I’ve recently been reading Elizabeth Bowen’s wartime novel The Heat of the Day. A line early in the book struck me: “Every day the news hammered one more nail into a consciousness which no longer resounded.”
I am sceptical as to whether the BBC still cultivates a national consciousness. Jason Cowley was right to highlight Fergus Walsh (Editor’s Note, 1 May): his reporting has been infectious with grief, heartache and reflection. But beyond that, the BBC seems to undervalue its best reporters and outlets. Take Newsnight’s international editor Gabriel Gatehouse, who has done some astonishing reporting over the past few years. It has won Newsnight awards. Its reward? One of the first programmes in line for the cuts announced in January.
The BBC must not only remember to factor in emotional timbre as much as it does facts, but remember that the UK is dependent on the whims and fortunes of the whole world. It should resist the temptation to withdraw from foreign reporting at a moment of a national identity crisis.
A global crisis
I read Andrew Hussey’s article on the under-reported situation in Paris (Letter from Paris, 1 May) with a great deal of interest, albeit little surprise – it seems that the situation in the banlieues in question remains as neglected an issue as ever.
However, may I commend you on your commitment to report intelligently from Europe. I hope that it inspires all frustrated urban travellers to think about what lies beyond the experiences carefully curated for the city break aficionado. In the meantime, I advise that people do the same in their own vicinity. Use the daily exercise to try walking in a different direction and challenge your own perceptions of where, and how, you live.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Jason Cowley is correct that we see little in the media about the impact of lockdown measures in other European countries (Editor’s Note, 1 May). Andrew Hussey’s report from Paris underlines Keir Starmer’s point that the government needs to treat people like adults when it comes to easing lockdown.
In the cholera epidemics of 1831-32 and 1848-49 the government didn’t lock down, unlike other countries. There was concern about people having no employment and no means of getting food. While the government in 2020 has taken measures for job protection, the possibility of unrest is never far away.
Could I suggest that both Jason Cowley and Guy de la Bédoyère (Correspondence, 1 May) try Channel 4 News for a more thorough and international coverage of Covid-19?
Think of the kids
Decades ago, Daniel Drezner’s biography of President Trump The Toddler-in-Chief (The Critics, 1 May) might well have compared Trump to women: vain, self-centred, politically inept and emotionally volatile. Today such analogies are unacceptable with all adult minority groups. Yet they are still directed at the sole remaining group not protected by equality law – children.
Drezner sees Trump’s “volcanic eruptions”, “chronic petulance”, “short attention span” and inability to cooperate as childlike. Yet this does not describe most young children, with their loving relationships, intense concentration and passion for self-directed, adventurous learning. Research psychologists have found that babies think profoundly, like scientists and philosophers.
The president’s actual problems are remote from childhood: irresponsibility, deception and obsession with money and power. There is a far more useful analysis of these matters of government, free from trivial anti-child fantasies, in the review that follows that of Drezner’s book: Simon Kuper on John Kay and Mervyn King’s Radical Uncertainty, and Ryan Gilbey conveys much more about malign managerial power in his review of The Assistant.
The cost of care
Peter Wilby is wrong to lump nurses and care workers together as earning a pittance (First Thoughts, 24 April). Care workers often start on a salary of £10,000, while nurses in hospitals start at £24,000, automatically increasing to £30,000 without promotion.
A worrying trend
I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the New Statesman for about three years now. My favourite writers are Jason Cowley and Dr Phil Whitaker. The latter is obviously one of those good old-fashioned doctors who take a personal interest in their patients. As an 89-year-old ex-scientist, I am convinced that the same GP dealing with a patient consistently is a very positive thing. Unfortunately, in an effort to maximise “efficiency”, surgeries often employ many GPs and a patient gets referred to any one of them, at random, during separate visits. Dr Whitaker should write about this trend.
Hughenden Valley, Bucks
Gordon Brown said that the provision of test kits, ventilators and PPE will be a continuing problem unless we can solve the gap in capacity (The NS Interview, 24 April). The reality is that the chance of maintaining even the current level of supplies looks grim. As demand increases for PPE there will be breakdowns in the individual item supply chains, which will only create ever more capacity problems.
The answer seems obvious: reuse existing pieces of equipment. What is needed is intensive research on how to recycle items of PPE so that they are sterile and have all the necessary properties.
After the crisis
Resorting to a myth – in this case the story of Noah’s Ark – to build an economic model seems a forlorn cry for help from the liberal dreadnought now torpedoed by a tiny organism. Robert Skidelsky (“Why the West has to change”, 1 May) is wise enough to know that Noah’s Ark was built by a family who believed and trusted their God. They were considered “righteous” because of this; it was not virtue that saved them. Psalm 2 describes today’s world: God’s wrath can flare up in a moment.
To my “never had it so good” generation, Covid-19 is more benign than the prospect of being fried alive that we grew up with, and indeed kinder than the plagues and conflicts of the Old Testament, which allegedly occurred because of society’s neglect of justice and the disadvantaged.
War brought widespread use of penicillin; we must hope that good will come from Covid-19 and this crisis too.
Pudsey, West Yorkshire
There was food for thought in Robert Skidelsky’s article but his suggestion that medical innovation should not be patentable is ill-conceived.
The Chinese failure to suppress Covid-19 at source shows that a command economy is no more prescient or innovative than a free market, so the “public contracts and prizes” he commends are no guarantee of capability. Public contracting in the UK is necessarily reactive: EU rules against “near-market support” prevent public funding of focused research until an emergency is declared.
Much medical device innovation comes from small and medium-sized enterprises and consultancies with passion and agility: their end product is intellectual property.
Alan M Calverd PhD
The real teachers
Jason Cowley suggests that coronavirus may be teaching us “about how we were living collectively and individually” before the impact of the virus (Editor’s Note, 1 May). The use of the word “teaching” implies the existence of a teacher. Such would also indicate a purpose to the virus. Unless one subscribes to the view that everything has a purpose, perhaps including such evils as the Holocaust, it is better to refer to possible learning for the transformation of our society and global communities into a more caring, responsive and equal humanity; a socialist vision, for example.
In his book This Life: Why Mortality Makes Us Free, Martin Hägglund advocates for a secular faith, making explicit our “understanding of what we do and thereby open up emancipatory possibilities for transforming our practices of care as well as our communal life”. This is advocated within the context of not seeing our finitude as a restriction or fallen condition but one that enables and encourages us to lead full, free and fulfilling lives.
Canon David Jennings
The new normal
I almost wept reading Alice O’Keeffe’s column (School’s Out, 1 May). We can all relate to the terror of self-isolation, the trying to be normal, trying to be kind. Alice felt guilty because her date kicked off with a long shell-shocked silence. What was there to say? A row ensues, and so to bed. When she turns over, she hugs him tightly, terrified he might catch the virus and die. He says nothing but hugs her tightly back – no words needed. Keep your loved ones close.
The power of art
One of the miseries of the current situation is the repetitive reporting swamping the media, so it was a relief to read something a bit different in the latest New Statesman (1 May). I have also found relief as I replay in my imagination the wit and fun of the M*A*S*H series I’m watching. Thank God for art and artists.
Thank you for publishing the picture of the cards addressed to Captain Tom Moore for his 100th birthday (In The Picture, 1 May). Moore’s fame has reached New Zealand and it was heartening to read of his success for a worthwhile cause.
Warkworth, New Zealand
Drive to drink
Nicolas Lezard ought to bear in mind that being told how far a friend has run (Down and Out, 1 May) is only as irritating as it is to be repeatedly told how much someone has drunk.
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This article appears in the 06 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Remaking Britain