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8 November 2023

Letter of the week: Starmer’s struggle

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

After recent conference speeches by Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, Andrew Marr confessed to a “prickle of hope” regarding Labour’s prospects (Politics, 13 October). I felt sceptical and, true to form, a few weeks later Starmer is now struggling to assuage the disquiet of many Labour members regarding Gaza.

Over many decades of wishing Labour well, I only experienced such hope on two occasions: during the Attlee government and when Blair abolished Clause IV and governed with financial prudence during his early years. In between, Labour produced many able politicians whose efforts only led to failure. Labour has often been guilty of getting carried away with party-conference-style rhetoric and failing to pay close attention to detail. Starmer could start by explaining how some of the figures he threw out at conference can be achieved. With the national finances fragile, he might also ensure money isn’t wasted. For instance, in the NHS huge amounts have been lost on inefficient procurement such as the failed “Babylon” IT project. The money wasted on the HS2 project should also be an object lesson.
Geoff Brown, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

The search for peace

Andrew Marr’s cover story about Keir Starmer’s lack of foreign policy (3 November) made me angry. It focused on a very narrow view of UK electoral politics rather than the people in Gaza and Israel who are suffering. Starmer needs to acknowledge the horror of the escalating war by calling for the immediate release of Israeli hostages and for an immediate ceasefire. Starmer could show leadership by supporting the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) statement now.
Ruth Potter, Stamford Bridge, East Yorkshire

With Remembrance Sunday upon us, we should remember that, as with the ceasefire on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, ceasefires do not end wars, peace treaties do. Whether there can be a peace treaty in the Middle East creating a two-state solution I do not know, but a ceasefire will not end the conflict.
Trevor Fisher, Stafford

On the contrary

Wolfgang Münchau’s apparent attempt at contrarian positioning regarding Western support of Ukraine (Lateral View, 3 November) is becoming tiresome. He says sanctions are self-defeating and berates a lack of “exit strategy”; this is very easy to say, but what would he do instead? And can he not see that military support from its allies has already enabled Ukraine to defend far more of its territory than if it had been left to fend for itself?
Callum Hind, London N1

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THANK YOU

A broken safety net

In response to the article (Advertorial, 6 October) by Emma Revie of the Trussell Trust and Paul Kissack of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on Starmer’s missing mission – ending the need for food banks – I agree the need for food banks stems from “a broken social security net”.

It is a myth that if you lose your job due to redundancy, ill health or bereavement you will be assisted by social security, having paid into the system for years. Food banks are a godsend to help those struggling to get by on a daily basis through no fault of their own.

The social security system was created to help people in need and to take away the stigma and the shame of poverty and financial hardship. The solution is to restore the system to what it was intended to do.
Eunice Tawney, Luton, Bedfordshire

Winds of change

Aside from David Kynaston’s “northern wind” (The Critics, 3 November), the early Sixties saw another wind blowing, this time from Woolwich, with the publication of John Robinson’s Honest to God. No other book of modern theology has come close in terms of popularity – over a million copies were sold worldwide. It asked us to consider what it means to “come of age”. Robinson correctly predicted that unless it changed – which it didn’t – Christianity in the UK would decline into little more than a private sect concerned only with individual salvation, with just a few brave souls left to focus on wider questions of peace, justice and the pursuit of a full humanity for all.

Perhaps this is also a metaphor for our wider political and social life. Just as some cling to the idea of a supernatural God who will somehow make everything all right – for them at least – so we have also failed to grapple with what it means to take full responsibility for our own futures, rather than leaving it to politicians to do it for us.
Ben Whitney, Wolverhampton

Unreliable narrators

Nicholas Lezard may accuse the narrator of The Moonstone of being an idiot (Down and Out, 3 November), but I now hope he has read a little more of it, despite the hard going he describes. It is a remarkable novel because it has a range of different characters contributing to the narrative.
Philip O’Neill, Dundrum, County Down

Amazing Trace

Tracey Thorn never ceases to amaze. I was unaware of her solo debut album, A Distant Shore (Off the Record, 20 October). It transpires an album produced for £100 topped the indie charts in 1983 – when the indie scene was very strong. It “was something of an indie hit”, she says, with customary modesty. More Tracey, please.
Dwyfor Evans, Hong Kong

Not amused

I trust the entries to This England are checked to ensure they reflect the intended purpose of raising a smile and reminding us of the often mildly ridiculous minor events printed in our media? I think this monitoring failed with respect to the entry “Flaming cheek” (This England, 3 November). I was not amused, nor did I find the actions of these firemen to be minor. Such sexist behaviour exemplifies the misogyny which so many in our society find abhorrent. I trust these men had to pay a very large sum in compensation.
Moira Sykes, Didsbury, Greater Manchester

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This article appears in the 08 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Age of Fury