We live in thoroughly PC times, when tweeting rotten things about a black footballer can land you in jail and opposing gay marriage can see you branded a bigot. But there are still two groups of people it’s OK to hate: chavs and toffs. The tracksuit-wearing poor and the tweed-covered rich. The blinged-up yoof who haunt urban bus stops and the Burberry-sporting poshos who get blotto in Chelsea. These two sections of society are being buried beneath a mountain of media abuse. Perhaps it’s time for a chav/toff alliance to fight back against the haters?
The respectable and the right-on, who make up the vast bulk of the media and political elite, love nothing more than mocking chavs and toffs. They flit with remarkable ease between slating the lower orders for getting drunk on cheap beer and eating ‘junk food’ and ridiculing the rich for swilling claret and eating foie gras.
TV producers invite us to laugh at the antics of both the vulgar working classes and even more vulgar non-working classes. The soaraway successes in reality TV are The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea. In the former, the camera lingers on the fake-tanned faces of Essex girls as they say things like ‘Shuu’up!’ and ‘vajazzle’ (don’t ask), while in the latter we watch super-rich youngsters lazing on yachts saying ‘yah’. To the middle-class, painfully earnest inhabitants of TV-land, both social sets look like alien breeds, who speak in a foreign language and have weird mating rituals.
One week, newspapers regale us with tales about the debauchery of chavs (cue photos of a Newcastle lass with her skirt above her head), and the next they tell us in gory detail about what BoJo and Dave got up to in the drunken cesspit of the Bullingdon Club. When Guy Pelly — who is to toffs what Peter Stringfellow is to chavs — announced last week that he was closing his nightclub on the King’s Road in Chelsea following complaints from the neigbours, the media were cock-a-hoop, using the sort of lingo they normally reserve for beer-likin’ chavs. The Sun welcomed the closure of this ‘drunken toffs’ club’ with all its ‘fighting, urinating and vomiting’. On the Sun’s website, a reader declared: ‘The upper classes are as bad as the lower classes with regards to drinking and behaviour.’
Strikingly, while chavs and toffs might come from spectacularly different sides of the tracks, they’re attacked for the same reasons. Both are viewed as creepily materialistic. Chavs are lambasted for lusting after Nike trainers and chunky jewellery (even their alleged champion, the leftist author Owen Jones, wrings his hands over their desire for ‘more material things’). Toffs are frowned upon for blowing small fortunes in shopping sprees on Old Bond Street.
Both are condemned for being insufficiently eco-friendly. Chavs are attacked for taking carbon-puking cheap flights to cities in Eastern Europe, ‘destinations chosen not for their architecture or culture but because people can fly there for 99p and get loaded for a tenner’, in the snobbish words of the achingly middle-class anti-flying group Plane Stupid. Meanwhile, posh people who drive 4x4s — the Guardian sniffily refers to them as ‘Chelsea mums’ — are accused of polluting cities.
Both chavs and toffs are considered cruel to animals. The RSPCA now pretty much divides its time between roaming inner-city estates for signs of abuse against ‘dangerous dogs’ and moaning about poshos who long for a return of foxhunting. Both groups are seen as having a problem with drink: government attacks on cheap beer and the constant media hunt for a photo of a Tory holding a glass of Bolly suggest that both lower-order and upper-class boozing is something disgusting and shameful. Both are laughed at for giving their kids stupid names, whether it’s the chavvy Kaylee or the horsey Annunziata. Earlier this month, the Daily Mail reported that some poor kids are stuck in care because middle-class wannabe parents don’t want to adopt children with names like Chrystal or Chardonnay (adoptive parents aren’t allowed to change children’s names).
And both are mocked for being thick. Consider two of the best-known comic creations of recent years: Matt Lucas’s vulgar-tongued Vicky Pollard, who swaps her babies for Westlife CDs, and Harry Enfield’s Tim Nice But Dim, an utterly clueless upper-class twit who is forever making social cock-ups. Those two characters sum up how the respectable (read middle) classes now view the Great Unwashed and the Moneyed.
In essence, chavs and toffs are hated for sinning against the middle-class moralism that dominates modern Britain. Where the do-gooding classes implore us to be thrifty, eco-decent, permanently sober and PC, chavs and toffs insist on blowing their cash on nice stuff, blowing exhaust fumes into Gaia’s face, and getting pissed. And long may it last. Rather than give in to their haters, chavs and toffs should join forces, link arms across the tracks, and say a collective ‘screw you’ to the middle-class miserabilists who want everyone to be as sappy as them.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 30 June 2012Tags: iapps