Read the Daily Mail, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee urges Swindon Festival of Literature audience

4 May

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, once described by The Independent as Queen of the Leftist Journalists, has said everyone should read the Daily Mail.

Toynbee was responding to questions from a Swindon Festival of Literature audience about the effect of government cuts to the public sector, the subject of her new book, Dismembered.

In the face of a system run by emboldened libertarians, she and co-author David Walker, former director of public reporting at the Audit Commission, and Guardian contributor, were asked what we – as ordinary citizens – could do.

“There’s one thing we can do daily, and that’s not buy the Daily Mail,” said Walker, to rapturous applause.

Toynbee, though, was having none of it. “We’re living in a bubble of the likeminded,” she scolded. “Eighty five percent of the press is rightwing – and more rightwing than it used to be.

“You have to understand the forces you are up against. Read the Daily Mail, even if you have to pick it out of a bin.”

She also urged the audience to “buy a copy of the book, then lend it to someone who will disagree.”

Dismembered – How the Attack on the State Harms Us All is the sequel to Cameron’s Coup – How the Tories Took Britain to the Brink.

Toynbee and Walker have travelled the country, finding out how cuts implemented by the political offspring of Margaret Thatcher under the auspices of economic necessity have affected public services.

Deep cuts to the NHS is an obvious area, and nurses forced to use food banks is – or should be – a national scandal (my words, not theirs) with Theresa May claiming the reasons are complex (they aren’t – nurses need to eat, and they aren’t paid enough money to buy food).

The authors start their discussion in food: not food banks, but the restaurant trade. Food hygiene is something we take for granted, but environmental health departments are cut to the bone, and regular inspections just aren’t taking place, they say.

My suspicion is that when the next mass outbreak of salmonella or E. Coli occurs, it will be the Daily Mail howling its indignation the loudest.

Toynbee reels off some statistics: the aim of the Conservative administration has been to shrink the state from 42 percent of the size of the economy to 35 – closer to American levels.

The German roads are better, she asserts, because the proportion of the economy given to public spending is 43 percent. French hospitals are so good because it’s closer to 50.

“Public services are getting worse,” says Toynbee. “There has been a dramatic departure from the post-war norm,” agrees Walker. “There’s an anti-state doctrine, with the press banging the drum,” says Toynbee.

The Conservative Party does seem ideologically opposed to state ownership of utilities – providing that state is our own. Foreign powers? Nah, that’s fine.

German state-owned Deutsche Bahn, the French state-owned Keolis, and the Dutch state-owned Abellio run large swathes of our public transport networks – our buses (formerly operated by local councils, now run along only the most profitable routes cherry-picked by private operators) and railways, where the cost of travel has trebled in the two decades since privatisation.

Meanwhile, French state-owned energy group EDF is building our new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, with a 33 percent investment from China General Nuclear, owned by the ruling Communist Party – the COMMUNIST PARTY for goodness sake.

It’s enough to make you want to Take Back Control by joining UKIP. Although, of course, UKIP is more interested in shrinking the state than it is in the British taxpayers owning British assets. And talking of UKIP…

Walker: “You can’t deliver Brexit without an effective state. To get that, you have to value public service and pay public servants properly.”

Toynbee: “Five thousand more people will be needed to manage the new tariff system. The Brexit state will have to be bigger.”

So how did we get here?

“I think even the government was surprised by our passivity,” says Toynbee.

“The public bought a mendacious idea that borrowing is wicked. And when people protest about closures, they tend to do so to local authorities, which have to make the most appalling choices, rather than turn their attention to Whitehall.

“I’m mystified as to why people have taken it with such sanguinity.”

And how can we turn things around?

Toynbee: “The hard part is that we have to be prepared to pay. Tax is the price we pay for civilisation.”
Disclaimer: Peter Davison loves the NHS and is a champion of high-quality, state-funded education. He believes in renationalising the railways and does not live on a profitable bus route, so his nearest bus stop is over a mile from home.

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