Left-wing columnist, author and commentator, Owen Jones, came back to Liverpool last week for his talk, The Politics of Hope. It’s a great title but did he leave me feeling hopeful?
Liverpool is a city he praises at every opportunity, although he’s originally from Stockport and now lives in London. He tells us that his dad is from Wallasey, supports Everton and his brother supports Liverpool — he seems like one of us. He warms us up with a joke about his age in that he could pass for 21, but in his 32 years he speaks with ease on history and politics — packing every sentence with facts and rhetoric.
His admiration for Liverpool is clear. His introduction describes a city which has a strong history of fighting injustice, from dock workers to the working class families who fought for Justice for the 96 which gets great applause and Scouse brownie points. This, along with his refusal to name a certain newspaper, (cues his second applause) makes me feel suitably buttered up and ready to listen to his talk on The Politics of Hope.
I like Jones. I’m curious about the hope he’s talking about. I have seen him speak in Liverpool before and he is always impressive. He walks us effortlessly through the political history of countries of the world and onto our own country’s political landscape. Jones is certainly an easy listen. He claims he never wanted to be a writer, we laugh. He packs in an incredible amount of history into short points. After the history, he starts to set out The Politics of Hope, giving us a plan to move us forwards. Before we learn about hope, he is keen to tell us about fear….
The Politics of Fear
Jones explains in a climate of anger and fear which there is and has been magnified since the economic crash of 2008. He talks of how The Politics of Fear has paved the way for more right wing personalities and parties who have gained popularity in the last few years. Where is the hope? And, how do we get to build a society which serves more people and moves us away from fear and blame?
Jones offers us hope. He wants us to look to building societies which are better run in the interests of working people, not for just those at the top. He goes on to look at some alternative examples across the world, on how we can end widening inequalities and injustice. He makes it sound simple. My hope monitor moves up a notch. He paces the stage with a spring in his step. I check I’m not at a Michael Macintyre gig.
His next point is how we accept and even expect lies to be told. There is a lack of surprise at the lies. Who can forget the NHS Brexit bus slogan? It strikes me that he’s right.
The Politics of Resignation
Continuing, he wades in to say how we regard injustice as a part of everyday life. The Politics of Resignation is interesting. It made sense. He says we now regard injustice as part of everyday life. He says we accept lies. We all know the story of the person on benefits with the wide screen TV — a powerful image we’ve been told many times on the cover of many newspapers or in a reality TV programme, benefit scrounging stories we have been fed in the media, time and time. This has been designed so we become angry with each other rather than those at the top.
So, with The Politics of Resignation and how we accept or even expect lies and then how the anger of injustice can be used against us. He talks of the ‘dark underlying nature of these lies, directed at immigrants and the unemployed’. And so we become angry with each other rather than those ‘at the top.’ We do expect lies. In Liverpool we know too well about these lies and fighting for truth!
As Owen talks about examples and change, it is clear he wants to shine a positive light and lead an enthusiastic way forward. He even says we will be asked about our role in history — what did we do?
What struck me the most listening to Jones is how practical his ideas have become. He urges the audience to go out and knock on doors — to be ready to say what they did during this time. How we need to act and fight for change, like the Suffragettes or The Chartists, those who fought against racism and homophobia, those who in the past who fought for their rights — how it hadn’t happened easily, but it was fought for.
Language and Communication
The second half of the talk is dedicated to more practical ideas about the language we need to use and how communication of stories is key. This fascinated me as I was mesmerised by this idea that new stories and communication was needed, leading from a politics of resignation to one of empowerment. It reminded me of a positivity quote- “Change your thoughts, change your world.”
Owen reminded us that we can have hope with new words, new stories and repetitive messages, wiping any wide screen telly imagery away. His talk on hope gives us real ideas about how to move forward and why it’s so important to ‘do our bit.’ He warns that if we don’t get this right the Donald Trumps and Nigel Farages will be ready to ‘fill the gap.’
He calls us to be more optimistic. The enthusiastic message that we need a new language and new stories to get people understanding ideas is an engaging one. Good stories with language that we understand is vital. This is what is needed. Stories and experiences which more people can relate to. He makes this point clearer with a story of a veteran, Stephen Taylor, who had his benefits stopped because he wasn’t actively seeking work while he was volunteering for the Royal Legion. He’s right — it resonates more effectively than any statistic.
The Labour party quoting statistics has not worked. It doesn’t move us or resonate with us. We need stories which move people — stories with a message, stories that call us to action. He talks of repetition so the message sinks into our communities. We don’t have to look far to see the stories which have led to change. The slogan, “Take back control,” resonated with so many disenfranchised voters and it won a Brexit victory.
He wants us to keep each other human — a story will always do this. It’s also easy to lose our empathy if are told something is unfair. He says, “The corruption of shared humanity is at the heart of injustice.” The hope is that these stories can lead to change. We can look for what we have in common rather than what keeps us apart. We need to be telling our stories. It will keep us human and hopeful.
For me this is the most impressive part of the talk. New stories, slogans and language to appeal to a more widespread audience — a different approach to change minds and people. He calls for more reflection from the labour party instead of blaming voters. He wants them to give a clear messages through accessible language. These messages then need repeating them over and over again until they stick. He says we all have a duty and responsibility to take charge, to knock on doors, to form social groups, to engage and get into the community, and to help each other, especially young people. His predicts that if we don’t, the alternative is his worry of being led by a right-wing popularism which could affect the country for the next generation.
Patriotism and Hope
Owen tells us to be patriotic — to look and learn from history and how proud we can be of our country, how Britain has defended the NHS and how we have come together and fought together. He reminds us that we have something to fight for, how it was done in the past and we need to do the same now.
My hope increases as he tells us these fights began with defeat, set back and even persecution but then eventually went on to victory. He assures us that even with setbacks and defeat, this should move us forward and lead to victory. Liverpool has done it before. It’s clear his loves this city.
He talks of the potential and how to grow it. He wants change and equality, “A Britain run in the interests of the majority can be built.” He quotes, “If you don’t define yourself, you’ll be defined by your enemies.” He talks about how important aspirations, optimism and cheerfulness are needed.
His hope is clear and practical. It has a message. It calls us to action. It is hope for community led groups. It is hope for individuals who want to come together. It is hope for us all to care for each other and lead by example. It is an optimistic hope. It is even a new language and new words. Hope needed to be talked about and redefined for us all. Our language, our stories and our hope.
The applause at the end was hopeful. Liverpool will always welcome Jones because he speaks our language. A hopeful teacher asked if Jones would come to speak to the students in her school. On the way out I bumped into my neighbour, Pam. She said, “I’ll be in touch about what we can do!” The discussions about hope were only just beginning!
I plotted one last final point on the ‘hope graph’ in my mind. It was higher than expected. It was a hopeful mark!