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19 October 2022

Letter of the week: The damage done

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By New Statesman

Mervyn King (Encounter, 14 October) states that the adverse consequences of the recent “mini-Budget” were so obvious that it “beggars belief anyone would think” otherwise. Yet he supports Brexit, which inevitably has had, and will continue to have, immense adverse economic and social consequences. Even the Kent brewery hailed as an “export champion” in the government’s promotional Brexit video has filed notice of its intention to appoint administrators, having lost all but one of its EU customers, who were unwilling to engage with Brexit-related red tape.

King argues that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) “cannot possibly know” that Brexit will reduce UK GDP by 4 per cent. Of course, the precise degree of damage is uncertain – as the OBR itself makes clear. It might even be greater. But the unavoidable imprecision of economic forecasts does not alter the fact that detaching Britain from the world’s largest and most proximate market has been, and can only be, highly damaging. Just because a doctor cannot say exactly when a patient will die does not mean that there has been a faulty diagnosis.
Brendan McSweeney, London E11

Work experience

Andrew Marr makes excellent points about the changed character of MPs (Politics, 14 October). In former times many served “apprenticeships”, sometimes as long as 20 years, on councils, perhaps going on to become council leader. They would learn about managing services, handling budgets and engaging with their electorate. Eventually they might fight an unwinnable seat to demonstrate their campaigning skills and, with a fair wind, later find a safe seat. By the time they arrived in parliament they were likely to have developed a good base of legislative knowledge, become a formidable advocate for their constituency, or have a specialism in a key topic such as health or housing.
Les Bright, Exeter

I thought Andrew Marr’s article about the calibre of those in government so right, including his comments about the Labour Party. But I am very surprised by his omission of the name of David Miliband, who should now be enticed back from the United States to lead or serve in the Labour Party and future government.
Iain Haig, Cambridge

The damage the Tories are doing to the UK by staying in office is painful to have to live through. There are similarities with Vladimir Putin’s leadership in Russia: the Conservative government is hellbent on disaster, blind to the damage it is  doing. It should be possible for a constitution to include a facility for replacing an unviable prime minister.
Rosanne Bostock, Oxford

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Dodging devolution

Simon Jenkins (“Banishing Britain’s Celtic ghosts”, 14 October) states that “when Welsh and Scottish voters were offered their own assemblies in 1979, they declined”. While this is true for Wales, it is not for Scotland. The result there was 51.6 per cent Yes, and 48.4 per cent No. However, an amendment stipulated that 40 per cent of the total Scottish electorate must vote Yes, meaning that non-voters were effectively counted as No; only 32.9 per cent of the total electorate voted “Yes”.

Note the resemblance to the Brexit result, where overall turnout was 72.2 per cent, meaning just 37.5 per cent of the electorate voted Leave. If the bar had been at 40 per cent, we would still be in the EU.
Chris Bliss-Jones, Luton, Bedfordshire

In 1979, I was one of the majority of voters that voted in favour of a Scottish assembly, only to be frustrated by the “40 per cent rule”. This grotesque piece of ballot-rigging was used by the incoming Tory government to kill off the project. And now, as the Scottish government calls for another independence referendum, similar goalpost-moving wheezes are being proposed by voices in the unionist camp.
John Coutts, Stirling

PR campaign

I was surprised to read (Correspondence, 30 September) that preferential voting (AV) would have increased David Cameron’s 2015 parliamentary majority, because it is not often possible to see how such preferences would pan out. This is what makes it the fairest method of voting, since no vote is wasted. The Australian experience is that preferential voting has moved past the two- or three-party strongholds, and elections are now fought by an increasing number of parties and candidates.
Michael Rolfe, Hunter’s Hill, New South Wales

In his piece on why Labour would be mad to accept a proportional voting system (NS online, 10 October), James Ball argues that in calling for PR Labour would be “voting against its own interests”. Ball’s argument only works if you accept that the Labour Party’s interests trump those of the country at large; and that a Labour government with a decent majority twice per century is worth the other 70 years of Tory rule.
Robin Prior, Wargrave, Berkshire

Hail St Mary’s

Despite Judy Greengrass’s fears (Correspondence, 14 October), I know St Mary’s Primrose Hill fairly well, and have an unqualified admiration for its tradition. I hoped it was plain that the reference to “dim and unadventurous” parishes was general, since rumour has it that not every Anglican parish (then or now) shares the priorities of St Mary’s.
Rowan Williams, Cambridge

Life on hold

Congratulations to Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 7 October) for achieving his telephone business with his bank in less than a day. I reserve a whole day, and only when I feel brave and fresh. Recently, the whole business overran the day after an optimistic promise (from the bank) to answer by phone within three hours.

How did you manage it, Nicholas?
Jennifer Wilson, Dunscore, Dumfries

[See also: The death of global Britain]

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This article appears in the 19 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, State of Emergency