Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

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Overview

In modern Britain, the working class has become an object of fear and ridicule. From Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard to the demonization of Jade Goody, media and politicians alike dismiss as feckless, criminalized and ignorant a vast, underprivileged swathe of society whose members have become stereotyped by one, hate-filled word: chavs.

In this groundbreaking investigation, Owen Jones explores how the working ...

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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

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Overview

In modern Britain, the working class has become an object of fear and ridicule. From Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard to the demonization of Jade Goody, media and politicians alike dismiss as feckless, criminalized and ignorant a vast, underprivileged swathe of society whose members have become stereotyped by one, hate-filled word: chavs.

In this groundbreaking investigation, Owen Jones explores how the working class has gone from “salt of the earth” to “scum of the earth.”
Exposing the ignorance and prejudice at the heart of the chav caricature,
one based on the media’s inexhaustible obsession with an indigent white underclass, he portrays a far more complex reality. Moving through Westminster’s lobbies and working-class communities from Dagenham to Dewsbury Moor, Jones reveals the increasing poverty and desperation of communities made precarious by wrenching social and industrial change, and all but abandoned by the aspirational, society-fragmenting policies of Thatcherism and New Labour. The chav stereotype, he argues, is used by governments as a convenient figleaf to avoid genuine engagement with social and economic problems, and to justify widening inequality.

Based on a wealth of original research, and wide-ranging interviews with media figures, political opinion-formers and workers, Chavs is a damning indictment of the media and political establishment, and an illuminating,
disturbing portrait of inequality and class hatred in modern Britain.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A thought-provoking examination of a relatively new yet widespread derogatory characterization of the working class in Britain as a highly distinct social group of feckless, violence-prone bigots, called Chavs. Jones, a former trade union lobbyist and parliamentary researcher, traces the rise of this terminology through negative media representations of working-class people that is frequently elitist, hysterical, and disingenuous. He sees the source of this contempt in the decline of industry and manufacturing that accompanied the ongoing assault on trade unionism and the working classes from Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s through Tony Blair's New Labour and up to the present Conservative government. Out of this process, the author argues, the working-class's loss of voice and lack of representation of its views has become the face of Britain's decline. Jones does a fine job of revealing the snobbery and old-fashioned classism behind such intolerance and how the ever-widening gap between Britain's most privileged citizens and its most needful has exposed Tony Blair's claim about a new classless society as a myth. The author arguably perpetrates some myths of his own by his romanticizing of an idyllic working-class community forged through manual work and trade unionism. Nonetheless, as an indictment of the ideological destruction of the welfare stare it is edifying and disquieting in equal measure. (July)
From the Publisher
“A passionate and well-documented denunciation of the upper-class contempt for the proles that has recently become so visible in the British class system.”—Eric Hobsbawm, Guardian

“A work of passion, sympathy and moral grace.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times

“A bold attempt to rewind political orthodoxies; to reintroduce class as a political variable ... It moves in and out of postwar British history with great agility, weaving together complex questions of class, culture and identity with a lightness of touch. Jones torches the political class to great effect.”—Jon Cruddas, Book of the Week, Independent

“It is a timely book. The white working class seems to be the one group in society that it is still acceptable to sneer at, ridicule, even incite hatred against ... Forensically ... Jones seeks to explain how, thanks to politics, the working class has shifted from being regarded as ‘the salt of the earth to the scum of the earth.’”—Carol Midgley, Book of the Week, Times

“Superb and angry.”—Polly Toynbee, Guardian

“Seen in the light of the riots and the worldwide Occupy protests, his lucid analysis of a divided society appears uncannily prescient.”—Matthew Higgs, Artforum

“As with all the best polemics, a luminous anger backlights his prose.”—Economist

“Chavs is persuasively argued, and packed full of good reporting and useful information ... [Jones] makes an important contribution to a revivified debate about class.”—Lynsey Hanley, Guardian

“A lively, well-reasoned and informative counterblast to the notion that Britain is now more or less a classless society.”—Sean O'Hagan, Observer

“A trenchant exposure of our new class hatred and what lies behind it.”—John Carey, author of The Intellectuals and the Masses

“The stereotyping and hatred of the working class in Britain, documented so clearly by Owen Jones in this important book, should cause all to flinch. Reflecting our high levels of inequality, the stigmatization of the working class is a serious barrier to social justice and progressive change.”—Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, authors of The Spirit Level

“Eloquent and impassioned.”—Andrew Neather, Evening Standard

“Jones’s analysis of the condition of the working class is very astute ... A book like this is very much needed for the American scene, where the illusion is similarly perpetuated by the Democrats that the middle-class is all that matters, that everyone can aspire to join the middle-class or is already part of it .”—Anis Shivani, Huffington Post

