Letter of the week: All talk, no action

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

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Alison Phillips’s pledge for greater ethnic diversity in newspaper offices (The Diary, June 26) was both encouraging and exasperating. Encouraging because, as she says, honest self-reflection within an industry hitherto silent about recruitment bias is essential. Exasperating because, after two years as editor of the Daily Mirror, only now does she write about “plans for change”  and “first steps” designed to create more ethnically diverse newsrooms. Editors need to swallow their pride and, together,  take more direct, obvious and urgent action rather than talking about vague and hopeful ambitions for BAME talent.  An industry that talks of taking first steps to change itself, at a time when millions have taken to the streets in angry protest at the lack of change so far, appears to be uncharacteristically behind the curve.

Grant Feller
London W4

Know the score

As a professional footballer, I found it encouraging and refreshing to read Jason Cowley (“The new political football”, 26 June) challenging the ignorant stereotypes about players. However, while I take increasing optimism from Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling using their platforms to raise awareness, we should be careful not to equate their self-consciousness with that of the rest of the UK. Ours is a nation that four years ago voted for a Brexit campaign stoked by fear of immigration, and that six months ago gave the Conservatives their biggest majority in decades, following ten years of austerity that disproportionately harmed those communities for which Rashford and Sterling are now fighting.

Writing in the Times last week, Janice Turner noted that only a fifth of Britons is on Twitter, with 80 per cent of tweets written by 10 per cent of users. She emphasised that neither the trolls nor the woke progressives on Twitter are representative of the wider population. Let’s take online social consciousness with a pinch of salt, and not forget that figures like Piers Morgan – who championed Rashford’s plea for the government to fund meals for vulnerable children over the summer break – failed to vote with this same social conscience last December.    

Ciaran McKenna
Uddingston, Glasgow

Jason Cowley rightly applauds footballers such as Sterling, Rashford and Tyrone Mings for their political literacy and social engagement. But the “new political football” is not as new as it might appear. In the 1970s, when South Africa was still an apartheid state, Stanley Matthews, in his sixties, coached black youngsters in Soweto. Officially, apartheid forbade his presence, but Matthews used to enter South Africa via Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) unbeknown to the authorities. Officially, the black boys were forbidden to leave South Africa, too, but Matthews even managed to take his Soweto team of youngsters, Stan’s Men, on a tour to Brazil in March 1975, where they met the great player Zico. Since his death in 2000 the Matthews foundation continues his work.

David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

I enjoyed Jason Cowley’s article but thought it biased towards the Premier League. As a supporter of a lower league club, Tranmere Rovers, I see less evidence of racism and plenty of evidence of my club supporting our local community. During the coronavirus pandemic we have delivered food parcels and offered support for those who are lonely. Football is a force for positive change across the pyramid.

David Sindall
West Kirby, Wirral

Simple solutions

Richard J Evans states that pulling down statues has nothing to do with history but everything to do with memory (“The history wars”, 19 June). But in a contribution to the book Big Questions in History he wrote the following:

In recent times, it has become fashionable to categorise historical figures from a time such as the Third Reich, or the Atlantic slave trade, or the European settlement of Australia, in terms derived from morality and the law… This is profoundly alien to the enterprise of history, which is concerned in the first place with explaining why people did what they did, with causes, effects and interconnections, not with issuing arrogant verdicts on complex moral issues based on the luxury of hindsight.

Are we not all historians when we go and look at a statue? The discourse has focused on simplified solutions instead of historical debate. Does Professor Evans agree that his approach to history could be at least partially applied to statues as well, or has he changed his mind altogether?

Willem Geerlings
Dublin

It was a relief to read David Elstein’s letter contradicting Richard J Evans’ unsupported charge of the “massacre of villagers” by the British during the Mau Mau uprising (Correspondence, 26 June). I was an 18-year-old Kenya Police Reserve Combat Tracker team leader in 1955-56 operating against several Mau Mau gangs in the Mt Kenya crown forest above Nanyuki and Meru and Embu. Not once in all my patrols among the villages did I come across a reference to any such event, nor does any believable evidence exist to support the claims.

