Owen Jones: how to go beyond "preaching to the converted"

Best known as the author of Chavs and The Establishment And How They Get Away With It, as well as a columnist for The Guardian, it's a lesser known fact that Owen Jones has odds of 250/1 on Ladbrokes to be next leader of the Labour Party, but that's how he was introduced to a large group of journalism students at a careers talk on the first of his two days on Staffordshire University's Residency programme.

Over the course of his stay and talks, I heard Jones discuss a number of issues, from his position of the EU referendum to his "Stockport pub test", as well as tell the same jokes several times over. In a series of blog posts, I'll be discussing some of the topics he raised in these talks.

A lecturer of mine takes pride in playing devil's advocate to encourage people to talk, and after a seminar with Jones he grilled me as to why I was so adamant that a political shift could be made to the left. After a strong berating of my stance for a few minutes, I cut in and told him I thought he was pessimistic and that isn't it worth a shot anyway?

In the middle of summer, I was sat in a rally of Corbyn's and as the applause flooded the room at the end of his speech, I wondered how many people in the room would be voting for him in the Labour leadership election. I figured the large majority of those eligible would be - after all, I wouldn't queue for the best part of an hour to hear any of the other candidates speak. At a hustings, yes, but not at a rally.

In turn, this prompted another question for me - how do we get the disinterested involved? Persuading those engaged with politics is one thing, but encouraging the non-political is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Put more eloquently, Jones spoke about how we shouldn't be "preaching to the converted".

Though Jones has worked with Paloma Faith and Joey Essex among others to reach out to young people who do not usually take an interest in politics, he praised Russell Brand's manner of involving the same demographic.

"People are quite sneering about him in the mainstream media, they thought he was just a clown, but the reason I have a different opinion is that because I spend a lot of time going to sixth forms and colleges and universities, I met a lot of young people who weren't interested in politics but he provoked them into thinking about politics", Jones said, adding: "They post his interviews on their Facebook walls and have discussions about the world around them.

"I thought that was a good thing, that he could reach people who people like me haven't reached - I always hope to reach."

He continued to define the "sneering" journalists: "newspaper columnists who write stuff that no one reads apart from other newspaper columnists, and people in the 'Westminster bubble', and people with an average of four degrees".

Perhaps Jones is exaggerating on the last point, but the gist is a strong one - these are journalists that are "quite happy just talking to a quite elite section of the population, they think that's fine because they see themselves as very important people, and opinion influences - and their definition of influence is whether or not the Prime Minister is reading their column over breakfast."

What these newspaper columnists fail to do is appeal to either the majority, or to those outside the world of politics.

When voter turnout in the majority of elections is lowest in the youngest category, it becomes reflected in the policies imposed in the subsequent five years - rise in tuition fees and grant cuts are perfect examples. The more young people vote, the less these types of policies will be inflicted.

Whether it is through speakers like Russell Brand talking in schools and colleges, or phone ins with young people on Radio 1's Newsbeat, it's just as - if not more - important to encourage the non-political to engage in politics as it is to campaign for your own party's issues.

"The people who watched Russell Brand's interviews, they were not the people who read the columns of often quite self-important columnists. They were the people in working class communities, young people from lots of backgrounds who had a connection with him in a way that they didn't have a connection with other people who talk about politics."


  1. Well observed and nicely written. Some interesting points made. It would be nice if you rounded it off with some strong conclusions of your own.


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