One of his earliest appearances on television was during the riots kicked off by the criminal classes following the police shooting of a gangster who was on his way to commit a murder:

The reason for his invitation was that Jones had recently authored a book called Chavs which tried to argue that the entirety of the working class in the UK were being victimised by the UK economic settlement that arose with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. The title of the book was a misnomer and Jones had misappropriated it. The word ‘Chav’ (a backronym being ‘Council-Housed And Violent’) referred to what Marx described as the Lumpenproletariat, that stratum of the working (or, in the case of genuine chavs, not working) classes into which it was impossible to imbue any form of class consciousness or to organise for collective action. As a self-confessed student of Marx, Jones would have been fully aware of this, but it suited him to ignore this inconvenient truth and to trade on the ignorance of his readers.

Ignoring inconvenient truths is Jones’s stock-in-trade. Every article he wrote for the Independent, before he jumped ship to the Guardian when the former abandoned its print issues, was a list of complaints and denunciations that would omit or distort certain pertinent facts, such as the need to pay UK taxes as an adult as a kind of thank-you for being educated by the state for 13 or so years (suggesting that adult immigrants or the privately-educated were entitled to a rebate), or that Ireland’s position as a corporate tax-shelter was being altered because of sit-ins by left-wing activists. Jones routinely attacked the US and Israel, describing the American naval presence in the Gulf as hostile to Iran when it was in fact to keep vital international shipping lanes open, and barely acknowledging or diminishing the atrocities committed by Hamas last October in a manner reminiscent – to this author – of Holocaust denial. But then Jones’s target audience has always been those already converted to his line of thinking or simply too ignorant of current affairs to disagree. The diversion of the reading public away from news providers and towards social media has been a godsend to Jones as his target audience shy away from critical thinking based on an objective reality that they wilfully or carelessly disregard. It is noteworthy that of all the comment writers for the Guardian, Jones’s articles rarely provide facilities for online readers to post their own comments, which would certainly consist of disagreements. Jones routinely blocks X/Twitter users who disagree with his pronouncements on the social media platform.

Jones’s public acts of fealty to the Labour Party have been disastrous. Ever since he appeared in the public consciousness, Labour has failed to win a General Election. While Jones may believe he is converting voters to his line of thinking, it is more likely that the reverse has happened. By aligning himself with the Labour Party, Jones has helped tarnish the brand in the public’s eyes. Being able to speak more freely than a left-wing politician who is periodically held to account by voters, Jones has projected the true face of Labour that its politicians have tried to conceal, and the voters did not like it one bit. 

While Jones’s apogee may have been the hung Parliament after the 2017 General Election, it has to be remembered that while the Labour vote under Jeremy Corbyn increased from the disaster under Ed Miliband, the Conservative vote surged higher under Theresa May, even if the distribution of those votes resulted in a loss of seats. Despite Jones’s best efforts, Conservative votes surged even higher. Jones managed to get a book out of the landslide defeat of Labour in 2019. True to form, he omitted pertinent facts regarding the continuing row over Labour’s structural anti-Semitism, probably because when Labour could not field spokespersons to discuss the matter, Jones would step in to help, but without improving matters, such as when he denounced the 2019 Panorama documentary Is Labour anti-Semitic? as a ‘botch hatchet job’.

Every rally that Jones has claimed to organise appears to have resulted in a Labour loss. One of his rallies for the 2019 General Election in Uxbridge that tried to topple Boris Johnson’s reduced 5,000 majority from 2017 was followed by an increase of 50 per cent. In 2018, when the Labour Party were apparently still relishing their 2017 revival, every single local election campaign at which Jones made an appearance resulted in a Labour defeat. In fact, the one district where Jones cancelled an appearance enjoyed a Labour victory.

So Jones quitting the Labour Party on what appears to be the eve of a historic election victory is quite appropriate since he always sides with perennial losers. He refuses to accept that Labour had to make tough decisions to put it in a winning position, believing instead that Labour’s current popularity is entirely due to the Conservatives’ unpopularity and nothing more. The lesson of the Labour defeat in 1992 is surely that Labour cannot take the voters for granted and that the party has to positively attract voters rather than depend on them being repelled by the Conservatives. But Jones clearly belongs to the strand of socialist thinking that insists that left-wing policies should not change due to voter sentiment and instead the same policies should be publicly hawked until the voters come around to Labour’s thinking. It is this approach that has led to Labour holding power for only 30 of the last 80 years, and even less if the Blair/Brown years, when Labour temporarily adapted to the political climate, are discounted, as Jones and his ilk tend to do, leaving a pitiful 17 out of 67 non-Blair/Brown years.

What next for Jones? He has set up a website to fund independent candidates, as well as those Labour MPs of whom he approves. However, it is highly likely that if any of these (obviously) extreme left-wing MPs take Jones’s cash, an argument could be made to kick them out of the Labour Party, which is something Sir Keir Starmer would dearly love to do anyway, as they will have been seen to be accepting money from an organisation that is openly financing candidates to stand against Labour. This is probably against some party rule, or can be made to be so if it means an extremist MP can be booted out.

Despite his record of failure, Jones remains one way or another a significant figure in British political life. Quitting Labour would give him a chance to stand for Parliament himself, possibly in Islington North should the decrepit incumbent decide that the fighting in Gaza is not a good enough reason to contest the seat as an independent. What? A controversial and well-known political commentator using his media reputation to parachute into a winnable seat? I am sure that has never happened before, has it?

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan worked in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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