Saturday 28 May 2016

The politics of hope - Owen Jones

The politics of hope: Owen Jones at the Royal Spa Centre, Leamington.

An inspiring evening at the Spa Centre on Thursday evening. Owen Jones was articulate, inspirational and funny. There was no podium, no notes, he just walked up and down the stage delivering a message of hope. He started off by congratulating Leamington residents on our activism in the last few months, citing the demonstration in support of junior doctors, the work on refugees, the anti-racist work, the exhibition of paintings and drawings by children from Syria, and many more.

Some of the points he made in his speech:

  • The gap between rich and poor is getting wider. Most people living in poverty are in work - they earn their poverty by going to work.

  • The government and the powers that be want us to believe that injustice is like the weather - there is nothing we can do about it. But this is not true, we can effect change by organising and resisting. He used the example of the Suffragettes, the Trade Union movement, and more recently, the demonstrations against TTIP across Europe.

  • Polarisation is the defining feature of politics today. On the one hand we have progressive movements, fuelled by anger at increasing inequality, movements like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the election of Jeremy Corbyn by a huge majority of Labour Party members. On the other hand the rise of the right and the fascist parties, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Jobbik party in Hungary, Austria's Freedom Party. This polarisation is evident in the USA by Trump versus Sanders.

  • Governments use the politics of fear which in effect means kicking those at the bottom and a deliberate redirecting of people's justified anger at the rich and the banks, towards the neighbour next door, the so-called benefit scrounger down the road.  In fact, the lavish benefit claimants are the banks. The real problem is tax avoidance which costs the UK £69.9 billion a year, while benefit fraud costs £1.2 billion a year. The politics of fear have another target, the refugees and immigrants.

  • Those who want to improve society are branded as unpatriotic - the enemy within. The media frenzy against Jeremy Corbyn is a good example of this. And yet, what's patriotic about attacking the NHS and the BBC?

  • The politics of hope is about building societies run in the interests of working people, not run as a racket for the mean and the greedy at the top. By looking at some alternatives across the world, we can challenge the inevitability of widening inequalities and injustice. The problem is that we have lost the confidence for an alternative, and this is what we need to build on. Everything we have, our rights, the welfare state,  the vote, were not given to us, they were  fought for. The Suffragettes were hated, reviled, tortured - their struggle is the perfect example of how to effect change. We stand on the shoulders of giants and we have to continue their work and not let them down.

  • The Right use stories in their arguments and propaganda, while the Left use facts and figures. We are subjected to a constant stream of stories and this is what people respond to, people need stories: the refugee crisis came to the forefront of people's consciousness after the body of Aylan Kurdi was washed up on a Turkish beach. This should be a lesson to the Left.

Jones' one hour speech was followed by questions from the audience. The one that made me chuckle:  'if we were French, we would not be here listening to you, however pleasant that is, we would be out burning things. Why do you think that is?' The reply was that Britain has a  long history of resistance, starting from the Chartists to the recent strikes by the junior doctors.

A stimulating and uplifting evening.

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