Owen Jones vs democracy

The Guardian columnist’s turn against ‘Lexit’ reveals his fear of radical change.

Philip Cunliffe

Topics Brexit Politics UK

In a recent Medium post, Guardian columnist Owen Jones explains his decision to campaign against Brexit. He has decided that ‘Lexit’ – that is, a ‘left-wing exit’ from the EU – is impossible. For this reason, he argues that Brexit has to be opposed and the referendum result has to be overturned.

Although Jones actually coined the term ‘Lexit’ back in 2015 following the EU’s ruination of Greece, he also abandoned it in fairly short order. He is now admonishing the diminishing band of left Brexiters, who he thinks should ‘stop trying to make Lexit happen’. But in his turn against Brexit, all that Jones really reveals is how much of his politics is empty rhetoric and bluster. His arguments also show just how far the left has internalised its defeats over the past 40 years and how it accepts these defeats as inherent limits on its capacity to make change.

Jones claims it was his initial fear that Brexit would be captured by the right that prompted him to float the idea of Lexit. But once Brexit became, in his view, defined by nationalism and xenophobia, he could no longer sustain the Lexit position. This characterisation of the Leave vote is entirely at odds with the polling evidence, which shows that British attitudes to immigration are largely positive. It also indicates a remarkably self-defeating view of politics. The very thing that Jones feared and was trying to avoid – a Brexit defined by the right – has been encouraged by the left’s own unwillingness to fight to define the terms of Brexit. He is now encouraging other leftists to repeat his mistake.

In truth, Brexit never needed any riders or qualifications to begin with, ‘left’ or otherwise. Brexit was a popular insurrection at the ballot box. Its defining slogan – ‘take back control’ – resonates with the most basic and instinctive positions of classical left-wing politics: support for popular sovereignty and mass democracy. Aside from the decision itself to leave, which was the only question on the ballot paper, the ultimate outcome of what post-Brexit Britain should look like was always left open. Brexit remains a process to be defined. This, indeed, is the point of mass democracy – that it is an open-ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed in advance.

Jones charges Lexiters with failing to specify how their vision of a left-wing Brexit will be secured. What he is really demanding are certain conditions under which he will accept a democratic outcome as legitimate. This is why he can so easily reconcile himself to the anti-democratic EU. Jones dislikes what he calls the EU’s ‘market ideology’. He even regretfully notes that the EU will be unlikely to allow a future Labour government to carry out some of its key policies, such as state aid for industry. But it is precisely such restrictions on democratic outcomes that provide the assurances that Jones wants – democracy, but not too much of it.

What Jones ultimately reveals in his criticisms of Lexit is a fear of change and his unwillingness to fight for it. Jones has always cast his politics as being driven by radical change against vested interests. Yet in his repudiation of the very term that he coined, Jones is clearly signalling to his supporters that he will not fight to shape the process of social and political change: all bold promises will be reneged upon, all difficult positions abandoned.

In repudiating Lexit, he is saying that he will never fight to set the terms of the debate.

Philip Cunliffe is one of the co-founders of the Full Brexit. Follow him on Twitter: @thephilippics.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Jay Cee

7th August 2019 at 1:26 am

It is a stupid, lazy story.

His position is entirely consistent. He has always objected to a a bad Tory deal or damaging no deal. It looks likely the UK is heading for a no deal withdrawal. As such, it is not ridiculous to back any remaining measures to avoid these. Leaving with a deal is not an option at this time. Therefore, he is entitled to back remaining.

There are a lot of whiny people here.

Melissa Jackson

9th August 2019 at 12:29 pm

Owen Jones really is shying away from Brexit today because he and his mates don’t get the pull the levers of power. That’s basically what it comes down to. And that is why it’s a bit repulsive to see him change his mind. He doesn’t have principles, he wanted power for him on the basis of him being him.

His arguments for Remain are all the same as everyone else – Don’t rock the boat and won’t someone think of the GDP. From the Blairite establishment we can accept that. From someone who claims to want radical, nay revolutionary, change this is frankly disgusting.

Follow his own logic. If the radical left wing agenda were to be offered to the British people and they voted for it… Surely Owen would oppose it, due to the economic impact which would certainly be substantial.

You have to be consistent with these things. If you care more about the GDP than the lives of real people then you don’t get to claim to be a social agitator for the people.

