No columnist irks the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, more than the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee. There is something about her and her writings that the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere cannot stomach. As a result, the cat-calling and smears emanating from the Guido Fawkes blog in her direction have had a particularly unpleasant edge.
I've got four houses? Er, shit, er, look, the wife did it while I was in the pub, right?
Moreover, if the latest effort from the less than dynamic duo is anything to go by, the attacks are becoming both desperate and dishonest, though for many Fawkes watchers this will not be a surprise. Ms Toynbee had some time ago written an item for Ethos Journal, the in-house magazine of Serco, who major in outsourcing, franchised transport services, and project management.
Here, she had told that “There is no doubt that putting some services out to tender has vastly improved certain standards over the years” and that “Some things have always been private – GPs, for example, the most-loved part of the National Health Service”. These quotes have been taken by the Fawkes blog and compared with more recent ones, but there is rather excessive selection at work.
I don't need to count houses, cos I'm on telly!
Because immediately after that second quotation, she said “Some things should never be private – for example, our police or our army – because this is part of the contract between citizen and government” and had concluded “So the answer is flexibility and practicality; see what works best and keep ideology at bay as far as possible”. The Fawkes blog saw that, but decided not to tell its readers.
Instead, there was more selective editing, this time from a recent Guardian piece, the key quote being “No one can prove the value or cost of most outsourcing. What Thatcher began and Labour continued is an epidemic of evidence-free, faith-based policymaking”. This was held to clinch the accusation of hypocrisy.
But anyone actually reading the full article would have already seen this: “Government will always contract and procure from the private sector, but it shouldn't be a matter of ideology. Half of London's councils collect their own bins, the others outsource. Those are easily measured services, yet no one audits and compares, so we don't know which is best. How can you know if the price is right and profits fair with company accounts hidden from view?”.
The Fawkes blog’s selection makes perfect sense when the part they didn’t tell the readers is read first. Ms Toynbee is not arguing for one system or the other, but for a pragmatic and measured – and accountable – approach. Instead, Staines has decided to whine about her having three houses and going off on holiday, while, er, going off on holiday and having four houses himself.
Who was that hypocrite in the draughty glasshouse? Another fine mess, once again.