. Chavs – by Owen Jones.
I knew Owen Jones a few years ago. Owen Jones is a far left polemicist. He is a talented writer of diatribe. He slaughters and pillages his way through about 40 years of social and economic change. His argument is that the British proletariat has been very shabbily treated since the 1970s. The political and media elite has bestialized the working class so as to excuse stripping benefits from the working class. He claims that class division is now more firmly entrenched in British society than it has been for decades.
He is a homosexual – this makes him neither good nor bad. This is apropos of something. His book is more telling of his psychology than of class and economics. For him being gay may well be a choice. Being a short and baby faced boy he would have no success with the girls. Born undersized and in Stockport perhaps this is why he felt life had been unfair to him.
Jones examines the chav caricature. He is obliged to confess that he has met people who conform to the stereotype and yes it contains an element of truth.
Owen Jones is an anti-Conservative writer. He is an avowed aficionado of Nye Bevan whom he quotes on his facebook page – denouncing Conservatives as ‘vermin’. This is a measure of the man. He slams his opponents for disseminating detestation which precisely what he does himself. To be fair, he criticizes the Labour Party almost as heavily as he criticizes the Conservative and Unionist Party.
The Knives are out.
He suggests that bankers are criminals and so are many MPs for misusing the parliamentary expenses. Many MPs used their allowances which is to say there was an amount of money they could claim to pay for certain items but they did not need to itemize the bill exactly. Patently this was abused. In some cases this was criminal and indeed several MPs were prosecuted for fraud. A few ended up in prison. This had been going on for years, was widely practiced and was not secret. This does not excuse it but it is hard to see how in most cases the conduct of the MPs can be viewed as criminous.
As for suggesting that bankers should have found themselves in the dock over their mismanagement of their businesses – this claim is legally illiterate. What law can they have been said to have broken? Perhaps this new found legal expert should launch a private prosecution out of his fortune that he made penning this venomous work.
One of the few laudable opinions of his is his opposition to the partitioning of the United Kingdom. He points out that he once lived in Falkirk. He mentions Wales, Scotland and England but oddly never Northern Ireland. Perhaps he is unaware that it forms part of the UK.
A hole in the middle.
One of the major deficiencies of the book is its failure to even attempt to furnish a definition of social class. He briefly considers other definitions of working class without plumping for one alternative or other. As with race if class cannot be neatly define it is questionable if it exists at all. The boundaries are so blurred and one can change class.
Comically he defends Jade Goody. Jade Goody has a problematic upbringing but this hardly excuses her egregious ignorance of poor manners. Her racist remarks draw no fire from their firebrand anti-racist campaigner. He excuses her – because she is working class.
He goes on safari to a number of working class estates. He treats us to a potted history of Thatcherism. He blames her relaxing exchange controls for the decline of British manufacturing. This probably had an impact in British factories. There was a libertarian case for relaxing these controls. Until then it was difficult to take more than a few pounds on holiday. It was a Second World War emergency regulation that governments had unjustly kept on in peace time.
The decline of manufacturing in the UK was surely inevitable as it occurred in every Western country. It did not need to happen so fast. Mass unemployment in the 1980s was not good. How can Jones disapprove of jobs going to India and China where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty by this?
He risibly says that football is a working class sport and it has been taken away from the working class. His ignorance is truly staggering. Football has obscure origins in the Middle Ages. When it was formalized in the 19th century it was by public schools. The Old Etonian Association won the FA Cup thrice. He seems to be genuinely unaware of this.
He alludes to working class values. This nebulous concept is nowhere spelt out.
He hails the trades unions. The bullying and conformism of the trades unions is written out by him. There is nary a mention of the three day week and the penury caused by communist trades union barons.
There are many moist pages on the virtues of the miners. The fortitude of the stikers is praised to high heaven. The police are vilified as thugs. He would rather that poor people subsidise miners digging up mud than the miners find a new job.
The number of miners fell from about 1 000 000 in 1945 to about 300 000 in 1984. New technology and sources of energy caused this. Besides coal is inefficient and pollutes a lot.
There are solutions for the working poor. Do not spend on unnecessary things such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and tattoos.
Jones only mentions the negative side of things. For the working class things are so much better than in the 70s. They are no longer afflicted by strikes and power cuts. Many were able to buy their council houses. Consumer goods are much more affordable. Healthcare is much better. There are more university places and more working class people join the professions.
