A Liberal Democrat peer has provoked a storm of recrimination after using Twitter to complain that she was “trapped in a queue in chav-land”. The word chav is widely seen as a derogatory term for a new British underclass and an expression of a new form of classism — Julie Burchill has associated the word with “social racism”.

Baroness Meral Hussain-Ece, who is, astonishingly, an equality and human rights commissioner who has advised Nick Clegg on community cohesion, claimed subsequently that the word is “endearing in my part of town”.

So why did she use it to attack a member of the public?

  1. Luke Shore says:

    “The word chav is widely seen as a derogatory term for the white British working class and an expression of a new form of classism — Julie Burchill has associated the word with “social racism”.”

    Sorry, as a young person who knows what the word ‘chav’ means I can say you have completely the wrong idea. A chav can be a person of any class, you get rich chavs too!

    From the urban dictionary:
    “Picture this a young lad about 12 years of age and 4 ½ feet high baseball cap at ninety degrees in a imitation addidas tracksuit, with trouser legs tucked into his socks (of course, is definitely the height of fashion). This lad is strutting around, fag in one hand jewellery al over the over, outside McDonalds acting as if he is 8 foot tall and built like a rugby player, when some poor unsuspecting adult (about 17/18) walks round the corner wanting to go to mcdonalds for his dinner glances at the young lad, the young lad jumps up in complete disgust and says “Whats your problem? Wanna make sommin of it? Bling Bling” when the adult starts to walk towards the young lad, the young lad pisses himself and runs off to either his pregnant 14-year-old girlfriend or his brother in the army crying his eyes out.”

    These are chavs, are you telling me all working class people look like this?? http://www.urbandictionary.com/zoom.php?imageid=48372

  2. What tribal nonsense. It’s a throwaway comment against rude men and women who have no self respect and questionable morals.

    Get a life!

  3. Seriously? A storm of recrimination? Give me bleedin strength. As someone who comes from the ‘White working class’ area of Bethnal Green in the East End if London and who ’emigrated’ to ‘posh’ Woking I have never heard such a silly thing in all my days.

    I call my mates chavs all the time and personally am proud to call myself “the local Chav on the hill” where I live. I’m proud of my working class roots! Meral and I come from the same part of town. I know how she meant this and so does the mJority of the rest of the world. Only the loony left get their knickers in a knot over stuff like this.

    Meral is one of the most decent and down to earth people I know. If there were more people like her in politics, Westminster would be a better place. End of.

    Chav and proud.

  4. The offensiveness (or not) of the term ‘chav’ varies from community to community and from person to person. I’m quite happy for people like Spidey to reclaim it, and doing so can help to lessen its impact as a term of abuse. But by and large it represents a massive attempt to portray an enormous sub-section of society- which is largely poor and socially excluded- as sub-human, and not worth engaging with. I’ve seen groups* of privileged students dress up as chavs ‘for a laugh’ and the views expressed here: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=135561 are depressingly common, despite the fact that rich students engage in appalling anti-social behaviour far more visibly than ‘chavs’ (and let’s not even mention The Bullingdon Club).

    *they’d be called gangs if they were poor, of course

  5. Graeme Hurst says:

    What a pathetic excuse for an article. The term “chav” is not a defamatory word for the working class at all. If you believe that idiot Julie Birchill, you really have lost it.

    I’m working class, and I constantly insult people with the term “chav” because, shock horror, stereotypes are based off observation. If we all listened to your PC twaddle, practically every term would been snobby, racist, classism etc.

    I must admit though, my comment is fairly redundant considering you’d already been torn apart by the other commenters here.

  6. Calm down dear.

    Unfortunately I dont doubt its caused recriminations on twitter. Theres a very nasty puritanical streak running through the left at the moment, the kind of self righteous screeching that can only come about through delusions of moral supremacy. Almost religious.

    Theyd do well to purge themselves of that and rejoin reality.

  7. Nowadays the word CHAV is an expression of personal style and NOT of anything remotely to do with class.

    In Scotland, they’re called “Neds”, in the Midlands and The North (wherever that is) they’re called” Chavs”.

    Here in the South, we call them “pikeys” .

    Pikeys is a good example of a derogatory term for ” travelling folk” (gippos) which has come to mean people who dress and behave badly.

    Get a life all you socialist pikeys.

  8. I live in the south and would never use the word ‘pikey’ to describe someone, however badly dressed. I am also not a stereotypical-liberal-socialist type.

  9. While some people may reclaim the word (or use it to describe footballers like Wayne Rooney) it’s pejorative and inherently linked to class. The Daily Mail have described the term as meaning “working class and vulgar” and assigned it to a “tragic underclass”.

    If a Tory MP had used this word would we have posted this? No. But Meral Ece is paid by the taxpayer to be an equality and human rights commissioner. For her to to say this, even as a throwaway remark, displays either a spectacular lack of awareness or professionalism (take your pick).

    @Richard: You say that these terms have nothing to do with class and then point out that they’re linked to the travelling community. Way to contradict yourself!

  10. It seems odd that people who take the deliberate decision to dress (and act) in the chav lifestyle might then be offended by being described as thus.

    Especially as most seem to revel in the description.

    I think this is another tedious case of “offence by proxy” by unthinking outsiders deciding what other people should find offensive.

  11. To suggest ‘Chav’ is a particularly heinous or offensive word borders on hysterical nonsense. Many people actually take pride in the term and there is debate within scholars as to whether Chavs have become a social sub-group in the same way that Punks, Goths, Skins and Hippies are considered within Cultural study. It may have been linked to class initially, but you’ll find largely the class it was aimed at has warmly embraced the word.

    The people who use the word chav against others more often than not are working class and very typically kids in a school playground using it against each other.

