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14 March 2018

Letter of the week: A question of history

By New Statesman

My wife’s grandfather, Liam Cullen, having issued Michael Collins with his first revolver, was in the Dublin General Post Office on Easter Monday 1916, then imprisoned in Kilmainham after the surrender (“The Sinn Fein question”, 9 March). Prisoners were not fed, so his wife walked four to five miles to and from the jail twice a day to feed him and dress his wounds. Initially sentenced to death, the sentence was commuted to life and he was imprisoned first in Wakefield, then in Frongoch in Wales with Collins.

Like many who fought for Irish independence, he gained nothing for himself except pain and suffering, dying in his early fifties after his wounds and treatment in Frongoch. When his IRA pension arrived in the post each week it was never opened but readdressed to the widows’ and orphans’ fund of those who had died fighting for Irish freedom. In 1920 Sir Henry Wilson of the British Army formed the Cairo Group [formed of British Intelligence agents], giving them carte blanche to assassinate Sinn Fein members unconnected with the military struggle, in order to prompt an IRA response and bring leaders, such as Collins, into the open.

How can anyone imagine that those who came after Liam as Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, could “… swear allegiance to the Queen” even “… through  gritted teeth”? 

David Murray
Wallington, Greater London

Old Troubles

Paul Mason (Another Voice, 9 March) no doubt deliberately states that Jeremy Corbyn supported “civil rights for Northern Ireland’s Catholic community during the Troubles” but leaves out that he supported a Provisional IRA campaign of violence by hosting Sinn Fein representatives at parliament during the height of the Troubles.

I am concerned that supporters of the Corbyn left can somehow erase the historical record to put a gloss on Corbyn’s new-found peace credentials.

Roy Willis
Via email

Universal good

I have been following the debate about university fees with interest yet I feel that all sides are missing a fundamental truth (Leader, 23 February). Education is a vital national good that benefits the UK, its economy and all its citizens – some more directly than others.

The present system of a loan, to be paid back to the state when it is deemed affordable is, in effect, a graduate tax that accommodates lower earners. Abandoning fees altogether means the costs would be borne by the Exchequer and all taxpayers, according to their earnings and ability to pay.

Surely, if the current scheme is too burdensome on university students, and the general taxation solution is deemed unfair to those who start earning at a younger age and may bear an unfair burden for a service they don’t directly benefit from, there must be a middle way – say cutting the £9,250 a year to a lower standard subsidised figure to be paid back as deemed affordable as at present. Abolishing the maintenance grant, which was means tested, was simply crass.

Noel Hamel
New Malden, Greater London

I welcome your leader reflecting on the costs of higher education. Perhaps a comparison with schools sharpens the case.

Like universities, schools need to impart knowledge, debate ideas, prepare lessons, mark assignments, manage students, staff and buildings. Unlike universities, they also manage behaviour, special needs, child protection, exam targets, parents’ needs, school reports and act in loco parentis. Furthermore, they do this at a fraction of the price.

In Cambridgeshire, secondary schools receive approximately  £4,500 per child and they teach at least five hours a day over 40 weeks of the year. This means that the cost per student hour is £4.50. By comparison, the average arts undergraduate pays £9,250 and might receive six hours teaching a week for 30 weeks of the year. This is a cost of approximately £50 per student hour, making schools 11 times more efficient.

Our universities can learn a great deal from our schools.

Vince Hesketh

I find myself in agreement with much of what James Wilkinson writes (Correspondence, 2 March), particularly on the need for technical education.  It reminds me of interviewing young applicants for jobs in Scotland a few years ago, including ex-university students. When I asked them what had motivated them to go to university, many said it was simply because they could not get a job. They had no real desire to go to university at all. A technical education or apprenticeship would have been a far better option if it had been available.

John Gibbs
Via email

Silent majority

Although I live in New Zealand I travel annually to the UK, know the politics fairly well, and have worked in the NHS.

Like Dr Gerald Wiener (Correspondence, 2 March) I have been astonished at how little attention has been paid to the 63 per cent of registered voters who did not vote for Brexit, to say nothing of the EU subjects working in the UK and Brits living in Europe not permitted to vote.

