My heart leapt when I read the words “There is such a thing… as the national interest – and it is not measured by shareholder value alone” (Leader, 5 February). For decades, as the head of a quoted and later private company, I attempted to convey this to both the financial world and successive governments. Repeatedly, I reminded them that the other stakeholders in a company (customers, employees and suppliers), on all of whom the taxpayer and the state are ultimately dependent, should not be sacrificed on the false altar of shareholder value. Britain is fortunate that AstraZeneca was spun out of the ailing British juggernaut, Imperial Chemical Industries. But this is little comfort to those who have suffered through the neglect of the national interest. Trains, power stations and large commercial ships – all basic requirements of a developed maritime nation – are among the necessities no longer built in this country, and many of the skills essential to such activities have been irreplaceably lost.
Chairman, William Cook Holdings, Sheffield
I agree with Jeremy Cliffe (World View, 5 February) that the European Commission and some national leaders were mistaken not to ensure the early development of vaccines, and to be slow to approve them. The threat to block the border in Ireland was an even greater mistake.
However, I found myself getting angry with Yanis Varoufakis (“Darkness falls on the European project”, 5 February). He goes on about an “oligarchy” in league with the EU, but does not admit that it was the Greek government that accepted all the Objective 1 funding – the highest level of EU financial support for poorer countries – and failed to ensure its oligarchs did not benefit from it and were properly taxed. He was himself a Greek government minister with responsibility for finance, so he had a duty to ensure the money didn’t go to “oligarchs”.
He complains about “lack of democracy”. The EU reflects the national governments elected by European citizens. Sadly, in recent years the UK elected people with no interest in working with fellow MEPs in this important work.
Labour MEP 1994-99
To put John Crawley (Correspondence, 5 February) in the picture, Scotland wants to rejoin the EU because it is the democratic wish of the electorate, who believe it preferable to Little England nationalism and xenophobia.
The last time the Tories won a general election in Scotland, in terms of percentage of the vote achieved, was 1955, but we keep ending up with them in government. Boris Johnson and his government intend to use their Internal Market Bill as a wrecking ball for the Scottish parliament and the other devolved administrations.
John Crawley is wrong on two counts. The first is in assuming that the people of Scotland want to live in a one-party state. The domination of the SNP reflects merely the desire for self determination. If achieved, subsequent elections will produce a broader range of representation, hopefully progressive. That also addresses the second error, comparing the wish to break from the UK with a desire for EU membership. Rather engagement with other European nations in our own right than being tied to an insular, nationalistic polity that chooses our government for us.
It was refreshing to read Pippa Bailey’s column suggesting that flying less should be one of our new habits post-pandemic (Deleted Scenes, 5 February).
After almost a year of restrictions, there’s a sense that people are desperate to jump on a plane with no thought for the long-term consequences. Sadly, the climate crisis will still be here long after Covid-19.
Of course, we need governments to step in and take an urgent, long-term view, but that does not absolve us of personal responsibility. It would be nice to think that we could approach the climate crisis with the same commitment we’ve shown towards beating coronavirus. Sadly, as its effects pose little imminent danger to our lives, this is unlikely to be the case.
Leyburn, North Yorkshire
Learning from kids
Bravo to Rowan Williams for highlighting the importance of rethinking education in view of the impact of Covid-19 and climate change, and for suggesting that we need to refer to educational philosophers such as Montessori and Steiner (“Notes on a crisis”, 29 January). Let’s not forget Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), who saw children as connected to families and communities as well as to schools. He urged, “Let us learn from our children”, a challenge still relevant today
The Mail gaze
Philip Collins is correct that Boris Johnson “doesn’t seem to understand what makes his own country work” (The Public Square, 5 February). But is Collins in danger of exhibiting the same wilful lack of understanding? Often his brilliance is in looking beyond our cosy bubbles, yet he boasts of not reading for the past 35 years the most powerful newspaper in the country. The Daily Mail is a valuable tool in understanding how Britain works.
Cheer for Keir
Stephen Bush questions whether Keir Starmer is up to the job (Politics, 5 February). He most certainly is. I rate him as a decent, clever man, who had a proper job before becoming an MP. I am totally disenchanted with the over-promising, under-delivering and cronyism of the present government. So all power to your elbow, Keir, and keep up the good work.
The drugs work
Re Keir Harding’s letter (Correspondence, 5 February) on medicating depression: I have lived with depression for many years. I have had talking therapy in the past, but antidepressants allow me to function better and be easier to live with. Access to psychotherapy is limited, particularly in the pandemic. Antidepressants are relatively cheap, well-researched and offer people a better chance to manage their mental health.
Light is undeniably important to our mental well-being, and here on the Isle of Skye in midwinter it is still pitch black at 8am. To remind myself that things will get better, I decided to take a series of photographs looking east from the same spot at 8am every Monday, solstice to solstice. It’s a tiny gesture, but it works.
Glendale, Isle of Skye
David Reynolds (The Critics, 29 January) reveals that in 1833, after the abolition of the slave trade, “some 45,000 British slave-owners received compensation to the tune of £20m” and that this compensation package was “the largest in British history until the bank rescue of 2008”. Put simply: the recipients of the two biggest relief packages in Britain’s history were slave-owners and bankers. Yet this government proclaims to be cash-strapped when it comes to feeding children and raising Universal Credit by £20 a week?
Louise Perry (Out of the Ordinary, 5 February) is correct that closing schools has taken a toll on children’s mental health and learning remotely is a poor substitute. She is also correct that the decision to open schools again is political. What Perry gets wrong is that schools are safe. Since September, 34 colleagues (of 180) and 90 students (of 1,850) have tested positive. The government should requisition empty, well-ventilated offices, create “Nightingale schools” and let us teach in a safe environment.
National Education Union, London Borough of Redbridge
While I was impressed by the quality of the writing in the issue mourning “The Lost” (29 January), I am depressed to note the NS’s contribution to innumeracy on the Covid deaths map. The NS must know death tolls are misleading unless given per capita.
Your page of graphs and diagrams would have been very interesting if I had been able to read it. I read well, with and without glasses, but grey on grey, white on grey, tiny white letters on red – I give up. What is wrong with black and white?
John Boaler (Correspondence, 5 February) is wrong to criticise Andrew Marr for referring to Francis Bacon as a British artist. Bacon was born in Dublin to an English father when Ireland was part of Great Britain, and lived most of his life in England. To call him Irish would be like calling Ted Dexter, the great England cricketer, Italian because he was born in Milan. James Joyce and Samuel Beckett were offered Irish passports after the declaration of the Irish Free State. Both writers preferred to remain British.
The right note
I’ve been really enjoying the increase in music writing. It was a shame to see it relatively overlooked compared to film, theatre, TV and radio. It was particularly excellent to read David Hepworth on Tapestry (The Critics, 29 January).
A man’s word
I can live with the misspelling of Velázquez, but what is hard to bear is that again your Word Game, this time based on the names of 16 artists, contains not a single woman (5 February).
Hallelujah, Bez “doing the politics” in the NS (Q&A, 5 February). Give him a column.
We reserve the right to edit letters.
This article appears in the 10 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, End of the affair