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8 March 2023

Letter of the week: Moving on from Blairism

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

By New Statesman

Keir Starmer’s focus on ambition and growth (Cover Story, 3 March) is misplaced. Following 12 years of Conservative rule, the public is ready for some compassion and a government intent on tackling deep-seated inequalities and a widening health gap. Ambition and growth in themselves will not achieve such ends.

Starmer’s obsession with reforming the NHS is also misplaced. The NHS in England is already in the midst of major reform arising from the Health and Care Act 2022. At the heart of the changes are integrated care systems (ICSs), which, if successful, could bring about many of Starmer’s aims by improving coordination in prevention and population health. ICSs must be given time to prove themselves. Further top-down reform when staff are already stressed is a recipe for reform fatigue and failure.

Over the years, including those under New Labour, the NHS suffered from a succession of disruptive, costly and ineffective reforms, yet Starmer seems intent on following the New Labour playbook. He urgently needs to move on from Blair and the Third Way mantra. Health and wealth must go together in equal measure.
David J Hunter, emeritus professor of health policy and management, Newcastle University 

[See also: Letter of the week: What conservatism knows]

Mission positions

I applaud Keir Starmer’s “mission-driven” approach (Cover Story, 3 March). Strategic, mid- to long-term thinking has for too long been absent from our politics, relegated by boosterism, Boris-ism and boorishness. However, the missions are only scratching the surface of what is required. Why do they not encompass root-and-branch reform of the institutions that have brought us to this low point – the honours system, the House of Lords and, most importantly, the way we vote?
George Prest, Winchester

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THANK YOU

Sadly, Keir Starmer seems to be replacing the “glib slogans” that he despises with the vagueness of his own “mission-driven government”, which will give us the prime waffle of “a North Star to keep our eyes on the prize”. Starmer has many admirable qualities, but he must be less cautious, less vague and tell us in practical terms what his party is really about.
Geoff Brown, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Keir Starmer’s missions are going to be difficult to achieve without a strong economy, yet my ears are ringing from his deafening silence on the damage done by leaving the EU. If he wants my vote, Labour needs to have the guts to admit Brexit isn’t working – and do something about it.
Colin Cubie, Hove, East Sussex

Keir Starmer makes only one mention of “housing” and does not refer enough to the gravity of the shortage of affordable secure accommodation in this country.
Ivor Morgan, Lincoln

[See also: The triumph of corporate newspeak]

Freeports ain’t free

Chris Deerin reports (Letter from Scotland, 3 March ) that UK civil servants speak warmly of the constructive approach Kate Forbes has taken, especially on securing two “freeports” for Scotland. The SNP is unlikely to join in the applause: at its conference in 2021 members overwhelmingly voted that freeports should only go ahead if six conditions were met. Peter Henderson, a member of the SNP Trade Union Group, wrote in the National last month that the Scottish government lacks the guaranteed legal powers to enforce the safeguards it wants.

Henderson warns that freeports tend to become “notorious for money laundering, smuggling, people trafficking and the dumping of surplus goods” – just what the SNP voted firmly against.
Alexandra MacRae, Letham, Angus

Kate Forbes may have misread the appetite among colleagues and commentators for honesty about her personal views, but she’s tapped into a key wish among the wider electorate: for politicians who are truthful.
Les Bright, Exeter, Devon

Class AI-lienation

Saffron Huang (The Ideas Essay, 3 March) suggests AI could cause “more precarious labour or the disappearance of certain types of work altogether” – a prediction that references the hollowing out of blue-collar manufacturing jobs in the automation revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. However, AI automation will likely affect middle-class families as well as working-class families. Consequently, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a stronger push for the regulation and control of this new technology from governments across the world.
Ben Law Smith, London NW2

[See also: Why universities are making us stupid]

Pitch perfect commentary

Some of the BBC’s lazy reporting of sport, in which every win is a “defining moment” and every crisis “casts a long shadow” is put to shame by the thoughtful writing of Jonathan Liew. His piece on John Motson (Left Field, 3 March) and the feelings of loss, nostalgia and change caused by the commentator’s death was pitch perfect.
John Adcock, Ashtead, Surrey

Liberal conservatives

In his review of Jonathan Healey’s study of 17th-century England (The Critics, 3 March) Rowan Williams notes ironically that “John Locke, icon of rational and liberal tradition, held views on the working and non-working poor that would have won him praise from Margaret Thatcher’s government”. Yet her government was much influenced by the rationalist dogma of neoliberalism and by Friedrich von Hayek, a theorist keen to stress his liberal (and Lockean) credentials. Similarly, its attitude to the poor was linked to a notion of “self-help” that stemmed largely from Samuel Smiles, a Victorian liberal-rationalist. Modern conservatism has never been merely conservative.
Richard Kelly, Manchester

Original skin

Farrukh Dhondy is right (Correspondence, 3 March) about the anachronistic navels in Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, but I disagree with Jason Cowley’s assertion that it’s “a study in agony and shame”. I have always thought it’s about the despair of two people with no idea why they are being punished or what the consequences will be.
Gerwyn Moseley, Gilwern, Monmouthshire

@DPZ_Berlin
Das Progressive Zentrum, think tank
Noteworthy editorial by New Statesman editor-in-chief Jason Cowley.
What Keir Starmer has learnt from the return of the German Social Democrats”, Jason Cowley, 1 March

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[See also: Letter of the week: A turning tide?]

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This article appears in the 08 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Why universities are making us stupid