Owen Jones: The Politics of Hope at the Liverpool Philharmonic

Presenting to an almost full house at the Liverpool Philharmonic, columnist and author Owen Jones set the tone for the evening by appealing to the City of Liverpool’s political credentials. While it’s easy for anyone giving a politically motivated speech in Liverpool to play the ‘proud working class city that struggled for justice’ card, this time it was at least relevant to the subject matter: The Politics of Hope. The evening focused on the struggles facing society’s poorest, the climate of political change in the Western world, and what can be done to change the current face of politics in the UK.

Earn Your Poverty

Jones discussed the issues faced by the UK’s poorest citizens, in particular those who struggle through the system of claiming benefits, self employed people who are on lower incomes than 20 years ago, and the issue of affordable housing while luxury apartments remain uninhabited. The scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance grant was cited as a “punishment of aspiration”, and the comparison of dock workers to zero hours contract workers was made. ‘The wealth of the richest 1000 people has doubled’ in recent times, Jones explained, while many of the county’s poorest are actually employed. You must ‘earn your poverty’.

Race To The Bottom

The areas hit by the collapse of industry have created a vacuum of anger, demonisation and marginalisation, Jones said, which has given rise to the increase in support of the “Donald Trumps, the National Fronts, the Nigel Farages” of the world. Jones attributed this to a failure in “the politics of hope”, and explained that the political narrative is that of a ‘politics of envy’, or a ‘race to the bottom’ – to not be angry with your boss, the rich and powerful, but to be angry with the immigrants, the unemployed and vulnerable for having a better job, more benefits, a better pension than you. ‘Don’t be angry about being robbed, be angry that your neighbour wasn’t robbed as much’.

Stories Speak Louder Than Stats

Jones commented on the tactics of the right against the left, citing that the Conservatives and UKIP employ the tactic of using stories and narrative to counter the left’s policy of employing statistics. Stories, Jones claimed, work more effectively as a means of winning over voters, as it adds a sense of familiarity to the issues concerned. Jones went on to cite this as a reason Labour failed the last election, as voters identify better with narratives rather than cold, hard stats.

He then tackled the issue of Labour winning the next election, citing that the leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn was “self indulgent”, and urged the party to “work together”, ironically employing statistics to further his point that if every Labour member knocked on 10 doors, the cumulative effect of any subsequent door knocking would reach almost half the population.

Ultimately, the message Jones spreads through The Politics Of Hope is just that; the means by which society can pick itself up from the political and societal setbacks in order to foster change for the better. Community involvement is the key to social and political change, and it is Jones’ belief that this starts with the simple act of knocking on your neighbour’s door.

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