One aside in Isabel Hilton’s excellent article (“End of the Golden Decade”, 10 July) deserves more attention: animosity between the US and China matters for next year’s UN climate conference, Cop26, in Glasgow. Cop26 is the last chance for the world to tackle the devastating rise in global temperatures. Also in 2021 China will host the UN conference on biodiversity. The two conferences should be seen as part of a package: climate change cannot be tackled without also addressing nature’s decline, and vice versa. Neither conference can succeed without putting other disagreements to one side. The human rights, security and economic resilience issues raised in Isabel Hilton’s article and your leader (“The China problem”, 10 July) are serious, but so are the UK’s responsibilities as host of Cop26. The government must find a way to insulate its climate diplomacy from its deteriorating relations with China and, come to that, the European Union.
Executive director, Green Alliance, London SW1
At the start of July, a 15-year-old girl was arrested in Hong Kong for allegedly breaking the National Security Law – in effect a law against those who are anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A cultural genocide rages in Xinjiang, where perhaps a million Uighur Muslims are locked away in “re-education camps”; many are never seen again.
Isabel Hilton’s article (“End of the Golden Decade”, 10 July) speaks of “anti-Chinese sentiment” or “anti-China rebels”, which I fear is misleading. I am ethnic Chinese and I realise that when the majority of UK politicians speak against China they speak against the CCP, not China the place or the people. This distinction is important.
In the Hong Kong pro-democracy camp, we see the likes of Iain Duncan Smith and Benedict Rogers, but also Lisa Nandy and Stephen Kinnock, rightly holding the CCP to account for its atrocities when we no longer can.
Trying to reduce or even nullify the role of Huawei, whose technology reportedly aids CCP surveillance and mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims, in the UK’s 5G network is not “anti-Chinese sentiment”; it is doing the right thing.
Your leader (“The China problem”) notes the UK’s economic dependence on China. It’s ironic that it is a Tory prime minister, whose mantra is the mystical “take back control”, grappling with the issue. “Control” was lost when Margaret Thatcher pursued UK-based capitalism in the finance industry and ran down manufacturing: Britain relies on China for nuclear power stations and for 5G. That could be addressed by moving to a system of state-controlled industrial development, which the Chinese government is expert at.
Peter Wilby (First Thoughts, 10 July) writes: “Since we have already upset China by offering UK citizenship to three million Hong Kongers who may not like its new security laws…”
“May not like”? I can recommend a variety of sources to help Mr Wilby orientate post-lockdown and reach a better understanding of the current situation in Hong Kong. I suggest he starts with last week’s NS leader.
John Gray gives the game away somewhat in his suggestion that by Labour’s ineptitude, “Scotland has been carelessly and irrevocably lost” (“State of the nation”, 10 July). This confirms what many of us suspected: that to civic England, Scotland is a mere possession.
For many Labour-minded Scots who have watched in dismay as the British Labour Party careened to the right and Scottish Labour increasingly embraced British nationalism in response to the “threat” of Scottish national self-determination, the imminence of Scottish independence, far from being a loss, is the prospect of the return of stolen property.
Dr John O’Dowd
Reading Marion Shoard’s letter (Correspondence, 10 July) put me in mind of my younger years: weekends and evenings walking footpaths with my grandfather and his fellow ex-miners, carrying carefully labelled maps showing officially numbered rights of way.
I am alarmed by the prospect of losing these paths and bridleways from our maps. Already we have lost too much of the signage from tracks and country lanes, causing too many of the stiles in hedgerows and fences to lie unused and forgotten.
Now more than ever we recognise the value of experiencing the natural world. We should be protecting those few opportunities that exist for those who have little or no green space of their own.
A soldier’s story
I’ve been following the letters regarding the end of empire in Kenya with interest (Correspondence, 10 July, and previous). It was 1962 before I joined the army so I have not served in Kenya. However, a number of my comrades did. They had memories of patrols in the high forests where they seldom encountered Mau Mau; and patrols to find Mau Mau camps with ex-Mau Mau who had changed their mind (and one or two British soldiers, suitably camouflaged). They very often talked of finding villages of Kikuyu or other Kenyan people who were opposed to the group where the Mau Mau had raided and killed men, women and children randomly.
Some of your readers may find it difficult to understand why British soldiers would be interested in these details but we took an interest in strategy, particularly where it involved local people who were on our side. I’m sure unacceptable things happened in Kenya – from what I’ve heard, the prison camps in particular were outrageous.
But none of the people I trusted mentioned the numbers on the scale Chris Simms mentions in his letter, never mind the numbers in the book by Caroline Elkins.
I always start reading my copy of the New Statesman at the back, with the Q&A. In particular, I enjoy the responses to the questions, “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?” – my favourite reply remains singer Terry Hall’s about not using a mobile phone in a petrol station – and, “When were you happiest?” There are often real nuggets of wisdom to be found in these interviews. The interview with George Alagiah (Q&A, 3 July) was a wonderful, uplifting read. Thank you for sharing the reflections of this gracious, thoughtful broadcaster.
Behind the bias
Jonathan Liew (Left Field, 10 July) describes research published by the Professional Footballers’ Association finding that football commentators use different language to refer to black and white players.
Nobody would doubt that racism is rife in football, but measuring subtle biases is not straightforward. In one study, Raphael Silberzahn and his colleagues from the University of Sussex compiled data on red cards awarded to top-division players, including information about the players’ skin tone, position, age, height etc.
Twenty-nine expert teams of statisticians and behavioural scientists analysed the data. No two teams reached the same estimate of the effect of skin tone on the likelihood of being given a red card, and although the majority of the teams concluded that there is a relationship, about a third concluded that there isn’t.
Variation in the decisions that researchers make about how to analyse data can lead to opposite conclusions. With no transparency about these decisions, we cannot evaluate the outcome of any single piece of research.
Deputy dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences University College London
Peter Wilby (First Thoughts, 10 July) highlights the continuing Americanisation of the institutions of British democracy in the daily Downing Street briefings. This change could indicate that the true destination of modern Conservatism has been the full American-style corporatisation of society.
Boris Johnson and co cast themselves as political visionaries, shepherding a failing Britain to success by marketing via stage-managed presentations. If this corporate journey has been the engine of Conservative thinking in recent decades, it explains their capacity to shape-shift, and in turn why they have been such a difficult target for Labour.
Valued assets – EU membership, constituent nations, an effective parliament – become expendable in pursuit of electoral market dominance.
Not so simple
Michael Prodger is right to emphasise the special nature of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s paintings (The Critics, 10 July). But as a painter struggling with issues of simplicity and complexity, I am led to wonder how well these concepts apply. In words, it is often said that you can tell a simple story in a complex way, whereas a complex story must be told simply. I’m far from sure how well this works in painting – or in our political world.
The right horse?
In 2010 the government insisted we needed austerity to bring down the national debt; in 2020 it says we need spending to bring down the national debt. Are they wrong now or were they wrong then?
Bridging the gap
Lancashire Bridge in Stockport marked the boundary between Lancashire and Cheshire (Correspondence, various). My mother had my elder siblings in hospital on the Lancashire side, but I was born at home in Bredbury, on the Cheshire side.
I’ve never got over not being a Lancastrian.
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This article appears in the 15 Jul 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Race for the vaccine