Prominent journalist Owen Jones faced a Twitter storm and news paper controversy last week after he wore a jacket costing just over £1,000 whilst doing a photo shoot and interview for GQ magazine. Mr Jones identifies as a democratic socialist and is one of the most visible faces for left-wing political activism in Britain today. The image of him in rather expensive clothing faced criticism from individuals who considered it a hypocritical move for a supposed socialist to do.
It seems to some that Mr Jones’ fashion sense is enough to write his political stance as illegitimate and deceitful. How dare this man spend this much money on anything and still claim to support an ideology that wants to re-distribute wealth to the masses, what a fraud! Except, this view is forgetful of numerous aspects of our reality. First of all, Jones may well want socialism in some form as our governing structure but he is still a product of Britain’s capitalist society, just like the rest of us, this is inescapable. Furthermore, Jones has found success with his writing since his breakthrough book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class was released and naturally he has made a healthy living off the back of this success. Surely we should respect Mr Jones’ right to spend that money on what he likes? Apparently not. Some conservative commentators believe that you cannot possibly spend money on anything over a certain value or you must be a so-called “champagne socialist”. It would be interesting to see where this imaginary line is drawn. Socialism, especially in the sense Jones seems to align, is a system of beliefs that centres on public ownership, wealth sharing communities and representative democracy. At no point has Owen Jones suggested people should no longer be allowed to spend the money they earn.
This brings us to the great pointlessness of this whole controversy; Owen Jones didn’t even buy the jacket. He was merely wearing it as part of GQ’s photo shoot. Therefore, the point his detractors were trying to make is totally unfounded, Mr Jones wasn’t betraying his principles at all. My point is that even if it was his jacket, yes I know it’s all about a damn coat, he still wouldn’t be guilty.
This shows us a wider issue that is appearing in British media both social and traditional. The trend gives the impression that once somebody who considers themselves working class earns a certain amount of money they lose their ability to comment on class issues. This is obviously an absurd notion and serves only to reinforce the primitive class culture that remains prominent in the UK. Jones has successfully improved the representation of the working classes in today’s media narrative and challenged the actions of the government and its impact on poorer communities. However, rather than listening to his views, establishment voices want to show evidence of him selling out and joining the elite.
This isn’t exclusive to Jones; any relatively popular figure who begins to challenge the views of the conservative establishment on class are immediately dismissed as somehow being a hypocrite. Jeremy Corbyn opposes the government’s grammar schools proposals as he believes it would further segregate children by class. However, as Corbyn went to grammar school – which was his parents’ choice – the government essentially said his opposition was illegitimate, despite it being fifty years ago. Russell Brand also faced huge criticism at the peak of his Revolution and “Trews” campaigns for conducting activism on class issues and also being a millionaire.
I am not saying anyone has to agree with the people I have mentioned, I certainly don’t, but the continual dismissal of working class issues because of the wealth of those campaigning is unacceptable. A person’s background may well influence but certainly shouldn’t define somebody’s beliefs and nor should anybody be held to account purely because of their wealth.
This becomes especially true when what these people spend their money on certainly does not contradict their viewpoints. Brand contributes significantly to grass roots charities and as GQ themselves have said, the £1,000 jacket has no links to underpaid labour or sweat shops, which would certainly align more to socialist ideals than if Jones had popped into Primark. Of course, this is still forgetting that Jones did not buy the jacket in the first place.
All this hysteria achieves is the dilution of the actual debate over working class issues and steers attention towards issues of apparent celebrity hypocrisy. These prominent speakers represent a too often maligned and misrepresented part of British society and they should be engaged with and not overly scrutinised.
Owen Jones as a vocal activist for LGBT+ issues, class and socialism is unsurprisingly a target for conservative media and politicians. Too many of them appear set on continuing our primitive class culture, dismiss any left of centre stance as idiotic and refuse to participate in a conversation about real issues.
This whole controversy was a political smoke screen thrown up because some people didn’t like what they heard and they wanted to devalue the speaker, possibly because they didn’t know how they could criticise his argument.