Owen Jones talk Edinburgh

I want to be Owen Jones when I grow up.

There are flaws in my plan though, not least that I’m already a good few years older than he is…

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Last Wednesday, I had the fortune of seeing this great man speak, to a packed hall, at the Edinburgh Radical Book Fair.

If somehow Owen has slipped under your radar, then he’s an author (at the age of 30, he has written two books that patently involved reams of research before the writing even began), he’s a Guardian columnist, plus he appears regularly on the television, putting forward his views on social and political issues. He is one hard worker – oh, and I think it’s fair to describe him as left wing…

Now, although my writing tendencies on this blog veer towards sustainable issues, I am no less passionate about matters of social justice. I care deeply and fill a lot of head space worrying about poverty and inequality in the UK, while berating myself for not contributing enough towards redressing the balance.

Owen Jones is an inspiration to me. He is a do-er and an enabler. Although articulate, and smack-in-the-face intelligent, he is also unassuming, warm and personable, with a broad Northern English accent that both surprises and delights. In short, Owen makes you realise that your actions count in the fight towards a fairer society.

Owen’s focus on Wednesday – and in the most recent of his books, The Establishment – was on the most powerful people in society, and on their role in promoting wealth and privilege for themselves, while encouraging a culture of blame and envy amongst those who struggle financially.

In other words, for the most part in our nation, negative attention is diverted away from those who have influence over the distribution of wealth, and is deflected towards those who don’t. For example, efforts go in to encouraging people to judge their neighbours for claiming benefits they may be perceived not to be entitled to, for not working hard enough or for ‘stealing’ jobs they do not deserve, while others – such as those responsible for the banking crisis – escape their share of the blame for the gross inequalities in our country.

This message, whilst admirably straightforward, seems to have been lost on huge sections of the UK population, assisted by parts of the media – with the ‘strivers’ vs ‘skivers’ culture having been swallowed whole by many. Indeed, there is not enough consideration that the UK, a wealthy nation, is unable to even  feed its most vulnerable.  The growing number of Food Banks is nothing short of scandalous.

What can I do though to make a difference? I am a stay at home parent with almost full-time child care duties.  Apart from keeping myself informed about politics and talking to others about my views; donating money to what I deem to be worthy causes; and donating food to the local Food Bank, I don’t feel that I am contributing towards getting the fairer society I want. In fact, I feel that I am doing next to nothing at all.

A piece of advice from Owen was to join a political party, and through that means, take collective action. It makes sense. I have some serious thinking to do.

Interestingly, and very much in keeping with my own focus on supporting local retailers, The Radical Book Fair was hosted by Word Power Books which describes itself as Scotland’s only radical and independent book shop. The event I attended was free of charge, in the spirit of including everyone regardless of their financial status. The organiser was keen to hammer home the message that, unlike Amazon, Word Power Books pays its taxes. All good. Donations were welcomed and everyone was encouraged to buy a book.

Owen Jones stayed behind after his 90 minute talk and question session to meet attendees and sign copies of his book. He was thoroughly likeable and down to earth. Despite having a genuine ‘stage presence’, he was simply, and in the best possible way, a decent bloke on a one-to-one level. Once his work was done, he put on his jacket and rucksack and headed out of the hall, almost totally unnoticed, on his way to do a television interview. What a guy.

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