In August of last year my father was diagnosed with a malignant glioma and given three months to live.
An artist and intellectual, he was a subscriber to the New Statesman for many years, so I decided to buy a copy to read to him. One of the first articles we read was Shashi Tharoor’s review of William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy (The Critics, 13 September 2019), which I promptly ordered. This book and further issues of the NS kept us entertained for many weeks.
One day, anticipating an inspirational answer, I asked my father what he liked most about the NS and he surprised me by saying “the feel of the paper”!
My father died peacefully in November. I am grateful for two things – the good times we had together in those last few months, and that he did not have to live through this current crisis.
Thank you for your good work. I am now a very happy subscriber.
A global problem
As British media outlets scramble to find black and brown voices to comment on the horrors unfolding in the US, the “thank-goodness-we’re-not-that-bad” tone seems false to me. In the UK we don’t allow citizens to keep weapons that could wipe out a village, but on any measure – from poverty to violent deaths to educational and job promotion opportunities – we aren’t much better.
A lot of the transatlantic ire has rightly focused on the appalling murder of an unresisting black man by the police, and Donald Trump’s abysmal response. But the less publicised case of Amy Cooper – the middle-class white woman who weaponised racism in a way she clearly understood and could have led to death-by-police for the black man who had asked her to leash her dog – also counts. She resented being asked to comply with public regulations by a black person. Her appalling response was to invoke 400 years of racism and brutality to get her entitled white way.
I am a black British grandmother. Thank goodness I’ve never personally witnessed a black person being murdered by a white policeman, but I have grown up with Amys. They are middle-class white people who usually know how to act – but the second they think a black person doesn’t know their place, God help you.
Gary Younge makes an unassailable case for a public inquiry into the number of BAME deaths from Covid-19 (“Black death”, 5 June). He writes: “These deaths are the collateral damage of British racism.’’ Clearly racism exists in Britain. However, we need to ensure that any inquiry captures all possible reasons for the discrepancies and prevents this from happening again. Younge mentions that lower levels of vitamin D may have been a factor – there is science to indicate that it may have an important role in response to infection, so it merits further investigation. It would be doing BAME people a disservice if the inquiry failed to consider such physiological factors.
Dr Brian Curwain and Dr Mary Davies
Your leader (“Black death”, 5 June) states that the reason for the high rate of BAME deaths in the pandemic is institutional racism. However, it does not explain why BAME doctors, who are not deprived, have suffered higher mortality than their white counterparts.
During the Aids crisis, BAME people were also more likely to contract HIV and die of Aids. A study found that because Africa and Asia had not suffered the plague in the 14th century people did not have a genetic configuration that helped protect against the HIV virus. Something like this could be making BAME people more vulnerable.
Dr Dodie Brooks
Our NHS heroes
Edward Docx’s article about the ICU consultant Jim Down (“The Peak”, 29 May) was an extraordinary read. From Docx’s gripping depictions of the ICU to Emily Black’s solemn graphic design, it was stunning from start to finish. It was possibly the best piece I’ve read in the New Statesman since I first subscribed a few years ago, and there have been many marvels in that time.
Between that and the Covid-19 special of the BBC’s Hospital, which I watched after reading Rachel Cooke’s typically fantastic review (The Critics, 15 May), it’s clear that NHS staff are among the best and most important people in our society.
Chair, Manchester Green Party
Call for cricket
Jonathan Liew claims that the England and Wales Cricket Board “has earned warm praise” for its response to the coronavirus crisis (Left Field, 5 June). I doubt you will find a junior cricketer in the land who would agree. While octogenarians have been enjoying golf again, junior cricketers have been confined to limited net practice at best.
Yet the ONS estimate of Covid-19 infections suggests that you could stage almost 50 full games of junior cricket before it was likely that a single asymptomatic child took part – and that assumes that children are equally likely to catch the virus, which is doubtful.
Cricket lends itself to social distancing. Even umpires and wicketkeepers can be more than two metres away from the nearest person. Dressing rooms need not be open, and parent spectators can bring their own beer! Our children have had to sacrifice their schooling, their social life and their sport in the national effort to contain this virus. They are being let down by administrators who do not seem to understand statistics.
Helen Thompson is wrong to claim that the Scottish government’s response to Covid-19 has turned the UK government into the “de facto government of England” (These Times, 5 June). England has its own government – but it lacks a democratic one. For 20 years the Union government has been England’s de facto government on all devolved issues. England has no national forum in which its future or laws can be debated by MPs elected from England.
Thompson argues that a UK Labour government with no majority in England would struggle to impose laws and policies that the people of England reject. But if Labour can’t win in England, what right does it have to impose its policy here? At the heart of the constitutional crisis has been the failure to embrace the democratic nationhood for England that Labour embraced for Scotland and Wales. Labour’s electoral task is daunting, but it will not be helped by pretending it could govern England without winning an election here.
Professor John Denham
University of Southampton
Guin Williams (Subscriber of the Week, 5 June) would like to see Nicola Sturgeon featured on your cover, but would least like to be stuck in a lift with Boris Johnson and his cabinet. While I accept that the UK government has made a mess of dealing with Covid-19, many seem to forget that health matters are devolved to the Scottish government, which has until very recently slavishly followed the UK line on the pandemic.
On TV, Sturgeon comes across more convincingly than Johnson, but she has overseen an even worse death rate in care homes and her government was equally unprepared with PPE and ventilators.
I read with interest Samuel Earle’s reflections on Albert Camus’s The Plague (The Critics, 29 May) as it brought back distant memories of studying it at French A-level. How I underestimated its eventual resonance: the premise of fighting a plague with towns in quarantine seemed far-fetched as we carefree 17-year-olds discussed it in hot classrooms in the scorching summer of 1976. We also studied Voltaire’s Candide, which seemed equally incongruous back then. Now, “il faut cultiver notre jardin” is my mantra for staying sane.
I can appreciate the difficulty noted by Helen Lewis of adapting language when writing for an American audience (The Diary, 29 May). However, it seems she has done such a good job that another difficulty has emerged: readjusting to British parlance. Whenever I read the word “disorienting”, as it appears in Lewis’s column, I find it quite disorientating.
Enfield, Greater London
Writing about the Cummings farrago, Helen Lewis asks readers to tell her “about these eyes you can get where needing glasses goes into remission in middle age”. My pair would be an example. I no longer need glasses to watch TV or at the theatre. My optometrist tells me this is not hugely unusual. Reading the New Statesman close up is a different matter.
Tracey Thorn’s recent reflections have provided comfort during these times (Off the Record, 29 May). We wonder if she also realises the cheer her other writing and music provide. We have just listened to Worldwide, a record we bought almost 20 years ago. We can’t say that lockdown has given us more time to listen to music, as we are both retired. But especially during the pandemic, doing so makes us “Feel Alright”.
Chris and Helen Nicholls
Just a suggestion
Peter Wilby speculates on the meaning of “lotus years” as applied to the period of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party (First Thoughts, 5 June). Perhaps it is a reference to the not spectacularly reliable Lotus cars, where the name was said to stand for “loads of trouble, usually serious”.
A house of cards
Pippa Bailey articulates with linguistic finesse the despair of the capital’s priced-out millennials. (Deleted Scenes, 5 June). But she shouldn’t let her boyfriend’s words stick. We’ve stopped buying avocado toast so London property will soon be ours.
We reserve the right to edit letters
This article appears in the 10 Jun 2020 issue of the New Statesman, A world in revolt