He fails to say how the middle class have done well. Working class people are often overpaid. Builders, oil workers and policemen are overpaid. Lap dancers and prostitutes gets too much money.
Jones is an out and out class warrior. His favourite statesmen include Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. McDonnell has gone on record praising IRA terrorists. This man openly heaps praise on the IRA’s crimes. Not just murder but kidnapping, drug dealing, theft and mutilations. Jones may be judged by the company he keeps. Republican terrorists did their best to reduce working class communities to poverty and keep them there. Jones excoriates the BNP who despite their repulsive views do not advocate violence. When faced with real fascism Jones and those of his ilk embrace it. The IRA were engaged in a vicious fight against democracy. They committed something like 200 sectarian murders. Of course the loyalist terrorists were just as bad.
Owen Jones does not practice what he preaches. He rails against capitalism and yet publishes a book where he trousers 10% of the proceeds. Should I use that dirty word – profit? He makes a name for himself by grandstanding his compassion for those on low incomes. After denouncing the affluent does he hand over his lucre to the needy? No he spends it on buying drinks for himself or on his PhD. He castigates politicians and journalists for class prejudice and yet his tome is littered with the word ‘toff’. He goes into depth about Cameron’s upbringing and quaffing champagne. This irrelevant piffle can only be there to generate a sense of envy and spite. Is toff any better than the word ‘chav’? Toff is only used to describe oneself in the sense of eco toff. He misses no opportunity to mention that a politician attended Eton. He mentions that politicians attended public school – always as something to hold against them. What is his problem? This is highly personal. Did someone slight him? What is the chip on his shoulder? I would like Jones to make it explicit – no one who attended public school should vote for the same party as him. No one who makes over a certain amount of cash should vote the same way as him. He alludes to the Bullingdon Club. This is an upper class drinking club in Oxford. He claims they are vandals but this is probably a myth.
His loathing for people who have been to public school is based on class and ignorance. It is not true to say that everyone who attends public school is wealthy. Many are there on scholarships or have their fees paid by the government due to their parents being in the armed forces or diplomatic service. Not all such schools are expensive. Many rich people have their children at state school. Sir Paul McCartney had his daughter go to state school – by chauffeur driven limousine. Many rich people living in expensive areas can do go good state schools. Ed Mililband grew up in an exclusive part of London. His father was a Marxist scholar. His communist father saw no hypocrisy in damning inequality yet benefiting from it himself and owning house. The Milibands went to the same primary school as Boris Johnson. Jones slams Boris for being well-educated but never mentions the Miliband’s privilege.
He speaks about the Cabinet of millionaires – As though this disqualifies them from government. This makes them less likely to be tempted by bribes. It makes them see things in the longer term. For them there is something outside politics – they are more likely do to the right thing even if this means losing office because they do not need the money. Most of these fortunes are self-made. Success is not to be held against someone. Of course success does not have to be of a financial sort but when running the country some financial understanding is undoubtedly a plus point.
Jones uses a scholastic register vocabulary but lets himself down with the constant repetition of the word ‘kids’.
He repeatedly accuses his enemies of populism. His hatred for the Conservative Party is so visceral that enemy is probably a fairer word to use than opponent. What does he define as populism? It seems to be a popular policy that he disagrees with. His constant attacks on his enemies for being well-off, for attending public school and so on is surely an example of demagoguery.
He libels the Conservative Party by claiming that is has used anti-Irish and anti-Jewish sentiment to grub for votes. He offers not an iota of evidence in support of his deeply offensive claim. The Conservative Party has always has plenty of Irish members and was keen to keep Ireland and Great Britain united. The Conservative Party has had Irish or partly Irish leaders such as John Wilson Croker, Andrew Bonar Law, John Major and Iain Duncan Smith. Jones claims that a law restricting immigration in 1904 was anti-Jewish which is completely false since it did not mention Jews at all. There were other immigrant groups at the time. The Conservative Party has long has Jewish members especially very high ranking ones. Disraeli was a Hebrew and it is absolutely impossible that an anti-Jewish party could have had such a man as leader. The British Conservative Party was almost alone among right wing parties in permitting practicing Jews to be members let alone politicians at the time.
Only middle class and upper class politicians have their class used against them. Cameron cannot do anything without the fact that he went to Eton being brought up.
