Stephen Bush seems to point to civil servants and scientific advisers for what are, in effect, political decisions (Politics, 27 March).
Civil servants use evidence to indicate different outcomes. These are presented to politicians, who make choices reflecting their ideological stances. At the outset, this government was faced with two alternatives: let the virus run its course – disastrous for the NHS – or cap the peak and delay the epidemic through social intervention – disastrous for the economy.
Initially, the first option was seen as less disruptive. As more evidence emerged, the predictive models indicated that the latter option was preferable to give the woefully underfunded and underprepared NHS a chance to free up beds, build up intensive care services and acquire the necessary equipment.
To suggest that this was “ripping up Plan A and adopting measures that government officials had initially derided” gives the wrong impression of the policy process.
The science bit
I am concerned about the lack of influence science has on public thinking. I was reading the excellent article by Ross Douthat (“The crisis of the liberal zombie order”, 20 March) when I came across an extraordinary comment: “The more apocalyptic projections for climate crisis could indeed bring about the end of liberal decadence in fire and flood. But the less apocalyptic possibilities… suggest a future in which climate change is mostly a manageable burden for wealthy countries, imposing discomfort and requiring adaptation.”
This analysis is not something I have seen agreed in the scientific world. If he can make unfounded suppositions about something as crucial as climate change, how much of the rest of his article is also based on suppositions?
Coupar Angus, Perth and Kinross
Jason Cowley writes that Boris Johnson is clever but unserious and that Johnson dreams of being Churchill (Editor’s Note, 27 March). I have recently been reading about a long-ignored MP, who was asked in the hustings of 1922 if he thought Churchill was responsible for the Mesopotamia gamble. He replied that he did not want to take away anything from Churchill’s reputation for cleverness and ability – but cleverness without wisdom was about the most dangerous quality a politician could have.
At the moment we are looking for any leadership in a crisis. Boris Johnson can get away with it by restraining his jokes and his smirk – but the comparison with 1940 is more damaging than Jason Cowley suggests. Not only was Churchill a natural orator with a statesmanlike gravitas, but he spoke to a Britain that was united by an enemy at the gates. He still faced persistent opposition, not least from his own back benches.
Today, a sense of practical community will struggle to put down deep roots when it’s our patriotic duty to stay isolated at home. When this crisis ends, the country will be querulous and disunited, a challenge for any leader.
Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear
Jonathan Powell (“The state transformed”, 27 March) points to the impending deficit and the need to pay it back through higher taxes in future. The design of this fiscal recovery will be a test of what your leader describes as “the rebirth of Tory pragmatism”. Given that the additional borrowing caused by Covid-19 is a one-off event, there is a strong case for a one-off wealth tax rather than another decade of austerity. It is not too soon for policymakers to turn their minds to the design of such a policy.
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Charles Leggatt is right to start a discussion about how public finances could be restored when we emerge from the current crisis (Correspondence, 27 March). It might take more than a one-off wealth tax, though. I’d like to suggest that we start means testing the state pension. Many of my generation, myself included, are fortunate to have good occupational pensions from the days when cradle-to-grave employment was common. I’m sure we can survive perfectly well without receiving a financial bonus. The money should go to those who need it.
Your leader (“The return of the protective state”, 27 March), rightly praises the decisive actions taken by Rishi Sunak. One senses that he is man of remarkable self-confidence. In addition, it was paradoxically advantageous that he was new to the job. It is unlikely that Sajid Javid, with his neoliberal ideological baggage, could have taken the same positive economic action.
On the same day that Jason Cowley found people “politely keeping their distance” in Saffron Walden (Editor’s Note, 27 March), in suburban Surrey local supermarkets offered close encounters of the dangerous kind. The situation in shops has changed in the past few days, however. Our local supermarket has introduced controlled numbers. This is crucial because websites are too overloaded to allow online delivery. To qualify for supermarket deliveries, we had to register at gov.uk. Even though we are ancient, we did not qualify. So we continue going to the shops. Like the availability of testing, PPE and ventilators, shouldn’t such matters have been organised much earlier?
Wallington, Greater London
Colin Lomas’s letter is totally confused (Correspondence, 27 March). I certainly do not live in the 11th century. I do not go on arguing about minute differences in a concept that does not make sense. Religions do not just inhabit a world of “mythos” – they make moral claims in the world of “logos”; these claims are often deplorable. Either Lomas is too ignorant to recognise this fact or he wilfully ignores it.
Honorary Research Fellow,
University of Kent, Canterbury
As a former Catholic and full- time agnostic I’ve found the continuing debate on God in the NS Correspondence pages more than a little amusing.
My Irish grandmother might have commented: “Sure ’tis all me arse and Peggy Martin, as much use as a bottle of smoke.”
Could we not agree with Iris DeMent, the great American folk singer, that we should just “Let the Mystery Be”?
Brian Lawrence claims that, for his generation, born in the early 1950s, “polio, smallpox and tuberculosis had been eradicated, at least from the developed world” (Correspondence, 27 March).
His 1950s was different from mine. I remember queuing on a slush-covered pavement outside the doctor’s for polio and smallpox vaccinations during a dual outbreak. Later, in a 1962 polio outbreak, our class was much relieved to find that the new polio vaccine was administered on sugar cubes. Meanwhile, my wife spent several years in the early 1950s in a children’s hospital, being treated for tuberculosis. Clearly Mr Lawrence’s “developed world” didn’t extend to south Wales or Staffordshire.
All about Eve
Julian Baggini raises some fundamental questions about public services (Observations, 27 March). In The Living Soil (1943) Eve Balfour understood the damage that agrochemicals were doing to the soil and the nutritional content of our food.She proposed that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture should be joined: food security and quality, and the nation’s health are public matters. She was ignored – but perhaps the time for her idea has come.
Words of the war
I’ve been affected by the recent quotes from Shakespeare (Correspondence, 27 March). And in January, Andrew Glazzard’s article on HG Wells prompted me to look up the closing lines from War of the Worlds and I’ve been haunted by them ever since: “Once they had breathed our air, germs, which no longer affect us, began to kill them. The end came swiftly. All over the world, their machines began to stop and fall.” It would be a comfort to think, for the planet’s sake, that some of the invasive aspects of our dominating technologies will “stop and fall” beyond the conclusion of the immediate human crisis.
Working the shift
Global politics will certainly not be the same after Covid-19, but in affording climate change only a passing mention, Nick Timothy underestimates the development most likely to challenge the current order (“The great coming apart”, 27 March). The stress on water and food supplies, rising sea levels and extreme weather will undermine social and economic structures. The shift towards a world “more local and communal, more self-reliant and resilient” can only be achieved if we adopt radically different policies.
Church Stretton, Shropshire
I wish David Rimmer well as he works his way through the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks – he has the right frame of mind (Correspondence, 27 March). I was also glad to see Alice O’Keeffe’s new column, not least as we’ve just named our month-old daughter Alice. Forget reading about cricket – with a newborn baby and a toddler in tow, our greatest achievement this week will be painting a rainbow to put in our front window, like children have been doing across the country.
Instead of meeting an old friend in Wetherspoons, this week he intelligently suggested that we should rendezvous for a picnic in a local park because “we can use our cars and bikes for exercise”.
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This article appears in the 24 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special 2021