Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Is Polly Decent?

Here's an interesting question – can Polly Toynbee be considered a Decent? The question is prompted by an anonymous commenter[1] who drew attention to this piece in the Guardian, which is clearly covering exactly the same ground as this Aaro piece, right down to the Tesco reference (also Watched here). It is also vulnerable to the same four criticisms on the substance:

1) The logistic introduction of ID cards means that it would only take a single Act of Parliament to have them carried compulsorily, and thence on to pass laws.
2) Repressive states never monitor everyonem Big Brother stylem on the off-chance of picking up dissent, their modus operandi is to identify known dissenters and harass them, and the database state is a hugely useful tool for this.
3) Polly's faith in the ability of "a few laws" to prevent all manner of abuse of other people's private information by dishonest petty bureaucrats is misplaced and
4) Remind me again what is in it for us (assuming that no major IT consultants read AW) from this hugely expensive piece of crap?

And the same one criticism on the style – that it is a really weaselly piece of insinuation and guilt by association, trying to suggest that absolutely everyone who objects to ID cards also objects to CCTV and speed cameras (and wears a tin foil hat – apparently the proposition that CCTV is an unalloyed benefit got past Trevor Berbick on points and is now part of the conventional wisdom). Oh, and she's recruited the voiceless working class to her cause; naturally they all unambiguously and uncritically regard the forces of the state as being there to protect them, and it's only middle class people who go to dinner parties in Islington watch Top Gear who think otherwise.

This is not an aberration for PT either – she's one of the high priestesses of a certain kind of "the status quo is no longer an option" managerialism, and IIRC is regularly quoted approvingly by Aaro. On the other hand, a large part of the Decent Left can't stand her, seemingly because she is insufficiently backward in coming forward in saying how horrible the Muslims are. So is she Decent or not? Is soft-authoritarian managerialism the key identifying feature of Decentism, or is it constitutive of the movement that you have to be part of the Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Time?

[1] please guys, just pick a pseudonym will youse?

18 Comments:

Blogger Robin said...

seemingly because she is insufficiently backward in coming forward in saying how horrible the Muslims are.

Ouch. What a mangled construction! What are you saying here? That she seems not to criticise the Muslims enough to be deemed Decent?

11/07/2006 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

The real mark of a Decent as far as I can see is relentlessly denouncing everyone else on the Left for largely imaginary sins, so Polly's not a Decent.

11/07/2006 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger fatbongo said...

Does Decency have a domestic policy? I'm not sure it does unless it relates to The War.

I've always seen Toynbee as a typical "Liberal Feminist" myself - ie the working class deserve our sympathy/pity unless they go on strike, in which case they lose their power to Macho Male Union Barons who are 'flexing their muscles' (no doubt because they've got testicles) unlike wimmin who sensibly compromise.

Also, it annoys me how she uses the working class in a "do as i say or the puppy gets it" sense to guilt trip the middle classes into voting labour. especially since she's so fucking rich.

11/07/2006 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Surely this article in the Guardian from 2001 shows her as being Decent well before Nick Cohen was.

11/07/2006 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous porkbarrel said...

No. Because:-

a) her house is on Clapham Common and not in Islington

b) there are significant differences between her nosepeg tendency and the decent tendency. She once hinted that she and Aaro had some big rows at the Guardian about the paper's Iraq policy.

11/07/2006 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

Oh, gawd, where to start with Polly Toynbee.

Evidence of Decency

She doesn't like Muslims very much, if only because (a) she doesn't like religion in general (b) Islam's apparent attitude to women (she more or less sides with Straw on veils - it's a feminist thing, even when it isn't, these women don't know they're oppressed, etc.).

More evidence: she supported the attack on Afghanistan as part of her 'hard liberal' period. (All those women in burkas, the Taliban...see above).

Further evidence: a history of pro-Blair/New Labour pieces in the Guardian, in the teeth of the increasing evidence against both. When in doubt, blame some phantom army of unreconstructed lefites for everything, or claim that the Tories are worse and smell of wee.

Evidence against

She didn't back the war on Iraq.

Belated recognition of how dangerous Blair/New Labour is - but she still has her lapses. I don't think she likes the Labour party, any more than Blair does, but she knows that without PR, it's the nearest her kind of patrician liberal feminism will ever get to actual power. (See her 'nosepeg' strategy.)

She believes the state can be used for good (as opposed to used for Blair and market forces) - but this applies to poverty rather than the Decents' military-humanitarian complex.

Verdict: UnDecent, with occasional lapses.

11/07/2006 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I think Pesto's analysis is spot-on - she had Decent tendencies, most notably around the time Nick Cohen wrote this column attacking her for it (http://www.guardian.co.uk/waronterror/story/0,,587488,00.html)

but I don't think she's kept it going, or blames the left enough.

11/07/2006 03:17:00 PM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

I think she is, in a sense, the last remaining member of the old SDP, which I recall she was one of the first to join: ie, a bundle of bien pensant reflexes laced with mild dirigisme.

So its not so much that she is or isn't Decent. it's more that she never caught up.

11/07/2006 03:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

I don't think Afghanistan's such a Decent issue as Iraq though. I get the impression that lots of anti-Iraq War lefties were in favour of the Afghanistan War. I know I was, still am really.

11/07/2006 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Anglonoel said...

