Julie Burchill: It's time to tackle the chav-baiters

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The Independent Online

Chavs really are the gifts that keep on giving – in their case, giving utterly worthless people the chance to lash out at an underprivileged group without feeling the hot hand of the law on their cold shoulder. The latest to point the finger is the actress Jane Horrocks, who spoke thus in a recent interview with the Radio Times: "There's always a set type of people doing their shopping according to the time or the day, whether it's pensioners holding everyone up or screeching kids. Or sometimes you can have rather a lot of chavs in, and that gets a bit scary."

Pensioners, children, the working class... what a delicate little flower Miss Horrocks must be, the mental equivalent of the unfortunate Boy In The Bubble. (Or taking into consideration the character she played in Ab Fab, the Bubble In The Hoi Polloi.) One imagines her wincing in pain when confronted with human-types who do not possess an Equity card. And her snobbishness is accompanied by hypocrisy, as she has done so well from the Tesco commercials that she has dubbed her London home "Tesco Towers". Makes you think of the old Noel Coward line about TV not being for watching, but for appearing on. Except in Horrocks case it seems that Tesco is not for shopping in, but for appearing to be shopping in.

It's pathetic enough for well-paid actors to take advertising work in the first place ("Do a commercial, you're off the artistic roll-call, every word you say is suspect, you're a corporate whore, end of story" – Bill Hicks) but to then bite the hand that feeds their BS to the masses is truly revolting. Still, what do you expect from a chav-baiter?

Chav-defenders for a long time have concentrated on the merits of the victimised, from myself and the great Michael Collins, whose 2004 book The Likes Of Us remains the last word on the subject, to Owen Jones, whose recent book Chavs: The Demonization Of The Working Class managed the remarkable feat of turning a fascinating, passionate debate into an argument as arid and abstract as a bitch fight between AC Grayling and Terry Eagleton. (While also, if I may be a prima donna for a moment, never once mentioning the work of Mr Collins and myself, who have been writing about this subject since Mr Jones was in short trousers. Is it because we is chavs, one wonders?)

But the time has come to take the focus off the chavs and turn it on their taunters. Of course there will be the odd exception, such as the hardworking, fun-loving and sexy Miss Horrocks, but I have noticed many times over the past decade that chav-baiters are often joyless, sex-starved skinflints who envy chavs more than they despise them. I've also noticed that a large number of those who use the word are people who would be considered at the bottom end of the social scale themselves.

When the word first came into popular use I remember being incredulous that it was the prostitutes and welfare mothers among my crowd who were fond of writing off others in similar straits as chavs rather than my public school girlfriends – a paradox I found really quite disquieting until I decided that there really was nowt so queer as folk who were keen to feel better about themselves by looking down on others.

So yes, any stuck-up halfwit out there who still uses this vile word, don't feel proud of yourselves. You condemn yourself, not others, every time you say it. But that's a good thing, as when it comes to identifying the social racists among us, every little helps.

French burka ban is Liberty's gain

Talking of retail therapy, perhaps Jane Horrocks might prefer the distinctly classy company that the French burka ban has passed our way? Liberty and Selfridges have both seen an upswing in the number of international visitors to their sumptuous stores of 45 and 40 per cent respectively. Middle Eastern shoppers, especially from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are the main part of this spending spree, parting with a whopping £1,800 per outing as opposed to a modest £120 from native shoppers. In the second half of July, pre-Ramadan, luxury sales to Middle Eastern customers will exceed £200m.

We are often fed the narrative of the Arab nations as part of the wretched of the earth, up there with starving Africa when it comes to being done over by capitalism and imperialism. How cheering to see that the excesses of their filthy rich far exceed those of ours, even though it does seem to be largely at the expense of the illiteracy, poverty and hopelessness of the Arab poor.

No, tell a lie, ISRAEL DID ALL THAT! No doubt it will soon be revealed that it is the Zionists who are doing their damnedest to keep international aid out of Somalia too, rather than the poor innocent Islamists currently taking the rap.

A father worthy of Miss Winehouse

One of the most cretinous things I've ever heard anyone say about death was Keith Richards' pronouncement on the public grieving over the death of Diana, proving even when ex-junkies are smart, they're pretty dumb – "I never knew the chick". How much more human and empathic were Mitch Winehouse's words to the strangers who came to mourn his daughter: "You people in the street – I can't tell you what this means to us. It really is making it a lot easier for us. We're devastated and I'm speechless, but thanks for coming."

At a time when the famous believe it is their right to scrabble for attention like pole-dancers on steroids on the way up and act like outraged dowagers if their privacy is invaded once they have arrived, this was such a lovely thing to say. Not only was his girl a credit to him, with her boundless talent, but Mr Winehouse, with those words, became a father worthy of this most excellent of artists. Rest in peace, brilliant one.