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7 November 2019

Letter of the week: Scotland’s tough choice

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

I live beside the English border, so I understand JP Lethbridge’s warnings about a hard frontier (Correspondence, 25 October). That was one of the reasons for supporting the “better together” campaign in 2014. The risk that independence would exclude Scotland from the EU was another consideration.

Most Scots are happy to share our sovereignty with fellow Brits and Europeans, but Brexit is leading to an unpalatable choice between the SNP’s “independence in Europe” and the strident English nationalism of Johnson and Farage. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against the erection of frontiers. It is our misfortune that the UK government is claiming a mandate from just 37.4 per cent of the electorate (the 17.4 million) to dismantle precious partnerships and to reimpose costly and dangerous frontiers.

I have always voted Labour and I will never be a nationalist, but a Scotland with European aspirations might be less unattractive than Brexit isolation – should I consider tactical voting in this Tory-held constituency?

John Home Robertson (former Labour MP and MSP)
Paxton, Scottish Borders

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The Corbyn myth

Stephen Bush (Politics, 1 November), in common with most political writers, perpetuates the myth that Labour did astonishingly well at the 2017 general election because of the Corbyn effect, when the truth is that but for Jeremy Corbyn we would have won by a street. Given seven years of austerity, a chronically bungling government and a feeble prime minister it should have been a walkover. Could even the most rabidly hardened leftie imagine that Tony Blair would have lost that election, Iraq War or not? I’m sure that to many thousands of first-time voters Corbyn may have appeared like a Messiah out of the mist, but to many older voters he did not. To adapt Disraeli, where Ed Miliband was a misfortune, Corbyn was a catastrophe.

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I’ve been preaching against Corbyn for years, since before it was fashionable, but when a polite young man phoned to remind me that I hadn’t renewed my subscription to the party, I was faced with a choice I had avoided for too long. I told him I would do so enthusiastically when Corbyn and his ilk no longer led it.

But that doesn’t excuse me and others from examining, in a way that wasn’t done in 2017, exactly what Labour’s policies will mean. When Corbyn says he will go after the “big polluters” does he mean coal-burning India, America, China and the Asian and African nations whose rivers contribute 90 per cent of the plastic in the oceans? Ask a silly question…

I’m in favour of renationalising the railways, the mail and water, but only in order to achieve cheaper fares; cheaper and more frequent deliveries; and cheaper water more efficiently distributed, not for entrenching Luddite train drivers or changing the logo on distributing vehicles. New policies are essential if the state is to resume ownership, not just a change of name.

Mr Corbyn says that “on the first day in office” Labour will purchase the homes to house the homeless, which misunderstands and will not solve the problem. Even he must know that it is physically, legislatively and financially impossible, a promise for the naive and gullible. Forget Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Hamas and Palestine and the party’s institutional anti-Semitism if you will at your peril, but the airy promises about the NHS, housing, tax and benefits and the environment are what should come under scrutiny over the next few weeks, not wonderment at what the next “Corbyn miracle” will be. 

Joe Haines
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Can I be the 94th person to point out to Stephen Bush that “I’m doomed” is, if anything, not Monty Python but Dad’s Army.

Tim Eveleigh
Croydon, Greater London

Evolution’s engine

Hettie O’Brien’s interview with Naomi Klein (Observations, 1 November) suggests that mainstream environmentalists are elite, too focused on wilderness areas and are “apathetic to the reality that environmental harms are distributed along poverty and race lines”. Environmental harms are distributed much more dramatically along species lines. Insects, to give just one example, are in catastrophic decline worldwide. In Europe populations have collapsed by 50 per cent in just a decade, with consequences that are being felt right up the food chain, as far as us.

Wildernesses are one buffer against this impoverishment. They aren’t parks for some so-called elite. They aren’t even about “us”. They’re gene pools, engines of evolution, refuges for the diversity of life against extinction, and as such should be fiercely defended for both ethical reasons and for the part they play in holding our living infrastructure intact.

Richard Mabey
Diss, Norfolk

Faversham (redux)

I read with interest Tim Jennings’s letter, in response to Nicholas Lezard’s column about staying in Faversham (Down and Out, 18 October). Mr Jennings, evidently a long-time resident, defends his town admirably, but from what? He assumes the writer was here for “a couple of hours on a quiet day”; wrong. He hits back at the charge of “boredom” citing three markets a week, a theatre, and concerts a newcomer can’t possibly know about – certainly not within a week or two.

