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Guardian writer Owen Jones in Hebden Bridge

Monday, 14 September 2015

Guardian columnist Owen Jones gave an informed, interesting and topical talk yesterday evening. The talk at the Hope Baptist Church was aptly titled The Politics of Hope, organised by the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival. "Without hope, we become resigned."

What follows is a summary of some of the points Owen Jones made. It is not a comprehensive report but at the bottom of the page is a link to some of his Guardian writing.

Owen Jones in Hebden Bridge

Owen Jones - Photo: Craig Shaw

Looking far younger than his 31 years - he referred to his prepubescent face - Owen Jones spoke articulately without notes to the packed audience of hundreds.

He started off by asking the question: how do we change things? He said there was a good reason why movements in the past have often been called struggles, not a walkovers.

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the Contest for the Labour leadership, the odds against him winning were 200 to 1. Yet he won with a 60% landslide. It's the biggest against the odds victory in political history.

But that was the easy bit.

There will be a huge and unrelenting campaign against him. To help him continue, there has to be a movement which lovebombs its opponents. We need to build a bottoms up grassroots political movement. It must be a coalition of low income and middle income, of young and old.

The rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party has been fuelled by a growing sense of anger and injustice. It's part of a wave of discontent which is sweeping through the western world. One of the problems is that social democrats have accepted economic austerity so those on the social democratic left have little else to say. Consequently, the young and the poor have been showing increasingly less inclination to vote. This is an unwinding of the universal suffrage our ancestors fought so long and hard to achieve.

Every right, including the right to vote was for fought for by organising together, like the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists, and the Suffragettes. "We stand on the shoulders of giants."

The wealth of the thousand richest people in the UK has doubled in the past five years.

The Government tries to redirect people's anger away from those in power - for example, to the neighbours down the street. They try to deflect anger with the powerful and turn it into envy of each other. Envy of, for example, public service pensions. Because pensions have been taken away from so many, it's easy to blame teachers and social workers who still have their pensions.

Attitudes to the refugee crisis shows that public opinion can change very quickly.

While in London one in four young people grow up in overcrowded houses, the money given to bankers in bonuses in the UK is more than in the rest of Europe put together.

One million unemployed have had their benefits stopped as a violation of the complex rules which now exists. For example, one 60-year-old unemployed man, volunteering for the British Legion, selling poppies in his local supermarket, had his benefits stopped for four weeks. He was told he couldn't be looking for work hard enough. Just how much work is there at the moment for 60-year-old unemployed people?

The young have been hit hard by the current Government. When the Coalition came to Power in 2010, the Educational Maintenance Grant was one of the first things slashed by this Government of millionaires.

Poverty among pensioners is the highest in Western Europe.

Owen Jones in Hebden Bridge

Owen Jones - Photo: Craig Shaw

Responding to questions from the floor

Proportional representation: At the 2015 general election, David Cameron's Tory party won 36.9% of the vote. That in turn was 23% of those eligible to vote. Owen Jones explained that he used to be against proportional representation but has changed his mind. The electorate has become fragmented and this fragmentation is here to stay. The first past the post system relies on a two party system. With our current system, a party such as UKIP can receive 4 million votes and just one Parliamentary seat. Owen Jones prefers PR to the AV system which was rejected by the electorate.

With social media, the challenge is to avoid being an echo chamber, just retweeting or reposting comments and articles. A good example of social media in action was provided by UK Uncut which highlighted tax avoidance by shops and businesses. Social media is not a substitute for going out and organising such things as food banks, even though it is a scandal that a rich country like the UK needs food banks.

Registration Drive: we need a mass registration drive along the lines of Obama's "expand the electorate". Now the Labour Party will have more activists for such things.

Electoral Cloud: it should be a rite of passage. Once children reach the age of 16 they should automatically be added to the electoral roll. This would also necessitate political education in schools.

Media: Most of the media is run by a small group who set the terms of the debate. Increasingly, jobs in the media have been come a closed shop for those from privileged backgrounds in the London area. This has been exasperated by the rise of unpaid internships. We need to hold the BBC to account. We need to put the issue of media ownership on the agenda.

Trident: tens of millions of pounds are being spent on weapons of mass destruction that will never be used. And we continue to sell arms to countries like Saudi Arabia which are then used in regional conflicts in the Middle East. Even lots of non-left-wing thinkers consider Trident a waste of money.

Greece has been trashed. 60% of its young people are out of work. Hospital clinics are staffed by volunteers. The bailout money went to German banks. Compare this with the fact that after the war much of German debt was written off.

Euro: The euro is a disaster, an absolute calamity. It means that countries in the Eurozone can't devalue their currency, and therefore cannot escape their economic problems.

Rift in labour: the right wingers in the Labour Party will hold back. They want the left to own their failure.

Trade unions: the right to strike will be nearly impossible and the new trade union legislation going through Parliament will deny funds to the Labour party. It's an attempt to strangle the official opposition.

The Jeremy Corbyn victory has been brought about by the biggest progressive movement in this country for a very long time. It's going to be brutal. There will be great vilification of the new Labour opposition. Join the Labour Party. We all need to get out and play our part, just like our ancestors did.

See also: Owen Jones at The Guardian