Letter of the week

Tristram Hunt's comparing of Oliver Cromwell to the Taliban ("Britain's very own Taliban", 17-31 December) is utterly grotesque. Rather than total repression under Cromwell, there was more religious and political toleration and debate than England had ever seen. In religion, Cromwell looked for the widest possible kind of national church. "I had rather," he said, "that Mohammadanism were permitted amongst us than that one of God's children should be persecuted." The Jews were allowed to return to England.

Cromwell's influence was decisive in setting England on the path of representative government. Anyone who abolished both the House of Lords and the monarchy cannot simply be dismissed as a conservative. Culturally, the picture of Puritans as soulless killjoys has been utterly discredited. Cromwell was a great lover of English chamber music and delighted in boys' voices singing "Latin Motets". This was the man who had Milton in his government, for goodness sake. Cromwell had an affectionate nature and a boisterous humour. The great blot on his record certainly was Ireland - toleration did not extend to Roman Catholics.

To argue that Tony Blair might prefer Charles I to Cromwell, might prefer a king who was a believer in absolute monarchy and whose lying and duplicity had an immense cost in human blood, would suggest there is even more wrong with new Labour than we had imagined. I would still prefer the "Good Old Cause".

Reverend Martin Camroux
Cheam, Surrey

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.