‘The Establishment: And how they get away with it’ -Owen Jones

December 13, 2021 10:18
Photo: Reuters

When watching gaffe after gaffe from Boris “Peppa Pig World; A COVID-Free Christmas is on its way” Johnson, one can’t help but think – how does he get away with it? More broadly, how does the Establishment get away with it – the deceit, the conceit, and the fait accompli resignation that the crowd indulges in in response to another outrageous gesture or act from the state. One can’t be blamed for wondering – have we all gone absolutely, completely bonkers?

Then there’s Jacob Rees-Mogg’s lamentation over MPs being required to wear masks – Boohoo! Apparently basic scientific reasoning and hygiene is not one of the prerequisites for representing the public will; and perhaps that’s right… the constituents backing these MPs frankly haven’t a clue when it comes to such superfluous add-ons: why bother with reasoning and rationality, when impulsive emotions would do?

Writer and journalist Owen Jones’ “The Establishment: And how they get away with it” offers a powerful indictment of the British establishment. I have my reservations about Jones’ campaigning, advocacy, and ideological positions, but there are a few lessons that could very well be extracted from one’s perusing his excellent and timely read – published by Allen Lane in 2014.

The first, is that politicians in the Establishment often maintain their grip over power through ideological and academic instruments of legitimation – whether it be think-tanks and survey centers whose polling yields favourable outcomes that perennially legitimise what they were designed to establish; or the manipulation and funding of mass media to perpetuate dangerous myths and narratives concerning disenfranchised groups, or, indeed, the fuelling of populist rhetoric in support of specific partisan objectives, thinly disguised as ostensibly democratic pursuits. The best of the elite legitimise their rule subtly and tacitly – not through bombastic slogans or apparently, grossly uninformed propaganda that convinces no one, but, instead, through the taciturn wielding of popular opinions against their enemies. In the case of Britain, the Establishment denotes the neoliberal consensus convergent upon laisseiz-faire economics – at least that was the case at the time when Jones penned his book, though one could reasonably argue that the scope has since then broadened to include elite Brexiteers who delight in manipulating Eurosceptic working-class individuals in order to advance their targeted point-scoring and hackery against rivals within the Conservative and Labour parties.

Elsewhere in the world, it’s not hard to see the same tricks being adopted by the Establishment parties of different polities and countries. From corrupt officials embezzling large sums of money and funnelling them into supporting their corrupt friends’ (re-)election efforts, to establishment think-tanks and mouthpieces serving to reinforce the officially sanctioned narrative – there is much to be desired from dogmatically establishmentarian parties across the world. Consider the US, for one, where the Washington D.C. consensus leaves limited to no room for dissent from grassroots, alienated voters – including many who have, since the advent of the 21st century and social media, turned to fake news and alt-right echo chambers as a retaliatory gesture against the unyielding Establishment.

The second lesson, is the extent to which the British police force has been complicit in the perpetration of violence and subjugation at critical junctures. Jones does not make the sweeping generalization that all inspectors and constables are evil; nor does he believe, indeed, that the police force is structurally beyond repair. He does, however, observe that there exist political changes and transformations that have rendered the police force driven by consent of “shareholders”, and not “communities”. The dismantling of community policing efforts, the imposition of market routines and models in the regulation of the police force, and the undermining of transparency mechanisms have left the British police force less accountable, and more beholden than ever to the interests of select groups in entrenched power.

The same could indeed be said of the role played by the forces across jurisdictions and countries all over the world. In America, the police has become an extension – in some states – of a white-supremacist establishment, one founded upon a distinctive blend of polite racism and impolite exclusion of vulnerable communities. In Europe, persons of colour have found themselves increasingly targeted for their race and ethnicities, as well as religious practices, at the hands of particular members of the police forces. None of this need suggest that the police is corrupt beyond redemption – but it does suggest that the police forces are in for some proper redress and reforms.

Finally, Jones takes aim at the tycoons and tax dodgers. Surprisingly – or not – it turns out that the problem of unrepentant capitalists is a ubiquitous phenomenon; one that afflicts all corners and parts of our world. From kleptocratic individuals in cahoots with the political establishment, to erstwhile regulators and activists now tucked comfortably in bed with their bankrollers, to those who turn a blind eye to oligarchs and monopolies dominating non-strategic sectors, it is apparent that the market has gone too far – thanks to the passivity and tolerance of the establishment.

The Establishment gets away with a lot… and it is high time that we sought to rectify such injustice. The answer lies not with overthrowing or thwarting the Establishment, but with reforming it from within. Now this part comes from me – and not Owen Jones.

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Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Political Review