Friday, 3 June 2011


There are suggestions that the word 'chav' is an attack on the working class. I'm delighted to say that Polly Toynbee is one of those who have said this, and that once again I totally disagree with everything she said.

The simple fact is that being a "chav" is nothing to do with how much money you have, or were born into. It does, however, have everything to do with attitudes and behaviour that many working-class people would be ashamed of.

Perhaps this is where Toynbee loses the plot. What she calls "poisonous bile" could actually be described as social forces that help regulate behaviour. We condemn thuggish actions and threatening behaviour. We condemn the videos of kids showing off their knives on YouTube. It's part of what holds society together. Yet according to Polly Toynbee we can't say anything nasty about chavs because, she says, they are working class. 

Think about the logic of that for a second. We don't want to do down the working class, so we can't say anything nasty about a criminal if s(he) happens to be working class.

Toynbee has dragged the word 'class' into it for a reason - to obfuscate the argument and delude people into thinking we need to read Marx again to understand the issue. Shall we substitute the word "poor" for working-class? (it seems fair enough)  We are now saying: We don't want to do down the poor people for being poor, so we can't say anything nasty about a particular criminal if s(he) happens to be poor.

Happy with that? Because that is what I think she is saying.

The obvious problem is that some of us have started to use the term "chav" fairly derisively. Perhaps Toynbee doesn't like this aspect of things? It's perhaps an ugly part of the social forces I alluded to above, but I wonder whether she has ever said "men" in the same tone of voice we use to talk about chavs? Not even once or twice?

I could argue with every sentence she spills forth. For example:

"Aspiration and social mobility are the useful mirage, laying blame squarely with individuals who should try harder to escape their families and friends, instead of seeking great fairness for all."

No. People should try harder to not stab other people, not give someone a kicking because they are bored. It's not hard, you don't need a rich Mummy and Daddy to make that decision.

There seems to be an assumption in there that if only governments eliminated inequalities tomorrow then all this crime would disappear overnight. It's an old, tired argument, and it's not going to happen any time soon, so we won't get to find out whether it's true or not. One of the problems with "social mobility" is not one Toynbee will be happy with - the fact is we only need so many Doctors, CEOs, and Lawyers. So I'm fascinated to know what sort of world she thinks we will live in when inequality is finally defeated. 

As usual with Marxists, they are not at all concerned with the details of a crime, and looking at what might actually have caused it. They start off with the explanation. They are sure it is right - though they don't have the evidence - and over and over again they deny the concept of responsibility for ones actions (apart from rich white men, who are held personally responsible for what other people do). It's the intoxicating, addictive quality that some people seem to find in Marxist ideas - suddenly they have the answer to everything! If only people would listen...

It reminds me of religious sects or cults where "missionaries" are trained in how to answer every question or rebuttal they might encounter. In fact, I think we'd be a lot safer and more rational if we lumped Guardian readers with the Moonies and Waco cult members and just got on with trying to understand difficult problems of the causes of crime without the hysterical know-alls in that paper.

Here endeth the lesson

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