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13 March 2024

Letter of the week: Together we fall

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

By New Statesman

The root cause of the decline of the public realm (Cover Story, 8 March) can be traced back to the 1980s. At the time, when I began my career in local government, compulsory competitive tendering was the thin end of the wedge that said the private sector could do some tasks, such as cleaning and provision of school meals, better than local authorities. Local authorities also believed (wrongly) that only executives from the private sector could offer the leadership for councils to operate in this new, market-driven environment. The result? The appointment of people who had little interest in the ethos of public service and were driven by efficiency. And, let’s be clear, both Conservative and Labour governments helped this to happen.

Politicians would do well to remember that well-run public services are the glue that holds society together. Rather than offering us grand, empty visions for the future, perhaps a promise to mend the roads, keep libraries open and offer the sick decent, affordable care would win them back some credibility.
John Adcock, Ashtead, Surrey

What’s to come

A question that begs to be asked on reading Anoosh Chakelian’s chilling report on the slow death of the nation’s public realm (Cover Story, 8 March), is why would anyone stand as a councillor after 14 years of Tory governance? What joy can there be in knowing that the best that can be done is managed decline? Prospective councillors must think they have better things to do.

Geoff Wilson, Lazonby, Cumbria

I have read the New Statesman for 50 years now, since I was a student. It has been a constant companion. Never, though, do I remember such an unremittingly depressing issue as your last. And I don’t blame you. Anoosh Chakelian, Will Lloyd and John Gray describe the world my grandchildren are growing up in with devastating clarity. Andrew Marr asks an optimistic question but it barely redresses the balance. Perhaps Keir Starmer, in a future edition, might care to set out his thoughts – if only to cheer me up and persuade me that the Tory party will finally be driven to its political grave.
Mark Fowles, Torquay, Devon

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Living fossils

Andrew Marr (Politics, 8 March) rightly points out the diversionary tactics of a government running on empty. Yet the glaring question is not about wedge issues, so much as what might effect political change in Britain. So far, Labour has failed to produce a vision of a renewed social contract involving radical constitutional change. In these times of international stresses, we overlook how much our own “democratic” state has fossilised since the 18th century. That the House of Lords continues to exist indicates a continuing decay in the body politic. Privilege and property wealth reign, as the “swinish multitude” continue to languish.
Felicity McGowan, Cardigan, Wales

Murder, they wrote

Jill Filipovic (American Affairs, 8 March) notes that “even many Republicans who have long pushed for legislation declaring a fertilised egg a legal person are suddenly voicing their support for IVF, and hoping voters don’t notice the clear contradiction”. They must hope voters won’t notice an even bigger contradiction. For more than 40 years, researchers have confirmed that intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs), used by millions of US women, do not only prevent fertilisation. They also work after fertilisation, (in Alabama-speak) “murdering people” before and after implantation.

Millions of the potential Beethovens regularly invoked by “pro-lifers” have thus been killed without protests. Popes never attack IUDs as they attack abortion at two weeks (or at two months, by which time the gooseberry-sized Beethovens supposedly accommodate a full-sized Catholic soul). This hypocrisy would be amusing were the results for US women not so damaging.
Colin Brewer, former abortion researcher and psychiatric adviser to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Beyond farming

I wonder if Steve Reed is worrying too much about the farming vote (Encounter, 8 March). In Torridge and West Devon, one of England’s most rural constituencies, half of voters are registered in a major town or large village. Around 5 per cent of the population works in agriculture, forestry and fishing; far more are employed in health, education, manufacturing and retail. Tourism generates three times as much for the local economy as agriculture.

A major concern of local voters is the terrible state of our rivers. If (as Reed seems to propose) Labour waters down plans for reducing nitrate pollution and pesticide use out of fear of farmers blocking roads, far more voters will be pushed towards parties with more robust plans for protecting our environment.
Will Douglas-Mann, Petrockstowe, Devon

Gods for all

Amelia Tait’s superb analysis of Disney’s involvement in the creation of “Disney adults” (Reporter at Large, 8 March) is reminiscent of a David Foster Wallace quote: “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism… Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.” Every corporation and ideology is trying to absorb us in their liturgies. Our only freedom is choosing what (or who) to love.
Brogan Hume, Newcastle upon Tyne

Cough up

The irony of Clive Martin’s account of his experiences at Vice (The Critics, 8 March) is that it exists in the “paywall purgatory” he sneers at. If only more journalists would acknowledge that although giving stuff away is great for clicks, it’s catastrophic for business. Vice was “too good to be true” – nearly everything that’s free is. Charging for quality content isn’t sinful, it’s sensible.
Grant Feller, London W4

Ticket to ride

I am a firm believer that age is no barrier to acquiring new skills. I would advise Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 1 March) to go for it and become a bus driver – except for the unfortunate requirement of sobriety…
Dr Violet Snell, Brookwood, Surrey 

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk
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[See also: Letter of the week: Reframing farming]

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This article appears in the 13 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Keir Starmer’s soul

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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