Review: Chavs by Owen Jones

‘As with all these things, there is always some elements of truth in what is being said, but they are extrapolated for effect or exaggerated to create a better story from the media’s point of view’. Owen Jones cites this quote to support a core element of his argument – that the media, the inevitably middle class journalists, manipulate certain stories (here he refers to the Shannon Matthews case of 2008) to deprecate the working class. Ironically, in his book ‘Chavs: The demonisation of the working class’, Jones is guilty of the same crime.

He claims that mocking the working class is perhaps the only socially acceptable form of prejudice found in modern society. He begins by recounting a joke made at a friend’s dinner party, “It’s sad that Woolworth’s is closing. Where will the Chavs buy their Christmas presents?” This leads him to ask how it is that the ‘hatred’ of the working class remains socially acceptable. The argument that follows responds to the notion that Britain is now a classless society, but for Jones, the British class system is well intact, with all of society’s hatred, fear and blame directed towards the ‘feral underclass’: the Chavs.

Jones, a twenty-something year old former trade union lobbyist and self-proclaimed ‘lefty’, presents his argument through contrived facts, figures and twisted examples. To give him credit, he does make some interesting, relevant and insightful comments. It is here where my problem arises: his use of unrelated examples frustratingly distract the reader from the essentially valid points. In his attempt to cover a lot of ground, Jones loses sight of what is relevant and what is not.

Despite his success in presenting his argument fairly persuasively, Jones does little to acknowledge that class hatred is more than a one sided social phenomena. While this is understandable given the premise of the book, the views on one side are highlighted, with the equally extreme views on the other side ignored completely. It made it difficult for me to follow what was written without some scepticism. Jones stresses the viewpoint of zealous right-wing politicians for dramatic effect to sell a shocking story, and this does little more than undermine the class issue that he is trying to prove still exists in society. It would have been more beneficial to present this prejudice more realistically, as a process that demeans everyone, with some emphasis on the view that it may demean one class more than another.

Nevertheless, despite his representation of the working class as mere victims, his generalisation of the working class as one singular undivided body and his romanticised depiction of the working class before the Thatcher years, I found ‘Chavs’ to be a highly interesting read. He revives an important historical debate, which, in the light of the summer riots, is of great relevance. Somewhat well-reasoned, amusing and not too demanding – if you are looking for an intelligent and thought-provoking read, ‘Chavs’ fits the bill.