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10 July 2024

Letter of the week: The trouble with democracy

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

By New Statesman

One feature of election time is that politicians become dewy-eyed about democracy. Penny Mordaunt, in her concession speech, said: “Democracy is never wrong.” Of course, at some level, we all get this. However, am I the only one who, hearing Mordaunt’s noble utterance, thought: “Yes, it blooming is. It was democracy that landed us with Boris Johnson and you lot!”?

There is serious and serial humbuggery around the idea that politicians revere democracy. Once voted in, most politicians’ energy is devoted to distorting democratic process. Through engineered statistics, loaded committees, whipping, undocumented meetings and other undemocratic manoeuvres, they hope to steer around the encumbrance of working in a democracy.

The rest of us think less about democracy while understanding that, alongside proper drains, it is preferable to other options. Now that the election is over may we hope that, without too much sanctimony, a new generation of politicians will make both of those work better?
Mike Hawthorne, Eardisley, Herefordshire

For the people

At the general election, the party that “has traditionally prided itself on its pursuit of power” – as your Leader (4 July) puts it – collapsed. Perhaps, henceforth, such pride will cease to characterise the so-called natural party of government. Have we not lived too long with the illusion that there is such a thing? Perhaps, indeed, democracy is actually about the people and not about party politics at all.

The “Glorious Revolution” taught us as much: neither autocracy nor parliamentary government is natural as a form that reflects the needs of the masses. Throwing out James II did not yield democracy. The introduction of universal adult suffrage in the 1920s merely reinforced representational – ie, elitist – government, the very antithesis of rule by the people.
David Clarke, Witney

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THANK YOU

Down to the wire

Producing an edition one day ahead of an election result must have been quite a challenge, but you pulled off a barnstormer. The coverage was broad and engrossing. Special mention to Ed Smith for his two thought-provoking contributions. A superb edition in what has been an extraordinary week on so many levels.
Lloyd Gash, Surrey

Against the odds

Wolfgang Münchau writes (Lateral View, 4 July) that “the main question for the next round is not whether Marine Le Pen’s party will come first, but whether it will have an absolute majority”. In fact, National Rally came a poor third behind the combined left and the Macron centre. Remind me not to bet on a Münchau forecast! More seriously, it demonstrates that while there may be a need to understand the rise of the populist right, there is no obligation to defer to it. Anyone vaguely on the left watching the joy on young, ethnically diverse faces in Paris as the result emerged would be inspired.
Martin Davis, West Bridgford

Dear Wes

I have been a retired hospital consultant for 12 years, but Phil Whitaker highlights two concepts that have seemed important to me since I started my career (Health Matters, 4 July). Most hospital work is in effect a national sickness service. The idea of a separate Disease Prevention Service would identify what is needed to promote good health. This was integral to the 1980 Black report into health inequality, rejected by Thatcher because of the implications for policy in areas such as housing. We can hope Wes Streeting sees things differently.

The problem of ever-expanding medical interventions has become an increasing issue over the years. We cannot afford everything. There has to be an effective approach to rationing, and politicians must find a mechanism, perhaps a wider remit for NICE, for explaining and supporting this.
Duncan MacIntyre, Eaglesham, Glasgow

For several decades we have witnessed increasing tension – and collusion – between corporate interests and the overt aims of a purportedly public health service. Excising the rhetoric and sentimentalism surrounding the NHS behemoth, we might see more clearly the contradictions and Byzantine nonsense that occurs daily.

Rigid thinking and terror of straying from protocols causes over-testing and under-use of skilled observation. Over-intervention with pharmaceuticals results in a disproportionate number of negative consequences. Iatrogenic conditions abound, yet most of us are too timid to decline what our medics suggest.

In a saner world, we would be training GPs to understand nutrition. GPs would be free to perceive patients as individuals, with real discussion about health plans, rather than the “expert/fealty” model. Longer appointments allowing for real discussion could mean many patients would not need specialist referrals, reducing waiting lists. I’m not holding my breath while Wes Streeting gets to grips with his post. But what a transformation could be effected.
Linda Johns, Suffolk

About that pension…

Although I am one of the fortunate people who could manage perfectly well without the state pension, I would not volunteer to stop drawing it (Correspondence, 4 July). That would feel like an insignificant gesture unless I could be sure that large numbers of others in a similar position were doing the same. But I would have no objection to an additional tax that had the effect of clawing back part or all of the state pension when other income exceeded certain thresholds.
Andrew Wardrop, London SW19

Ready to ripen

While enjoying Pen Vogler’s column about the history of strawberries in the UK (Food, 4 July), I have to take issue with her on one statement. She asserts that picked strawberries don’t ripen. I know from experience that this is not correct. This has been a challenging summer for vegetable growers. To encourage ripening we pick our fruit when at least half is red and place them in a warm, bright conservatory. They are fully ripe within 24 hours. Yum.
Chris Palmer, Doonfoot, Ayr

Divine intervention

Like me, Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 4 July) prayed fervently for Jacob Rees-Mogg to lose his seat, but did he also pray regarding Truss, Mordaunt, Shapps, Baker, Harper, Jenkins, Davies, Mercer, Keegan, Chalk, etc? I think we should be told.
Mike Bor, London W2

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[See also: Letter of the week: Missions without omission]

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This article appears in the 10 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, All Change