Archive for the ‘chavs’ Category
On reflection perhaps picking a subject as controversial as class for a first book was a bit cocky, particularly given I’m 26 and look about half that (“why isn’t Owen Jones doing his paper-round?” asked someone on Twitter when I appeared on Channel 4’s now deceased 10 O’Clock Live). At first I thought the book might just get a cursory mention in the odd column. But as it began to be taken up by every national newspaper I remembered a story I once heard: former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell’s wife turned to him after a speech and said: “The wrong people are clapping.” What if the wrong people (i.e. not the Daily Mail) started booing?
The book had a straightforward aim: a contribution, no matter how limited or modest, to reopening a debate about class that has been shut down by the political and media establishment throughout my lifetime. But the reality is that the attention Chavs received far exceeded my expectations because class had already crept back on to the agenda. Indeed, if Chavs had been released just three or four years ago, it might have expected about half the coverage, even though the “chav” term was far fresher and – quite possibly – in broader circulation.
Read the rest of the article at the New Humanist website
One of the most frequent criticisms of my book is that it supposedly conflates ‘chav’ and ‘working-class’. They are two completely different things, the critics say. ‘Chav’ is a word widely used – and that includes by working-class people as well as middle-class people. Indeed it’s argued that working-class people hate ‘chavs’ – so in what meaningful sense can ‘chav’ be used to demonise working-class people?
Although the book is called Chavs: The Demonization of the Working-Class, it could easily have been called The Demonization of Working-Class Identity (not as catchy, admittedly). Polling organisation BritainThinks has just conducted a detailed survey into attitudes to class: a staggering 71% self-identified as middle-class, compared to just 24% who felt they had any working-class identity. But the most interesting – and disturbing – finding in my view was this:
There was a strong feeling in the focus groups that the noble tradition of a respectable and diligent working class was over. For the first time, I saw the “working class” tag used as a slur, equated with other class-based insults such as “chav”. I asked focus group members to make collages using newspaper and magazine clippings to show what the working class was. Many chose deeply unattractive images: flashy excess, cosmetic surgery gone wrong, tacky designer clothes, booze, drugs and overeating. By contrast, being middle class is about being, well, a bit classy.
The ‘working-class’ label was no longer something people felt that they could be proud of. Far from it: it had become effectively synonymous with ‘chav’. For that reason, many who most of us would describe as clearly working-class rejected the label because they felt it was a pejorative. The demonisation of working-class identity has had an impact on the attitudes of both and working-class and middle-class people. With a political consensus that we should aspire to become middle-class, and with few positive representations of working-class people, this is as unsurprising and it is depressing.
I’ve written a piece on BritainThinks’ report on attitudes to class in modern Britain; there’s others point I want to make, so I’ll cobble something more detailed together this week
“It’s not the existence of classes that threatens the unity of the nation, but the existence of class feeling.” Those words appeared in the Conservative Party’s statement of aims in 1976, just three years before Margaret Thatcher began to transform British society. The document’s authors would undoubtedly find much satisfaction in the complex and disturbing portrait of attitudes to class uncovered by the research firm BritainThinks in modern Britain.
The most striking finding is that fewer than a quarter of those surveyed define themselves as “working class”. The findings depend heavily on question wording. Ipsos MORI found that two-thirds described themselves as “working class and proud of it” in 2002; and the 2007 British Social Attitudes survey found that 57 per cent called themselves “working class” or “upper working class”.
Well, it’s been a hectic couple of weeks because of the publications of ‘Chavs’. If the book had one over-riding purpose, it was to be a modest contribution to kick-starting a long-neglected debate about class, as I wrote in a piece for the Indy.
Since my first update, there’s been lots of interesting stuff about the book – and themes of class – in the press. The Independent made it their ‘Book of the Week‘: Jon Cruddas’ review was very thoughtful and I’m glad he picked on the book’s key purpose – “to reintroduce class as a political variable.”
The Beeb had a really interesting and balanced overview of the word ‘chav’, featuring yours truly.
Suzanne Moore rightly called in the Guardian for the debate to be refocused away from simply debating the word ‘chav’, and back on to class.
In the Observer, Carole Cadwalladr had a brilliant piece looking at how the representation of working-class people on TV has changed.
In the Guardian, Lynsey Hanley wrote an extremely thoughtful, engaging review with lots of food for thought.
I wrote an article for The Sun – yes, really – about how working-class people are portrayed on the TV.
I was really pleased with Andrew Neather’s review in the Evening Standard, above all because he highlighted the book’s call for a new class politics.
In the Independent on Sunday, DJ Taylor backed my call for a national debate on class, although disagreeing with my own take – but of course that’s exactly how a debate will have to proceed!
On the other hand, libertarian website Spiked hated the book, although I was far from the only one amused by being portrayed as an apologist for Labour’s time in government (contrast with Cruddas’ criticism that “Apart from a fleeting aside about the minimum wage and public-services investment, there appears no redeeming element to 13 years of Labour rule”). The line that particularly made me spit out my tea was the revelation I was a “keen fan” of Beatrice Webb who – funnily enough – was savaged in an early draft for her eugenics.
There’s been some really interesting blog reviews too. Carl Packman, one of the cleverest and most thoughtful thinkers on the Labour left, had his take over at Though Cowards Flinch.
The prodigal Daniel Frost also wrote a fascinating piece over at ‘Musings of a Radical’.
I’ve started doing ‘Chavs’ events (which I’ll update asap) too. I was honoured to debate the book with Johann Hari and Suzanne Moore at the excellent Stoke Newington Festival last Saturday.
I’ve also done a lot of radio interviews and debates this week: a number of BBC local radios have been doing phone-in debates about class, which has been absolutely fantastic.
This week I’m doing Radio 2’s Nightwaves on Monday; the Jeremy Vine Show at 1pm on Wednesday; and Radio 5 Live at some point. I’ll try and keep it updated!
But above all I’d like to just try and encourage a debate about class, no matter how strongly that may mean people disagreeing with me.