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30 January 2019

Letter of the week: The great barrier breach

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

Ken Worpole’s article on the great flood of January 1953 (The Critics, 25 January) is a timely reminder of recent warnings by the Environment Agency, London Underground and various meteorological groups about how vulnerable London and eastern coastal communities are if another deluge happens.

In this world of climate change, the ice melt from Greenland is causing sea levels to rise. This makes feasible a scenario where the Thames Barrier could be breached. The North Sea is relatively shallow and if an easterly surge of sea occurs around Scotland it would flow into the North Sea and create a tidal bump that would ride down the east coast, devastating many communities.

It would eventually reach the mouth of the Thames and surge up river. If rains had been occurring inland, water would also be flowing from the upper reaches of the Thames. The meeting of these two flows would be devastating. Needless to say the present government has made little provision for such a real possibility.

Dr Len Holden
Market Harborough,

Ireland reunited

Colin Kidd’s and Ian McBride’s article on the Irish Question (“In a state of paranoia”, 25 January) described, with nuance and wit, the subtle array of forces at play in Ireland. I wonder, though, if among the shifting allegiances and demographics, a starker reality was missed?

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The authors describe the relationship between Britain and Ireland as “post-colonial”. Really? In Northern Ireland, as in Scotland, the people voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU; they are not to be allowed to do so, as the majority of the English voted otherwise. Is that not a perfect description of a colonial system, where the coloniser determines what will happen to the colonised? That the UK government has found a group of quisling politicians in Northern Ireland who will support it in exchange for favours merely reinforces the comparison. All British colonial rule involved favouring one group over the majority population, whether minority Protestant settlers in Ireland, Turkish policemen in Cyprus, or the spurious identification and special treatment of “martial races” in India.

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Perhaps it is time to recognise that, in relation to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, Westminster-led government is, essentially, a colonial arrangement. Some may be happy with that, I am not – and I am a former army officer – for, until we dissolve that unequal and inequitable power relationship the “People’s Debate” called for by Yanis Varoufakis (Another Voice, 25 January) will go nowhere.

We approach the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922. Let us give ourselves those three years to make good what was supposed to be, in 1919-22, a temporary “backstop” arrangement for Ireland.

By removing the most egregious of the UK’s internal colonial relationships we can start to look at ourselves more honestly in other areas.

Simon Diggins
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

Colin Kidd and Ian McBride’s insightful essay rightly suggests reuniting Ireland to resolve the “Irish Question”. Consider the facts.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement delivered peace and growing prosperity to Northern Ireland. The stranglehold of the Catholic Church in Ireland is profoundly weakened – witness the landslide 2018 abortion referendum result.

The south is wholeheartedly European in outlook and a relatively open and secular society. In Northern Ireland the 2016 Brexit referendum found majority support for Remain.

The present land border of 310 miles is irregular and inappropriate. Its origins lie in the plantations when the English Crown usurped and confiscated land and colonised it using settlers from Britain. This nebulous border is obsolete and outdated.

There seems a deep irony in Theresa May’s £1bn bribe to secure support of ten Northern Ireland MPs for an enfeebled, tortured government that remains mired in the “hard border” problem after years of Brexit negotiations. Further fudges, delays and renegotiations cannot conceal the truth; no solution exists for the Irish border issue within the status quo.

Reunification in 1990 delivered prosperity for Germany. If Northern Ireland’s 1991 peace process can declare Britain has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland, then follow that rationale now – a reunited Ireland is long overdue.

Keith Jago

Minority rule

I’m an admirer of Yanis Varoufakis, which is probably why his condescending references to the “lady in Leeds” put me over the edge (Another Voice, 25 January). He states, “A second referendum would have to take place without the consent of half the country”– implying that half the country backed the first referendum. To assume that everyone who backed Cameron also supported a referendum is a bit of a stretch.

