Owen Jones at The Dukes in Lancaster: “The end of oppression and a society run by the majority”

Owen Jones byline picture. Photo by Linda Nylind. 6/3/2014.
Owen Jones byline picture. Photo by Linda Nylind. 6/3/2014.

Political commentator and Labour activist Owen Jones spoke at a sold out event at The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster on Thursday night, May 19.

The baby faced 31-year-old and self proclaimed “plastic northerner” talked in earnest for over an hour about the “politics of hope and fear”, before taking questions from the audience.

Jones, from Sheffield, but now living in London, said that politics across the UK, Europe and America was heading in two directions - one of hope, and one of fear - and that “cynical resignation” of injustices helped to prop up further injustice, and that the cycle needed to be broken.

He talked about Trump vs Sanders and Corbyn vs UKIP, and said the politics of fear was taking hold in France, Spain and Scandinavia too.

He said: “All injustice is temporary and transient.

“What’s more patriotic than rooting out injustice in our own country?”

It was fairly obvious that Jones was preaching to the converted, nods of approval and hums of agreement rippled through the seats as he discussed the Panama Papers and the morality of tax avoidance, the economic crash, education, the fall in wages, property prices and the social housing crisis and its connection to loan sharks, the EU referendum and the refugee crisis.

He said he wanted to see “the end of oppression and a society run by the majority”, and that “austerity” was a political ideology that isn’t working.

It was stirring stuff and Jones didn’t pull any punches when describing his reasoning behind the idea that the law exists to crack down on the poor.

Referring to the bank bailout he said it was a case of “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor” and the use of “the politics of envy” to divide people.

Despite a bleak and depressing first half breaking down what he considers to be society’s uncomfortable truths, he said “the left” needed to learn how to engage better with people, and use stories to exemplify facts. Something, he said, that “the right” had managed to get right.

He said that the proof that people power works is that the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP), was now “lying in ruins” due to people organising across Europe to oppose it.

In Europe he said the “out” vote would be a “vindication for the far right”, and that he was voting “in” to take part in a groundswell of opposition to growing inequalities.

He said that economists, academics and theorists from across Europe were coming together to work out an alternative future.

He paid tribute to Lancaster MP Cat Smith, and the recently launched website www.documentingdissent.org.uk, which maps out the history of activism, dissent and ultimate change through movements such as the chartists and sufragettes in Lancaster.

He said this was never an act of kindness from the ruling classes, but a hard won battle, which “we don’t talk about enough”.

Questions from the audience included: “Do you think the only way to rid the world of capitalism is through revolution?”, “To what extent is local grassroots politics the key to politics of hope?”, “How do we push educational policy back to where it’s affordable to young people? How do we make it optimistic?”, and “Will Canada be an inspiration to others through the voting in of its new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?”

After the show, Molly Rose, 17, from Lancaster, who was in the audience said: “Even though I have a growing interest on this topic, and Owen Jones raised some thought provoking points for discussion, I felt quite patronised by his approach to the youth of today.

“I was interested by the points he raised and felt he had an engaging approach to the topic, however I felt he lacked passion in certain areas, one of these was to the youth.

“He addressed the matter in a tenuous way and almost as though he was simply saying it to tick a box.

“He concluded that teens weren’t interested in attending political events, and the implication was the common misnomer that the only way to motivate us was through a stereo typical pop song or football match, because that’s all my generation are interested in.

“I hoped to have been presented with tools to empower me to channel my growing frustration at how helpless I am in having an effect on the world I am growing up in.

“Instead I was told I needed to do ‘something’. How can you expect young people to be inspired when you don’t inspire them.”

Jones appears often on the TV, radio and as a Guardian columnist, but the Politics of Hope tour of the country expanded on his thoughts and ideas and presented an alternative and thought provoking take on the state of politics and society in the twenty first century.