Our granddaughter Sylvia grabs the NS every time she visits us. It’s very much to her taste, literally.
We the people
I didn’t attend the People’s Vote march but I’ve noticed that – as mentioned in the New Statesman (Leader, 26 October) – people who did attend emphasise how peaceful it was. Meanwhile, we have the former Tory MP Stewart Jackson spouting abuse at the family of a sick child; a disabled woman racially abused on a Ryanair flight; numerous reports of spikes in hate crime since the referendum; and the recent spate of abusive attacks on Theresa May, apparently by Brexit supporters.
It appears more and more that Brexit expressed a nasty, insecure, divisive tendency in society, however sincere some of its proponents are, whereas Remain is by contrast largely supported by people who want a quiet, civilised life.
But the growth in abusive and divisive politics is not confined to Brexit supporters. Hungary, Italy, Poland and other countries represent a similar phenomenon in the EU. The Trump presidency is obviously part of it, as is the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. But probably all these are symptoms rather than a cause. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Inner Level provides a further analysis of the effects of inequality, and suggests the answer. “More unequal societies experience more violence and higher rates of imprisonment; people trust each other less and community life is weaker.” But what do we do, when inequality gives those who benefit from it so much political power?
As a pensioner and part of the moderate middle I marched with my children against the Iraq War and with my grandchildren against Brexit.
Along with your Leader, I believe that, as with Iraq, the Brexit marchers will remain unheeded. However, judging from the dire consequences of the Iraq War, I would suggest that the motley crew who call themselves our leaders should be wise enough to take heed of those who came from far and wide to protest.
Peter Wilby (First Thoughts, 26 October) writes that, instead of participating in the People’s Vote demonstration, he “stayed in Loughton for a quiet and unfashionable lunch with my family”. Had he been in central London instead he might have had his spirits uplifted by the warmth, humour and sense of camaraderie of those attending in such enormous numbers. However, the defensive tone of his remarks on the issue suggest he is beginning to turn into the left-wing equivalent of “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”. Jaundiced of Loughton, perhaps?
Probably, I need an irony transfusion or something. Maybe I finally qualify as Grumpy Old Man. But I am exasperated, now, by Peter Wilby’s insistence that his home area is quiet and unfashionable. I wonder if Cassius lived in a quiet and unfashionable part of Rome. Wasn’t he said to protest too much too?
Yanis Varoufakis’s unsubstantiated warning that a second referendum “would completely poison politics in Britain” (Cover Story, 26 October) suggests that he has either been listening too much to Nigel Farage’s scaremongering about civil unrest, or to the repeated and fatuous claim that anything other than a hard Brexit would be a “betrayal of the Leave vote”. Those who voted to leave were betrayed already, by the politicians making ridiculous promises about “Britannia striking trade deals with the Anglosphere”, and the NHS receiving massive cash injections.
Democracy in this country is based on politicians making pledges to win electoral support, and if successful, there is an obligation for the promises to be fulfilled. If they are not, however, a constitutional crisis ensues, and another election is needed. Is this not the exact situation in which the UK now finds itself? If Labour won an election by promising to reduce basic income tax to 15 per cent, and then failed to deliver, there would be uproar and another vote would be inevitable.
George Eaton quotes Yanis Varoufakis’s take on what constitutes a democratic decision, “three options on the ballot paper… not two: that’s not a referendum, that’s a joke”. No, not funny at all: voting on three, and usually many more, issues is called a general election. A referendum asks only, “Are you for us, or against us?”
Eaton also reminds us that Nigel Farage would have fought on had the vote been a 52-48 Remain victory. Push a little harder, then: would these victors have pushed for a hard Remain, handing back all our EU opt-outs, rebates and exemptions, perhaps going further towards even closer political, economic, scientific, security and environmental co-operation?
Your correspondent Michael Haskell (Correspondence, 26 October), identifies a way out of the cul-de-sac into which Brexit has led us: immigration controls and a more equal society. On the first point, Mr Haskell actually admits the solutions are already in place, it’s just that the UK chose not to use existing EU legislation! Better still, change the electoral system by introducing a form of Alternative Voting that includes everyone in our democratic process.
Simon Heffer makes excellent reading and is a valuable contributor to the NS (Another Voice, 26 October). His regular demonstrations of hatred for Theresa May (either because she’s a woman in a man’s job or because she’s a Remainer, I can never decide) are a treat.
Why is she prime minister? The answer is simple – she is an outsider. The parliamentary Conservative Party is a club for men divided for decades by the issue of Europe. To say that loyalty is the Tory secret weapon is ludicrous.
As we now know the Leavers never expected to win, never had a manifesto or a leader they could unite behind, and having won none of them wanted the poisoned chalice of leading the country.
The situation we now have is like that of a banana republic where the rebels have come down from the hills, overthrown the government and then run off back to the hills again. The population meanwhile are still waiting for the sunlit uplands promised to them by the marauding rebels before the coup. One can’t help but have sympathy for the Prime Minister.
Saltdean, East Sussex
I must respectfully disagree with Anna Leszkiewicz’s observations on the “politicisation” of Taylor Swift (Observations, 12 October). As a long-time Swiftie (being only two years younger than the singer) I have often struggled with her as a person, despite a great appreciation for her catchy pop tunes. While it’s “better late than never”, it’s also very much a case of too little, too late.
Swift fails to recognise her incredible privilege, that she can even choose whether or not to be political. Non-white or LGBTQ+ artists rarely have that choice. While I am delighted at the increase in voter registration Swift has sparked and appreciate her business risk, if this message is the extent of her political action, I will go on being disappointed that a woman who has everything cannot use her power to its fullest.
In her review of Martin Rees’s new book, On the Future, (The Critics, 26 October), Anjana Ahuja states that “it still behoves us to contemplate” dramatic claims of possible causes of extinction that have been debunked. Actually, no: it behoves us not to waste time discussing ideas that have no grounding, whether they be claims on the falsehood of human culpability for climate change or science fiction about particle collider-induced apocalypses. It is disappointing that such a distinguished scientist as Rees should promote such ideas in his book.
Flat Earth news
Facebook shareholders must hope that Nick Clegg’s grasp of corporate affairs is better than his understanding of geometry (Cover Story, 26 October). He said: “The Brexiteers are like people who are howling at the moon, or flat-Earthers who get more and more furious as the evidence piles up that the Earth is oval-shaped, not flat.” An oval is a two-dimensional shape. It is flat.
Time at the bar
Keith Flett (Correspondence, 26 October) worries that Nicholas Lezard is three miles from his nearest watering hole. As I former resident I was concerned that the old place had gone dry and went back to check. He needn’t have worried. Alyth still has four pubs: the Airlie Street Bar, the Mersh Bar, the Burnside and the Losset Inn – five if you include the Blackbird Inn half a mile down the road at New Alyth, and six if you include the Lands of Loyal Hotel, which is a bit posh. Nichoas Lezard might have to don a jacket and tie there.
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This article appears in the 31 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Great War’s long shadow