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26 February 2020

Letter of the Week: In defence of Twitter

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

Having read the negative comments about Twitter in Peter Wilby’s First Thoughts (7 February) and Guy de la Bédoyère’s letter (Correspondence, 21 February), I would like to defend the social media platform and point out that Twitter is what you make it.

It is undoubtedly a time-waster, and a disproportionate amount of content may contain hate-filled rhetoric. But for many, it is also a place of warmth, support and connection, and it has allowed me to make contact with lots of people I have long admired from afar. I enjoy these little interactions on a daily basis. Some years ago, I made contact with one of my favourite authors through Twitter, and we now communicate regularly and meet up in real life.

Of course, it is easy to stumble into toxic conversations on the platform, and expressing any opinion can lead to bruising encounters. But I find that never being personal keeps things civil – not to mention the old rule: “If you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Pauline Brown
London SW16

The real reasons

Danny Kruger (Another Voice, 21 February) writes eloquently about the government’s review of legal rights and responsibilities, in particular the judicial review process by which judges can make policy. But when he writes that politicians should make the rules; civil servants and judges should apply the rules – he goes astray in combining the roles of civil servants and judges. It is civil servants who implement decisions according to the law laid down by parliament. The role of the judges in judicial review is to examine the process by which a decision has been made.

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I suspect that Mr Kruger is unhappy about the judicial review process mainly because of the activities of the Supreme Court in two cases relating to Brexit: the first in 2017 on whether triggering Article 50 required parliamentary approval; the second in 2019 on the prorogation of parliament. These were not typical judicial review cases, being complex constitutional matters.

Richard Dargan
Old Coulsdon, Greater London

The ambition in Danny Kruger’s column – to present the government’s journey as a strategy for forward Conservatism – outweighs its success. I can’t see “the creation of the common good” as a convincing theme behind the measures he lists. Instead, he puts glosses on the range of tactical steps being taken. 

On the “re-establishment of democracy”: threatening the BBC, slighting civil servants who can’t answer back, centralising the Treasury in No 10 and weighing in against judicial review are not “restorations” but populist and fundamentally un-Conservative steps.

The two issues genuinely threatening the strength of UK democracy – the Union and the electoral system – are ignored. As for towns, will local government be given the money and power to boost the local “little platoons” of Edmund Burke? Is infrastructure spend going to be available?

You ran a memorable series of articles last year around “The closing of the Conservative mind”. It’s clearly not reopening just yet.

Rob Marshall
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Like Danny Kruger, I found Adrian Pabst’s criticism of the government (“Power without purpose”, 14 February)to be somewhat negative, with few solutions proposed to the many problems and contradictions it identifies.

That said, I was intrigued to read about the premium placed by Dominic Cummings on “creative destruction”. Cummings, of course, is not the first to advocate that approach, but I wonder if he is aware that his ideas echo those of Chairman Mao, who began the Cultural Revolution by proclaiming that there was no construction without destruction.

Anna Brunskill
Havana, Cuba

While Danny Kruger gave an effusive defence of the Johnson government’s vision, many believe there is a gulf between the rhetoric and the reality that belies the true motivations of the Prime Minister and his coterie. Perhaps the New Statesman should invite Kruger to contribute an annual audit of his piece to dispel any doubting Thomases, and empty-page him if he declines. 

Michael Haskell
Broughton, Flintshire

Danny Kruger loyally invests his hopes in “courageous leadership in No 10”. Presumably that’s the Johnsonian courage when faced during the election with the prospect of being interviewed by Andrew Neil.

David Kynaston
New Malden, Greater London 

New talent needed

David Hare (The Diary, 14 February) validly argues that the BBC gives freer rein to more diverse voices than other media outlets. However, in the area of television drama, it isn’t as free as it was. The BBC’s most challenging, diverse drama is best encapsulated by Play for Today (1970-84), which consisted of nearly 300 one-off dramas, mainly broadcast on BBC One after the 9 o’clock news. Play for Today dramatised contentious or topical issues and nurtured unique writers and directors like Dennis Potter, Julia Jones, Horace Ové, Colin Welland and Alan Clarke. Its neglected riches include Irish prose master William Trevor’s Eleanor (1974), which critiques both comprehensive education and the nuclear family; while David Edgar’s Destiny (1978) presents English society in microcosm within a West Midlands town: interrogating the British imperial mindset and humanly personifying a range of left- and right-wing ideologies. 

