I thought I’d write in to let Kim Darroch know that, as an actor struggling to find work, I am available to record the audiobook version of his new title for a reduced fee (Diary, 11 September). Voiceovers, audiobooks and narrations have long been competitive. Not only do we have to contend with the already-famous hogging the best gigs (Stephen Fry’s take on Harry Potter, wonderful as it was, only added to his wealth and profile), but now it seems authors are hell-bent on recording their own narration. This takes away income and entry-level posts. Most actors have paid thousands for their training and spent hundreds more on voice reels, only to be ignored while James Corden gets another series of adverts. Authors such as Darroch, struggling to narrate their own works, also take away a rare work-from-home route available to actors. I implore writers to consider whether they might outsource this difficult job. Otherwise, commentators questioning why there are increasingly few working-class voices in the arts sound, at best, platitudinous.
A great debate
I was pleased to see Jeremy Cliffe writing about his debate with Michel Rocard, the former French socialist prime minister – who “loved Britain as a country” but believed “the EU would be better off without” us – as a Remainer in Paris two months before the EU referendum (World View, 11 September). I, too, took part in a debate with Michel Rocard on 12 April 2016 in Paris during the referendum campaign, under the auspices of the European Movement. Michel and I had been close friends since 1966 and we always held different views on federalism. Yet we agreed the EU was essentially a federal project and the British, unlike the French, would never be content in such a political arrangement.
Ever the optimist, I presented a paper to the Labour cabinet in 1977 arguing for a confederal Europe. I was still arguing for it in Paris in 2013, based on my book Europe Restructured. Michel arranged for me to talk to his friend Emmanuel Macron, then a rising star. Within minutes on the telephone, it became clear that Macron was as committed a federalist as Rocard.
House of Lords
Stroke of genius
Carla Powell’s appreciation of Brent Scowcroft (Observations, 4 September) captured exactly the qualities I admired in him when we served together on Kofi Annan’s UN reform panel in 2003-04. Not only was he an unfailing source of on-the-ball criticism – the 2003 invasion of Iraq being dismissed as an “aberration” – but he provided that combination of wisdom and experience that was the mark of a great public servant. The US has not often been the source of valuable backing for the UN, but Annan’s choosing Brent to serve on that panel proved to be a stroke of genius.
House of Lords
Bright sparks fly
I was sorry Daniel Shaw and Simon Scarrow were inflamed by my letter about predicted grades (Correspondence, 11 September). In the trade, over-predicted grades are called “aspirational”. Over-marking coursework is “doing the best for students”. Teachers believe they’re doing the right thing.
The head of a local secondary academy trust wryly told me last week that this year was their best ever (once the algorithm was dispensed with). Perhaps by some amazing coincidence they have the brightest students for a century.
Guy de la Bédoyère
Sanjana Varghese’s fine and somewhat frightening article on facial recognition (Observations, 11 September) fails to recognise the element opposing it right now, and one of the few positives to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s face it: with populations donning face masks, surely the technology is screwed.
Hampton, Greater London
While I agree with your correspondents’ objections to Helen Thompson’s plea for workers to return to the office (Correspondence, 4 and 11 September), I can’t help but feel it’s an academic debate. Many office workers are not going to return to their pre-lockdown work patterns. Millions of employees have discovered they can work from home and save the time, cost and stress of commuting. Employers have found productivity is not significantly diminished and it saves them on office costs.
Instead of trying to cajole people into doing something they’re not going to do, we should accept the Monday to Friday nine-to-five is dead. While this is bad news for city-centre businesses, it might achieve what governments have been failing to do for decades: revive the high street.
There is one challenge already to Starmer’s Labour Party (Cover Story, 11 September) that will reveal where it stands morally. Will the party publicly oppose the extradition of Julian Assange to the US under all circumstances? It is its moral duty to do so.
Mark Cocker’s article (The Critics, 4 September) is a reminder of the imbalance of land ownership in the UK. However, it is an English perspective; there are different attitudes and issues in Scotland. Here, we have far better access rights across most of our land. But the clearances are a vivid part of how the land is seen in Scotland: as something stolen by the aristocracy for its own uses. Land in the countryside is an asset that grows in value without the owner having to do anything and with no responsibility to the environment or local communities. Land should be the basis for ecologically vibrant communities, rather than a place to visit or for toffs to shoot things, and reform is necessary if we want to adapt to climate change and rebuild rural economies.
I sympathise with Kim Darroch (Diary, 11 September). I, too, have been having trouble with narration. Unable to see my London-based grandchildren during the pandemic, I have been reading to them via Zoom while their parents work from home. At times I have lost my voice, rushed or stumbled over words, and certainly lost my concentration as Jack climbed down the beanstalk once again.
Mrs Chris Mcilwaine
Holmes Chapel, Cheshire
Like Kim Darroch, I have inexplicable difficulty in saying the word “statistics”. I learned to take a breath before I said it: “And if you consider the” – deep breath – “statistics”. Try it, Kim. The sentence may come out a bit odd sounding, but not the word (deep breath) “statistics”.
I was so moved by the honest story of failure in Emily Bootle’s article (“My failed music career”, 4 September). I am an Open University graduate and published poet, but have never known what to do in life and have only ever held basic jobs. Multiple attempts to “become” something or other all failed. Some faded away, others were car crashes. I don’t believe in empty “credentialism”, as Peter Wilby has put it, and which David Graeber criticises in The Utopia Of Rules. That has nothing to do with the wonderful experience of coming alive as we learn something that qualifies us to go forward into life, where there are no grades, no exams – no auditions.
Raise the bar
I note from Kevin Maguire (Commons Confidential, 11 September) that defeated Lib Dem leadership candidate Layla Moran was mistakenly informed she was within 200 votes of the winner, Ed Davey, not the 18,192 that transpired. I think I have an explanation. She must have been shown the result in the format of a Lib Dem campaign bar chart.
Johnson and Jonson
Even by the New Statesman’s high standards, George Walden’s article (“Populists in power”, 11 September) on how we got to our present (and depressingly parlous) populist moment was brilliant and even-handed –sparing neither Tony Blair nor Boris Johnson. If only the Tories could still call upon politicians like Walden.
Walden compares Johnson and Cummings to Volpone and Mosca. Let Johnson beware – in Ben Jonson’s play, Mosca tries to steal Volpone’s fortune and take his place.
The past four years have been depressing for me due to Brexit and Toryism. Boris Johnson and Covid have pushed me over the edge, culminating in my partner of 23 years dumping me and going to live with an old friend in Belgium. But the interview with Owen Jones (Observations, 11 September) almost cheered me up. I just wished he were 30 years older and single. The New Statesman may well prove to be the tonic I need… as well as the gin!
It was very noble of Owen Jones to wander down from Mount Athos to tell us where we mortals are going wrong. But he won’t persuade many of the million or so Red Wall voters to return to the Labour fold so long as he refers to nappies as “diapers”. And he’s from Stockport, tha knos!
Don’t judge a book
If Nicholas Lezard would like a reason to visit Harpenden, I’ll give him one (Down and Out, 11 September). The Oxfam Books & Music shop is one of the best in the country. With its literature loyalty scheme, excellent black culture section and collection of vintage Penguins, it may be even better than nearby St Albans. Among the purchases I made on my recent visit was a copy of Stefan Zweig’s Selected Stories with a cover quote from none other than Nicholas Lezard himself.
We reserve the right to edit letters.