"What that says about modern Britain seems pretty straightforward. How else to understand it than as more evidence of our embrace of an increasingly American social model, in which there is opportunity for all - apart from the undeserving rump too feckless to seize it? In short, we've finally acquired our own equivalent of that dread term "white trash"."There may be something in this. I personally hate the Americanism 'loser', a painfully simple term used to denote one who loses economically. And if there's anything more depressing than imagining what a 'meritocracy' would look like, it's having a conversation with unsympathetic human beings who imagine we live in one now.
On the other hand, methinks Mr Harris wrings his hands too much because while expressions like 'chav' or 'underclass' may be relatively new, in Britain the attitudes behind them certainly are not.
The Victorians distinguished between the 'deserving' and the 'undeserving' poor. William Booth used the expression 'residium' in much the same way people use 'underclass' today and in case anyone thinks only hard-faced capitalists or muscular Christians made this distinction, it should be remembered that it was Marx that distinguished between the proletariat and the lumpenproletariat and that of the latter he took a rather dim view of.
Whereas I wonder if it isn't John Harris's view that is the novelty in social history because whereas before Marxists railed against the injustice of capitalism, this didn't stop them from condemning bad behaviour, whereas today I think most leftists lack the confidence, worried, perhaps, of attracting that dread epithet - conservative. Take this for example, where Harris describes pupils' responses to his mother writing the word 'chav' on a white board:
"Chavs, the students said, are in the habit of "causing trouble, hanging round the streets, drinking and taking drugs". They are "working class, they live in council houses". Their parents "don't care, and they don't work"."Hmmm, I'm sure the class in question was fairly obnoxious, unsympathetic, and lacked imagination for the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. But hey, they're teenagers. And the fact remains that we do have a problem in many of our cities with young people hanging around, causing trouble and taking drugs. Object to the terms 'chav', 'neds', the use of 'working class' in this context (you should, since it's obviously being used inaccurately) if you will but I don't quite get this contemporary notion that you demonstrate your liberal credentials by pretending this isn't happening.