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21 November 2018

Letter of the week: Undemocratic Labour

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

John McDonnell repeats a key phrase from Labour’s manifestos for the two elections in 1974, (Observations, 16 November): “Our aim remains to bring about an irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people.” This seemingly innocent aspiration contains within it a menace that underlies a fault line of Labour’s hegemonic and anti-pluralist nature. Nothing in a democratic system is “irreversible” and to profess the aim of making one group permanently dominant is a recipe for methods that require undemocratic measures and tactics.

Far better to work towards policies that develop co-operative structures and provide very different remedies for the imbalance in influence. Once at an election meeting in the Colne Valley, the then Liberal leader was asked by a well-known local socialist: “Mr Grimond, what are you going to do for the working class?” Jo rose from his seat and replied, “I’m going to abolish it!” I agree, even if McDonnell wants to replace one elite with another.

Michael Meadowcroft

Brussels spouting

Martin Fletcher’s assessment of Boris Johnson (“The Banana Republic of Boris”, 9 November) reminded us that in 1988 our hero was summarily fired by the Times under the editor Charlie Wilson for fabricating a quotation he used in an article. Despite this slight question mark over his reliability as a witness and a journalist, Max Hastings at once gave him a job at the Daily Telegraph, where he soon became the paper’s Brussels correspondent.

Two years later I was interviewing a professor at Aarhus University in Denmark in connection with a report I was helping to write on journalism education in Europe. When we were done, the professor asked me if I knew someone called Boris Johnson. I said “no” but that
I had just read some perceptive pieces he had written for the Telegraph on the basis of extensive research in Denmark, comparing and contrasting British and Danish scepticism towards the European Community. “Ah,” said the professor, “what he wrote was indeed interesting, but all the quotations he put into the mouths of other people he got from a single interview with me.” This struck me as reckless on Boris’s part in view of his recent record, but also as a very economical use of his
busy schedule.

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Rewriting history

Richard J Evans (“How the Brexiteers broke history”, 16 November) cites numerous instances of the misrepresentation of history by Brexiteers, a telling example being Jeremy Hunt’s comparison of the EU with the former Soviet Union. As Professor Evans puts it, “opinion seems all and evidence is pushed aside in the interests of partisanship”.

Thus, our politics do not express the “will of the people”: the Brexit vote is there to be manipulated in the interests of party politics. Rather than analysing the facts, parliament dictates the terms of the debate. “Liberal democracy” as we know it, is illiberal precisely
for this reason.

David Clarke
Witney, Oxfordshire

Taxing times

Your leader appears to suggest that only capital is capable of collecting economic rent – simply put, unearned and undeserved excess returns (“The tax conundrum”, 16 November).

This is not always the case. In the classically rent-seeking activity of investment banking it is the providers of labour, the bankers, who have enriched themselves at a time when shareholders, such as our pension funds that provide the capital, have often lost money.

As well as looking at taxing such rent, governments should be trying to reduce the generating of it, in particular that part that results from governments’ own decisions and rules.

William Claxton-Smith
London N5

Donors’ courage

Kidney donor Geoffrey Harper (Correspondence, 16 November) claims that we are none too generous about live organ donation. This also goes for giving blood, which is in dangerously short supply. Yet the act that could help save at least one life is quick and virtually painless. Some ethnic minority groups are particularly wary of donating, which in turn harms members of those communities in need of a transplant: compatibility can be an issue. The idea of educating school students about the value of donating is a timely one.

I am the same age as Geoffrey Harper, and donated blood until I was deemed too old. I also gave a syringeful of bone marrow to leukaemia researchers at Great Ormond Street Hospital in my thirties. But, shamefully, the premature death of a friend’s delightful child from kidney disease did not nudge me towards kidney donation. Mr Harper’s letter has, however, done just that. But whether, on getting the green light from my GP, I can emulate his selfless courage and give away a non-renewable part of my body, is another matter.

