Open letter to Owen Jones
You’ve gone a bit funny lately.
I was once a fan of yours. While I did not always agree, I often read your journalism and respected your opinion. You were principled, had integrity, and fought for your beliefs, which I believed you held for the right reasons — even if we did sometimes reach different conclusions.
I no longer believe that. Many others agree, and you seem perplexed as to why. You think it’s because of Brexit, or the “degeneration of political discourse”, or something. It isn’t. It’s because of you.
I’d like to explain — but before I go further, allow me to digress into analogy.
British politics is a secondary school playground.
The Tories are the teachers. The rest of us are the students. Aloof, distant, powerful: they are generally resentful of — and certainly resented by — the rabble they rule. They squabble and gossip amongst themselves, playing petty power games behind the Staff Room door which impact our lives immeasurably but which we are powerless to change.
While they patrol the boundaries of our metaphorical playground for signs of trouble, they are, for the most part, oblivious to — and uninterested in — the social and political dynamics playing themselves out right under their noses.
The coolest kid in the playground is Jeremy Corbyn. Everyone wants a piece of him. The fit girls all fancy him. The music kids — the ones in bands and the wannabe rappers and DJs — all want to hang out with him. They even invite him to their gigs.
His champions — the journalists and activists who praise him at every opportunity — are the In Crowd. They strut around the playground with patches of Che Guevara sewn on their bags, making in-jokes and taking selfies as they flick two fingers up at the Tory teachers behind their backs.
Down at the bottom of the social spectrum are the sorry group to which I now belong: the Dorks, the Nerdlingers — the centre- and soft-left Labour voters and (God help us) Liberal Democrats who always thought Corbyn was vain and disingenuous; who always thought his pontifications over the teachers were superficial posturing without substance. We now lock ourselves in an unused, distant classroom at lunchtimes, eating ham sandwiches and playing chess, complaining about how unfair it all is and how we can’t wait to grow up and leave this fucking school.
Owen, you were never in the In Crowd. But, when you found yourself rubbing shoulders with those cool Vice journalists and the letterman-jacket-wearing jocks at Momentum, you didn’t really change. You still wrote with clarity and with integrity. You kept your head when the frenzied cult of Corbynism steamed into British politics; you didn’t engage (much) in petty squabbles and in-fighting with “Blairites” and “Neoliberals”; and you were not afraid to hold the mirror up. You were brave enough to criticise Corbyn in public: that took courage in the circles you moved in. The Nerdlingers respected you for that.
Something changed after the General Election.
After having been one of the Left’s best young journalists, you hurtled full throttle into the Corbyn-led In Crowd with all the passion, vigour and intensity of the repentant sinner turned TV evangelist. Your volte face on Brexit was only one of several other issues on which you supported a party line that contradicted your earlier ‘principles’. Your inability to even acknowledge such blatant hypocrisy was the start of your undoing as a writer of integrity.
But your Damascene conversion to Corbynism is not the only cause of disillusionment. Like the wimpy sidekick punching dorks to impress the high school bully, you have sought to prove your worth to the cool kids by doubling down on your attacks on the Nerdlingers at the bottom of the political high school food chain — that disparate, varied, and ever growing group of the politically homeless, the “Centrists” (whatever that actually means) that you now attack on a daily basis.
You have written blog posts, Guardian articles, Facebook posts and countless tweets about “Centrist abuse”, “Very British Coups” and “Militant Remainers” which deliberately seek to portray “Centrism” (which apparently means “not agreeing with Jeremy Corbyn”) as some kind of dangerous, sadistic cult. This is absurd. While I do not seek to deny the very real abuse you receive both on and offline (I do not know the political position of the sad and loveless perpetrators — some may indeed be “Centrists”), it is clear that you deliberately and disingenuously blur the line between what one might loosely call “sweary insults” and “abuse” in order to achieve this aim.
In one of your blogs on how online abuse was not the sole domain of the Left (it is not, but the Left has a huge problem on that front), you cited Nick Cohen and Janan Ganesh calling Jeremy Corbyn supporters “fucking fools” and “thick as pigshit” as examples of abuse. You more than anyone should know the difference between comments like that and targeted, sustained harassment of specific individuals, yet you mendaciously seek to cast them as the same thing. There is a name for that kind of thing: it’s called gaslighting. Everyone can see you doing it.
The sad thing about all of this is that the motivation for your transition from leading light of left wing writing to one of the most cynical hacks in journalism seems to be nothing short of popularity.
In an interview you held with Alistair Campbell some time ago, you revealed a trait not desirable of journalists: an unappealing preoccupation over what others think of you, particularly those on the far left. You have unfortunately surrendered your integrity to this sad fault.
Ultimately, you have decided that you want to be one of the In Crowd after all. To get there you are willing to tread not only on your own previously held beliefs, but on others who formerly shared them with you. That’s why people are mad at you.
What happened to you, man? You used to be cool.