Readers of this blog will, over the years, have marvelled at the outpourings of one Polly Toynbee, the Guardian’s foremost social commentator and hand-wringer in chief, a woman voted “the most influential commentator in the UK” and whose views regularly grace the programming of the BBC, for which she was formerly a newsroom social affairs editor. “Polly Toynbee’s influence is perceived to be huge in British public life,” wrote Julia Hobsbawm of the media analysts Editorial Intelligence. “Her columns resonate in Whitehall and beyond.”
From high atop those resonating columns, Ms Toynbee delivers her various pronouncements, including a conviction that “left-wing people are more intelligent and just generally better people,” i.e., better than thee and me, and a demand that taxes must be raised “to pay the state to become the best possible nanny to all babies.” There’s also her belief that “disruptive 16-year-old boys” should be taken out of class to spend a term being taught the finer points of dance, thereby resulting in a “transformation in the whole year group.” When not curing inner-city classroom delinquency with the thrill of modern tap, Polly tells her readers that obesity isn’t chiefly a matter of inactivity and overeating but instead has a more pernicious cause, i.e., a lack of socialism:
It is inequality and disrespect that makes people fat.
To bolster this radical insight Ms Toynbee made a number of further claims regarding economic inequality and expanded waistlines, each of which proved to be either misleading or untrue. And chunkier readers should note that waiting for a socialist revolution probably isn’t the best way to lose those extra pounds.
Our imperious champion of the poor has a famously intermittent relationship with facts, logic and mathematics, such that an entire website, Factchecking Pollyanna, was devoted to providing detailed corrections of each week’s errors and distortions. Sadly, this effort to bring factual accuracy to the finest Guardian journalism became dormant some years ago, its anonymous author possibly having collapsed under the weight of the endeavour.
Happily, however, Tim Worstall has now published the best of that legendary blog in book form, so that another generation may bathe in Ms Toynbee’s blunders and fumbling with numbers. Amid various examples of Polly inverting statistics and misreporting figures by several orders of magnitude, as when she inflated council tax benefit changes by a mere 5,100%, the volume includes such moments of high journalism as Ms Toynbee telling the world that 142% of people were dissatisfied with Tony Blair, and a 21-word sentence containing no fewer than five factual errors.