Saturday 6 June 2015

Saturday Interview: Sue Jones

Sue Jones is a Labour Party member from Durham by way of Bolton, and has been regularly blogging since October 2012 under the (semi-) nom de plume Kitty S Jones. Like any self-respecting Labour blogger, she tweets @suejone02063672

Have you made your made up about the Labour leadership?

Not yet, I am keeping an open mind, disregarding the distorted media commentaries and paying careful attention to what each candidate actually says. Not inspired so far, though.

Just heard that Jeremy Corbyn is a late candidate, for whom I have long-standing respect. I read that he probably has 30 of the required 35 nominations already. He would certainly get my vote.

You've been blogging for almost three years now, why did you decide to give it a go?

I felt that the mainstream media has become increasingly unreliable over the past five years, reflecting a triumph for the dominant narrative of ultra social conservatism and neoliberalism. We certainly need to challenge this and re-frame the presented debates, too. The media tend to set the agenda and establish priorities, which often divert us from much more pressing social issues. Independent bloggers have a role as witnesses; recording events and experiences, gathering evidence, insights and truths that are accessible to as many people and organisations as possible. We have an undemocratic media and a government that reflect the interests of a minority – the wealthy and powerful 1%. We must constantly challenge that.

Have there been any blogging highlights/lowlights?

A highlight for me is when people tell me that they recognise an insight or truth but have struggled to define and express it. It helps when we can construct cognitive and linguistic frameworks to use to define issues, shape debate and raise awareness. Also it’s a positive when organisations and select committees such as the Work and Pensions Committee and the UN use my research work to add to evidence of their own ongoing inquiries and work.

The only lowlight is that I have been targeted for personalised smear and hate campaigns by groups on the far-right and some of the militants of the far-left. I had to involve the police because I’ve had a few death threats.

And how do you think you've stuck to it for so long?

I think in an age of increasing media censorship and dominant right–wing narratives, independent blogging is very much needed. People tell me that they use the researched information for their own campaigning, and that what I write sometimes helps people to understand or clarify issues. The blog is read all over the world. I feel it is important that the disenfranchised, disempowered and increasingly stigmatised and marginalised people in an increasingly undemocratic Britain have a collective voice and witnesses – not just through my own blog, but through collaborative and collective work with others, too. I’m not claiming to “speak” for people, but I do reflect something of the times in which we are living, and hope to raise awareness that way.

Any advice for those starting out?

I guess it depends what your aim is. I tell the truth as I see it as best I can, and will always qualify my propositions. I’m not a writer that aims for being popular or one that seeks agreement from an audience. But I do hope that my work finds resonance with people reading it. I’ve been labelled “controversial” on more than one occasion, and a “scaremonger.” But regardless of agreement, if any of my work inspires critical thinking, and invites reasoned debate, well, that’s good enough for me.

Apart from All That Is Solid (of course), are there any blogs or other politics/comment websites you regularly follow?

I do read many, even ConservativeHome and other Tory sites, because it’s important to understand ideology and the key ideas that underpin current policies. I follow LSE Sociology, Global Research, Oxford Sociology, Psychologists Against Austerity, Pride’s Purge, Touchstone, JRF, Mainly Macro, David Blanchflower, Same Difference, Michael Meacher, Jayne Linney, Vox Political, Beastrabban, ilegal, Benefits and Work, Tax Research UK, Labour Press Team, The Labour Party, LabourList, Labour Uncut, Left Foot Forward, ECHR and several human rights blogs, and many more.

Do you also find social media useful for activist-y things?

Yes, it’s great for sharing ideas, information about events and protests, organising campaigns and collaborative work.

Do you think Labour/Labour activists made good use of social media during the election?

I think so, particularly successfully on Twitter, maybe that’s partly down to the demographics as the average Twitter user is younger and young people are probably more likely to vote Labour. I felt that many activists on Facebook also made outstanding efforts, using groups and communities for information sharing and debate. The factionalisation of the left was very apparent on Facebook, and often served to distract activists from delivering successful challenges to the right-wing. Aggressive attacks from some of the Green and SNP supporters were frustrating, and sometimes, highly unpleasant diversions.

