Grace Blakeley (“Why the left should champion Brexit”, 18 January) has the commendable aim of wanting to build a new democratic socialist international order, but strangely thinks this would be best achieved by cutting ourselves off from other socialists in the EU.
The UK imports a good deal of its food and energy. Our imports are paid for in good part by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the financial manipulations of the City of London, and selling our businesses to foreign investors. How could the UK, outside the EU, stand up to the World Bank, the IMF and the other hostile forces of capitalism? To think it would is fantasy. The stance of the EU Commission and Council reflects this.
The ability to exercise second thoughts over potentially damaging decisions does not represent a “betrayal” of democracy; in fact, a reconsideration of such decisions goes back to the very origins of democratic practice. The ancient Greek historian Thucydides reported that when the island of Lesbos attempted to break away from the Athenian empire during the Peloponnesian War, the Athenian democratic assembly voted to send an expedition to slaughter all of the male inhabitants of the island and to enslave the women and children. A ship was despatched to carry out the atrocious deed. In the cold light of the following day, this cruel and unjust action soon appeared likely to harm the longer-term national interest of Athens by causing serious reputational damage, as well as all manner of other unwelcome possible consequences.
So, a second vote was quickly held that reversed the decision. Interestingly, one argument that helped carry the day was that the punitive action would play into the hands of a populist set of upper-class politicians capable of manipulating ordinary voters. A second ship was sent to intercept the first that, luckily, had the wind in its sails and so was able to countermand the original order.
Taking a second vote on a decision of great importance is therefore far from being anti-democratic; rather, it is a possibility – sometimes a necessity in changing circumstances – inscribed in the very DNA of democracy.
Imagine the media commotion if the leader of a Labour council was deselected by his local party. Events here in Goveland (Surrey Heath) illustrate there is one media rule for Labour councils and another for Tory. For several decades Councillor Moira Gibson, representing the affluent Windlesham ward, has been the leader of Surrey Heath Council. She was there when Surrey Heath became the first council to sell off all its social housing and witnessed the housing crisis for the borough’s young people that has resulted.
Now she has been summarily dismissed by local Tories in Windlesham and Chobham. In chagrin her sister has cut up her Conservative Party membership card. If a similar event occurred in a Labour-controlled council how much newsprint would be expended?
Why does Nicholas Shakespeare (The Critics, 18 January), glibly referring to the Argentine claim to the Falklands as “spurious”, give such an inaccurate and incomplete account of the dispute? He ought to know better, and try harder.
St Antony’s College, Oxford
Art school alumni
I look forward to reading Mike Roberts’s book, How Art Made Pop (And Pop Became Art), reviewed by Stuart Maconie (The Critics, 18 January). I hope it explains how the old art schools throughout Britain encouraged such an extraordinary flowering of talent in the 1950s and 1960s, and not just in terms of popular music. Clearly, these schools, now mostly closed or absorbed into a much smaller number of universities, also enabled their students to develop potential for acting (Alan Rickman, John Hurt, Charles Dance), film-making (Mike Leigh, Jenny Beavan, Roger Deakins, Ridley and Tony Scott), design (Terence Conran, Rodney Fitch), and many other areas of culture and enterprise, in addition, of course, to those students who became great musicians, painters, illustrators, fashion designers, typographers, furniture makers, and so on.
Town Yetholm, Scottish Borders
Simon Heffer (Another Voice, 18 January) suggests Boris Johnson’s “many failings as foreign secretary” have cost him the chance of replacing Theresa May. Since she appointed him, perhaps this is one thing she has got right.
Enfield, Greater London
Toilet of tomorrow
May I suggest to any who, like Peter Wilby, fear a toilet paper shortage after 29 March to purchase a Japanese-style toilet seat (First Thoughts, 18 January). These provide all the services offered by a bidet with no requirement of any use of hands, and leave the user, via well-aimed jets of water, feeling far cleaner and fresher than the messy process of applying several folds of toilet tissue. Only the British reluctance to discuss toilet issues without resorting to instant mirth prevents the mass conversion to this type of toilet, which is now almost universal across much of Asia.
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This article appears in the 23 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Who’s running Britain?