REVIEW: “Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class”

by Owen Jones.

I had come across this book on various occasions through web-sellers such as Amazon and Waterstones , yet, despite its promotion as the ‘No.1 Politics Book of the Year’, I had always resisted purchasing it. To be absolutely truthful, I initially thought the title was odd, presuming the content of the book to be of the same nature; however, I eventually took the leap and bought the book at £9.99 from the Politics Museum in Manchester, (which by the way is an enjoyable place to kill three hours), as I was having a gander through the souvenir shop.

Before opening the book, I was unsure of what the authors purpose of the book actually was; I initially interpreted the title as suggesting a vicious narrative that potentially applauded the ‘Chav’ stereotype, however, once I had read the ‘New Preface’ of the latest edition, I was certainly convinced otherwise. The book, as I was later to find out, was a declamation of defence for the modern British working class, alternatively know as the ‘Chav class’.

Now the book is definitely left wing and at times fiercely criticises the legacy of Thatcherism on the British working class, and it works strongly to decimate the integrity of New Labour for abandoning its core voters and its political roots. Some aspects of the book is undoubtedly exaggerated, and the political outlook of the Owen Jones does come across very openly without an ounce of impartiality. However, the book did make some very profound and convincing arguments regarding the ‘chav’ caricature which made me reflect on my own past judgement, and presumptive opinions.

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The book covers the diminished legacy of the British working class and focuses on the socio-economic causes which have led to their demise. Jones discusses the privatisation of industry during the Thatcher years which undermined the unity of many towns, leaving a younger generation jobless with limited prosperity; there is discussion over the closure of mines, the privatisation of council property specifically the ‘right-to-buy’ scheme, and rising unemployment which Jones attributes to a neo-liberal vision of Thatcher and Blair

It also documents the impact of immigration on voting patterns, highlighting the shift of traditional Labour supporters who now vote BNP or UKIP, focusing specifically on the 2010 General Election; I was specifically inspired by Owen Jones’ analysis of this issue which suggests that the traditional left previously emphasised capitalism as the cause of working class despair, however, the modernisation of the left and Labour specifically, followed by its abandonment of these core values has meant immigration now replaced capitalism as the economic scapegoat. Jones argues we are now left with rising racism and far-right fringe groups who are supported by a group of Britons that feel disconnected from the politicians which once advocated their defence. A valid point indeed.

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Moreover, I was similarly impressed by his comparison of the disappearances of Madelaine Mc Cann and Shannon Matthews, and the subsequent response both cases received in the press. Madelaine, a daughter of two health professionals and an emblem of the middle class, received vast amounts of public and political sympathy; Shannon’s kidnapping, perversely, was treated as the fault of ‘that chav class’ who ‘can’t look after their own’. Once it was discovered Shannon had been kidnapped by her parents, it gave the middle class press open invitation to ridicule the ‘chavs’ in the most dehumanising fashion. I had never previously considered this contrast, probably due to the fault of my own prejudices, however Jones makes use of sound evidence from the Daily Mail and other newspapers which dramatically increased his arguments authenticity.

****

The book, on the whole is a good read, and is fairly fast paced and coherent. As I have stated previously, it does have a a left-leaning scent to it so if you are firmly on the right side of things, it may not be for you! I do think Owen Jones has successfully demonstrated that what was once a proud British working class that was respected, has now progressed into a source of mockery and contempt that is generalised under the banner ‘chav’.

Jones has definitely encouraged me to question my own usage of this label, and certainly to think more considerately about its purpose in society and the ways it stigmatises the lower working classes.

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