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12 June 2024

Letter of the week: And the award goes to…

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Jason Cowley (Editor’s Note, 7 June) opines: “No one did more than Farage to create the conditions for Brexit.” Nigel Farage played a blinder with the situation presented to him, but he didn’t create it. That accolade belongs to a long, varied cast list.

Margaret Thatcher for enacting policies that began to stretch income, wealth and opportunity inequalities; subsequent governments for not reining this in; the Bank of England, the Treasury, et al, for not foreseeing the 2008 financial crisis; parliament for the expenses scandal; Gordon Brown for not being self-aware enough to realise he was not prime ministerial material (which affected the 2010 parliamentary arithmetic); Nick Clegg for the form of coalition taken (which affected the 2015 parliamentary arithmetic); David Cameron and George Osborne for austerity; the Labour Party membership for electing Jeremy Corbyn (adversely affecting the Remain campaign); the “caring” elite for not doing more to prevent our national cohesion from fraying so badly. This is not an exhaustive list.

Populists have been given their opportunities on a plate. The question is whether inequality has gone beyond the point of no return, preventing any future government from putting the fragmented pieces of our country back together.
Michael Haskell, Broughton, Flintshire

Missing from the List?

I cannot see anyone on the Left Power List (7 June) who will do something about the privatisation of education. Thatcher changed schools into businesses, and this autonomy was weaponised by New Labour and Conservatives through academisation. As a result, decisions that used to be taken in public and were accountable to the public are now in private arenas supporting private interests. The UK is full of researchers who have ideas about education policy. Why does Labour not want to engage? This is not new, it happened in 1997.
Professor Helen M Gunter, University of Manchester

The Left Power List gave me some small hope for our dishevelled country as there are some skilled and dedicated people on it. Let’s hope they are allowed to be both brave and creative if Labour wins.

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But where was Mick Lynch, leader of the RMT union? He manages to be strong, civil, witty and cool, and sticks to a common-sense left agenda. Decent working conditions for workers and their families should be the least we aim for, and will not lead us to Marxist ruin.

Lynch still has public respect, and has shown that he can even subdue the ego of Piers Morgan. A debate between him and the party leaders might well be enlightening – and, unlike the recent election debates, perhaps enjoyable and watchable.
Lyn Poole, Greater Manchester

A modest proposal

Both Andrew Marr and John Gray (Politics and These Times, 7 June), from their differing perspectives, discuss the difficult choices facing Labour if it is elected. Although some of his assertions may be questionable, Gray’s pessimistic predictions broadly spell out the likely impossible task awaiting Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves.

It seems to me that the only honest and realistic choice would be to carry out a full review of policy and finances once in office. At that point, Labour must come clean about the dire state of the finances, spell out the task in hand and then put the choices back to the electorate, either via another election (based entirely on a proposed Budget) or a referendum.

Voters would be provided with an honest choice and, if successful, Labour would have a clear mandate for the radical reforms that the country needs. It is a high-risk strategy, but it could cement Labour as the natural party of government for long enough for it to see through the transformation that this country requires.

This strategy requires guts, but that’s what we need in our politicians.
Mark Thorp, Manchester

Same old story

After watching the first two election debates – between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, and the seven-way debate – I came away deeply depressed. Both were just slanging matches. We couldn’t even hear Penny Mordaunt and Angela Rayner, who were just shouting over each other. The other candidates were following the usual guidelines of bringing in family recollections/doing down the other parties/giving out statistics… If I hear “14 years” again I will scream. I am a voter looking for leadership, thought-out and well-delivered arguments, dignity, honesty and fairness in giving credit to opponents for what they are getting right. Statesmanship. Integrity. If I see that, I’ll be interested. As it is, I am bored and despairing.
Frances Cullen, Leeds

The low bar

At last, someone has pointed out why democracy delivers such a poor quality of governance. Is there any other profession that requires no qualifications? While Cleo Watson (Election Notebook, 7 June) hopes that candidates should complete a year of citizenship service or have a public-service job such as teaching, surely we should expect a far more demanding qualification? John Stuart Mill made clear his views on this question in the 19th century, since when there seems to have been a taboo on discussing it. If democracy is to survive, it must perform markedly better than it has done recently in the US and in this country.
Dr Geoffrey Harper, Hereford

Of Bruce and Blake

Thank you for your appreciation of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” (Music, 7 June). Listening to it always reminds me of William Blake’s lyrics in “Jerusalem” and the choirs at the Proms singing along about the “dark Satanic mills”, not realising their jingoism fails to understand Blake’s commentary on the England of his time. For Blake’s words set to a more appropriate piece of music, one needs to listen to Chris Wood’s 2013 version, “None the Wiser”.
Niall Pickup, Carmarthenshire

Listen to Pam

James Shapiro was doing so well in his NS Q&A (7 June): he had been erudite, witty and mildly abstruse – until he declared “building dry-stone walls” as his “job in another life”. Clearly Shapiro is a city-dweller who has never imbibed the wisdom of Pam Ayres: “I am a dry-stone waller/All day I dry-stone wall./Of all appalling callings,/Dry-stone walling’s/Worst of all.”
James Argles, London N4

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This article appears in the 12 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The hard-right insurgency