James Knight

6th August 2019 at 5:54 pm

“Jones charges Lexiters with failing to specify how their vision of a left-wing Brexit will be secured.”

Duh! It would be secured by engagement with voters on left wing issues and winning elections. I guess that approach is beyond his ken.

More likely that is what he fears most about Brexit. All he reveals is the poverty of his own vision while clinging to the EU like a security blanket.

Amelia Cantor

6th August 2019 at 12:15 pm

Saying “Owen Jones vs Democracy” is like saying “Sunlight vs photosynthesis”. Owen is on the side of the democracy and progress, ffs. Brexit is the biggest threat to British democracy since the BNP. Hardly surprising, because the same racists and xenophobes voted for the BNP as voted for Brexit.

Hana Jinks

6th August 2019 at 2:09 pm

The reason that this so lame, is because the circle-jerkers in the office all think that I’m faaarr-riiggght.

gershwin gentile

6th August 2019 at 2:57 pm

I have to ask this, but considering that Owen Jones is the Labour researcher who has made a career out of badly researched books and blatantly lied about the numbers at a certain brexit rally (also being rather silent on the violence from “his side”, AC have you ever been diagnosed with a personality disorder?

Jerry Owen

6th August 2019 at 4:49 pm

First she needs a personality !

Amelia Cantor

7th August 2019 at 10:34 am

AC, have you ever been diagnosed with a personality disorder?

Typical cisgender white male tactic. When you can’t win the argument, attack the arguer. No, I have had no such diagnosis. Not that it would mean anything if I had: accusations of “madness” have been for millennia to silence and discredit wombyn’s voices.

gershwin gentile

8th August 2019 at 4:26 pm

AC, you might want to check out some therapy. Because you pulling the cis male oppression BS, means that you don’t really wan to engage with what I actually wrote. You are saying that Owen Jones is honest (aren’t you?) He’s not. Quite blatant that.

You then use abuse towards me, doesn’t that mean you have lost the argument?

How many of the BAME brexit vote also voted for the BNP? You basically said that black and mixed race people voted for the BNP.

Also you made the assumption I identify as white. Racist AC, and a nonce apologist to boot.

gershwin gentile

8th August 2019 at 4:26 pm

BTW AC do you have a womb?

Amelia Cantor

9th August 2019 at 12:59 pm

Gershwin Gentile: If you are a person of colour, I can only say “Shame on you!” You’re a coconut and an Uncle Tom.

Also you made the assumption I identify as white. Racist AC, and a nonce apologist to boot.

Of course I am racist: I AM WHITE. But I recognize my racism and fight to be an ally for communities of colour as best I can. However, I am not being in the slightest bit racism when I call you out for being an ally of cisgender white males.

Your half-witted accusation about my being a “nonce-apologist” (note hyphen) remains half-witted. “Nonce” is of course a cisgender white male term, and particularly popular among criminal cisgender white males, who are of course desperate to scapegoat others for their own inadequacies and toxicity.

BTW AC do you have a womb?

Don’t try to drag biological essentialism into this. Trans-wombyn are wombyn. Get over it.

steve moxon

6th August 2019 at 5:13 pm

Cant by name, cant by nature.

Jerry Owen

6th August 2019 at 10:11 am

Owen Jones lamented some years ago the fact that the ‘far right’ had claimed the St George flag for themselves. The truth is that the Owen Jones’s, Toynbees and Thornberry’s of this country have shoved in the muddy gutter and trampled on it.

John Millson

6th August 2019 at 9:47 am

Personally, having experienced all the negative emotions about the referendum result since 2016, this piece and the link to ‘Full Brexit’ has curiously produced some hope, at last. (Thank you, Philip Cunliffe.)

I thought rejection of the WA was wrong, primarily because of the underlying bad faith of so many of those voting against it: ERG and ‘remainiac’, alike. A ‘disorderly’ exit is not good for anyone especially ordinary working people, staff, managers alike. The unpleasant right-libertarian government we have now is a result of not voting for the WA. (I can never move from ‘patriotism’ to belligerent ‘nationalism’, so the Faragists, Rees-Mogg , Raab, Patel etc. will always be political opponents.)

Yes, we now need proper electoral reform. But the ‘turkeys-*not*-voting for Christmas’ mentality is very hard to fight. Who will give us Reform? Can the British public be bothered, really? Sorry, the old negative cynicism creeping in again.

