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26 June 2024

Letter of the week: How a nation sees itself

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

Of all the fine contributions to “How to fix a nation” (Cover Story, 21 June), Anthony Seldon’s had me banging the table in agreement. It’s to the credit of the New Statesman that it, among a small chorus of progressive thinking, has sustained a line of resistance throughout what has felt like a long cultural retreat since Thatcher. As art, sport and creativity have been starved at schools, as they have been in the wider community, new, authentic voices expressing the changes in our lived experiences have been diminished. This has allowed an emaciating, corporate, transactional and constitutionally traditional world-view to dominate, and left a culturally fragmented UK with a muted, confused view of itself.

To fix this, the nation would need the means to see itself, and to draw meaning from change and difference – best done through art, sport and creativity. As urgent as economic and constitutional change is, there is also the need to find as radically different a framework to revive and reinvent the nation’s cultural space, so as to better lead out “what lies within”.
Graham Johnston, Wymondham, Norfolk

Performance review

I was most impressed with the views from your leading thinkers (Cover Story, 21 June) and there is a real feeling of resurgence and change in the political air.

I agree with Marina Wheeler that the rule of law should not be subverted by a populist government. Likewise with Philippe Sands, who adjured against damaging rhetoric about “foreign courts”. Anthony Seldon is correct on education: young people can’t be considered to have “failed” if they do not obtain the requisite GCSEs. Education must be broadened out and a celebration of the arts engendered.

I would recommend Keir Starmer and his colleagues to study the contributions. They are food for thought as this period of damaging cultural wars and divisive governance is hopefully coming to an end.
Judith A Daniels, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

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THANK YOU

Mariana Mazzucato’s detailed alternatives to the growth-before-investment mantra and Paul Collier’s demand that the next government takes back control of the Treasury after decades of its misrule provides solid underpinning for a progressive Labour government.

This approach could be part-funded by drawing on the proposals of the tax expert Richard Murphy detailed in his Taxing Wealth report. It explains how up to £90bn a year could be raised by increasing tax on the income from wealth. Another huge investment generator would be to ensure all new ISA funds and 25 per cent of new pension contributions were invested in social and green infrastructure. Up to £100bn of funds might eventually be made available for that purpose a year.

This could enable Labour to begin embarking on a first “hundred days of hope”, while increasing business opportunities and providing secure employment across the country.
Colin Hines, Twickenham

I’m not convinced by Rachel Clarke’s argument about the OECD’s finding that “people in the UK use less healthcare than those in other wealthy countries”. Is this really evidence for the notion that our tax-funded system does not encourage misuse by being free at the point of use? It is highly likely that people in the UK use less healthcare because access is so difficult, rather than through self-disciplined abstemiousness. Phone the doctor at 8am to find that you are number 29 in the queue, and that no appointment is available, and all but the most persistent give up. Or they feel guilty about contacting the GP, knowing the surgery to be under pressure. People put aside their medical needs with a “mustn’t grumble” shrug of acceptance, and hope for the best.
Caroline Ivy, Hayes, Kent

I agree with almost every contribution in “How to fix a nation”, but I’d want to go further than Anthony Seldon’s definition of education as leading out the talents that lie within each child. That’s from the verb educere, third conjugation in Latin. But there’s also educare, to raise or bring up children, first conjugation, and from which our word education more properly derives. This has a much wider implication for what education is or should be. Both meanings are far more developmental than the emphasis on passing exams, or “learning for earning”, as I’d describe New Labour’s “Education, education, education” policy.
Stephen Kelly, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire

If it ain’t Dutch…

Hannah Barnes describes the need for reform of our prison service, a topic that is not receiving much attention in the election (Out of the Ordinary, 21 June). Britain’s approach to crime is to incarcerate ever more people and for longer – in contrast with that of the Netherlands, where they are closing some prisons, yet crime rates have not increased and recidivism is much lower.   

Politicians in this country are deeply wedded to this notion of being seen to be “tough on crime” and dare not consider other approaches. The prison estate is one of those policy areas politicians seem keen to avoid for risk of bad headlines. Is it too much to ask that a new government begins the task of explaining that toughness is getting us nowhere and that we should learn from the Dutch on how to do it better?
Peter Curbishley, Great Durnford, Salisbury

Copy-and-paste creativity

As a primary-school teacher who recently left the profession, I could not help but sympathise with Tom Gatti’s children’s experience of “creative writing” at school (Appreciation, 14 June). Any creativity that may flow from a child’s mind to the page has to fit into a rigid framework. It is then raked over to ensure it includes a multitude of random pieces of grammar to show the child is writing at “expected standard”.

Children find the process dull and uninspiring, akin to being taught like robots who produce the same writing as everyone else – precisely the opposite of what creative writing is about. Maybe what we want from our writers of the future is incredibly dull, robotic stories. If this is the case, we should just leave the process to AI.
Jack Brixey, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

Crossed wires

I don’t know what was more disappointing, that this week’s crossword (21 June) was an exact reprint of one from the previous month, or that it took me just as long to solve it the second time as it did the first. 
Tom Blakeson, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Cryptic Crossword 677, published in the 28 June issue of the New Statesman, was a repeat of Cryptic Crossword 673, which ran in the 17 May issue. We apologise for this error.

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[See also: Letter of the week: Immigration checkpoints]

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This article appears in the 26 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Lammy Doctrine