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8 May 2024

Letter of the week: The atrophy of office

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By New Statesman

The woes of the SNP detailed in your Leader (3 May) have echoes in the other long-serving UK national governments. Complacency, matched with an alarming lack of moral compass, is not just a Tory disease, it seems. The First Minister for Wales, Vaughan Gething, by accepting a £200,000 donation from a highly dubious source, has done Welsh Labour severe reputational damage.

A limited talent pool, where the same faces regularly swap ministerial briefs, encourages a culture of lifelong incumbency and entitlement. It does not help refute the doorstep claim that “they’re all the same” at a time when Keir Starmer needs as many new Labour MPs at the general election as he can muster. Gething needs to “consider his position” for the greater good of his party and its chances of forming the next UK government.
Felicity McGowan, Cardigan, Wales

Broader north of the border

It was good to see three pieces – your Leader, Chris Deerin and Andrew Marr (Comment and Politics, 3 May) – devoted to Scotland in one issue. However, I’m not sure many living in Scotland would concur with your reduction of our government to being “mediocre”, “parlous” and “beset by scandal”. Deerin and Marr focus on personalities and the apparent conservatism of the electorate here.

It’s hard to take all this when a growing number of Scots – especially younger ones – are keen to unshackle ourselves from an illiberal, dysfunctional set-up Down South. The Union is on borrowed time. The stalemate can’t last forever. The Scottish people are unimpressed by outdated notions of Britain’s supposed global importance and can see through the self-serving rules of Westminster.

The demographics of independence support are gradually changing Scotland into a nation in which independence is likely to become the settled will of its people, many of whom are trying to develop a different approach to politics and a better way of organising society. How refreshing it would be to see some of these broader, deeper and more positive elements in your coverage.
Paul Bassett, Glasgow

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Abstract expression

I greatly enjoyed Gillian Tett’s NS Essay (3 May). I wonder if the viciousness of the new “horizontal” tribalism, as she calls it, is in part a consequence of what makes the digital world so nimble and promiscuous in the first place: its abstract nature. Is there a growing sense of frustration because having a “say” does not usually result in accessing the levers of power to change things in what is still a physical world?
David Perry, Cambridge

Gillian Tett’s interesting and perceptive essay misses one key point about the change that technology has created in the relationship between governance and the governed. In 1996, at the very end of The Rise of the Network Society, the first of his three-volume study of the information age, the sociologist Manuel Castells wrote that new technology means “the power of flows takes precedence over the flow of power”. Eight years later, Facebook was invented, followed by Twitter two years after that. Each inadvertently became tools that delivered Castells’ prescient observation.
Paul Kelly, Poole, Dorset

Dining alone

I read Sophie McBain’s insightful and really quite disturbing article (Reporter at Large, 3 May) with interest. Her description of college dining halls, which should be a maelstrom of noise and conversation, is the opposite of communal spaces where people interact (and indeed used to). Social media – where everyone is leading their “best lives” or, as McBain states, being led towards content that engenders yet more angst and concerns – has a lot to answer for. I read recently that smartphones could be as addictive as nicotine, and this needs more research. That children and young people feel so lonely and isolated is an indictment on us all, and will only get worse if everyone lives virtual lives and not real, people-facing, authentic ones.
Judith A Daniels, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Stuck in class

Jonathan Rutherford omits one group of people in the end part of his excellent article on educational status (Another Voice, 26 April) – the hapless working class who were first in their families to get into university. We (I was one such) who were trying on these “emperor’s clothes” of cultural studies were “left” in a no man’s land between our background and the middle class.
Cecilia Harrison, Nottingham

Rewind on Rwanda

Rwanda is constantly in the news, but I wonder how much the public knows about the country. It has now been declared “safe” in British law, but is it a country we should be treating as a favoured partner? Densely populated, Rwanda is perhaps the cleanest, tidiest African country. President Kagame’s dictatorship is very efficient and would no doubt make sure that our asylum seekers are physically protected, but it is equally efficient at eliminating its opponents. The 1994 genocide has left its mark: the world’s conscience means the country receives much foreign aid, but the resentment of the Hutu majority and the nervousness of the dominant Tutsis mean that a stable future is unlikely. Our government ignores Rwanda’s behaviour towards its neighbour, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it has been interfering for years, backing the vicious armed militia M23, which terrorises villagers to clear the way for minerals to be brought into Rwanda and branded as legitimate Rwandan exports. And what of the potential asylum seekers? What will they do? They won’t get jobs. It will be culture shock for them – and for the Rwandans.
Nigel Watt, committee member of the Conflict Minerals Campaign, former director of the Africa Centre, London SE22

Number 9 dream

I was delighted to read Nicholas Lezard’s column (Down and Out, 3 May) about the joy of getting the front seat on a bus. My eldest daughter and I swap photos taken from the front when we are travelling. I agree absolutely about the extremes of joy and dejection that are brought on by either securing the seat or not getting there first.

Can I suggest to Lezard the ideal present for anyone who shares his enthusiasm: a copy of the excellent 1978 seven-inch vinyl single “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff ’n’ the Tears. Roughly £6 on eBay and, based on my experience, cherished by the recipient.
Andy Leslie, West Grinstead, West Sussex

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This article appears in the 08 May 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Doom Scroll