There were many reasons voters may have backed the Tories. We are now in a position where a tiny majority have voted for something that could have calamitous implications. The government has had two years to show how it could be otherwise, and has failed. And yet Varoufakis is appalled by the damage that might be done to the lady in Leeds should Article 50 be extended. And his hope that the European Commission will use emergency powers to save Britain from Brexit hardly seems to be in line with his dedication to her frustration. Surely the lady in Leeds voted for the Tories as much as she voted for Brexit. Why should she be offered a second chance on the former but not the latter?

Liz Mermin
Via email

Doesn’t add up

I read with interest and anger (though no great surprise) Anoosh Chakelian’s excellent article on funding for education (Observations, 25 January). It led me to research the facts and figures online. It is, of course, extremely difficult to find useful figures among the plethora of reports and tables. I am concerned, however, that many commentators may be neglecting a key point: namely that state schools and academies are now dealt with on completely different tables, as different entities.

Thanks to Michael Gove’s persuasion and promises a few years ago, a great number of state schools became academies and are therefore no longer under the care or provision of Local Education Authorities (LEAs). So, when the Department for Education (DfE) says “every local authority has received more money per pupil since 2017” this seemingly cannot take into account the millions of children who attend academies, which receive their funding directly from the government.

In academies and schools, one of the major problems appears to be that any increases in per-pupil funding have not compensated for the lost layers of provision formerly offered by the now severely cut LEAs. As the article suggested, DfE statistics and actual school budgets are greatly at odds.

Andrew Murphy
Market Harborough, Leicestershire

The EU consensus

Grace Blakeley’s article throws up a persistent issue when discussing the EU – its tendency to be all things to all people (Observations, 18 January). Or in this case, all things to one person: she calls it both “neoliberal” and “protectionist”.

The EU institutions, like any establishment, reflect the political mood of the time. Today’s messy mix of political initiatives are the products of their environment: if the current consensus is broadly more right than left, then that’s probably because the majority of European citizens are voting that way. The answer then is to alter the consensus, namely by convincing those around you and winning elections at the local, regional, national and supranational level.

Why construct an “alternative international order” when you could just transform the one we already have? Lexit is a cop out. We can and must do better.

Chris Ruff
Brussels, Belgium

Daphne’s dystopia

A Small Town in Germany is a very fine book but, I would argue, is not, as Thomas Meaney claims, the best Brexit novel (Inside Europe, 25 January). That honour must surely go to the deeply weird and disturbing Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier.

Her last novel, published in 1972 shortly before the UK joined the EEC, takes place just after the UK, having left the EEC, faces bankruptcy and social disorder. The solution arrived at is for it to merge with the US in a new nation called (I kid you not) USUK.

Set in Cornwall, the novel opens with a US navy warship moored in the bay, roadblocks in place, telephone and postal communication shut down and US marines marching up the high street.

Don’t have nightmares.

Timothy Beecroft
St Albans, Hertfordshire

After the flood

Ken Worpole’s account of the great flood of January 1953 was fascinating (The Critics, 25 January). The memory I have of that day is of being taken aged five from school into a very crowded Erith town centre in hope of catching a glimpse of the new Queen, who visited and spoke to some of those who had been made homeless.

As Worpole notes, many of the areas worst affected were socially deprived, and this was true of Erith and neighbouring Belvedere on the south bank of the Thames.

Trevor Pateman

Blue is the colour

Giles Smith is a great signing for the Left Field column, particularly as he appears to be on a mission to sneak in a passing reference to his beloved Chelsea FC in every piece. Long may it continue.

John Smyth
Kingston upon Thames, London

Another nice mess

In the early 1950s I, like William Keegan (The Diary, 25 January), had a Laurel and Hardy experience. Next to the lifeboat house at Runswick Bay, north of Whitby, I came upon a circle of people who were laughing a lot. In the centre stood a fat man and a thin one. The fat one was waving a piece of kelp over his bowler. I asked the person next to me what was so funny. “Shush!” he said. “It’s Laurel and Hardy.”

Simon Currie
Otley, West Yorkshire

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This article appears in the 30 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Epic fail