Owen Jones made an unexpected foray into the Labour Party leadership debate today in the form of an article for the Guardian. While making certain obvious criticisms of the right-wing offensive against Corbyn and his supporters, the purpose of Jones’s article was to legitimize ‘left-wing’ criticism of Corbyn on the basis of more or less the same arguments as the Blairites and their allies. In other words, Jones criticized Corbyn’s personal style, and Labour’s failure under his leadership to ‘engage’ the electorate.
This latter smear is particularly insidious and has been a widespread argument by Corbyn’s opponents which doesn’t bear much scrutiny. For one thing, there is plenty of evidence that Corbyn has been successful in energizing widespread sections of the population, not limited just to Labour members. I received an email from my CLP today welcoming the huge number of new members who’ve joined Labour and stating that membership in one party ward was now almost 10% of the electorate! The mere fact of doubling Labour’s membership in the space of a year is an unbelievable achievement, and you might assume that Labour would want to harness that energy rather than deliberately drive people away from the party. But that is exactly what the Blairites and party apparatus are doing: they would rather see people off politics for life, making them totally apathetic or even hostile, rather than witness the Labour Party transformed into a vehicle for genuinely progressive social change. And with his screed in the Guardian, Jones is in effect signalling his willingness to serve as a left-wing screen for that strategy.
Jones make the remarkable statement he has “frequently” been in “utter despair” since Corbyn took over as Labour leader due to his supposed lack of “competence” and “effective communication”. Again, Jones doesn’t really refer to much to back this up, other than reference to a couple of minor episodes, largely relying on the kind of assumed knowledge (Labour appeared “shambolic” and “incompetent”–to whom? when?) that is characteristic of the Blairites’ Big Lie campaign against Corbyn. He dismisses the fact that Corbyn has been routinely undermined and plotted against by his own MPs, never mind that he has continuously had to face down an unbelievably hostile mainstream media. Jones could lend his not inconsiderable literary talents and public profile to bolster Corbyn’s case and help motivate his vision to a wider audience, but instead he’s decided to join the chorus of voices bemoaning Corbyn’s leadership style.
Considering what is going on in the Labour Party at present, that is tantamount to a betrayal. The Party executive has launched an anti-democratic campaign against its own membership, rescinding the voting rights of 100,000+ people who joined the party in the expectation of being able to vote in the leadership election, while also suspending all local party meetings for the duration of the campaign. The party apparatus has effectively declared war on its own members, but Jones doesn’t make a mention of any of this, choosing instead this moment in time to come out as a critic of Corbyn. It’s shameful.
Owen Jones did write one book that was pretty good, ‘Chavs’, a book which was about the demonization of the working class. The thing is, that book was written at a time when left-wing politics and the class struggle in general was at an unbelievably low ebb. It’s very easy and can actually be quite profitable to adopt a sort of house-trained, literary left-wing posture at a time like that. But over the last year Jones has been quite muted and largely irrelevant, and I mentioned before on this blog that he seemed mainly concerned with showing he could ‘brain trust’ for a future Labour government. Now there actually is a massive movement for change taking place within the Labour Party itself, which is blowing apart the established political consensus and threatening even the stability of the party; so the need for a militantly polite left-wing literary posture is much reduced. Instead he needs to pick a side, with those who are joining Labour because they are desperate for change, or with the Blairites, the media, and political establishment. Maybe Owen secretly yearns for things to go back to the way they were. In any event, he is certainly doing his best to establish his credentials as someone who can be trusted by the right-wing and the party establishment when push comes to shove.