Stephen J

6th August 2019 at 11:08 am

The “Full Brexit” points to a leftist solution for the future direction of a Britain freed from the radical shackles that we have come to know and love as the EU.

What would really be interesting would be to unleash democracy, and see what we, neither left nor right, ordinary folk can do to better ourselves our families and our neighbourhoods.

I have a feeling there will be nothing that is new or radical about it, it will almost certainly be tribal and conservative, and for the life of me, I cannot see what is wrong with that.

John Millson

6th August 2019 at 11:30 am

But we will still live in a globalised (aka ‘advanced capitalism’) world, where distant, ‘foreign interests’ exert control over communities with absolutely no democratic input or accountability. (One the strongest arguments for not leaving the EU was potential jeopardy to rights and conditions at work, regulations on welfare, environment etc., which the globalised libertarian-right see as hindrances.)
‘Unleash democracy’? (‘direct’ democracy always?) Being sensible: does that mean anarchy in the benign or proper sense? – ‘absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.’
Don’t fancy a reversion to ‘tribalism’. Sorry, call me old-fashioned.

steve moxon

6th August 2019 at 9:11 am

Owen Jones is an infantile totalitarian Left queefer. My only encounter with him was his knee-jerk brain-dead response of meezodgenannynonny when I outlined an aspect of the reality of the sexes on a Boob Sunday morning discussion prog. Nobody cares about and most laugh at his inanity.

Hana Jinks

6th August 2019 at 12:01 pm

Just to let you know, I’ve received word that Queefer Moreswill was finally green-vanned.

Stephen J

6th August 2019 at 8:19 am

He shows no understanding of what it is to be human.

His cool puritanical scientific socialism is so full of holes both moral and technical, and yet he and his ilk just do not see that.

Still, as long as we can keep him and his type busy with a selection marching songs and some good old fashioned slogans. We can begin to grow up as a nation.

Simon Thomas

6th August 2019 at 7:44 am

His basic understanding of ‘left’ and ‘right’ must cause havoc when he puts his shoes on, he simply does not understand why anyone could be proud of their country., has far too much time on his hands, contrary to the hard working folk which make these Islands ‘Great’

Jerry Owen

6th August 2019 at 7:22 am

This is the same O Jones that tried to debate the ever improving J H Brewer of talkradio on TV some years ago. It was about the shooting of gay people in an American night club. He scweemed and scweemed because only he could understand an empathize with the gay community because he is gay. He stormed off set in childlike tantrum.
So much for trying to show solidarity with vulnerable minorities !
It’s on YouTube , worth a visit !

Philip Humphrey

6th August 2019 at 7:14 am

It’s not just a fear of change that trouble the likes of Jones. It’s really a fear of the voters and specifically the working class that used to be Labour’s power base. Ever since Tony Blair, Labour has become increasingly a middle class clique more obsessed with identity politics than it cares about its former working class core voters. Emily Thornberry’s infamous white van man tweet said all you need to know. That’s why it’s more comfortable with the authoritarian and anti-democratic EU than it is with true democracy (as in the Brexit vote). Labour no longer has the voter base to impose its will in a genuine democracy, but it can through technocracy, bureaucracy and authoritarianism.

christopher barnard

6th August 2019 at 7:13 am

Jones is just your typical, modern affluent Lefty, the type of person who makes up the bulk of Labour’s membership.

Such people don’t really want change at all. The capitalist, globalist system has served them well, creating the wealth which enables the taxpayer to fund the comfortable wages of all those liberals and progressives in our public sector.

Philip Davies

6th August 2019 at 6:54 am

I really don’t understand why anyone takes any notice of Mr Jones. He is invariably wrong about almost everything and anyway he’s such a lightweight.

Emmett Elvin

6th August 2019 at 12:51 pm

Indeed, Philip – the flimsiest of punching bags with the emotional control and intellectual rigour of a 13 year-old. In a sane world he would be roundly ignored – but his woefully thin narrative is clearly important to those who promote him.

Jane 70

6th August 2019 at 2:37 pm

I should be glad to vote for an Owenexit, in the hope that we might be spared his pieties from hereon in.

aidan maconachy

6th August 2019 at 1:56 am

“But in his turn against Brexit, all that Jones really reveals is how much of his politics is empty rhetoric and bluster.”

Nicely put.

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