Never did I think there would be a time when I stuck up for Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief of staff. However, Peter Wilby – presumably writing from his well-served-by-public-transport suburb of Loughton – dismisses the importance of upgrading the A1 (First Thoughts, 10 January). This major route from the south of England enjoys motorway status in many sections until Newcastle.
I live on the other side of the Pennines and appreciate my ability to reach Scotland easily. If the north of England is to enjoy a new dawn after Brexit then the major eastern part of the country must be valued.
Thanks to Megan Nolan (Out of the Ordinary, 10 January) for her perceptive reading of The Buddha of Suburbia. I loved her description of the opportunities afforded by charisma and the phrase “the propulsive bolshiness of the working-class person who must gamble for their freedom”.
Her analysis of the Buddha story chimes well with that of Richard Wilkinson and colleagues, who have studied in some depth how inequality in society tends to result in greater risk-taking behaviour on the part of the poorer.
But inequality for Wilkinson is calibrated at the level of whole nations and so he may have missed the element that Nolan identifies: the extra marginalisation of minority ethnic populations and the bolshiness we might then expect to find there.
Nolan has described this statistical argument in very human terms. The stats are telling, but it is the powerful alliance of personal narratives with wider social issues that speaks loudest.
Time to apologise
The UK needs to look hard at its history and the frankly, often disgraceful role it played in Iran. From the first discoveries of oil in Khorasan in the late 19th century to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, the UK’s approach – often aiding but also abetted by the US – has been to treat the Iranian people and their government as inconvenient adjuncts to the extraction of oil. This included the overthrow of Iran’s first truly democratic prime minister, Mosaddegh, in 1953. I don’t much believe in historic apologies, but this one may be worth it; there are still many Iranians around who remember that shameful episode and many more for whom it is a founding story of UK-Iran relations. If we are to live differently with Iran we need to recognise our faults.
In his letter about his favourite target Jeremy Corbyn (Correspondence, 10 January), for once Joe Haines had me agreeing with him – until he ruined his argument by suggesting a Tony Blair-type leader would have won the 2019 election. Working-class Labour voters voted for Boris Johnson in order to leave the EU: Blair, the ardent Remainer, would have had no more chance of winning than Corbyn, despite being a superior politician.
Phillips vs Johnson
Can Labour possibly compete with our Prime Minister, the comedian Boris Johnson, in making people laugh? Peter Wilby got it in one: “Jess we can” (First Thoughts, 20 December).
Having watched Jess Phillips smilingly and unstoppably flatten would-be inquisitor Andrew Marr on a recent Sunday morning, I can’t wait to see her take on Johnson.
Phillips, who I regret not yet having seen in the flesh, knows her arguments and isn’t perturbed by bluster.
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This article appears in the 15 Jan 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Why the left keeps losing