Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
11 April 2018

On John Stuart Mill

By New Statesman

Amol Rajan’s eulogy to 12 Rules for Life author Jordan Peterson (Uncommon Sense, 9 February) is in parts almost epiphanic (“the first time I saw him on screen I thought it was Jeremy Irons”). Would that Rajan pay similarly close attention to John Stuart Mill, for his claim that On Liberty is not “principally about liberty” but rather “higher principles that lead to human flourishing” is dubious if not outright false.

For better or worse liberty is not for Mill a means to some other end, but exactly what he sets out to defend in his “essay”. Indeed, its opening sentence announces its subject as “the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual”. Mill’s object then is to “assert one very simple principle” of such legitimacy, by which “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”. On Liberty may have its flaws but, unlike many modern self-help books, bullshit and imprecision are not among them.

Sean Cordell

Fighting exclusion

In his article about Haringey Council (Another Voice, 9 February), Jon Lansman claims that when chairing interview panels for Labour council candidates in Haringey in 2013 (as a volunteer neutral chair from a neighbouring borough) I “excluded some candidates from the left”.

The implication is offensive as it suggests I was not running an equal opportunities process to identify objectively which candidates were qualified to represent Labour, but was instead biased and weeding out political opponents on factional grounds.

In fact, Jon’s insinuation does not stand up to scrutiny as I approved to be candidates a range of people associated with the left of the party, including Kate Osamor, who had stood against me in the NEC election a year previously, and Emine Ibrahim, who is now vice-chair of Momentum.

To have rejected candidates on factional grounds would have required the collusion of the other two members on each interview panel, some of whom I only met on the day of the interviews, and a regional board appeal panel.

I am happy to spar, in a comradely and mutually respectful way, with Jon Lansman about our very different views on Labour’s leadership, policies and strategy. However, I resent and reject his making unsubstantiated digs at my character and integrity when it comes to upholding the party rulebook and running fair internal processes.

All of us who carry out time-consuming voluntary roles in Labour’s selection and disciplinary processes do so because we want the party and Labour voters to have the best possible representatives. We don’t deserve to have our motives and conduct falsely impugned.

Luke Akehurst

I write as chair of the Hammersmith and Fulham Labour Local Campaign Forum, which has responsibility for approving the panel of potential candidates for the local elections in May.

In his column Jon Lansman says that: “Sometimes a councillor’s ‘performance’ is affected by caring responsibilities or disability. For example, in Hammersmith, west London, a young, black, working-class woman – a single mother who was less able to undertake some ‘contractual commitments’ – was excluded from the panel.”

Mr Lansman has been misinformed. No black woman, of any class or age and whether a mother or childless, was turned down by the LCF. Four black women put themselves forward to the LCF and all were accepted on to the panel. There is no place in Hammersmith and Fulham Labour for discrimination of any kind.

William Hunter
London W6

Losing friends

I was secretary of Haringey TUC throughout Claire Kober’s time as leader of Haringey Council, which ends in May (The Diary, 9 February).

We agreed on two things. First that the borough faces significant issues particularly around housing and employment. Second, since 2010 the Tories and Lib Dems, and from 2015 the Tories alone, have not only not helped matters but deliberately made them worse. Where we did not agree in the end was over what was to be done. When Ms Kober and the council leadership first proposed the HDV regeneration only a small group of councillors were opposed.

Since then it has been an exercise in losing friends and failing to influence people as opposition has grown. As a socialist I may occasionally dream, but the HDV is the stuff of nightmares. It is to be hoped that after May a new Labour council returns to pragmatically trying to do what it can to help working people in Haringey rather than planning to knock their houses down.

Keith Flett
London N17

Thank you so much for publishing the contrasting articles by Claire Kober and Jon Lansman. One bright, wide-ranging and outward-looking; the other sectarian and more than hinting of a creeping democratic centralism beloved of far-left sects. I know to which Labour Party I want to belong.

Mark Grayling
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Lessons of history

Even in its abridged form, Howard Jacobson’s article was the finest deconstruction of anti-Semitism I have ever read (The Critics, 2 February). As a millennial, I was particularly jolted by his condemnation of “the triumphant amnesia of the young” in playing fast and loose with the lessons of the 20th century.

Many young people justifiably mock the imperialist nostalgia of older Brexiteers. I would like to see us apply similar historical comprehension in other cases. This might help some of the more vigorous Corbynistas understand, for instance, why most Jews find it hard to see purely humanitarian motives in their anti-Zionism.

