Owen Jones at Penryn Campus

Jack Hope

In an event, I found out very late, the Labour society arranged for Guardian columnist Owen Jones to come to campus and give us a talk centred around his new platform – ‘The politics of hope’. Essentially this follows his mantra that the left can be central to politics again and become a serious fighting force against the rise of the right.

His talk focused on Brexit, Trump and the rise of populism. He started at 2008, where he considers the signified fall of leftist politics in the UK.  He argued that due to the failure of the left to explain the fall of the economy in a way that connected with people, the right maximised upon this to regain power. Indeed, he raised the point that the left has an inherent failure to connect emotionally with those disengaged with politics and that the right uses stories to illustrate their positions. Jones offered the advice that the left needs to shift to a narrative led approach and enact some of the right’s ideas surrounding communication. He further proposed that more should be done to incorporate the elderly, as they have become disillusioned with the left.  

It is at this point I disagreed with Jones, why focus attentions to a generation that inherently moves towards the right as they age when a disenfranchised group are already available. The younger generation is already poised to reject the status-quo, why isn’t this the left’s focus. We are far less disillusioned with the world and more open to new governance concepts. Indeed, this is exactly what the right have begun to turn their focus too, increasingly with alternative facts making their way through untraditional media. Regardless of political allegiance, it can be agreed upon social media is changing elections like never before, and the right (with their narrative based approach) are far more adept at harnessing this. It just makes sense for the left to incorporate the younger demographic.

Jones talked of saving the left and that a loss in this election could eradicate any effective opposition to the right for decades to come. He has a point; a loss of the left would be a bad outcome for us all. Without effective opposition and a hegemonic state of politics, our system could end up reflecting one of America. With less opposition, the system is less compelled to listen to the electorate, and as we have seen recently in American politics this causes chaos. The electorate looks outside the system meaning that a candidate with little political expertise is chosen. The left is essential to maintain a political system that, not only offers scrutiny of the opposition but also, maintains a steady flow of alternative ideas that (if chosen) are handled by experienced politicians.  

Jones suggests that ideas of communication from the right should be adopted; he evens goes as far as to offer the term ‘left wing populism’. The left needs to change its appearance and attack the right with more emotive content backed through fact. Things must change otherwise the left will wither and continue to slowly decline.

Jones offered one last glimmer of hope, he encouraged increased political participation. Emotional cases can only be so effective at national levels. Door to door activism creates the emotional connection that the left so desperately needs. This is what the right so effectively employs, relating national issues directly into a local context. It is this that will ensure the left’s survival.