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24 January 2024

Letter of the week: Despair beyond repair

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

By New Statesman

I particularly enjoyed Anoosh Chakelian’s insightful column on the Post Office inquiry and other current examples of the difficulty of regular people obtaining justice (Bursting the Bubble, 19 January). What is truly dispiriting is that there are so many examples of the inability of our public institutions to spend our money wisely and ensure that senior people are held to account for delivering effectively and behaving honestly.

I’m not sure our elected representatives realise that when they speak in grave, hushed tones of the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, the rest of us are wondering why it took an ITV drama to get them to this point.

If Labour believes that “public ‘apathy’” is its “biggest hurdle”, as Chakelian writes, they are kidding themselves. Apathy implies that people don’t care. We care very much. But it’s very hard to see either of the main parties fixing the critical issues. The challenge facing all political parties isn’t apathy. It’s despair.
Andy Leslie, West Grinstead, Horsham, West Sussex

Better not, Badenoch

Rachel Cunliffe’s article on Kemi Badenoch (Newsmaker, 19 January) gives insights into her positioning in the party, her possible support and policy positions. What it doesn’t explain is why Kemi would choose to become leader in the wake of a likely electoral disaster. Experience over the past 45 years suggests becoming leader in these circumstances is extremely unlikely to lead to later being elected prime minister. A party seems to need two or three interim leaders before becoming electable again. There is also a good chance of choosing the unelectable: Jeremy Corbyn, Michael Foot and Iain Duncan Smith spring to mind.

If I were Badenoch I would leave it to some other candidate to pick up the post-election poisoned chalice and look to assert herself before the next general election, or even the one after that.
John Young, Monkswood, Usk, Monmouthshire

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Gids under scrutiny

It was a huge relief to discover that Hannah Barnes (Special Report, 19 January) is continuing to follow the closure of the Gender Identity Development Service (Gids) at the Tavistock after the publication of her groundbreaking book Time to Think and the work of the BBC Newsnight team. No other publication or broadcaster seems to be allowing its journalists to follow up on what is clearly a major scandal regarding the well-being of children.

For those of us who are concerned about these issues, we look forward to the speedy publication of the final report by Hilary Cass. We sincerely hope it will result in those whose interest in the subject is primarily ideological no longer having input into the training of clinicians, or the diagnosis and treatment of children.
Margaret Bluman, London N19

Peers reviewed

Tim Waterstone’s vision of a replacement for the House of Lords (Diary, 19 January) is tame, and a proportional representation system plus a commission is likely just to mean more jobs for old mates. We need a revising chamber, but it could be smaller than he suggests. More importantly, it could be directly elected by reference to non-party constituencies (trades and professions, for example). Candidacy should be barred to anyone (or a majority) who has held political office. There should be a ban on holding office for more than ten years. And it should be a full-time job. No Ruritanian titles for members. And what about locating it in the Midlands or the north, away from the baleful influence of Westminster? That might be a start.
Stephen Baister, London WC1

Let’s walk and talk…

Will Lloyd (Decline and Fall, 12 January) astutely diagnoses a childish impulse among some in the political class to play-pretend as their favourites from TV, but I wonder if he over-interprets the text in places. Perhaps “real people” don’t sit at home wondering how to be themselves, but “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” works as an episode because the fear that we are compromising some authentic self is almost universal. The politics of the West Wing are arbitrary and milquetoast precisely because Aaron Sorkin cares more about character and pathos than about constitutional procedure or macroeconomics. He is an evangelist for Aristotle’s Poetics, not his Politics. We make the same mistake as the political nerds if we project aspiration on to the set-dressing. 
Elliot Porter, Birmingham

In his perceptive analysis of the influence of Aaron Sorkin on Westminster, Will Lloyd omits the most worrying outcome: due to the absence in the US of an apolitical civil service, the West Wing glorified the use of special advisers (Spads). The adulation of Jed Bartlet and co was instrumental in the rise of Dominic Cummings as the scheming English cousin of Josh Lyman, and the undermining of the civil service by Spads.

While the West Wing was idealistic, its British equivalents – Yes Minister and The Thick of It – ridiculed the existing British set-up, making a shift to a US-style approach even more inevitable.
Martin Lees, Great Chart, Ashford, Kent

Awareness isn’t insight

I read Hannah Barnes’s column (Out of the Ordinary, 12 January) nodding and thinking: thank goodness someone is finally asking the question. As someone who works with children and young people, it has been long apparent to me that the increased awareness of mental ill health for some young people does not lead to a depth of understanding. Rather, it creates a level of articulacy that belies a lack of insight, thereby inadvertently leaving them further from receiving the appropriate support.

I also wanted to praise Sophie McBain’s piece on Vincent Deary’s How We Break (The Critics, 12 January). How marvellous to read a book review that looks at the human condition as it is rather than through the lens of “wellness” that insists we are all the authors of our own pain/success, and that if we failed, we just didn’t try hard enough.
Marie Donnelly, Newcastle upon Tyne

No more ifs or ands or buts

I greatly enjoyed Lola Seaton’s piece on Joni Mitchell’s 1974 album Court and Spark (The Critics, 19 January). Mitchell was head and shoulders above her contemporaries in her harmonic and instrumental explorations and arguably stands alongside Bob Dylan as a lyricist. Just one quibble. The final track on the album is Mitchell’s take on Annie Ross’s vocalese classic “Twisted”. In my opinion she doesn’t quite nail it; her voice is just a bit too pure and outdoorsy. For similar reasons, the French horn and oboe never made it as jazz instruments.
John Griffin, Newquay, Cornwall

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[See also: Letter of the week: The value of humanities]

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This article appears in the 24 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Media Wars

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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