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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important and readable...
'Chavs' is an important and readable book `Chavs' is shorthand for people who have been stigmatised as being idle, undeserving and socially undesirable. Its main thesis is that the returns to labour compared with the returns to capital have diverged sharply over the last 30/40 years, resulting in a vastly unequal society. A trend that successive governments, Conservative...
Published 24 months ago by os

727 of 813 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity
I've read some remarkable reviews of this book in the press, most of which comment on how acutely it makes its argument, the forensic detail with which Jones writes, and the wonderful style he employs. Unfortunately, I didn't see much of any of these, and ultimately found this book frustrating. Not because I disagreed with the overall argument - far from it - but rather...
Published on 8 Aug. 2011 by Christopher Pittard

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important and readable..., 31 May 2013
os - See all my reviews
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)
'Chavs' is an important and readable book `Chavs' is shorthand for people who have been stigmatised as being idle, undeserving and socially undesirable. Its main thesis is that the returns to labour compared with the returns to capital have diverged sharply over the last 30/40 years, resulting in a vastly unequal society. A trend that successive governments, Conservative and Labour governments have both conspired to encourage by a variety policy tools: mostly involving the tax and benefit system, council house sales, deregulation of financial markets and regular union 'bashing', to either help the rich to a bigger slice of the pie or deny those lower down the scale their former share of the goodies. Couple these policies with an ongoing propaganda war whose sole aim was to demonise, discredit and isolate the 'lower' classes and all their works and you effectively have a 'class war'.

'Chavs' could be read as one long anti-Thatcher rant. A more positive reading of the book would be to see it as a warning for the future. By creating an economic and social underclass, we are storing up the seeds for failure and extremism as a result of allowing the rich to 'get away with it' and the poor to 'pick up the tab' in the form of higher taxes, low wages and uncertainty of employment. Such great inequality in terms of wealth, income and opportunity is a form of injustice that will create problems that will only become more entrenched in society with time. Governments have tried to move away from the ideas of the immediate post -war period, such as the use of redistributive tax measures and improved welfare access to support the less well off and moved the agenda on ideas associated with the encouragement of enterprise, home ownership and education as a spur to greater individual, rather then collective endeavour. Suggesting that governments when faced with tough choices will favour the interests of capital rather then labour, and dress up this lack of nerve or particular ideological bent with arguments that highlight the benefits of personal gain over that of social welfare.

'Chavs' is a good read and a worthwhile introduction to the topic of post-war social policy. It is part an economic, political and sociological enquiry that wears its heart very much on its sleeve. It's failing is that is too much of a polemic and not enough of a rigorous analysis to be truly useful as a reference work. It does highlight one the main problems of post -war Britain with some success, though. How could the British economy be made to be more 'competitive' and orientated to the demands of the international marketplace yet at the same time keep prices down, employment up and incomes rising. Something had to give. Well, if the way forward was greater efficiency through greater investment then evidently labour rights had to be compromised, profits had to go relatively unmolested by the tax man and the government had to take a backseat and let business get on with the job of wealth creation. The British public had to see that the 'cake' would never get bigger through social welfarism, only through personal engagement with the market. Enter Margaret Thatcher. The rest is history...

So depending on your point of view, inequality is 'good' because it leads to greater individual enterprise or 'bad' because of the destruction of communities and individuals who are left behind when the economic tide goes out. I would have liked to see less repetition of particular statistics and arguments in the book as well as some scholarly reference to the many sociological and economic authors who have worked in this area. Some reference to Marx, Engels other such big guns might have given the work a more sturdy underpinning? Also, a little less idealisation of the working class would have been useful, along with perhaps with more defined idea of the different social, economic and cultural elements that make up the working classes.
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727 of 813 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity, 8 Aug. 2011
I've read some remarkable reviews of this book in the press, most of which comment on how acutely it makes its argument, the forensic detail with which Jones writes, and the wonderful style he employs. Unfortunately, I didn't see much of any of these, and ultimately found this book frustrating. Not because I disagreed with the overall argument - far from it - but rather because at times it's a blunt analysis framed bluntly. It left me feeling that we on the left really need a much better voice than this.

