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

Clearly written, well-research and sticking to its argument ... and yet, maybe my expectations were too high, maybe it was the Britishness of it (quite often I didn't recognise the names he mentioned and so couldn't tell if the quick character sketches were clever, or just pretending to be) or maybe it was just that if you've been around the last twenty years and paying attention, none of this was news.


I started off reading intently and ended by skimming.


If you're right wing, don't read this at all.


Thinking about the book, the premise seems to be that there's a conspiracy and "they" are all in it: the media, government, police, financial circles, ... but it's not really a conspiracy, more a way of thinking.


The point Owen Jones makes, that ideas have power, is both obvious and vital. By controlling the public discourse, ideas make other ideas unthinkable. And of course, all ideas are communicated by people. In effect, he argues that a discourse favourable to those in power is currently reigning unopposed, "that there is no alternative" is one of its key planks.


The hypocrisy of any ideology, the conflicts within it that can tear it apart, aren't really exposed. They're there in the book, but the book's aim is to lay out the evidence of a solitary discourse controlling (sometimes physically) Britain. However, solid research does turn up gems. In commenting on the contradiction of philanthropy going hand in hand with not paying taxes, Jones quotes the mid twentieth century British Prime Minister, Attlee, "Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim." This is a nice balance, a reminder that the Establishment, within itself, holds competing values. And this is a point Jones makes.


The book left me both disappointed (nothing new here) and challenged. Do I really believe that there is no competing discourse, or one so muted and hamstrung as to be ineffectual? Actually, I don't -- but that's a political discussion and something I promised myself I wouldn't indulge in online :)