Comrade Jones comes from a comfortable middle class household in Stockport. He went to an undistinguished comprehensive. He notes that people from a bourgeois background such as his own benefit from cultural capital – that is to say that they have books in the house and intellectual development is valued. His mother worked at Salford University as an ‘academic’ if that is the right word to use in relation to such a ‘uni’. Owen Jones applied to Oxford from his school and because he was at a state school this worked very much in his favour. Oxford as many universities openly discriminates against public school applicants. As an ardent egalitarian surely the noble thing for Mr Jones to do would to have been to decline his place at Oxford or better still not to apply in the first instance. In that case this would have given a greater chance for someone from a group whom Jones wishes to help to take that place – a working class person, ideally female and from an ethnic minority.
Jones’ work is engaging. His prose is pacey and he comes up with many examples.
He quotes various public figures such as Rachel Johnson, David Davis, Frank Field, Stephen Pound and Kevin Maguire. In fairness to Jones he gives space to his opponents to air their views.
Frank Field is the Labour MP for Birkenhead. He is noteworthy for having been a welfare minister in the early Blair years. His brief was to think the unthinkable. He reached the conclusion that the Conservative narrative on benefits was accurate and that the dependency culture needed to be tackled vigorously. This was too much for many Labour MPs. In many Labour constituencies a large minority of people are long term unemployed or on the sick.
Even Owen Jones is forced to admit that many people on disability benefit are not in fact disabled. He notes that in the 1960s there were about 500 000 people on this benefit in the UK whereas now there are around 2 500 000 on this said benefit. The population has risen in this space of time but only from about 50 000 000 to 63 000 000. In an era of excellent healthcare and prosthetic limbs the expansion of the disabled segment of the population is astonishing.
He repeats the same information quite often. He likes using the word ‘rampantly’. He also says his opponents do things, ‘shamelessly’. He is insinuating that people ought to be ashamed of what they are doing.
Even if one agrees with his summation that the situation for the British working class is bleak he offers little by way of a solution. He talks about a new class politics. Bear in mind that the working class is no more than 50% of the population. There will never be a situation in which all working class people vote for the same party. Furthermore, the poorer and less educated people are the less likely they are to vote at all.
He savagely criticizes cuts to public spending. There is no allusion to the fact that these reductions in spending are necessitated by the extremely short termist and irresponsible overspending of Jones’ beloved Labour Party. Public debt is growing at a frightening rate. Jones’s presumable prescription would have public debt ballooning out of all control. The economic consequences of such a wrongheaded approach are total meltdown.
One of the blatant things for Jones to do would to have been to have looked to the Swedish model. The Swedish model – not of the two legged kind – is a paradigm established by the Social Democrats in Sweden in the 1930s. This response to the Great Depression was more or less a permanent New Deal. A tax and spend economy with very extensive regulation. This assured good public services, very low unemployment, slow but steady economic growth and near permanent office for the Social Democrats. Freedom in the personal sphere was severely circumscribed by intrusive laws and confiscatory taxation. Sweden was a British Labourite’s dream. Some private enterprise was allowed. The Swedish model was copied to some degree in neighbouring Scandinavian lands such as Denmark, Finland and Norway. The Netherlands, Belgium and even Switzerland can be said to have followed this path at least partly. It has been somewhat successful in these lands. In France and Spain is seems to have led to economic stagnation and welfare dependency.
Owen Jones is against the free schools which are on a Swedish model. He claims they did not work in Sweden. He clearly knows little about schooling.
Not everything that Owen writes is guff. He makes so reasonable points that even I as a right winger cannot dissent from. The shortage of affordable housing is acute. In London, South-East England in general and other major cities this problem is worsening at a dramatic speed.
Tax avoidance and tax evasion are major issues that need to be dealt with. This would reduce the deficit as well as being fairer.
Jones admits that benefit fraud goes on but claims that it is slight.
The nostrum that public spending is the panacea to all society’s ills has been tested to destruction since 1945. If this fiscal policy could solve all the United Kingdom’s problems then they would have been solved several times over.
Jones writes a little about immigration. He does not take issue with huge scale immigration. Surely this is the major explanation for unemployment in the last 20 years. Even Jones is compelled to acknowledge that much of the disability benefit figure is really disguised unemployment. He deprecates the BNP and UKIP for taking aim at this issue. To be sure immigrating legally does not reflect poorly on the immigrant.
Of course economies can grow and thereby create more jobs. But in the short term there is only a finite number of job vacancies. The phrase ‘taking our jobs’ is ugly and exudes a distasteful sense of entitlement. The logic behind it – that excessive immigration aggravates unemployment – is hard to refute. As Jones noted even Gordon Brown used the phrase – British jobs for British workers. This slogan could have been found in a BNP manifesto. Dr Brown is no fool and knew that because the European Union there was absolutely no way he could turn this slogan into a policy.