First, the good points, of which there are some. Jones starts promisingly with some astute points about Dewsbury and how it differs from the media representation during the Shannon Matthews case. An early chapter on 1980s contexts for modern class politics is passionate and useful, if something of a primer for those who have never heard of the miners' strike. The real value of the book lies in its critique of the concept of meritocracy, in a passage that will challenge the thinking of many. Jones also effectively deploys some useful statistics and makes some valuable observations about the effects of the misperception of the median salary (£21,000, since you ask, although a better editor would have meant that we didn't have to be told this at least four times).

These points aside, however, the rest of the book is seriously undermined by three major problems:

Firstly, there's the way in which the book presents the working class themselves. Jones is right to challenge the conservative assumption that the working class remain so through choice, a lack of ambition, aptitude, and so on. The problem, however, is that Jones goes too far in the other direction, to the extent that the working class seem to be little more than passive economic victims. The tone is a little too deterministic (which is emphatically not, as the right would argue, the same as Marxist) and occasionally patronising. Related to this is the fact that the book treats the working class as a homogenous body, despite Jones' disclaimer that this stance is to be avoided. Jones has little to say on the fact that many of these chav-bashing attitudes are themselves rooted in certain kinds of working class cultures, a plurality that gets lost in the book's structure of the middle class sneering at the working class. There's also a tinge of romanticizing the working class here, which Jones explicitly says at the beginning he wants to avoid; sorry, you didn't, and especially not when trying to argue that Jade Goody's "poppadom" comments on Celebrity Big Brother might have been "racially tinged." You reckon?

Secondly, the book lacks any theoretical sophistication. Yes, I know it's aimed at a general readership, but that doesn't mean it can't be informed by more sophisticated arguments (Richard Sennett, for instance, writes beautifully and accessibly on similar concepts - see, for instance, his *The Hidden Injuries of Class* or *The Craftsman*), and for a book published by Verso it's a real disappointment in this respect. Jones talks about 'cultural capital,' but Pierre Bourdieu (a crucial source for how taste reinforces social division - which is what this book is supposed to be about) isn't even mentioned in the endnotes. Even Marx and Engels only get a fleeting mention. The book's main sources are (far too) numerous newspaper articles and the stylings of Polly Toynbee and Johann Hari; the former is at least a respected journalist, but this pedigree means that the book feels more like a string of newspaper opinion pieces than a deeply thought-out analysis. Take, for instance, Jones' solution to these problems, which really boils down to a sense of community (indeed, when he visits Ashington, he writes "There's a real sense of community in the air." Really? What does that smell like?). Community is the panacea here, but this seems simplistic, and Jones says nothing on how communities are also defined by exclusion (again, Richard Sennett and Benedict Anderson would have been really useful here). What's really surprising, however, is that Jones makes no reference at all to those who have written before him, making the very same points. I can just about accept that Richard Hoggart's *The Uses of Literacy* isn't at the forefront of working class studies nowadays, but it's really surprising that Michael Collins' *The Likes of Us*, which brought class back to the forefront, doesn't seem to exist in the world of this book.

Thirdly, Jones is really out of his depth when discussing culture, and unfortunately this takes up a hefty portion of the book. The real problem here is that he enthusiastically points out examples that support his thesis, while completely ignoring the many more that challenge it. For instance, he notes that songs such as the Kaiser Chiefs' "I predict a riot" demonizes the tracksuit wearing underclass, and from this concludes that modern popular culture follows suit; yet he seems utterly unaware that for every Chiefs album, there are many more that celebrate working class culture (the Streets, for instance). Likewise, while I hesitate to mount any kind of defence of *Little Britain*, Jones' criticism that Vicky Pollard presents a "grotesque caricature" misses the point that *all* of *Little Britain* is a grotesque caricature, including of the middle and upper class (had Pollard been missing, of course, this would have been invoked as evidence of removing the working class from culture altogether, although this is a far more sinister charge). But on this point, most striking is Jones' rewriting of wider cultural history. He makes the utterly inaccurate claim that the working class only appear in Victorian fiction as cartoonish figures, either ignoring or being ignorant of late Victorian naturalist fiction (Morrison, Gissing, Harkness, etc) and even very late Dickens; likewise, in a book supposedly about twentieth (and 21st) century cultural depictions of the working class, to have no mention whatsoever of Robert Tressell's *The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists* is absolutely shocking (but then again, this wouldn't square with Jones' argument that accurate depictions of the working class only came about in the 1960s).

