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30 June 2021

Letter of the week: The woke working class

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

Louise Perry correctly notes that some who are “woke” are also poor, but has fallen into a pernicious trend of history (Out of the Ordinary, 25 June). The 1967 partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, London’s first Pride in 1972 and the efforts to reverse Section 28 were all claimed to be the preoccupation of a middle class out of touch with the workers. But be they LGBTQ or immigrants, those who are marginalised are also often working-class. I am not trans but I am a butch woman, and so I have been physically and verbally abused in public and at work. Yet I come from a working-class city and have suffered the indignity of unemployment. Hopefully, “ridiculous” interest in pronouns will lead to greater tolerance of gender non-conformity for all. We are also part of the 80 per cent, after all.
Rosie Booth

Surrogacy matters

I am writing with dismay at Louise Perry’s column on surrogacy (Out of the Ordinary, 18 June). I myself am the loving mother of a surrogate baby, conceived from donor eggs. You may assume that I am cross because I am sensitive. On the contrary, I am furious because I am informed. As well as having lived experience, I have researched and written at length on this subject. I have spoken to a spectrum of people whom this piece offends, including my own surrogate who, contrary to Perry’s claims that surrogacy works against the “the visceral desires of the women who give birth”, viscerally, autonomously wanted to help us, and has a profound sense of fulfilment. Perry denigrates her to nothing but a weak, exploited, emotionally illiterate vessel.

I am also a journalist, so I can appreciate the impact of a controversial headline, but I hoped that the rest of the column might have been balanced. It decimates not only an important and progressive route to parenthood but the entire infertile community and their struggles – they may not be as lucky as Perry, who is privileged to be a new mother with her “baby on [her] lap”. I can only hope there is pause to consider the damage this can do to a suffering demographic.

This is a topic that deserves debate. Balanced discussion is the only way to understand where exploitation exists, how to eradicate it, and why we need reform in this country, whose cultural and societal progression has neglected its surrogacy laws.

To find it troubling that a proposed reform would make it “more difficult for surrogate mothers to keep the babies they help create and give birth to” shows a frightening misunderstanding of the volition of altruistic surrogacy that is as erroneous as it is heartbreaking. These babies would not be created without the intended parents, who wanted them just as much as Louise wanted hers, and who love their children with every cell of their bodies.

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Sophie Beresiner, author of
“The Mother Project”
London SE23

Brexit’s long tail

None of your commentators on the fifth anniversary of the Brexit referendum (“How Brexit changed us”, 25 June) seems to grasp the cause of the continuing distress of those whom John Gray scathingly refers to as “uber-Remainers”. Euroscepticism was a historic obsession of the Conservative Party, but never high on the list of voter concerns. It’s not that the people who voted Leave were stupid, it’s that they were tired of the Tory government’s austerity programme, troubled by immigration, and angry that a by-product of globalisation was rising inequality at home. Following the 2008 financial crisis, these were issues common to all Western democracies. The UK’s membership of the EU was not only not the cause of these problems – it was potentially part of the solution.
Robert McFarland
London W14

I love the NS for bringing together different voices, but “How Brexit changed us” highlighted what a divisive mess Brexit continues to be. Five years ago I woke up next to my girlfriend, who was crying. I am lucky enough to have fallen in love with a Northern Irish woman raised in Luxembourg, who believes in a simple dream of European peace and unity. Brexit has trampled on such ideas and has shown me how powerless we all are.
Gary Dorken
Via email

Despite my being an “uber-Remainer”, it’s not often I disagree with John Gray. But to disregard the lying and corruption of the Leave campaign is as uncritically partisan as arguing that there is not an issue with globalisation, or that no aspects of the EU are in need of reform.

