Mark's Reviews > Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

Chavs by Owen   Jones
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's review
Jan 21, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: politics, favorite
Read from May 04 to June 10, 2012

I grew up on a council estate and I remember the people who live on them with great fondness. I didn’t really know I was working class as I hadn’t become aware of the rigid structure of our society but working class I was then and remain now. That same fondness was once felt across the board, maybe not in full but the majority of people knew that those who lived on council estates were the “salt of the earth”, “the wheels of the economy” or simply that they “loved their mum and would do owt for you”. Those days and those feelings are gone and they are not gone because the people on estates have suddenly changed.

What has changed is the representation of a whole class, a majority indeed of people across the entire medium of communication. There has been a concerted effort on the part of politicians and media institutions to label the entire working class as cheaters, swindlers, oafs, alcoholic, racist, violent thugs who are a burden on our economy and our public services. This didn’t happen overnight, it is a steady drip, drip of misinformation and accusation that has gathered pace over the years. It started with Margaret Thatcher and her “liberalisation” agenda. The privatisation of public services coupled with the decimation of manufacturing created a cocktail of terror in the heartlands of northern England particularly and the rest of the country generally. In coal mining towns, all there was, was the coal mine. To de-industrialise alone without giving thought to re-energising those areas was positively criminal and has resulted in huge swathes of people who have been lost to our modern, allegedly burgeoning society. That is just one way the Tories, and Labour after them ruined the lives of countless ordinary people.

The trick however wasn’t to attack the working class employment alone, it was to turn the rest of society against them. Once these people couldn’t get work, it was their own fault we are told, and the tabloids jump on any “benefit cheat” story they can lay their hands on to which the end point is always, “they’re all like this”. Since then we have let government get away with this “you’re poor and it’s your fault” attitude. The fact that over half of all politicians in the House of Commons went to public (private, in reality) schools should give some idea of why this has come about, they are also paid a minimum of £68,000 per annum putting them in the top 9% of workers in the country. Ever since the poor acquired the vote the ruling class has been terrified of the power of democracy, so what do they do? Instead of governing in the interests of the majority they take away their options. Is it any wonder that the bottom decile of the population have the fewest people who go and vote? There is no one who represents their views and when that happens the far right will be the first shoulder to cry on as it fills a vacuum in its own cowardly way.

The media, also highly public school oriented, is equally culpable. When was the last time you saw a working class person on TV, a real one? That means not some sick Little Britain sketch that pokes fun at socially retarded single mothers, or the caricatures we see on the Jeremy Kyle show (other exploitative chat shows are available). It’s almost impossible to find any non-derogatory representation for the majority of society on our main medium of communication. When the BBC had its white-working-class season they had programmes made by and for the chattering classes as though working men and women were there to be poked with sticks and observed like some new species discovered in the jungles of Borneo. We have an elite media, reporting on an elite governing class who in turn carry out policies for elite corporate employers which are reported back to the general population by those same elite media operatives, where do working people get a look in?

Owen Jones book gets to the very heart of this subject with his passionate prose and elucidates the argument much better than I can. He crystallises the debate well through interviews with people on all sides of the class spectrum while proving his overriding point that the criticism levelled at the working class for the past 30 years has been false, misguided and unfair. He calls for a new politics of understanding and fairness, a change to the rigidity of society that only occasionally lets a poor person in to it to spice up the gene pool.

The best trick of all was getting the working class to fight among themselves for the scraps that fall from the top table to the floor, and getting the middle classes to think that it’s the ones at the bottom that is ripping them off. Benefit fraud comes to virtually nothing when compared with tax evasion and avoidance by the rich, but when was the last time Philip Green, The Barclay Brothers, Lord Rothemere and their ilk were on the cover of tabloids for the amount they rip us all off? They never are because we have the powerful people in power and other powerful people checking up on powerful people and it’s in all their interests to change nothing. In the working class they found their perfect scapegoat to keep their sordid little racket going, and everyone fell for it.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Barry Great review - thanks for sharing

Mark Thanks Barry.

message 3: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee eye opening book and review...

message 4: by Petra Eggs (new)

Petra Eggs Really great review.

Mark Thanks.

Mark Thanks for your comment. I have read a study explaining how wages in America for the majority of people haven't risen, in real terms, since 1974 while the wealth of those at the top has increased by thousands of percentage points.

One of the things a ruling class will do is try and turn elements of the working class against one another. People of all creeds, colours and religions have to come together to fight the common enemy of vested interest above. The whole working class is stronger together than divided.

message 7: by Manda (new) - added it

Manda Fantastic review, I look forward to reading the book more now.

Mark Thanks. I Understand there is a new edition out now with an updated preface.

Leftbanker First of all, fantastic review and this is worth reading on its own merit. What I find really terrifying is how today we have changed the goalposts about what it means to be rich. Back 30 years ago rich meant having 2-3 cars, sometimes flying first class, and maybe a vacation home somewhere. Now we have this new billionaire class (or bazillionaire, gazillionaire in pop parlance), people who have their own airliner-size private jets and 5 mega-mansions. These folks are now completely embedded in our pop culture and are referenced as the new norm in TV, movies, and books. They are portrayed as just harder working models of the rest of us. Meanwhile, the poor keep having to do with a lot less: less money, less education, less (or zero) healthcare and then we wonder why they can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and be more like Trump and Co.

The big difference between today (at least in America) and France circa 1790 is that the proles (or Chavs) are armed to the freaking teeth. What will happen if they turn their anger towards the people who have really put it to them over the past 30 years?

message 10: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Thanks for your comment. There has been a deliberate redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, this trend is continuing and there has to be a tipping point. I'm amazed we haven't reached it yet; and I wonder how far the capitalist class can push the ordinary people before they snap. It will happen, there is no "stop" button on the system, they will take until they can no longer take because of some kind of proletarian revolution or a massive climate based catastrophe.

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