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22 November 2023

Letter of the week: Peerless foreign secretaries

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By New Statesman

Andrew Marr, in discussing the appointment of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary (Cover Story, 17 November), notes young people in particular find his appointment outrageous. I don’t think the young have a monopoly in outrage, and some of us are old enough to remember this being an issue before. Prior to the 1964 election, Harold Wilson intended Patrick Gordon Walker to be foreign secretary. He lost his seat of Smethwick after a racist campaign by his Tory opponent. Wilson made him foreign secretary anyway, but gave a life peerage to Reginald Sorensen. This provided a by-election for Gordon Walker to contest, which he promptly lost, at which point he was obliged to resign. I don’t think anyone suggested he be made a life peer to do the job from the Lords.
John Filby, Ashover, Derbyshire

[See also: Letter of the week: Diverse education]

Desperate straits

Will Lloyd reports Rupert Harrison has “been awarded a safe seat to fight for at the next election” (Cover Story, 17 November), which includes Bicester. When the town was last up for grabs in 2019, the Tories held the seat it was part of with a majority of more than 16,000. Labour’s recent overturning of 19,000 and 24,000-plus Tory majorities at Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire, respectively, might just have changed the bookies’ definition of “safe”.
Austen Lynch, Garstang, Lancashire

An excellent cartoon on the cover of the last issue, but why not the title “Desperate Special Measures”?
Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria

I read your Leader (17 November) with interest and agreement. David Cameron’s return highlights how the government is losing purchase on political reality.

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And now with the Rwanda refugee plan debacle there will be yet more manoeuvring with the courts and international laws. How has this government come to this? The immigration system needs to be overhauled in a calm, compassionate, efficient manner, not with this gung-ho, at-any-cost approach to our international reputation.
Judith A Daniels, Great Yarmouth

First-class problems

In Jonathan Rutherford’s analysis of Labour Together (Comment, 17 November), he mentions Jon Cruddas’ and Arnie Graf’s “three pillars of family, work and wages, as well as a place to belong” as central tenets of a Labour vision for the future. This sounds reasonable – until you consider the large number of single people approaching their mid-forties. Many have been to university but don’t have a first-class job paying them the wages commensurate with their skills. As for a place to belong? The village hall will soon be replaced by the global amphitheatre of some tech billionaire’s meta-verse.
James Martin, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Fair diplomatic solution

Bruno Maçães rightly contrasts Western support for Ukrainian resistance to an occupying power with Western support for another occupying power in Palestine (World View, 17 November). The Middle East conflict has been festering since 1948, with the US-backed Israel confronting Palestine’s dispossessed Arabs. The UN secretary-general was right to say that Hamas’s 7 October atrocity did not occur in a vacuum. There will have to be a solution, probably with two states. Israeli people should be part of that. Peace campaigners there have been opposing military excesses for years, and now we hear anguished families of hostages opposing calls for revenge. Nevertheless, Israeli military reservists who recently refused to serve in protest against the curtailment of judicial independence are now involved in Gaza.

War crimes by all concerned should be prosecuted. But at last the world is beginning to focus on the need for a fair diplomatic solution. People in the West need to engage with people in Israel as well as Palestinian Arabs to make that possible.
John Home Robertson, Paxton, Scotland

Prison dependency

Anoosh Chakelian’s interview with the former prison governor Pia Sinha tells it as it is (Encounter, 10 November). In the 47 years of my criminal defence practice I have seen many governments fail to heed the parlous state of our prisons. Over-reliance on incarceration, especially for non-violent offences, guarantees reoffending on release.

In the early- to mid-1990s the system experienced a spasm of sanity. Senior criminal justice representatives agreed to work towards a better way of doing things – and that at a time when the already-too-large prison population hovered at around 46,000. Then came an unseemly race to the bottom, with both Tory government and Labour opposition striving to outdo each other as the tougher on crime.

And now here we are, with more than 90,000 souls housed in conditions unfit for farming stock. Enough of “out of sight, out of mind”: this must stop.
Malcolm Fowler, Kings Heath, Birmingham, solicitor and higher court advocate (now non-practising), former chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee, member of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s Ethics Committee

Private incentives

I was delighted to see Melissa Denes’ piece on private schooling (“The 7 per cent question”, 10 November) and by your publication of responses (Correspondence, 17 November). There can surely be few more pertinent subjects when reflecting on the broken society most people live in.

Matters can only improve if schools across the country are able to offer a high-quality curriculum appropriate for pupils’ needs and aptitudes. Dare I suggest how such a state of affairs might be brought about? Schools would be overseen by Local Education Authorities and the whole structure accountable to His Majesty’s Inspectorate. Yes, we’ve been here before, but doesn’t such a system deserve a second chance? The private wealth that supports some independent schools could be used to help all children get first-rate educations.

I’m not hopeful that Labour will change this, but it’s the only hope we have. “Cooperation” initiatives between private and state, not to be decried in themselves, can never be far-reaching enough, and for the most part amount to easy justification for tax concessions. This is no way forward for the education of future generations.
Duncan Reid, Cheltenham

Of course parents send their children to private schools to give them a competitive advantage. Most, if they can, do – including, I suspect, many New Statesman readers and Labour supporters.

Education is a devolved power so I can only speak of the Scottish experience, but many parents with the means choose to live in one of Glasgow, Edinburgh or Dundee’s affluent areas such as Hyndland, Morningside or Broughty Ferry. Their children will go to the most high-achieving state schools in the land. Buying a family home in the catchment areas of such schools is an expensive business and a privilege not open to all. I’ve never been convinced of the ethical difference between paying a private-school bursar and paying a high-street bank. Both sets of parents pay for their children’s access to a high-achieving school, yet you never hear of Labour or the SNP discussing state-school catchment area changes to equalise opportunity. We all know how unpopular this would be with key voter demographics.
John McTaggart, Aberdour, Fife

Do ethnic-minority pupil statistics count when paying students come from abroad?
Sally Litherland, Salisbury

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[See also: Letter of the week: Starmer’s struggle]

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This article appears in the 22 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The paranoid style