Latitude Festival: Owen Jones and the Politics of Hope

If you’re looking for somewhere to run an event on the future of the Labour, an exploration into intellectual socialism and a cushy middle-class-but-left-wing debate, Latitude is the place to pitch your tent.

Little wonder, then, that Thursday night of the festival was dominated by one particular event. The New Statesman’s ‘Politics of Hope’ was a panel of columnists discussing Labour’s future. Chaired by Caroline Crampton – the magazine’s web editor – the bench included Suzanne Moore, Georgia Gould and political big fish Owen Jones.

The event kicked off somewhat predictably, with a discussion about the leadership of Labour. When I spoke to him in May, Owen Jones told me that he didn’t endorse any of the candidates – that they’re all sell-outs and New Labourites. That was before Jeremy Corbyn announced his candidacy. As Jones brought his name to the table, the audience of dread-ed hippies and weekend professionals were roused to a full round of applause, which he acknowledged with the quiet satisfaction of a man who knows the power of renegade leftism.

But despite that, the three panelists were keen to distance themselves from what they referred to as ‘tribalism’, or the affiliation with traditional parties. Jones whipped out his popular organisation speech, which you’ll be familiar with if you’ve seen him on TV or read him in the Guardian. He promoted organisations of people – like the Chartists and the suffragettes – who can make political change happen and ‘force issues onto the agenda’. Suzanne Moore shared her experiences in the Women’s Equality Party, a smallish but growing outfit launching as a full political party in September and led by Sandi Toksvig. Georgia Gould, a Labour doorstep campaigner, in some ways defended Labour but acknowledged its increasing professionalisation and lack of affiliation to the unions or to young people.

It’s no secret that the New Statesman itself has rampant criticism of the party, sparking the confidence crisis in Ed Miliband’s leadership last year.
Scotland was the major point of disagreement for the panellists. Moore summarised the view of many frustrated lefties: ‘I don’t believe this country is united, and I don’t believe in the King. Why on Earth would I support the UK?’. The gripe many have with Labour is that their acceptance of union as preferable wasn’t preceded by any debate or consideration of what monarchic union meant. It’s seen as blatant self-interest, which is what she blames for the loss of seats to the SNP in May. Jones disagreed, mainly because ‘better together’ unity is crucial to congregationalist leftist rhetoric.

The discussion was in some ways dominated by what left-wing columnists tend to refer to as ‘the terms of the debate’, which means that the Tories’ better campaign management led to their domination of the election issues. On the NHS, for instance, Labour failed to fully capitalise on their huge NHS confidence poll lead, whilst allowing the Conservatives to spread the narrative that it was Labour’s spending which collapsed the economy in 2008. Perhaps the most interesting question of the night came not from Crampton, who was powerless to squeeze any in when confronted with the verbal steamroller of Jones, but from the audience. Should Labour continue to try and operate within the middle ground, to beat the Tories at their free market liberal game, or should it return to its radical roots? ‘Well, my cat’s named after Kier Hardie-‘ started Jones. The rest of the answer wasn’t a surprise.

Words by Tony Diver 

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