The demonisation of the white working class
"Chav bashing" has become an acceptable replacement for overt racism and fuelled the rise of the EDL.
This weekend has seen David Cameron play on racial tensions, declaring multiculturalism to be over. The latest EDL demonstration became a catalyst for discussion about how to prevent the far right from exploiting the upcoming economic instability. Those gearing for the fight against the cuts are agonising over how 'their' movement can generate wider appeal, while the Labour party continue to hand-wring about how to recapture support from 'working class' voters. In all these discussions, there is one word that is notable by it's absence, a word that has permeated our culture, and become the insult that no-one wants applied to them.
Chav. A hogarthian caricature with easily identifiable dress and language epitomising everything that is wrong with 'broken Britain'.
The ultimate insult in a society where inequality can now only be articulated with language and values a university education produces. Both 'left' and 'right' quantifying success in terms of how far you have moved away from the community into which you were born, and how effectively you have blended traces of 'chav' into middle class understated blandness. 'Chavviness' clear evidence of a lack of aspiration.
If you come from a community that could be described as 'working class', the behaviour you exhibit, your clothing and speech, or the name of your child, if at all 'chavvy' can be used to marginalise you. Homophobia and overt racism no longer acceptable, 'chav' bashing, and fear of Islam and immigration are their acceptable replacements at the dinner table.
Northern towns once at the heart of our economy, had the industry that sustained them ripped away under Thatcher. The credit based economy that successive governments have favoured since, didn't really benefit them. We've had the same economic policies for 30 years, with Labour offering public sector jobs, and state support to hide low wages and increasingly scarce low paid, flexible, insecure employment..
There are districts of Rochdale where 84% percent of people need benefits. Radcliffe, proud home of paper manufacturing till the early eighties, now has a town centre which their Wikipedia page describes as barely viable. In Todmorden, the last 15 years have seen the remaining industrial employers disappear one by one, as the last time served engineers reach their forties. Local market traders, with the visible examples of Rochdale and Burnley nearby, fear their town is dying because the largest local employer is now the high school. The view of new businesses started in each wave of immigration, distorted by the wilful scaremongering about Islam and immigration by our politicians and media.
It is towns like these where groups like the EDL will capitalise on genuine feelings of alienation. It is in these towns that the fight against the cuts will be most important, and it is towns like these where Labour will hand-wring about how to recapture the 'working class vote'. If any of these problems are to be addressed, we are going to have to discuss how our economic policies have done so much damage, and why we have allowed the white working class to be abandoned and demonised so effectively.