Debating the word 'chav' is irrelevant to the working-class experience
Extending choice for the poorest will achieve more than defining who they are
Suzanne Moore 4.6.11 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/04/suzanne-moore-chavs-working-class
Cast your minds back to Tony Blair's great triumph of 2007. He appeared in a sketch for Comic Relief with Catherine Tate, who was playing the stroppy Lauren Cooper. She takes tea in to Blair and starts babbling about Center Parcs and Nike Town. Exasperated, the then prime minister came back with: "Am I bovvered?" What a guy! He could act? Who knew? If only Gordon Brown had been able to do a turn in Gavin & Stacey, maybe things would have been different. Anyway, part of Lauren's diatribe was actually about chavs a nd pikeys. Her accent is heavy patois. This is now the London accent. The fact is our "racist" white working class sound mostly black. I remember no great outcry about chavs then. We laughed at her and Vicky Pollard. Murmurs about Little Britain's white, privately educated men making fun of young working-class women and blacking up started to make things a bit uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as the average city bus ride. There are always arguments on buses, people muttering to themselves, chicken boxes thrown, gangs of kids irritating those desperately trying to read Ian McEwan. You are either on the bus or off the bus. Or, if possible, in a taxi … but on the bus I do hear the word "chav" often thrown around by those who would be seen this way by others. Owen Jones's new book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, is really much more about class, and is a blinding read. I like much of what he says, but don't share his faith in the Labour party. Nor the culture of offence that springs up around "banned" words. I say banned words because Meral Hussein-Ece got in a bit of bother after tweeting about being stuck in "chav land". She is a baroness and a Lib Dem, and she should know better. She was describing aggressive behaviour, and I defended her because I don't really know her as a peer or Lib Dem but as a Turkish Cypriot councillor where I live, who spent years filling in benefit forms and setting up refuges for women. Has she done a lot for working-class people? Yes. Is she now getting vile racist abuse? Yes, such as: "We would love to see you striped (sic) of your British passport and sent back to the third world dump you came from." Here, the end point of identity politics looms into view. I am working-class made good. (Or bad? I told the Labour boys attacking her that I didn't give a flying fuck for their sanctimony. But I am not a baroness. Any day now, surely?) Our kids went to schools not good enough for our MP, the first black woman to get into parliament. Here, at what academics call the interstices of race and class, and others would call a huge mess, a clearer understanding of the class politics that Jones calls for would indeed help. But is this uptightness about chavs really new and heartfelt? Isn't it all really simply a question of definition? Julie Burchill talked about chavs in 2005, but because she is a maverick her arguments went unheard. Michael Collins wrote The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class in 2004. He had a go at me in it, as I have described the killers of Stephen Lawrence as "white trash". I stand by that absolutely. In fact, one of my all-time heroes, Roseanne Barr, once described herself as America's greatest nightmare – "white trash with money" – and much of what Jones describes – the turning of the lower orders into subhumans – is not confined to the UK. Jeremy Kyle's moralising to dispossessed, DNA-tested losers is merely a formula where this bizarre bullying constitutes entertainment but is also the only time you see working-class people on TV. But then culture always moves faster than political discourse, and as this discourse has been about the feral, feckless workless for so long, it now works in tandem with it. The old respectable working class with their work ethic and "community spirit" has been hammered out of existence. The jobs they do make them identify as middle class. Those who won't take those jobs are skivers. The new low-pay, part-time jobs in the barns of call centres and retail are not unionised. The last civil war – the miners' strike – put paid to that. I can't share all the nostalgia for some of these old ways of life. The claustrophobia of "community" and "family" for some of us felt like the "learned incuriosity" that Lynsey Hanley talks of about life on council estates. How do we recognise class, then? And how do we redefine aspiration as something other than individual? Weirdly, the economy may force back the Tory ideology on home-owning as younger generations will never be able to buy. If home-owning is the ultimate route to belonging, we are going to have a lot of people who will never belong. We can maybe see where the right is going. David Brooks's The Social Animal has been embraced by politicians precisely because of its inherently conservative conclusions about "character". Brooks trots through the neuroscience and sociobiology to explain how we are governed by more than reason. As usual, all the radical implications of Freud are stripped away. Instead, we learn that what makes us achieve in life is not IQ, but impulse control. Self-restraint. Where best do we learn that? In stable middle-class families. A culture of instant gratification is learned in disorganised families. Poor people. Single mums. The usual. In other words, social policy has to start with this. Giving actual money to poor people is a stupid idea. They suffer from moral poverty. This sense of a lack of self-restraint peaked in the gendered holy trinity of chavdom – Katie Price, Kerry Katona and Jade Goody. The right fear out-of-control women. Always. If we understand anything at all about the political unconscious, then the chav phenomenon is the rampant id. I want it all here. Right here, right now. I understand the feeling, sure. When listening to James Delingpole "arguing" with Jones on the radio, my main thought was that if this kind of mind is what the best schools produced, the money would have been better off spent on crack and crisps. But to watch the middle class argue over whether the word chav is as derogatory as Paki or nigger is ludicrous. Chavdom is just a smash-and-grab on the "values" on offer. It is a response to the rich slagging off the poor for being poor. It's a sideshow. If you really want to embrace this class solidarity, go for it – and Jones is passionate about this. But I don't see a collectivity forming around this one. I have no need to embrace my inner chav. I already deep fried it. And I hate shopping. Call me a traitor to my class. The C-word is not chav but class, and another word will spring up to replace it. It always has. False empathy is just another kind of false consciousness. What values are being defended here, and by who? While we argue about which words are the right ones, we do the job of the right. The answer is to neither demonise nor celebrate aspects of working-class life, but to extend choice in every way. Culturally and politically. By any means necessary.