I’m not sure that social media is useful in encouraging people who are politically disengaged to vote, the jury remains out on effectiveness in that regard. And rallying social media interactions, such as trending hashtags, as well as opinion polls, do not necessarily transform into real votes, as we learned. I think that the MSM has maintained its pivotal influence on voting behaviour, unfortunately. But that may change.

And - in a nutshell - how do you think Labour lost?

More like in a bombshell ... the well-established Tory lies about economic competency stuck and challenges to this were drowned out, especially in the media. I think that nationalism was also a significant factor, English anti-Scottish sentiment was very skilfully whipped up, framed and narrated by the Conservatives, to their advantage. Alex Massie said: “Nationalism is our new secular religion,” and the politics of identity suddenly defeats all comers.” Well, all but 3. And English nationalism was expressed in votes for the populist, anti-globalist UKIP party as well as the Tories. The Conservatives have a long history of designing and manipulating the social divisions and parochialism that they tend to thrive on. The persistent Tory and media barrage of invective against Miliband worked, as did the SNP’s loud public misrepresentation of Labour’s policies, coupled with Glittering Generalities regarding their own so-called progressiveness. Sadly, sound bites work, integrity and coherence is not enough. Labour need to be more canny.

Labour, with their internationalist values and genuinely progressive policies were drowned out, and need to develop a better understanding of (I hate to say it) PR approaches, and to formulate a bolder, clear, simple, captivating, glittering narrative that also conveys their core values, integrity and honesty. A purely rational approach doesn’t translate into votes.

Are you reading anything at the moment?

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Do you have a favourite novel?

I’d struggle choosing just one from the many that I have loved! I guess I’ve never been good at that kind of hierarchical ranking and organisation ;-)

Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major influence on how you think about the world?

Knots by R.D Laing

Who are your biggest intellectual influences?

Paulo Freire, Annie Besant, Erving Goffman, R.D Laing, Hannah Arendt, C.G Jung, Theodor Adorno, Antonio Gramsci, Peter Kropotkin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michael Polanyi, Alfred Schutz, Irving Velody, Eric Carlton, Guy Debord, Marshall McLuhan, amongst others.

What was the last film you saw?

Inland Empire (David Lynch)

How many political organisations have you been a member of?

CND, Anti-Nazi League (also involved in the Rock Against Racism movement) Community and Youth Workers Union (CYWU), Unite, and ... I joined the Labour Party In April 2015

Is there anything you particularly enjoy about political activity?

I see it as essential. I like the spirit of cooperation amongst people with mutual aims, the creativity and camaraderie that often arises, and the sense of community, when people work collectively for progressive and positive change.

Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?

Class and identity politics. It’s crucial to challenge cultural imperialism and oppression. However, identity politics tends to encourage individualism, isolation and self-reflection rather than a sense of solidarity with others. Many critics of identity politics resort to drawing on a competing politics of identity, too. It’s ultimately divisive. It promotes sectionalism over universalism. Class-based politics can also be reductive. UKIP, for example, claim to be a party for “ordinary” people, but don’t include migrants in that category. The white working-class is portrayed as an oppressed ethnic group. UKIP tend to stoke working-class prejudices about the middle-class, also, there’s a strong current of anti-intellectualism. But middle-class antagonism includes a tendency to regard the working-class as a static, caricaturing them as individuals with no potential in pre-determined roles.

The only perceived escape from that is to become a non-labouring, thinking member of the patronising middle-class. There is a view that working-class culture is pathological, generating middle-class moral outrage, political scapegoating, reflecting a heightened political authoritarianism. It’s an irony that the middle-class claim to liberal multicultural citizenship turns the working-class into “the other”, whilst at the same time condemning the working-class for othering migrants. There’s a crucial bridge to be built there, rather than seeing a perpetuation of the divisions.

