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16 January 2019

Letter of the week: Britain’s constitutional crisis

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

Dr Colum McCaffery (Correspondence, 11 January) points out that there is no written constitution to amend in order to transfer sovereignty to the people. The referendum and its aftermath, he maintains, has signalled such a transfer. Is there not, therefore, a need either to reject the referendum result in order to assert the sovereignty of our “democratically” elected government or to rewrite the constitution, post-haste, to effect this transfer of power constitutionally before we descend into the abyss of “blindfold Brexit”. A second referendum would then be not only constitutionally sound but deliberative and decisive.

In the longer run (once the sovereignty of the people has been established and the Brexit debacle avoided), the creation of an assembly of the people to democratise government would energise political debate in the country and stimulate public interest in state affairs as never before.

The Brexit vote was a rejection of a constitution that has allowed Westminster effectively to disenfranchise swathes of the population.

David Clarke
Witney, Oxfordshire

Second thoughts

Helen Lewis (Out of the Ordinary, 11 January) seems to be brutally honest with herself, and I agree that “democracy… is about accepting that you lost”. But perhaps in this case that brutality is going too far? Is it democratic to deny the right to a second vote to a majority of people who demand it; this time, though, with some idea where Brexit is likely to lead? Until the clock stops ticking on 29 March we can, and in my view should, stop this “…low-key drain on our country’s life force”. Lewis’s “democratic” fatalism is irresponsible and undemocratic.

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And then there is another aspect to this whole debacle, as Paul Mason has argued in this magazine: Brexit has already given an enormous boost to the far right in Europe. Britain leaving the EU is going to tilt the political balance in Brussels and Strasbourg further in a way that none of us, apart from the EDL and like-minded people, can wish for. Lewis is 35; I am more than twice her age and was born in Berlin at the start of the Second World War. Europe, irrespective of its imperfections, for me as for many others has been a beacon of hope. Let’s not wilfully demolish that.

Ursula Haeckel

I read Helen Lewis’s column about her chariness at the premise of a second referendum and do sympathise with her reservations, but only to a certain extent. Yes, this course of action could be divisive and alienating but to my mind it is necessary. I live in a town that voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU for various reasons.

But I do not consider this was a good result for my town, which was probably heavily manipulated by Ukip and the mendacious Leave strategy and, it has to be said, the smug and complacent Remain camp.

Because we now know all the pertinent facts about Brexit and can make an informed decision, we should have another referendum. If it does come out as Leave again, I for one will accept the inevitable and what is more achieve the necessary closure on what has been a crass, unedifying and unnecessary period in our history, grossly polluted by self-serving politicians, who, for their own mendacious reasons, treated it as game of poker, when the viable future of this country was at stake.

Judith A Daniels
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Helen Lewis is correct to be fearful of the far-right mobsters who are taking advantage of Brexit to crawl out of their burrows and harass MPs and anyone else who they see as in their way. But this unease about confronting them plays into their hands. In Cable Street in the East End of London you can see the dramatic mural dedicated to those who came together to face down Oswald Mosley and his fascists in 1936. Mosley wished to march his thugs through an area of high immigration in order to stir up resentment and hatred, in much the same way as immigration has been exploited by the far right in recent years. Decent, community-minded citizens made sure he was not successful, despite the disgraceful support of the authorities of the day.

So, we should not fear the messages and intimidatory tactics of these few modern-day thugs. Instead, we should fear a time when decent people remain silent and on the sidelines, allowing the far right to become even bolder.

Chris Counsell
Redlynch, Wiltshire

Helen Lewis set out valid reasons why she could not make the leap to a second referendum. There are valid reasons too why one should be countenanced, not least of which is that it may be the only way out of the impasse we might collectively find ourselves in by the time the reader alights upon this correspondence.

