In an ideal world we working class people would be able to stick up for ourselves. We would be able to write our own articles in The Guardian telling people how hard it is to live without hope and in poverty. We could set out on paper what our aspirations are.
But we can’t – because we are too thick to speak for ourselves. Thank goodness then that there are posh rich people who know what we think, who know what we want – and are selfless enough to write articles in The Guardian telling everyone – including us – exactly what that is.
I’m talking, of course, about the great left wing visionary Polly Toynbee, without doubt one of our own.
Polly may not at first blush seem to fit the profile of a working class hero. She was born, Mary Toynbee (named after her great Grandmother Lady Mary Howard) into incredible wealth and privilege and went to the same upper class private school as Indira Ghandi and Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan. But she didn’t finish her education there – oh no! Polly did her A levels at a comprehensive school in the run down inner city London borough of Holland Park. And the plan worked perfectly. With Oxbridge under pressure to increase their student numbers from underprivileged pupils in the state sector her latterday conversion to state education earned her a place at Oxford.
Before attending Oxford she spent her gap year in Rhodesia working for Amnesty International, where she helped to topple the barbaric state of Ian Smith and replace it with the more human rights friendly regime of Robert Mugabe.
She didn’t stay at Oxford long enough to graduate – preferring to drop out safe in the knowledge that not only had she taken the place of a posh, rich undergraduate (who had to go to Bristol or Exeter instead thus ruining their life) but she would also not have lost any money because the bill for her fees and her grant was in those days paid for by the taxpayer.
After dropping out of Oxford our Polly, determined to find out first hand exactly what it was like to live life as a working class person (expressed by Jarvis Cocker as “without meaning or control,”) embarked on an eight month stint working as a nurse, in a factory and in a burger bar. Luckily, even though she did such low paid jobs, she was able to live in Clapham thanks to a house she managed to purchase mortgage free with a modest trust fund. As a result of her eight month experience of low paid work few but the most cynical right wing Tories would deny that she had earned the right to pen a book entitled – “a working life” – which she duly did. True, working class people who had spent fifty plus years down the pit, may have been in a marginally better position to write about “a working life” than Polly, but – as I’ve already pointed out – they are too thick to even read the Guardian, let alone write for it, so Polly’s eight month stint had to do.
The main problem Polly had with low paid work was that after a day at the factory she found she was too tired to write her weekly column for the Observer – so she gave it up (the job that is, not the column) – and why not? She certainly didn’t need the money and, after eight months of rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed, she was now in a perfect position to be their spokesman for the rest of her life.
But she didn’t rest on her laurels. After thirty years of comfortable journalism, as part of her research for another book, “Hard Work – Life in Low Pay Britain,” she spent several weeks working for the minimum wage (then £4-10p per hour) as a care home assistant before contracting salmonella. She became so ill that she had to give up her job and leave her house in Clapham to recuperate at her Villa in Tuscany.
After her return from Italy Polly put her experience of a life lived in grinding poverty into action. In the thirty years since leaving Oxford she had only spent twenty nine of them as a professional journalist and nearly a whole year doing low paid jobs. Was there anyone better suited in the whole of Britain to write about just how hard it was to live on benefits?
Most writers at the time were of the opinion that benefits were a safety net, to provide a minimum standard of living for those unfortunate enough to be temporarily out of work, but Polly alone realised that benefits were, for the millions of people like me, a perfectly legitimate lifestyle choice.
I have long been of the view that the government plan for people on benefits is the gas chamber and Polly also recognised this fact, writing an article pointing out that benefit cuts were the governments “final solution” to the problem of so-called welfare scroungers.
Whilst most people attack we jobseekers as layabouts and the government plans another round of cuts Polly alone amongst journalists implores the rich taxpayers to increase benefits so that people like me can afford to feed and clothe our children and enjoy a few of life’s necessaries like fags, booze, lottery tickets, I-phones and Sky television.
She also defends the rights of those on disability benefits. Many people like me, faced with new rules which mean that jobseeker benefit claimants actually had to look for work, were forced to pretend to be disabled so that we could claim disability benefit. One of the perks of this is a new car provided by the state with free tax and insurance, no congestion charge and an orange badge so that we can park in the disabled bays right outside the shops.
These free cars, paid for by the taxpayer, are a basic human right for we people claiming disability benefit. The biggest car fleet in the world is the Chinese Army fleet. Third is the Russian Army fleet. In proud second place is the British government’s disability car fleet – but that is under attack from Cameron’s fascist government. It is no longer good enough to self-certify that you are disabled. Under new fascist Tory rules people like me are now forced to see an independent doctor who will assess whether or not we actually do suffer from a disability which makes it impossible for us to work and qualifies us for a free car. Polly Toynbee is almost a lone voice against this attack on our human rights. She may be posh but she is fighting like Churchill for my right to keep my new BMW and to increase my benefits. Only last week in the Guardian she wrote an article warning that the government intends to re-possess tens of thousands of free disability benefit cars from those people who are not actually disabled.
She also understands that the greatest prime minister in history is none other than Tony Blair – stating that his was the “best government of my political lifetime.”
Polly Toynbee understands, not so much from her extensive experience as a low paid worker, but from her experience of a life of privilege, that there is nothing wrong with getting something for nothing – be it an education at a posh public school, a squandered education at Oxford, a free car courtesy of the taxpayers or increased benefits for those who have made it a lifestyle choice. She is truly a left wing visionary who knows what it is like to live a life in grinding poverty. So it doesn’t matter that we working class people are too thick to express our political opinions. As long as Polly Toynbee has internet connection at her Villa in Tuscany our voice will be heard loud and clear.