Saturday 28 September 2013

My encounter with Owen Jones

I spent yesterday afternoon in the dark on stage a the Soho Theatre, doing a session on class and power with Chavs author Owen Jones, among others (Harriet Sergeant and Henry Hitchings, who chaired the whole affair brilliantly).

Ever since I horrified the readers of the Guardian and Telegraph simultaneously by writing about the middle classes in April, I have been urged to debate with Owen Jones – so I had been looking forward to it.

In the event, it is hard to disagree with him that the working classes have been demonised.  Just as I think he kind of agreed with my take – that ordinary life is becoming unaffordable for the working and middle classes too (he stresses low pay as the reason, I would stress inflation driven by the financial sector).

In fact, the only time I found myself disagreeing with him was in answer to a question about the political changes that need to happen.

He cited hope and the need to fight for change, as people have always done.  It is true that is how political change happens.  

People will certainly have to fight, in the political sense, but economic change requires something else as well.  The middle classes are great institution builders.  The working classes are great movement builders (the co-op movement).  Both are going to have to start the local institutions and the enterprises that we need to create the kind of economy that can provide for people.

Because in the end, if the economy doesn't provide for nearly everyone, then it will provide for nobody – because the money drains away, even faster than it does now, to the financial institutions and the ubermensch who run them.

We have hardly any local financial institutions in this country (I know we have some credit unions and a handful of CDFIs).  The monopolies have been allowed to close most of our local food producers and hollow out their suppliers.  The number of local newspapers or news outlets is a tenth of what is was a century ago - and the same goes for most economic institutions.

We need new ones, and new businesses, but we also need a political force prepared to defend them, against the powerful monopolies that are coming to dominate in every sector.

So it is more than just about keeping hope alive, or any of the other political rhetoric.  Hope implies that, somehow, politicians are going to change their minds and sprinkle fairy dust and provide for us all.

Because, in the end , if anyone is going to provide, it is going to have to be us – but we will need a political force to defend us while we do it.

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