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15 May 2024

Letter of the week: Why we must make Putin pay

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Wolfgang Münchau’s arguments against seizing Russian assets to pay for weapons for Ukraine (Lateral View, 3 May) seem incoherent to me. They amount to this: we shouldn’t do it because there might be an undefined financial cost to us in the future. The weakest argument is that it might set a precedent for Poland claiming war reparations from Germany, or South Korea from Japan. Aside from the point that such claims may well be legitimate, the idea that our own wrongs should stop us from punishing others makes us hostage to our worst selves. With sanctions having a limited impact on Russia, the defence of Europe is being paid for in Ukrainian blood, with the occasional top-up of weapons and money from us. Why not Putin’s money?
Abby Semple, London N19

Fallen giants

It was interesting that Rachel Cunliffe’s persuasive article about the rotting carcass that is the present-day Tory party (Cover Story, 10 May) didn’t reference any of party’s departed “giants”. A recurrent theme of many conversations I have with friends about the state of political life turns on surprise at the rehabilitation – in our eyes – of Messrs Major, Heseltine, Clarke, as well as casualties of the Brexit hostilities such as Dominic Grieve, David Gauke and Rory Stewart. These were serious politicians whose welcome interventions remind us of a time when one’s opponents were decent people with different opinions.
Les Bright, Exeter, Devon

One Nation Street

Those who think the Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has a role in shaping the Tory future (Diary, 10 May) should look at the West Midlands mayoral election, lost by Andy Street. Street was the model of the old centre-ground Tory. The Tories should heed his words after defeat: “The message is clear. Winning from that centre ground is what happens.” Will the right wing of his party believe that?

Damian Green, chair of the One Nation group of Tory MPs, clearly does. He has urged Street to stay in politics, perhaps through a parliamentary seat, as a potential leader. Whether Street heeds that advice will play a major role in whether the Conservative Party has a future.
Trevor Fisher, Stafford

Nationalist brigades

Wolfgang Münchau’s statement that the separatist movements in Spain “are stronger than ever” (Lateral View, 10 May) invites comment in light of the advance of Carlos Puigdemont’s party, Together for Catalonia, in May’s elections in Catalonia. Rather than independence, the party’s campaign focused on Puigdemont himself and stressed his ability to defend the interests of Catalonia within Spain.

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Münchau rightly points to the rise of the Bildu, the Basque abertzale (left nationalist) party, in the recent Basque elections. Bildu’s strategy to increase its support has been to downplay independence and to focus on socio-economic issues. This does not, however, mean that pro-independence demands will go away. Since 2018 the Socialist government has pursued policies to reduce tensions, partly due to its reliance on the support of Basque and Catalan parties. It is doubtful whether this situation could continue if the Socialist government were replaced by the right-wing Popular Party, especially if it was dependent on the support of the hard-right Vox.
Charlie Nurse, Barcelona

On portrayals of trauma

I deeply appreciated Megan Nolan’s devastating and honest piece about Baby Reindeer (Cultural Capital, 26 April). I was disappointed by the programme, which, though it explores writer and actor Richard Gadd’s trauma, does not extend this understanding to others. Its portrayal of Gadd’s stalker feels like an extreme caricature. He gave her character traits that are often invoked to provoke disgust: violence, transphobia, being an overweight woman, and living in a council flat. In a show that seeks to reveal the complexity of trauma, I was surprised that it did little to explore this for the character that most likely had a prolonged history of it. Gadd has vilified and humiliated someone with deeply complex issues in order to have his own story heard. The chasm between public discourse regarding mental health and empathy for those with complex mental health difficulties is stark. Indeed, why has there been such a galvanised attempt to identify and ridicule the real Martha, while less attention has been paid to the identity of Gadd’s rapist?
Anna Bowers, London E3

Hit for six

Peter Williams’s review of the new Wisden (Books, 10 May) was an exemplary piece of journalism, distilling large amounts of complex information into succinct, elegant prose and striking imagery; witness “a sort of firework-spangled dungheap vandalising [the] summer” and “the definitive sound of middle-aged men in a shed”. Superb. He even managed to raise a tattered flag of hope in my heart about the game itself – an astonishing achievement, I can assure you.
Ric Cheyney, Talsarnau, Gwynedd, Wales

Unburied treasure

I was pleased that you chose to review Alice Rohrwacher’s wonderful La Chimera (Critics, 10 May). It should, however, be noted that the character Italia is a Brazilian member of the Italian diaspora (the name Italia tends to belong to those of Italian heritage born outside Italy – Francis Ford Coppola’s mother was a New York-born Italia). So while Pippa Bailey is right that Italy is “her country”, it is at a certain remove, which I think reinforces the character’s horror at the wilful destruction of Italy’s patrimony.

I am often dismayed by the nonchalance Italy appears to have about its treasures: I was one of the last to see Pompeii’s House of the Gladiators, having visited the site the day before it collapsed in 2010.
Christopher Rossi, Enfield, Greater London

Heavenly delights

I thought Colin Richards’ proposed dating of the panels of the Bosch triptych (Correspondence, 3 May) was apposite and amusing. He unwittingly provided the answer to his own request for fellow readers to place the left-hand panel, the Garden of Eden. The year is immaterial, as Wilde would say. In terms of location, it’s as near as dammit to Colin’s address at Spark Bridge. Perhaps just a smidgeon to the north towards Coniston.
James Argles, London N4

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This article appears in the 15 May 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Stink