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1 February 2023

Letter of the week: Why Germany follows

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By New Statesman

Your criticism of Germany’s failure to lead Europe’s response to the Ukraine crisis is misplaced (Leader, 27 January). Germany has the largest economy in the EU, but it cannot lead on defence for reasons rooted in decades of near pacifism following the catastrophe of National Socialism.

Germany deserves credit for defending European interests in solidarity with its allies by matching the UK’s supply of 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2s. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has agreed to raise German defence spending above the Nato guideline of 2 per cent of GDP. This has public support, but that is conditional on Germany following, rather than leading, on defence. Germany’s ruling coalition partners have acknowledged that energy dependency on Russia was a strategic error, and Scholz has admitted German naivety in believing trade with Moscow would bring democratic transition.

But Germany is far from alone in having indulged Vladimir Putin and his oligarch associates. Indeed, criticism emanating from the UK is risible given the extent of British complicity with corrupt Russian interests, and in clear sight, for decades.
Dr Simon Sweeney, University of York

[See also: Conservatives are losing confidence in Rishi Sunak]

Germany’s role

I agree with your view on Germany, (Leader, 27 January). I appreciate and respect Germany for its generosity to refugees, its social liberalism and its generally pro-Israel stance. But for Germany to be truly admired, it must play a more significant role in the West. It should dramatically boost its defence budget and fully turn its wavering head away from Russia and more firmly face France and Britain.
Sebastian Monblat, Surbiton, Greater London

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I thought your pieces on Germany somewhat unfair, particularly Wolfgang Münchau’s (Lateral View, 27 January) criticism of Olaf Scholz. Chancellor Scholz had been in office just over two months when the Ukraine war broke out. What is wrong with a leader who wishes to make well-informed and careful decisions rather than submit to knee-jerk populism? Compared to the antics of Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and now Rishi Sunak, I for one would welcome his leadership.
Robin Lunn, Inkberrow, Worcestershire

The Red Wall shifts

Claims that “returning to the customs union would certainly lose [Red Wall] seats” for Labour (Politics, 27 January) need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Public opinion has shifted gradually but steadily, with 56 per cent now saying in polls that Brexit was a mistake and just 32 per cent maintaining it was the right thing to do. Given the relentlessly negative consequences of Brexit, from extra costs and red tape for businesses to the intractable problems regarding Northern Ireland, this trend is not surprising. There comes a point when a forlorn attempt to placate a dwindling number of pro-Brexit voters risks alienating a larger and growing number of voters critical of Brexit.
Richard Corbett, former Labour Party leader in the European Parliament

Additional observation

James Hawes’ informative and incisive essay (“The twilight of the British Union”, 27 January) misses one thing. The overwhelming majority of independence-supporting MPs elected from Scotland in the last three general elections is not just an outcome of the first-past-the-post electoral system. The last three elections to the Scottish Parliament have also delivered a majority of independence-supporting MSPs through its (more proportional) additional member system. Thus, the logical choice is not between Scottish independence and electoral reform. Indeed, we need both.
Eurig Scandrett, North Berwick, East Lothian

Care in the community

Dr Phil Whitaker’s diagnosis of the NHS crisis is welcome (Cover Story, 20 January). We certainly need more GPs, but the most cost-effective interventions happen far earlier. The quality of the built environment – including good affordable homes, attractive local parks and walkable neighbourhoods – has a significant role to play in preventing illness from arising in the first place. The planning system shapes the environments in which people live. It should be recognised as what Dr Whitaker calls a “front door” factor in keeping people out of the NHS.
Julia Thrift, director, healthier place-making, Town & Country Planning Association

Dr Whitaker’s prescription for salvation of the NHS by rebuilding community care begs one question: how to train and recruit full-time GPs willing to lead a revived “family doctor” service in all sorts of communities? My local GP surgery is closing soon. The explanation was that the practice had failed to recruit a replacement GP, as new GPs prefer to live and work in affluent suburban areas, and doctors with families don’t want full-time posts. That is worrying news for people in rural areas and inner cities.
John Home Robertson, Paxton, Berwickshire

A period in purgatory

Regarding Jason Cowley (Editor’s Note, 20 January) on Paul Johnson, it may interest readers that Johnson’s succession to the NS editorship in 1965 was stalled by Kingsley Martin, still a powerful influence after 30 years as editor (1931-60), because Johnson was a Roman Catholic. The New Statesman, said Martin, was traditionally an agnostic paper. In 1965, the outgoing editor, John Freeman, about to become high commissioner to India, rehearsed his diplomatic skills by pronouncing unanimous board support for Johnson. Would religious belief be an issue for the editorship today, I wonder?
Hugh Purcell, author of “A Very Private Celebrity: The Nine Lives of John Freeman”

Screw fix

Andrew Marr (Culture Notes, 27 January) muses about the best inventions. Grand piano, bicycle – all great, but they are held together (like the rest of the world) by the marvellous, ubiquitous screw thread.
Laurence Leader, North Curry, Somerset

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, author
This knocked me sideways. Beautiful writing.
“In search of a language of loss”, Johanna Thomas-Corr, 21 January

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[See also: When teachers strike, the country stops working]

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This article appears in the 01 Feb 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Housing Con