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6 March 2019

Letter of the week: The retrospect-o-scope

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

My congratulations to Jonathan Powell (Cover story, 1 February), who Powell stresses the “need for a new generation of political leaders”. Having been involved in Conservative Central Office machinations since the 1960s, I can attest to the importance of this statement. Any sensible political party should insist that candidates aspiring to represent a constituency should demonstrate their ability to earn a living independent of any Central Office/union support. We could consider sidelining any applicant under the age of 35.

FD Skidmore
London SE3

Broken politics

I think your front cover, (How Brexit Broke Politics, 1 March) misses the point. The UK’s antiquated politics is not fit for purpose as a method of delivering civilised governance for a modern 21st-century Western state – assuming that’s what we think we are. The issues around Brexit simply made it so obvious it can’t be ignored. The first-past-the-post electoral system is a device that couldn’t be better designed to discourage reasoned debate, consensus and co-operation. Surely there must be more than two points of view?

The obsolete Victorian gothic palace with its debating chamber, with insufficient seats and facilities, divided down the middle, is not conducive to reasoned debate and encourages the coarse, bitchy jeering and shouting across the chamber between the two main parties. We make ourselves a laughing stock as it is broadcast around the world. The fairy-tale palace, officials in fancy dress, golden coaches, ermine, a queen with golden crown and the archaic ritual mock the absurdity of “business chamber” adolescent behaviour. The arcane, personally costly, protracted system for selecting MP candidates needs serious updating.

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Noel Hamel
New Malden, Greater London

While I admire the 11 Independent Group MPs who have risked their careers in an attempt to break the deadlock of British politics, I worry that the only centre ground that they may end up winning may be that between appealing and unappealing. Chuka Umunna is quite right to assert that many people are looking for a politics that is neither represented by Labour nor the Conservatives at the moment. He may also be right that class is less significant to many people than it was in the past.

However, to say that “ownership” is not central to modern politics is a grave omission. Ownership has always been central to the distribution of power, and with that, distribution of freedom and empowerment. Ignoring the importance of this is something that contributed to the 2008 crash and to the commensurate social and political dissatisfaction that we have experienced.

Mark Thorp

Losing the news

I am with the hugely experienced Roger Mosey and disagree with Mr Lamming from Suffolk (Correspondence, 1 March). Not everyone reads the New Statesman and receives a large dose of debate and intelligent opinion that way. Many busy but curious people still rely on the evening news and we don’t want the BBC to drift slowly towards headlines-only channels. Channel 4 has led the way in expanding and reinventing news presentation and has, in recent, times nudged the BBC and ITV to up their game too.

Graham Benson
Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Liberal values

Kevin Maguire rightly notes that Peter Tatchell has become a member of the National Liberal Club (Commons Confidential, 1 March), but wrongly suggests that he is paying the membership fees to join the club. The facts are very different. In July 2017 Peter spoke at a club meeting commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passing of the 1967 act decriminalising homosexuality. Now – in recognition of his long, active commitment to the rights of LGBT men and women, and in the light of his defence of the couple in the Belfast “gay cake” row, where he stated his belief that “it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas” – the club’s general committee unanimously agreed to offer Peter honorary membership. We are delighted that he accepted the invitation.

Michael Meadowcroft

All left now

In the letters page Michael Steed claims that “Labour is likely to remain as an extreme left-wing party”. (Correspondence, 1 March). Perspective depends upon where one is standing. An extreme left-wing party would have a manifesto including: abolition of the monarchy; dismantling of the House of Lords and the honours system; forcing public schools into the state system; the abolition of inheritance tax. I could go on. In other words it could be claimed that Labour is a “centre-left” party!

Michael Moore
Loughton, Essex

Train times

I doubt if the Conservative-controlled council had any input into the station design in Bishop’s Stortford (Editor’s Note, 1 March). Our local station has been recently revamped to accommodate modern design requirements. It is a listed building but one of 175 of its type and therefore not precious to anyone other than the local population, who are inherently proud of its heritage.

None of this mattered in the least. The railway promised to uphold the character and devised plans to give better access inside. There was little input the council had in the matter or voice in designing works.

The council didn’t build your station. It was built by the London North Eastern Railway. You are putting the blame where it should not belong. Councils are not always at fault – whatever their persuasion.

Michael Beanland
Via email

Childhood memories and emotions were stirred in more ways than one when I read about Kemble station in the Editor’s Note.

I used to be dropped off by my mother at Paddington station to take the 4.48pm service, which stopped at Kemble at 6.05pm. This was before I and fellow students were picked up by a staff member at the Gloucestershire station to go to boarding school in Cirencester.

Having read the Agatha Christie thriller 4.50 From Paddington, I used to be irrationally fearful of a murder taking place on one of my train journeys. So when I arrived at the then austere station of Kemble I was relieved to be safe, but conscious that I was only four miles away from what students said was going back to Colditz! I was pleased to read that Kemble still survives.

David Rimmer
Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire

Corbyn’s critics

I object strongly to the slighting nature of Helen Lewis’s comments about Jeremy Corbyn (Out of the Ordinary, 1 March). It is one thing to criticise an aspect of Corbyn’s political stance, it is quite another to compare him to Donald Trump because, in a recent Sky interview, he complained about media coverage.

The career trajectories and current positions of the two men are so vastly different that the comparison is a travesty. Corbyn has not sought to enrich himself through the various causes he has supported over the years. Evidence points to the fact that he has been a hard-working, well-regarded constituency MP who has consistently increased his majority.

Unlike Donald Trump with the Republican Party, Jeremy Corbyn does not have the unqualified backing of a powerful party machine and neither is he able to engineer the support of a media outlet in the way Trump has with Fox News.

Carol Anthony
Quarndon, Derbyshire

Helen Lewis writes that Jeremy Corbyn “is only a lifelong campaigner against racism if you exclude Jews from the category of oppressed groups”. I find this difficult to square with the fact that he organised a counter-demonstration in Wood Green, north London, in April 1977, when a far-right group was holding an anti-Semitic march, as Barry Gardiner reminded viewers on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday 28 February.

Dave Sissons
Via email

The Queen and us

Tanya Gold (Miscellanies, 1 March) believes that the idea of a progressive monarchy might be absurd but the idea of a representative monarchy is not. Both ideas strike me as absurd, but the latter is marginally less absurd than the former.

Bob Wells
London E4

All Miller, no filler

Very grateful for Sarah Churchwell’s fantastic article on Arthur Miller! (The Critics, 1 March.) It gave me some much-needed contextual nuggets to vamp up an A-level essay about Death of a Salesman and a welcome break from the textbook American Dream explanations!

Hannah Ashford
Via email

Opening your mind

Reading Anoosh Chakelian’s Encounter with Amanda Feilding (Observations, 1 March) made me realise that I still miss a science slot in the New Statesman. I have no background in science so really enjoyed Michael Brooks’s columns and ended up buying his books. I’m now going to research Amanda Feilding. It might all be lightweight to a scientist, but in my “golden years”, with the New Statesman’s help, I am trying to catch up!

Sally Litherland
Via email

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This article appears in the 06 Mar 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The next crash