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2 December 2020

Letter of the week: Could do better

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

Thank you for Martin Fletcher’s profile of Priti Patel (“The unsackable minister”, 27 November). I had fallen into the trap of wanting all members of this cabinet to be comic-book villains. Of course Patel is a complex human being, well-liked by her friends. It is good to be forced out of lazy thinking. Having said that, I have three further points to make. First, the article uses the phrase “illegal immigrants”, an inappropriate and misleading term for people claiming asylum via the only means available to them. The resettlement schemes that were available to a very small number of refugees have mostly closed, with no replacement. All people have the right to seek asylum in any country they choose. There’s nothing illegal about it.  Second, the article barely mentions Patel’s failure to address or redress the crimes to the Windrush generation. Third, shouting and swearing at staff is not only ineffective management but is counterproductive in terms of motivation. It is nothing to do with “demanding high standards”.
Ali Bailey

[see also: How Priti Patel became unsackable​]


Federalism’s flaws

Only when SNP support rises is UK federalism aired by Gordon Brown (“How to save the United Kingdom”, 20 November). For some people, anything is better than allowing Scots their democratic right to independence.

UK federalism is a mirage unless England is divided into several parts – and it won’t be. In a 2004 ballot in the north-east, the area with the strongest regional identity in England, 77.9 per cent rejected an assembly on a turnout of 48 per cent. The Blair government abandoned the idea.

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England has about 84.3 per cent of the UK population, Scotland 8.5 per cent, Wales 4.7 per cent, Northern Ireland 2.8 per cent. If Kernow ruled itself, and the Isles of Man, Jersey and Guernsey joined a federal UK, England would still be able to outvote every other component combined.

There are many federal states, but not one in which one constituent can outvote all the others combined. Brown’s proposals for “safeguarding” the rights of the smaller parts of the UK would require the election of a Labour government at Westminster, which is not likely to be soon. Since the SNP is now the third largest UK party, a Labour government would probably depend on SNP support. And the SNP seeks independence.

Evidence tells us that a majority of Scots voters want independence. We won’t wait until conditions suit Brown. Next year will see a massive increase in pro-independence votes at Holyrood. Heard of Canute and the tide, Gordon?
Dougie Harrison


Guardian divided

I couldn’t agree more with Peter Wilby on Suzanne Moore’s departure from the Guardian (First Thoughts, 27 November). Social media encourages people to express outrage. The desire to be seen leaping to people’s defence whenever the vaguest issue is detected drives heinous behaviour. That Moore received threats for her comments is a monstrous irony.

Social media funnels people towards what they are most likely to share. This is almost always the content that invokes and amplifies outrage. It has brought us to a position where the desire to find common ground has almost vanished.
Andy Leslie
Horsham, West Sussex



I write as a former client-side developer at the Guardian, a role Peter Wilby was bemused by in the list of signatories to the letter opposing transphobic views in the paper. No doubt the NS employs people with similar job titles, too. He talks of “censorship” – but the open letter (which does not mention Moore by name) does not call for her removal or silencing. It challenges the Guardian to live by its values and “give [a] voice to people underrepresented in the media”. Isn’t this the “haven of free opinion” that Wilby laments on the liberal left? I was proud to work at an organisation where staff of all levels and roles felt able to contribute to the editorial voice – agile scrum masters and all.
Matt Andrews



Peter Wilby writes that “the liberal left is supposed to be better than [right leaning media]”. Therein lies the conundrum: when one side is prepared to sacrifice means for ends, how should the other respond? This, in part, is why the right secures political power more than the left.
Michael Haskell
Broughton, Flintshire



The Guardian advertised the post of “Agile Scrum Master” at a salary of £65,000 per annum working remotely (plus benefits).
Christopher Priest
Rothesay, Isle of Bute

[see also: First Thoughts: How Suzanne Moore split the Guardian]