I really wanted to agree with this book; indeed, in many respects I do, but in spite of it rather than because of it. I would recommend it as a beginner's text on these issues, but it doesn't really say anything more than what you'll have already read in the Guardian or Independent (oh come on, you're looking at this book - you're not a Daily Mailer, are you?).
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A sparrow is a bird, but not all birds are sparrows, 27 Feb. 2012
What first surprised me about this book was the use of the term chavs to describe working class people as a whole. I discussed it with a wide range of friends and family, scattered across the country, and they all agreed: chavs may be working class, but not all working class are chavs. I think the description of a chav on Wikipedia gives a very complete and accurate picture of what a chav is - or at least what I and friends and family perceive as a chav. They are one element in the working class, just as travellers for example are another element in the working class. I would argue that the vast majority of working class people - employed, unemployed, single, married, pregnant, not pregnant, on benefits, not on benefits, anything, not on anything - are not chavs at all. To describe them as such is as bad as coralling together the entire middle class (for sake of argument those in professional and managerial occupations) and describing them all as toffs.
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329 of 402 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Class War, 6 Jun. 2011
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I hesitated to title this review 'Class War' - it seems so out-of-date, so 'old Labour'. But that is what this book is about. It is about the sustained economic, social and ideological attack on the majority of the population of this country.

The idea of 'chavs' is, these days, so pervasive that as I read the first few chapters, I had my doubts. The book seemed merely an apologia for a post-industrial lumpenproletariat, a group of alienated misfits beyond the reach of the rest of society. But Jones' analysis is far wider, deeper and more powerful than that and deserves as wide an audience as possible.

The book starts with a shocking comparison between the media coverage of Shannon Matthews and Madeleine McCann. The point is forcefully made that the coverage clearly showed a deep-rooted class prejudice - and ignorance. The McCann's come from the same class as the majority of journalists, leader writers and 'opinion formers'. The same journalists have virtually no experience of the world of Shannon Matthews. Jones makes the point in a quote from Kevin Maguire of the Mirror:

'Increasingly, the lives of journalists have become divorced from those of the rest of us. 'I can't think of a national newspaper editor with school-age kids who has them in a state school,' [Maguire] reflects. 'On top of that, most journalists at those levels are given private medical insurance. So you're kind of taken out of everyday life.' (P27)

Jones continues:

'More than anything, it is this ignorance of working-class life that explains how Karen Matthews became a template for people living in working-class communities. 'Perhaps it's because we're all middle class that we tut at the tragic transition of aspirational working class to feckless, feral underclass, and sneer at the brainless blobs of lard who spend their days on leatherette sofas in front of plasma TVs, chewing the deep-fried cud over Jeremy Kyle,' speculated commentator Christina Patterson. 'We've got a word for them too: "Chavs''' (P27)

So how did this come about? How has the whole working class come to be seen as a 'feckless, feral underclass'? Jones continues with a look at 'Class Warriors'. He suggests that:

'Thatcherism fought the most aggressive class war in British history...Thatcher wanted to end the class war - but on the terms of the upper crust of British society. 'Old fashioned Tories say there isn't any class war,' declared Tory newspaper editor Peregrine Worsthorne. 'New Tories make no bones about it: we are class warriors and we expect to be victorious.' (P48)

This class war was waged as an attack on collectivism - the promotion of an aggressive individualism that sees success or failure as a purely personal matter. Everyone should naturally aspire to be middle class. This is not simply the adoption of a neoliberal free market economic philosophy but also an essentially neoconservative cultural approach - defining whole working class communities as 'chavs'. And it worked, thoroughly and conclusively:

'Even before the advent of New Labour, Thatcherism had ensured that the working class would be bereft of political champions. 'The real triumph was to have transformed not just one party, but two,' as [Geoffrey] Howe was later to put it.' (P71)

