Posts Tagged ‘owen jones’

Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

Monday, January 4th, 2016 | Books, Religion & Politics

Chavs is the second book I have read by Owen Jones. The other being The Establishment.

In Chavs, Jones rails against the lens that working class people have been put under. Led by politicians, and then the media, society has been encouraged to demonise the poor as benefits-claiming jobless scroungers.

Who exactly are the working class? Neil Kinnock offers Karl Marx’s definition.

People who have no means of sustenance other than the sale of labour, are working class

This seems a very workable definition. I would include myself in the working class. I own no business of any value, nor any property, and have to sell my labour to pay the bills.

Before Thatcher took a sledgehammer to British industry in the 80’s, being working class was something to be proud of. As industry disappeared, entire communities were left without jobs and without hope. By 2010 there were two and a half million people unemployed, and less than a million job openings. There simply were not enough to go round. What sympathy do such communities receive? None. They are told to get on the bus and go chase a non-existent job. So Jones contests.

The argument in support of letting industry go was that it needed modernising and could not be propped up by the state. As we now know though, this isn’t the case. We managed to put together a multi-billion pound bailout for banking after all. So bailing out an entire industry is entirely possible.

The ultimate betrayal of the working class was the creation of New Labour. Thatcher’s greatest victory. No longer did Labour aim to help the working class improve their quality of life, but merely to encourage them to escape into the middle class. Thus, if they remained poor, it was their own fault.

This created a climate that you were either middle-class of a benefits scrounger, and there was no in between. Jones quotes Simon Heffer saying so. That feels ironic given I have just read Heffer’s book. No doubt he would wince at the ‘z’ in ‘Demonization’ too.

Society became outraged at the £1 billion we were losing on benefit fraud. Never mind that over £2 billion of eligible benefit is not claimed and that if everyone got exactly what we deserve the state would be less well off. And especially forget the £70 billion per year big business avoids in tax. A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that many people doing cash-in-hand jobs on the side do to to pay for basics like food, heating, or debt. Those are the people to blame.

The media jumped on the bandwagon too. The Sun was outraged when people went to the local shop in their pyjamas at lunchtime. Yet a quick visit to any area full of middle-class students, such as Bodington Hall, would offer a similar sight.

This allowed the government to cut into the working class. Between Thatcher taking power and Blair outing them, the tax burdeon on the working class increased from 31.1% to 37.7%.

Jones comes to the support of Jade Goody. She, after all, is a member of the demonised working class. He makes a good case. He attacks Little Britain, which he correctly identifies as being incredibly offensive, with it’s bad stereotypes of gays, transgender people and the poor.

He also suggests Wife Swap would be better-labelled class swap. From the few episodes I have seen of the show it does seem to come down to that. Far from being an attack on the working class though, it always seemed like comparing the loving family environment of the working class to the cold materialistic stand-off-ish attitude of the middle class.

I take exception to his accusation that there have been no working class bands since Oasis though. While Kaiser Chiefs lyrics may not always reflect well on the working class, such claims could not be made against the also-very-popular Arctic Monkeys.

Back onto the real subject matter, the argument about environment is less clear. Jones claims that the middle class are better able to provide for their children because they can get them an advantage in education and jobs. This is simpler to the case Gladwell makes in Outliers. Things are not that simple though. As Pinker points out, parenting has little effect on a child’s personality or intelligence, so the value on focusing on education is unclear.

It also appears not to the case that the middle class are better at managing their money. As Chris Tapp, director of debt advice charity Credit Action, says, poor people are actually excellent at managing money – one has to be to get by.

On reducing council tenancy from lifetime to 5 or 10 years, I’m torn. As my friend Chris points out, those of us in the private renting market enjoy 6 months at best. And when I advocated building more council housing my friend Helene elaborated on the issues of lifetime tenancy in The Netherlands. However, a few hundred pounds in moving bills wouldn’t actually trouble me. I would be very annoyed, but I could easily get such a sum out of my savings. Whereas I imagine many council tenants do not have a savings account.

One thing that put me off was that at least one of the facts in the book appears to the incorrect. For example, when discussing the 2011 riots, he describes them as spreading to northern cities including Leeds. But they didn’t. There was no rioting in Leeds during that period.

The take-home message for me is that there will always be a working class and it is important to have one, so we should focus on making their (our) lives better rather than offering an escape. This seems a difficult proposition to take fault with.


The Establishment

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 | Books

Ah Owen Jones, hero of the left. In his book “The Establishment: And how they get away with it” he rails against the man. The man it turns out is politicians, big business and the media. Of course Jones is an Oxford graduate who writes for a national newspaper. It received mixed reviews from the critics (who are also part of The Establishment) but wider support from the proletariat including being Waterstones’ book of the month.

Jones jumps around to various topics, gradually weaving them together. He begins by talking about the links between politicians and big business. Most big businesses have MPs on their boards for example, and cabinet ministers regularly earn £70,000 a year for non-executive directorships. Money that most people can only dream of earning for working full time, let alone for a handful of days year. Being an MP can be incredibly profitable in this manner and yet how can they possibly claim to be objective in such regards?

Thus big business took control of our society after being invited in by Thatcher. This was the end of the drive towards income equality in the UK. They settled down and began to fuse economic liberalism with an authoritarian state.

Jones discusses Hillsborough, though his discussion of the Battle of Orgreave is much more relevant. The police attacked, beat and falsely arrested protestors and then tried to cover it up. After a 7 year battle, they were eventually forced to pay out half a million pounds in compensation. Sadly, things haven’t got much better, as the killing of Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller who got caught in the G8 protests shows.

No wonder so many people are too scared to attend protests with the fear of violence, kettling for hours and hours, and false arrest ever present when the police are around.

According to Jones, the police have have become an instrument of the state, going round murdering and raping people without consequence. Their actions rob of us our right to free assembly and protest, and their stop and search powers rob us of our presumption of innocence, even though only 9% of such searches end in arrest, let alone charges being pressed.

So much for the working class being the benefit scroungers too. Jones claims it is the rich that are the beneficiaries of the system. They enjoy the educated workforce, infrastructure and regulated society that the state provides while benefiting from huge government handouts.

The bailout of the banks is an amount of money the rest of us can only dream of. The low pay companies offer the working class is subsides by working tax credits and housing benefit. Companies like ATOS enjoy £100 million a year contracts to turf people off sorely needed benefits while the owners send their children to heavily subsidised public schools that are given £88 million a year in tax-breaks.

Yet the government continues to sell off and privatise our public services. Why? Not because the electorate demand it. Polls show that even most Conservative voters support public ownership of the utilities and railways. More likely, it is the £70,000 a year politicians are receiving for their non-executive board positions.

Jones concludes that we should take back our public services, which could be done at no cost as franchises expire, and increase income tax on the rich to bring in extra money. And it would bring in extra money. Rich people do not leave when you increase the tax rate, because they want to live in a safe and secure society with good utilities, infrastructure and a well-educated workforce. Societies that enjoy heavy state spending.

The Establishment

Just a footnote regarding the book cover above: my copy had a quote from Irvine Welsh on the front, not Russell Brand.