As Jacobson suggests, there is no reason to be proud of ignorance. Nevertheless, I remain concerned that my generation seems to think moral certainty is an adequate substitute for a proper grasp of history.

James Bartholomeusz

Vera Lustig refers to Israel’s “human rights abuses” as if what Israel does is gratuitous and context-free. I will put to her and anyone else this question. If you were to be born again tomorrow, not knowing your sex, or whether Jew, Christian, atheist or Muslim, and your choice was Israel or any other Muslim-ruled country, which would you choose? When I put this question to anti-Zionists on the website LabourList, I was immediately informed that I was permanently banned. So much for open discussion.

Michael McManus

Levelling down

The BBC’s former head of news, Roger Mosey, is evidently still embedded in the organisation’s indefensible high-pay culture (Off the Air, 9 February, and previously 5 January) in presuming it will need even  “more money”  to sort out pay inequality. This, while citing Carrie Gracie’s pay offer of £180,000 as an editor in news, and that of managers in HR and elsewhere, “some of whom earn up to £200,000 a year”.

Interesting that Mosey assumes pay equality should cost the corporation more money, as opposed to saving money, should the BBC enter into a levelling down rather than a levelling up exercise.

 As someone who has worked as a programme maker at the BBC, I can honestly say that no one who works in television merits more than £80,000 a year.  The idea that senior managers and journalists are paying themselves more than £150,000 a year (and many several times that) is a mark of just how far we’ve moved from the public service ethos. 

If the highly privileged people who work for the BBC really believe in and support its founding ideals they need to start making demands for pay cuts, not pay increases. If more of the BBC’s budget went into programme making rather than to overpaid elites, the “intolerable” pressures felt by senior and middle management over the pay row would hopefully dissipate.

Rhonda Evans
Twickenham, Middlesex

Over here

Your correspondent Robin Tranter should check his facts before he writes to correct others’ errors (Correspondence, 2 February). The last invasion of Britain was more than a hundred years after the Dutch, when in February 1797 a small French revolutionary force landed just up the coast from Fishguard. They only lasted a few days before surrendering to a combination of farm cider, the Pembrokeshire yeomanry and (so the story goes) some redoubtable local women.

However, it did happen and is still commemorated here in Last Invasion Country. (The still continuing English invasion we talk less about, being polite folk.)

Nigel Thomas
Fishguard, Pembrokeshire

Left-wing twaddle

Laurie Penny’s piece on Ruby Tandoh dismays me (Observations, 9 February). It was a mix of predictable identity politics, dripping with clichés, larded with knee-jerk feminism and seasoned with the now obligatory LGBT salt.

She tells us that Tandoh’s book is about desire, lust and hunger, and how “vital” these things are (indisputably), “especially for women and LGBT people”.

Why for them especially? Later she tells us with obvious approval how often the book mentions shit.

Why is that desirable in a book about food, unless of course one’s prime aim is to shock? The whole piece epitomises the reach-me-down left-wing twaddle that has turned so many readers away from the Guardian, and will, if you allow it, do the same for the New Statesman.

Stephen Harvey
Eastleigh, Hampshire

Tactile pleasures

Like Peter Wilby I prefer the tactile pleasure of a newspaper print edition, which he can’t nowadays experience until after breakfast (First Thoughts, 9 February).

I think he may be suffering a disadvantage of living quietly in Loughton, Essex. In most towns and cities the proliferation of local supermarkets and corner shops with long opening hours means that the papers are available at 5am or 6am. In the hardly bustling metropolis of Burton upon Trent this means that I can now enjoy the rustle of paper earlier than ever before in over 50 years of newspaper reading. As an added bonus I have a pre-breakfast stroll!

Mike Shelton
Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire

Hardly booming

In an otherwise detailed discussion (Observations, 9 February), Torsten Bell treats “baby boomers” as an undifferentiated group; millions of whom live on the basic state pension, currently £122.30 per week, and don’t own property or other forms of wealth to pass on to their children.

Jack Demaine

North and south

Michael Leapman’s recollection of the era when bus conductors called out “Hold on tightly, please”, before ringing the bell (Correspondence, 9 February) must have been formed in the south of England. In Liverpool, where I studied at university, it was “’Ang on!”

David Bye

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action