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13 November 2019

Letter of the Week: At cross purposes

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

A subscription to the New Statesman is a passport to a superior sensory experience: the smell of the printed page released from its wrapper; the touch of pages; the visual layout of each. So often your illustrations are brilliantly chosen and enhance the reading experience. But it was a shame that you chose the image of a crucifix to go with Pippa Bailey’s moving memories of her Brethren grandpa (Personal Story, 8 November). I understand that a crucified Christ looks appropriate for an article about a kind of Christianity, but an ultra-Protestant, world-denying Exclusive Brethren would have had little affinity with a cross with Jesus on it – possibly even a cross at all.

This is not pedantry but an appeal for a bit more faith literacy; a note not to lump extremes of religious traditions together, or assume equivalence across diverse cultures. I value the NS for its willingness to write about religious factors in the modern world with sensitivity and intelligence. It would be great if the same nuance of judgement could be brought to illustrations of faith, too.

Philip Lockle

Cost the earth

Hettie O’Brien’s article “Secrets of the Shore” (1 November) touched on a pressing issue that we have been wrestling with in coastal engineering for years.

Coast defence is divided between coast protection (dealing with coastal erosion) and sea defence (dealing with coastal flooding). The former is tackled by local authorities (LAs) and the latter by the Environment Agency – local authorities are not legally obliged to deal with it. But LAs that do get involved find themselves struggling with central government in order to secure the money to manage or prevent erosion. The Environment Agency provides funding.

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That process involves allocating a grant to the most deserving schemes via an approval process that can take decades. The approval hangs largely on whether the value of what you are defending exceeds the cost of defending it. Many schemes fail to meet that criterion. The East Anglian coast is a good example.

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At present, if your house is affected by coastal erosion and your part of the coast fails to meet the Environment Agency’s criteria, it is likely your local council will put a closing order on the property as it becomes unsafe to occupy. A demolition order will probably follow, the cost of which might be aided by a small grant. You will then be homeless.

As O’Brien points out, climate change means more contaminated land, so this issue is likely to affect more people. The government needs to address this quickly by streamlining the grant application process and providing more money to help people deal with the effects of climate change. Other European countries have put a charge on household insurance policies to establish a pot of money. Perhaps that approach might be appropriate in this country; perhaps that is too much to hope for.

Martin Eade
Saltdean, East Sussex

The Corbyn catch

Joe Haines (Correspondence, 8 November) argues that Labour would have won the 2017 election “by a street” if it weren’t for Jeremy Corbyn.

He might well be right about the election. But without Corbynism we would be wallowing in a party political struggle for dominance. It offers the prospect of a democracy that, historically, we have yet to realise. Democracy should not be a shouting match conducted by elites across a hall designed to exacerbate differences. It should not be a primal struggle for power. Corbyn is trapped in a war in which leadership is all. Yet power for Corbyn’s party would draw us closer to the goal of a real democracy that would yield equality.

David Clarke
Witney, Oxfordshire

Joe Haines’s letter exemplifies all that is wrong with much political discussion: he does not take both sides into account. It is churlish not to recognise the significance of Labour winning 40 per cent of the vote in 2017, and depriving the Conservatives of a majority.

Michael Moore
Loughton, Essex

Joe Haines is correct that, but for Corbyn, Labour would have “won by a street” in 2017 – but the only reason the election was called was that Corbyn was the leader. Which is why the Tories have called another one in December.

Stephen Lee
Thirsk, North Yorkshire

I note that Joe Haines has let lapse his membership of the Labour Party. Perhaps it’s time I rejoined it.

Keith Flett
London N17

In living memory

I always look forward to an article by John Gray, and dived into his review of Dominic Sandbrook’s Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979-1982 (Books, 8 November). I’m sure Gray’s analysis – that Thatcher benefited from underestimation by the opposition – is spot on. The opposition also underestimated electors in general and misread their wishes. My memory, however, prompts me to offer two observations.

First, I recall vividly the reporting of opinion polls just before the Falklands fiasco showing her to be the most unpopular prime minister since records began. Then, following the victory in the South Atlantic, she won the 1983 election by a landslide.