Vera Lustig
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Down the workers

Paul Mason’s column on Brazil was most welcome (Another Voice, 2 November). While it may be tempting to place Jair Bolsonaro’s victory at the polls within the framework of an upsurge of nationalism around the world, this result can be better understood, within the Brazilian context, as being a reaction to the widespread corruption that has occurred in this country over the past 16 years. Unfortunately, corruption has always been present, but the ruling Workers’ Party, hiding behind a facade of left-wing respectability, established a kleptocracy that enriched many of the political leaders involved in the country’s government and administration.

In order to form a “stable” government, the Workers’ Party drew allies from smaller parties from the centre-right and centre-left and they too became entangled in this web of corruption. At the recent election, the voters could not place their trust in any of the conventional parties, and therefore resorted to Bolsonaro’s smaller party, which stood on an anti-corruption ticket.

Brazilians of all classes, not just the middle class, began to tire of the blatant cases of corruption that became known during the “Operation Car Wash” investigation, in which many senior political leaders were arrested and sentenced, including a previous president.

Andrew Scotland
Guarujá, São Paulo,

She’s still germane

As a fan of Germaine Greer and indeed of Helen Lewis (“Out of the Ordinary”, 9 November), I understand that none of us can have direct experience of “the atmosphere in which their forbears were fighting”, but I’m dismayed that Lewis seems unable to conjure up an idea of the “atmosphere” surrounding young women in the early 1970s. I remember vividly sitting on a train, reading my new copy of The Female Eunuch and feeling my 17-year-old world view lurch into a shockingly new perspective.

That book changed my and many other women of my generation’s lives, and Germaine Greer’s continued scholarly works and polemical interventions have given us all decades of original thinking. Many male thought-leaders develop quirky views in their latter years without detracting from their influence, and I would ask Helen Lewis to query whether unconscious bias might be at play in her remarks.

Lucy McCarraher

Earth emergency

Since I have had to give up driving, I have lost countless hours of my life waiting for buses – and at my age every hour is precious. So a self-driving car that restored my mobility would be a godsend. But there are much wider issues than my selfish desires/needs that are ignored in your recent Spotlight on future transport (9 November).

We live on a finite planet with finite resources that we are already exploiting to the limit and beyond. Transport of all kinds contributes a large part of that exploitation, both in operation and in the creation of the means. The unrestricted freedom to travel where and when we wish, whatever the transport mode, cannot be sustainable, however smart the technology. In particular, commuting is a largely unproductive activity, harmful to the environment for no useful return, and the opposite of adding to the quality of life for the commuters.

If we are to avoid the catastrophe of runaway global warming, to keep warming below the recommended 1.5 or even 2 degrees, it needs much more drastic action than is being undertaken by almost all governments. Renewable energy? Yes! Recycling? Yes! But they are tiny contributions. The fundamental need is to reduce consumption.

Frank Jackson
Harlow, Essex

Civilised Seventies

What a pleasant surprise it was to see Marigold Johnson writing the NS Diary (9 November). I was the Liberal Party candidate in Beaconsfield when she contested the October 1974 election. The thing that strikes me, looking back, is how civilised we were. It was not that we did not have deeply held and often differing views of our vision for the future. We were spared the more barbaric outbursts on social media, and the drowning in information (usually trivial) of blanket news. How did we come to the chaos and fractured country we find ourselves in today?

The seeds had already been sown in the 1960s, with the loosening bonds of family life, the feuds with the unions, and the spread of international terror organisations, among others.

The 1970s are disparaged in many quarters, yet 1976 has been said to be the best year to be alive in Britain.

Bill Eastwell
Via email

On yer bike, Adolf

As someone with an interest in history, I can reassure Maxine Mott (Correspondence, 16 November) that Adolf Hitler was very familiar with the bicycle, having spent the First World War as a despatch cyclist.

Ian Jones
Via email

We reserve the right to edit letters

This article appears in the 21 Nov 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The real Brexit crisis