Class identity is a tricky thing, too. I’m from a working-class background. My father was a self-educated trade unionist and a shop steward. I went to university and became a public sector “caring” professional on a middle-class income. But many like me are now queuing at food banks after losing their jobs through the austerity cuts, we never seem to consider the alienating realities of downward social mobility. I don’t feel I belong to any class. I think who we are is more important than what we are.

What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?

We need a strong, coherent left-wing alternative narrative to challenge Francis Fukuyama’s end of history thesis, and the neoliberal legacy, which has become political common sense. It’s important to continue to promote core ideas such as collectivism, democracy, equality, human rights, unity, internationalism, progressivism , cooperation, egalitarianism, reciprocal altruism, human/social potential and development, solidarity, Keynesianism, redistribution, liberty, fraternity, social justice, tolerance, diversity and so on.

What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?

Social Conservatism, and its tacit underpinning social Darwinism - an intrinsic part of the meritocracy script and justification narratives for crass inequalities and the status quo. Neoliberalism, with its competitive individualism, undemocratic shrunken state responsibilities and duties towards citizens, emphasis on exploitation and social injustice and its burgeoning elements of corruption, crony capitalism, vulture capitalism; its justification of privatisation, fiscal austerity (which is an intrinsic feature of neoliberalism and has nothing to do with economic necessity), deregulation, reductions of government spending.

I also think that there’s a growing global tendency towards authoritarianism and nationalism, that is closely linked with neoliberalism, which needs to be challenged.

Do you have any political heroes?

I tend not to idealise politicians, and mostly base my esteem on interaction and their responses, as well as their achievements, ideas and character. However, there are a few I respect and admire. My own MP, Kevan Jones; Ed Miliband; Michael Meacher; Jeremy Corbyn; Gordon Brown; Dame Anne Begg; Sheila Gilmore; John McDonnell; Debbie Abrahams; Tony Benn; Glenda Jackson, Baron Of Brighton - John Steven Bassam (opposition chief whip, HoL), Baroness Tonge (Liberal Democrat), amongst others

How about political villains?

I believe authoritarians, fascists and totalitarians are generally villains. I’ve never yet heard of a good form of tyranny.

Probably predictably, I nominate Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron and the Conservative Party in its entirety as perpetrators of political villainy. It doesn’t matter who leads the Tory party as they all share the same despotic tendency. Conservatism is the enclave for those with socially destructive dark triad personality traits (Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy). Tories share the same regressive social Darwinist ideology, so they will always formulate the same schema of policies that divide society into steep hierarchies of wealth and privilege, resulting in massive inequalities, suffering and poverty, lies, corruption and indifference to the majority of the publics’ needs.

What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?

Addressing inequality, poverty, and social injustice

If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?

Welfare. It’s such a fundamental civilised and civilising part of a first-world liberal democracy based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth – people pay taxes and national insurance towards their own provision, after all – and it is about shared public responsibility for people in a time of need. The state has a democratic duty to protect and promote the basic economic and social well-being of citizens, at the very least.

What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?

Research indicates that America is most often cited as the greatest threat to world peace, even by Americans. Whilst many claim that multiculturalism poses the biggest threat to world peace, I strongly disagree, I see that claim as simply a reflection of the white supremacist fascist mysticism, and an ideological attack on the culture of the left. It’s easy to mistake anomie with a fear of losing a cultural identity, too.

I think the Regan-Thatcher transatlantic political and economic legacy is the greatest threat to world peace. State-bashing neoliberalism and social conservatism are a disaster that leads to increasingly chaotic global circumstances – such as the 2nd great economic depression following the collapse of the Lehman Brothers. The US Senate's Levin–Coburn Report concluded that the crisis was the result of "high risk, complex financial products; undisclosed conflicts of interest; the failure of regulators, the credit rating agencies, and the market itself to rein in the excesses of Wall Street." All features and failings of neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is a form of economic imperialism that prompts government secrecy, rejects humanitarianism, encourages media propaganda, authoritarian surveillance of populations, exploitation, increasing impoverishment of the masses and exclusion of the majority of the global population, increasing erosion on civic liberties, genocide, and doesn’t even have the pretence of consensus. Neoliberalism is the ultimate “iron cage without spirit” It isn’t ethnic “others” that are corroding cultural and humane values or social and national cohesion: it’s neoliberalism.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Our lives are our message: learn to express yourself responsibly, kindly clearly, fully and authentically.

