Owen Jones occupies a conflicted media position. A writer and columnist for The Guardian and The New Statesman, as well the author of two books: Chavs: The Demonisation Of The Working Class, and The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It, he is at once at the heart of the mainstream media, and one of its most vehement critics.
In an interview with the Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, Danny Dorling, at Blackwell’s bookshop, Jones discussed everything from the rise of Jeremy Corbyn to the fate of the BBC. Indeed, it was only when Dorling tried to move the conversation onto Jones’ personal life, that he responded with a grimace, and muttered “boring”.
Jones spoke eloquently, not only about the failings of the current government, but about the inherent inequality of the hierarchical system which governs our society. He maintained that nothing will be ameliorated by simply replacing those at the top with a more honest group of people. Jones quite rightly sees inequality and corruption as systemic problems, rather than coincidental ones.
He is perhaps at his most interesting when discussing specifically modern issues. When an audience member asked about the role of social media in dissent, he responded with a nuanced answer. Yes, social media can play an important role in providing a counter-narrative to what he calls “one of the most aggressive medias in the world”; however, Jones is highly aware of the need for those like him to escape the twitter bubble, and talk to those who disagree with his cause: those who need to be persuaded. The danger is that those on the left may end up talking only to themselves.
When Jones said this, there was a nagging sense that this very event was indicative of that kind of introspective dialogue which so often stifles the left. He was sat in an Oxford bookshop with fifty or so like-minded audience members, being interviewed by Danny Dorling: someone who broadly shares Jones’ world view. He joked about buying a top hat in order to do an impression of George Osborne. “When I put it on”, he smiled, “you’ll know that I’m lying”.
This is hardly Jones reaching out to those whom he needs to persuade, and this went unaddressed, which is surprising given his heightened awareness of the need to reach out to “the masses”, as well as the irony of his position as an Oxford-educated mainstream journalist, condemning the very “establishment” which he, himself, is a part of.
And yet these shortcomings take little away from Jones as a speaker. He shifted from flippant to impassioned in a flash, and his sharp, erudite analysis of the gargantuan problems caused by the housing crisis was rousing. His point that “when you stand up for the bottom seventy percent, you’re called a class warrior, but when you stand up for the top one percent, you’re called a moderate”, was met with both laughter, and a sense of realisation at the frustrating truth of this analysis.
There is a sense of purpose when Jones speaks. He never skirts around the truth, instead unapologetically asserting that in cutting tax credits despite his pre-election pledge, David Cameron won the general election on a false pretence. Though he is a staunch defender of the BBC, he refuses to accept the notion that it is a bastion of leftism, pointing out in fact that it is more changeable than it may seem, swaying to the breeze of whichever party happens to be in power. His assertion that the BBC “treats the status quo as neutrality” is convincing.
In this age when tabloid newspapers seem to hold a disproportionate sway over the hearts and minds of the nation, Jones states that his aim is to “redress the balance a bit”. He acknowledges that fundamentally changing society in the way he desires is a mammoth task, but it is clear that he in no way lacks the drive or optimism to do it. It is his refusal to blindly accept the narratives peddled by the government, the media, or other authority figures, which makes Jones such a necessary force in the British media.
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