Review: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent book, but is unlikely to persuade anyone who doesn’t already agree with it’s conclusions.

Jones unravels the position of the working class in modern Britain. He draws out clearly how both Labour and Conservative parties have worked to exclude class from political discourse, and that the result of this has been the depiction of being working class as a state to aspire to leave behind. In practice this has meant that no party now represents the interests of working class people as a whole.

Jones roots this position strongly in the years of Thatcher government. He spends much of the book working through the history of the Thatcher years and how this continues to determine current attitudes towards class in general and the working class in particular. The demonisation and double standards towards the working class which form such an eye-catching part of the book are shown to be layered on top of the victory of neo-liberalism.

With class excised from modern politics the focus falls on ‘identity’ politics based on religion or ethnicity. This brings immigration into sharp focus as a political issue, but one which is in fact a proxy for the truly class based concerns of working class votes. With politics dominated by a middle-class world view the working class increasingly fall away from ‘normal’ politics, leaving underlying resentments and protest with nowhere to go.

After the rise of UKIP and the Brexit vote, this analysis rings truer than ever. In his final chapter on the “Backlash” Jones prefigures this outcome, writing mainly about the then current rise of the BNP in fact is is clear to see how the same feeling of being left behind and not represented within the current political process has allowed the radical right to capture working class protest (in 2015/16 UKIP more successfully than the BNP in 2010).

The prescriptions for future left-activism is in line with books such as “Inventing the Future” by Srnicek and Williams. The need to return class to the core political debate and relate politics to modern working class problems such as housing and working conditions. The book was written too early to cover the rise of Jeremy Corbyn but it fits with the movement that lead to his election as Labour leader.

Jones’ style is both well argued and built on a solid factual basis whilst remaining very readable. It does occasionally feel that he is hammering his points home perhaps a little too strongly. Unfortunately the alternative neo-liberal or right wing view is so firmly embedded for many politicians and commentators, and Jones is so strident in his alternative view, that it feels unlikely that anyone will be persuaded. But it is a well reasoned and argued analysis none the less.

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One thought on “Review: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

  1. Pingback: A short “future left” reading list | A Very Marx Adventure

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