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22 May 2024

Letter of the week: Where water privatisation leads

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By New Statesman

In Surrey Heath, or Goveland, the full consequences of the privatisation of water have been worked out. Will Dunn’s comprehensive article (Cover Story, 17 May) eloquently exposed how ludicrous the original idea of water privatisation really was: no other contemporary state in Europe has gone down that path.

Last year, sewage was shipped from surrounding areas to Camberley treatment works and stored in open tanks. The local authority was forced to devote time and energy towards trying to persuade Thames Water to stop what it was doing. Only by the end of summer had the nauseating smell from the plant diminished.

It appears now that the only way similar experiences can be avoided is for either Thames Water customers or taxpayers to pay more. This is the direct consequence of the bonanza enjoyed by the Australian company Macquarie (which loaded Thames Water up with debt during its ownership from 2006-17). Leaving this mess behind, it laughed all the way to the bank.
Councillor Murray Rowlands, Surrey Heath

On the Lammy

David Lammy strikes me as a good fit for the prestigious role of foreign secretary, should he have the privilege of holding it (Editor’s Note, 17 May). I have noticed that the shadow cabinet tends to preface each statement with: “Should we be fortunate to form the next government…”. This is not false modesty but necessary to establish clear water between Labour and the Tories, who act as though they have the natural right and authority to rule over us.
Judith A Daniels, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

I enjoyed Jason Cowley’s account of his time in Washington with David Lammy, and the opportunity it provided for him to catch up with Mehdi Hasan, whose column I still miss. However, I think that Lammy’s talents are wasted on being “chief-diplomat-in-waiting”. He is an eloquent communicator, who would be better suited to challenging the vested interests that stifle debate. Housing, social care or environment could all do with an advocate who would not be easily knocked off the ball.
Les Bright, Exeter, Devon

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Articles of faith

Harry Lambert’s brave comparison between Mehdi Hasan and Christopher Hitchens (Encounter, 17 May) would leave the latter roaring with laughter. While Hasan’s teetotalism and Islamic faith contrast with Hitchens’ love of scotch and detestation of religion, it is the idea both men can be “a flag-bearer for the American left” that is most puzzling. Hasan once described non-Muslims as “the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals”, which is so illiberal that it should horrify progressives (though he later apologised for the remarks). Those words are the epitome of Hitchens’ belief that organised religion is “irrational, intolerant, allied to… bigotry”. Perhaps Hasan may too be horrified, as Hitchens’ steadfast support of George W Bush is unbecoming of a left-wing “flag-bearer”.
Clayton Taylor, Belfast

Succession planning

Perhaps I’m just a cynical old hack, but it seems to me that Jill Filipovic might have missed the most obvious reason why hopefuls are vying to be named Trump’s vice-presidential running mate (American Affairs, 17 May). Might they not simply be gambling that, following a Trump victory, nature will take its course and they will be rewarded with entry into the Oval Office?
Robin Lustig, London N10

Special military language

Bruno Maçães writes about the 2,000lb American bombs being dropped by Israel in Gaza (World View, 17 May), which apparently have a “safety radius” of 1,000 metres. I was surprised that such a euphemism made it into the New Statesman. If the truth is the first casualty of war, then the first to be called up to the front line is euphemism. We scoff at Vladimir Putin’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine, or at “surgical strikes” in Gaza. But even in peacetime we are not safe from the political language George Orwell wrote about, noting how sloppy language leads to sloppy thinking. As a devoted reader of Orwell, I have always thought it amusing that in 1964 the War Office was renamed the Ministry of Defence – which is, after all, only one rebrand away from the Ministry of Peace.
Rory Puxley, London SE23

The case for assisted dying

In Facing Down the Furies (Critics, 10 May), Edith Hall distinguishes “euthanasia for someone facing an inevitable and agonising death” from “temporary and intermittent urges” to end one’s life, and writes about the lasting effect of suicide on those left behind. As a campaigner for assisted dying law reform, I also wish to see a reduction of suicide from despair. Too many people with a terminal diagnosis attempt suicide. It is far less traumatic for all, including physicians, when a family can freely discuss a voluntary assisted death. In jurisdictions where medical assistance to die is legal, often the individual goes on to die naturally, but knowing that there is a choice is a comfort. I have spoken to many people whose loved one had a peaceful medically assisted death abroad. Sadly, I also hear of many instances where people have died horribly in the UK, begging for help to die. Going through the suffering of a bad death together, as with suicide, causes trauma for survivors. This is unnecessary in the 21st century, when modern medicine too often prolongs life beyond endurance. The Greeks had much to teach us about autonomy and decision-making based on facts, not fears. It is time we legalised assisted dying in the UK.
Claire Macdonald, director, My Death, My Decision

New times, new thinking

Your magazine is going through the most purple of periods. Just take the latest edition. A lovely piece from Jason Cowley offering a profile of our next foreign secretary (Editor’s Note). The brilliant Jill Filipovic on the mad battle to risk the near-fate of being Trump’s running mate (American Affairs). A mega-disturbing analysis of the UK water industry from Will Dunn (Cover Story). A beautifully written paean to the Languedoc from Andrew Jefford (Drink). And lastly, the perfect choice of verb in Simon Jenkins’ piece about Roy Jenkins (Inside Westminster, all 17 May): “Hanging had been suspended by his predecessor…”. Power to your elbows.
Graham Hurley, Exmouth, Devon

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This article appears in the 22 May 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Spring Special 2024