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6 July 2022

Letter of the week: Land of theocracy

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

Surely we are now well past the time when the language of left versus right (Leader, 1 July) adds nothing, analytically or ideologically, to what is going on in the US Supreme Court? What is at stake is the imposition of theocratic rule by abolishing the separation of constitutional powers and the state from religious dogma – something, ironically, as grotesquely anachronistic as the ayatollahs of Iran.

In respect of the secular enlightenment – which secured and underpinned recognition of fundamental human rights – the US has never really joined, let alone led, Western civilisation. It always brought its mythic exceptionalism to bear, undermining the ideology and rhetoric of the “land of the free” and of liberty. This is exemplified not just by the embrace of slavery (historically a Democratic phenomenon as much or more than a Republican one), but also today by incarceration and capital punishment on a truly appalling per capita scale.

Time for Europe to wake up and recognise this brutal reality.
John Crawley, Beverley, East Yorkshire

What Roe vs Wade means

The most important aspect of the US Supreme Court ruling on Roe vs Wade is the increasing politicisation of the Court. Judges should be appointed on the basis of their legal expertise, not their political opinions. The Trump era merely speeded up an already existing trend. Unless the Democrats can produce another FDR or JFK to follow the Biden interregnum, the outlook for the US as leader of the free world looks bleak indeed, and Europe will have to take over that role (another reason to regret Boris Johnson’s damaging Brexit).

Nor should we assume that an independent non-political judiciary is safe in the UK. Johnson stated in 2019 that he thought the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling on his illegal prorogation of parliament was wrong, while recent attacks by Priti Patel and others on “lefty lawyers” hardly inspire confidence. The “free world” is looking increasingly unfree.
Alan Pavelin, Chislehurst, Kent

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Numerous comments in the NS (and the wider media) refer to the decision in Roe vs Wade being “overturned”. In fact it has been overruled. The judgment says: “The constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
Rick Sareen, London NW11

In dismissing Roe vs Wade, the majority of the Supreme Court relied on the text of the constitution’s 14th amendment, section one. Presumably, the same justices will affirm section three of the same amendment: “No person shall be a senator or representative in Congress [who]… shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against [the constitution of the United States].
John Bishop, Edinburgh

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The price of coalition

Kevin Maguire (Commons Confidential, 1 July) writes that Liberal Democrat support for a Labour minority government would start with electoral reform, but does not explain that this means some form of proportional representation (PR). Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales already have PR and in Europe only the UK and Belarus still have first-past-the-post. PR is not perfect but it is fairer, and more people bother to vote as their vote counts.
Rosanne Bostock, Oxford

If Labour’s leaders were foolish enough to agree with Andrew Marr (Politics, 1 July) and enter into some kind of coalition with the Liberal Democrats, only one thing is certain: it would end in tears – as it did in 1924, 1931 and 1979.
Robert Armstrong, Bromley, Kent

Howard’s way

I read Michael Howard’s Diary (1 July) with interest and I too winced at Brandon Lewis’s rather snarky comment that Howard should not attack Boris Johnson as he did not become prime minister himself. But I defend his right to criticise Johnson, because I feel he has a moral and legitimate duty to do so.

Grass-roots Conservatives must be reeling at the onslaught of scandals and the manipulation of their own beliefs. So well done Mr Howard, and keep holding Johnson’s feet to the fire. We non-Conservatives are fully behind you.
Judith A Daniels, Cobholm, Norfolk

The right to strike

John Gray’s review of Phil Tinline’s The Death of Consensus (The Critics, 24 June) includes strikes in the list of things deemed “unthinkable” in periods of consensus. Yet as a result of cooperation between the newly formed Labour Party and the 1906 Liberal government, the right of trade unions in Britain to organise strikes without penalty was established by a Trade Disputes Act.

As “Tribunites”, Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle wanted to work with the unions. During the 1970s Wilson entered into a social contract with them to help control inflation but lacked the support of the right-wing members of the cabinet. A lack of unity between the right and left of the Labour Party, along with a defective voting system, has held us back.
Margaret Morris, London N8

Quality and quantity

Being rather lazy I usually won’t read any article longer than two pages. I made an exception for Pippa Bailey’s piece on the Oxford English Dictionary (Reporter at Large, 24 June). Best thing I’ve read in the NS since Richard J Evans took apart Boris Johnson’s “book”.
Pete Cresswell, Liverpool

Brick by Brixton

Nicholas Lezard writes of Brixton’s Railton Road (Down and Out, 1 July) that “not even a memory of those earlier days seeped through the brickwork”. I’d say it is precisely in the brickwork that the memory remains. The buildings that burned down in the 1980s riots were replaced with new-builds. You can walk down Railton and see the contrast with the weathered London yellow clay bricks of the Victorian houses. We have Anthony Crosland to thank for their survival. In 1975, as environment secretary, he overruled a Lambeth Council plan to demolish the whole area and rebuild.
Dave Eva, London SW9

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[See also: Andrew Marr: The last days of Boris Johnson]

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This article appears in the 06 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Last Days of Boris Johnson