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7 February 2024

Letter of the week: Windfall power

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By New Statesman

Andrew Marr’s discussion of what Labour might and might not promise (Politics, 2 February) includes the possible fate of the £28bn-a-year green investment fund.

Perhaps like many others, I have difficulty understanding the significance of such numbers. Shell’s annual profit is down for last year to £22bn; HMRC’s estimate of annual taxes lost is around £35bn; the same issue of the New Statesman estimates at least £33bn is lost annually to fraud and corruption. And elsewhere Elon Musk’s recently contested payout from Tesla was £44bn. Is £28bn a year to try to secure our future a big sum or not?
Duncan MacIntyre, Eaglesham, Glasgow

Blue ideas

I don’t want to take issue with the main thrust of Andrew Marr’s latest column (Politics, 2 February). I do, however, have a problem with his flippant suggestion for a fantasy Tory manifesto, “returning the navy from the Red Sea to ‘stop the boats’”. I know for a fact that my Tory MP, or someone in his office, reads the New Statesman. Please, Andrew, stop giving them ideas!
John Filby, Ashover, Derbyshire

Price of austerity

Will Dunn’s excellent article (Cover Story, 2 February) puts the cost of “fraud, corruption and error” at £33bn-£58bn. George Monbiot, in the Guardian, has estimated the cost of repairing the carnage caused by austerity to social security at a conservative £65bn. It’s salutary to learn to what effective use the money saved by 14 years of cuts has been put.
Phil Drake, Sheffield

Social troubles

Sarah Manavis is correct that politicians are woefully late to the discussion about AI deepfake pornography (Comment, 2 February). The ubiquitousness of violent, degrading pornography on the internet was always going to open the floodgates to such harassment. There are numerous studies showing that prolonged use of internet pornography normalises intimate partner violence and inculcates misogynistic beliefs in its viewers. It is good that there are laws against deepfakes, but until we confront the deeper issues with porn, it will continue to act as a catalyst for the hatred of women and girls across the world.
Beatrice Steele, Guildford, Surrey

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Life in Kyiv

What a wonderful piece of writing about Ukraine by Andrey Kurkov (Letter from Kyiv, 26 January). It brought home the realities of daily life in a war zone by focusing on small, everyday details that we can all imagine. Think how devastating it must be to watch a film and find that in the credits the names of actors are in florid frames as they’ve been killed. The description of how men are mobilised gave me the chills.

At a time when the war in Ukraine has fallen off the news agenda, this was a timely reminder of the suffering still being experienced there. More from him, please.
Alison Barnard, Didsbury, Manchester

True conservatism

John Gray nicely outlines the tensions in Toryism since Thatcher (The NS Essay, 2 February): between a natural disposition to resist change and a determination to drive our politics further to the right. He fails to mention one Tory sentiment about which every faction is forever agreed: conserving their own grip on the levers of power and privilege. It is difficult to think of a single Tory idea that would allow any real interference with this.
Mike Hawthorne, Eardisley, Herefordshire

Property matters

Will Dunn (Money Matters, 2 February) is mistaken when he asserts that “unlike other assets, your house isn’t something you can cash in”. There are two ways in which probably tens of thousands of people do precisely this every year. The first is when people, usually retired and with children flown, “downsize”, using the difference to realise all sorts of ambitions and/or gifting it to the children to help them buy a house. This adds to demand and therefore boosts house prices. The second, which was very popular during the near-decade of very low interest rates that ended in 2022, is a lifetime mortgage or equity release. Owners stay in their house and realise a large sum tax-free, some of which can be given to children. The rise in interest rates dampened this, but its appeal will revive at some point. Both result in significant inheritance tax advantages.
Professor Laurence Lustgarten, associate fellow, Green Templeton College, Oxford

Cadenza to end all cadenzas

Phil Hebblethwaite writes on George Gershwin with insight (The Critics, 2 February), but it is odd to focus on Rhapsody in Blue without mentioning the clarinet cadenza that opens it and immediately grabs the audience’s attention. Was it perhaps because Gershwin did not write it? It was written by the composer and arranger Ferde Grofé, who heard the band’s clarinettist practising a glissando. He asked the player if he could produce it at will and, being told, “Yes”, he wrote the cadenza. Curiously for something by an arranger, it does not fit comfortably under the player’s fingers.
Michael Meadowcroft, Leeds

There is never a bad time to praise George Gershwin but Phil Hebblethwaite is entirely wrong to call him “a populist composer”. Gershwin, like Richard Rodgers and Jerome Kern, was a great composer who happened to be popular. There’s a big difference. Hebblethwaite should also have acknowledged Ira Gershwin, whose lyrics polished his brother’s melodies. What would songs like “Embraceable You” and “Love Walked In” be without Ira’s words?
Michael Henderson, Bamford, Rochdale

The man with qualities

A superb, apposite choice of Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday by Nicola Sturgeon (Essential Reading, 2 February). He wrote: “The general moral tendency of the time was concerned with concealment and covering up” and, in the interwar years: “Europe has almost forgotten how sacred personal rights and civil liberties used to be.” He concluded: “Every one of us has studied more official regulations than books to nurture the mind… We have been repeatedly questioned, registered, issued with numbers, searched, rubber-stamped.” As Sturgeon so wisely ruminates, one can be crushed by the malignancy of politics.
Mike Bor, London W2

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[See also: Letter of the week: Pride and pedagogy]

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This article appears in the 07 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Who runs Labour?