It should be a matter of deep concern to the bona fide historian covering the end of empire that, in Kenya’s case, emotions rather than evidence seem to rule the day.

Tim Symonds
Burwash, East Sussex

State failures

Michael Kenny is right to draw our attention to the failings of British governance (“The state we’re in”, 26 June). However, the problem is even more fundamental. The detaching of government machinery is accompanied by the idea that governing is an exercise in commissioning.

Since the late 1970s, both political parties have developed practices that distance them from directing and implementing policy. The government fails to see itself as an organiser of society to achieve a common purpose. The present circumstances require a mindset that borrows from Wilsonian and Heathite corporatism but leavens it by strong political leadership and partnership at local level. We will fail the coming economic crisis unless there is a complete reimagining of the purpose and practice of government.

Dr Paul Lally
Liverpool

Michael Kenny’s idea that unbalanced UK devolution has resulted in the governance of England being “opaque and incoherent” could not be more relevant. So long as we have fundamental divisions within the UK such as no domestic English assembly and the continuation of offshore tax havens, we perpetuate the notion of “one law for one and one law for the other” – which mocks the integrity of a so-called United Kingdom.

Ken Farnol
Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Old-fashioned joy

I think Rachel Cooke is a bit harsh on Alan Bennett (The Critics, 26 June). At age 86, it’s impressive his newly written work is being broadcast. Many people’s worlds are stuck in a kind of aspic, so I think we can forgive him naming a schoolgirl Maureen (which admittedly did jar). No one should be immune to criticism, so I enjoyed reading her review. However, I think she misses the point – Bennett’s anachronistic world is exactly what people want from him, and it’s a real comfort in these troubled times.

Theo Morgan
London W9

If Rachel Cooke objects to the BBC restaging Alan Bennett’s classic Talking Heads on grounds that it is past its sell-by date, I’m tempted to ask if she has similar views on staging Shakespeare plays or adaptations of Dickens.

Clare Palmer
Via email

Churchill’s lessons During lockdown I have been reading a very old copy of Churchill’s The Second World War. Tucked in the flyleaf is a review by Harold Nicholson in the Daily Telegraph of 4 October 1948, which describes it as “more than a record of events and motives, it is a formidable cautionary tale”.

Churchill had faults, but in 1940 he brought formidable strengths to the role of prime minister at a time of national crisis. He had experience of government in war, had held several high offices of state, chose people from across the political spectrum to govern with him and recognised his weaknesses. He believed passionately in Britain but knew it was at its strongest when in partnership with other nations, and spent years warning that Britain was ill-prepared to face a catastrophe. No parallels there, then!

Sandy Blair CBE 
Llantrisant Usk, South Wales

British woes

Peter Wilby asks why nobody has substituted a native bird for Vera Lynn’s transatlantic “bluebirds over/The white cliffs of Dover” (First Thoughts, 26 June). Somebody did: Noël Coward intones a more recognisably British landscape in “There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner”: “The horizon’s gloomy as can be/There are blackbirds over/The greyish cliffs of Dover/And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC.”

Jon Sanders
Cambridge

Up and coming

I was encouraged to see two fellow Stockport folk have letters published in the NS (Correspondence, 26 June). It’s interesting to note, though, that neither Mark Hunter of Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, nor Chris Simms of Marple, Greater Manchester, self-identifies as a Stopfordian.

While there may be a need for further debate about civic identities – as neither is technically incorrect – maybe they’re as keen as I am to dampen down the hype caused by Stockport’s habitual presence in the media as one
of the UK’s property “hot spots”. When lockdown is over, maybe we could form a local readers’ group?

Michael Taylor
Marple, Stockport

Forever young

To Megan Nolan worrying about having a teddy bear at 30 (Out of the Ordinary, 26 June): don’t! We, just either side of 50, share the bed with Yellowy, who is older than both of us. If I ever show a hint of jealousy, I’m the childish one.

David Forbes
Glasgow

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This article appears in the 03 July 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Anatomy of a crisis

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