My job: Polly Toynbee

How did you get where you are?

I meant to be Tolstoy – I wrote a novel while at university. I quit university before graduating and worked in factories – I thought if I worked with my hands in the day, my mind would be creative in the evening. It wasn’t true – I was exhausted. I worked as a temp with The Observer alongside a columnist, and they encouraged me to write about my experiences in factories. When I left, I worked in a string of unskilled jobs, then I wrote another book and started reporting on industry and labour.

What are your main tasks?

I worry about filling two large columns. I wake up in the middle of the night worried that someday I just won’t be able to. I have to do a lot of research to get up to speed with the topic, even if I covered it a few months ago.

What are the most important things you need to know to do your job?

To keep in touch with the basis of actual reality – I’ve come from the social side of things rather than the political side, so I have a grounding of how policy issues affect people. As a political commentator, it’s easy to observe from the top and see it as a game.

What’s the key to success in your area?

Having a real interest and care about politics. Commentary is going to be no use if you see all politicians as rogues. There has to be a trust in politics and you have to have a strong commitment to the social outcomes. 

What’s the best and worst part of the job?

I love my job and couldn’t imagine working for a better newspaper at a better time. I would only leave my job for one other – editor of the Daily Mail. I would love to show that a popular newspaper doesn’t have to do the evil damage that the Mail does.

Interview by Catherine Airlie

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