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22 August 2018

Letter of the week: Flight of fancy

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

Andrew Adonis suggests that if A-level results were out by mid-July then “millions of families would get a better holiday” (The Diary, 17 August). Only if the results were good. If they were bad then many of those millions would have preferred blissful ignorance. I’m also surprised that one of his front-bench colleagues turned down Adonis’s proposal for a much shortened summer adjournment on the flimsy argument that “My Ryanair flights are already booked”. I’m even more surprised that that didn’t prompt Adonis to ask the obvious question: “Are you sure the flights haven’t been cancelled?”

Bob Wells
London E4

The rail truth

Your Leader (17 August) perpetuates the error of thinking that other countries run their railways way better than we do. Most of our trains, with most operators, are running normally and on time. Overcrowding and congestion are partly the result of underinvestment – but are also the problems of success.

The core issues, which you completely ignore, are a) how to ensure a stable environment for continuous investment and forward planning, instead of the current corrosive stop-start regime; b) how to simplify the unnecessarily complex fares and ticketing system; c) how best to retain a nationally organised infrastructure, while also investing in routes and services based on regional and local needs; d) how to get essential projects completed quickly when the public increasingly demands a system that functions every day.

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The issue of state or private ownership is of limited relevance, since it is plain that state financial support for our railways will always be needed in some form. What we do not need is constant meddling by ill-informed civil servants and here-today, gone-tomorrow transport ministers.

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Dave Kruger
Nantwich, Cheshire

Populist power

I readily acknowledge Yascha Mounk’s prescience that democracy is under threat (Observations, 17 August). And, although I am a Conservative, I have huge respect for those whom I regard as “True Labour”, politicians such as Frank Field MP and former MPs Gisela Stuart and Austin Mitchell.

We share a determination to see the result of the people’s meaningful vote, cast in the 2016 referendum, respected – for the simple reason that democracy depends on it. The fact is that when the people were asked to choose whether to leave or remain, a majority of Labour and Conservative constituencies defied the defeatist scaremongering of the establishment and voted to leave and thereby strengthen accountability and democracy in the UK.

So while Mounk is surely right to highlight the very real risk of democracy being dismantled, I am surprised about where he believes the biggest threat comes from. To fail to honour the once-in-a-generation meaningful vote cast by the people in 2016 would be to fail what is perhaps the biggest test of democracy’s durability in modern times. If the majority who voted Leave believe that they have been duped, we can forget democracy being dismantled “reasonably quickly”. The risk of a fake Brexit is that democracy could be dismantled far more quickly than any of us on the left or the right appreciate.

Lord Shinkwin
House of Lords, London SW1

George Eaton’s interview with Yascha Mounk rings eerily true. By dismissing people’s ideas in favour of their own, governments are creating an “Us vs Them” narrative for more populist groups. This is giving rise to a divisive and poisonous political atmosphere. In the UK, Brexit divides people as many feel as if they’re being betrayed by the Tories; increasingly ominous race-related rhetoric is surfacing as people search for a scapegoat when they feel the Conservatives fail to listen; and tension is rising as people feel the government is ignoring the suffering that emerges due to their austerity policies.

Mounk’s point about the left using “inclusive nationalism” in Europe is interesting. I would worry, however, about European “inclusive nationalism” perpetuating or exacerbating the idea of two separate civilisations: the
West and the Islamic.

Glenn Armstrong
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Adonis attraction

I’m not generally impressed by unelected (former) government ministers, but the hyperactive Andrew Adonis does a very good job of challenging that deeply held opinion. His Diary (17 August) provided a good account of activities aimed at unsettling ministers and/or Brexit pin-ups – if only a few more elected politicians behaved “like a
dog with a bone” and harried the incompetent and the dishonest as much as he
seems to be doing.

Les Bright

Coalition cop-out

Michael Meadowcroft (Correspondence, 17 August) may be right that a return to the Lib Dems’ formerly successful localism would earn them more elected representation. But if he seriously believes that entering the 2010 coalition was putting the country’s interest before his party’s he will have a hard job getting the public to agree with him. Apart from the vacuous claim that the country had in that general election “voted for a coalition” (how does a voter do that?), the Lib Dems have never explained why the country’s rather than their party’s interest was served by enabling a government to carry out a programme much of which they officially opposed. Claims of behind-the-scenes influence carry little weight compared with this.

