|Vicki Pollard with the distinctly chavvy Kate Moss|
Thursday, 2 June 2011
Chavving 'ell...Polly Toynbee to the rescue.
Warning: long rant and opinions aired!
Recently Polly Toynbee published an article on the term ‘chav’ (for readers outside England the closest equivalent would be ‘trailer park trash’). Articles by Polly Toynbee often grab my attention, I don’t read the kind of press she writes in and I dislike her, for me she is the left wing version of Jan Moir in the Mail. The fact that she was writing about the term ‘chav’ made me chuckle before I even read it because I knew what it would contain.
The very fair, and already much promulgated fact that one should be careful before applying any sweeping stereotypical/derogative term is the ostensible subject of the piece. Hearing a complaint about the denigration of the working class from someone who has always patronised the white working class and writes in a paper that has always failed to understand or empathise with working class culture is rich. You can see it in her article when she ruminates on the fact that the word ‘chav’ is aimed at all on council estates or who are on benefits. No it isn’t, that’s only done by people of her background and class.
I was also amused by her ruminations on the disappearance of the working class, talking of the weakening of the Unions resulting in the working class ‘losing their bearings’. Now I am a staunch trade unionist but what pile of crap. It is obvious that this woman follows the (very middle class idea) that without political guidance from political cadres the working class won’t understand economics, income or social position. Does this idiot not know where Unions came from? I can assure her that working class culture, in as far as any homogenous culture is possible exists and what’s more.. gasp!.. it has the cheek to do so with no input or guidance from elsewhere. Perhaps the old, much beloved by the left, sentimental image of earnest marchers, going to evening college to do art classes, getting up and marching at command and automatically voting for their nice Labour MP from that intellectual Fabian family is hard to find evidence of. To be honest it never much existed. The solidarity is still there, it is just that the British don’t tend to toe the line so easily. What to do when the so called traditional working class moan about immigration, refuse to strike unless it is in their own interest, want to own houses and then vote Tory? How to handle the working class anger at the removal of grammar schools, their resolute lack of enthusiasm for Europe and resolute enthusiasm for a fight and our armed forces. The response of the Toynbee’s of the world has been to mutter about Sun readers, racism and lack of education. The adoption of the word Chav has resulted from this as much as anything else.
She talks about a lack of respect for so called menial and low salary work .. from whom exactly? My mother cleaned, as have many of my neighbours. Certainly no one on the estate I live on has this attitude, anecdotal evidence reveals that the upper class seem to regard their cleaning staff as paid necessary workers whereas it tends to be the liberal middle class who either fuss over their cleaning staff or treat them like shit. Polly reveals her ignorance when she mentions a remarkable work ethic, despite low pay. So a job is all about pay and status? Really you should only expect to work hard if you are well paid, probably a graduate with a nice house. The fact is, that if you work hard you tend to keep your job, your chances of promotion are higher and your chances of improving your salary improve and ultimately it is the right thing to do… protestant work ethic anyone? The fact that this is now less the case is as much down to middle class meddling, the stupid idea of lots of people going to university has damaged traditional routes into management and job security. Now you have to get the special key to even start your working life… this sanctification of university and downgrading of physical work and skills have been very damaging.
Several comments to the article are cross reactions to Toynbee’s identification of the word ‘chav’ with anyone on benefits, in state housing or on low incomes. The word ‘chav’ is widely used amongst the working class and aimed at others, not necessarily of the same background. I have heard Jeremy Clarkson, Prince Harry and Paris Hilton described as ‘chavvy’ in my local pub. I live on a South London estate, we have a thankfully small population of lazy, huge, chain smoking, work evading, screaming, swearing idiots adorned with dozens of children who make all of our lives less pleasant. I don’t use the word ‘chav’ but it would probably be better than ‘fat, lazy, scrounging c***’ which is the general term employed in scuffles on our estate. If the white working class have a cross to bear, it is being forced to endure people like this because they are coddled and funded, it is seeing our jobs being undercut as a result of people like Toynbee hiring cheaper migrants to work for them and our schools being downgraded because people like her want to school their children in establishments with parents like themselves.
Certainly the behaviour of politicians and media demonising the dole scrounger and housing benefit scammer for their own purposes is disgraceful (although so are dole scroungers and housing benefit fraudsters) and the policies that have led to many problems for the working class come from the top (unfair taxation, poorly organised education, denuded social housing stock, immigration levels). I’m no fan of the Daily Mail, but the Guardian offends me as much, and no member of my largely left wing trade unionist family would ever dream of reading it. Much of the damage done to working class life and aspirations has been caused by those with ‘improving’ agendas. One of the best, most moving and well researched books on this subject is Michael Collin’s: The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (available on Amazon here) which looks at the origins of the demonization of this sector of our community.
It is interesting that when you look at the media’s depiction of the working class its representatives are lovable but immoral, our media like to think of the working class this way as it makes us ‘cosy’y et somehow completely different and implicitly inferior to them. Think of Shameless, Eastenders is also hilarious (which person exactly decided that working class Londoners live in flats almost rococo in the horror of their décor?). However it has to be said that these media feckless characters are complete monsters and utterly unreal, if they did exist they would be ostracised fairly quickly. Loud and gobby funnily enough don’t go down well either and nor does crime. Try and think of a working class drama or soap where gobby isn’t the default. These images are not coming from politicians, or the right wing press but from our creative media community.
Working class identity is not necessarily disappearing but perhaps it is becoming more difficult for commentators such as Toynbee to label and handle partially because they cannot come up with any good labels and partially because they just don’t get it. Surely working class people are put upon and envy their ‘betters’ whom they can join by going to university and, I don’t know, becoming a journalist? I am Oxbridge educated, have a profession but still squarely regard myself as working class and that’s just the way it is. Throughout my childhood I have been surrounded with people who read, are intelligent and talented but never wanted or needed to move ‘up’ into a middle class milieu. I don’t regard the feral underclass as being part of that, nor the kind of people that scrounge benefits. I regard the bankers and corporate money wankers as far more responsible for the troubles of today and have no compunction in calling them wankers, if I felt someone was behaving like a chav, I’d call them it. Not that they'd give a monkeys if I did.....
Just a personal opinion, no intention to cause offence...comments welcome.