Would Polly look good naked on a horse?
She bangs on about topics nobody else understands. She is perversely enthused by new Labour. But alm
Milton Friedman, who has just died, was probably the last academic to have any influence whatever. Where politicians once talked of Friedman, Keynes, Tawney, Popper and so on, now they talk of Toynbee, Heffer, Hutton and Littlejohn. Such is the power of the media. People have even started to speak of Pollyism, a rare instance of somebody lending their given name to a school of thought; it was, after all, Thatcherism, not Margaretism.
Polly Toynbee has not exactly been embraced by the Tories; rather, they have given her a passing peck on the cheek. What the much-discussed paper by Greg Clark, a shadow minister, said was that the best metaphor for the welfare state came not from Churchill, who compared it to a safety net, but from Toynbee, who prefers a camel train. In the Daily Mail, this provoked Amanda Platell to call her "a monstrously hypocritical champagne socialist", and Melanie Phillips to hiss that "what she embodies is the politics of hatred". In the News of the World, Fraser Nelson branded her "a pious lefty". The Independent's Bruce Anderson said she had "her own little Stalinist theme-park". In the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson suffered an adjectival paroxysm: "the high priestess of our paranoid, mollycoddled, risk-averse, airbagged, booster-seated culture of political correctness". Risk-averse? Clearly, Johnson has never experienced Toynbee's driving.
After this heart-warming abuse from the right quarters, Toynbee must have been disappointed by praise from Simon Heffer for her "coherent and ideological world-view", from William Rees-Mogg for being "well-informed" and, more mysteriously, from unnamed sources in the Sunday Telegraph, for being "bubbly, flirtatious and hot to party".
The most common charge against Toynbee is that she lacks humour. This may have something to do with her usual subject matter. The right thinks the poor are terribly funny and people who sympathise with them even funnier. Toynbee, by contrast, has taken the trouble to experience poverty and bad employment conditions at first hand, working for months in factories, hamburger bars and hospitals. She hasn't thought of many jokes about these experiences. Well, each to his or her own, I say; journalists should stick to what they are good at.
Toynbee should not attempt jokes any more than Johnson or Anderson should attempt serious argument.
Indeed, Toynbee's style - with injunctions such as "stop whingeing, start thinking" - is closer to Churchill's than is Johnson's, with its admittedly witty meanderings. Her writing is resolutely non-adjectival. Unlike Johnson or Anderson, she supports her arguments with robust information, not with the strings of adjectives that are so characteristic of the Telegraph-Spectator school of commentary.
Toynbee is not what the trade calls a sexy writer, though David Dimbleby, on BBC Question Time, put the strange proposition that she might look good naked on a horse. She bangs on about Sure Start, family credits, and subjects that nobody else understands or is interested in. She is perversely enthused by new Labour and can be infuriating in her lack of self-doubt. But almost alone among commentators, she can claim expertise not only on the undercurrents in the Blair and Brown camps but also on how their policies affect the masses. This makes her, to use another trade term, mandatory reading - even, as Greg Clark clearly understands, for the Tories.
Why is journalism, of all things, unable to support its own trade paper? The closure of Press Gazette, with a circulation of under 5,000, has some obvious causes: for most of its life, it wasn't much good and, increasingly, national newspaper media sections and internet websites have usurped its advertising and editorial territory.
But there is, I think, another problem of wider public interest. Job advertising should be at the core of a trade paper, as it has long been for, say, the Times Educational Supplement. Not only does it bring in revenue, it also makes the paper (or its website) indispensable to readers, regardless of editorial content. Yet Press Gazette never had many job ads, even in its heyday. Fleet Street papers don't like advertising vacancies. Editors feel decent journalists will make themselves known without doing anything so mundane as filling out a job application. They have a mystical belief they can sniff out a star by casual encounters at parties or a brisk perusal of the smarter magazines. For senior posts, they pride themselves on "contacts" who tell them who's worth poaching from rival publications.
You could say that's how creative industries work. I don't suppose it's different in theatre or film. But this "informal" (as sociologists call it) mode of recruitment may help explain why growing numbers of journalists seem to come from a closed metropolitan circle.