Monday, August 04, 2008

Oysters: smarter than Michael Gove and Polly Toynbee

Idiocy: it's everywhere. Not the honest fun of the silly season (who couldn't enjoy a story like this one about oysters?) but the real thing.

There is Gordon Brown's masterplan to save his wretched career by moving his cabinet to Birmingham for the morning. No more than that. A desperate stunt that suggests a truly pitiable lack of anything resembling a clue.

For the other lot there was Michael Gove who, having done good work in dispelling the idea that a Tory intellectual was a contradiction in terms, undoes it all with the wretched suggestion that gleefully dumb "lad's mags" (you know the sort of thing) are somehow turning young men who would otherwise be courteous, chivalrous and respectful towards women into selfish, irresponsible louts and bad fathers to boot.

He may well have a point about tackling the attitudes some men hold. However, if he thinks that the fact we are not much higher up the evolutionary chain than the oyster precludes us showing some consideration to others, or that cheap and trashy entertainment read by a wide cross section of young men does anything other than reflect people's attitudes, then it suggests the next government is going to be as clueless about people as the current one. At the risk of repeating myself: the media has far less influence than some people, including Times columnists, like to think it does.

Most annoying, though, is Polly Toynbee. Today I was obliged by a cruel necessity to get up while the hour was in single figures and travel into central London on the tube during rush hour. My mood was not the brightest. So when I, foolishly as it turned out, bought a copy of the Guardian to read on the way in, my initial reaction to the masthead reading "How the rich lost touch with the rest of us" by Polly Toynbee was to hope that this was an elaborate prank that would prove to be clever and well-executed.

It was not.

It's the "rest of us" bit that jars really. Polly Toynbee is paid a three-figure salary (she is coy about the precise amount) mainly for offering brilliant analysis such as "Gordon Brown will be a great PM", or "just you wait, Gordon will soon shake off his troubles and prove his worth once and for all", followed by "Brown? He's useless. Get someone else". Her editor earned more than £400,ooo last year. Both are well out of kilter with the wages of the average journalist including, I should think, many of those working at the Guardian.

This is not a good starting point to lecture us about inequality and how the rich do not understand how the "rest of us" live.

Now Toynbee does have a point about the way the very rich are avoiding paying their share of tax and how the government which she has done so much to support has colluded in this. But it's a problem that defies simplistic and overly self-righteous prescriptions of the type that some people have made a good living from offering.

And when it is someone like Toynbee, writing things like:

When asked to relate themselves to the rest of the population, these high-earners utterly misjudged the magnitude of their privilege.


None of us like to feel guilty about our comfortable lives, and it would have been absurd to expect mea culpas from these people just because they earned so much. What we had hoped for was more awareness, some recognition that their position needed explaining and even justification.

It's hard to take it seriously. Especially when the suspicion lingers that any solution offered is going to involve the sort of opaque, bureaucratic and inefficient solution, such as her beloved tax credits, that fits her preconceived notions of how government should operate. Still I trust Polly Toynbee will not be unjustly rewarded for her analysis.

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Blogger dominic said...

I do hope that the Glasgow Tourist Board pick up on that "Hobo vs Buckfast" video there - they could even do live recreations of it as part of a special feature at the People's Palace

12:24 am  
Blogger bill said...

I presume you meant to put that up top, dominic. I've taken the liberty of moving it to the correct one.

12:44 am  

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