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17 January 2024

Letter of the week: The value of humanities

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

By New Statesman

Anna Leszkiewicz writes with great justice in her review of Mr Bates vs The Post Office (The Critics, 12 January) of the scandal within a scandal that it took a television dramatisation to give due public exposure to the Horizon Post Office affair. Many commentators in both print and broadcast media have expressed surprise that this should be so.

But one should be surprised that they are surprised. Just ask any English literature student. They will tell you: sympathetic imagination, dramatic realisation, what Samuel Johnson in the 18th century called finding “the passes of the mind”. It’s really not that hard.
Philip Smallwood, emeritus professor of English, Birmingham City University

Distant voices

The treatment of sub-postmasters by the Post Office (Leader, 12 January) seems of a piece with other scandals such as contaminated blood, Windrush, and the torture of the Mau Mau in Kenya. The common factor is that none of those affected had connections or wealth. They were “ordinary people” and it was not until someone with connections took an interest that something was done.

The tactic for dealing with any matter embarrassing to the government (whether Labour or Conservative) is often to delay the inquiry for as long as possible. Where compensation is an issue, claimants are forced to jump through difficult hoops. Some such schemes are administered by the departments that first caused the problem.

Finally, someone from the government is bound to say that “lessons will be learned” as a result of the inquiry. There is no chance of any lesson being learned when ordinary people without influence are caught up in such scandals.
Richard Dargan, Old Coulsdon, Surrey

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More luck than judgement

Trevor Pitman is correct in saying that the UK has had a significant fall in emissions since 1970 (Correspondence, 12 January). But I’d be more impressed if government policy had anything to do with it. The increasing production of nuclear power and of gas from the North Sea began to make coal-fired power stations redundant. Gradual improvement in the efficiency of electrical equipment, such as the wholesale introduction of LED light bulbs, has also reduced the use of electricity. However, possibly the biggest factor has been the outsourcing of most of our manufacturing to other countries. The size of our carbon footprint decreases, while theirs increases.

Recent government decisions in climate commitments have been to grant new licences for oil and gas production in the North Sea, permission for a new coal mine, postpone (again) regulations to make new houses more sustainable, and criticise all schemes trying to curb road traffic and air pollution. Not quite a triumph.
Hilary Lang, Frome, Somerset

Uncommon currency

Wolfgang Münchau’s conclusion after 25 years (Lateral View, 12 January) that “the euro has brought division, not unity, to Europe” only confirms the judgement of the campaign I led, “Yes to Europe, No to the Euro”. Those who still campaign for a common EU defence as they did for the euro make it ever easier for those in the US who want to pull out of Nato.
David Owen, House of Lords

Misplaced faith

I am indebted to Jill Filipovic, who writes articulately about the troubling alliance between Trump and evangelicals (American Affairs, 12 January). I have grown ever more shaken by this seemingly counter-intuitive relationship, but Filipovic has enlightened me. Many self-regarding religious leaders share with Trump an insistence that they are incontestably right and possession of those “answers” that sit easily with baser “white” and misogynistic attitudes. Those of us with goodwill and liberality know there are no such quick fixes to the world’s ills, but rather the imperative to strive for more principled ways of coexisting.
Malcolm Fowler, Kings Heath, Birmingham

The East Wing

I was interested to read Will Lloyd’s column (Decline and Fall, 12 January) because we have been rewatching The West Wing. We recently arrived at the storyline in series six where an Israel/Palestine peace conference is brokered. The tragedy is that much of the script reflects today’s reality, though it was first broadcast two decades ago.
Adrian Lyons, Colchester, Essex

Forgotten victims

It was refreshing to read Hannah Barnes’ column (Out of the Ordinary, 12 January) on the inadvertent consequences of “mental health awareness” campaigns, which seem to sometimes fuel the issues they are attempting to address. However, in her swipe at “outlandish accounts of ritualistic child abuse” she is guilty of the lack of nuance that she judges in others. Far from a “satanic panic”, the response to accounts of abuse involving ritualistic practices has been characterised by disbelief. There have been at least 15 convicted cases of ritualistic sexual abuse in the UK, yet the narrative that these accounts are the result of fantasy and false memory persists. A recent case in Glasgow resulting in seven convictions received little media coverage. It might be tempting to dismiss accounts of extreme sexual abuse, but doing so is unjustified and adds insult to deep injury for victims.
Dr Elly Hanson, clinical psychologist, Bristol

In the long run, we’re all rational

John Gray (The Critics, 12 January) accepts too readily Keynes’s rejection, in reference to Newton, of the “rationalist myth of modern science originating in empirical reasoning”.

Isaac Newton’s work on optics was based on experiments, and in a letter to Ignatius Pardies in 1672, Newton wrote: “The best and safest method of philosophising seems to be, first to enquire diligently into the properties of things, and of establishing those properties by experiments, and then to proceed more slowly to hypotheses for the explanation of them. For hypotheses should be subservient only in explaining the properties of things, but not assumed in determining them; unless so far as they may furnish experiments.”
Alan Slomson, Leeds

WhatsApp with you?

Simon Heffer says Rishi Sunak is “a man of integrity and decency” (Inside Westminster, 12 January). Has Simon lost his mind or his WhatsApp messages?
Gordon McEwan, London E17

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[See also: Letter of the week: It’s not all bad news]

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This article appears in the 17 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Trump’s Revenge

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