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5 June 2024

Letter of the week: The joys of spring

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By New Statesman

As we head towards a fresh start in British politics, it was a joy to read the sensitively edited sequence of articles in the New Statesman Spring Special (24 May), forming a serendipitous symphony where ideas rebound between the movements: Jonathan Rutherford on walking the London ring, a poignant account of lost lives and the remains of ancient villages; Anthony Seldon’s reminder of the rebirth of hope in the Attlee years; and then a brilliant piece by David Reynolds on remembering D-Day, taking in Laurence Binyon, the Paris Olympics of 1924 and 2024, the new British Normandy memorials and the restoration of Notre-Dame.

The magazine appropriately has a new spring in its step, while reminding us that whoever comes to power on 4 July must take a backward glance while they strive to forge a path into an uncertain future.
John James, Crewkerne, Somerset

Tableau vivant

How did someone from Liz Truss’s inner circle infiltrate the New Statesman and produce the cover of the spring issue? There she is mulling over her plans to save the West, while Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves and David Lammy are playing silly games, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are dozing in the background, self-satisfied Nigel Farage is chuckling to himself and Rishi Sunak is contemplating “California Dreamin’”.
Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria

Wealth and stagnation

Andrew Marr is right that Labour must be more radical in its economic approach (Politics, 24 May). By adopting the Tory conceit that only right-wing economic policies are sensible, the party has locked itself into the kind of back-of-a-fag-packet wealth-hoarding economics that have been discredited for more than a decade.

If Labour writes off wealth taxes as unelectable, it will be denying Britain one of the most important policies it needs to get back on its feet. Without increased taxes on wealth and capital gains, passive investment makes more money than work, and the economy stagnates no matter how much we carp on about “growth”. If we’ve learned anything over the past 25 years, it’s that growth is meaningless unless people can feel it. That won’t happen if workers spend all their money on rent.

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The situation won’t be helped by ripping up the Green Belt in the name of “planning reform”, either. The problem isn’t a lack of planning permission; it’s a lack of approved projects getting built, and a lack of incentive to fill empty properties. This could be addressed with fine-tuned taxes on wealth. But Reeves would rather pledge to “cut red tape”, making Labour look more and more like the identikit politicians who have long failed the country.

Labour’s ultra-moderation is a tactical own goal. Given the mood of the electorate, should the status quo continue to fail them Starmer’s Labour won’t have long to change course before it becomes another well-intentioned, ineffective government consigned to the scrapheap of history.
Ryan Cooper, London N4

Youth social services

Rishi Sunak’s plan for 18-year-olds to be given a full-time military placement for 12 months is indeed a “ludicrous fantasy”, as Andrew Marr says (, 26 May). However, a national community service could well be included for children of secondary-school age (11-16). Such a proposal was advocated by Lord Hunt, leader of the successful British expedition to Mount Everest when, as president of the probation service, he said: “If Gordonstoun can do it, why cannot the state?” Hunt felt such a scheme would benefit young people, help them develop social responsibility, provide a sense of adventure and deter them from getting into trouble with the law.
Angela Croft, London NW11

Avoiding cold callers

I read Ed Smith’s column (Left Field, 24 May) with a wry smile because I am a Luddite and do not possess or want a smartphone. He elucidates humorously why my closed mind to phone tech is not such a bad thing after all. I do possess a very small antique mobile phone, which suits my basic needs.

Emails are my go-to communication, but texts leave me cold – and probably out in the cold as far as my friends are concerned. These cunning devices are so addictive and, as Smith states, all of one’s life is wrapped up in its cold, metal heart. My name is Judith and I don’t do smartphones!
Judith A Daniels, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Trial and trepidation

John Gray’s article on Franz Kafka (The Critics, 24 May) raises interesting questions about humanity and society. There’s a huge amount everyone can learn from Kafka’s life, and lives like his. Indeed, one can understand that insecurities, low self-esteem and shyness are not uncommon, and they need not prevent a person from creating good and leaving their mark. Our individual histories and categorisations, of course, contribute significantly to who we are, as Kafka’s Jewishness did. But it is also true that we all tend to have moments of suffering and of success in our intricate lives. Kafka had a low opinion of himself, despite being an extraordinary person. We can learn from this. Often, our feelings of inadequacy are unfair and unfounded. 
Sebastian Monblat, London SE14

Equal pay in Guineas

Eli Shafak omits an important aspect of Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas in her essay (The Critics, 24 May): Woolf’s argument that women should be paid the same as men for the same work if they had the same qualifications. She thereby directly challenged the then (1938) long-standing view that, as men were responsible for supporting their families and women were not, women could not expect to be treated equally. As was her wont, Woolf was concerned with her own class rather than the generality of women. Nonetheless, Three Guineas was something of a landmark in the struggle to secure equal workplace rights for all women.
Christopher Tugendhat, London W2

New York port authority

Jesse Armstrong’s great essay (The Critics, 24 May) is filled with transatlantic insights. But just a note of clarity: Auden arrived in New York in 1939 by ship; the newly opened airport that year was called Idlewild. The “almost like” doesn’t pertain. Similes require accuracy. Even in America.
Greg Parston, London SW6

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[See also: Letter of the week: Where water privatisation leads]

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This article appears in the 05 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Left Power List 2024