At 79, I calculate I was the 7,600,001st person in the vaccine queue after NHS staff, care workers and the more than 3 million over-eighties. However, having shared Peter Wilby’s view (First Thoughts, 8 January) that it would be astonishing, given its record of failure, were the government to get its act together on administering the vaccine, I have to warn him: he could be shocked. I nearly had a heart attack on Saturday 2 January on being told over an actual phone by a real person to report at 1.40pm on Thursday for the inoculation at a surgery within walking distance of my home! Now I just have to wait for the follow-up.
University of Lincoln
In Jeremy Cliffe’s insightful column on how the contrasting social projects of Margaret Thatcher and Jacques Delors led us to Brexit (World View, 8 January), he seems to suggest that the rupture between these two visions is likely to reach a “logical conclusion” with the triumph of an Atlanticist, free market-style model in the UK.
Such a prospect should concern those of us who value the generous, reciprocal and federalist Delors model over the harsh, transactional and centralised Thatcherite one, which is based on Protestant economic liberal values and Hayekian individualism.
However, Cliffe and his readers should beware of thinking the future is already determined by the settlement from the Thatcher years. Many European neighbours who share our religious heritage demonstrate that a Protestant identity is a bar to neither generous social provision nor modern democratic arrangements. Much of our own postwar history shows how successful European-style social institutions have been in a British context. The NHS stands out as an obvious legacy.
We may be governed by Thatcher’s children, but they are nostalgic and out of touch. Their own children know that her vision cannot offer them the opportunities that they crave. I am cautiously optimistic that post-crash, post-Covid and post-Brexit, they will come up with more positive ways of living together than either Thatcher or Delors would have thought of.
Your leader is correct (“The careless Mr Johnson”, 8 January). At every opportunity the government has dithered, allowing coronavirus to spread and people to die.
It also touches on the crucial point that lockdown sceptics are “given disproportionate weight by the media”. False equivalence is all too common, and not just in right-wing journals. Giving a platform to people who are factually wrong is bad journalism, as is pretending people who spout lies are merely “of a different opinion”. The BBC, as much as I support the institution, is often guilty of this in a flawed attempt to remain impartial.
Sutton, Greater London
There is another reason that the government is slow to introduce new measures aside from the reluctance of the Prime Minister to make decisions: many ministers have not held science jobs.
In a recent article in Chemistry World, Roger Highfield writes that ministers “no longer ‘follow the science’. Under pressure they have fallen back on pre-scientific thinking: waiting for a rise in cases and deaths to become overwhelming before acting.”
The basis of the advice of Covid-19 expert groups is prediction and modelling. They advised of a second wave and warned against loosening rules at Christmas. Now we see the results. The lack of politicians with a science background will be even more evident when we face climate change.
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
Stephen Bush writes that “Sweden with its doomed attempt to let the virus pass through the population without restrictions” has had one of the worst responses to the pandemic (“The woes of the Pandemic PM”, 8 January). In an earlier issue of the New Statesman a Swedish spokesman outlined their restrictions, among which were shielding the vulnerable, restricting crowds and encouraging social distancing. The government wanted people to cooperate and not to be forced by law into lockdown, a strategy of doubtful efficacy in the rest of Europe.
Jonathan Kiek (Correspondence, 8 January) quotes Chesterton’s belief that when people stop believing in God, they believe anything. I assume that the Christian right in the US generally believes in God, but given the support many of them afford to Donald Trump, it doesn’t seem to stop them believing anything too.
Rhondda Cynon Taf
How delighted I was to read the letter from Jonathan Kiek. I have very fond memories of his lessons on the French Revolution, his enthusiastic chairmanship of lunchtime debates and kind advice when I was applying to university. I last saw him, I think, at a British Library lecture on Tolstoy about ten years ago, and have been meaning to get in touch ever since. (Obviously he makes an excellent point.)
I was disappointed to see the throwaway reference to Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence in Emily Tamkin’s column (Inside America, 11 December). Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence is a thought experiment for the individual to confront their own life: how would you react if you found that your life must be lived “innumerable times” more, and “every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh… must come again to you, and all in the same series and sequence”.
It is not living in “an endless cycle of death and distraction”. Eternal recurrence always applies, whether we are miserable or joyful. It is not a depressant; rather, a practical embrace of amor fati and living life on our own terms.
A GP’s wisdom
Like so many, I value the articles that Dr Phil Whitaker has written for the NS. In his recent longer pieces (“How the mutant strain took hold”, 8 January, and “Journal of a plague year”, 11 December) he has written the terms of reference for the inquiry into the government’s handling of the crisis, outlining its failings and their consequences.
Appley Bridge, Wigan
Orwell the patriot
Jason Cowley’s otherwise brilliant new introduction to Animal Farm (“The road to revolution”, 11 December) was disappointing for its failure to question the widely held misunderstanding of Orwell’s political sentiments. The putative ambiguity of Orwell’s politics as presented by Cowley does a disservice to a writer who declared that “every line of serious work that I have written… has been written… for democratic socialism”. Reducing Orwell’s patriotism to conservatism overlooks his synthesis of patriotism and socialism. As Orwell himself wrote, “patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism”.
Philip Collins (The Public Square, 8 January) says that the Conservatives “will return to immigration in desperation”. Their social media shows they have never left it: celebrating deportations, hyping action to prevent tiny numbers of migrants crossing the Channel, boasting of ending freedom of movement. He may be right that come the 2024 election, when Johnson has failed to deliver anything meaningful, this will be ramped up in a big nationalist stew along with anti-wokeness, Europhobia and hostility to the Scots.
Professor Martin Shaw
University of Sussex
Appeal for answers
What are the fines for those defrauding furlough? Why is construction work continuing when offices and shops are empty? What is the cost of a week in ICU? Are funeral homes managing?
Americans are given far more information about Covid-19 than we are in the UK. Why are we dumbed down?
Dave Kruger’s letter (Correspondence, 8 January) about Gary Numan’s Q&A brought to mind Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. It was nasty, brutish and short, and I’m astonished you saw fit to publish it.
We were born in 1938 and 1964 respectively and had both heard of Gary Numan. In fact, we still enjoy his work – interesting lyrics, good tunes and one of the best riffs ever in “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”. We often haven’t heard of the Q&A subjects, but we are happy to learn about new people. There was nothing offensive or controversial in Numan’s replies; we wonder why Mr Kruger was so upset by them.
Tessa and Cathy Hartog
The caption to Justin Tallis’s photograph of a ferry leaving Dover (Observations, 8 January) begins “Dawn breaks…”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines dawn as the first appearance of light before sunrise, but judging by the position of the sun, the photograph must have been taken about 90 minutes after sunrise. Have your sub-editors been disorientated by Brexit? I hope not.
Now that chess has become fashionable again (Observations, 8 January), is there any chance of the NS reintroducing a chess column? I seem to remember that there was one years ago written by a bloke called Byron Jacobs.
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
Congratulations on the new paper envelope in which my subscription is delivered. This makes the New Statesman recyclable at home (at least it would, had I not a pile of past editions stacked on my table).
We reserve the right to edit letters.
This article appears in the 13 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, American civil war