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11 March 2020updated 23 Mar 2020 11:26am

Letter of the week: Jeremy Heywood, the radical

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

While I congratulate Harry Lambert on his wonderfully written insider account of who is up – or down – in Downing Street, I have to take issue with his depiction of Jeremy Heywood (“Inside No 10”, 6 March).

Unlike Dominic Cummings I never blogged about Jeremy Heywood, but I did work with him in No 10. Jeremy was no “steady as she goes” Sir Humphrey as depicted in the article. Instead, he was the definition of a radical; somebody who wanted to go to the root cause of a problem and find a solution. He also understood the fierce urgency of taking action. “Why put off until tomorrow what can be done today?” he would say.

This was all done with none of the sturm und drang so beloved of “Classic Dom”. Let’s see if his record of delivery can match up to Jeremy’s over time.
David Muir, former director  of strategy to Gordon Brown
New York, US

Tackling the virus

In his article concerning the medical options for the prevention or treatment of Covid-19, Professor Michael Barrett (Observations, 6 March) outlines some of the approaches being taken to develop suitable vaccines and anti-viral drugs. However, film buffs will know that deadly pandemics are always halted by an “anti-serum” obtained just in time to save the hero or heroine.

An “anti-serum” is essentially human blood plasma that contains antibodies against the infectious agent in question. This can be obtained from someone who is recovering from the infection and has a high level of antibodies in their circulation. This approach, known as passive immunisation, has been used in the UK since the 1930s, when it was introduced to treat serious outbreaks of measles. Subsequently the treatment evolved into the use of concentrated preparations of antibodies, known as specific immunoglobulins, prepared from hyper-immune plasma collected from suitable blood donors by the UK blood transfusion services. 

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In addition to immunoglobulin containing measles antibodies, specific immunoglobulins produced in Britain have included antibodies against German measles, chickenpox, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, cytomegalovirus and rabies.

If effective, passive immunisation to treat Covid-19 infection would not replace a vaccine or suitable antiviral drugs, but could provide life-saving treatment for those who are seriously ill, before a vaccine or suitable drugs become available. There are two issues that would have to be addressed by the UK government before Covid-19-specific immunoglobulin could be supplied. First, a ban on blood plasma products derived from UK donors, that was introduced in 1998 as a precaution against a theoretical risk of variant CJD infection, would have to be rescinded to allow plasma from convalescent donors in Britain to be used to manufacture a specific Covid-19 immunoglobulin. 

Second, manufacture of a national supply of Covid-19-specific immunoglobulin would have to be arranged, as neither of the NHS blood product units established for this purpose remain in the NHS; one, in Edinburgh, was closed in 2008 and the other, in Elstree, was sold to a Chinese company in 2016.
Peter Foster

Michael Barrett’s article fails to answer two main questions: 1) How will such a vaccine be distributed across the world? 2) Will state authorities make sure it cannot be patented?

The two questions are closely linked. If the ideas behind the chemical formula for this vaccine and its method of manufacture are patented – and hence become the private property of a pharmaceutical giant – global distribution will be dramatically curtailed.  

Professor Barrett quotes health experts saying we are in “unchartered territory”. I beg to differ. Back in the 1950s, many parts of the world faced a terrible polio epidemic and my schoolmates and I were given a polio vaccine. It was called the Salk vaccine, named after the US medical researcher Dr Jonas Salk, who had invented it. His polio virus was used widely across the world. 

In 1952, a journalist asked Dr Salk who owned the patent on his vaccine. He responded: “The people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” In the same spirit, we should demand that, for the good of all humanity, a vaccine for coronavirus should not be allowed to be patented, and hence not become a global commodity that is sold to the highest bidder. Who knows? The idea of patent-free pharmaceuticals might catch on and we could save billions every year from the budget of the NHS.
Alan Story, retired reader in intellectual property law

Your leader on coronavirus (6 March) cites the doctor in The Plague by Camus: “… the only way to fight the plague is with decency” and concludes “our collective survival depends on the quiet decency of the medics and scientists working to anatomise the disease and identify the cure”. Yes – but you don’t mention the much more important “quiet decency” of the many thousands who will help to stop the spread of the disease by immediately self-isolating when symptoms appear, not to mention the millions who will drastically reduce their work and social contacts and maintain strict hygiene, and, where necessary, help the self-isolating.

Professional decency, yes – but even more important will be the decent citizens who will co-produce survival and recovery from this crisis. 
Tony Bovaird

Sense of self

John Gray argues that this is no enduring self, only a series of changing perceptions (The Critics, 28 February). As evidence of this he offers the many roles that Bertrand Russell played in his life. But Russell wrote an autobiography. This in itself implies a degree of continuity. In it Russell wrote, “Three passions have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” 

One man in his time does indeed play many parts but that man, or woman, is aware like Russell that there is continuing consciousness with persisting characteristics. This identifiable person can remember and re-evaluate their past, make decisions in the present and express hopes for their future. 
Richard Harries
House of Lords

The beauty of the ontological argument, as referenced by John Gray, is that it’s refutation opens up a better understanding of God and has unintended consequences for the people who oppose it.

