Last week at Leeds Beckett University, political activist, Guardian columnist and author Owen Jones urged his audience to follow the ‘politics of hope’. Like many, he feels angry and frustrated that the political elite has failed to represent and respond to the basic needs of the people, even admitting that he can understand why people make protest votes in favour of parties such as UKIP.
Although UKIP may be offering a backlash against the current political climate, we need to look beyond Nigel Farage’s beaming smile. The privately educated, ex-City broker in a party dependent on ex-Tory donors has some very damaging ideas. He wants to privatise public services, opposes same-sex marriage and supports tax cuts for the rich, to name a few. The poor and the vulnerable prove an all-too-convenient scapegoat for figures like Farage. Perhaps then, as Jones argues, we should diverge blame away from our neighbours (the unemployed, the benefit claimer, the immigrant and the public sector worker) and look to those with the most power and influence. Real criminals and scroungers, Jones argues, are those in corporate businesses avoiding taxes like Google, Amazon and Vodafone, forcing the rest of us to suffer the brunt of austerity.
Owen draws a parallel between current zero hour contracts and the Victorian times, when dockers would march to the yard hoping to find work and be dismissed if unwanted. It’s clear that the lack of social security in our society was not created by those at the bottom who are earning their poverty wage packets day after day. Wage packets, Jones reminds us, are falling at a rate last seen in the 1870’s under Disraeli. At a time of such dismay, we need to work together towards a more cooperative and just society, rather than scapegoating those on welfare because of the very few who cheat the system.
For those of you who haven’t seen it on social media, Jones also recently engaged with Russell Brand on the Guardian Live. Although Brand and Jones clash on certain issues (namely, the importance of the voting ), they agree on the overarching problems in society. Brand takes a personal approach to the subject; he declares that he used to epitomize the problems of our culture by always wanting and expecting more.In a culture where fear spreads faster than love, we need to unify and cooperate. Jones uses the analogy of the weather to explain the way in which the political elite approach injustice: it is possible to complain about it raining but there is nothing you can do to change it.
At a time of such dismay, we need to work together towards a more cooperative and just society, rather than scapegoating those on welfare because of the very few who cheat the system.
But there is hope. Spain has recently proven that a political backlash doesn’t always have to involve anti-immigration politics. Podemos, a party only founded this year, are thriving and have even topped opinion polls. With 1.2 million votes and five seats in May’s European election, they present a source of inspiration for the dire political climate of today. Spain, like the UK, face soaring levels of unemployment, which is as high as 25%. Yet it seems Podemos have transformed discontent into optimism. Mimicking the Spaniards, we need to assert that we will not pay the price for a crisis that we did not cause. If a party wishes to soar in the coming elections like Podeomos, they need to concentrate on the most powerful and influential in society, rather than the family of a disabled child who happens to have a spare bedroom.