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  1. Politics
3 April 2019updated 08 Jul 2021 12:54pm

Letter of the week: Beef with identity politics

By New Statesman

I have not yet read White Fragility, but, according to K Biswas (The Critics, 29 March) the book seems short on advice for us white progressives who, writes author, Robin DiAngelo, cause “most daily damage” to people of colour.

Of course we must not dismiss identity politics, given its role in securing some measure of equality for minority groups. But a little humility and courtesy would do no harm; it might silence critics. DiAngelo, a former (white) diversity trainer, tells us that her classes triggered “predictable” responses such as “anger, withdrawal and argumentation”. “Predictable” suggests blanket prejudice on DiAngelo’s part. As for “argumentation”, since when has teaching been about accepting the teacher’s words in meek silence?

My beef with identity politics is that not only is it at times divisive, but it also excludes people whose “intersectionality” is not so clear-cut, and who are voiceless: those who are raised in abject poverty, or in abusive homes, or in care, all of which can limit life chances. The cadaverous white woman I see outside a London station is far less privileged than Afua Hirsch, say, or Diane Abbott.

Vera Lustig
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Calls for change

The UK desperately needs a new constitutional settlement as Anthony Seldon asserts (“J’Accuse!”, 29 March). Indeed, the “judicial and executive branches need to be better representations of British society today”, but so does the City and the media. First-past-the-post election systems since the war have largely kept the privately educated and the privileged running the country for the benefit of themselves. Brexiteers from Farage to the ERG are of the same ilk: wealthy people supported by wealthy and secretive hard-right think tanks.

Brexit is a project of the right, for the right. It is an opportunity to create a society that reinforces and extends their riches and privileges by getting out of Europe and replacing what is left of social democracy with a buccaneering alt-right agenda based on laissez-faire economics.

We do need to unify around a common set of values, as Seldon claims. However, not the sectional values of Churchill and Macmillan, but values more in tune with the spirit of 1945 led by someone of the stature of Clement Attlee.

Dr Robin C Richmond
Bromyard, Herefordshire

In his very thoughtful article Anthony Seldon writes that: “Parliament… needs root and branch reform, above all to the upper house, if it is to serve the country properly.” Though the composition of the House of Lords is an anachronism and unrepresentative, with its 92 hereditary peers, 26 bishops of the Church of England, and far too many former MPs, it is the House of Commons that more urgently needs reform.

Our political democracy has failed to modernise and evolve over the past century and, alone among member states of the EU, we still elect our MPs through first past the post.

The result of clinging to this franchise is that the will of the people, to coin a phrase, is hugely distorted and governments can form and rule with 40 per cent or less of the popular vote. Brexit has dramatically exposed the shortcomings of our current electoral system.

John Boaler
Calne, Wiltshire

In addition to the cast of rogues identified by Anthony Seldon, I would like to add one more: namely, the British public. In recent decades we have ignorantly and meekly accepted levels of inequality and poverty not seen since the interwar period and voted for parties that either fail to tackle them or make them worse. We have been complicit in laying the crumbling material foundations for the chaos and division we now experience. We want a Scandinavian or European social settlement but only want to pay US levels of tax, and so we are left, standing and staring in a dumb trance, wondering why things are falling apart.

Bill Kerry
West Wickham, Kent

Making peace

The fury of Martin Fletcher’s invective (“The humbling of Britain”, 29 March) was enjoyable, yet what strikes me is that even now the Leavers’ chief complaints have not been addressed. If Brexit is to end with a second referendum and a Remain victory, our divided country can only be brought together if they are.

The primary complaint was the rate of, and control over, immigration. Has there been any analysis of what measures are already available to countries within the EU? We now learn that Germany requires immigrants to register; Belgium makes employment a mandatory requirement. What could the UK do within the parameters of free movement?

The second complaint was loss of sovereignty. While being part of the EU trading bloc may not, to many of us, represent any such significant loss, is it not valid to discuss other blows to national pride and what might be done about them, such as foreign ownership of public utilities, of many of our leading football clubs, of London housing stock, of the British car industry?