Michael Haskell
Broughton, Flintshire

Silent majority

I want to take issue with Andrew Hussey’s article about the recent turmoil in France (“Macron’s crisis without end”, 4 January). As a Frenchman, I’ve been to many more demos and to Paris much more often than Professor Hussey. Riot police blocking roads and people of all ages hurling stones at them (copying suburban gangs that like to vent their frustrations in city centres) has been around since even before May 1968. Nothing new there. A lot of them wear yellow vests today, that’s all – the 2019 fashion.

You should know that the remaining block of protestors is now mainly made up of extremists, from both left and right. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that 100,000 or so “jaundiced” people dotted around the country are in any way a threat to the French state: we have 67 million inhabitants! There is a stronger and much larger core called the silent majority that will always reject extremists.

Thus, you must keep in mind that Emmanuel Macron will most likely be re-elected in 2022, as people always rally against extremism in the second round of presidential elections. Poll approval ratings mean nothing: Macron’s will keep going up and down and so will the others. The centre left plus the centre right will prevail in France until a Mitterrand-type politician can unite the whole of the left again – something the individualistic “splitter” Jean-Luc Mélenchon is incapable of doing. The far right will always be kept at bay by our overwhelming silent majority.

Pierre Duchamp
Via email

Empty space

The article by Philip Ball (“The new race for space”, 11 January) brought back very clear memories of an appearance by my late father, AJP Taylor, on David Frost’s ITV Moon Party programme on the night of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. As the most famous historian in the country, admittedly mainly due to having a monopoly on prime-time TV appearances, my father was expected to add some gravitas to the programme by waxing lyrical on the historical significance of the event. Instead, he punctured the balloon of pomposity by describing it as the “biggest non-event of the century”. Poor David Frost looked crestfallen, but in hindsight there are few who would now argue the opposite of this assessment.

While the description may have been somewhat over-dismissive in relation to the role of the “space race” in the Cold War, not to mention the symbolism of being the first to “conquer” the moon, it was accurate if one compares the moon landing to events such as the two world wars. Ironically, the main long-term consequence may have been to enable pseudo-scientists to make TV careers for themselves by providing the “expert comment” to accompany footage of spacecraft taking off and landing on distant planets.

Dan Taylor
Reading, Berkshire

There is a plus side to the “bleak, lonely and inhospitable” and “beautiful, empty horror” of space, though back in 1969 we had no idea. In space, no one can hear you tweet. I can’t think of a better reason to get back there.

Guy de la Bédoyère
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Classic oversight

Andrew Harrison’s article on recorded music sales (“Resurrection Songs”, 11 January) concentrated exclusively on popular music. Yet, according to the Official Charts Company for the BPI, sales of classical music CDs and streaming increased by more than 10 per cent last year compared to the year before, which is more than the overall increase of 5.7 per cent across all genres. Sixty per cent of this was in CD format. These impressive figures should have at least been mentioned and, even more, celebrated.

Stephen Barber
Carterton, Oxfordshire

Kicking it out

While I thoroughly agree with Giles Smith’s disgust at hugely profitable football teams charging their own fans to act as mascots (Left Field, 11 January), I can offer some advice to help him overcome the mind-numbing pre-match entertainment at Chelsea. He should do what I do when I go to see my beloved Manchester City. I get to my seat at 2.59pm when the kick-off is 3pm.

Kal Hodgson
Hale, Greater Manchester

At the single

In reference to Martin Eade’s letter and the recent replies to it (Correspondence, 11 January), one of my particular dislikes is when someone at the end of a phone says, “I’ll just double-check” when they clearly haven’t checked in the first place.

Rev Michael Fielding

Living quietly

KC Gordon is dismayed by Peter Wilby’s impressions of how and where he lives (Correspondence, 11 January). Perhaps he’s simply trying to keep up with Nicholas Lezard.

Janey Hulme
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Age-old sexism

So, Olivia Colman is an “older woman” at 44 (Leader, 11 January). Would you describe a 44-year-old male as an “older man”? I think not.

Clare Wenham

Lost in music

Tracey Thorn mentioned finding an old Marine Girls album while decluttering (Off the Record, 11 January). Will there be a reunion?

Alice Roberts
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

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This article appears in the 16 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit trapped Britain