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18 May 2022

Letter of the week: Starmer’s social solidarity

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By New Statesman

Oliver Eagleton’s Notebook article (Comment, 13 May) is unpersuasive on a number of counts. He asserts that Keir Starmer’s emphasis on compliance with Covid rules is embedded in a cold, bureaucratic respect for law and conventions. However, Starmer has consistently framed such compliance as a matter of social solidarity and collective sacrifice to protect the most vulnerable. Eagleton also berates Starmer for local election results that are little better than Jeremy Corbyn’s in 2018. At that time, Labour’s “creative ambiguity” on Brexit was still holding. As this policy unravelled, and both Leavers and Remainers realised they were being strung along, the party’s vote share plummeted, and is only just beginning to recover.

Labour needs to reconnect with many different parts of its electoral coalition. It cannot rely solely on the young, whose “libertine energies” do not always stretch to voting – Ipsos Mori estimates that about 74 per cent of over 65s voted in the 2019 election compared to only 47 per cent of 18-24 year olds. This may explain why Starmer is trying to project an image of competence and maturity.
Madeline Thompson, Cambridge

Post-truth politics

I was alarmed by Oliver Eagleton’s Notebook piece (Comment, 13 May). He attacks Keir Starmer for presenting himself as a leader who would run “the state as a clean, efficient bureaucracy”, rescuing it from “crankish ideologues and incontinent hedonists”. Such “righteous pedantry” sets him up as a hypocrite. So any appeal, even to the most basic ethical decency can be dismissed as potential hypocrisy?

A few paragraphs later Eagleton explains that “accuracy in politics is subordinate to power. Beergate has shown that, with enough media pressure, it is possible to reverse a supposedly impartial police decision and convince the majority of the electorate an offence likely took place.” So that’s OK, is it? Rather like Donald Trump persuading half of America that Joe Biden’s election victory was a fraud? Perhaps Mr Eagleton should join Boris Johnson in the post-truth brigade.

David Perry, Cambridge

Reasonable objections

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The handling of so-called beergate that Andrew Marr describes (Cover Story, 13 May) is emblematic of Labour’s struggle to present a distinctive message. Hitherto, Keir Starmer has played safe by refusing to make political capital out of a global crisis, unless and until the most egregious and wilful blunders occurred. He has avoided making commitments that could come back to haunt him and the party during a general election campaign. But the outstanding problem is that he comes over as a very reasonable lawyer, rather than the leader of a political party, one of whose former leaders he once admiringly quoted, saying Labour is “a moral crusade, or it is nothing”. Right now the party is neither crusading nor cruising towards victory. Step forward, Lisa Nandy, flanked by any number of female colleagues, as a putative leadership team.

Les Bright, Exeter, Devon

Your Leader on Keir Starmer (13 May) is built on the premise that he is a mere technocrat with no idea of what kind of Britain he would lead, and timid to boot. Having read his Fabian pamphlet “The Road Ahead”, I think your premise is a little flawed. He paints a detailed picture of change from the malaise we currently endure towards a more productive and equitable economy; equality of opportunity; security at work and in neighbourhoods; a genuine programme of recovery from the pandemic and more, all to be delivered in a less centralised state. It may be argued that this lacks stunning originality but I am fed up with being stunned, and this is an agenda that has the support of millions.

Roger Truelove, Sittingbourne, Kent

Donne reading

In a characteristically subtle review of Katherine Rundell’s biography of John Donne (The Critics, 13 May), Rowan Williams makes two observations that don’t quite do Donne justice. He writes of “the famous ‘Batter my heart…’ sonnet with its stark concluding image of divine rape”, and of “the silent partner” in the poem beginning “For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love”. Donne was a master of double meanings. Since the 1300s “ravish” was used to mean mystical union with God as well as rape or other forms of violence; the image is therefore nuanced rather than “stark”. And in “For God’s sake hold your tongue” he is surely telling the male reader not to bother him: he could hardly urge a lover to chide his gout! In “The Dream”, at the moment of mutual orgasm, he concludes his hardly silent partner has not angelic but divine knowledge of his own excessive joy. No misogyny there!

Bill Myers, Leicester

Mutual muse

It was good to see the article on Mildred Eldridge, whose art has been overshadowed by the poetry of her husband, RS Thomas (The Critics, 13 May). Michael Prodger is right in saying they were essentially isolated from one another, so it is all the more remarkable that two of the loveliest poems in the language are those he wrote about her and their marriage: “The Way of It” and “A Marriage”.

Richard Harries, London SW13

Stumped for words

I enjoyed Peter Wilby’s review of the 2022 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack (The Critics, 6 May) and commend him for bringing attention to Azeem Rafiq’s story, but one point he made left a sour taste. I understand that, as a traditionalist, he doesn’t like that the language of the game is being changed. But the examples he cites (of “batsmen” becoming the gender-neutral “batters”, as well as the loss of “chinaman”, referring to a style of bowling, from cricket’s lexicon) will make the sport more inclusive and reduce abuse in the long term.

Calum Trenaman, London SE11

Carry on broadcasting

A confession: sometimes when reading the NS there is a long piece on a somewhat interesting subject, but I think, “Do I really need to read this?” Such a moment came with Stuart McGurk’s “The revolution will be televised” (Reporter at Large, 6 May) – but it was such a pleasure to read about the ineptitude of the launch of GB News, and there were laugh-out-loud moments. If only the right was always as incompetent.

Geoff Skinner, London NW10

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This article appears in the 18 May 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Nato