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Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

Bestselling investigation into the myth and reality of working-class life in contemporary Britain

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 acclaimed 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, he portrays a far more complex reality. 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, Chavs is a damning indictment of the media and political establishment and an illuminating, disturbing portrait of inequality and class hatred in modern Britain. This updated edition includes a new chapter exploring the causes and consequences of the UK riots in the summer of 2011.

 

Reviews

  • “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.”
  • “A work of passion, sympathy and moral grace.”
  • “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.”
  • “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'.”
  • “Superb and angry.”
  • “Seen in the light of the riots and the worldwide Occupy protests, his lucid analysis of a divided society appears uncannily prescient.”
  • “As with all the best polemics, a luminous anger backlights his prose.”
  • “Chavs is persuasively argued, and packed full of good reporting and useful information... [Jones] makes an important contribution to a revivified debate about class.”
  • “A lively, well-reasoned and informative counterblast to the notion that Britain is now more or less a classless society.”
  • “A trenchant exposure of our new class hatred and what lies behind it.”
  • “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.”
  • “Eloquent and impassioned.”
  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “A blinding read.”
  • “[A] thought-provoking examination of a relatively new yet widespread derogatory characterization of the working class in Britain ... edifying and disquieting in equal measure.”
  • “A fiery reminder of how the system has failed the poor.”
  • “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.”

Blog

  • Costas Douzinas and Srecko Horvat: What now for the European project

    While the Eurozone crisis is intensifying the contradictions of the project for European integration and the dreaded Troika is forcing unprecedented levels of austerity on the Greek nation, the question of the left's relation to Europe has once more been raised. Owen Jones has been the latest in a long line of prominent leftists to defend a left anti-EU stance, recently arguing in a column in the Guardian for the need for a Left Exit (or 'Lexit') campaign which will wrestle the issue of British withdrawal from the EU away from the UKIPpers and the Eurosceptic Tories. Yet under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras, Syriza is continuing with its attempt to push a left strategy while remaining in the Eurozone.

    In this video, part of Open Democracy's #TalkReal series, philosopher Srecko Horvat, Professor of Law Costas Douzinas and others discuss the future of the European project in response to the increasing crisis in Greece. Should the left push forward with its long march through the institutions or should we be campaigning against the anti-democractic EU? Can the Eurozone become a space for progressive politics or will it continue to be used to force through punishing austerity?



  • Peter Mair on the death of parliamentary democracy

    Continuing our series of blogs on the UK General Election, today we bring you an extract from Peter Mair's Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy. Peter Mair was one of the leading political scientists of his generation before his death in 2011. Posthumously published, Ruling the Void offers Mair's chilling diagnosis of the EU and the slowly eroding mass democratic politics of Europe since the 1970s. Perfect reading before you cast your vote!



    The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form. Ruling the Void is about this problem. It deals with the problem of parties, of governments and of political representation in contemporary European democracy, and stems from a wider concern with the fracturing politics of popular democracy. It deals with how the changing character of political parties impacts upon their standing, legitimacy, and effectiveness, and thereby also on the standing, legitimacy and effectiveness of modern democracy. Although focused on Europe, and highlighting problems that are of particular relevance to Europe, the implications of the argument run much more widely.

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  • Tariq Ali on "the triumph of finance" and the politics of Thatcher and Blair

    Economically, the country is far from the visions of recovery and renewal promised by the Coalition and its media retinue. If anything, conditions are getting worse for the majority, while markets remain volatile. Underlying this trend is a continuing engrossment of wealth and privileges enjoyed by the rich. As pointed out by countless observers, while the earnings of the average employed person are either static or declining, the salaries and bonus options of the 1 per cent continue to rise. In this extract from The Extreme Centre, Tariq Ali critiques the politics of Thatcher and Blair.

    The origins of the new politics are firmly rooted in Thatcher’s response to Britain’s decline. Unemployment was ruthlessly held above three million for ten years, enabling the Conservatives to push though a programme of social re-engineering – deploying state resources to crush the unions and initiate the privatization of public utilities and housing, in hopes of creating a nation of ‘property-owners and shareholders’ – that transformed the country.1 The defence industry was ring-fenced while the rest of manufacturing was handed a collective death warrant. The defeat of the miners’ strike obliterated any possibility of resistance by the trade-union leaders and the rank and file. The triumph of finance capital was now complete. The decline of large parts of the country continued apace, and in turn, the country became increasingly restive.

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