Date finished: May 21st 2015
2015’s been an interesting year for British politics so far. Nigel Farage resigned from his own party only to have his party reject the resignation, the Labour party is now led by a man who was only nominated for the role to inject the leadership campaign with a rounder spread of views, and the PM was recently accused of having stuck his member in the head of a dead pig when he was young. It’s against this backdrop that Owen Jones’ second book, The Establishment, has become evermore relevant.
In brief, Jones explores the overriding philosophies and hypocrisies of the British elite, and the relationship between successive governments and other powerful groups such as the media, police, and big business. What emerges is an enraging insight into the seamy underbelly of British politics.
Jones introduces us to the concept of the Overton Window: the idea that there is a range of political issues that are acceptable at a time and anything outside this range at this time is deemed radical. The Overton Window, he shows, has been slowly moved to the right in the last couple of decades. Hence, we can see why former Labour leader Ed Miliband was nicknamed Red Ed for his unremarkable stance on a freeze on Energy rates, or why Jeremy Corbyn, a man who was more or less a bog-standard Labour MP in the seventies can now be labelled ‘radical’ and ‘left-wing’ by the press.
After this, he moves on to the dodgy circles in which MPs move. Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary when the Tories were in opposition, accepted a £21,000 donation from a private healthcare firm – somewhat worrying in a man charged with safeguarding the NHS. Former Health secretary Patricia Hewitt also cashed in on her status after leaving the position, becoming involved with many private healthcare companies. The staggering hypocrisy of the MP expenses scandal in which those who advocated rolling back the state were the ones milking it most fervently in order to finance their moats and duck houses.
We then move onto the revolving door relationship of government with the media. For example, Tony Blair is the godfather of James Murdoch’s son. Numerous journalists have jumped into political posts, but more disturbingly many supposedly-impartial reporters have secretly written speeches for MPs on the side. Some like Daniel Finkelstein have been more brazen about it, holding the position of director of the Conservative Research Department under John Major, political advisor to William Hague, running as a Conservative candidate in the 2001 election, becoming a Baron in the House of Lords and being implicated in the Leveson Inquiry, all whilst climbing the ladder at The Times newspaper.
I could wax lyrical about the countless examples of conflicts of interest, hypocrisy and dirty shenanigans that this book reveals but that would defeat the point. Jones forms a lucid history – from the radical free market think tanks to the 2010 coalition – of why our government has come to run in the way it does, and presents a coherent argument as to why this is fundamentally wrong. This is a book that makes things fall into place, and explains why we’re in the mess we’re in.
I would say it’s unputdownable, but that would be a lie as I often found myself so angry that I had to close it and calm down. It is, however, a fascinating, comprehensive and incredibly well-written book, although you won’t mind because pure rage will propel you through its pages in a matter of days. It’s a book that will change the way you look at politics, and if enough people read it, perhaps we can work together to change those politics.
10/10 – and the best book I’ve read all year.