This will probably be a bit of a long’un, but Owen Jones’ post was no little’un either. It’s his fault. (It’s not, it’s not. It’s mine for having such long conversations with myself about the state of the left and then wanting to write them down.)
Also, I’ve called him “Owen” a lot in this, which is not very professional. Referring to him as simply “Jones” felt clunky and patronising, like I’m his Maths teacher.
Guardian columnist and political commentator Owen Jones published a blog post last month regarding the current turmoil within the Labour Party (which you can read here). The blog post you’re reading right now (significantly less articulate than his) was supposed to be published some weeks ago. The problem was: I kept changing it. In the end, I thought: “Eh, other people have tweeted him better responses in under 140 characters. Get over yourself, girl.” Yesterday, however, Owen treated us all to a video concerning the same issue, in a nice manageable eight-minute chunk, and I thought: Do it. Write it. Go on. Double donkey dare you.
The post (and the new accompanying video) simply asks Jeremy Corbyn supporters (Corbynites? Corbynions?) to consider nine questions concerning Corbyn’s next move and the next move of the Labour Party generally. These questions concerned policies, strategies to win over particular voting demographics (e.g. Conservative voters, over-44s) and also the party’s “vision” or ultimate goal.
Fair play, I thought. I’ve wondered that myself, and I even have a Corbyn shrine.
As for the fine folk of Twitter? Not so much. Their stance after the blog post’s release was more along the lines of “Blairite careerist sellout”. Which was rude. Funny, undoubtedly, but rude. As a result, my own response started off as a “Leave Owen Jones alone” petition, directed at the aforementioned barrage of irate Twitter users who took offense at the blog post on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn/Labour/Karl Marx’s pet goldfish.
Then this post mutated into a musing on how difficult it is to hold an even slightly controversial opinion in any movement. I’ve considered the whole fiasco (it was a bit of a fiasco) over the past month and came to the conclusion that, actually, I could empathise quite a bit with Owen (just without the powerful political mind, numerous television appearances, bestselling books and gorgeous cat*). The pressure to avoid divisive opinions is far from exclusive to the left, and I think about it a lot within the context of feminism. You might recognise my dilemma too. You see someone speaking out about feminism and you want to support them – you really, really do – but they’re just so problematic. You can’t say “No, you’re representative of neither me nor feminism”, because then that divides the movement and sets us against each other (in the same way that the Labour Party feels – and, to a large extent, is – divided right now). I always feel especially guilty having these thoughts if the public figure in question is a woman.
Furthermore, you can’t be left-wing and live in a bubble, just like I can’t be a feminist and do so. I can protest that I don’t want to dilute feminism and make it palatable to men and anti-feminists, but that’s really not very helpful. To paraphrase Owen’s point about knocking on doors in the video: the whole point of a movement, political or social, is to persuade. Acknowledging and engaging with the people who don’t agree with you is never very fun, but, within the context of any kind of campaign or cause, it is necessary. There’s no point if all the people already on board are just going to stand around drinking squash and saying: “Well, I think Jezza Corbz is a top lad and I don’t give a rat’s arse if nobody else does.”
He is indeed a top lad, but Tories, the over-65 bracket, most of the (former) Shadow Cabinet and also my stepdad aren’t convinced. (Truthfully, my stepdad just does not like Corbyn. Thankfully, he likes Owen Smith, the alternative, even less.) Owen is totally right (not that he needs my approval); that’s definitely where we’re** going wrong. All his suggestions for how Labour ought to continue were justified and implementing them would meet the needs of the vulnerable people that Labour are meant to protect and would provide what others are seeking.
I’d add – if I were anywhere near qualified enough to comment – that, alongside support for older people, Labour should be encouraging a rethink regarding how the NHS budget (what little there is) is distributed. Mental health is still not given parity with physical health. I know it’s a cliche at this point, which disturbs me deeply. Many of my close friends and my relatives had or have mental health problems. Through their experiences and my own perspective as an ally to them, the lack of appropriate support and education is frankly bewildering. I remember Nick Clegg promising better mental health services when the coalition formed. Look how that one turned out. Don’t be the Lib Dems, Labour.
(As a side-note: it’d be nice if we could stop treating socialism like the plague too. I’d like to say I’m a leftie without getting either the pitying “sit down and shut up, you scrounger” look or the outraged “omg you think Stalin was right” glare. We are entirely too comfortable with the right and with capitalism. Not to be the Trot in the room, Britain, but “bourgeois” just isn’t a good look on you.)
Honestly, I’d love for the Labour Party to reaffirm everything I’ve come to love about it. I’m too young to remember a pre-Blair Labour. I remember writing to Tony Blair, not long before he was succeeded by Gordon Brown, and asking him to save the polar bears. I got a letter back – admittedly it was not personal correspondence from our disgraced former Prime Minister, but it was all very official nonetheless. It’s framed, lost somewhere up in our loft.
It struck me while writing this that a New Labour government, as it was under Blair and Brown, remains the only kind of Labour government I’ve ever known. That makes the flicker of hope in my heart all the more exciting. It started with Corbyn, on that day in September last year. I knew, listening to him and following his work, that this was the politician I’d waited for. The polar bear set-up is quite a good metaphor, actually, for the approach Owen Jones suggested in that fateful blog post. What we’re doing is not enough. We need a new strategy.
The polar ice caps are melting and there’s a good chance they’ll fracture and splinter. We can’t let them split, though, for the sake of the polar bears.
Blair and Brown never saved them. Cameron or May would probably shoot the poor things for sport.
Knock on some doors, Labour, and tell ’em what you’re about. Leave Twitter alone for two seconds. Minimum selfies, please.
And, maybe, just maybe, you can save those bloody polar bears.
* That’s actually a lie; I have two cats and they’re beautiful and flawless. But the rest still stands.
** “We”, she says with utter seriousness, as though she has ever done anything except give a Ukipper a stern and meaningful look in the street.
For more pure unadulterated Owen Jones, from concentrate, you can follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook as @OwenJones84. He has a regular column in the Guardian and a YouTube channel. He is also (surprise, surprise) the author of two bestselling books, Chavs and The Establishment. They will make you angry, but you’ll be happy about the fact that you’re angry. Trust me.