Secular shelf life
The demonization of the working class
By Owen Jones
Verso. 304 pages. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 844 676 965
This is a polemical book, unashamedly left wing, written in a sharp journalistic style, which quotes freely from other journalism, TV shows and politicians.
Its central premise is that the working class has, since the 1980s, been progressively marginalised and misrepresented.
Jones’s starting point is the difference in the ways the media portrayed the disappearances of Madeleine McCann in 2007 and Shannon Matthews in 2008. For the first, the daughter of a cardiologist, £2.6 million was raised as a reward; for the second, from a dysfunctional family in Dewsbury, £25,000 was eventually raised. Jones writes: ‘If money was anything to go by, the life of Madeleine was deemed 50 times more valuable than that of Shannon Matthews’. From this territory he ranges across popular media, meritocracy, the collapse of the manufacturing industry, the role of education and the decline of the unions, to argue that the working class has been cynically disempowered by those with political authority over the last 30 years. The class system, he argues, is ‘an invisible prison’.
Of course, Jones’s diagnosis is not without its limitations. He relies heavily on the media, and quotes surprisingly infrequently from the very people he is seeking to champion. He has a tendency to romanticise the working classes and pulls a disparate group into a simplified whole to ease his argument. Nevertheless, I think the church needs to consider carefully his provocative ideas. How are we to display Christ’s classless love to our generation? In what ways do we mock or ignore the working class? How far do we send the message that Christianity is a creed for real-coffee-drinking, literate professionals? More than anything else, we need to have confidence that the gospel is the answer to Jones’s great concern. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace.