Helen Thompson glides over the reasons why Tony Blair offered a referendum in 2004 on the EU constitutional treaty (These Times, 20 September). Blair resisted referendum fever when many ministers, including Jack Straw, collapsed into the plebiscite camp. But the key decision was that of the Lib Dems. They announced they would back the Tories and vote for a referendum on the proposed treaty. In coalition the Lib Dems had a chance to block David Cameron’s foolish pledge but preferred to hang on to their red boxes to the bitter end.
Now, Jo Swinson is breaking the common front of opposition to Boris Johnson’s reckless policy and sitting with her offer of revocation. Not for the first time, pro-European forces in Britain are incapable of uniting. Johnson, Farage and Murdoch are smiling all the way to Brexit.
Freud’s free pass
In Leo Robson’s review of Susan Sontag’s biography (The Critics, 20 September), we are confronted by Sontag’s flaws. Her seeming failure to rise above her personal issues or utilise her emotional pain more deeply in her work are deemed to undermine her value as a writer, her work depicted as “a product of her character”.
A few pages later, we read of a “bad boy” of British art, Lucian Freud, who is – by the account given – a sexual offender with countless abandoned children. Despite admission that there is a misogynist angle to his painting, the work’s value is not questioned. “Glorious, buttery slabs” of paint can apparently be appreciated for themselves no matter the character flaws.
Sandwiched between the two is a review of Rebecca Solnit’s Whose Story is This?: “Powerful or talented white men are honoured and protected, whatever their private actions, while those they harm too often remain marginalised.” I wonder whether, if women had written both biographies, the value of Freud’s painting would have survived the character assassination and if Sontag’s writing would have been so demeaned by her personality.
In his article (“Why even atheists think like Christians”, 6 September), Tom Holland outlined the thesis of his book Dominion: Christianity paved the way for secularism, liberalism and even socialism. Soon after John Gray gave it an approving review (The Critics, 20 September). Would it not have been better to commission a more critical analysis? It might have pointed out that the spirit of free inquiry, an essential feature of liberalism, is a product of ancient Greek thinkers, while altruism dominates the writings of Lao Tzu and the Buddha.
After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, there were a thousand years in which equality and rights were denied to anyone who did not accept the official Church. Christianity was the enemy of freedom of thought.Contrary to Gray’s assertions, it is liberal humanism that is a bulwark of secular values against biblical fundamentalism and reactionary politics.
Editor, Irish Freethinker
Down and not out
Having read that Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 6 September) had taken to his bed, I was pleased to see him up and about at Lord’s (Down and Out, 20 September) where I too was shirking a day’s work. I waved my copy of the New Statesman at him as he entered the cheap seats. He also had a copy of the NS in his pocket
and waved back.
Perhaps you could introduce a Lobby Lud-style competition where, when readers spot an NS contributor with a copy about them, they claim a prize. In Lezard’s case, I’m sure this would be a glass of wine (Down and Out, most weeks).
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