In the interests of transparency, I am the person whose flat Nicholas Lezard was staying in and whose budgie he was minding. I arrived in Faversham a year ago as a refugee, having lost my long-time home in London due to the new number one cause of homelessness: private renting. Like my friend Nick (who stayed in my old flat a couple of times after he lost his Hovel) I spent months sofa-surfing and dog-sitting, living out of a suitcase. Eventually, friends offered me a temporary berth in their empty cottage in Faversham; six months later, miraculously, I managed to rent a small flat. I’m now learning how to live in Faversham, as opposed to just staying here, while I attempt to relaunch my rather tenuous freelance career (or get a job, whichever comes first).

Tim Jennings cites activities and amenities that are great for people who already live in this lovely small market town. But I can report that Nick’s description of “mooching around the charity shops and going to the pub” is pretty much spot on for a newcomer with no car (who needs one in London or Brighton?), no budget for going to the local restaurants, and no local friends. I spent months doing this (and assiduously chatting to shopkeepers, café staff, etc). This town is indeed full of very interesting people, and those people are indeed doing fun things. But to a displaced person born and bred in a large city, a small town where the shops close at 4.30pm – where one has nobody and everyone in the pub already knows each other – can feel pretty desolate.

There is a huge difference between living in a place and being displaced there. If Mr Jennings had bothered to read any other numbers of “Down and Out” columns, he’d have known the context of Nick’s description of Faversham.

I love this town; I am making a go of it; and after a year, I’m finally beginning to feel like I have a couple of friends (and the endemic distrust of London is one reason it’s taken so long). I’m writing a book about hidden homelessness and displacement, and one reason I’m behind deadline is that I wanted to do justice to the complex nature of my impressions of Faversham. Mr Jennings’s response to Nicholas Lezard’s column illustrates why.

Katy Evans-Bush
Faversham, Kent

Distress signals

Chris Cowles wonders whether Britain is the only country whose citizens don’t know which way round their national flag flies (Correspondence, 25 October).

A ship flying its flag of nationality upside down is signalling that the vessel is in great distress and needs immediate help. In the title sequence of the US version of House of Cards the Stars and Stripes flies upside down to underline the gravity of the storyline. Perhaps (anti-)Brexit demonstrators in the know are flying the Union Jack on its head to underline the gravity of Johnsonian policies in the House of Cads.

Michael de Laine
Præstø, Denmark

The Union Jack is a complicated design compared to most, but as Boy Scouts we learned that flying it upside down was a sign of distress that the enemy would not understand and so act as a warning to approaching relief troops.

Hugh Tunks

Yorkshire-isms 2

Sean Burnside (Correspondence, 25 October) reminds me that the word relating to providing a lift on a bicycle was “croggie” in my Hull council estate childhood. Incidentally, our word for “snicket” or “ginnel” was “ten-foot”. I have no idea why.

Jeff Halden
Guiseley, Leeds

Baggy trousers

I am writing this while swathed in my vast dun-coloured cardigan and huge baggy trousers. Thank you Amelia Tait (Out of the Ordinary, 25 October) for highlighting once again the plight of all librarians, doomed to languish forever in lumpy, shapeless garments.

How I wish I could break out of this boring old stereotype and wear other clothes – in fact I have heard rumours that people who work in libraries do in fact wear all sorts of different outfits, some of them quite tight-fitting. I have even heard tell of some librarians who wear miniskirts! Can it be true?

Come on Amelia, it’s a boring old stereotype that librarians dress like this and it’s part of the internalised misogyny you mentioned at the start of your column.

Emily Burgoyne
Via email

Search engine

I am pretty much an internet Luddite, but I do find Google useful, and recently used it to buy an exact replacement second-hand car for my wife after hers had been written off by being crashed into while parked outside our house. The problem is that the company whose website I used to do so keeps appearing on my screen whenever I use Google for anything else. In other words they have been internet spying on me. Worrying.

Lord (David) Steel,
Selkirk, Scotland

We reserve the right to edit letters

This article appears in the 06 Nov 2019 issue of the New Statesman, What went wrong