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Letter of the week: In search of a national story

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

In promoting internationalism above the national politics of “home, belonging and identity”, Jeremy Cliffe will repeat the mistakes of the defeated Remain and People’s Vote campaigns (World View, 15 May). Of course, there cannot be any effective challenge to the power of global capital without progressive internationalism. But the current crisis has shown that the idea of the nation and their governments remains powerful among electorates around the world.

Strong progressive nations are the building block for any internationalism that is not the dreaming of a global left elite. Cliffe writes as though the left has tried progressive patriotism for the past decade. The left has largely spurned the idea of the nation, which is why its attempts to engage with public concern on immigration, the EU or the town-city divide have been ineffective. If the left has no national story, the right will win again.

Professor John Denham
Via email

Allied, not alone

David Edgerton is right to argue against “The myth of ‘Britain alone’” (15 May) in the Second World War. But I have some additional observations.

No one can dispute the terrible losses and courage of the Red Army. But if Stalin’s USSR had not instructed German communists to refuse any united front against Hitler (because Social Democrats were “social fascists”) the Nazis might well have never taken power. The Nazis’ racist policies (Slavs are slaves) meant the Russians were forced to fight. If the Nazis had pursued a “charm offensive” as they did in France, Stalin might have found it harder to mobilise his people.

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The war was not simply fought by an alliance of states. Many thousands of Germans organised and fought against their own government, both inside Germany and in the French Resistance

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Ian Birchall
London N9

A controversy arising from the Second World War does not seem to be going away. A document discovered by a small group of historians, who were allowed to look at the Vatican archives just before the lockdown, is likely to raise again the silence of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust.

It reportedly revealed that in 1942 reports were received by the Vatican telling of hundreds of thousands of Jews massacred in Ukraine and Poland; the response was such information could not be relied on since Jews tended to exaggerate. In fact, that information did not come from Jewish sources.

The crux of the matter remains why the pope did not speak out during the war when millions were being murdered because of their race. At no stage was there a condemnation of these atrocities, despite other information being well reported during the conflict.

Of course, individual Catholics, including priests, acted bravely in trying to save Jewish lives. And in other Christian denominations, in Germany and elsewhere, there was also silence, or worse.

It would, however, be widely welcomed if the Vatican at the highest level acknowledged that not speaking out then against such murderous barbarism was shamefully wrong and a betrayal of common humanity.

David Winnick,
former Labour MP
London NW10

David Edgerton’s article was spot on. Unfortunately, “spin” is nothing new, as he points out. Many of us will remember the ugly rhetoric in confronting Argentina during the Falklands War of 1982. The Thatcher government was determined to use any means possible to promote its case, including the emotional strains of using an exaggerated patriotism, seeing Falklanders as “our” threatened people. The language of government is pitted with “us” and “ours” vs “them” and “theirs”. Patriotism is a slippery concept that will be used to justify anything. 

Keith Maton 
Crickhowell, Powys

David Edgerton overlooks the strongest argument for his proposition. Between October 1940 (Italian invasion of Greece) and May 1941 (surrender to the Germans of the Allied forces in Crete), Britain had an effective fighting ally against the Axis powers – Greece.

Paul Watkins
London NW1

Defending the BBC

I agree with most of Simon Jenkins’s essay about the BBC News coverage of coronavirus (“The BBC and the journalism of fear”, 8 May). But his claim that he has “never heard a BBC reporter ask why a minister is not doing less” must be challenged.

BBC journalists frequently pressed Treasury ministers on whether George Osborne’s austerity measures were going too far. Under Theresa May’s premiership there was regular questioning of the Brexit deal. And just recently BBC reporters have been asking ministers why the government is sticking to its timetable for leaving the EU in the face of Covid-19.

John Boaler
Calne, Wiltshire

Simon Jenkins is right to draw attention to the media’s failure, but it is more than just a question of “if it bleeds, it leads”. The problem is the media make no more distinction between “hard” and “soft” science than the politicians – and the science the government has been insisting it is following could not be much softer. 

One consequence of the failure to see this distinction clearly is that, as Jenkins points out, it has taken the press weeks to realise that something might be amiss with the “science” by which we are being led to unnecessary deaths.

Professor Brian Winston
University of Lincoln

Trump’s childhood

I would suggest that the critique of Donald Trump as childish is, rather than an attack on children, an attempt to analyse his character and behaviour (Correspondence, 8 May). 

From what I have read of his upbringing, there may have been extreme emotional dysfunctionality within the family, which may have led to his famous defensiveness as well as the self-promotion, stubbornness and failure to adapt, cooperate and focus.

Of course, this is only one part of the picture, but most dysfunctional people with political power have complex psychological backgrounds. Appropriate help in their early years might have changed history.

Patricia Cooper
Budleigh Salterton, Devon

Lockdown life

My copy of the New Statesman came a day early last week and reading it lifted my spirits. A standout insight was from Suzanne Moore (Diary, 15 May), who wrote: “I miss the presence of possibility, the anonymous pleasure of strangers together. That’s what ‘going outside’ really means.” That’s how many of us feel about life in lockdown.

Liz Storrar

Regional needs

Thanks to Paul Collier for calling out centralisation in England’s dysfunctional political system (“Capitalism after coronavirus”, 8 May). Our political party system favours centralised power, despite the concessions the Conservatives have made to the state and “the science” to tackle the coronavirus emergency.

Labour has made a solid restart with a commitment to a more regional approach under Keir Starmer, but faces appalling odds in our electoral system. If we are to engage the more community-based delivery of services that Professor Collier rightly espouses, Labour needs to embrace other political parties that support a community-led approach. 

Trevor Cherrett
Devizes, Wiltshire

Jason Cowley (Editor’s Note, 8 May) is right: we will all be changed by the crisis. But if the values that have come to the fore are to endure, there also needs to be deep structural change. Paul Collier implicitly draws attention to one example: the income disparities between certain professions. There needs to be greater fairness in the distribution of income, wealth and opportunity. Only with these foundations could a renewed sense of social solidarity continueto flourish.

Michael Haskell
Broughton, Flintshire

About time 

In “Pandemics and the politics of time” (Observations, 15 May), Jan Zielonka and Stefania Bernini write that the risk of contagion has deprived us of the ability to dispose freely of our private time. I suggest that for many of us it has unexpectedly enabled more than it has deprived.

Sally Litherland 
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Nature’s healing

The past three issues of the NS have all included articles about the deep-healing “power of green”. Last week there was Tracey Thorn’s column (Off the Record, 15 May) with quotes from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”.

My daughter works for a mental health charity in Bristol, also called Off the Record. They have initiated a scheme for 11- to 25-year-olds who can self-refer to the charity in times of mental unease or crisis. Among other outdoor programmes, this scheme provides planting kits, with information on the sowing and care of the plants, and guidelines for healthy living. Within the first three days of its launch in April the scheme received 1,000 applications. Now is the time for us to come together and insist on a new curriculum for young people that values the power of nature.

Sarah Backhouse
Lullington, Somerset

It was good to see Tracey Thorn is a fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry (Off the Record, 15 May), but there is no need for an atheist to subside into prayer. Try Oliver’s “Wild Geese”: 

Whoever you are, no matter
how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Graham Williams,
New South Wales, Australia

Music to his mouth

Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 15 May) recounts his dreaming of “musical crisps”. Surely he has a subconscious craving for Quavers. 

Sean Cordell

We reserve the right to edit letters.

This article appears in the 20 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Moving Left Show