This is an extremely timely book. Class is just beginning to resonate again in the popular consciousness. The causes of this are varied, but it is the right time to have a full examination of what has happened both to the working class and popular attitudes towards them.
Owen Jones is a very engaging and passionate writer and this is an excellent book. It’s a detailed examination of how the working classes were knee-capped politically, then humiliated for being unable to stand up. It’s easy to read and nod along to and it doesn’t pull its punches where they are needed.
Owen is right to blame the de-industrialisation of the Thatcher era for so much of the state that formerly proud working communities found themselves in by the mid-nineties, and equally right to blame Labour for not doing enough either to rectify or – more worryingly – to recognise it at all.
I have a couple of minor quibbles (and they are very minor, and don’t detract from the overall value of the book). The first is that the author has a tendency to over eulogise every working class character he come across. Possibly this an attempt to rebalance the very imbalance so well illuminated in our media and popular culture, but it is not one that always works.
The most glaring example for me is the authors discussion of the phenomenon of Jade Goody. My confession here is that I was a total Big Brother addict. I never missed an episode. The problem sometimes comes when an author you are looking to as an authority takes on a subject about which you know more and gets it wrong. Jade was a bully, she bullied in every series she was in (including Back to Reality). As were other middle class contestants who have been equally reviled by the public (just look at “nasty” Nick Bateman). There is a great and fascinating book to be written about the class struggle which was evident in a great deal of the tensions that made Big Brother compulsive viewing for some ( I could write a chapter alone on the triumph of working class Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace over spoiled middle class brat Nikki Grahame). But I strongly suspect Owen Jones doesn’t watch Big Brother, and while I can see the ease with which the Jade phenomenon looked like ith should have fitted the “Vicky Pollard” narrative, in fact it was Jade’s very multi-dimensional personality (she could also be terribly sweet) and the access that we got to it that makes them very different. When you do know a ridiculous amount about a subject and it is – in your view – misinterpreted, it can make you question the whole. I don’t think in this case it is justified to judge Owen’s book on the basis of the inclusion of what must have seemed like an obvious case.
Secondly, the author seems to see no differential between elites and the middle class as a whole. He will often use the term “Middle class” while referring to the wages and wealth of the top 10%. While a useful polemical construst, this denies the stratification of the middle class and if we do that, we also deny the fellowship that can exist between the different sections of the classes and must exist and be mobilised to improve conditions for lower middle classes as well as working classes.
Overall though these are minor quibbles. Owen Jones has done an excellent job at outlining the recent history of the war that has been waged against the working classes and the way all parts of the upper echalons of society are culpable. He’s made me think seriously about where I fit in the class spectrum, having always identified as middle class, many of the pressures Owen rightly ascribes as predominantly working class phenomena seem to fit my daily worries, and that sense of there being a party you never get invited to but keep hearing about – so prevalent in Chavs – is certainly an insecurity I face.
In order to know where we are going, we need to know where we are. Owen Jones has set out the challenge with pin point accuracy. I look forward to the next books where we stake out where we are going and how we get there!