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9 December 2020

Letter of the week: The sovereignty sham

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

Philip Collins writes that “sovereignty-obsessives” are “the sponsors of Brexit” (The Public Square, 4 December). One day after 1 January 2021, once we have left a trading partnership with the EU, they will wake up and look around.

Hoping to find a free, unfettered England, they will see that Royal Mail is part-owned by the German government, the French government is the majority shareholder in the company that owns EDF Energy, the Dutch and Italian governments own companies that run UK rail franchises, China holds stakes in our nuclear power industry. Sixteen of 20 Premiership football clubs are partly or wholly foreign-owned (not to mention 15 of 24 Championship clubs), Morgan cars are owned by Italians, Rolls Royce, Bentley and Mini by Germans, Jaguar and Land Rover by Indians, Leyland by Americans, Lotus by Chinese.

Eventually the Brexiteers will realise that they’ve wasted the past ten years barking up the wrong tree.
Tim Pears


Rights and wrongs

Thank goodness for a periodical that, in a world of trivia, continues to offer discussion that is as intellectually and morally serious as John Gray’s review of What’s Wrong with Rights? by Nigel Biggar (The Critics, 27 November). Gray argues against moral realism on the grounds that many of the values we think of as universal (such as the absolute value of human life, rational inquiry and toleration) were the product of post-Reformation Europe. They reflect a liberal way of life that has been crucial in the postwar world, but they are not absolute.

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The alternative view is that there are such values, but their enactment in law and politics will vary with historical circumstances. One example is the equal worth of every human being. This was explicit in the early Christian community, but it took centuries to be realised in political form, with the abolition of slavery. We still await its proper realisation in economic terms. Behind the impetus to legislate for human rights in relation to different issues today, there still lies a moral imperative about the value of human beings.
Richard Harries
House of Lords


The reach of Rome

Jason Cowley reports on James Hawes’s view of the Norman Conquest, and that the “English believe that their elites are a treacherous class” (Observations, 4 December).

Recently, I had a discussion about this with a friend. His opinion, reinforced by close contacts in the Conservative establishment, was that the English ruling classes see themselves as descendants of the Romans. In his view, Eton still has an underlying Protestant Anglican belief that the Romans were ancestors of respectable Englishmen rather than modern “greasy Italians”.

It seems to be a good explanation both of English exceptionalism and why the Tory party sees itself as the natural party of government.
Robert Campbell
Dungannon, County Tyrone


I agree with Jason Cowley that the English north-south divide can be traced back as far as the harrying of the north unleashed after the Norman Conquest. Perhaps, however, the long shadow is cast by even earlier events. A map tracing the distribution of English counties thrown into tier three early in December bears uncanny resemblances to that of the ninth-century Danelaw.
Austen Lynch,
Garstang, Lancashire


Beware the “-ism”

I enjoyed Mark Rowlands’ review of John Gray’s Feline Philosophy (The Critics, 20 November). But I was a little concerned at his attempt to put Gray’s whole philosophy into the box of “anti-directionalism”. To me, labelling someone’s ideas with an “-ism” can be damaging: if your name is on a box, it is instinctual to sit in it.
Andrew Wiseman


Jazz handbags

I have known Richard Williams (Correspondence, 4 December) since September 1976 when we met in a gloomy tavern behind King’s Cross. Since then we have broken bread, and occasionally crossed swords, over more agreeable tables. So it was no surprise that he responded to my article on jazz (The Critics, 27 November) with a well-rehearsed barb or two. Our failure to find common ground matters little. Opinions, as Brian Clough liked to say, “make the world go round”.

However, he treads on thin ice when he dubs Philip Larkin a “terrible” critic. It is true Larkin withdrew his consent from the list of approved performers. Yet he also wrote the tenderest tribute anybody has offered a jazz musician, “For Sidney Bechet”.