The BBC may still commission work from Play for Today alumni such as Hare and Stephen Poliakoff, but where is its nurturing of younger writers and directors? Drama that contests serious issues and challenges power only emerges occasionally, eg Reg (2016), Against the Law (2017) and Killed by My Debt (2018). Following Play for Today’s demise – attributable, inevitably, to the accountancy mindset – the BBC was vehemently attacked by the right-wing press over controversial, war-related dramas The Monocled Mutineer (1986) and Tumbledown (1988).

Since then, a comparatively cowed institution has never quite kicked against the pricks in the same way. With Dominic Cummings running amok, it is surely an opportune moment for the renewal of a great BBC tradition: fresh dramatic voices from across the UK engaging large audiences.

Tom May
Newcastle upon Tyne

Recent history

We can agree with Colum McCaffery that the celebration of the Provisional IRA’s military campaign “could have serious consequences” (Correspondence, 21 February).History offers interesting, if not necessarily instructive, examples. Israel has had two premiers with a terrorist past – Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, active in Irgun and the Stern Gang respectively. The aggression of Israeli authorities towards Palestinians no doubt has its roots in this history of armed struggle.

In contrast is the 1994 ascent to power of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, once condemned by Thatcher as “a typical terrorist organisation”. The ANC did not eschew armed struggle but conducted it at the level of sabotage. Its legacy hasn’t been revenge but reconciliation.

Paul Thomson
Knutsford, Cheshire

We never learn

In her article on the spread of the coronavirus, Covid-19 (“The geopolitics of disease”, 21 February), Laura Spinney explains the difficulty of containing infectious diseases and identifies improvements for agencies such as the WHO. Yet in the age of globalisation, it may be impossible to limit the spread of a highly infectious virus. Mass production of a vaccine could take at least 18 months, far too long to prevent a major pandemic.

During the 2009 swine flu outbreak, the late Peter Dunnill, a biochemical engineering professor at University College London, argued that a future viral pandemic was inevitable and that governments should prepare by establishing facilities and regulations to fast-track the production of the necessary vaccine. He was ignored.

Peter Foster

NS Down Under

“How to get to net zero” (7 February) was a wonderful article on contributions and potential countermeasures to climate change. The report is detailed (and includes a jibe at our PM in Australia) and was quoted and discussed across our breakfast table. Although the focus was on Europe, there is material there for the whole world, and much data that will make people think and reflect. Could the item be reprinted in an Australian newspaper?

Andrew Nelson
New South Wales, Australia

A very English bias

Editing may have obscured for Susan Peak (Correspondence, 14 February) that in my letter of 7 February I was highlighting how the reference to England’s 1373 treaty with Portugal had been retrospectively labelled “Britain’s oldest”. If England was British at that time then so was Scotland with its older treaty with France.

The confusion has been caused because while nobody in Scotland would refer to their country as “Britain”, many English writers tend to assume, rather offensively, that “Britain” and “England” are synonyms – whether the period under discussion is before or after 1707.

Ronald MacLean
Kiltarlity, Highlands

Van Dijk’s value

I always enjoy Hunter Davies in your back pages. How refreshing to read his column on the current Liverpool FC team (The Fan, 7 February).Yet while Jordan Henderson is rightly mentioned twice, the crucial role of Virgil van Dijk is missing. His style of play, positional sense and unflappable performances warrant recognition for his role in Liverpool’s remarkable season.

George Massie
Tomintoul, Moray

The the The query

Regarding Mark Donoghue’s attempt to expose Nicholas Lezard (Correspondence, 21 February), your esteemed columnist can have the last laugh. The album cover of the The’s Soul Mining has the definite article in lower case to call attention to the ironic substantive. How to reflect that design anomaly in print is another matter.

Steven Ilott
Windsor, Berkshire

We reserve the right to edit letters

This article appears in the 26 Feb 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The death of privacy