Wasn't Polly T. part of the Owenite SDP back in the late 1980s?
With his "tough but tender", "we dare and care" soundbites, wasn't David Owen the uncle, if not the father, of the Blairite/Cameroonie consensus?

11/07/2006 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

I agree with Chris Baldwin. I hope support for the Afghanistan war - both contemporaneous and retrospective - doesn't make one a Decent, because that would make me a Decent.

I would use a fairly strict definition of Decency under which anyone who didn't either support the Iraq war or opposed it but thinks we shouldn't "pick over the rubble", is not a Decent.

11/07/2006 08:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fallhammer sez:
[1] please guys, just pick a pseudonym will youse?

I just couldn't get the flipin sign-up page to work before. Managed to get it done now (and it was a PITA). I now have a blog at www.fall-hammer.blogspot.com, which I shall use to collect blogspam. And now I logged in and it still won't put up my posts.

Anyway, I agree with everyone (everywhere and all the time). Pol is not a Decent; she just can't cope with the contradictions as NuLab becomes more and more horrible and bizarre.

Like her, I incline to the idea that convenient access to patient records is a good thing, but making them accessible to Uncle Tom Knacker and all is a very bad thing (and setting up a huge new system instead of internetting the old local systems is a stupid thing).

Similarly on ID cards. They could be useful, but the system would have to be fundamentally grounded on the principles that they're for the bearer's benefit, the bearer only shows the card to someone at the bearer's option, and the bearer can access and challenge any information held in the database. This will, of course, never happen.

11/08/2006 03:17:00 AM  
Anonymous evil bb (hullo) said...

Similarly on ID cards. They could be useful, but the system would have to be fundamentally grounded on the principles that they're for the bearer's benefit, the bearer only shows the card to someone at the bearer's option, and the bearer can access and challenge any information held in the database. This will, of course, never happen.

Even if it did, no Parliament can bind a future Parliament, so we would always be one change of government from a system under which all these principles disappeared.

If you select the "Other" box, then you can just type a name in, as I have done here

11/08/2006 07:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Falllhammer said...

Well, I never. It's obvious now you point it out.
And can I post...?

11/08/2006 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I agree with Pesto.

Not a Decent, doesn't tick enough boxes, and most notably didn't support the invasion of Iraq, doesn't whinge about Muslims enough, and doesn't embark on enough long tirades about the liberal Left.

But has some Decentist tendencies though.

Decents don't like her: they see her as the epitome of the Guardian liberals they love to hate.

11/08/2006 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

and setting up a huge new system instead of internetting the old local systems is a stupid thing

I suspect (having spent part of my career doing just that with legacy systems) that "interneting old local systems" would be highly expensive, and lead to a highly unreliable system. Sometimes starting again is the only option.

There are all kinds of things I would criticise about the NHS project, just that wouldn't be one.

"Similarly on ID cards. They could be useful, but the system would have to be fundamentally grounded on the principles that they're for the bearer's benefit, the bearer only shows the card to someone at the bearer's option, and the bearer can access and challenge any information held in the database. This will, of course, never happen."

Hmm. And the databases? The biometric information? The compulsion? The expense? The potential for identity theft (centralised databases, with poor security controls, will make it even easier)? What's wrong with just a simple card, with an address and a photo. Much like my driver's license in fact.

What will probably save us from this, is that as ever the government have mistaken cheesy airport techno-thrillers for reality. The technology probably isn't up to the job, and even if it was none of the sorry incompetents they will inevitably give the contract to will manage it.

11/08/2006 08:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Fallhammer said...

I hear you, and having just demonstrated quite astonishing technical ineptitude myself, I don't really feel in a position to argue (even though I once did a similar job on a small-scale myself). There is, however, a lot to be said for building on and extending the old rather than complete replacement with a state-of-the-art monolith.

It's a particular but not exclusive tendency of technocrats to want to do the latter, in the hope of achieving perfection and leaving a legacy that they can be glorified for. We've seen it in numerous PFI projects and, of course, in Iraq. Sometimes it's the right thing to do, but people in power are too easily tempted by shiny futuristic visions.

As to ID cards, you're right. The practical difficulties are just too much. It's going to make the poll tax look like a mixup over a couple of bus tickets.

What I was thinking of, though, was the ideological context. If the ideal situation I described applied, ID cards would be no more objectionable per se than income tax or a host of other modern encroachments on anonymity. After all, it now seems we've only ever been a change of parliament away from losing habeas corpus. In the absence of a written constitution, government has to refer to the founding principles and intentions of institutions before fiddling with them, so my 'principles' would carry an awful lot of weight, and it would take a peculiar situation to overcome them; e.g., a supine cabinet and parliament, an uninterested populace, a bullying foreign power with an alarmingly extreme government, a host of public commentators willing to provide ideological cover from all sides, etc. As if that would ever happen.

11/09/2006 02:57:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I think we're agreed Polly isn't a Decent.

I think it might be worth asking is Aaro a Decent? I know historically he's been seen as one of the most Decent of Decents, but there's something (probably his sense of survival) that keeps him from close association with these central planks of Decency, the Unite Against Terror/Euston Manifesto. Also a lot of the Decent Left, it mustn't be forgotten, happily use the label to describe themselves (Alan 'not the minister' Johnson, obviously, but quite a lot of the others too). That's why it's such a funny term, and that must be an important factor in how Decent one is.

11/09/2006 05:58:00 PM  

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