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The stereotypical ‘chav’ may be a fairly recent phenomenon, but it has become so pervasive that few would struggle to conjure up their own image of what it represents. In a thoughtful, polemical examination of the changing perceptions of working class culture, Owen Jones draws on testimony from extensive interviews to unravel how ‘chavs’ have become a byword for David Cameron’s vision of ‘broken Britain’, used to blame the poor and dispossessed for ‘choosing’ their poverty and exclusion.
In part, Jones points the finger at websites such as the appalling ‘Chavscum’ and comedians such as the creators of Little Britain, famous for picking on society’s most vulnerable, as well as lazy journalism, for the spread of the new chav caricature. However, he argues persuasively that the roots of renewed and vicious class hatred are found in the destruction of working class communities under Thatcher, which led to a collapse in values such as solidarity in favour of rampant, dog-eat-dog individualism. For 30 years, the Tories and then New Labour have tried to persuade us that we are now ‘all middle class’. Those who failed to prosper during the boom years have been written off and ridiculed as a ‘chav’ rump, a despised underclass.
Jones argues that in truth, ‘the myth of the classless society gained ground just as society became more rigged in favour of the middle class. Britain remains as divided by class as it ever was.’ He makes a persuasive and at times exhaustive case, but it begins to lose its way when trying to explain support for the BNP in working class areas.
He rightly condemns Labour for abandoning communities like Barking and criticises liberal multiculturalism for ignoring class by descending into identity politics. But he is too quick to explain away the conscious racism that underpins minority support for the far right and at times embraces a simplistic economic reductionism that risks focusing on the grievances of the ‘white working class’ at the expense of other equally exploited and marginalised workers. Jones is also too ready to accept that the Labour Party remains the vehicle for a ‘new class politics’ that can mobilise the working class electorate, when the evidence suggests its only interest is in mild placation of its base.
Nevertheless, Chavs is a useful and informative book, not least because the wider left is ill-prepared to confront the open class hostility of the wealthy and powerful when it has no sizeable base in working class communities. Single-issue campaigns are important, but only if they become a stepping stone to a broader class-conscious movement.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
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A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
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The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali