Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, By Owen Jones
The chavs and the chav-nots
Sunday 05 June 2011
Owen Jones says that the people we used to call working class have been demonised and excluded from political power and are openly laughed at by those with the wealth and the privilege, who make half-jokes about the closure of Woolworths: "Where will all the chavs get their Christmas presents?"
He's very good on how that happened, politically, but weak on the origins of the word and why it is used that way. And although Jones calls for working-class people to be heard, they aren't very often even in his own book.
Sometimes he holds one up, wriggling: "When I asked Carl Leishman, the 28-year-old call centre worker from County Durham, if he felt that working-class people were represented in society, he laughed at the absurdity of the question. 'No. Not at all!'" But mostly, Jones's treatment of the life and death of Jade Goody is typical: he may have talked to someone directly involved, but he tells the story by quoting newspaper columnists again and again – and then saying they know nothing. It's stupid, most of all when he attacks a Guardian writer for being out of touch because he went to Oxford. Jones went to Oxford, too.
Personally, I get most annoyed when Jones writes about the search for Shannon Matthews, wondering why her community was vilified in contrast to that of nice, middle-class Madeleine McCann. It's a fair point – and one I made in a piece for this newspaper at the time, which he quotes. But Jones says that journalists sent to cover the story entered a world as alien to them as front-line Afghanistan. "You will struggle to find anyone writing or broadcasting news who grew up somewhere even remotely like the Dewsbury Moor estate." Sorry, but I did. I read Jones's book in just such a place, as it happens, while staying with relatives. And I met other reporters in Dewsbury who knew the territory well.
So this "damning indictment of the media and political establishment" falls early, tripped by lazy generalisation and over-reliance on newspaper cuttings. Jones comes across as part of that which he seeks to indict. It's a shame because he is, broadly speaking, right.
His political analysis is strong. He describes how those unable to haul themselves into the middle class have been abandoned by politicians, and subsequently given up voting. He makes a compelling call for the Labour movement to reinvent itself and embrace them again. This should be an influential book, just for that. And I've no doubt that Jones will put his energy where his mouth is. He gives the game away, saying: "You are more likely to make it to Parliament if you are a middle-class, Oxbridge-educated former Special Advisor these days." He may be from Stockport but he's got the right CV. This is his job application. Someone give him a safe seat, quick, and let's hope that he can deliver on his promises as a politician.
Cole Moreton is the author of Is God Still an Englishman?: How Britain Lost its Faith (But Found New Soul), now available in paperback (Abacus)
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