Letters - Letter of the week

I agree with John Gray (Books, 30 June) that Patricia Highsmith was one of the 20th century's great writers. Like Beckett, whom he cites in support, she makes us question "the secular faith in humanity that has replaced Christianity". However, as Gray says about Highsmith, and Beckett insisted about himself, neither writer was a philosopher, and any system based on their thought would be quite absurd and chaotic. They might persuade us that faith in human progress is an illusion, but we might retort, as is said about democracy, that it is the least-worst option. The artist is entitled to indulge anarchy to the limit, but we should not imitate her unless we can reproduce the skill and economy of her art.

The same principle might be applied to some of the "green" thinking also featured in last week's issue. Unlike the founders of their movement in the 1970s, environmentalists now seem to want to behave like artists, indulging their private mythologies, anarchic personalities and utopian dreams, such as George Monbiot's "world government". But the skill and economy of environmentalism must surely be scientific and philosophical, not mimetic of some artistic creator of the world. The point is reinforced by Jason Cowley's suggestion ("The man who demanded a recount") that Bj0rn Lomborg's critics should apply the rigour of statistics instead of attacking him with Bible-thumping, artist-mimicking dogma.

Gil Elliot
London NW1

This article first appeared in the 07 July 2003 issue of the New Statesman, 661 new crimes - and counting

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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.