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16 February 2018updated 11 Sep 2021 5:44pm

Letter of the week: A man’s place is in the home

By New Statesman

Helen Lewis (Out of the Ordinary, 23 March) was thought-provoking on all-women shortlists and quotas. I agree they are a necessary step towards starting to change the culture, but also that they are not addressing the reasons they were needed in the first place. Helen’s article hinted at the burden of unpaid care: this is the key. I don’t think anyone doubts that women are equally able members of the workforce.  I was in the minority in my year in medical school, in 1997. There is, however, still inequality in caring.

When our children were pre-school age my wife and I had the good fortune to both be able to work part-time and share childcare. Caring for children is a full-time occupation but wonderfully rewarding. However, while this was seen as normal for my wife, I ran into criticism at work for my perceived lack of commitment. I also found I was peripheral to the groups of parents, mainly mums.

To achieve the equal society we all want, we need to break down barriers in the workplace for women and in unpaid work in the home for men. I want a society where my girl feels there are no barriers to her being a leader of industry, but also one where my boy feels that if he wants to be a full-time dad, this is a valuable contribution to society.

George Holmes
Morpeth, Northumberland

Jobs for the boys

Michael McManus (Correspondence, 6 April) writes that it can be argued that all-women shortlists are an affront to human dignity. 

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What about all-male shortlists? 

We’ve had them for, like, ever, and no man I’ve met has felt his dignity to be affronted.  Rather, men take the privilege of positive discrimination for granted: it is the norm.

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How many men in positions of power and authority have had to compete against women? I would argue that most of them will have faced only male competition for their university or apprentice places, their first employment posts and their career progression.  Positive discrimination in favour of men is rife at every level of selection. If we were to tackle that we would not need to take drastic measures to counteract its effects.

Christina Driver
East Molesey, Surrey

Foreign relations

I write to express my grave objection upon the publication of the article written by Matthew Engel from inside Hungary (“Dictator’s playground”, 23 March). The overall tone of the article and its allegations are utterly unacceptable, a disgrace to journalism and an insult to Hungary and Hungarians.

It comes as no surprise that as part of the international media campaign trying to influence the Hungarian parliamentary election of 8 April, several attacks on political parties, public figures and the democratically elected and widely popular Prime Minister Viktor Orbán appeared in the British press. Matthew Engel’s article is, however, apart from being biased to the extreme (failing to point out any of the widely acknowledged economic and social policy successes of the Orbán-lead conservative government of the past eight years), is also aiming to deride an entire nation, its people, its culture, its language and its most sacred national symbols, such as the Holy Crown and the Holy Right. The very stake of this election is whether the borders of Hungary and the identity of the nation can be protected against the flood of migrants and against exactly the type of thinking embodied in this article, which ridicules national identity, history and personal suffering.

As ambassador of Hungary to the Court of St James’s, I strongly object to the tone of the article. No one has the right or the moral stance to try to make fun of an entire nation for cheap political motivation.

Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky,
ambassador of Hungary
Embassy of Hungary,
London SW1

It was fascinating to learn from Matthew Engel’s article that Viktor Orbán has “his own giant Subbuteo stadium”.  This could well have set him back over £500. A nightmare scenario for the Hungarian prime minister is that George Soros takes up table football and buys an even bigger Subbuteo stadium along with accessories such as floodlights and miniature spectators.

If this battle of the big-spenders goes to a penalty shoot-out, the tension in Budapest will become unbearable.

Ivor Morgan

No excuses

When I worked for the BBC World Service as a journalist in the 1970s, we were never allowed to write an item for a bulletin without at least three sources. It was a pain hunting down what Agence France-Presse, or the BBC Monitoring services at Caversham had picked up, or whether any of the big English-language news agencies such as Reuters and Associated Press had reported part of the story. But it ensured that if the BBC was reporting it, every effort had been made to ensure it was true.

Listening to the Today programme on Europe, not just in its Brexit coverage but in years of curled-lip approach to the most important treaty organisation this country is a member of, one always had the impression that the main source for the team was what they had read in the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph.

Nick Robinson (Another Voice, 6 April) mounts the age-old defence that had whiskers when I was using it decades ago as a staunch defender of the BBC – namely that if both sides are attacking the corporation’s coverage then it is probably getting things right.

