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26 January 2022

Letter of the week: What Chamberlain got right

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By New Statesman

Richard J Evans (Critic at Large, 21 January) appears to endorse the charge that Neville Chamberlain was “weak and unintelligent”, though Jock Colville, his private secretary, said he was “quick, clear and incisive”. Evans denies there is any evidence that Chamberlain distrusted Hitler, but he told Joe Kennedy, the US ambassador, that Hitler was “completely ruthless”. Chamberlain did not consider Hitler “a conventional European statesman”, as Evans writes, but felt the British government was “doing business with a madman”.

Most seriously, Evans dodges the central question: should Chamberlain have overruled his advisers and declared war in September 1938 with Britain deeply divided and the empire’s dominion nations unwilling to commit their forces? He would have plunged the country into a long, costly struggle on behalf of a state it could not save. Chamberlain kept to the course set a year earlier when he told his adviser Lord Weir: “The Air Force must go on and build itself up as rapidly as possible. I hope my efforts with Germany and Italy will give us the necessary time.”

Alistair Lexden, author, “Neville Chamberlain: Redressing the Balance”, House of Lords

The cost of care

Louise Perry (Out of the Ordinary,
21 January) equates only 4 per cent of Britons agreeing that parents of preschool children should work full-time with a lack of societal support for free daycare. Yet one can easily believe toddlers are best looked after at home but that, given the impossibility of this for most parents, the state should fund daycare. Freeing British parents from some of the world’s highest childcare costs would allow them to work fewer and more flexible hours, and to make decisions based on their children’s needs.

A woman’s wish to stay at home more with young children is presented by Perry as putting “feminist(s) in a bind”. As a card-carrying, pin-wearing feminist, I don’t see it. Millennial parents know all too well that work won’t love you back, while your one-year-old very much will. To stay at home and experience the magic of their early years, at least part-time if you can, is a no-brainer, not a feminist conflict.

Katie Sheinman, Newcastle upon Tyne

Cherishing the Beeb

Your Leader (21 January) is right. For merely 40p a day, the public is funding an institution in the BBC that, while flawed, remains the best of British broadcasting, and is good value at so small a cost. The anti-BBC announcements are aimed at distracting people’s minds from appalling, and repeated, government failure, hypocrisy and potential illegality.

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Sebastian Monblat, Surbiton, Greater London

Science should lead, not follow

Philip Ball (The NS Essay, 14 January) is a bit hard on scientists in suggesting that they have compromised themselves in their dysfunctional relationship with politicians. On the contrary, the fault lies more in the direction of the politicians we elect.

Overwhelmingly, having studied humanities at university, they missed out on any serious scientific training. As a result, they are ill-equipped either to understand or question the evidence they are presented with and the underlying principles behind it. Until science is given its proper place in our cultural and public life, we will continue to see politicians making poor decisions.

Rupert Marlow, Turnastone, Herefordshire

Philip Ball’s analysis of scientific advice to the government during the pandemic has much wider implications. Our civil service is in need of a revamp to introduce a parallel responsibility to the public and
the public interest – a point well made by Ball. It is especially vital in a climate
in which politicians and ministers feel
they can misinform, distort and even lie with impunity.

Mike Hodson, Sheffield

Cutting out the mustard

I hope Nicholas Lezard was being ironic when he referred to wearing mustard-coloured trousers (Down and Out,
21 January). One trusts in any case that he does not wear his MCC “egg and bacon”
tie in bed.

Keith Flett, London N17

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This article appears in the 26 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Light that Failed