Date finished: August 3rd 2015
Perhaps it was a side effect of maturing to a politicised age, or possibly there really has been a general shift, but it seems that politics has become a much more surreal playing field in recent years. We had political show The Thick Of It taking an absurd, expletive-ridden route of satirising British politics, only for the show’s madder moments to be vindicated by life imitating art. Then followed the strange allegation that current Prime Minister, David Cameron, once stuck his privates in the head of a dead pig in a case rather similar to that of the plot of an episode of Charlie Brooker’s mercilessly dark satire Black Mirror. In addition to that, we’ve had bloke parody Nigel Farage parodied in turn by comedian Al Murray, a Labour leader who lost an election on the grounds that he couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich properly, and earlier this week, former London Mayor Boris Johnson almost flattened a child during a rugby match. You couldn’t make it up.
These recent years of political absurdity have given rise to a boom in politics writing. Not only is the British political situation currently an affair that a successful post-war comic-satirist would have trouble coming up with, it’s also a time of rapid change within our society, politically, socially, economically, and technologically. It’s no wonder then that many concerned voices have emerged to voice their thoughts on the current situation.
One such emerging voice is that of the staunchly left-wing political commentator, Owen Jones. Earlier this year he released his second work The Establishment, an enlightening and enraging look at the manner in which British politics has been manipulated by vested interests for the last thirty or so years. Chavs (2011) is his first work, but is perhaps more relevant now than when it was written.
Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, to give the book its full title, is an in-depth, recent social history of the relationship between the working class and government, charting the effects of recent politics on the social and economic status of the poorest in our society.
Jones starts out by setting the scene for how the working class are viewed today. Pejorative terms like Chavs are thrown about to describe the poorest in society, and the popular stereotype is that all these people, who wear tracksuit bottoms, are ill-educated and are sponging off the state, are totally deserving of the contempt of the higher classes. Jones argues that this character has been socially engineered by a succession of governments which have ignored the needs of the poorest in the society and, through various methods, have forced those at the bottom into the positions. Thatcher’s war against the miners and the Trade Unions saw the working class out of employment and forced to take benefits, a lack of affordable housing forced them onto the sink estates, the individualist philosophy of aspiration saw them left behind as others climbed up the corporate ladder, and this ideology began to create an idea that those left at the bottom were in their situation for entirely their own failings.
Jones, in his trademark informative and concise manner, highlights a country in which the system has been rigged to favour the middle and upper classes at the expense of the working class, and how this neglected echelon has coped with being increasingly sidelined and the political and social consequences of this governmental contempt for the most impoverished and vulnerable in society.
It’s a passionately-written and surprisingly-balanced overview of the developing situation. Jones is just as apt to interview those who he disagrees with as those he does agree with and counter-arguments are subject to fair debate. The topic of Chavs, benefit scroungers, sponging asylum seekers et al. has dominated the British press for years, and the coverage has been rather one-sided. This book presents the other side, and places the attacks on the working class in a context, the truth of which is, to some extent undeniable, and while this book is by no means as eye-opening or blood-boiling as The Establishment, Chavs is nonetheless a compelling and important political book on a subject that has been neglected in recent years.