Plan B, the rapper from London's Forest Gate, recently complained about the use of the word 'chav'. His argument was that it was as offensive to the working class people it denigrated as the abusive terms levelled at ethnic minorities (P-words, N-words and a host of others routinely spewed from the mouths of single cell organisms).
Now. There is an argument that ‘chav’ is less a snobbish put-down for the working class generically than a dig at anyone lacking common decency. The gibe is certainly most clearly used as a derogatory term for a particular segment of the working class (if anyone can define ‘working class’ since Thatcherism totally fragmented society a generation ago). Chav is not usually aimed at the proletariat per se but rather the underclass so readily caricatured as chainsmoking benefit cheats and Jeremy Kyle fodder by the Daily Mail or the likes of Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Hussein-Ece. You can bet your bottom pound the Eton schoolboys who jeered a Right to Work march in 1980, inspiring Paul Weller to pen the classic Jam single 'Eton Rifles' would have used the word 'chav' had it entered the lexicon back then. They probably settled for proles or peasants.
But as a blanket term for ‘poor people’, chav is probably as accurate as referring to all aristocrats as inbred. It seems disproportionate to bracket it with racial slurs. And in the context of sneering at anyone who has been driven out of further education by poverty, chav says far more about the ignorance of the person who would use it in that context. If anything, the expression targets those who don’t see any point in education because they are drip-fed ludicrous aspirations by magazines celebrating celebrity culture (and wannabe reality TV contestants are liable to come from any class).
Except, in class-obsessed Britain, the stickiest labels are those directed at the lower end of the social scale.
Also, the middle class can just as readily exhibit ‘chav tendencies’. Take ‘Sir’ Fred Goodwin. He owns a mansion in Edinburgh's leafy suburbs and a New England holiday retreat (where, according to the RBS officials he once bullied on a daily basis, the swimming pool has his name printed in large blue tiles below its pristine surface). 'The Shred' probably favours the same Italian pinstripes, expensive cars and tawdry faux antiques as any Premiership footballer, although he would stick out like a grizzled sore thumb in the VIP lounge of a West End club. Similarly, Goodwin no more empathises with the 3.8 million British children living below the poverty line than Wayne Rooney does. (And surely much of the Manchester United star's off-pitch behaviour ticks all the so-called 'chav' boxes, despite his reputed £26,000 per day elevating him way beyond working class).
Goodwin and, indeed, all those chief executives whose bonuses make a mockery of the Government’s austerity measures, are as 'bling obsessed' and self-centred as any Burberry-clad, pitbull-brandishing sink estate caricature. Except, in class-obsessed Britain, the stickiest labels are those directed at the lower end of the social scale.