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The Overton Window PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Boardman   
Sunday, 17 April 2016 14:25

I have finally got around to reading ‘The Establishment’ by Owen Jones (ISBN 978-0-141-97499-6).

It is a truly remarkable read; each chapter is a chilling descent into the murky and dodgy world of The Establishment.

In the forward Jones gives the game away on how The Establishment controls the public perception regarding political change with the ‘Overton Window’. I have lifted the relevant extract and placed it below:

“As far as changing both system and behaviour are concerned, some right-wing and liberal critics have suggested that actually my solutions are pretty timid. This, I have to say, is the point. In the book, I express my deep attraction to the idea of the 'Overton Window', a concept invented by US conservatives to describe what is deemed politically possible at any given time. This 'window' is relentlessly policed. So, when Labour's Ed Miliband proposes a temporary energy price freeze - a welcome, albeit pretty unremarkable, policy - it is portrayed by media and right-wing politicians as crypto-Marxism, even though most voters support a far more radical option: renationalizing the energy industry lock, stock and barrel. But policing the 'window' helps ensure that neo-liberal ideas generally favoured by the Establishment are deemed moderate and common-sense; anything that even slightly deviates is written off as beyond the pale. So, for my suggested policies - like democratic public ownership, hiking taxes on the rich, granting workers' rights, and selective capital controls - to be portrayed as rather timid by defenders of the status quo ... well, that helps to shift the Overton Window.

“Of course, my proposed 'democratic revolution' does not go as far as I would like. In time, I would like Britain - and indeed other countries - to be run in the interests of people's needs and aspirations, rather than on the basis of profit for a small elite; for society to be democratically managed by working people; for democracy to be extended as far as possible, including in the workplace and the economy. Such a society may not be built in my lifetime. But my aim is to reverse the achievements of the neo-liberal outriders: to shift the Overton Window in a different direction. Doing so will open up more radical possibilities. What is now seen as completely extreme would become fringe, and then radical, and then controversial, and then common-sense. We live in a time of Establishment triumphalism, when other ways of running society are portrayed as unthinkable. That triumphalism must be chipped away if we are to build a different sort of society.”

From my own perception perhaps the ‘Overton Window’ effect explains why comrades on one margin of the Labour Party are timid in their approach to social and economic change. But more importantly it underlines to me, why Jeremy Corbyn is the essential player, if we wish to create a new widow for the social and economic advancement of the many.


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