The BBC has an enduring nightmare of losing all contact with the government of the day, and thus putting in peril its licence fee. Since 2010, the government has been increasingly Eurosceptic. Even if David Cameron, with invisible support from Theresa May, urged a Remain vote, he could not undo 15 years of relentless EU-bashing from Tory leaders, many MPs, most party activists and, above all, the offshore-owned right-wing press, which had acted as a magnifier of anti-European political hostility since the late 1990s.

BBC journalists are divided into two categories. There are some very able ones who know how the EU works, possibly have a second European language, have worked in European cities and are prepared to put a wet towel around their heads and try to get the facts right by digging into complex documents. But most Brexit coverage has been handled by the BBC’s Westminster cohort of lobby journalists, who report the absurd non-facts promoted by the well-funded anti-EU lobbies and think tanks, the Europhobe press, and Ukip fellow travellers in the Tory party or anti-EU Labour MPs such as Kate Hoey.

Downright lies that would be challenged to destruction by BBC current affairs interviewers if uttered by politicians in a general election campaign are allowed to go out untested, because very few of the main presenters have the knowledge about Europe that they do about domestic British politics or other key international issues.

Before June 2016, there was no MP who could explain what a customs union was – and many still can’t – so perhaps it was unfair to expect BBC journalists to be experts. But there is no excuse for that ignorance today.

Denis MacShane
London SW1

I have tried very hard to maintain a belief in the BBC as gold-standard journalism with an editorial line that attracts criticism from left and right. However, I can no longer have confidence in its news values and editorial choices. Ever since the referendum, it has colluded in the pretence that a 52/48 outcome is an overwhelming majority.

For me, the weekend of national anti-Brexit marches was the final straw, when every news bulletin led with demonstrations around the country.

Great, I thought, the nationwide anti-Brexit marches are being given due recognition, but of course not. The lead item was about anti-gun protests, which while of interest, are much more relevant to the US than the UK.  Just one more example of BBC news editors being infatuated with the US at the expense of coverage of Europe.

John Davies
Colchester, Essex

Defending Corbyn

Ever since I visited Israel and the West Bank eight years ago, I have been involved with solidarity work for Palestinian human rights (Leader, 6 April).

I and my colleagues have been accused of anti-Semitism on multiple occasions, always falsely, and mostly maliciously by militant Zionists seeking to intimidate and silence us.

Jeremy Corbyn, who has supported Palestinian rights for much longer, will have experienced the same. How many of the “300 alleged cases” [of anti-Semitism] in Labour fall into this category?

Eurig Scandrett
North Berwick, East Lothian

Your leader criticising the Labour leadership’s handling of the scourge of anti-Semitism is welcome. Your criticism of Jeremy Corbyn for accepting an invitation to a Seder within his constituency, however, is perverse and rather unfair.

At the time of the Seder, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council were effectively refusing to meet Corbyn by requiring actions from him that were not within his personal powers to achieve, as a precondition for them agreeing to meet.

You were wrong to accuse Corbyn of prioritising Jewdas. He was accepting the only invitation he had from any Jewish organisation, and doubtless if he had refused to attend the Seder, that would have been trumpeted by some as anti-Semitism!

B Alexander 
Via email

Deep thought

In an issue that began with editorials addressing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and the renewed violence on the Gaza/Israel border (Leader, 6 April) I steeled myself for a depressing weekend.

Then, reading Yanis Varoufakis’s explanation of why he has founded a new Greek political party, I decided that “things can only get better”. And they did – George Eaton’s interview with Miatta Fahnbulleh of the New Economics Foundation (Observations, 6 April) was optimistic and uplifting. Her suggestion that “the British public will not carry on accepting the erosion of living standards “without some kind of political retaliation” may yet turn out to be accurate rather than hopeful. But success will turn on whether the current government is challenged more effectively.

The claim that we cannot afford public services and must go through an extended period of austerity now looks altogether more ideological and past its sell-by-date.

Les Bright

You describe Miatta Fahnbulleh as the first black person to lead a major think tank. This might come as a surprise to Wanda Wyporska at the Equality Trust (which I chair) and to Faiza Shaheen at Class, to say nothing of the many black leaders of the Runnymede Trust, where Indian academic Dipak Nandy was the first director in 1972.

Sean Baine
London NW2

Great minds

Jason Cowley’s interview with Bryan Magee saddened and heartened me in equal measure (“The restless philosopher”, 6 April). Saddened, because public intellectuals of Magee’s sort no longer have so much as a foothold in our aggressively dumbed down media. Heartened because his mind is still inquiring and reporting back lucidly on the predicament of being.

Adrian Fry
Via email

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