My role in the media in months ahead

Owen Jones
Sep 12, 2015 · 4 min read

This is a self-indulgent post, with lots of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘my’ in it, but it’s important to write. I’ve critiqued other journalists for having close relationships with powerful politicians and not being transparent about it. If Jeremy Corbyn does indeed triumph as Labour party leader, then that will have implications for my own role and what I do. And what’s important is that I’m open, honest and transparent about it, otherwise I will be guilty of hypocrisy.

Firstly, just an explanation of what I do. It was never my intention or ambition to become a writer. The word ‘activist’ has all sorts of connotations, but everything I do is motivated by one central purpose: to advance causes, beliefs and movements I believe in. My attitude to writing is conflicted — I don’t particularly enjoy it — but as I see it as a means to reach as broad an audience as possible with these causes and beliefs. That’s why I go on TV and radio, use social media, run a YouTube channel, do talks and meetings across the country, visit sixth forms, or — more leftfield — did a TV show about politics with Joey Essex and spoke at Paloma Faith’s gigs. All I’m interested in is reaching people with political ideas that are otherwise banished. Obviously, the role of any individual in political change is limited and modest. I’ve spent the last few years trying to contribute to rebuilding an alternative politics, and unashamedly so. I see myself as an equal to any other activist: we’re all trying to achieve political change and contribute in different ways.

That makes my relationship with the mainstream media pretty difficult and conflicted. It is not a world, to say the least, that I am comfortable with. It is questionable whether it is populated with people based on merit, given a system of unpaid internships that discriminate against non-privileged people, expensive post-graduate journalism degrees, a degree of nepotism, and so on. It certainly is populated by people who have a ‘groupthink’: free-market economics, and in some circles, progressive views on social issues (though The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Sun, The Star, The Times etc give big platforms to those who are not, so there’s no consensus on that). Choose your metaphor or simile: but it feels like swimming against an extremely strong tide, without getting out the world’s smallest violin (oops, another one).

The point I’d make is this. I make my opinions and biases abundantly clear. But there are news journalists who are as opinionated as me, but pretend to be impartial. Indeed news and opinion are extremely blurred in this country. It is often possible to read through a news article about British politics and have a fair guess at the political convictions of the writer. As for the mainstream press as a whole — well, it serves as a very sophisticated de facto political lobbying operation, overwhelmingly promoting the cause of right-wing politics.

I’ve been actively involved in Labour left politics for a decade now: in fact, I used to work for left-wing Labour MPs in Parliament. Some on the radical left have long felt my professed politics and allegiance to Labour were at loggerheads, but it’s always been my view that — if there is a sudden political upsurge — it will find its expression in Labour, rather than one of the many failed left parties. This has angered some, who believed I was some sort of sellout/careerist/fraud etc etc, but I guess my position probably now makes sense. It was never my expectation, or anybody else’s, that the Labour left would assume leadership of the party at this point, but that’s history for you.

As for Jeremy Corbyn himself: I’ve known him for years, and shared numerous platforms with him. Equally, I’ve known much of his team for years, too. If he becomes leader, I want him to succeed. That’s why I’ve been writing pieces admitting that such a leadership faces absolutely monumental challenges, and some of the things that need to be done to rebut them — like reaching out to middle-income and middle-class people; to older people; dealing imaginatively with anti-immigration sentiment; message discipline; building up a formidable grassroots movement; and so on. I’ll keep writing suggestions and advice in detail. Whenever I offer advice and suggestions to Corbyn’s team privately (if they want it), it will be the same as the advice and suggestions that I write publicly. During his campaign, I’ve spoken at four rallies in support of his leadership bid. I’ll also keep playing an active role travelling all over the country, playing my small part to build up a mass movement — which is the only possible hope of surviving the coming onslaught.

But here’s the problem with my position. Virtually the entire mainstream media will be hostile to a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party, and not just hostile, but hysterically so. The most extreme campaign of demonisation in British political history surely follows. I will be one of the few people with a platform in the mainstream media who isn’t hostile to him, let alone sympathetic. One of the projects I’ve been most passionate about is finding ways of getting other people who dissent from the political status quo into the mainstream media, particularly from underrepresented backgrounds. If Corbyn wins, then the media must be pushed to have more people — other than me — who are sympathetic to the policies of his leadership. But there’s no question that I’ll remain one of his only defenders regularly on TV and radio and in the newspapers and whatnot. It will not help his cause, however, if I churn out uncritical agitprop. So I will be critical — but from the position of wanting something that faces unbelievable odds against it — when I have to be.

So hopefully that clarifies my role. If Jeremy Corbyn wins, it will be an incredible defiance of political odds. But no-one should underestimate just how difficult things will get, or how intense the onslaught will be. I’ll play my part as constructively as I can.

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