This reminded me very much of Peter Oborne's The Triumph of the Political Class. Hardly a left-wing firebrand, Oborne details the formation of a metropolitan elite. Oborne suggests:

'The Media Class and the Political Class share identical assumptions about life and politics. They are affluent, progressive, middle- and upper-middle class. This triumphant metropolitan elite has completely lost its links with a wider civil society.' (The Triumph of the Political Class, P259)

In case there was any doubt left, Jones states:

'New Labour, through programmes like its welfare reform, has propagated the chav caricature by spreading the idea that people are poor because they lack moral fibre. Surveys show that attitudes towards poverty are currently harder than they were under Thatcher. If people observe that even Labour holds the less fortunate to be personally responsible for their fate, why should they think any different? No wonder the image of communities teeming with feckless chavs has become so ingrained in recent years.' (P94)

Jones details how even supposedly liberal opinion can come to regard the working class as 'chavs'. By emphasising that the working class is predominantly white working class, liberal opinion can ignore the economic underpinnings of class in favour of, as Jones puts it, 'racialization':

'It's one of the ways people have made their snobbery socially acceptable,' says journalist Johann Hari: 'by acting as though they are defending immigrants from the "ignorant" white working class." (P116)

Although, in the past, television representations of working class life might have included Alf Garnett, they also included shows like The Likely Lads and The Rag Trade. Nowadays working class representations seem limited to Vicky Pollard, Wayne and Waynetta, Shameless or even Eden Lake ('[i]t may not come as a surprise that the Daily Mail treated Eden Lake as though it was some kind of drama-documentary, quavering that it was 'all too real' and urging every politician to watch it.' P131)

The representations of the working class have changed as the economic conditions have changed. With the deindustrialization of large swathes of the country, the 'flexibilization' of the work force, the increasing numbers of low-paid, low-skill and part-time jobs, the labour market has become an 'hourglass' economy:

'highly paid jobs at one end, and swelling numbers of low-paid, unskilled jobs at the other. The middle-level occupations, on the other hand, are shrinking.' (P152)

This has significantly weakened the opportunities for collective action. When staff turnover is high, union power is limited. The attacks on the remaining bastions of union activity continue. The latest targets are public sector workers who are currently being portrayed as over-paid, pampered and secure, which is so far from the truth it is almost laughable. Given the 'hourglass economy', commentators who point to a lack of working class aspiration are rather missing the point.

Even after all this, the class war continues. Turning on the radio this morning, I heard that Vince Cable is threatening further anti-union legislation. In the same news bulletin, it was announced that '[over the last 30 years] wages grew by over 100% for judges, barristers and solicitors, while they fell by 5% for forklift truck drivers and 3% for packers and bottlers.' (BBC 'TUC: Wage stagnation over decades as income gap widens').

After all that, it is very difficult to not agree with Owen Jones when he says:

' a government of millionaires led by an Old Etonian prepares to further demolish the living standards of millions of working class people, the time has rarely been so ripe for a new wave of class politics.' (P257)
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Some good ideas, but repetitive and unfocussed, 17 Mar. 2013
Ray Woodhams (Barnsley, S Yorks United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Frankly the book reads as if it was written to meet the requirements of an academic journal and then padded out when someone had the idea that it might sell as a book. The repetition is quite blatant from time to time.
Confusion is rife in the varied descriptions and lack of definition applied to the term "working class". There is a vague attempt to produce a working definition, but after several pages it evaporates into emptiness. This is not entirely the authors fault of course, the definition, and indeed the existence, of class as a concept, is a study in itself, but when the title of the book is explicit in claiming that the "working class" have been demonised, it is essential to define terms.
The book is at its strongest and most persuasive in the first chapter which deals head on with the mis-characterisation of whole communities by the press in the reporting of the disappearance of (working class) Shannon Mathews, which is contrasted well with the sympathy afforded the middle class parents of Madeleine McCann.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Eloquent but fundamentally flawed, 8 Feb. 2015
Stephen Midgley (Tarbrax, West Calder, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)
Owen Jones' book is fundamentally flawed for two reasons. Firstly, the title doesn't make sense - not only because 'chav' does not mean the same as 'working class', but also because the working classes are not demonised, or at least not by the vast majority of British people.

