Jones fielding questions during his visit to Cambridge last FridayLouis Ashworth

After an early morning waking up at 8am (I’m an English student – we just don’t do that) I underwent the long trek to the train station to see Owen Jones: columnist, author, political activist. To some, he’s a political visionary, to others he’s a Corbyn fanboy and ‘braying jackal’, a title he announces on his Facebook page with honour. He arrived at the station with his empty cup of coffee looking suitably stressed for election season. We sat down and got straight to it: he had a train to catch, so time was short.

I immediately ascertained Jones’s view on the local elections. His response was very matter of fact. “Well obviously they were very bad. The polling was very bad. All we can do on the ground is obviously campaign but the Labour leadership needs a clear message that gets people really enthused. Older people as well as younger people, self-employed people as well as public sector workers. At the moment, if you don’t define yourself, you’ll get defined by your opponents and you need something to cut through. The leadership need a clear message that can cut through.”

He expressed that this lack of “a clear message” could be even more dangerous to the left than a poor local elections result. He argued that “we’ve seen the rise of the populist right across the Western world right now. That’s obviously to do with the aftermath of the financial crash and the economic consequences in terms of living standards. People’s wages were stagnating and falling, public services were being cut, social provision was being cut, there’s a lack of secure jobs. The populist right exploited that effectively and that just shows that if the left doesn’t get its act together, that’s what happens.”

“We’re in a campaign now, there’s no point my criticising the Labour leadership now”

Owen Jones

His comments on the leadership are interesting. Jones is famous for his public support of Corbyn, as well as his more recent pre-election criticism of Corbyn’s leadership abilities. This was particularly striking as Jones was one of the few in the media who consistently expressed support for Corbyn. However, he insists “well I’ve said what I’ve thought about the leadership before. We’re in a campaign now, there’s no point my criticising the Labour leadership now, I’ve made my position clear in the past but clearly the policies are popular.”

However, Jones is quick to point out that popular policies aren’t enough saying “individual policies don’t win elections, you need a clear vision to inspire people in terms of what you’re going to do.”

He doesn’t regret his public support of Corbyn during both leadership campaigns, nor his expressions of doubt towards the Labour leader: “at the end of the day I had a view of what I’d have liked the leadership to have done. We’re in a general election now. The election is between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. Whatever I think about the Labour leadership is irrelevant.”

He believes that Corbyn’s difficulties as leader go beyond just a hostile media expressing the view that “the press in this country is overwhelmingly supportive of the Conservative party; any left wing leader is going to face this sort of attack. He’s been demonised, ridiculed and all the rest of it. That’s inevitable, you’ve got to have a strategy to cut through it. Otherwise there’s this fatalistic view that ‘oh we can’t win because of the press’ but I don’t believe that, at all.”

“You can’t trust a word she says”

Owen Jones, on Theresa May

In terms of May as a leader, Jones was keen to point out that “she hasn’t been leader very long and people haven’t got the chance to get to know her yet”. He was unafraid in expressing his own views that “you can’t trust a word she says. She broke her word on the early election, she promised repeatedly on national insurance, the premise she gave for the election about Brexit being obstructed was false, on immigration she set targets as Home Secretary that she never came close to meeting. On the deficit standard, debt and living standards the Tories have been a failure.”

Despite Jones’ assertions, on a national scale, May as a leader has much more support than Corbyn with a recent poll showing 61% of people believe May would make the most capable Prime Minister and 23% believe Corbyn would. When asked if the unpopularity of Corbyn and the potential devastating defeat for Labour could lead to the party moving away from the left, Jones was reluctant to comment, saying “I think that post-mortem needs to take place after the election.”

On the timing of the election itself Jones argued the reason was “for party political reasons, not for the nation’s interest. I think she realises living standards and wages are starting to be squeezed. It’s going to be the longest fall in living standards in generations. Her Brexit premise is false, the EU doesn’t care what majority the Tories have, however when it starts to go wrong she wants a majority to protect her. She realises that her popularity is only going to go down from here.”

Beyond purely party based questions, I asked Jones about the role of new media in political campaigning. Jones as an activist embraces social media and YouTube using both as platforms for political discussion. He believes “it has a role, I think, disproportionately with young people. Young people have been disproportionately affected over the last few years and we want to get those people mobilised as much as possible. In the last election the Tories were very good at targeting their message at key demographics, with Facebook advertising, Labour should learn from that.”

Jones’ keenness to get people involved in politics goes beyond social media. When asked about the benefits of canvassing his enthusiasm for the activity was clear: “I know everyone thinks it’s really scary and intimidating but it really isn’t. When you go out canvassing you’ll always be buddied up with someone. I think it’s a great thing to do in terms of being part of our democracy and get the message across. Learning about people’s issues and concerns at the doorstep is really important.”

Canvassing and activism may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Jones was eager to impress the importance of using your voice and voting in the election: “we desperately need the voices of young people more than ever. If young people make their voices heard on June 8th, that would force politicians to listen to them. Please go out and use your vote to make your voice heard”

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