To say that liberals feel nostalgia for the era of the Iraq War and the financial crash is a sweeping statement (Leader, 13 November). It falls for one of those populist tricks that equates any opposition with a wish to return to the status quo.
In reality, it’s quite possible to see yourself as a certain type of liberal while still feeling deep unease at unrestrained economic liberalism and wanting to see much more radical government action (for example, on inequality and climate change).
The past to which many liberals want to return is not one of complacency and rampant greed, but one in which the lying and the corrupt are held to account, governments try to unite and not divide, and we do not seek to make enemies of our allies.
Helen Thompson’s column on whether the US can ever go green raises important points, but obscures others (These Times, 6 November). The argument – that ten million people being employed in the US oil and gas industry precludes successful green policies because they would threaten American economic growth and geopolitical strength – invites another perspective.
The ten million or so in fossil fuel industries represents around 6.4 per cent of the total 156 million in the workforce, and little more than 0.5 per cent (or $100bn) of US GDP. The economic challenge is surely not all it seems.
What lies at the heart of the challenge is dysfunctional American governance, at federal and state levels, and corporate governance. The first-past-the-post electoral system and entrenched lobbying – as in Britain – make meaningful debate about vital strategic economic choices almost impossible. The recent UN report on sustainable development reveals the huge scale of the challenge. Promises galore. Little real action. No progress.
Alternative models of governance in Europe and Germany, in particular, are never seriously examined in the English-speaking press. Alas Nero’s Rome, as a consequence, continues to burn ever more brightly while China plays its winning hand.
Principal at the Centre for International Economics
It was very enjoyable to read John Gray’s masterly piece (“The struggle for America’s soul”, 13 November) on how the progressive mind is unable to understand the motivations of the ordinary people who voted for Trump. It was even more enjoyable to then turn the page and see Laurie Penny (“Joy is an act of resistance”, 13 November) unknowingly demonstrate his point entirely by labelling all those very voters as “crypto-fascists”.
One cannot fault the New Statesman for its impeccable variety.
John Gray’s insights into the fallout from the US election were compelling. However, as I consider myself a progressive thinker, I bridled at his observation that “an invincible faith in its superior rationality is the fatal conceit of the progressive mind. Never doubting that they understand their fellow citizens, progressive thinkers see no need to learn from them.”
But when I read Laurie Penny declare, “I don’t know how to make it clearer that I don’t care enough about Trump voters to want to re-educate them”, I understood what he meant.
Kearney Village, County Down
John Gray’s article not only gave a well thought out perspective for the economic and political future of the US but also an excellent analysis of the role played by liberals during the Trump era.
As if to underline the first sentence of his concluding paragraph, in her article Laurie Penny displayed all the sad delusions of what Gray calls “superior rationality”; ignorance and prejudice that has alienated large sectors of the US working class and pushed them towards Trump.
Did the editor have a secret giggle when he placed those two articles directly after one another?
[see also: The struggle for America’s soul]
Thank you so much for the article by the wonderful Laurie Penny – it is a delight to see her writing for the NS again. She articulates precisely what many of us have felt about the president and his promoters.
In explaining why so many Americans continue to support Trump, John Gray is too flattering to Trump supporters. The more realistic explanation is one politicians and analysts are reluctant to articulate: in an age that values image over substance, there is no limit to the gullibility and mental laziness of the average voter.
Lisburn, Northern Ireland
John Gray may wish to rethink his scepticism about China’s growing status. At the same time as his article appeared, China signed up to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with 14 other Asia-Pacific countries – one of the largest free-trade deals in history. This hardly ties in with Gray’s assertion that states such as Japan and Australia are being mobilised against China.
Church Stretton, Shropshire
Voice of wisdom
I am surprised Andrew Hussey (“Macron and the Muslim world”, 13 November) did not quote the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris. Rector Chems-Eddine Hafiz praises the courage of Macron’s speech defending the French republic against the political ideology of separatist political Islamism following the death of Samuel Paty. While he contradicts Macron, saying that Islam is not in crisis, he makes it abundantly clear that, in his view, Islamism has become a “gangrene in Muslim society” and that it is an “illness within Islam”.
Hafiz has issued a call to those responsible for French mosques, imams and theologians to push back against this extreme ideology in their role as educators. He makes it clear Muslim teachers have a duty to inform fellow Muslims that, in his words: “I have to accept that people will make fun of me. Freedom of expression is part of our democracy. It is very precious. Caricature, satire are French specificities. If one accepts being French, then you have to accept those rules. Only the law has the right to impose limits. Muslims can live normally, in modernity, without worrying about what happened 1,400 years ago.”
It is very important we are aware of such a senior Muslim speaking out in this way in the face of subsequent death threats.
On the back foot
Peter Wilby quite rightly points out that French rugby league teams were banned by the Vichy regime, their assets confiscated and handed to the French Rugby Union Federation (First Thoughts, 13 November).
The injustice goes further, however, as the “Quinzistes” never relinquished their ill-gotten gains after the liberation. De Gaulle was petitioned to restore the league clubs’ assets, but the answer was “Non!” This explains the degree of bitterness that still exists between the two codes in France, and why French rugby league has struggled to return to the competitive level it had achieved before 1940.
Peter Wilby is not the only British commentator to point a finger at the democratic deficit built into the American voting system, asking the question: “Why have Americans never tried one person, one vote for their president?” Why indeed – and why have we in Britain never tried to do just that ourselves?
I do not see any difference between US federal states turning entirely red or blue through first past the post, and British constituencies in which huge numbers of votes are cast aside for the benefit of just one winner.
Defining a nation
Could you have published a more typically English letter than David Marsh’s (Correspondence, 13 November)? He dismisses Wales without a thought, and misunderstands Northern Ireland. All these years we must have been watching different Home Nations football tournaments and Six Nations rugby championships.
A social contract
I was bemused by Robert Colls’s comment that “as for Labour MPs, too many sound like social workers, not advocates” (“Inherent in the people”, 6 November). Advocacy is enshrined in the core values of social work: social workers advocate for the people they work with. It’s odd to imply that taking on the qualities of a social worker would be a bad fit for an MP.
I enjoyed Robert Colls’s article but, as an archivist, can’t agree that universities are “keepers of national history”. They certainly explore, teach and promote history. But act as keepers? That’s us!
Light in dark times
I wrote to you on Easter Sunday after I had devoured the New Statesman spring special, in lockdown, with a dictionary at my left elbow. It is now mid-November and I am still in lockdown, with said dictionary at my side, reading the NS with as much joy and enthusiasm. During such difficult months you have been informing and enlightening me, and giving me so much pleasure.
On Tracey Thorn’s recommendation (Off the Record, 13 November), I watched the Ronnie Scott documentary, and it took me back. I was a regular at Gerrard Street. Later, I briefly managed a band made up of art students from the sculpture department of Saint Martins. I named them the New Statesmen and got them a gig at Ronnie’s in Frith Street. Happy memories.
A toast from Texas
Congratulations to MJ Harrison on winning the Goldsmiths Prize. This acknowledgement of his substantial body of work has been deserved for many years. I can’t tell you how pleased I am – I’m celebrating in Texas!
Lost Pines, Texas, USA
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This article appears in the 18 Nov 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Vaccine nation