What is your favourite song?

It depends on my frame of mind and mood, I love music that spans many genres and time frames from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Tangerine Dream; Duke Ellington; the Beta Band; Julian Cope; Peter Warlock; the Velvet Underground and would be hard-pressed to choose just one favourite from such a range of so many.

Do you have a favourite video game?

Um ... Super Mario Bros. It’s the only one I ever played and really got the hang of. I also liked Civilization and LittleBigPlanet, but experience these things only through my children. Honest!

What do you consider the most important personal quality in others?

Integrity, sincerity

What personal fault in others do you most dislike?

Superficiality, pretentiousness

What, if anything, do you worry about?

The future.

And any pet peeves?

Credulity, wilful, stubborn ignorance, a refusal to learn and grow, reactive stupidity used as a defence to maintain prejudices and block out facts and any contrary evidence. It’s irresponsible.

What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?

Be kinder to my parents and always tell them how much they are appreciated.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

Reading, listening to music, playing music (mostly keyboards and sax), painting (mostly abstract), growing things – gardening, spending time with friends and family, watching films, walking in the woods and countryside.

What is your most treasured possession?

My CD collection, some of which I inherited from my father, and my musical instruments – particularly my Selmer saxophone.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Chocolate, cult films, and occasionally I like dancing around the house to slightly naff music.

The rest are x-rated ;-)

What talent would you most like to have?


If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true - apart from getting loads of money - what would you wish for?

Better health. Better still, a cure for autoimmune illnesses. I have Lupus.

Speaking of cash, how, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money?

I’d spend a lot more time in France, probably. I rather like the idea of setting up a media empire that diametrically opposes Murdochs’, and provided a clear alternative to the predominantly consensus-manufacturing journalists working for national newspapers, television and radio, who (still) tend to be overwhelmingly male, white, public school educated and middle class. It would be good to prise wide-open the narrow, rigid conservative agenda that has resulted in cultural hegemony, reasserting ethics, honesty and standards over the profit incentive.

If you could go for a drink with three people, past or present, who would they be?

I’ve chosen people from the past, as I can still ask people from the present to go for a drink - Doris Lessing, Henry Heap (a very dear friend, animal rights activist and undercover photographer), and my father.

And lastly ... Why are you Labour?

Labour Party core values are the closest to my own. I don’t regard a Labour government as an end to the fight for progressive change: I see it as the only viable starting point. Labour gave us all that is civilised – our post-war settlement. The current government is now dismantling all that it entailed: welfare, the NHS and legal aid.

I was disillusioned with Blair, especially regarding the Iraq war, but I also know that 140 Labour MPs voted against that war. I didn’t like the Third Way economic dimension to Blairism, but there were some excellent social policies formulated by the Blair administration. Despite two policies that I hated – the Antisocial Behaviour Act, and the anti-terrorism legislation, policies such as the Equality act, the Human Rights act, Every Child Matters, the Good Friday agreement, the Gender Recognition act, the Climate Change act, Freedom of Information act, Anti-Bribery act, animal welfare policies and the fox-hunting ban, amongst many others were very worthwhile achievements. Again, the current government is intent on dismantling most of these policies, indicating clearly, regardless of people’s perception of Blair, his social policies at least were definitely not conservative, neoliberal Thatcherite legacies as is often claimed. This said, just to clarify, I am not a Blairite.

Miliband ditched the Third Way approach, and moved further left, his redistributive tax policies in particular appealed to me. His principled stance on Syria impressed me, and it drew a clear line under the Blair era for many supporters. Miliband has a decency and honesty that also appealed to me, but this was something I feel many people missed, sadly.

Labour have not used Glittering Generalities as a propaganda technique like other parties claiming the progressive banner. Labour tried for a rational appeal, founded on integrity, which I appreciated. But many missed the message. We need more effective methods of delivering that message, and not a fundamental change to policy and core values.