Let's take the pejorative term 'chav' for a start. To me, it refers to someone who is probably young, probably but not necessarily male, and who exhibits some or all of the following behaviour: loud-mouthed, ill-mannered, ignorant, antisocial, destructive, criminal, racially prejudiced; abusive of or violent towards others, especially anyone vulnerable, old, disabled or handicapped, to anyone who is of a different race, colour or culture or from the next street, another town or a different part of town, and to supporters of rival football teams. That's probably enough to be going on with but suffice to say that, while many 'chavs' may be working class, the great majority of working class people are not chavs. So the two terms are entirely different.

Next, the working classes are not demonised in our society - certainly not in the sense of being criticised, condemned or abused as a group. OK, the author is right about some things - our social and economic system is very unfair, the poor have an extremely hard time, successive governments should be putting things right and have failed to do so. But it's not because the middle classes are lousy and selfish; some of us are, but we're not by definition rotten as a group any more than the working classes are. The author also insists on trying to define exactly who is working class and who isn't, based on such factors as occupation and income, but his definitions don't really work and he ties himself in knots in the attempt. And if the middle class is so lousy, why do so many people want to be in it?

Some of the reasons the author gives for his 'demonisation' theory are ludicrous. Let's start with TV comedy, allegedly guilty of singling out the working classes for ridicule. Now, the whole point of comedy is that people get ridiculed - from the preposterously smarmy and devious Sir Humphrey Appleby, to the pompous middle-class prat Captain Mainwaring, to the ignorant, bigoted Alf Garnett. When Del Boy fails to prop himself up at the bar and falls over sideways, is it because he's working class that we laugh? Of course it isn't - we'd laugh just as much if it were the Queen, the Pope or the governor of the Bank of England, although they probably couldn't carry it off with quite the same aplomb as David Jason does.

Having said all this, the author does make some good and well-informed points, and does so in a very eloquent and readable style. Many arguments are well made, but Jones is also ruthlessly selective in his use of quotations and statistics and there are contradictions on almost every page. Many passages seem persuasive in isolation, but the trouble is that the overall argument, in my view at least, just doesn't add up to a convincing case. He comes down hard on cruel and heartless Thatcherism, quite rightly in my view. But Thatcher was given the order of the boot more than 20 years before this book was written, successive governments have had their chances to put things right since then, and some have done so in certain respects. So how long can you continue blaming everything on people and events of long ago? Even the current coalition parties get jeered at when they carry on trying to blame economic troubles on the last Labour government, who left office 5 years ago at the time of writing this review.

But apart from Thatcherism, Jones tries to pin the blame for the present ills in our society upon the alleged prejudice, bigotry and all-round nastiness of the middle classes. The trouble is that, by creating and exploiting this sweeping stereotype of the middle class in order to suit his argument, he effectively demonstrates that the most bigoted and prejudiced person around is the author himself. He may not have intended it to be this way but that, it seems to me, is the end result of this extended, hate-filled rant against the middle classes.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A category error, innit?, 24 Sept. 2012
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)
Owen Jones's book starts from a false premise - that `chav' and `working class' are synonymous. Chavs are a particular subset of a much broader social stratum. Moreover, while many may mock aspects of chav culture (the Burberry cap, the status Staffy, calling offspring after footballers, etc.), to poke fun is not to demonise - any more than to find the `toffs' of 'Made in Chelsea' absurd is actively to despise them.

If I were to dislike a group of people for the accident of their birth into underprivileged circumstances, that really would be contemptible. However, it seems more reasonable to dislike the freely chosen attitudes and behaviours of a smaller chav subset - viz. feckless dependency and anti-social activity which makes others' lives (often their working class neighbours) a misery. Remarkably similar characteristics are shown by a subset of the upper class, like the Bullingdon Club yahoos depicted in the recent play 'Posh': both groups think the world owes them a living, and both show cavalier disregard for anyone with the misfortune to be in their way. Can I not deplore these attributes, whoever is exhibiting them, without being accused of class hate?
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time for the exploited to rise up., 31 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)
I've been wanting to read this for a while, and have finally got round to it. It's an interesting book and very timely in the effort that Jones is making to rescue the depiction of the poor from the clutches of the right wing. Having read this back to back with The Shock Doctrine (a far more disturbing and wide-ranging book) I feel suitably angry and want to do something about it, but frustrated at the lack of a viable strategy for tackling those heartless bastards who run the world.