The blame game

Helen Thompson claims that Britain was set on a collision course with the EU because David Cameron’s pledges to cut net migration were incompatible with the EU freedom of movement rules (These Times, 27 November). Yet most migration to Britain is from outside the EU and entirely under national rules. As to EU freedom of movement: it is a reciprocal right, with an estimated million Brits living in other EU countries. It is also subject to conditions that the Cameron government chose not to apply. The Tories’ failure to cut net migration was their own. But, as ever, blaming the EU was irresistible.
Richard Corbett
Former leader of the Labour MEPs, 2017-20


TV tactics

David Dimbleby decries the decision of the Conservative Party to keep its ministers away from interrogation. Anoosh Chakelian points out specifically that “Johnson dodged interviews with the BBC’s Andrew Neil and others during his 2019 election campaign” (Observations, 27 November).

In fact, Conservative tacticians laid a trap. Each major party is given proportional media coverage during general election campaigns according to its size and past support. Aware of this, Conservative election managers sent Johnson on a tour of schools, hospitals and food factories knowing that the media would have to use the footage to make up for the lack of interviews.
Michael Meadowcroft

[see also: “Avoiding debate is not good for democracy”: David Dimbleby on Boris Johnson and the BBC’s future]


Lost medics

Julian Baggini’s piece on the autarkical mirage had much merit (Observations, 27 November). Nevertheless, Baggini’s point that 38 per cent of NHS doctors received their training outside the UK raises a concern. How many of these medics are from countries that could ill afford the loss of such highly trained individuals?
Jim A Thomas


Absent god?

Is the Reverend Ben Brown’s “transcendent God of love” (Correspondence, 27 November) the same god who has watched more than 55,000 of our fellow citizens die from Covid-19 while, apparently, doing nothing about it?
Colin Cubie
Hove, East Sussex


For the love of jazz

How perverse that, after a week in which the London Jazz Festival surmounted enormous Covid-related logistical problems to demonstrate the music’s continuing creative vitality and the enthusiasm of its young audience, the New Statesman should publish Michael Henderson’s whimsical recreation of the arthritic prejudices inflicted by Philip Larkin – a great poet but a terrible jazz critic – on readers of the Daily Telegraph half a century ago (The Critics, 27 November). The magazine to which Eric Hobsbawm once contributed his enlightened views on the subject should be ashamed of itself.
Richard Williams
East Twickenham



It’s good that Michael Henderson has learned to love jazz, especially with his piece coming a few weeks after Tracey Thorn’s eulogy of the documentary Ronnie’s (Off the Record, 13 November). But the account of his journey is spoiled by gratuitous, elitist asides that have no place in the jazz community. There is no need to dismiss Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra (whose leader, John McLaughlin, hails from Doncaster, Yorkshire, not Whitley Bay as stated) as displaying “empty virtuosity”; or to accuse John Coltrane of disappearing up “his own mouthpiece” in his later years. My album collection includes all these musicians in their many incarnations. It is the eclecticism and constant, restless improvisation that makes jazz so exhilarating.
David Hunter
Richmond, North Yorkshire


Unequal elites

Sarah Churchwell writes that “we are often told that science, medicine and engineering alone can get the job done” (Diary, 13 November). This implies that the writer is part of the masses, who are told things by a scientific elite. In fact, Churchwell is part of the humanities elite that does the telling. She is expressing resentment that fields of knowledge that the humanities elite is not equipped to understand could presume to be of any importance. There is no equivalence here. Everybody who can read has access to the humanities. The sciences require either formal training or highly skilled explanation by specialists.
John Wilson
Via email


Disappearing faith

I was elated that you published my letter, and then deflated when I spotted my typo (Correspondence, 27 November). On the other hand, “invisible faith” might be less annoying than invincible.
Lizzie Pittwright


Parton puns

The copy-editor of Sophie McBain’s paean to Dolly Parton (Observations, 27 November) showed admirable restraint by avoiding a pun on Parton’s “9 to 5” and the efficacy rate of the vaccine she helped fund.
Chris Lamb


Computer virus

Please could Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 20 November) reassure his readers that the laptop on which he rests his dinner plate is not the same one loaned to him by the computer repair guy at the market?
Kate Rimmer
Via email


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This article appears in the 02 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Crashed