The Conservative love affair with the darling of the left Polly Toynbee must end now. If we consider that James McGrath was sacked by the Boris team for suggesting that those who wanted to leave the country should be allowed to go (i.e. the obvious) then Polly’s take on the collapse of Lehman Brothers should have her cast aside without a moment’s hesitation.
In an Evening Standard debate on 15 September Polly Toynbee said “we've seen rather a dearth of bankers jumping out of window ledges and maybe we could see a bit more of that.” Poking fun at city bankers is something those not blessed with their salaries can all enjoy but making light of suicide is something quite different. Suicide is a tragedy. It is not a fitting subject for such levity. The fact an individual could make such remarks reveals her deep seated hatred for the very people whose eighteen hour days have created the wealth Toynbee is so keen to redistribute
Polly Toynbee’s outburst would not matter had not the Conservatives, in one of their darker moments, embraced her as a Tory icon. In 2006 Greg Clark MP suggested that "It is the social commentator Polly Toynbee who supplies imagery that is more appropriate for Conservative social policy in the 21st century." He called Toynbee a “serious thinker” who provided “effective analysis”. Absurdly, the Conservatives were advised to ditch Winston Churchill, recently voted Greatest ever Briton, by the British people, in a BBC poll, because his ideas were outdated.
The Conservatives were now to combat relative as well as absolute poverty and this necessitates more than simple wealth redistribution. It requires income equalisation. The Conservatives declared war on relative poverty in 2006. All people were entitled to more than the basics and the objective of social policy was to ensure that there was more income equality. Here Mr Clark appeared to endorse the notion that all people had a right to a certain percentage of the nation’s wealth.
This right was not dependent on them doing anything in particular such as working or saving or adopting any other form of sensible behaviour which we should seek to encourage. This war on relative poverty is one Britons are certain to lose whatever happens. It can only be ‘won’ if income inequality ends i.e. working harder or saving does not confer on yourself or your offspring any advantage. It was fair to say that in 2006 many right wingers were a little worried about Mr Clark’s remarks. Now times are very different.
The Conservatives have kept their admirable commitment to combat poverty, which we should all support. However, Cameron has leapt to the defence of capitalism and realizes the danger that the left will use this current crisis to undermine a system which has enriched us all. In the Financial Times Mr Cameron has said ““We must not let the left use this as an excuse to wreck an important part of the British and world economy.” For this he is to be congratulated.
Now it is time for Mr Clark to defend capitalism and basic decency by condemning Polly Toynbee, rejecting her flawed analysis on this current crisis and restoring Winston Churchill to his rightful place as a right wing icon. This present crisis reveals how absurd the notion of relative poverty is. The loss of thousands of high paid jobs in the British banking sector will probably make incomes in this country more equal. In recessions relative poverty has a habit of decreasing because the rich lose more absolutely as their shares plummet, their businesses go bankrupt and they lose their well paid jobs. The poor have little and hence less to lose. Therefore, the gap between rich and poor decreases when there is a recession.
Clearly this is not something to celebrate. Recessions do not enrich the working poor. The working poor have less to lose but they still lose as their incomes stagnate and many of them lose their jobs. It takes an individual of the unique brilliance of Polly Toynbee to celebrate such an occurence. Someone who cares more about the arbitrary lines on a chart which make up relative equality than whether the incomes of the poor are increasing and their prospects improving. Needless to say I do not share Toynbee's enthusiasm.
Ms Toynbee’s remarks reveal the danger of the notion of relative poverty. It is a very nasty idea formulated by people who despise those who are successful and wish to bring them down. It has nothing to do with helping the working poor and struggling working families which should be the objective of all parties. It is hard to see how the poor will be helped by wealthy bankers climbing onto rooftops and jumping off. Those who celebrate, promote or make light of such occurrences should be rejected by all decent people. Consequently, Mr Clark must now formally denounce Ms Toynbee and distance the Conservatives from this rather nasty, malevolent and deeply flawed individual.