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"Why the chav label is still repellent"

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It’s a strange land in which Baroness Hussein-Ece, a Liberal Democrat peer and member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, shares opinions with the founder of a website charmingly called ChavScum.

This ChavScum website is in the business of hating “chavs” – that is, working class people who sometimes dare to wear designer labels, and occasionally speak aloud. “CONTACT ME FOR THE ROMFORD CHAV PROTESTERS,” screams ChavScum (all in upper case), “WHERE WE GO INTO PLACES AROUND ROMFORD FOR DIRTY DIRTY CHAVS AND TAKE THE P*SS.”

Now we could dismiss ChavScum – probably not his real name – as a random maniac, except that a few weeks ago Baroness Hussein-Ece, the first woman of Turkish-Cypriot origin to sit in the House of Lords, tweeted her chav-hate from a shop, as if other equally chav-hating tweeters might be on hand to rescue her, with baseball bats, decent clothes or maybe elocution lessons. “Help,” she typed. “Trapped in a queue in chav land. Woman behind me explaining latest EastEnders plot to mate while eating largest bun I’ve ever seen.” Perhaps she and ChavScum should form a new political party, dedicated to removing the working classes from shops, unless they agree to be entirely silent, and to stop wearing Burberry?

This story is fascinating because the tweet came from a woman whose political career is dedicated to a fairer society. She has done good work on racial equality and domestic violence. And still she thought that nothing was wrong with using the term “chav”. She apologised half-heartedly as soon as she was caught, sure. First she said it was no big deal. To call someone a chav is “endearing in my part of town,” she said.

Ah. We just don’t know your funny Hackney ways, Baroness – you’re all in it together down there. I’m sure you and the chavs toast each other with lager and rejoice in your capacity for irony. Then she said the chavs were upsetting her disabled mother, although presumably a Turkish immigrant who raised her daughter to become a peeress needs no-one’s pity. This was far from a proper apology. It was a partial, resentful apology, and she was moaning about it on Twitter days later. Even Lib Dems who agitate for racial equality, it seems, despise the chavs.

They live on Pot Noodles and cider, as presumably they just don’t have the taste to shop at Fortnum & Mason

Chav is a newish word – it’s been around for a decade – but it expresses the old opinion that poor people are revolting. So revolting they presumably deserve to stay poor. There is a clear psychological reason for this. If you look around and see a country with immense social inequality, with millions trapped in failing schools and living on dismal council estates, where if you are born poor you will almost certainly die poor… there is only really one way to live with it: you demonise those at the bottom, despite the fact they often work harder, and longer, for less money. If the poor are your enemy, and something despicable, you have no responsibility to them. Thus the white working classes are now labelled “chavs” and mocked for their lifestyle.

The term leaks into our culture. Vicky Pollard of Little Britain was the original TV chav – uneducated, unemployable, and hopeless. She was a gobby moron with a Croydon facelift, set up as the target of the nation’s laughter. The Little Book Of Chavs takes the anti-chav manifesto further, explaining that chavs are “imbeciles” who, when they do work, are found in such depraved professions as hairdressing or cleaning. They live on “Pot Noodles, cheap cider and McDonald’s for Sunday lunch”, as presumably they just don’t have the taste to shop at Fortnum & Mason.

The chav label is particularly repellent because it singles out aspiration for special punishment. The chav typically wears Burberry, and this is considered especially loathsome by chav-haters. How dare you wear designer labels, they spit, as if the working classes should be immune from advertising, while the rest of us suck it up? The saddest thing of all, of course, is that we are demonising ourselves. Snobbery has always lived in Britain’s great houses but now it leaks ever down and out, all the way to a woman who had the drive – and the luck – to become a Lib Dem peeress.

Stylist's regular columnist Lucy Mangan is on maternity leave. Read all of Tanya Gold's columns here.

Picture credit: Getty Images

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