…And how they get away with it. By Owen Jones.
This was not an easy book to read; not calming or uplifting. Jones sets out a tale of how, over the course of more than forty years, an elite, privileged few set about neutralising democracy and helping themselves to power and wealth at the expense of the rest of us.
At a high level, there’s very little in the book that I wasn’t at least vaguely aware of. But Owen Jones has been meticulous in his research; and conducted candid interviews with people who have first-hand experience of the processes and behaviours that the media try so hard to hide from view. Some of the interviewees were victims of the establishment. Others were in positions of power – and some of them still are, and continue to behave in ways that are harmful to society as a whole ( but make which make themselves and their peers ever richer), often with only a limited understanding of the effect their behaviour is having. Jones’ research has teased out a relentless stream of fascinating and infuriating detail. I found it difficult to put the book down, which for a work of non-fiction (if only it were fiction!) is high praise. And yet, despite being addictive, reading it feels just a little bit like self-harm. With each new revelation I found myself thinking ‘wow – I must try to remember that!’ (swiftly followed by ‘I’m not going to remember that!’) So many facts, but it’s all pulled together with great skill.
There are themes running through the book. One is the idea of how the establishment use scapegoats (such as the unemployed, trade unions or immigrants) to direct the public’s attention and anger away from their own nefarious activities. Another is the idea that while corporate interests are constantly chipping away at the state, promoting ever greater cuts in public spending, they themselves are being subsidised from the public purse at a level that actually dwarfs spending on public services. I was struck by his portrayal of those three letters ‘NHS’ having become little more than a logo behind which corporate interests operate, hidden from the view of an unsuspecting public. David Cameron said, I believe, that the NHS was safe in his hands. Owen Jones details the wide-scale of part-privatisations that have in many cases gone unreported.
As someone who follows anti-establishment commentary in preference to the conventional (establishment) media, I thought I knew a bit about the injustices in British society. But in this book I found plenty of revelations. For instance, after Ed Milliband was elected as leader of the Labour party there was a widely held view that they had picked the wrong brother. Owen Jones claims that after losing the election, David Milliband threw all his energy ‘into building an impressive portfolio of business interests’, and that he ‘made around one million pounds between his failed leadership bid in 2010 and his departure from the commons some two-and-a-half years later’. Perhaps Labour chose the right brother after all!
Politicians, the media, the police, big business, the city of London – one by one the groups that hold power and control our lives are shown to be corrupt; driven by self-interest to damage our economy, our environment, our society – who cares, so long as they get ever richer? I’m not sure I should be reading this kind of material. I have a keen sense of injustice – indignation is something I’m rather too good at. But then, Owen Jones’ scientific approach might have helped me to go beyond indignation and become more objective. And after two-hundred-and-ninety-two pages explaining what an unassailable and merciless grip the establishment has on society, he manages to end the book on an optimistic note, telling us how history shows that situations which seem permanent and irreversible can change – and often quite quickly. He suggests ways in which the status quo might be broken, and how we might build a better, fairer society
I’m glad that I’ve finished the book, but I’m also glad that I read it. Everyone should read this book, and it should be part of the school curriculum…