Last night’s Head 2 Head (BBC News24, 20 Nov 2006) was another excellent opportunity to shout at the television (which at 2am caused quite a stir!).
The face-off between Michael Gove MP and Polly Toynbee of The Guardian was a surreal affair. While neocon sympathiser Gove was highly critical of the war in Iraq and talked about cosying up to the Iranians in an effort to further peace, Toynbee was declaring her opposition to immigration and condemning the unemployed to ever greater poverty.
It was Toynbee that left me reaching desperately for either the remote control on any convenient heavy object. She began with a fairly reasonable sounding concern for the “third of the population” that were “still working class”. But it quickly became apparent that – like all radical socialists who look to the workers to usher in the revolution – her concern for the working class was at the expense of that far-more-desperate group, the non-working class. Indeed, she dismissed with irritation Gove’s attempt to move the argument to discuss the jobless. Instead, she called for equality of incomes even if this meant an overall reduction in wealth.
What stood out was her refusal to accept that growth is beneficial even if it is unevenly distributed. In basic terms, she was less interested in the size of the cake than in how large a slice the poor received. She (and Gove) advocated a rise in the minimum wage to help low-paid workers even though it would destroy job-creation – and this when employment is falling and unemployment rising. This would condemn those without work to perpetual destitution. She argued against competition from immigrant labour despite the fact that this has created wealth, reduced inflation and poured millions into the exchequer, paying for the Tax Credits and public services the poor so desperately need. And she called for punitive taxes even though this would drive out the entrepreneurs that are creating the jobs that are the only route out of poverty for the most destitute.
It was a despicable show. Polly Toynbee was more interested in “making the pips squeak” than maximising welfare or helping the unemployed. Socialism, perhaps, but not social justice.