Second, John refers to “the radical left” as the people the SDP’s gang of four feared. They were for me the first inkling of the nastiness we’ve become used to in our current political life. It was individuals of this ilk who made it impossible for the Labour leaders to pursue an anti-Thatcher policy that also satisfied electors’ concerns for and pride in our armed forces.

I have, of course, ordered my copy of Sandbrook’s book.

Ed Baines
Scarborough, North Yorkshire

John Gray’s reviews are always compulsory reading, but his review of Who Dares Wins by Dominic Sandbrook was a particular treat. It is clear that there is much to be gained by re-examining those decisive years of Thatcher’s reign, especially given the unhelpful mythology that has been created about the period by both right and left.

It will always be a daunting task to rethink Thatcher in a more positive light. Ultimately, however, what the left craves perhaps more than anything is a Thatcher of its own, with the leadership, luck and electoral success that she embodies.

Richard Bissett

It’s a pity John Gray didn’t look into the late Roy Jenkins’s background before condemning him as a “portly patrician figure” and an example of “high-minded middle-class dissent”. If he had done his homework he would have known that Jenkins’s father, Arthur, was a miner, NUM official and a Labour MP, and his maternal grandfather a foreman in a steelworks.

Richard Tagart
Haywards Heath, West Sussex

I spy…

Ryan Gilbey complains in his review of Joker (“No laughing matter”, 4 October) that the film gives us “no glimpses of the super-rats which we are told have been running amok in Gotham City”. Gilbey’s eyes must have glazed over when he arrived at the scene in which Bruce Wayne’s parents are mugged and murdered. Having seen this, shot for shot, in every other Batman movie, and bored to tears at the prospect of seeing it again, my eyes were beginning to acquire a glass of their own ­– when they were caught by a giant rodent parading in the background.

Rodney Ulyate
Roodepoort, South Africa

Throwing punches

I was pleased to see Gavin Jacobson’s article about the Spectator (Observations, 8 November). I read and enjoy both magazines for an insight into both ends of the political spectrum; both contain writers of great verve.

But Jacobson’s somewhat overheated comminations against the denizens of Old Queen Street show they have got under his skin. And to say it’s the left who command the intellectual high ground, while the right have no thinkers of note, is wrong. One of the things that made me change my views on the left was its lack of intellectual weight. In my view, the left stopped thinking sometime in the mid-1970s and have yet to start again.

Allan Pond
Whitley Bay, Northumberland

If the contemporary Spectator is as deplorable as Gavin Jacobson claims, why does he support the careers of controversialists by reading it so diligently? His shock at Rod Liddle’s latest tirade seems the same brand of confected outrage he finds so intolerable. Those of us who loyally read both the Speccie and the Staggers are accustomed to occasional shots across the lines, but these are grist to the mill rather than interventions in our culture wars. More than anything, they remind me of playground fisticuffs: DC versus Marvel, or – closer to home – Whizzer and Chips or the Beano. Kapow!

Mark Hardy

Lezard linguistics

Wherever Nicholas Lezard ends up having moved on from Faversham, his new neighbours can sleep easy knowing that he is, indeed, “a peaceable chap” (Down and Out, 8 November). Despite his new-found enthusiasm for Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Lezard is clearly unaware that there is no such thing as “a rabbit punch to the solar plexus”. It’s a blow to the back of the neck.

Peter Barnes
Milton Keynes

So Nicholas Lezard has dropped his high standards by inserting a meaningless “so” at the beginning of his column. So he should be asked to stop this. So that would remove this minor irritation for your readers.

James Gourley
Faversham, Kent

Yorkshire-isms 3

It’s not only tykes who have strange dialect words for alleyways (Correspondence, 8 November). Here in Sussex we walk down “twittens”.

Tim Rose
Hove, East Sussex

I live three miles down the road from Jeff Halden and am aware of the East Yorkshire term “ten-foot” (Correspondence). The reason for it is simple. They are ten feet wide, just allowing two cars to edge past each other slowly. Presumably this was a generous width compared to the alleyways that came before, and so they deserved a new coinage.

Chris Wright
Otley, West Yorkshire

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