Are you a yob? To help you find out, Francis Gilbert offers a handy checklist in this English Journey-style survey of the way we are, and even puts himself through the test.
Are you a victim of yobbery?
If so, it’s but a short step to practicing yobbery yourself.
Are you a perpetrator of yobbery?
Gilbert admits to occasionally putting his feet up on the opposite seat on trains.
Do you enjoy parading yourself in front of an audience?
Gilbert confesses to enjoying speaking on the radio and writing articles, but lets himself off the hook because “my primary motive was not to instil fear or embarrass other people”.
Do you actively seek out battlefields where you might vent your innate aggression?
Gilbert does not.
Finally, he asks himself whether he covertly glorified the yobbery his book seeks to condemn. “I thought about this. My intention was the very reverse of glorification: it was a desperate attempt to comprehend.”
He concludes “Phew! So I wasn’t a yob.”
The vast majority of his readers will be able to do the same. And that’s the fatal flaw in this book. Seeking to prove that we are a nation of yobs - whatever our class, whether our field is politics, business, the City, entertainment, the professions or the media - Gilbert shows merely that the majority of us have suffered at the hands of a yobbish element.
Few could doubt that yobbishness is on the increase. The strength of Gilbert’s book is his brave and exhaustive trek, on which he tracks down and interviews yobs all over the country.
“Fear of being severely hurt by louts is endemic,” he says. “Most of us are too cowardly to argue. We cowering people know that it would be very unwise to protest if attacked because we might lose our life as well as our wallet and out dignity.”
But Gilbert repeatedly undermines his argument through naivety and overstatement: He says sweepingly: “Many of us feel under siege...bullied at work...emotionally blackmailed by adverts and programmes on television, lied to by our politicians and pushed around by... money men in the City [who] ruthlessly and publicly destroy their enemies.”
The Army has been yobbish “since Henry V’s British army defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt in the 14th century.”
What Gilbert calls yobbishness, others might call healthy competition, or the desire to win that underlies many noble endeavours.
According to him, the prime minister is a yob. It was an act of yobbishness for Tony Blair to seek to enhance his role at the Queen Mother’s funeral, for example. Others might call that jockeying for position.
Gilbert’s attack on popular culture is also wide of the mark. He singles out Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard and the Mitchell brothers in EastEnders as reflecting “our pointless aggression”. Infact, Pollard is drawn as a weak, deluded figure of fun, and the bullying Mitchells as wracked with guilt at their failings as fathers.
Gilbert is sound – and mainstream - on why Yobbery is rampant. Because of a lack of effective sanctions, he says, yobs have very little fear of being challenged, and no fear of the mild punishment likely to be meted out in the unlikely event of arrest and conviction.
In the rather grandly titled Epilogue and Summation – yes, the book does read rather like Adrian Mole’s Sociology Workbook – Gilbert comes up with a must-do list that would sit easily in any of the newspapers he derides for yobbery:
we need to feel able to challenge yobbish behaviour;
we need to change our attitudes towards drugs – particularly alcohol, which should be taxed punitively;
all pupils should leave school literate, numerate and with “a trade of some sort”; and
the justice system needs to champion the rights of the victim, not the perpetrator.
Indeed, Gilbert might adapt a slogan from the prime minister he so disapproves of: tough on yobs, tough on the causes of yobs.