The author is an angry young man, and that means that the book frequently has a strident edge and is inclined to bang home the same statistics and arguments again and again. His target audience is quite clearly the lay socialist and he lets us have it with both barrels. That's no bad thing, but it tends to position his argument in the same tradition of easy claims and blinkered ideology that he so frequently criticises on the other side. No sensible reader would disagree that the mass media and their political lickspittle always argue from the specific to the general in their attacks on the working class. The likes of Shannon Matthews, as Jones points out very effectively, are always presented as typical of a wider demographic. Yet Jones plays the same game when he talks of the rich and powerful, and even the 'middle class', as if they were homogenous. It's a self-defeating rhetorical strategy and disappointingly obvious.

Part of the problem of the book is that Jones buys into the class labels he writes about too easily. Even in the preface he provides two opinion polls one of which gives a result of over half the population self-classifying as working class, while the second poll has 71 percent identifying themselves as middle class. Jones is right to point out the differences of emphasis in the questions asked but seems to overlook the significance of the results - that the elision of notional class boundaries means that it is outdated to talk in terms of the middle class and the working class. It is worse than outdated, it is actually counterproductive to the kind of renewal of class struggle that Jones is arguing for. I bet if there was a third poll that asked people if they identified themselves as being a member of the 'exploiting class' or the 'exploited class' we would have a much clearer, and more effective, result. The rest of the book bears this out and I'm afraid I cannot believe that using old labels, which are in anyway neutered by the deluge of right wing propaganda, is the way forward.

The struggle of the exploited can only progress by sidestepping the debate framed by the rich and powerful and by offering a new framework of identity, agenda and strategy for implementation of the struggle. In any asymetric conflict the weak must avoid playing to the strengths of the strong. Therefore traditional notions of class have to be set aside. Upper, middle, working and under-class are terms that have been semantically colonised by the right. They have been shaken up, mixed up and rendered virtually meaningless and useless as tools to galvanise opinion. So why not rally behind a much simpler formulation? Such as the exploiting class and the exploited class. What median, or middle class, person would not identify with the notion that they were being exploited while the rich were getting away with murder? It would clarify the struggle beautifully and ensure that a far wider demographic would rally behind efforts to rebalance society.

Incidentally, it would also provide a mechanism for avoiding the trap that Jones frequently sets for himself in apologising for anti-social and immoral behaviour within the working class. It's all very well to say that youth gangs provide a sense of community in areas where social structures have been torn down as a consequence of Thatcher's war on the workers, but if that new community makes life a misery for others then it is surely a manifestation of the same instinct to exploit that wealthier exploiters share? Equally, those who do engage in outright benefit fraud are exploiting others. Only by accepting this can the left get round the conflation of working class, deserving poor, feral underclass and idle poor that allows the right to lump them all in together.

The book's outstanding section dismantles the term 'chav' very effectively and lays out the hypocrisy in the media's coverage of the McCann and Matthews cases. More disturbing is the litany of attacks on the working class in television programmes, factual as well as fiction, and newspaper articles all authored by middle class individuals whose sense of disgust at the downtrodden can only come across as the most vile prejudice against a whole class on the basis of twisted representations of a handful of examples. I know it is fashionable to regard our politicians as corrupt scum, but I dare say as a class there is a vastly higher proportion of them who are fiddling their expenses than there are members of the working class claiming benefits to which they are not entitled. One fact suffices to nail this aspect of Jones's book: welfare fraud costs the nation one billion pounds a year. Tax evasion on the other hand costs the UK seventy billion a year. That's just evasion, not avoidance of the kind that Jimmy Carr practised so effectively.

