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18 July 2018

Letter of the week: Counting Scotland’s wildcats

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

By New Statesman

I noted the article by John Burnside on the Scottish wildcat in Clashindarroch Forest (Back Pages, 13 July), which is managed by Forest Enterprise Scotland. The suggestion that a third of Scottish wildcats could be wiped out by the development of a wind farm in this forest is speculative and lacks sufficient accuracy.

If wind energy developments are brought forward, these are subject to the rigorous planning system, which includes full environmental impact assessments and public consultation. The conservation of the Scottish wildcat population would be carefully considered by this process.

The article quotes an estimate for the Scottish wildcat population of 35 “pure specimens”. It would be good to know how this figure was calculated. By contrast, The Mammal Society’s June 2018 report, entitled A Review of the Population and Conservation Status of British Mammals, gives a population estimate of 200, albeit with specified confidence limits.

Kenny Kortland
Forest Enterprise Scotland, Inverness

Peak inequality

Danny Dorling’s fascinating account of how a Britain that achieved near-Nordic levels of income equality in the first 30 years after 1945 and then became one of the least equal societies in today’s Europe begs several questions (“Peak inequality”, 6 July).

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Why was there peak equality under Tory as much as Labour governments? Indeed, inequality grew as much under Labour as the Tories. Labour from 1997-2009 sold 495,000 council homes in England and Wales, and in the Yorkshire and Humber region built 24. This was one factor that led working-class families denied a right to affordable social housing to take their revenge on governing elites by rejecting their advice to vote down Brexit in 2016.

Dorling locates the beginning of the end of a more equal Britain in the early 1970s. This was just as the 1968 generation was on its long march through the institutions most important to creating a more equal society. In unions, the Labour Party, education and some of the media, the privileged middle-class children of 1968, with their Marx for Beginners excitements, went on strike, occupied, gave us the 1979 Winter of Discontent, the miners’ and Wapping strikes and a 1983 Labour election manifesto pledging Brexit.

This guaranteed Labour was kept out of power as inequality entrenched itself. Let us hope today’s top Labour leaders who began their politics in those exciting times of Leftism über Alles have learned their lesson, and understand that Butskellism not Bennism helps eradicate inequality.

Denis MacShane
Athens, Greece

Danny Dorling provided an interesting analysis of trends in income inequality in the UK. However, he places a pivotal point towards greater inequality in 1974, stating that “the swing of votes towards the Tories in the second general election of that year was abrupt”.

In fact, Harold Wilson’s Labour was returned to power with a (small) majority, having lead a minority administration since the general election in February of the same year. The swing from Conservative to Labour in October 1974 was just over 2 per cent; the Conservative vote fell by more than 1.4 million. Not sure how the elections of 1974 can be viewed as part of a political shift.

Nigel Clark
Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Identity crisis

Jason Cowley’s article was an interesting read with many thought-provoking points (“England rising”, 6 July). However, can I suggest to him that the reason Theresa May fails at defining an English national interest could and should be because she is the leader of a UK party leading the UK government.

Her modus operandi should always be the good of all the nations forming that union, not just the biggest. The same applies to Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the opposition. We don’t expect them to be Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland’s exclusive standard bearers, so why England’s?

That Cowley believes it is the job of the UK leaders to carve out England’s modern identity just highlights the ingrained and perpetual conflation of Britain and England, even in those purportedly arguing against it; a factor further contributing to the disenchantment and distrust in the union.

Sheila Scott

John Denham rightly calls for an articulation of the desire for constitutional reform in England (Correspondence, 13 July). Yet, Jason Cowley’s observation that there is “no upsurge” of support for an English parliament is palpable both in the unwillingness of politicians to broach the subject and in the lack of an Orwellian “tug from below” as Simon Heffer put it in his excellent essay (“The English revolution”, 29 June).

As Heffer notes, before any tug results in action, the benefits of reform must be clear to both those giving and demanding it. The corrosive, centralised hegemony of the UK state will not be much diluted if an English-only parliament is established in London, and local devolution or federalisation will only be desirable if it offers meaningful powers and resources – equivalent at least to Scotland’s.

As a Scot living in East Anglia, I think the classification and resolution of issues in questioning “the condition of England” today seem the most prickly and urgent to the health of British democracy, if not the survival of the UK state as we know it. As John Denham puts it in his letter, I also urge the NS to “grasp the nettle” and lead the debate.

