The two most striking aspects of this exclusive online poll were a) the number of readers who tried to take part (very few) and b) the proportion of them (tiny wee) who proved sufficiently adept with the internet to get their votes through. Our poll was in many ways a victim of its own failure. It is notable that two of our top 10 — Steiner and Starkey — have surnames beginning with S, and two — Redwood and Vidal — have Christian names formed of four letters or fewer.
1. Germaine Greer. As the “Potty Professor” on the Chris Moyles Show on BBC Radio 1, Germaine Greer has done more than any other leading ineffectual to bring the cut-and-thrust of great ideas to a younger audience. Her talk on Greek drama, “Sophocles: Totally and Utterly Brill or What?” won the Gold Prize at the Sony Awards, and her two-minute item “From Michelangelo to Tracey Emin: A History of Western Art”, with a soundtrack by the Arctic Monkeys, was praised by thinkers as diverse as Lisa Appignanesi and Janet Street-Porter.
2. Christopher Hitchens. Time and again Christopher Hitchens has proved himself worthy of his place near the top of the league of leading public ineffectuals. “He has certainly taught me all I know about Iraq,” commented one delighted reader. “And that the present conflict in that benighted country is really all about the supply of cigarettes.”
3. Camille Paglia. The only entrant in our list to be a world record holder — 195 very long words in just under a minute, according to the Guinness Book of World Records — Camille Paglia is the author of a major literary biography, Shakespeare, Schmuckspear; an autobiography, But Enough About You; and many ineffectual critiques, including From Jane Austen to Britney Spears, in which she argues that Spears’s seminal “Hit Me Baby One More Time” is a major feminist work of art, and stands comparison with some of the raunchiest work of Austen and Eliot.