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3 January 2018

Letter of the Week: Return to gender

By New Statesman

Robert Webb’s piece on feminism contained the presumptuous, biologically challenging line “once we understand that gender is taught” (Another Voice, 8 December). Really?

I wish I could remember who taught me to “chat up” girls at every opportunity by the time I was 15 (I’d barely spoken to them until I was 13). Probably the same person who taught me to produce over ten times the amount of testosterone as females, to make my voice deepen, to grow whiskers, and other more personal changes that Adrian Mole has described better than I could.

Some gendered behaviour might be taught or learned by imitation, but it is plain to anyone who watches David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes or simply observes animal/human behaviour generally that the vast majority of it is inherited. Perhaps Webb should have written: “Once we understand that gendered behaviour has been written into the genetic code of all animals, including the sub-species called humans, over millions of years of evolution as a fundamental survive-and-thrive strategy… then we’ll stop trying to pretend that females and males are the same – we’re not. We’re complementary.”

In trying to be a champion of feminism, he doth protest too much. Or did he mean to write “unfair gender discrimination”, which I could agree with?

Jem Coulson
Via email

Platoon leader

In his assessment of Edmund Burke (“A philosopher for the ages”, 8 December), Adrian Pabst argues that Britain risks “tearing up the fabric of mutual ties” with Brexit and that this threatens the “shared customs and habits of life” that Burke commended. Yet it is far from clear that Burke would have been a Remainer. Indeed, it is likely that he would have added Brexit to the other anti-supranational causes he championed.

Pabst was right to highlight Burke’s veneration of communities and cultural associations. However, he fails to emphasise that, for Burke, the basis of such “little platoons” was their organic, localised character, underpinned by distinctive customs and a freedom from the prodding of distant officials.

Burke was fearful of giant structures (such as the French First Republic) that were contrived in the name of abstract, political concepts. This formed the basis of his Reflections on the Revolution in France  (1790), in which he attacked its utopian designs, zeal for uniformity and contempt for the imperfections of society. Such impulses would be difficult to square with enthusiasm for the EU – another grand projet founded on lofty ideals, yet dismissive of the parochial diversity that Burke extolled. His support for the rebellious American colonists and his admiration for Adam Smith’s economics offer further reasons to think that Burke would have sided with liberal Leavers rather than with Brussels bureaucrats.

Richard Kelly
Stockport, Greater Manchester

I am weary of writers who set up their own definition of liberalism and then argue that liberalism has failed. The most recent is Adrian Pabst in his otherwise excellent article centred on Edmund Burke.

Such a construct is misleading in today’s politics for two important reasons. First, it fails to recognise that the purpose of political philosophies is to provide a coherent basis on which to develop policies that apply the ideas to the current political agenda. Without the theoretical base, the policies have no consistent foundation; without the policies, however, the philosophy has no relevant expression. There will, of course, be those who reject the outcome as developed by Liberals, but they should at least consider both the theory and its application.

Second, Pabst ignores the many Liberals who have played key roles in updating liberalism for a new age. In my political lifetime, these have included Elliott Dodds, Jo Grimond and, later, Ralf Dahrendorf, all  of whom wrote widely and with considerable rigour on modern liberalism in ways that refute Pabst’s negative conclusions on the subject.

Michael Meadowcroft
Liberal MP for Leeds West, 1983-87

Affable enemy

Jason Cowley’s profile of the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage confirmed for me – and for many other New Statesman readers, no doubt – that he is the political “enemy” (“The arsonist in exile”, 8 December). 

Like his shameless hypocrisy over his European Parliament membership and its privileges, his assertion that Brexit could not be blamed for any economic decline is extraordinary. Farage presents himself as a reluctant hero, claiming that if, in the future, the British public decides that it wants to be formally associated with the EU after all, he would save it from itself (“If the job needs to be finished, I’ll do it”) – but his posturing merely comes across as nauseatingly delusional.

Surely an arsonist is almost always deranged, no matter how affable and plain-speaking he or she may be? May Nigel Farage always stay in exile.

 James Chater
London SW2

On the Rach

What a shame that Sarah Perry – the only one of the 28 contributors to your feature on cherished albums to choose a classical work (“Long Players”, 8 December) – should feel it necessary to apologise both for this and for the work she loved, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2. Not every teenager is enthralled by pop, and many classical musicians and music lovers enjoy Rachmaninov and do not consider him “too sentimental for words”. As for “films in which people swoon at each other on railway station platforms”, she is presumably thinking of Brief Encounter, which uses the Rachmaninov. Many polls, including one last year in Time Out, consider it one of the best British films of all time. The Sequeira Costa recording that she enjoys was last reissued in 2015, so that wasn’t a bad choice, either.

