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24 May 2023

Letter of the week: Educating Bridget

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By New Statesman

Despite defining “left” as “people in progressive politics” (Cover Story, 19 May) I am surprised at the inclusion of Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, currently at loggerheads with the teachers’ unions over the future of Ofsted and league tables. The latter, set up by the Tories in 1988, have always been rejected by teachers as divisive and disruptive.

Western democracies do not normally rely on politicians to decide what should be taught and how. Instead, they invest in infrastructure and a well-trained teaching force to maintain standards. In Britain we require teachers to be graduates in the subjects they will teach and to study child psychology and teaching methods for a year, followed by probation. Yet we still fail to give them either the appropriate respect or salary, maybe because many of them are women.

The Ofsted head has never taught in a school and many past education ministers and senior education officials went to fee-paying schools. It is now time to change this for the sake of our children, stressed out by constant ill-devised tests, and to stop overworked, underpaid teachers leaving the profession.
Margaret Morris, London N8

[See also: Letter of the week: The case against Starmer]

Who’s left?

I must take issue with your placing JK Rowling at number 14 in the “Left Power List” (Cover Story, 19 May), particularly as you chose to highlight her instrumental role in the repeal of Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill and “further inflamed divisions within the SNP”, as if these are something to be proud of.

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While I appreciate trans rights is a divisive issue, to give such credence to Rowling’s stance as a paragon of the current left movement is tantamount to arguing that there is no place any more for an electable fully inclusive Labour Party. Your closing statement that Keir Starmer has himself taken her stance on board as party policy is horribly telling.
Ian MacMillan, London SW2

It was instructive to see who the NS regards as being on the left. Most of those featured are to the left of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Suella Braverman, but perhaps its most useful function was to demonstrate how far to the right the Overton Window has shifted in the UK.
Dr John O’Dowd, Bothwell, Lanarkshire

Your “Left Power List” features such progressive luminaries as Gary Lineker but not Caroline Lucas MP or anyone from the Green Party. Lucas has been a crucial figure in the struggle for environmental and social justice for 13 years, and the Green Party made record gains at the recent local elections. It is surprising you should ignore the rise of the only party truly addressing the gravest crisis we face.
Tom Scott, Falmouth, Cornwall

Why was John McDonnell not included? He is still active on the left wing of the Labour Party and the best chancellor of the Exchequer we never had.
Maggie Watson, London SE9

I was surprised by the absence of Michael Rosen. A person of wit, enthusiasm and linguistic agility. His paean to the NHS, “These are the Hands”, surely makes him the closest the left has to a poet laureate.
Jim A Thomas, Sheffield

Liberal doublethink

Samuel Moyn’s review of Christopher Clark is lucid in its account of liberal doublethink in the 19th century (The Critics, 19 May). In the same edition, Simon Ings takes the ultra-liberal warriors of the 21st century – Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple – to task for their shameless behaviour.  I offer a very literal embodiment of this bogus liberalism. Step forward Nick Clegg, who went from leader of the Liberal Democrats to becoming chief defender of Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithms in Silicon Valley.
David Perry, Cambridge

The trouble with universal income

William Davies’ elegant essay on John Rawls and his disciple Daniel Chandler (The Critics, 28 April) is strong on philosophy but neglects Chandler’s proposals to achieve greater equality by, inter alia, a universal wage. To work, this relies on the money in which that wage is paid having sufficient and stable value. All well and good, so long as the central bank holds fast to the first principle of fiat money and resists the temptation to print the stuff faster than economic growth can justify. So long as tax revenues meet the cost of Mr Chandler’s utopia, his system might survive.

But history reveals this is never the case. Promises of “bread and circuses” require both that the wealth taken from the rich remains sufficient, and that the wealthy can continue creating it. Otherwise, the state resorts to borrowing and the printing press. And who will lend money to a government whose revenues are insufficient to meet its commitments?

Ultimately, the state resorts to ring-fencing itself to maintain its promises, which are reduced to the provision of basic necessities. Productive industries are seized, and productive people enslaved.
Sir Andrew Cook CBE, Castagnola, Switzerland

Yurr and now

In her review of Steeltown Murders (The Critics, 19 May), Rachel Cooke asserts that everyone in Neath and its environs pronounces the word “here” as hee-urr.  This is outrageous. In fact, everyone in Neath, Port Talbot and thereabouts pronounces “here” (not to mention “hear”, “ear” and “year”) as yurr. Just ask Michael Sheen.
Gerwyn Moseley, Gilwern, Monmouthshire


When Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 19 May) had a mouth ulcer he thought it was mouth cancer. I also had a persistent mouth ulcer, which I hadn’t thought might be cancer until he wrote about his. For many months I believed my chronic shoulder pain was musculoskeletal, until he suggested his might be arm cancer. Now he’s on about a bone cancer. As a highly suggestible 60-year-old writer called Nicholas, I beg you to ask Lezard to stop writing about his cancer anxieties.
Nicholas Royle, Manchester

Ulrike Franke, senior policy fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations
That is quite the read! I am used to Germany saying it has no power in the world, but hearing this from a former senior British foreign policy official is quite something.
“Simon McDonald: ‘It’s the end of the game for Britain’”, Harry Lambert, 13 May

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[See also: Letter of the week: A problem of scale]

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This article appears in the 24 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Crack-Up