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10 April 2024

Letter of the week: Capital errors

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By New Statesman

I note with interest that in your interview with Thomas Piketty (The NS Interview, 5 April), he remarks, as if in an aside, that “there is also the growing awareness of the climate crisis, which has become, since the publication of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the major threat”. On the contrary: it was already the major threat a decade ago, when Piketty’s book was published.

My own reviews of the book, published by Radical Philosophy and the OECD, emphasised the inadequacy of Piketty’s book to our time: because he failed to centre climate and was locked into an outdated focus on antagonisms between socialism and wealth. That wealth will melt into air if the climate crisis continues to escalate. Piketty is still fixated upon yesterday’s arguments.
Rupert Read, co-director of the Climate Majority Project, Norfolk

What the people want

Tanya Gold assumes there is a very general and supportive attitude to the royal family (Cover Story, 5 April). “Monarchy is attractive,” she writes. No it isn’t. Less than half the British population prefer having a monarch to an elected head of state (according to a YouGov poll conducted in January 2024) and support will lessen as older  monarchists die.

Let them leave the “cage”, as Hilary Mantel once put it, become ordinary rich people (as Harry Windsor did) and enable us to elect our head of state. Being a monarch is not compulsory, so if they dislike the attention of social media and the resultant conspiracy theories I urge them to resign.
Moira Sykes, Manchester

I never previously supported the monarchy but now I think they have a purpose. They are Barbie dolls and Kens.

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My daughter reminded me after we saw the Barbie movie that I had not allowed her a Barbie for all the sexist reasons – so unkind! As the Barbie film proved, we can change our minds – and now I agree that the monarchy has an excellent PR use for the UK.
Sally Litherland, Salisbury

The Last Letter

Judith Cox’s letter (Correspondence, 5 April) about the New Statesman’s Easter cover trivialising the Last Supper, while admirable, seems to me to miss the point. Parodying a famous painting of the Last Supper does not necessarily parody the biblical story itself. It can equally parody the depiction of those who would (intentionally or otherwise) pretend to the same level of importance, or be considered to do so. I’m sure Jesus (who showed a deft sense of humour on occasion) would agree.
James Argles, London N4

Always be prepared

To his advantage, John Healey as a future defence secretary comes from a long stable of more-or-less competent Labour defence secretaries (Encounter, 5 April). Denis Healey, George Robertson, Des Browne and others all served the office well, putting forward the case for defence, and were not afraid to have a row with the service chiefs when necessary.

Healey seems to be in the same mould, as far as one can tell, and a focus on service veterans and accommodation issues is sensible and non-threatening. Sadly, it will not be enough.

Grant Shapps’s warning that we are in a “pre-war” situation is unfortunately accurate, and we are woefully ill-prepared to face that. We do not even have a credible nuclear deterrent. The last two test firings, in 2016 and February 2024, failed; and we have nothing like Israel’s “Iron Dome” or Kyiv’s anti-missile systems to defend our cities. Our army is smaller than in 1815 and haemorrhaging personnel faster than they can be recruited, and our navy is planning to mothball ships for lack of sailors.

This is a disastrous situation. We can, of course, hope for a miracle, but as my commanders taught me long ago, “Hope is not a plan.” Does John Healey have a better one?
Simon Diggins, retired colonel, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

The gift of grammar schools

In his essay on the iniquities of the British private school (The NS Essay, 15 March), Richard Beard fails to mention that single educational conduit which connected all elements of British society – the grammar school system.

I come from a privileged background. Following many miserable years in the private sector, aged 14 and possessed of a “pass” in the 11-plus exam, I entered a grammar school in the north of England. At much the same time, a boy from the slums of London’s East End, who had also passed the 11-plus, enrolled at his local grammar school. Decades later, we met and became firm friends.

I had recovered from the ravages of the private sector and my friend had thrived. In addition to a rigorous education which opened all the doors to higher education, the professions and business, our grammar schools provided stability and taught us how to mix with people from widely differing backgrounds, thus making us far better equipped for most aspects of adult life. Money was irrelevant: the schools were entirely free of charge.

Today, my friend and I are both septuagenarians. He is a billionaire philanthropist. I enjoy more modest wealth, but I provide for the livelihoods of thousands of others. Without our education, it is certain that neither of us would have ever realised our full potential.

Grammar schools were abolished in 1968, to this day considered by many the greatest act of social vandalism since the Second World War. Wielding the axe was, not the Tories, but Harold Wilson’s Labour government. Could that explain why Mr Beard did not mention them?
Sir Andrew Cook CBE, Castagnola, Switzerland

Way back when

In response to Wolfgang Münchau’s article about the German Social Democrats (Lateral View, 5 April), it is likely that the infatuation of parts of the SPD with the Soviet Union/Russia goes back to the failed revolution of 1918-19. Furthermore, prominent members of the SPD were given refuge in Moscow during the Third Reich.
Harry Leach, Kronshagen, Germany

Leave it in the past

Contra to Rachel Cooke’s review, the TV show This Town is entirely plausible (Critics, 5 April). Steven Knight’s portrayal of the lives and landscapes inhabited by a ska band in the Eighties is accurate. The extended, internally conflicted Williams-Quinn clan doesn’t stretch my imagination or cause me to suspend my disbelief one bit. Neither, unfortunately, do the implacably violent skinheads. It’s thrillingly, horribly truthful and the music is terrific. What’s the opposite of nostalgia?
Heather Bradford, Winchester

The ties that bind

Oh Nicholas, you fail to understand us (Down and Out, 5 April). As a Spurs fan for over 70 years, I know supporters need one another to share despair and glory every season. Just before the Fulham game (despair) was the win at Villa (glory) and it has been just so throughout my life. Unpredictability binds us together.
Joe Haves, Darlington

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This article appears in the 10 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Trauma Ward