Where Jones is frequently on weaker ground is in his use of unqualified 'facts' and one-sided readings of certain matters. Take his assertion that 'over half of the top hundred journalists were educated at private school'. I had no idea there was a list of the top hundred. Based on what I wonder? It's just lazy to throw that kind of information around. Or later on when he castigates the 'privileged' for being able to 'top up their children's education by hiring private tutors.' I confess that I have had to do just this for my sons - the reason being that the maths classes at their local comprehensive were so inadequate that I had no choice but to pay a tutor to fill the gap left by the school. This is not a case of topping up, but of remedying a deficit. Yeah, I feel really privileged that I have had to shell out for my sons' education on top of the taxes I already pay for state education...

It's a shame that this kind of thinking creeps into Jones's analysis from time to time because it tends to spoil the essential truth and rightness of his argument that there is a desperate need to change the direction that the UK is heading. If the right continues to be unchecked then we will live in an increasingly segregated society where tens of millions of fellow human beings will have to endure lives of penury and misery through no fault of their own. There is a limit to what will people will endure, as we have witnessed in the middle east. Who knows? Before too much longer, Cameron and his millionaire cabinet cronies might well provoke a working class spring in Britain. Whether that is a good thing is anyone's guess.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overstated and muddled, 28 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)
On very many occasions this book really made me want to rant - at it and about it -, and that's good, a book like this should stir emotions whether in support or opposition, or in my case a bit of both. I can't fault the broad theme: that the poor in this country have been, and continue to be, increasingly marginalized and demeaned since the 1980s is indisputable; that this process was kicked into motion by the Thatcher regime is likewise indisputable; but I do take issue with some of the detail of the arguments put by the author.

To my mind this book has three really strong stand out chapters: Chapter 2 - Class Warriors, Chapter 3 - Politicians vs Chavs, and Chapter 6 - A Rigged society. These three deal with the portrayal of the poor by the media, the betrayal of the poor by the left wing politicians and the myth of meritocracy respectively. I was astounded to read some of the comments from the media regarding the poor particularly those in social housing - not astounded by the negativity (that's almost to be expected from the likes of the Daily Mail) but the vindictiveness, even outright viciousness of them took me aback. I honestly believe that if these "journalists" had any honour at all they would resign and spend the remainder of their sorry lives hanging their heads in shame.
And that's not the worst of it; that positon goes to the politicians, in particular those of the alleged left whose very existence depends upon the poor. Some of the comments from the "new Labour" politicians smacks of an almost palpable contempt; of all the chapters this is the one that left me most dismayed. Finally the chapter on meritocracy: I was surprised to hear that the word was coined by Michael Young in a very pejorative sense as a system that ought to be avoided; it has only since become something of a goal to be achieved. In reality the notion of a meritocracy can be easily seen to be flawed in the absence of the same life chances - it's much easier to "gain merit" if you're half way there at birth.

Unfortunately, despite my overall agreement, I do have a number of issues with this book. There is a degree of overstatement, not least the notion of the word "Chavs" itself, the author tries to imply that the poor in general are considered in this vein but I simply don't see this, people know what they mean by "Chav" and it is a very distinct group of characteristics and not taken as a synonym for poor people living in council housing. The author cites Wayne Rooney and David Beckham as examples of "working class" people regarded as Chavs: now whilst I think Rooney may well fit the bill, Beckham is universally lauded in the press as a role model of behaviour, ambition and fatherhood so this attempt by the author falls completely flat.
Thacher: wow I thought I hated Thatcher. Owen Jones probably despises Thatcher and her cronies rather too much to form a reasoned argument. He makes much of the tragedy of the dismantling of union powers by the Thatcher regime and I wholeheartedly agree; however, he is somewhat remiss in not pointing out that it was the unions who rolled out the red carpet, opened the door to number 10 and greeted Thatcher in with a pot of tea and a plate of fig rolls, through their undemocratic and outrageous behaviour during the 70s and into the early 80s.
Thatcher gets the blame for quite a lot in this book and I'm not opposed to that but a lot of the authors arguments depend on the liberal application of hindsight and a rather speculative belief that we would still have a strong manufacturing and heavy-industry component in this country without Thatcher - hmm! well maybe, but. There is also a very strong-thread of sexism through this book - I'm sure the author doesn't intend it but we hear a lot about good quality "working-class" jobs for men, men's working clubs and so forth - well in that case we could easily solve the current employment problems by say, banning women from work, however, this is the 21st Century and I think we've moved beyond that sort of thing haven't we? Anyway, I'm sure that wasn't the authors intention but a little care over this sort of thing would be good.

