Polly Toynbee

Polly Toynbee

Infobox journalist
name = Polly Toynbee

caption =
birthname = Mary Louisa Toynbee
birth_date = 27 December 1946
birth_place = Isle of Wight, England, UK
death_date =
death_place =
education =
occupation = Journalist and writer
title =
family =
spouse =
domesticpartner =
children =
relatives =
ethnic = English
religion = Atheist
salary =
networth =
credits = Social Affairs editor: the BBC (1988–1995)
Columnist: "The Guardian"
agent =

Polly Toynbee (born Mary Louisa Toynbee on December 27, 1946) is a journalist and writer in the United Kingdom, and has been a columnist for "The Guardian" newspaper since 1998. She is a social democrat and broadly supports the Labour party, while urging it in many areas to be more radical. She was appointed President of the British Humanist Association in July 2007.cite web|url= http://www.humanism.org.uk/site/cms/newsarticleview.asp?article=2382|title= Polly Toynbee named new President of British Humanist Association|accessdate= 2008-04-21|year= 2007|month= July|publisher= British Humanist Association]


She was born on the Isle of Wight. After attending Badminton School, a girls' independent school in Bristol, followed by the Holland Park School, a state comprehensive school in London (she had failed the Eleven Plus examination), she read history at St Anne's College, Oxford, but left before completing her degree to work in factories and schools to document the lives of poorer people for a book. She then went into journalism, working for many years at "The Guardian" before joining the BBC where she was social affairs editor (1988–1995). At "The Independent", which she joined after leaving the BBC, she was a columnist and associate editor, working with then editor Andrew Marr. After Marr's principal spell as "Independent" editor she rejoined "The Guardian". She has also written for "The Observer" and the "Radio Times"; at one time she edited the "Washington Monthly USA". Currently Toynbee serves as President of the Social Policy Association. [cite web|url= http://www.social-policy.com/contacts.aspx|title= SPA Executive Committee 2007-08|accessdate= 2008-04-21|work= Website of the UK Social Policy Association|publisher= Social Policy Association]

Polly Toynbee was married to the late Peter Jenkins, also a journalist. Both she and Jenkins were supporters of the Social Democratic Party breakaway from Labour in 1981 – both signing the Limehouse Declaration. Toynbee stood for the party at the 1983 General Election in Lewisham East, garnering 9351 votes (22%). She later became something of a rarity in refusing to support the subsequent merger of the SDP with the Liberals (to form the Liberal Democrats), reacting instead by moving back towards Labour when the rump SDP collapsed.

Although she has been consistently critical of many of Tony Blair's New Labour reforms and especially of his foreign policy, she has stated that he and Gordon Brown have led "the best government of my lifetime". [cite web|url= http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/11/26/do2608.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2006/11/26/ixopinion.html|title= Profile: Polly Toynbee|accessdate= 2007-04-21|last= Langley|first= William|date= 2006-11-26|publisher= "The Daily Telegraph"]

During the 2005 General Election, with dissatisfaction high among traditional Labour voters Toynbee wrote several times about the dangers of protest voting, "Giving Blair a bloody nose". She urged "Guardian" readers to vote with a clothes peg over their nose if they had to, to make sure Michael Howard would not win from a split vote. "Voters think they can take a free hit at Blair while assuming Labour will win anyway. But Labour won't win if people won't vote for it". [cite web|url= http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/election2005/archives/2005/04/13/hold_your_nose_and_vote_labour.html|title= Hold your nose and vote Labour|accessdate= 2008-04-21|last= Toynbee
first= Polly|date= 2005-04-13|publisher= Guardian Unlimited

In December 2006, an advisor to Tory leader David Cameron claimed Toynbee should be an influence on the modern Conservative Party, causing a press furore. Cameron later clarified this to say he was impressed by one metaphor in her writings - of society being a caravan crossing a desert, where the people at the back can fall so far behind they are no longer part of the tribe. He added, "I will not be introducing Polly Toynbee's policies." Toynbee expressed some discomfort with this embrace, adding, "I don't suppose the icebergs had much choice about being hugged by Cameron either." [cite web|url= http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/11/23/do2301.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2006/11/23/ixopinion.html|title= Polly Toynbee the Tory guru: that's barking. Or maybe not |accessdate= 2008-04-21|last= Johnson|first= Boris|authorlink= Boris Johnson|date= 2006-11-23|publisher= "The Daily Telegraph"]

Toynbee was awarded an Honorary Degree by London South Bank University in 2002. [cite web|url= http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/about/honoraryDegrees.shtml|title= Honorary Degrees|accessdate= 2008-04-21|publisher= London South Bank University] In 2005, she was made an Honorary Doctor of The Open University for "her notable contribution to the educational and cultural well-being of society". The University of Leeds awarded her third Honorary Doctorate in 2008. She is chair of the Brighton Festival.

"Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain"

Following in the footsteps of Barbara Ehrenreich's 'Nickel and Dimed' (2001), she published in 2003 "Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain" about an experimental period voluntarily living on the minimum wage, which was £4.10 per hour at the time. She worked as a hospital porter in a National Health Service hospital, a dinnerlady in a primary school, a nursery assistant, a call-centre employee, a cake factory worker and a care home assistant. The book is critical of conditions in low pay jobs in the UK.

She also contributed an introduction to the UK edition of Ehrenreich's, "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America".

Views on religion

An atheist, Toynbee is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, a supporter of the Humanist Society of Scotland and was appointed President of the British Humanist Association in July 2007.

In 2004 the Islamic Human Rights Commission awarded Toynbee the 'Most Islamophobic Media Personality' title in the Annual Islamophobia Awards [cite web|url= http://www.ihrc.org.uk/show.php?id=1124|title= Winners of Islamophobia Awards 2004 announced|accessdate= 2008-04-21|date= 2004-06-26|publisher= Islamic Human Rights Commission] - a claim she strongly contested. She pointed out she is simply a consistent atheist, and is just as critical of Christianity and Judaism. She wrote:

The pens sharpen – Islamophobia! No such thing. Primitive Middle Eastern religions (and most others) are much the same – Islam, Christianity and Judaism all define themselves through disgust for women's bodies. [ [http://taylorandfrancis.metapress.com/index/T650070664762L7X.pdf Behind the Burka] Women’s History Review, Volume 10, Number 4, 2001]


Toynbee is a polarising figure, attracting both praise and criticism. She recently topped a poll of 100 "opinion makers", carried out by Editorial Intelligence.Fact|date=July 2007 She was also named the most influential columnist in the UK.Fact|date=July 2007

Richard Littlejohn of the "Daily Mail" has called Toynbee the "Guardian's resident madwoman" [cite web|url= http://www.davidrowan.com/2003/01/times-interview-richard-littlejohn.html|title= The Times: Interview - Richard Littlejohn, Sky/The Sun|accessdate= 2008-04-21|last= Rowan|first= David|date= 2003-01-31] and has developed an elaborate sexual-satirical fantasy about her becoming a lap dancer. Boris Johnson, at the time a Conservative MP and journalist, wrote that she, "incarnates all the nannying, high-taxing, high-spending schoolmarminess of Blair's Britain. Polly is the high priestess of our paranoid, mollycoddled, risk-averse, airbagged, booster-seated culture of political correctness and 'elf 'n' safety fascism".cite web|url= http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6180236.stm|title= Faces of the week|accessdate= 2008-04-21|last= Chaundy|first= Bob|date= 2006-11-24|publisher= BBC News]


Toynbee was the second daughter of the literary critic Philip Toynbee (by his first wife Anne), granddaughter of the historian Arnold J. Toynbee and great-great niece of philanthropist and economic historian Arnold Toynbee after whom Toynbee Hall in the East End of London is named.

Her boyfriend is David Walker, the social affairs editor of "The Guardian", with whom she has co-authored two books reviewing the successes and failures of New Labour in power.


Partial bibliography

*"Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain" (2003) ISBN 0-7475-6415-9.
*"Lost Children: Story of Adopted Children Searching for Their Mothers" (1985) ISBN 0-09-160440-0.
*"Way We Live Now" (1981) ISBN 0-413-49090-4.
*"Hospital" (1977) ISBN 0-09-131390-2.
*"A Working Life" (1971) ISBN 0-340-14760-1.
*"Leftovers" (1969) ISBN 0-586-02643-6.

External links

* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Archive/0,5673,-25,0.html "Guardian" columns by Polly Toynbee]
* [http://www.thirdway.org.uk/past/showpage.asp?page=613 Interview with Polly Toynbee] focussing on religion with Third Way magazine, 22 June 1998
* [http://www.psa.ac.uk/awards2003/toynbee.htm Political Journalist of the Year 2003 citation]
* [http://www.journalisted.com/polly-toynbee Journalisted - Articles by Polly Toynbee]

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