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11 October 2023

Letter of the week: Travelling backwards

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By New Statesman

How is it that Rishi Sunak has the power, more or less single-handedly, to cancel the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 (Leader, 6 October), a decision taken in parliament? Surely this suggestion should be discussed by MPs? The cancellation is a major U-turn in the last moments of a dying Tory government that will affect the UK for decades to come. It is a desperate act.

At the very least, freezing the sale of land purchased for HS2 should be seriously considered. One of the aims of HS2 is to get freight off the roads and free up other, overcrowded, somewhat dilapidated railway lines going to the north. People do like to travel faster, hence the use of air across the UK. Environmentally alone, HS2 makes sense. Europe is building high-speed lines all over the continent and discouraging air traffic, as are countries such as India. Far from a decision for a brighter future, this feels like going backwards.
Rosanne Bostock, Oxford

[See also: The Greens share the blame for HS2’s demise]

Open debate

The question posed by your editorial “A train line to nowhere” (Leader, 6 October) is this: does a nation build what it wants where it wants – as in China, with minimal democracy – or assess infrastructure development through a strict and lengthy democratic process, as in the UK? Neither nation seems to have the right balance. Perhaps France is a better example, where the state can drive through major changes that are still open to public debate.
Tony Slaughter, Narbonne, France

Unaligned values

A great piece by John Gray as usual (These Times, 6 October). Deriding ordinary people’s concerns as “populism” is counterproductive. Unmitigated technocracy is anti-democratic and not for the left to aspire to. The masses have more wisdom than they are given credit for.

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In particular, they observe policy coordination across nations under the influence of supranational bodies and conclude that it is not always in their interests, but aligned with those of the super-rich. The left should engage with this growing unease, rather than writing it off as “populism” or “conspiracy theories”.
Gavin Parnell, Wokingham, Berkshire

Tony Blair was wrong: net zero is not pointless, even if China is pumping out CO2. If we can demonstrate greener and cheaper energy, everyone else will want it. If we can make money converting our waste, they’ll want that too. We want solutions, not doom. The sooner someone starts, the sooner others can follow.
Tim Ward, Liverpool

I read John Gray’s column with great interest but came away with many questions. Perhaps Andrew Marr could interview him and you could publish the transcript. I’m sure Marr would be able to get answers not only to my questions but to those that other readers may have had.
Claude Green, Surbiton, Greater London

Praise for Münchau

Wolfgang Münchau is one of your best journalists. Amid your often too uncritical coverage of the EU, his is a sane, balanced voice. His feature “The return of the two Germanys” (The NS Essay, 6 October) is another sobering, brilliant analysis.
Kathryn Ecclestone, Martindale, Penrith

[See also: A train line to nowhere]

Premature decline

I read with great interest Robert Colls’s  review of Backbone of the Nation by Robert Gildea (The Critics, 6 October). Between 1959 and 1963 I visited mines in the West Midlands coalfield. I was part of the sampling team for the “Coal Survey”, which analysed and mapped the properties, depth and location of all the known coal seams.

I was impressed by the mechanisation of the mining process. Many worked-out mines were closed and miners moved to pits that were more economically viable. Miners were not against modernisation or the closure of uneconomic pits. Nor was the miners’ union opposed to the process. Everyone knew that this was the only way forward. Miners were proud of their nationalised industry and the leaps forward it was taking. The subsequent actions of Margaret Thatcher’s government disgracefully brought about the premature decline of a proud and viable industry.
Roger Millard, Bristol

Dons immortalised

The saga of 71-year-old Michael Thomas (This England, 6 October) led me to wonder whether the builder was also a keen student of architectural history. In The Gothic Revival (1928), Kenneth Clark writes about the O’Shea brothers, Irish stonemasons employed to create carvings on Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History in the 1850s. A spat with the university led to the brothers carving a series of owls and parrots, whose heads bore a resemblance to those of the convocation, on the entrance to the building. Unlike Councillor Palmen, the members weren’t flattered and the O’Sheas were told to remove them. Pure coincidence, or deliberate imitation in the case of Mr Thomas?
John Dearing, Reading, Berkshire

A listener’s response

I agree with William Boyd (The Critics, 29 September) that attributing meaning to music can be a mug’s game. But given its numinous and abstract nature, music can express intuitive premonition as well as evoking memory. Take the Ländler movements in Mahler’s symphonies, where a bucolic Austrian folk dance in 3/4 time curdles into ominous minor chords and threatening timpani. Although Mahler died in 1911, his Ländler always evoke for me what happened in Austria in the 1930s.
David Perry, Cambridge

Depth of feeling

The piece on Evelyn Waugh by Will Lloyd (Critic at Large, 8 September) might also have contrasted his letters and diaries, showing his morning and evening feelings.
Peter Bottomley MP, House of Commons

The mystery cat

Am I alone in wanting to know more about David Lammy’s travelling companion on his flight to Canada (Diary, 29 September)? We are given no explanation as to how this creature got on board or who it belonged to. Perhaps it was a part of the Labour Party delegation? Details, David!
Alan Clarke, York

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[See also: Letter of the week: Category errors]

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This article appears in the 11 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, War Without Limits