X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Books

Damned either way

As someone who was born ‘the other side of the tracks’, I really wanted to like Owen Jones’s book, which sets out to expose how in recent years the working classes have become ‘objects of fear and ridicule’.

2 July 2011

12:00 AM

2 July 2011

12:00 AM

Chavs Owen Jones

Verso, pp.304, 14.99

The Bogan Delusion David Nichols

Affirm Press, pp.224, Aus $22.95

As someone who was born ‘the other side of the tracks’, I really wanted to like Owen Jones’s book, which sets out to expose how in recent years the working classes have become ‘objects of fear and ridicule’. It’s true; they have. The problem is, however, that he implores us to pity them rather than fear them. And as the proverb goes: ‘Friends help; others pity.’

Jones catalogues media and political assaults on ‘chavs’ — those fake-Burberry-clad no-marks covered in bling, who hang around street corners with scary-looking dogs and bottles of alcopops. They are now wearily familiar symbols in the Daily Mail and on Channel 4 of all that is decadent about modern England.

We are told of the travel firm that offers middle-class trekkers ‘chav-free holidays’; of the London gym that provides ‘chav-fighting classes’ for bankers, who are taught to box the ears off those feckless youths who ‘tend to breed by the age of 15, and spend most of their days trying to score super-skunk’, as the gym manager puts it. And we scarcely need reminding of most politicians’ disdain for teenage mums and leery lads and other council-estate bogeymen.

Yet Jones himself, a former researcher for a Labour MP, has a patronising way of referring to working-class communities as ‘the poor’, and as ‘victims of social problems’. Sadly, he says, there is ‘no sympathy’ for these ‘vulnerable groups’, who ‘lack many of the things others take for granted: toys, days out, holidays, good food’.


Jesus wept! I know plenty of working-class people and I can inform Owen Jones that they do manage to scrape together enough pennies to buy their soot-covered kids toys and days out. In fact, working-class families tend to have many more toys than middle-class ones, since they don’t bother to veto ‘violent’ or ‘sexist’ ones.

In fretting about the self-esteem of the vulnerable, Jones shows that he is as out of touch with the working classes as any chav-fearing hack. Even worse, he frequently expresses that most obnoxious Old Labour sentiment: disappointment. He seems vexed that some of them want big houses, nice cars and cushy lives. He quotes favourably the Labour MP Jon Cruddas bemoaning the fact that so many now ‘aspire to own more material things’, and he calls for a ‘total redefinition of aspiration’. Workers should be re-educated to be more community minded, he thinks.

Jones may fancy himself as a new George Orwell, but in fact he resembles the very people The Road to Wigan Pier has a pop at: those ‘parties of society dames’ who had the ‘damned impertinence’ to advise working-class families how to spend their money.

The Bogan Delusion, by the Australian David Nichols, is a far better book. Down Under, they have ‘bogans’, who are slightly different to chavs. Where the term ‘chav’ refers to Britain’s less well-off, more youthful working class, ‘bogan’ is attached to Oz’s comfortable, home-owning equivalent. These people are likely to have large, air-conditioned homes in Australia’s suburbs. Contrast Kath and Kim, the Australian sitcom mum and daughter who wile away the hours driving their 4×4 to shiny shopping malls with the penniless scallies of Channel 4’s Shameless and you’ll get an idea of the difference. Yet where in Britain chavs are sneered at for being poor and useless, Down Under bogans are booed for having too much. The working classes can’t win.

With sociological precision — if that’s not a contradiction in terms — Nichols exposes how the term ‘bogan’, like ‘chav’, is not an accurate description of a real group of people, but rather a reflection of the cut-off liberal classes’ own sweaty nightmares about an imaginary vulgar and cultureless horde ‘out there’. ‘Bogan’ simply refers to anyone who is ‘not one of us’ in the eyes of the lefties who haunt Sydney’s and Melbourne’s eco-friendly cafés; bogans are that mysterious and vast ‘army of amoebic plebs’.

Nichols’s book reveals something completely missed by Jones: that today’s liberal assault on material aspiration is itself an expression of snobbery. The relentless criticism in Australia of suburban ‘aspirationals’, who hanker after mansions, plasma screens and large cars, Nichols concludes, is another way of dismissing the working classes as soulless. His more thorough critique of this phenomenon makes the anti-materialist treatise of Chavs seem conservative — and, ironically, snobbish — by comparison.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close