#034 Owen Jones, Labour Voter For Life
In December 2022 Owen Jones made a video on why he chooses to vote Labour (even if the current Labour Party hate him and everything he stands for)
In this video he explores the two main threads of criticism he often gets in response to his articles and videos.
The first thread comes from the “tedious” Starmer supporters who relentlessly call him a “tory enabler” in response to his well argued criticisms of the current Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, and the decisions taken by the Labour Party with him at the helm. This brand of criticism generally fails to engage with Jones’ actual arguments and also seems to ignore the fact Jones works as an independent political commentator and is entitled to express his personal views at any given time, as oppose to some kind of client journalist paid to promote the Labour Party.
This strain of criticism is often little more than vote shaming, explored in this article https://progressiveprimers.medium.com/vote-positively-31df727a8093, aimed at manipulating Jones’ vote, and the votes of the people who listen to (and are influenced by) his opinions.
The second thread of criticism generally comes from people on the progressive left, who strongly disagree with Owen’s decision to vote Labour despite all of his frequent criticisms of Labour in its current form.
In Jones’ video, on why he is voting Labour (even if they hate him), Jones advances six different, but intersecting arguments to support his position to vote Labour despite his criticisms.
Below I summarise and respond to these arguments,
- The electoral system, first past the post, Jones says, makes it very difficult for left of labour political parties to win seats, as many people across the country, choose to vote tactically to keep out the candidate they perceive as the worst, often the conservative candidate. This argument only really applies to voting Labour, in known tory/labour marginals and does not account for the variation in political makeup of different constituencies around Great Britain. For example people living in Brighton Pavilion constituency have cast more votes for the Green candidate, than the labour candidates, across four consecutive elections. If Owen Jones lived in this seat for instance, he could not make the same argument. Second the same argument could be deployed in favour of voting for the Lib Dem candidate (in Lib Dem/Tory marginals) or SNP (in SNP/Tory marginals) and what about three way marginals, such as Wimbledon constituency. If voting is about stopping the worst candidate getting in, rather than casting a vote for the candidate we believe is the best candidate in an area, this argument can only support voting Labour in most but not all constituencies, depending on the constituency and what one thinks other voters will do. These predictions can also be misguided, as at each election, political parties are different, based often on a unique leader, unique set of policies and unique set of circumstances & challenges the country faces at that time. Party support changes over time, for a myriad of reasons, Tory/Labour marginals can become safe seats or fall to third parties and so on.
- The trade union link Jones says provides Labour with a link to working class people and provides a means of these people putting pressure and altering the direction of the Labour Party on policy. This argument is only really true as far as affiliated unions can pull funding or influence conference votes to change the direction of the Labour Party leadership and direction as a whole to some extent. It follows that Labour MPs will more likely to listen to trade union demands, either directly or via the trade union influence on the leadership, whipping them to vote in certain ways, than MPs from other political parties will, however this analysis ignores the current reality that Starmer’s Labour leadership ignores union demands, ignores conference votes (like electoral reform for instance), avoids supporting strikes, https://news.sky.com/story/sir-keir-starmer-says-labour-mps-should-not-be-on-picket-line-if-they-want-to-be-in-government-12673865, and is also looking for alternative sources of funding, private donors, to directly replace union funding, https://www.cityam.com/exclusive-labour-targets-30m-war-chest-for-next-election/.
- Jones argues dozens of left wing MPs are only in parliament because of the Labour Party. But this is *only* an argument for voting for labour where there are progressive left minded people, like Richard Burgon or Zarah Sultana for instance, standing for the Labour Party and Labour are currently going out of their way to stitch up selections to exclude left wing candidates from being able to stand as Labour Party candidates at the next election. Jones himself acknowledges this in videos such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uUc938FTX4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W22oJ7LDpc.
- Jones also argues there is no credible alternative and goes on to criticise the Green Party of England & Wales on the basis of their low chances of winning more seats and on the basis the green party’s politics is not sufficiently based in working class communities in his view. This ignores actual Green Party policies and advocates, like London Assembly member and deputy leader Zack Polanski’s statements and speeches. It also ignores the many local election wins the Green Party has seen in places like Bristol in May 2021. Finally it ignores the dominance of the labour right currently in the labour party, who advance a form of politics far more detrimental to working class people than anything advocated for by the Green Party.
- Fifth, Jones thinks that Labour in government will be (automatically) better (to some degree) than the conservatives, in power, albeit not by enough, and this will be a tangible improvement for some people, even if it falls far short. Here Jones takes essentially a leap of faith, assuming that a labour government under Starmer pursue better policies than Sunak or Johnson’s conservatives would, after the next election, and assuming Starmer’s government will stick to any or all of the policies so far announced, or will be pressured into doing so from labour members, trade unions or left wing Labour MPs. This I find to be little more than wishful thinking, Starmer has already shown the country definitively he is willing to row back on anything he has previously pledged or promised, so it follows then there is no reason to believe any policy he now says he will implement in government. Similarly, he has shown he is willing to ignore conference votes & trade union pressure, and even secure alternative funding to trade union funding to reduce trade union influence, it is entirely possible Keir Starmer could lead a centre-right government as bad as, or worse than, a future, hypothetical conservative government, keeping and enacting policies that the conservatives in power would or have enacted.
- Finally, Jones argues a theory of change argument that states politicised left movements and organisation will inevitably grow under a Labour government, as expectations are raised and then subsequently dashed by the lived reality of Starmer’s government. Jones thinks people will think they have more leverage to influence a Labour government in, comparison to a conservative one, and this will strengthen and embolden the progressive left to push for more. This final argument is very hard to test, but we’ve seen political energy increases historically both under Labour and conservative governments, for better & worse, such as in the late 1980s under Thatcher when the conservative government tried to introduce the poll tax, or in the early 2010s when Nick Clegg abandoned his pledge not to raise tuition fees, or in 2015 & 2016 when Jeremy Corbyn ran and then re-ran as Labour Party leader. All of these movements happened under conservative governments, just as the anti war movement march occurred under a Tony Blair lead Labour government invading Iraq in 2003. The idea people should vote labour to help get Labour into power to in turn help increase the participation and confidence of left political movements to later Labour governments seems a somewhat questionable strategy in creating real progressive political change under a Starmer lead Labour government.