If the Brexit vote was symptomatic of legitimate concerns, let us acknowledge and explore them.

Tim Pears

One of the many advantages of living in this wonderful country is that one can subscribe to a journal that agrees with one’s own jaundiced view of life. However, that can be a trap, as one reads only what one agrees with, and mixes, through the media, only with likeminded people.

In my case, one who voted Leave, I read the New Statesman to understand the Remain philosophy and gain respect for the views of my countrymen who rather like the idea of the European Union. I suspect there are many like me, so it is unfortunate that the New Statesman does not realise that not all its subscribers believe remaining in the EU is a good thing. We are a nation that understands the value of good manners, mixed with good humour, a sense of irony and tolerance. All of which was lacking in last week’s New Statesman, especially in Martin Fletcher’s article.

DJ Balderston
Via email

A feminised issue

What a joy it was to read Katharine Viner’s letter highlighting the achievements during her tenure as editor-in-chief. At a time when our politicians appear to be collectively incapable of making any progress on a single topic, it was enriching to hear from someone who has made a material difference on many.

Given the paucity of capability and credibility across the two main parties, this results in a very obvious conclusion: Katharine Viner should start her own party.

Andy Leslie
Horsham, West Sussex

Male menace

As a member of this magazine’s “substantial male readership”, I do not need Miles Salter to speak for me while providing a tin-eared reading of Kim Moore’s ferocious, challenging and humane poem “I Let A Man” (Correspondence, 29 March). Miles may feel under threat from the feminist menace under his bed but I resent his crass attempt to co-opt other men into this odd fantasy.

Michael Conley

Your correspondent thinks that Kim Moore’s poem “I Let a Man” (The Critics, 15 March) could lead to the “annihilation of men”. As a man, I can only guess what it’s like for women everywhere to have to put up with everyday casual sexism, outright misogyny and of course, sexual violence, all perpetrated by men. Also, as a (very) amateur poet, I thought it was a brilliant poem, and certainly made me think.

Max Fishel
Bromley, Greater London

Error in judgement

I read your interview with Tasnime Akunjee, Shamima Begum’s solicitor (Observations, 29 March), and wanted to drop you a line reflecting what I imagine is a fairly standard Jewish response. Sadly, you moved on from the most interesting idea (why are young British Muslims leaving to join Islamic State?) to quoting his hugely offensive comparison to Israel without any challenge. You often get it right on sensitive issues, but I think you got it wrong on this occasion. His comparison was grotesque and I hope readers recognise that he condemns himself by making it.

Ben Overlander
Via email

Platform pranks

Bishop’s Stortford station continues to attract attention, and rightly so in my view (Editor’s Note, 29 March). A branch line formerly ran from Bishop’s Stortford to the estate of the Labour-supporting Countess of Warwick at Easton Lodge in Essex. One weekend in the 1920s she hosted a gathering that included HG Wells, AA Milne, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Laski, who were all travelling down from London together.

With his moustache and glasses, Laski much resembled Chaplin. Being forewarned of the crowds gathered at Bishop’s Stortford station to catch sight of “the Tramp”, HG Wells persuaded Laski to alight from the carriage first and pretend that he was the great film star, giving the rest of the party plenty of time to catch their onward connection.

Ben Cowell
Newport, Essex

Rejoin the club

I’m a retired university lecturer and once upon a time was a subscriber to the New Statesman. I have started reading it again more regularly after a good friend recommended an article about free speech. It’s good to see someone is doing something right in our woefully partisan and rather anti-intellectual media climate.

Brian McCallion
Via email

Digging up dirt

I am afraid Keith Flett (Correspondence, 29 March) is no gardener. Jeremy Corbyn’s status as an allotment-holder, far from suggesting a commitment to grass-roots politics, signals the opposite. As any sod-turner knows, grass roots are the last thing we want on our allotments. Like all weeds, they must be uprooted ruthlessly and discarded. Maybe an alternative metaphor lurks there.

Michael Leapman
London SW8

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This article appears in the 03 Apr 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit wreckers

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