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20 June 2018

Letter of the week: Progressive narcissism

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

At the time of the Golden Globe Awards earlier this year, I wondered why the divas, protesting against sexual harassment and worse in Hollywood, opted not to wear ethical threads, but splurged on showy black confections (possibly from sweatshops where female workers may have suffered physical and sexual violence). 

So I’m refreshed to read that Mark Lilla (Observations, 15 June) has accused progressives of being “narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups”. These self-styled progressives’ shibboleths, their talk of “intersectionality” and “othering” drown out other concerns. Where is the protest, in the US, about abject poverty and the unavailability of health care? Why isn’t our government endangered by widespread anger about austerity, which particularly hits the very young, the old, disabled people and those (often young children) who care for them at home? Why, on both sides of the Atlantic, are employers able to ride roughshod over workers’ rights?  And don’t get me started on the ramifications of Grenfell.

Granted, as Lilla says, opposition politicians who claim “we can do everything” are unhelpful. But we need action, and we also need to remember, as we mark the second anniversary of Jo Cox’s murder, that there are, as she said, more things that unite us than divide us.

Vera Lustig
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Poles apart

I am sad, disappointed and disturbed by Paul Mason’s remarks in the article “How Poland is rewriting history” (15 June).

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This article is yet another instance of the British media undermining the good intentions of the amendment to the Polish Anti-Defamation Law, the purpose of which is opposition to the wrongful assigning to the Polish state and nation as a whole the blame for the crimes of the Holocaust meticulously planned and mercilessly carried out by Nazi Germany. By implementing it, Poland is not, as the author claims, rewriting history, but reacting to the systematic misrepresentation of Poland’s history, especially through wrongly describing concentration camps set up and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland as “Polish”.

Let me dispel any concerns and state outright that the new law is not designed to “deter academics from studying the details of what happened in Poland during the Holocaust”. It does not limit scientific research nor artistic activity. Nor does it ban referring to criminal acts of individual or groups of Poles on Jewish people during the Second World War. There is a crucial difference between those single acts and institutionalised criminal activities of a state, to which Poland never subscribed.

As for the article’s assertion that what happened ahead of the mass exterminations at the Majdanek concentration camp during the Second World War – Nazi German perpetrators being “prepared by a decade of hate speech, media racism and petty legal restrictions” – is somehow akin to “petty hatreds, stereotypes and otherisation narratives”, let me be clear: there is no place for xenophobia and racism in Poland. There is no room for “official racism and nationalism”. Polish president Andrzej Duda emphasised late last year that “such an attitude means an exclusion from our society. The people who behave this way are excluded.”

It is therefore disappointing that Paul Mason quotes sources claiming that the new law was a signal for the far right to speak openly against Zionism, but fails to seek a comment from the Polish government or authorities. I will therefore allow myself to speak for Poland and stress that our country is one of the safest in Europe for Jews. Unlike in many western European states, anti-Semitic attacks are very rare in Poland. Since the fall of communism, Poland has had excellent relations with Israel and, regardless of recent controversies surrounding the above-mentioned law, both sides are very keen on maintaining them this way.

Deliberately creating a negative interpretation of the reality or, forcefully, contrarily to facts, ascribing anti-Semitic intentions to people is very harmful socially. I would like to call on Mr Mason and other journalists to try to stay measured in their judgement of situations and not heat up the debate unnecessarily, as this is not helpful to anyone.

Arkady Rzegocki,
Polish ambassador to the UK
London W1

Created unequal

Will Self outlines the reactions, thoughts and contributions of some friends and others in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire tragedy (“Grenfell’s long shadow”, 8 June).

In snippets of news, it has gradually emerged how a wealthy borough, through the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), treated local residents in social housing, not least in spending as little as possible in refurbishing housing blocks such as Grenfell Tower.

Self has discussed the ethical dilemma, highlighted by the tragedy, of great wealth in close proximity to poorer folk. The distribution of wealth, as he intimates, is at the heart of the problem. But is his friend “Aaron” (who lives in a Notting Hill house worth more than £4m) not also part of the problem? Must we respect Aaron’s right to anonymity in the same way as we should respect the right of local people, less well off, to live in safe housing ?

Incidentally, did the “incendiary leaflets” distributed by Aaron’s “privately educated” daughters calling for radical wealth redistribution have any effect?

