A bookshop customer bought this the other day, together with a Bill Bryson book. Perhaps guessing that I was mentally raising an eyebrow he said that he knew that reading Chavs would put him in a bad mood so he was planning to read Bryson afterwards to make himself feel better. He had a point.
A year or two back Chavs was the must-read leftie book. It really took off – I bought my copy at the time from a WH Smith’s bookstall in Crewe railway station. I’ve only just got round to reading it, to my shame. In the meantime Owen Jones has become the Milky Bar Kid of the British left (a phrase coined by the Five Leaves’ writer Harry Paterson), the Tories have got worse, UKIP are on the rise, but fortunately Jones’ chapter on the BNP has become out of date. And I suspect that a lot of people who bought this book have not quite finished it yet. Why not? Because it really is bloody depressing.
I read the book with a view to covering it here, and turned down so many pages from which to quote – Jones knows how to marshal his facts. Here’s one I did not know – “over half of the top one hundred journalists were educated at a private school” – one of the reasons for their distaste at worst and lack of understanding at best for the working class, especially those from the north. I could have filled this short review with a fraction of Jones’s battery of facts which present a convincing case for the deliberate break up of working class organisations and ways of living – think the decline of trade unions, the deliberate rundown of industry and the great sell off of social housing – and the “chavification of working class people, the constant portrayal of them/us as being “‘non-aspirational’ layabouts, slobs, racists, boozers, thugs – you name it”. We can see this most in the current millionaire cabinet attack on those who are not in work or claim benefits.
Chavs is essential reading but I got more out of the forthcoming The People: the rise and fall of the working class 1910-2010 by Selina Todd (John Murray, £25, due April) as though the working class lost out in the end at least some of the century was “ours”. A review will follow at some stage. Owen Jones’ book could be summed up by one of his sentences: “Chav-hate is a way of justifying an equal society” which “justifies the preservation of the pecking order, based on the fiction that it is actually a fair reflection of people’s worth.” He is not wrong.