Ruth Brandon is right that electricity is the same whether it comes from fossil fuels or renewable sources (Correspondence, 28 May). But Helen Thompson is right about the scope of the political challenge (These Times, 21 May). Renewable energy sources produce some 6 per cent of the energy we use, not taking into consideration embodied energy in products we buy from factories abroad. To be carbon neutral we need to expand our total installed renewable capacity by a factor of about 16, or use a lot less energy – preferably both. Add in the need to reverse 20th-century practices in farming, plastic waste, etc, and we’re faced with a social revolution that few elected governments even dare think about.
Go big or go home
John Gray’s review of Ed Miliband’s book Go Big: How to Fix Our World (The Critics, 4 June) is remorselessly critical in identifying the several important features of modern geopolitics that Miliband ignores. However, Gray’s brief suggestions to Labour for what should replace a centre-left positioning are equally out of date. Labour’s preciousness in refusing a progressive coalition harks back to an era that has now passed. The only viable route to unseating the shape-shifting Tories is the one that Gray so disparages. The voters who deserted Labour for the minor parties have effectively boosted the Tory vote; a progressive coalition would reverse that. The surges of support for the Greens in Germany and the centrist governments of Iberia and Scandinavia show that coalitions can and do keep out the far right. The challenge for Labour is to abandon tribalism in favour of what works. Moreover, a Tory defeat should be followed by reform of our voting system to ensure that no large party can ever again monopolise and abuse its power for decades.
Malton, North Yorkshire
I was disappointed but not surprised to read John Gray’s review of Ed Miliband’s book. I am not sure what he means when he describes “the sad comedy of [Ed Miliband’s] career”. Miliband was not the useless leader the commentariat likes to describe, though he never overcame his breaking of a previously unspoken rule of political primogeniture. He has been one of the most gracious ex leaders I can remember. He hasn’t abandoned politics to make tons of money, and he has been supportive of his successors. Gray seems to be more interested in what Tony Blair has to say, devoting five paragraphs to his views. It is hard to imagine that Blair will ever be significant to the Labour Party again, so why does Gray parrot his views on “woke” culture? Keir Starmer is generally derided for not having a vision, but when Miliband has one, Gray sneers that it is too utopian. Aren’t all visions utopian? I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but so far it makes me hopeful that change could be possible. Ed Miliband wants “politics to rediscover its sense of agency” and, having read the New Statesman and supported the Labour Party for more than 50 years, I can only say amen to that.
In 2005, Nicola Sturgeon spoke of Labour’s shift to the right, and the SNP won in the 2007 Scottish parliamentary elections by exploiting voter fatigue with Labour. John Gray in his somewhat harsh critique is correct that Ed Miliband “finished off Labour in Scotland” – but Blair started the process. Gray doesn’t mention one of Miliband’s omissions that was key to his 2015 election defeat. In 2015 Jonathan Freedland recalled a conversation during the leadership campaign in the summer of 2010: “I asked Miliband how he would counter the new coalition’s repeated claim that they were merely ‘cleaning up the mess left by Labour’… I made the case as strongly as I could… but he was unmoved.” Tory politicians still milk the “Labour’s mess” canard. By not opposing it, Miliband allowed a dangerous myth to be established.
Colin Shedden from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation refers to unspecified research which apparently shows that mountain hare populations are significantly higher on land managed for grouse shooting (Correspondence, 4 June). It would have been helpful if Mr Shedden had cited the research so that its specific findings, funding and methodology could be assessed. It could just be that mountain hares like open moorland – which happens to be where the very wealthy enjoy gathering to shoot small birds. What’s seems more relevant is the long-term study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the RSPB, which established that the numbers of these beautiful animals has now declined to just 1 per cent of their 1954 levels. Culling hares on grouse moors was identified as a major factor, as was widespread conifer planting.
That the mountain hare “thrives” on grouse moors is no endorsement of the so-called conservation policy that Colin Shedden’s association implies. We know that there are a few small localised populations, but this mammal, Britain’s only native hare, is on the “near threatened” list nonetheless. Its relative proliferation on grouse moors is a direct result of interfering with a natural balance in the ecosystem by removing apex predators such as eagles, peregrines and hen harriers (themselves under threat of extinction). The mountain hare is also under threat from the RHDV2 virus and from climate change. To kill these beautiful creatures as collateral in pursuit of habitat for grouse, for the affluent to then shoot as “sport”, is hard to forgive.
The assertion that Professor Petticrew and his colleagues make that Drinkaware’s communications contain “significant misinformation about health issues” (Correspondence, 14 May) is one that he has made before and which we have repeatedly rebutted in the strongest possible terms. We do so again. Just because Professor Petticrew and his colleagues want something to be true, it does not make it so. As a charity, Drinkaware is immensely proud that we continue to help millions of people across the UK every year to make better choices about their drinking.
Sir Leigh Lewis KCB
East is East
Inspiring as Alexandra Wilson’s story is (Encounter, 4 June), Woodford, where she grew up, is in the London Borough of Redbridge, not Essex – and has been since 1965. In this part of the world, snobbery of the type she rightly decries is displayed by saying you come from Essex. If she really wants to challenge stereotypes, she should be the East London Barrister.
Leytonstone, Waltham Forest (formerly Essex)
Helen Thompson uses the July 2004 referendum on John Prescott’s proposal for a north-east regional authority as evidence that the English electorate does not support regionalism (These Times, 4 June). In fact it showed no such thing. The Labour government’s proposals involved taking powers away from local government rather than reducing the power of the national government. Devolution it certainly was not, and I would have voted “No” in the referendum, despite being a passionate believer in regional government.
The Covid mystery
I hope that any investigation into whether Covid-19 came from a lab (Observations, 4 June) will start by looking into when the virus first broke cover, especially considering the traces in sewage samples from Italy and Spain and the man who died in Paris – all in the later months of 2019. I caught a bug in December 2019 that caused a dry cough, the first I’d had in more than 60 years. I know many other people who had the same cough at around the same time. Mine has led to me being diagnosed with emphysema, which I didn’t have before getting ill. Was what we had Covid-19 – maybe an earlier variant?
St Albans, Hertfordshire
It is fantastic news that the richest corporations will be forced to pay a minimum corporation tax rate (“How to mend a failing world”, 4 June). For 20 years Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon campaigned to slash corporation tax for the richest companies in the world, including committing to it in their White Paper on Independence. I hope they will not oppose the G7 decision.
I share Pippa Bailey’s fascination with the past (Deleted Scenes, 28 May). The real point about hoards is not so much the existence of the burials, which were routine in the pre-modern world, but that we only discover those whose owners never came back for them. Most hoards were only intended to be temporary, like Samuel Pepys’s hoard during the Dutch War crisis of 1667, which he had to recover in a grand farce in the middle of the night, his wife and father having buried the gold in a bag that had rotted away. The only hoards we get to find are the ones that were left in the ground, their owners having been prevented by death, misadventure, or forgetfulness from digging them up again. They left their valuables on an unintended journey into the future.
Guy de la Bédoyère
In last week’s issue there is a cartoon of two birds (“I don’t sing. I rap”, 4 June). Is this a depiction of fact being stranger than fiction? For the past month or so my wife has found it necessary to visit the toilet at around 4.30am, just when the morning chorus is starting, and she hears a bird in our locality that does sound as though it is talking.
Settrington, North Yorkshire
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This article appears in the 09 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Covid cover-up?