Graham Johnston
Wymondham, Norfolk

Hope and glory

England’s heroic World Cup adventure should provide an opportunity to start a serious campaign to designate a new English national anthem.

It seems incongruous that our English national teams and their supporters are obliged to sing along to an anthem that also represents Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before sporting events. Add to the debate the fact that our national anthem is an out-dated hymn of praise to a celebrity culture based on hierarchy and hereditary privilege. There are a number of candidates for an English anthem, not least “Land of Hope and Glory”, “There’ll Always Be an England”, “Jerusalem” and even “Three Lions” (reworded)! Your readers will have their own suggestions.

Mark Thorp

Debate, not hate

It strikes me that Sarah Ditum was not present at the annual Pride march but is rather basing her theories around photos and coverage of the event (Out of the Ordinary, 13 July). I wish to offer my first-hand account.

I was marching with a contingent very close by to the protest. While trying to get to my position I was barged out of the way by my so-called lesbian sisters. Ditum argues that the media has been getting these women’s messages across badly but I would argue they did a good job of this themselves.

As a lesbian who had just been barged to hear “get the L out of LGBT”, I assumed them to be a hate group against lesbians. As for some of their chants on the march, challenging discourse went out of the window for crude taunts to spectators in the crowd. Debate, discuss, deliberate, but do not put these women on a pedestal.

Rosie Booth

Swing voters

In citing Chantal Mouffe’s contention that, for the foreseeable future, “the central axis of political conflict will be between right-wing populism… and left-wing populism” (Observations, 13 July), George Eaton might also have identified that history tells us there are now many voters – perhaps as many as to constitute a majority in some countries – who are willing to switch allegiance between these extremes rather than move towards the centre. A challenge indeed.

Tony Medawar
Via email

Role models

Anna Leszkiewicz (The Critics, 6 July) both celebrates and is judiciously critical of the recent plethora of “great women role models”. Well, these “rebel women” certainly did have a cause, but as a grandmother of boys as well as girls, I find their literary ghettoisation disturbing. What about a good old collection of people who changed the world/challenged the status quo/made things happen where (unlike the “great men” children’s books of the past in which maybe a couple of women such as Florence Nightingale crept in) “great women” are appropriately represented? I’d buy that one – for all my grandchildren.

Kate Purcell

Mark my words

I have been following the debate on the correct use of the English language with great interest and share Marie Parker’s frustration (Correspondence, 29 June). I am no expert and consider myself just someone with “a reasonably good knowledge of English” learned at grammar school over 60 years ago. I have always believed that misuse of words is due to ignorance of their meaning or origin but if those who are supposed to set examples just follow the trend to prove their modernity, then misuse becomes so widespread it can’t be stopped and lo and behold, language has “evolved”.

From a lifetime of correcting English scientific texts I can assure the supporters of modernisation that the terms Ms Parker quotes are regularly used in their correct singular and plural form as required in science. These words of Latin or Greek origin have been absorbed into the English language, whereas anyone familiar with some other European languages will know that, for example, equivalent Italian, French or Spanish forms of the same words exist and are regularly used in singular or plural, so that something like “bacteria is” or “data is” sounds really silly in comparison. Clearly all this is due to the Americanisation of our language. I began to think I was the only one whose teeth were set on edge when reading “guy” or “program” in the pages of the New Statesman, so I am particularly grateful to Antonia Quirke in the same issue for using “bloke”, and hope other columnists will follow suit – there’s plenty to choose from: chap, fellow, man, bod.

Kathleen Ellen White
Milan, Italy

Comma chameleon

I am always suspicious of poets who eschew punctuation. If they can’t be bothered to write it properly, why should I bother to read it? But in “The Serial Killer’s Slippers” (The NS Poem, 13 July) Sarah Byrne takes the affectation to a new low with an arbitrary and inconsistent approach that strikes me as idiotic. I challenge her to explain or excuse the, you know, thinking behind it.

Ric Cheyney
Talsarnau, Gwynedd

Top Marx

I think the obvious complementary oxymoron to a “conservative thinker” (Correspondence, 13 July) is a “Marxist intellectual”.

Archie Campbell

The quiet life

Oh dear – just over halfway through the year and Peter Wilby has already doubled (four) last year’s notes of how and where he lives (First Thoughts, 13 July).

KC Gordon
Llanllechid, Gwynedd

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This article appears in the 18 Jul 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump-Putin pact