For all my love of Larkin, in this case his enthusiasm did not fire mine. Other enthusiasts laid the foundation, one of whom was Richard Williams. Nevertheless, exposed as a heretic, and wearing a face longer than a Coltrane solo, I must retire to the doghouse.
Michael Henderson
London W13


I’d like to add two comments to Richard Williams’s and David Hunter’s excellent demolitions of Michael Henderson’s article. One, he is wrong about jazz being unable to reach the heights of classical music – the converse is true. As Richard Church points out in The Other Classical Musics, Western classical music is unique among global music in perpetuating and reverencing a vocabulary without improvisation. Two, most of the young musicians I meet at National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) revere John Coltrane alongside the other giants of the jazz pantheon. If Henderson can’t understand late Coltrane, he should worry about his own lack of comprehension rather than dissing the artist. If the young Bach, Mozart or Beethoven were alive today, they’d be in NYJO and not in a Western classical ensemble that insisted they play only the written dots.
Nigel Tully
Executive Chair, National Youth Jazz Orchestra


As a 60-year-long lover of classical music and jazz, and as a cricket fan, I enjoyed reading about Michael Henderson’s conversion to jazz. His caveat that “jazz might never match the sublimities of truly great classical music” reminded me of the assessment of the late Max Harrison, whose 1986 New Grove book on gospel, blues and jazz described it “as a peripheral culture, one characterised negatively by its backwardness to more advanced musical idioms elsewhere and positively by its rich variety of styles and dialects”. It was jazz’s rich and varied expression that captivated me.
Michael Somerton


Comrade Hitler

Richard J Evans (“What the Hitler conspiracies mean”, 4 December) does not mention an early example in which the defeated Führer vanished to the Soviet Union rather than to Argentina, which was proposed by the journalist Douglas Reed in his 1948 book From Smoke to Smother.

Reed was an “anti-Nazi anti-Semite”. He had resigned as a correspondent at the Times to publish his polemic Insanity Fair (1938), with its eyewitness account of the Anschluss. But by 1943, he had become one of the earliest Holocaust deniers. In Reed’s view, Lenin and Hitler were key exponents, both trained by the same forces, of nihilism and depopulation. He suggested Hitler had been spirited away by protectors “behind the dark curtain” of the Soviet regime.
Philip Conford
Collingham, Nottinghamshire


Serving Scotland

Chris Deerin’s latest online article (“Can anything halt the SNP’s advance towards Scottish independence?”, 3 December) suggests the SNP is doing something wrong by trying to obtain independence for Scotland. Why shouldn’t it? It is the Scottish National Party. Nicola Sturgeon is the most successful politician in the UK: she is visible and available to her party and country. Scotland’s coronavirus needs are not being heard. It voted against Brexit but again wasn’t listened to. Face the fact that the UK is not doing a good job for anyone.
David Murphy
Via email


Beyond belief

I enjoyed Louise Perry on the post-religion societal ideology vacuum (Another Voice, 4 December), but I disagree with her logic. She has noticed the fervour around new-age health online, but mistakenly assumed members of this “new religion” are atheists. Religion has not been taken away. We are seeing a generational “remodelling” of a hard-wired theistic belief system: evidence that, as Christopher Hitchens argued, “religion poisons everything”.
Jet Khasriya
London W5


Weak and worthy

Colin Cubie (Correspondence, 4 December) asks why God did not act to prevent Covid-19 deaths. It is an important question that theologians have wrestled with over centuries. The Christian God is not one with the power to intervene, but rather one of vulnerability. A weak and powerless God, as evidenced in the passion and crucifixion, is one more worthy of worship than one who could, but chooses not to, intervene.
Rev Canon David Jennings
Market Bosworth, Leicestershire


All work, no play

In Nicholas Lezard’s paean to favourite pub memories (Down and Out, 4 December), I particularly related to his observation that there are few more “poignant and haunting sights” than “a school building with its lights shining out into the murk” at this time of year.

Spare a thought for the poor souls like me working in them, who, owing to the tier three nature of our environs, can’t even escape after a long day for a pint in a warm local hostelry.
Ian Sharpe
Via email


One of the greats

Carmen Callil says she would like Winifred Nicholson to paint her portrait (Q&A, 4 December). I too have long admired Nicholson’s hazy coastlines and soft colours. If Michael Prodger’s landscape series continues in 2021, I’d love to read his insights on her work.
Alison Smith


All in the timing

I’m glad Alan Rusbridger (Diary, 4 December) added “or something like that” for comic effect. Otherwise, I’d have concluded he didn’t know a T34 was a Russian tank and not a German one.
David W Brown


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