One of the most prominent and influential left-wing commentators in Britain, with a very strong and clear moral take on all sorts of issues. I often feel that to read her is to be relieved of a burden of not knowing what to do in a difficult political situation, such is the clarity of her reasoning.

She was for some years a feature writer in The Independent, but left after one of its bloodthirsty editorial civil wars, and in the last several years has been back as a columnist at The Guardian. She began her career in 1968 at The Observer.

About 55 years old, she has been forthright and combative all her life and has crossed swords with many persons and institutions on the right, especially the contemptible hypocrites of the tabloid press, who hate her as they hate all that is decent, liberal, and rational.

She also attacks the sclerotic old anti-everything utopian left, and strongly identifies herself with the pragmatic liberal alternative, capable of both attacking and defending Blair as needed:

Of course political head and heart have moved with the times, ideas changed probably beyond recognition, if I could only remember exactly what I thought in pot-hazy 1968. More recently I wrote with revulsion at George Bush's election, damning his cavalier disregard for the world - Kyoto, NMD, Israel, his own poor and the world's. Now I hold my breath and wait to see how far he has changed: disarmament talks with Putin are good news, the attitude towards the Middle East looks better: this man has already travelled far. But the Pilgers and Benns, with their younger anti-globalising incarnations, budge not when the world changes around them: it's "no pasaran" to anything outside their prefabricated ideological box.

Sorry, Tiefling, I agree with her contempt for religion too. -- Originally noded under my minor username Cecil B. God.

I'm trying to research a proper biography of Ms Toynbee, but information is proving hard to find in the midst of so much opinion. Update: In fact, a thorough searching of Google has revealed plenty of strident views held by Ms Toynbee, and a lot of unpleasant, inaccurate things said about her. On with some more opinion, then:

As a liberal myself, I'd like to offer a conflicting opinion on Ms Toynbee's work. In her newspaper and magazine articles - including quite a long stint at the Radio Times - she's shown herself to be highly illiberal on at least one popular topic: religion. In this respect, she certainly bears comparison with Richard Dawkins, although I don't for one moment believe that she's got his general level of intelligence. Today's Guardian offers some fairly typical examples of her insight. The title of the article is 'Religion isn't nice. It kills'. Thus:

[R]eligion...threatens global Armageddon.
It threatens nuclear nemesis between Hindus and Muslims along the India-Pakistan border.
It still hurls pipebombs in the Ulster streets.
The Pope kills millions through his reckless spreading of Aids.
When absolute God-given Righteousness beckons, blood flows and women are in chains.
Religion is not nice, it kills: it is toxic in the places where people really believe it.

It would be painful to rubbish these views individually, especially as Ms (always Ms) Toynbee is perfectly entitled to hold them. What's distasteful (to me) is that she clearly holds them with the same fervour that religious views are held by those whose actions cause people to fear religion, rather than merely ignore it. However, it's worth at least hauling up a few of the more dangerous misapprehensions she displays (and believe me, she's displayed them before):

Firstly, it is politics - specifically, a long-standing territorial dispute - which is at play in Kashmir. Secondly, the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland are political and historical, clearly having nothing at all to do with the teaching of either church. I don't seem to recall Martin Luther calling for the firebombing of churches. Thirdly, I'm sure that His Holiness JP2 is far too busy being ill, visiting Poland and running the Vatican to go around personally spreading HIV. (You can't catch AIDS directly, Polly.) Presumably she means to attack the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception, which is certainly worthy of scrutiny and criticism for its contribution to various crises in world health. But she seems to forget that the Catholic Church also teaches against drug abuse and promiscuous sex. Why should the Pope be blamed for people's inconsistency in following his church's teaching?

You may deduce that I do not like Ms Toynbee. You'd be right. Far from being a liberal, she reveals herself to be a tubthumping persecuter of every outward expression of faith in anything except her own invented gospel.

Postscript: I might mention that this article is published at a time when the churches in the UK are forming ever more strongly into a block opposed to the impending war with Iraq, and that the event commemorated by the article itself is, er, the failure of atheists like Ms Toynbee to be allowed to speak on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day, one of the few pieces of broadcasting about religion which the BBC still undertakes. The only defence she might cite is that religious groups have been bloody rude about her over the years. My abortive attempt to biographise her revealed a lot of strident character assassination by the people who give religion the bad name she's so fond of ascribing to it.

That's OK, Cecil B. God; it's a free country, and for all I know you may be right.

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