David Cameron led an arrogant, incompetent government that called a referendum without a plan. To blame Remainers for the failure of Theresa May’s deal with the EU is like blaming women in short dresses for misogyny – not least because it was Boris Johnson leading the charge against it. A hard Brexit was all that the right of the Tory party would accept. Brexit is their responsibility and they are welcome to it.
Catriona Stewart
Northwich, Cheshire

What a joy to see Grace Blakeley back. She and Laurie Penny have it right: Brexit is just another wasteful culture war, perfect for distracting both left and right from how poorly managed the country is.
Dave McElroy

Generation wars

I am surprised that Rachel Cunliffe has fallen into the trap of pitting the old against the young (“A windfall for the old”, 25 June). Food and heating represent a high proportion of outgoings for pensioners, and both these costs are rising. Many own their own homes, but this does not pay the bills. The plight of the young lies in a skewed economy, under a Tory administration that for years has decimated local authority funding, presided over vast growth in student debt and made the housing market unworkable. This is not about young versus old, but unequal opportunity and wealth.
Felicity McGowan
Cardigan, Ceredigion

Rachel Cunliffe is wrong to argue for intergenerational strife by blaming older people for receiving a pension rise. Many older people do not have a second pension, and rely on the state pension topped up with Pension Credit. People are eligible for Pension Credit if they are of state pension age and their income is low, which is usually the result of the lack of a pension or an inadequate one. This could be due to having a low-paid job during their working life, caring responsibilities, or a long-term health condition that stopped them from working. Instead of stopping pension rises, let’s look at more progressive ways of providing for all our citizens. A universal basic income would be a start.
Ruth Potter

Rachel Cunliffe links my triple-lock pension with “working people’s misery”. I have always linked it with 30 years of paying national insurance.
John Berry

Keep on giving

The human is a creature born into a herd, like a lion born into a pride. The human who seeks a solitary life is the exception either because of the unusual genes they have inherited or because of the environment in which they have grown up. Such is the hermit whose “companion” is his God, or Charlene Swankie, mentioned by Megan Nolan (Lines of Dissent, 25 June), who has had to compensate by using her imagination to fill the gap in her life.

A close relationship requires a payment. Nolan calls it a reduction in your “essential self” in return for avoiding loneliness, but the reward is far more than that. Happiness comes from giving. When we give away money, our purse is lighter and our lives are happier. When we deny ourselves for the benefit of another, it is we who benefit most.
Maureen Lamb (age 94)
Killington, Cumbria

Pardon my Dutch

Michael Meadowcroft objects to Rachel Cunliffe’s light treatment of swearing (Correspondence, 25 June), but surely it’s the force and intent with which a word is uttered, rather than its etymology, that shocks, disturbs or offends.

The C-word (likely from the proto-Germanic “kunton”) is one of our oldest anatomical descriptors. It was used by our foremothers simply to refer to their genitalia. Patriarchal, academic-elitist culture – which used “genitalia” instead of “c***” and “faeces” instead of “shit” – is the reason this word is considered perverse.

The Dutch have already assimilated the C-word (kut) into conversational speech such as kutweer (miserable weather) and kutdag (bad day). Not perfect – but far removed from its etymology.
Janey and Darius Hulme
Sandridge, Hertfordshire

Saluting Sydney

It was very good to have Matthew Engel’s portrait of the wonderful Sydney Smith (The Critics, 25 June). Two more points should be mentioned. First, Smith’s excoriating attacks on British policy in Ireland and many of the policies in operation at the time, such as game laws. His fabulous wit was but the surface play of a profound moral passion against cruelty in all its forms. Unusually, he was able to produce biting satire without malice. Second, admitting to severe depression, he produced a practical way of coping with it in the form of his 20 pieces of advice to Lady Georgiana Morpeth. These include: “Short views of human life – not further than dinner and tea”; “Keep good blazing fires”; and “Don’t expect too much from human life – a sorry business at the best” – the last a rather strange view for a clergyman to hold.
Richard Harries
London SW13

Fields of purple

Spencer Gore’s depiction of purple fields outside Letchworth may be a memory of France, but the local landscape at the time was full of lavender fields, and a lavender farm still flourishes in the area (The Greats Outdoors, 25 June). What is more surprising is the sky. Could these colours and shapes be a reflection of Gore’s delight in what he found while living in the first Garden City? The ideals for a shared life were taking form around him and were among the most progressive of the time. Gore’s 23 paintings in his short stay perhaps reflect something of this excitement.
Adrian Gurney

We reserve the right to edit letters.

[See also: The year woke broke: a brief history of a contested word]

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