Thursday, November 23, 2006

The problem with Polly

As ever, I'm a little behind with this one but I decided I must get something down about it and this has been my first opportunity. Wednesday's Guardian had the Tories in a spin as one of 'Red' Dave's closest advisors, Greg Clark, suggested the party look to Polly Toynbee for solutions to poverty and not, gulp, Winston Churchill.

Well, the gloves were off and there were feathers flying around all over the coop. Reactionary Snob was not happy; Mr Eugenides called NHS 24 but was put on hold and forced to listen to Stones' "Time is on my Side". Doubtless, Norman Tebbit was somewhere quietly going so mad as to almost become sane. Ok, let's not stretch credulity.

The sympathies of the above-mentioned mean their apoplexy is understood, if not understandable. However, the majority of those with something to say on the matter missed the point.

I enjoy reading Polly Toynbee and agree with her more often than not. She's one of a handful of commentators who, it may be argued, sticks mainly to one field, in her case social policy. Nonetheless, what ought to vex people about Clark's comments is not the type of commentator he's endorsing but that he's endorsing one at all.

I may be about to do myself out of a blog here but bear with me: Polly Toynbee's opinion on poverty and equality matters no more than mine, yours, or the piss-soaked drunk outside my window, howling at the moon at 3am. She doesn't speak for anyone but herself; she ain't elected; she has no mandate. She's a successful journalist with a mediocre political past.

I watch 'The Week', 'Question Time' and the like because I'm interested in the discussion and debate. The opinion formers often make things more lively, but as a good friend of mine said to me the other day more often than not they are sniping from the wings, pointing out other people's petty hypocracies which are doubtless no worse than their own. I'd be a bit nervous if John Reid came out and said we should all look to Jeremy Clarkson for imagery on the model system of law and order. Some may even think Reid already does. But I'm touching on personal dislike there when I'd prefer to stick to the reasons for avoiding taking the commentarati too seriously.

They do have their purpose. Christ, I wish it was my job which is why I sit here labouring away, scratching my bonce night after night writing drivel about five people read. Toynbee, Hitchens (Peter), Littlejohn (Gawd 'elp us), Hastings, Jenkins, Freeland, Hari et al all make for entertaining reading. They provoke thought and discussion. They help plebs like me form our own ideas on the issues of the day, if only through crystallising my opposition. They make Question Time more interesting. Even the professional cynics like Ian Hislop, who appears to hate everything, make for interesting viewing. But they're not wonks or policy researchers or even apparatchiks. They have their own agendas and represent no one but themselves and that is why Clark and 'Red' Dave are wrong to bow down before them.


At 3:22 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you've got this upside down. Nobody's saying that the Conservative party should do what Polly Toynbee says from now on. If she goes all BNP, the Tories aren't going to be tied to her views.

Rather, what she has already said was used as an example of a way of thinking (relating specifically here to views on the importance of relative poverty) which the Tories would do well to consider.

So it's business as usual, except Cameron is being told by wonks to care more about relative (rather than absolute) poverty, with PT used as an example.

Note that Adam Smith discussed the importance of tackling relative poverty, so it's not like this is cutting edge thinking from the conservatives. But perhaps better two hundred years late than never.

At 11:52 pm , Blogger Finnieston Crane said...

Sorry, anonymous, but you've missed the point entirely.

It's fairly simple: I don't think political parties, whatever their hue, should look to commentators for their policies.

In a way it's hard for me to reconcile since I believe very much in a great deal PT says. However, if someone takes a seed of something she says, I'd prefer it was backed up by some research.


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