Would not the country, by Lib Dems’ own lights, have been better served by leaving David Cameron with a minority government, which Lib Dems supported when they agreed, and voted against when they didn’t? Lib Dem MPs’ votes could have saved the country from the worst excesses of austerity; the remorseless evisceration of local government; creeping privatisation of the NHS; the privatisation of Royal Mail;
and scores of other failures. 

Geoffrey Lang
London WC1

Yesterday people

Roger Mosey’s insistence that the reason for the loss of 839,000 listeners to the Today programme is its persistence with “its new obsessions around the arts, country life and daily puzzles” is as myopic as the programme editor’s claim that “the state of our politics”, in particular Brexit, is to blame (Off the Air, 17 August). Does it not occur to them that the fact that listeners are aware of the vast sums paid to the presenters, who then show outright bias in their interviews, has to be an important factor?

With real wages falling and public opinion moving to the left, chummy interviews with the likes of Michael Gove and Philip Hammond by presenters on £400,000 a year contrast sharply with the short shrift given to arguments propounded by Corbyn supporters.

Bernie Evans

Political also-rans

The larger context for the Jeremy Corbyn problem as described by Stephen Bush (Politics, 17 August) is the extraordinary capacity of British political activists to put their money on leadership candidates who turn out to be complete neverwozzers. In the recent past, and to name but three, they have bet on Iain Duncan Smith, Ed Miliband, and Tim Farron. Corbyn and Theresa May are simply the latest also-rans and soon to be forgottens. Either we need to make political leadership more attractive as a career or we need to encourage political activists to study form before laying their bets.

Trevor Pateman

Not simply racism

Opposing “racism” from his quintessentially English borderland village, Richard Dargan failed to refute my arguments against continual mass immigration but ironically confirmed them with other examples of damage to indigenous populations from foreign invasion (Correspondence, 17 August). However, his egocentric enthusiasm for “multiculturalism” is not generally shared by our population, according to Demos statistics in “At Home in One’s Past”.

Faced with expansion of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”, Islamic terrorism and African demography, the legitimate protection of our national and regional heritage needs a different future response than the ongoing “political correction” of cyberspace by globalists and the forthcoming “smashing” of dissent by “antifa” mobs.

David Ashton
Sheringham, Norfolk

Sanitised Spencer

I enjoyed Michael Prodger’s  article (The Critics, 17 August) on the art created in the years after the First World War, and I agreed with most of his judgements. But to claim that Stanley Spencer’s paintings for the chapel at Burghclere are “on this side of the channel arguably the greatest work of art to grow from the experience of war” is perverse.

Spencer never confronts the brutal destruction of war, but instead mostly paints sanitised scenes far away from any fighting, and often bathed in sentimental religiosity. Nash, Nevinson and Bomberg all painted works that were much truer to the experience of war, and I think considerably greater works of art.

John Boaler
Calne, Wiltshire

Perils of FGM

I was surprised at the omission in your supplement (10 August) of one of the main causes of obstetric fistula in women, particularly in developing countries. In the three articles no mention was made of female genital mutilation (FGM); only a passing reference to “obstruction”.

In Ethiopia this has been addressed for several years by the charity Ethiopiaid: they have been training midwives to educate communities about the dangers of FGM to mothers and babies. Surgery is crucial but without addressing the causes, particularly FGM, then women will continue to suffer the indignity of incontinence, the loss of their babies, ostracism in their communities and the risk of death.

Pat Davies,
Whitchurch, Shropshire

No second vote

Paul Heron points out that the EU is under democratic control via the Council of Ministers (Correspondence, 17 August). It is remote control, though, and many would prefer more direct control of government via their MPs. With regard to Noel Hamel’s point about the clarity of the proposition voted for in June 2016, Remainers can validly argue that David Cameron made a misjudgement in offering a referendum on EU membership; and I would concede that constitutional arrangements should not normally be subject to a simple majority in a plebiscite (though – in response to the assertion that people didn’t understand what they were voting for – I don’t concede that incomplete knowledge of the matter at hand should disqualify anybody from voting).

With that acknowledged, I suggest that we don’t need a second vote, because we’ve already had a vote on a very clear proposition. Brexiteers did vote for a clear proposition – “A” and “not A” are equally valid and clear. As to what direction Brexit will take us in, it is up to our government, watched over by Westminster, to work that out for us in our best interests.

Mark Bale

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This article appears in the 22 Aug 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Will Labour split?