    Really, I see no reason to get offended by this obviously throwaway remark by Baroness Meral Hussain-Ece.

  12. @Laurence: Not past two years of doing a Culture A-Level I’m afraid. I’ve probably got the solid paperwork buried upstairs somewhere in my ‘To revise before exam’ pile, but I’m not aware of any links off of the top of my head, Sorry.

  13. The bestselling ‘Little Book of Chavs’ goes through a list of ‘chav’ jobs: supermarket checkout workers, cleaners, hairdressers, fast-food workers, etc. The follow-up ‘The Chav Guide to Life’ revealed that, as well as being ‘loud and lower class’, ‘Most Chavs come from not well-off, working-class families on council estates.’ Suggested acronyms (so-called ‘backronyms’) include ‘Council Housed And Violent’ and ‘Council Housed Associated Vermin’.

    A few years ago YouGov ran a poll of people who worked in TV: the majority thought that probably the most famous ‘chav’ icon out there, Vicky Pollard, was an “accurate representation” of the white working-class.

    At the end of his first term at Sandhurst, Prince William dressed up for a ‘chav-themed’ fancy dress party. When the other cadets demanded he ‘put on a chavvy accent and stop speaking like a Royal’, he couldn’t do it: ‘William’s not actually the poshest-sounding cadet, despite his family heritage, but he struggled to pull off a working-class accent,’ one cadet told The Sun.

    Take the alarming findings from the recent BritainThinks survey about class:

    “There was a strong feeling in the focus groups that the noble tradition of a respectable and diligent working class was over. For the first time, I saw the “working class” tag used as a slur, equated with other class-based insults such as “chav”. I asked focus group members to make collages using newspaper and magazine clippings to show what the working class was. Many chose deeply unattractive images: flashy excess, cosmetic surgery gone wrong, tacky designer clothes, booze, drugs and overeating. By contrast, being middle class is about being, well, a bit classy.”

    Have a look through websites like ‘ChavTowns’. I include entries about my old hometown, Stockport. Check out the outright class bile in them.


    Yes, the word ‘chav’ depends on who says it, just as ‘queer’ means something differently depending on whether a gay or a straight man says it; as does the ‘p’ word depending on whether a British Asian or white says it; as does the ‘n’ word depending on whether an African-American or white person says it.

    But I don’t think it’s possible to deny that middle-class people use it in an entirely class-based manner.

    It’s linked to the theory we’re all middle-class now, apart from ‘the chavs’: the idea of a ‘respectable working-class’ has died out. Take Simon Heffer, who argued: “Something called the respectable working class has almost died off. What sociologists used to call the working class does not now usually work at all, but is sustained by the welfare state.’

    Or similar sentiments from Amanda Platell: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1247231/AMANDA-PLATELL-Its-shabby-values-class-blame-societys-ills.html

    The Baroness has apologised for her use of the term, but it was – I think – originally tapping into a classic ‘great unwashed masses’ sentiment.

    Given how it’s used by so many people, I think we all need to abandon it. If it’s about style, why not use words like ‘tacky’, ‘trashy’, or ‘bling’ instead?

  14. Whilst I appreciate the apology from the Baroness and her subsequent removal of the above-mentioned tweet, she followed on with, amongst others, the following tweets:
    ” am a fan of Eastenders. Even knew few actors. Dont like agressive girls shouting & pushing my disabled mum.”
    “Ok – today out in supermarket with disabled mum. Surrounded by gang of aggressive y girls, got louder, shreaking & v rude. Pushed my mum.”
    The above sounds like a serious and threatening situation, so I’m astonished the Baroness saw fit to tweet during it.

  15. Absolutely ridiculous, obviously put up and attacked by middle class white men who feel that they are so politically correct, they need to police the whole of twitter.

  16. If the woman in question was doing nothing worse than talking about Eastenders and eating a bun, then whatever the term used I question the fact that this peer saw fit to look down on her and complain about her. It is pure snobbery.

    This is compounded by her role as equality and human rights commissioner. If this is behaviour then she obviously does not really think that everyone is equal regardless of their background or other factors.

  17. MaryContrary says:

    Jonathan, you really have proved yourself to be a sanctamonious twerp. CHAV=LUMPENPROLETARIAT and why not take some time to hang Marx and Engles up on what they had to say about them. Its twerps like you who kissyfooty around your precious and imagined ‘working class’ and indulge a great bundle of people, who arnt actually working class (who are cheap sell outs) and who have happily accepted flat screen tvs, big budget dramas and cheap buns from tescos in return for the destruction of british industry and the protection of worthwhile jobs and the community expectations which can come with it. Its the people like her who dont bother voting and have a disturbing tendency towards faschistic anti intellectualism. They really are the enemy within for the labour movement and rather than protecting the ‘chavs’ as you term them we should be promoting positive role models and class conciousness. But i trust thats not on your inky pinky radar. Have fun lad.

  18. @Owen Jones: I think it’s extraordinarily dangerous to conflate one woman’s remarks with the entire Middle Class’ view in “But I don’t think it’s possible to deny that middle-class people use it in an entirely class-based manner.”

    Whilst I think the Baronesses comment was ill-considered and should probably be apologised for, I think it’s entirely unfair to nigh accuse her of class war.

  19. Clearly the Baroness regrets the tweet and as mentioned already she has offered an apology. This is a lady who has worn equality on her sleeve for many years and has been a tremendous role model for Turkish-speaking people living in the UK [and for many others for that matter].

    The word ‘chav’ has been glamourised by TV series such as Little Britain – this in itself is unfortunate to say the least. The bottom line is there is a serious problem in society, where people going out minding their own business are often threatened by youngsters who have no consideration for the impact that their unsociable behaviour causes.

    I presume the Guardian ‘journo’ who wrote the piece was really struggling for news when she wrote this???

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