Frank Glanz
West Wickham, Kent

Love lost

As a fellow millennial I avidly read Amelia Tait’s fortnightly column. Yet her latest piece (Digital Native, 15 June) in which she attempted to defend Love Island was never going to work for me. Indeed, my jaw dropped when she surreptitiously included football as part of the “mindless entertainment club” and contrasted it to the insightfulness of Love Island. True, her claim was made in the context of having a go at Piers Morgan, but not even this noble aim can justify such a baseless denigration of the “beautiful game” during the 2018 World Cup.

Jorge Sarasola
Sheffield

Pot luck

Complaining about the state of roads used to be the province of those who felt that councils wasted too much cash on social care, libraries, youth work and other “unnecessary services” at the expense of highway maintenance. But as Anoosh Chakelian’s “Crumbling Britain” report makes clear (Observations, 15 June), potholes are now so widespread and deep that cyclists are at risk of serious injury or death in both urban and rural areas. The problem is compounded here, where the highways authority – the Tory county council, for this Labour city – has decided to switch off street lights from 12.30am to 5.30am, ostensibly as a contribution to reducing carbon emissions but quite clearly as yet another
“austerity dividend”.

Les Bright
Exeter, Devon

Your article on potholes  – in which you report the admirable crusade of Mark Morrell to encourage councils to sort out this problem – invites two important questions: how and why do they occur?

First, potholes always occur after winter, particularly a hard winter such as we had recently, when roads are frozen, then defrosted, and the tarmac loosens. This is an annual hazard and the fault of no one. But, crucially, our roads and roundabout approaches are lined with “reduce speed now”, “slow down” or speed limit signs. These are routinely ignored by powerful cars and trucks, which apply powerful brakes to stop safely at the appropriate point. Quite clearly, this “creases” the road marginally until eventually a pothole appears.

Note where more than 50 per cent of potholes appear: when approaching bends, approaching roundabouts or along a road countdown sign approach.

Yes, we can easily turn the local county council into a scapegoat, but would not more measured driving also help the situation?

Keith Morgan
Collingham, Nottinghamshire

Sunking feeling

Surely, the question on the cover of last week’s  New Statesman should have read  “Who sank Brexit?” not “Who sunk Brexit?” (15 June).

Vivienne Rendall
Greenhead, Northumberland

Re the front cover on Brexit, the past tense of the verb “to sink” is correctly “sank”. You have used the past participle when there is no auxiliary verb. Extra homework for the unfortunate sub-editor who committed this schoolboy error.

Derek Watts
Lewes, East Sussex

Our head of production replies: With our nautical cover we appear to have drifted over the Atlantic, where “sunk” is a recognised alternative to “sank”. This usage does have long, illustrious precedent in these isles, however, appearing in the works of Dr Johnson, Dickens, Walter Scott, and in the King James Bible, among many others.

Take back control

I am somewhat bemused by Peter Wilby’s exasperation over his edited Wikipedia entry (First Thoughts, 8 June). I myself have just edited it, though only to add a missing full stop. It only took a few seconds. I cannot see anything else on the page which might be questionable. If public figures are going to complain about inaccuracies on their Wikipedia profiles, perhaps they should stop dismissing this much-used reference source and take the trouble to correct what they believe to be wrong.

Theo Morgan
London W9

Yanks go home

Roger Mosey’s concern (Off the Air, 8 June) about the “Americanisation” of LBC is a bit pot-kettle-black. BBC Radio 4 listeners are aware of the increasing number of Americans invited on to panel talks, Woman’s Hour, et al, in the past decade. One week last year all three of the daily 15-minute plays were by American authors. Personally I support SOTDY – switch off the damn Yanks.

KC Gordon
Llanllechid, Gwynedd

Glasgow’s tragedy

While everyone awaits the results determining the cause of the latest and most devastating fire at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) – and as thousands of students see years of work on painstakingly created portfolios go up in smoke – one matter is certain: the position of Muriel Gray as chair of its board of governors is untenable.

Indeed, there may well be a case for an investigation into the negligence of the GSA board’s calamitous tenure, after two disastrous fires in four years at one of Glasgow’s finest facilities.

Gray has evidently matured little since her journalism days. In the hours before the fire she was busy posting troll tweets about World Cup viewers. (“I feel the deep isolation of the confused and uninformed… There just seems to be dull people in pants lying around… I’m finding it hard to listen to anything anyone says. Because it hurts.”)

In this instance, Bracknell’s Law applies: once is unfortunate, twice smacks of wanton carelessness by those who seem to have treated heading a priceless facility as an ego trip.

Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

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This article appears in the 20 Jun 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Conservatives in crisis