Stephen Barber
Carterton, Oxfordshire

Not in my name

In the run-up to the election last year, I agonised over how to vote. In the end, I wrote to my local Labour MP, Peter Kyle (Hove), to explain that he would get my support despite Jeremy Corbyn. So I was horrified to read in John McDonnell’s Guest Column (8 December): “We united under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and, with our excellent manifesto and formidable activists, we took the fight to our real political enemies.”

Not in my name. I was not among those who united under Corbyn’s leadership. I do not support him. Like many others who have been lifelong Labour voters, I backed a Labour MP, not the leader of the Labour Party. The idea that Corbyn has taken the fight to the Tories is also nonsense. Over the past year, with the Tories on the ropes, Labour has sadly been unable to land punches where they matter. Labour currently feels like a party that waits and sees how things will turn out at a time when leadership can make a real difference.

Brendan Hughes
Hove, East Sussex

Missing detail

Michael Heseltine’s independent character shone through in George Eaton’s perceptive piece (Observations, 8 December). The former deputy prime minister was a master of presenting detail, and he was again when he pointed to the age gap in the Brexit vote. Yet he omitted another factor that was also important in the vote’s outcome: education.

There was only 30 per cent support for Remain among those whose learning extended only to GCSE or lower. Irrespective of Brexit, they are going to struggle as the workplace becomes increasingly mechanised, meaning more misery will be heaped on those at the bottom. I am not confident that the Conservatives will offer any solutions for the vulnerable.

David Rimmer
Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire

Not persuaded

It’s difficult to square your desire for the implementation of a “transformative plan for Britain” (Leader, 8 December) with the inclusion of yet another interview with Tony Blair (“A second act for the great persuader”, 8 December).

The arrogant former prime minister might “still want to win us over”, but he is not regarded in this country as a pariah for nothing. What Blair does not understand is the importance of the role he played both in the Brexit vote and in the rise of Corbynism. The Labour Party, according to Jason Cowley’s Editor’s Note in the same issue, is “in thrall to a movement, Momentum” – but isn’t that preferable to it being in cahoots with the City, warmongering US presidents and Middle Eastern dictators?

Are we meant to forget Blair’s appearance in a propaganda video, praising the “progress” being made in Kazakhstan but ignoring the shooting there of striking workers and the killing of opposition party leaders? Persuading pro-Brexit Labour voters that “Brexit’s not the answer to their problems” is all the more difficult when many of these problems were ignored or exacerbated by Blair’s government.

Thankfully, Blair is no longer driving this age of upheaval. He will be unhappy to watch Corbyn enter No 10, but as the Labour leader promises “the most transformative government in a generation”, I presume you will welcome it.

Bernie Evans

Lake news

In a quantum world (“The quantum superiority”, 8 December), Zurich is on Lake Geneva and Geneva is on Lake Zurich, and vice versa. In the non-quantum world, however, Zurich is only on Lake Zurich.

Martin Westlake

Good neighbours

I find Matthew Engel’s Lost Continent series a fantastic addition to the NS. With Brexit dominating every aspect of the British political landscape, I have very much enjoyed his insights into the psyches of the nations we will soon leave behind like family members around the Christmas dinner table. As the government aims to conclude Brexit negotiations in 2018, I think it is important that we remember the historical and cultural ties we have with our European neighbours. I look forward to seeing what Engel makes of Croatia.

Chris Ogden

Real happiness

There was a plethora of goodies in your Christmas special. The two pieces that stood out were Stephen Bush on his acceptance of a non-father figure (Bursting the Bubble, 8 December). This was not a “poor me” piece but a real acceptance of the cards that were handed to him and a joyful realisation that life has turned out pretty well. I felt he did the right thing in passing  his father by, because the gulf would probably be too wide to even contemplate bridging.

The other one was by Lucy Winkett (Notebook), a very happy woman in her clerical skin who is making a real difference to disenfranchised refugees in our country. These two columns radiated happiness and contentment and were a pleasure to read.

Judith A Daniels
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Done a runner

Since the permutations on Brexit that you publish in your Observations section will eventually run out, why not try limericks? Here’s one of mine to start with:

The thing about Britain and Brexit
Is the fact that nobody  gets it.
When all’s said and done,
No one will have won
Except for Farage, and he’s  legged it.

Guy de la Bédoyère
Grantham, Lincolnshire

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