Jeremy Bowen writes powerfully and sensibly, as always (“The war that cannot be won”, 28 May). I only met Benjamin Netanyahu once over breakfast in Israel shortly before he became prime minister, and I took an instant dislike to him – bombastic, vain, and histrionic. As he faces serious criminal charges, the outside world must hope that Yair Lapid succeeds in building an alternative coalition government, however doubtful that looks. When I was a student in the late Fifties, many spent their vacations volunteering on a kibbutz, but no longer, as Israel has slipped from being a cause to assist. What I fail to understand is why Israelis cannot just settle for their comfortable life instead of supporting Netanyahu’s constant expansionist plans, which are the root cause of Palestinian anger and frustration, and which have led to a rise in despicable anti-Semitism around the world. The two-state solution should be pursued with more vigour and determination by our government and others.
Lord Steel of Aikwood
Selkirk, Scottish Borders
Hold the ladder
Adrian Wooldridge’s argument that the Labour Party should make its major appeal “meritocracy” (“Reclaiming meritocracy”, 21 May) is worth taking on board, but misses the central point.
Mutuality and reciprocity provide a ladder out of disadvantage and into opportunity to develop talent, which can be displayed in a variety of outcomes. My own success, built on attending evening class, day release and subsequently university, was not simply down to “merit”. Circumstance led to my having no qualifications at 16 – the opportunity hadn’t existed.
Wooldridge comes up with a solution that Anthony Crosland toyed with and set aside: that private schools must take a high percentage of non-fee-paying students. Again, this misses the point. It becomes clear that what is being advocated is, to borrow a term from Lord Heseltine, that “the rest” can put up with whatever they’re given. The assertion that we would have undermined private education if only we had expanded the grammar school system gives it away. It was the parents paying the fees who benefited most from prepping their children to get into grammar school.
Promotion by merit, not by who you know, is a no-brainer. That is not the same as basing a national policy revival on the wider interpretation of “meritocracy”, which fails to appreciate the multiplicity of factors, including positive discrimination, exclusion of difficult and disabled children, and judging success on how many pupils get into Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.
Former education and employment secretary, and professor of politics in practice, University of Sheffield
It seems that Philip Collins has a patchy knowledge of Tory history (“The rise of the new Toryism”, 28 May). He claims that there is “nothing in the recent vintage” of the party that is anything like Shaftesbury’s or Disraeli’s reforms, and then compares Johnson to Thatcher. What about the “postwar consensus” against which Thatcher was fighting? Churchill, when returned to power in 1951, took care to accept the new NHS and welfare state and the nationalisation of 20 per cent of British industry. Macmillan built 300,000 council houses. The top rate of income tax remained at around 90 per cent throughout the 1950s and 1960s. It was reduced to 75 per cent in 1971 but a surcharge on investment income of 15 per cent brought it back up. No wonder Sean Connery left Britain for the Bahamas.
Professor Alan Sked
London School of Economics
Another reason for the popularity of the new Toryism is the demise of politics as a serious intellectual activity. Political dialogue in the media rarely raises itself above that of a talk show. The glib and entertaining speaker who uses common stereotypes is always the winner. Keir Starmer, the ex-lawyer, is at a disadvantage competing with Boris Johnson, a media personality. But baby talk is not the only way to sell politics. Johnson’s vacuous promise to “level up” would be seen for the empty slogan it is if the other offer was serious policies intended to reform the labour and housing market.
Philip Collins writes of “the 46 men who have been elected president, up to and including Joe Biden”. While Biden is the 46th US president, only 45 men have served as president. Grover Cleveland served non-consecutively as both the 22nd and 24th president. And not all of the 45 were elected to the presidency, but that would be nit-picking.
Philip Collins’s essay confirms that I was correct to follow him from the Times to the NS. His historical perspective on the rise of the new right and the outliers of the US and UK was masterly. He’s right to emphasise that our own new Tories may be shooting all Labour’s foxes but their immoderate right may surge in the not-too-distant future.
What is going on in the Batley and Spen, and Chesham and Amersham by-elections? Kim Leadbeater can beat the Tories in Batley and Spen, and solid local activist Sarah Green can beat them in Chesham and Amersham. So why are other progressive parties getting in the way by standing their own candidate? Does not Labour hear the alarms screaming two Tory shoe-ins? If progressive parties can cooperate then a fair PR voting system becomes a reality. If not, it’s too awful to think about.
Glasshouses, North Yorkshire
The “take back control” slogan implies there was a time when working people had it (The NS Essay, 28 May). Unions, co-ops and friendly societies defended members from the excesses of the economic system. As Robert Colls says, only in 1945-51 did Labour have the power and the manifesto to bring about change, and that was unpicked in the years that followed. His answer, to build walls, looks rather like Stalin’s plan for socialism. Faced with global developments like AI, climate change and pandemics, it is probably destined to go the same way.
John Burnside misses that it is only because of the sustainable management of Scottish grouse moors that the mountain hare thrives in many areas (Nature, 28 May). Research has shown that densities of this enigmatic species can be up to 35 times higher on land managed for grouse shooting. Their success is such that control is necessary to protect the vegetation from over-grazing and to aid woodland regeneration. Not, as he makes out, “for profit”.
Director Scotland, British Association for Shooting and Conservation
I was disturbed by Hilary Lang’s belief that it is life experiences that define womanhood (Correspondence, 28 May). Every woman’s experiences are different. Not all women have or can have children. I had a friend who never had periods as she was born without ovaries. I am an 85-year-old with my own life experiences and firmly believe that it is how the individual identifies themselves that determines gender.
Your article on Peter Singer and “pragmatic veganism” confirms that I am never going to read his books (Encounter, 28 May). How sad that someone who writes on animal liberation talks about “humanely killing” animals. Pragmatic veganism is an oxymoron. No true animal lover would say that they can’t live without eggs or dairy.
In her review of On Violence and On Violence Against Women (The Critics, 28 May), Anna Leszkiewicz quotes a paragraph in which white, male politicians make decisions restricting abortions. This can certainly be seen as an example of the patriarchy acting in a high-handed way, but hardly justifies the book’s author describing them as “killers”. The obvious violence associated with abortion is that suffered by the unborn child, who is as likely to be male as female; similarly, the medical practitioner might well be a woman. In no sense is this male-on-female violence, so I am surprised the reviewer let that view go unchallenged.
While I’m not quite a “sci-fi blogger of a certain disposition”, I feel obliged to point out that Rachel Cooke is incorrect to say Delia Derbyshire composed the Doctor Who theme tune (The Critics, 21 May). Derbyshire was responsible for its other-worldly arrangement, but Ron Grainer was the composer.
In Michael Prodger’s article on View from the Luxembourg by Jacques-Louis David (The Critics, 30 April), it struck me how the white-clad figure in the foreground recalls Jesus bending down to draw in the dust. This might seem a surprising reference for an artist of the French Revolution. But perhaps finding himself a victim of that same revolution, the cracks appearing in one set of ideals drew up the suppressed memories of another.
Enfield, Greater London
I feel I should out myself as a member of Covid’s Metamorphoses, the team who finished level with Nicholas Lezard’s after 60 weeks of Marcus Berkmann’s online Covid Arms quiz (Down and Out, 28 May). It turns out we are only interim joint champions. Marcus has given in to public sentiment and decided to resume, though on a monthly rather than weekly basis. I think this is the start of a new cultural phenomenon: a variant of ostalgie, the nostalgia felt by former East Germans for the small comforts that sustained them behind the Berlin Wall. Evidently, none of us remember what else to do on a Monday evening.
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This article appears in the 02 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Return of the West