Perhaps naively, I expected to see masses of people wearing badges stating  “63 per cent did not vote Brexit!”

I find it difficult to think of any less democratic process than the EU referendum when few knew the consequences of their vote.

Referendums are democratic if the subject is simple to all, and especially if the outcome doesn’t matter (for example the New Zealand referendum on the flag).

Peter Miller
Via email

The only way for all this dangerous Brexit mess to be corrected is for Jeremy Corbyn and the opposition to recognise that opposing Brexit and working seriously to remain in the EU is to be nothing short of patriotic.

If you really care about the welfare of the nation and all its parts, if you really care about the lives of the many (not the few), throw the gauntlet of patriotism in the face of the deluded Little Englanders, the self-interested careerists and the posturing pseudo-patricians – and take the country with you.

Ann Lawson Lucas
Beverley, East Yorkshire

Has it escaped Kevin Maguire’s attention (Commons Confidential, 9 March) that the EU, unlike Russia and the US, is not a “foreign power”? Or have I missed something?

Marcia Saunders
London N10

Lost in translation

I can only assume that Leo Robson is not a Russianist, since he devotes no time at all to analysing the work of the two translators of Crime and Punishment in his article about Dostoevsky (Critics, 2 March). What is needed above all else is a comparison of the qualities and strengths of these two new translations. To what extent have they succeeded in conveying the essence of Dostoevsky’s language: for example, syntax, sentence structure, imagery, and, above all, voice? And how do these two translations compare with David Magershack’s fine Penguin translation of 1951? The role of the translator is a very important one, and does not deserve to be so unforgivably omitted from discussion.

Michael Copp
Glemsford, Suffolk

Gripes of wrath

In his review of Brett Anderson’s Coal Black Mornings (Critics, 2 March), John Niven compares the author’s description of his deprived youth with “Steinbeck’s America of the 1930s”. Really? As a working-class lad from Sheffield of about the same vintage, it just sounds like the 1960s and 1970s to me.

I remember a conversation with a (much posher) girlfriend about ten years ago. She said: “Bidets were so 1970s, weren’t they?” I replied that we didn’t have a bathroom or indoor toilet until 1976.

Martin Herronj
Via email

Lord, pot, kettle

A letter complaining of privilege (Correspondence, 9 March) might be worth noting if it didn’t come from the likes of – have I got this right? – Nigel, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, House of Lords.

Mick Jope
Maidstone, Kent

Grass-roots gains

Simon Diggins is being rather unfair (Correspondence, 9 March). The Corbyn-led Labour Party has stated that it wants to move away from 1970s centralised top-down public ownership towards more bottom-up control by workers and local communities.

It has also pledged to double the size of the co-operative sector, the first time I can remember such an explicit and ambitious goal being stated by the party. On Brexit, although I want to remain, it is obvious that the leadership is navigating between a sharply divided Labour vote. This, I suspect, is steering them towards the compromise of a soft Brexit position and I think they’re doing it pretty well for a supposed bunch of hard-left ideologues.

Bill Kerry
West Wickham, Greater London

In acknowledging that Labour had bucked European electoral trends, by not only avoiding being crushed but by increasing its vote share at last year’s general election, you omitted a key factor that may provide an explanation for this outcome (Leader, 9 March).

Membership of political parties has been unfashionable for some time, with the Conservative Party especially badly affected by a diminishing band of ageing activists.

Corbyn’s election in 2015, and the 2016 rerun, led to a surge in membership. While a not insignificant number of the joiners may have been returning baby boomers like me who left during the Blair years, there was a much bigger influx of enthusiastic young people. Armies of people, ready to go out on the doorstep day after day throughout the campaign, ensured that Labour had a much clearer idea of where supporters were located and on 8 June there were many more “tellers”, “knockers” and leafleters available to get out the vote. And, in common with younger voters in Greece and Spain, they had been drawn towards a more radical message than had generally been promoted by mainstream parties.

Les Bright

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