Now for what really distresses me about this book: there is an underlying thread of patronization here which again I'm sure the author didn't intend but in a way is all the worse for that. The "working-class" is done unto, put-upon, oppressed and entirely subject to the will of the "middle-classes" with no possibility of them taking responsibility for their own lives. This representation of the "working classes" as the deltas and epsilons of some Huxleyan nightmare is utterly ridiculous, patronizing and insulting. What annoyed me most was his comparison of himself and his school friend, the author left school for university, his friend didn't, the only possible reason, according to the author, is that he was middle-class and his friend wasn't. Or perhaps the author was more intelligent, or flourished earlier, or had more and better books in his house, or was read to by his parents, or had a tradition and automatic assumption that university was the next step, or maybe all of these and more. The important thing is that NONE of these is exclusively "middle-class" and a more obvious example of the authors patronizing attitude is not necessary.

Finally, this notion of "Class": I'm one of those people who get very short-thift in this book in that I don't quite believe "Class" exists. Certainly there are people who have a much easier walk through life than others, but to my mind, and personal observation, this lies on a continuum, there is no dividing line and there is no possibility of defining a dividing line, what's more this book about class division can't even describe what class is, so where does that leave anyone? The only strict definition given in the book is the Marxist notion of one who sells his labour to another - well that's pretty much everyone - so "We're all working-class now"? sounds good to me. The author tries to add a qualifier to that Marxist interpretation - day-to-day autonomy of the worker - but that's equally unconvincing. As far as I can tell the concept of "Class" is kept alive by those to whom it's useful i.e. social commentators, the very people who you would expect to want to break down any such barriers, it has no other reality.

There is actually quite a lot more I could say about this book but well, I'm not writing a book am I.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good interviews, but prejudiced and lacking in historic perspective and understanding, 21 Sept. 2014
This review is from: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Paperback)
Oh dear, how this book is heavy on prejudice and light on perspective. Whereas there is much to commend, especially in the records of interviews with representatives of governments past and present as well as with key individuals in desperately affected communities, there are serious lapses of historical balance. Much can be placed at the door of Thatcher and Blair, but many of the bald statements simply don’t stack up.
For example: ‘the long lingering demise of the industrial working class begun […] with Thatcher’ (p.140), and ‘the industrial collapse that was first unleashed by Thatcher’ (p.196), totally ignores the disintegration of the British Empire and associated trading links from the First World War onwards. Liverpool Docks. for example closed in the 1970s, to be superseded by largely automated container ports serving the Atlantic and Europe. Neither Thatcher nor Blair had anything to with these global trends
And social engineering (p.34) was hardly invented by Thatcher. The middle class bias, with its prejudice for nuclear rather than extended families, underpinned much that characterised the ‘Great British Housing Disaster’, instigated pre-WWI, reaching his apogee post-1945, and supported by successive governments of all shades and colours. Please source:
Burns, Wilfred, New Towns for Old: The Technique of Urban Renewal, HMSO, London (1963) (p.93): “One result of slum clearance is that a considerable movement of people takes place over long distances, with devastating effect on the social grouping built up over the years. But, one might argue, this is a good thing when we are dealing with people who have no initiative or civic pride. The task, surely, is to break up such groupings even though the people seem to be satisfied with their miserable environment and seem to enjoy an extrovert social life in their own locality.” Well over 2 million homes, with their associated communities, were destroyed in this overt social engineering – well before Thatcher. Only later did the concept of urban rehabilitation catch on, peaking during the 1980s.
Also source: Paul Du Noyer, Liverpool: Wondrous Place, Virgin Books, London (2007) (p.11): “When you demolish familiar places, or obliterate old pathways, you deracinate people, cutting them off from the psychic roots that nourish our sense of belonging. I remember the way commentators condemned the Toxteth rioters [in 1981] for damaging their own environment – yet, whatever they did, it was trivial in comparison with official vandalism. Those rioters had grown up breathing brick dust.”
You can blame Thatcher and Blair for much – but certainly not all.
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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones (Paperback - 1 May 2012)
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