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21 February 2024

Letter of the week: Humble perspective

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

By New Statesman

As an experienced Tory councillor up for re-election in May, I despair at the state of the party (Cover Story, 16 February). Long ago I naively assumed MPs knew that elections are won in the centre ground and of the perils of disunity. The obsessions with ideological purity and a “war on woke” show I was wrong.

At my lowly borough-council level, I understand the need for humility when I get things wrong. The Tory party badly needs an injection of this, and fast. Disassociating itself from the past 14 years will not wash with voters. In the case of the Wellingborough by-election, a party that selected the partner of a former disgraced MP deserved all it got at the ballot box. Dark times indeed for hard-working local councillors come May.
Councillor Richard Kennett, Emsworth Ward, Havant Borough Council

A Churchillian armadillian

Rachel Cunliffe elegantly dissects the Conservatives’ internal wars (Cover Story, 16 February). Sunak’s torments echo those that came to afflict the Major government, which one MP called a warring suicide cult. Astutely, Cunliffe takes Liz Truss’s resurgence seriously. Those who write off Truss ignore history. Churchill caused deflation, unemployment and the General Strike by adopting the gold standard in 1925. Truss’s breezy self-belief has more of Churchill about it than her critics might allow. She is surprisingly well-funded and has skin like an armadillo. She may yet play a very high-ranking role in the Tory party.
Robert Dear, London N14

If the hat fits

When Andrew Marr asserts that George Galloway is a speaker “of great oratorical skill” (Politics, 16 February), I assume his tongue is in the same cheek as when he calls him “entirely ego-free”. Galloway’s utterances are full of arcane flourishes – “lickspittle” and “indefatigable” – or descend to such sub-Wooster clichés as “Cloud Cuckoo Land” and, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!” The foppish fedora speaks volumes about his pose as the popinjay of hustings. Presumably he aspires to be the left-wing Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Austen Lynch, Garstang, Lancashire

Looking for hope in Gaza

Alona Ferber’s interview with Layla Moran was powerful (Encounter, 16 February). As a British left-wing Jew, I was heartened that Moran believes “Palestinian statehood… is closer than ever”. And yet, as Ferber notes, “definitive plans for what happens in Gaza after the war remain elusive”. It’s striking that Moran, who’s thinking more deeply about this than other political figures, doesn’t elaborate on a strategy. This reflects the predicament of many Jews and non-Jews who are appalled by the actions of the Israeli government, but appreciate the complexity of the 75-year conflict. Surely the public conversation needs to centre on practical ideas for what comes after the war, if we’re to have any hope of ending it?
Alice Sandelson, London E2

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Illness as metaphor

I was surprised and irked by Will Lloyd’s use of metaphor (Newsmaker, 9 February), describing King Charles’s “public battle” with cancer. Why not “diagnosis”? Speaking from experience, the “battle” (if there is one) is waged on, not by, the patient. The metaphor places the responsibility of getting better upon the person being treated, and romanticises cancer when there is nothing romantic about it at all. The late journalist John Diamond was writing about these things in 1998. Isn’t it time we adapted our language about a disease almost 50 per cent will experience?
Anthony Wilson, Plymouth

Cognitive dissonance

I read Jill Filipovic’s column (American Affairs, 16 February) with incredulity. I am anti-Trump, but it is legitimate to raise concerns about the cognitive fitness of Joe Biden. To claim Trump’s mistakes “rarely result[ed] in blanket coverage” is false, as is the assertion that the press has “shied away from suggesting he has… a serious personality disorder”; both were covered in media from 2016 to 2020 and beyond.

It is foolish to insist to voters that they must choose Biden as a less imperfect (although, as Filipovic notes, still “deeply imperfect”) option. Why have the Democrats not spent the past four years lining up a more suitable candidate?
Dr Thomas King, London E2

All God’s children

Joel Donovan suggests parents pretending to be devout reduces the number of school places for less privileged children (Correspondence, 16 February), but he is mistaken: it is the system that creates the unfairness, not the parents. My daughter’s primary school reserves 70 per cent of its places for children who are either religious or pretending to be. Local secular schools are further away and oversubscribed. If I had not attended church for a year, my daughter would have been disadvantaged by going to a school almost two miles away.

Would this act of selflessness help less privileged children? No: it would have created a space for a churchgoer. I would encourage all parents to behave the same way I did: it is the only method we have of subverting a grossly discriminatory set-up.
Bob Vickers, Twickenham, Greater London

In counterpoint

Jason Cowley, writing about John Tavener (Music, 16 February), asks whether atheists who listen to Bach’s cantatas do so because such works represent something “for which we yearn”. I don’t think so. I am an atheist and love works by Milton, Bach, Raphael, Titian, etc, not because of their subject matter, but because they are superbly well executed. Recognising that Winchester Cathedral is a greater building than Buckingham Palace does not signify latent religious feelings. It is a critical judgement.
John Boaler, Calne, Wiltshire

Picked up: a penguin

Having just illustrated Jonty Gentoo, a new story by Julia Donaldson about a gentoo, I would like to point out that the picture accompanying John Burnside’s contribution (Nature, 16 February) does not show a gentoo, but a chinstrap penguin.
Axel Scheffler, Richmond upon Thames

A note from the letters editor: the gentoo is a handsome penguin – and worthy of its own book – but our picture editor opted for a chinstrap, a species Burnside mentions is also under threat.

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk
We reserve the right to edit letters

[See also: Letter of the week: Treated like royalty]

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This article appears in the 21 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Fractured Nation

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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