“Everybody knows what a chav is, it seems, but no one is a chav. But then it’s a word unlike any other in current usage ... A new book, Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, by first-time author Owen Jones ... has thrown the word into the spotlight all over again.”—Carole Cadwalladr, Observer

“A blinding read.”—Suzanne Moore, Guardian

“[A] thought-provoking examination of a relatively new yet widespread derogatory characterization of the working class in Britain ... edifying and disquieting in equal measure.”—Publishers Weekly

“A fiery reminder of how the system has failed the poor.”—Peter Hoskin, Daily Beast

“Mr. Jones’s book is a cleareyed examination of the British class system, and it poses this brutal question: ‘How has hatred of working-class people become so socially acceptable?’ His timely answers combine wit, left-wing politics and outrage.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times

Dwight Garner
In pursuit of answers, Chavs covers a lot of ground. It's a history of the British class system, a long-form indictment of Margaret Thatcher's social and economic policies and a rowdy broadside against London's elite media and political circles. Its combination of wit and outrage…is intoxicating…Mr. Jones is…hideously talented…[Chavs is] something to behold, a work of passion, sympathy and moral grace.
—The New York Times
Book of the Week - The Times
“A timely book.”
Guardian
A blinding read.— Suzanne Moore
Observer
A lively, well-reasoned and informative counterblast to the notion that Britain is now more or less a classless society.— Sean O'Hagan
The Times
A timely book.— Book of the Week
New York Times
A work of passion, sympathy and moral grace.— Dwight Garner
Polly Toynbee - Guardian
“Superb and angry.”
Lynsey Hanley - Guardian
“Persuasively argued, and packed full of good reporting and useful information … [Jones] makes an important contribution to a revivified debate about class.”
Suzanne Moore - Guardian
“A blinding read.”
Sean O'Hagan - Observer
“A lively, well-reasoned and informative counterblast to the notion that Britain is now more or less a classless society.”
Jon Cruddas
“It moves in and out of postwar British history with great agility, weaving together complex questions of class, culture and identity with a lightness of touch.”
Dwight Garner - New York Times
“A work of passion, sympathy and moral grace.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844676965
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 7/15/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Owen Jones has worked in the British Parliament as a trade union lobbyist and parliamentary researcher. He is writing a PhD on the history of blue-collar America and the rise of the New Right. He lives in London.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 The Strange Case of Shannon Matthews 13

2 Class Warriors 39

3 Politicians vs Chavs 73

4 A Class in the Stocks 109

5 'We're all middle class now' 139

6 A Rigged Society 169

7 Broken Britain 185

8 Backlash 221

Conclusion: A New Class Politics? 247

Notes 271

Acknowledgements 283

Index 285

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 5, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent study of class hatred

    This brilliant book examines the rise of ruling class hatred of the British working class. Rubbishing the working class goes hand in hand with worship of capital and capitalists. Who are the working class? Those who have to sell their labour power to live - the vast majority of the British people. We are not defined by our level of income, education or housing. Jones writes, "At the root of the demonization of working class people is the legacy of a very British class war." Thatcher attacked the working class, trying to destroy our industry, our services, our trade unions, communities and values. As Sir Alan Budd, then the Treasury's chief economist, said, "unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes." Thatcher said, "Class is a Communist concept", "Morality is personal" and "poverty is not material but behavioural." The Labour Party and the media have embraced these themes. Britain has vast and growing inequality. In 2010, the richest 1,000 got a record 30 per cent richer in just one year. Manufacturing jobs are being destroyed, and only part-time and/or service jobs are offered instead. In 2008, the median manufacturing wage was £24,343, in services the median was £20,000. Poverty already affects 13.5 million of us, more than 20 per cent of the population. British workers now work longer hours, 41.4 a week, than workers in any other EU member countries save Rumania and Bulgaria. Under Labour the number of sports and social clubs fell by 55 per cent, post offices by 39 per cent, swimming pools by 21 per cent and libraries by 7 per cent; the number of betting shops rose by 39 per cent and casinos by 27 per cent. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development predicts that the government cuts will add 1.6 million to the unemployed. Conservative minister Bob Neill has admitted, "Those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt" and "Those in most need will bear the burden of cuts." More than 80 per cent of the jobs created in Britain since 1997 have gone to foreign-born workers. A 10 per cent rise in the proportion of immigrants cuts pay for service workers by 5 per cent. No wonder Labour MP Jon Cruddas called immigration a 'wages policy'.

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