It is as well to offer a counterpoint to Jones’ thesis. Arguably what the UK has suffered from is rather than too much capitalism is has been a paucity of real capitalism. If a business is dying – let it die. Bailing out the banks has saddled ordinary taxpayers with astronomical debts. This money could have been better spent on other things if indeed it were to be spend in any wise. Letting badly run banks go out of business would have taught a healthy lesson to other banks would have learnt that they are too big to fail. Many businesses are too small to succeed. Business must be exposed to marketplace disciplines. Saving these banks does not encourage caution. Bankers may conclude that a high risk strategy is in fact the surest way to profit. If the gamble succeeds then all well and good. If they lose on a gamble then no matter because they will just be saved by Mr and Mrs Taxpayer.
A bonfire of regulations could bring down the stratospherically high cost of housing particularly in the British capital. The green zone has some ecological merit to it but it artificially inflates the cost of accommodation. Eco toffs defend it because it keeps the prices of their houses very high. They can cash in any time – sell their houses. They can downsize or move to the countryside or even abroad. They can also rent out rooms.
The cost of public transport – above all rail transport – is shockingly expensive. There are inflation busting fare rises despite state subsidies to the private companies that run the railways. The state subsidy should be taken away. The board members award themselves pay rises and bonuses almost annually. Admittedly railways in the UK are now excellent for standard of service. They are clean, reliable and very safe. The market system does not work in an unalloyed form in the railways where often it is only practical for one company to serve a certain station. The government could sell the right to operate a line for a set period of years to the company that agrees to do it for the lowest fares. There must be a big penalty clause if the company welshes on this.
A fully capitalist solution is unlikely to address all the problems. The Government could perhaps offer a minimum wage job to all unemployed people who cannot otherwise be slotted into a job. What could people usefully do? Litter picking and being security guards come to mind. This could make places tidier and reduce crime drastically. Vandalism and graffiti are signs of urban decay and lead to more serious crime as well as driving away investment.
It would be revealing to learn Jones’ views on recent developments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken away child benefit from the richest 15% of families and reduced it for those just below that level. In a time when sacrifices have to be made this curtailment of welfare is surely apposite and fair.
The transformation that Jones wants to see is unlikely. Even he does not dare predict it. He would like to see an overtly working class party declare war on the middle class. He would like full blooded socialist policies to be introduced – except where they impact on him. As he observes trades union memebership is close to an all time low in the UK. The chance of them holding the UK hostage is slim.
The Labour Party is capitalizing on public anguish over spending cuts. It does not offer a radically different program. Even its leader Ed Mililand says that there would have been cut backs under a Labour Government.
Jones’ book is hard hitting. He has a journalist’s knack of emotionalising everything. His sentences are not too long and therefore are never opaque. He makes naked appeals to jealously and spite. He writes with mordancy but his writing is devoid of humour which would have made it more readable.
He trenchantly criticises the tabloid press for inventing things or for finding extremely unusual examples and misrepresenting these as typifying a situation. In fairness the red tops often do this. The thing is that Red Owen does the same. For instance, he claims a chum of his at Univ wanted a gold watch for Harrod’s. The boy’s father refused to purchase it for him on the grounds that it was ”too Jewish”. This anecdote is taken as proof positive of bourgeois racism. He does cite some empirical data to butress his arguments though.
Does he want state owned industries to be re-established? Are coal mines to be re-opened? He does not say. His prescription for a socialist Britain would have been useful.
In his column in the Independent Comrade Jones slams the Labour Party for agreeing with the Liberal Democrat and Conservative version of events on benefits. So Jones agrees that only the extreme left like himself want to make benefits a way of life.
He has to admit that many jobs now are less physically demanding than before. Surely this is easier on workers. He goes in for statistical sleight of hand on the number of job vacancies.
I know Romanians who came here with no English and still managed to find jobs. There is no excuse for Britishers failing to do so. Many Britons refuse to do fruit picking for example. These people should be offered such roles and have all benefits axed if they refuse. Some people are too choosy about their work.
Jones says that the future is likely to be depressing for people who share his viewpoint. Indeed it is probable that they will be dispirited. Capitalism will not fail. It has brought undreamt of prosperity to billions. Even a Labour Government will likely not more than tinker with it. His wish to divide the country will probably not be fulfilled