Owen Jones and the Empty Chair

13/06/2016 12:32 | Updated 13 June 2016

It is a rare, difficult and beautiful thing to grasp the interconnectedness of political struggles. To see that when one group is marginalised or attacked, then this should be seen as a problem for all of us. We are lucky to have many activists who achieve this, people who are often unknown and unsung but who spend entire lifetimes reaching beyond personal interest to speak truth to power and make common cause with others.

Once in a while, a person with such gifts finds a public platform and so, speaks for the rest of us. I have never met Owen Jones personally, but I can't tell you how often his name comes up in planning meetings for progressive campaign events. Let's ask Owen Jones to speak, someone will say, to murmurs of hopeful approval. It's a heavy load for one person, and Owen would be the first to remind us that he is not alone.

There is a danger in turning any single commentator into a spokesperson or star, and we should avoid it. There are others who wish to speak and act too, and it's up to us to find and appreciate them, even as we work to develop the same powers in ourselves. But this morning, I want to defend Owen Jones. He has defended the rest of us time and again.

As news of the attack on a gay club in Orlando came through, I noted three posts on Jones's public Facebook page. The first was an invitation to join the London LGBTI tribute to the victims of the attack on the gay nightclub Pulse, in Orlando. The second showed Owen's love of London, and once again, his wonderful ability to refuse the politics of fear and hate, and to hold to that interconnectedness of people, communities and struggle. "Proud to live in an incredible city with a Muslim mayor who fought and voted for LGBT people to have the same rights as everybody." The third showed his very real personal pain when he let his Facebook followers know that he would be appearing on the Sky News press preview: "Messed up about it but will do my best."

It was painful to watch a press review in which host Mark Longhurst and co-presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer failed to see the hugely important and unavoidable fact that Orlando was a homophobic hate crime, one of the worst attacks on LGBT people in living memory. This fact, together with America's terrible gun problem, will be the two points most at risk in the coming days, as there is a rush to judgment that may well have terrible repercussions for both LGBT people and Muslims.

This morning, Jones has already disassociated himself from social media attacks on Hartley-Brewer, while asserting simply and clearly again that Orlando must be seen as an attack on LGBT people. True to form, he does not want the issue to become about him, or an excuse to attack his fellow guest. Of course, he is right on both counts.

But Owen, I do want to pause to defend you, as you have so often defended the rest of us. Thank you for turning up, and thank you too, for walking out. It was the best way to make your point. When I tuned in an hour later for round two of the Sky press review, your empty chair was a most eloquent statement on behalf of LGBT people.

Enough said about Owen Jones and last night's television. The rest of us have work to do. If ever there was a time for that notion of interconnectedness, it is now.