Paul Thomson (Correspondence, 6 March) dismisses it as a tautology, but it highlights the deep conceptual issues we have in understanding God. 

If our idea of a divinity is of something that is not limited by time or space, then we imagine something that transcends our normal understanding of existence. For something to exist we must be able to conceive its non-existence. The ontological argument suggests that we cannot do that. Its opponents concentrate on the fact it cannot prove God’s existence but actually it proves something else: that the statement that God doesn’t exist is logical nonsense. This is because our idea of God goes beyond existence. The ontological argument is silent about the important question: what are we doing when we believe in God?
Dr Paul Lally

Quality read

I’m moved to congratulate you on your recent issue (“The Death of Privacy”, 28 February), which was almost a textbook example of why I value and subscribe to the New Statesman. There wasn’t a single article, review or column that failed to map out a notable pattern of meaning or insight.

The American academic and philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, whom I discovered in a chain of curiosity leading from your tributes to Bryan Magee, described the use of language as a process that can “name things into being”. It strikes me that this is the quality New Statesman writing achieves regularly and what makes it so valuable.
Graham Johnston
Via email

Feminist guilt

Before the Second World War, most mothers were full-time housewives, and trade unions negotiated wage rates “sufficient to provide for a man, wife and two children”. Now we have a system based on the assumption that both couples will be earners and that running households and looking after children can be fitted in alongside paid work – the origin of the problem highlighted by Sally Hunt in her book The Home Stretch, reviewed by Sophie McBain (The Critics, 6 March). 

The classification of all housework and household childcare as “chores” implies that such work is purely menial and suitable for those who are less able and poorly educated. For feminists to feel guilty at hiring people to help with caring responsibilities is to go along with degrading the complex nature of the tasks involved. 

Looking after a baby is not just changing nappies, it is helping the child learn to communicate, develop their brain cells and gather confidence. Likewise, caring for elderly or sick people or those with learning difficulties and mental illnesses requires empathy, knowledge and emotional intelligence, not just muscles. 

Running a household and bringing up children require organisational skills similar to running an office or workplace, except that it is unpaid. 

In the case of childcare, government policy needs to take account of developments in neuroscience showing how the quality of nurture in the first two to three years of life impacts upon the development of brain cells. It is in the national interest that the country’s future workforce is well fed and mentally stimulated throughout their early years. Attention is focused on maternal and paternal paid leave from work, important as that is, but there is insufficient provision either for financial or physical support for the period after it finishes.
Margaret Morris
London N8

No bones about it

The diversity of fried chicken shops can be overstated (Left Field, 6 March). Only a few years ago there were 11 chicken shops between West Norwood Station and Tulse Hill Station in south London, a distance of less than half a mile. And not one of them was free-range.
Bernie Corbett
Lowestoft, Suffolk

Right to reply

[This letter was written in response to an article published online on 4 March 2020.]

I was rather surprised to find myself mentioned in George Grylls’s article titled, in Gagarin-style, “Поехали! Touring the Belgravia townhouses of the Conservatives’ Russian donors.” My surprise arose from the fact that the real estate Grylls mentioned has never belonged to either me or my son Evgeny, who is a British citizen. It is Evgeny who is the proprietor of the Evening Standard. I myself own no property in London. And neither of us has ever given a penny to the Conservative party.

But this is not my main point. For 15 years, I have campaigned against international money laundering and “banksters” (gangster bankers).

Every year, crooked elites siphon out more than $1trn from national economies. The money comes out of banks, corporations and state budgets, and is transferred to offshore jurisdictions, where it is laundered. Its beneficiaries live the good life in the West, often in London.

The societal effects of this system are heightened inequality and the condemnation of the developing world to poverty. This is a Financial Apartheid. The impoverishment of billions of people tends the soil for extremism and terrorism, and leads to the migration crises that adorn the front pages of Europe’s newspapers.

Combating this new apartheid is a common thread through hundreds of my publications in the Russian and world media, as well as my autobiography, Hunt the Banker. This is why I was the first to applaud the adoption by UK Parliament of the Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) for dodgy money. (I only wish they would use them more).

I was also pleased with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which in January announced the creation of a High-level Group on financial accountability.

It was my campaigning on this issue of corruption that brought me grief from Russia’s FSB, which fabricated five criminal cases against me and raided my $2bn business. And this is precisely why I regard the mention of my name in connection with “dirty money” as an insult.

You can read more in my book Banksters: The Stolen Trillions, which will be released in UK later this year.

Alexander Lebedev
Moscow, Russia


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This article appears in the 11 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, How the world is closing down