Lola Seaton’s piece on Mark Fisher (The Critics, 22 January) was wonderfully thorough and moving. It managed to articulate, much like Fisher did, the ineffable sense of loss that typifies this late strain of capitalism. This was heightened by Seaton’s poignant references to the human loss that Fisher’s friends expressed at his memorial. With such glowing appraisals of his affecting work and deep sense of purpose, it is little wonder that there is clamour for more of his writing among such a lost generation. I can’t help but feel galvanised when I read Fisher’s work – Seaton’s piece evoked similar feelings, and not merely through association. I hope that in the aftermath of this collective crisis we can mobilise some of the consciousness we’ve lost and so desperately need. The alternative – a return to an acquiescent “normality” – risks setting us back yet another generation, and yet another crisis.
Philip Collins (The Public Square, 29 January) fails to explain how Labour support for a referendum could avoid a Scottish wipeout. For the past year, Nicola Sturgeon has benefited from good pandemic PR, being seen as open, honest, decisive and in stark contrast to the Prime Minister.
Brexit overlays this, with the Scottish fishing industry grinding to a halt. But while the SNP is failing in so many areas (drugs deaths, health services, social housing, education, child poverty), the Scottish Conservatives’ constant mantra of “No to IndyRef 2” simply gives oxygen to the independence question while the detail is rarely heard.
In this context, Labour calling for a referendum would be calamitous. Labour lost its power base in Scotland after being linked with the Tories in 2014. Its best chance is to avoid an early referendum, allowing time for Covid-19 and Brexit to die down, and to produce an attractive alternative to independence or continued dominance by a Conservative England.
Philip Collins is right that Labour needs to learn some new tricks if it is ever to return to power in Scotland and, perhaps, Westminster. Labour needs to be ruthless about the prospect of the SNP achieving its goal: asking if the people of Scotland really want to live in a single-party state run by people of such questionable competence as Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond, and reminding them of the SNP’s quite recent embrace of Donald Trump as a part of its patriotic inward investment strategy.
Above all, it must ask: how consistent is a set of political values that argues passionately for renewed union with Europe while still anxious to smash up the one on its doorstep?
Beverley, East Yorkshire
As a supporter of Scottish independence who has long thought that Boris Johnson didn’t know a certain part of his anatomy from his elbow, I was impressed to see him giving an elbow greeting to people he met on his Scottish trip.
Thank you for your poignant, necessary edition on the disaster of the Covid-19 death toll (“The Lost”, 29 January), which underlined the stark numbers – more than 100,000 people have died in less than 11 months and experts suspect another 50,000 will die this year – and countless errors that have been made throughout the pandemic. The government appears to have a flaw that forces it to lock down too late and reopen too early. That flaw is still as visible as ever, with schools planned to reopen in just over a month.
Sutton, Greater London
While Stephen Bush (Politics, 29 January) refers to the government’s error in going into lockdown late, there are many other errors: the decision not to use local public health staff, such as those in sexual health clinics, who are experienced with track and trace systems. And the failure to involve the public health academics who have highlighted the possible use of local services from the very early days of this virus.
Professor Allyson Pollock has repeatedly put forward a strong case for public health involvement and been ignored. Professor Devi Sridhar has also highlighted better ways of managing this crisis.
I have seen nothing that captures so well the tragic failures of Boris Johnson and his government than the words of Siegfried Sassoon on the troop advance at Arras in the First World War. In his poem “The General” he describes the judgement of their leader by two of his admiring soldiers:
“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack, As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack. But he did for them both with his plan of attack. Little has changed, it seems, in terms of competence.
Thank you for this week’s special issue on “The Lost”. I was especially grateful to learn about the Forest of Memories from Elif Shafak’s thoughtful article (“Notes on a crisis”, 29 January). In the space of two months last autumn I lost three beloved family members – my brother and his wife, and my stepsister – to Covid. It will be some solace for trees to be planted in their memory, in the company of memorials to other victims of this terrible disease.
Phil Whitaker wisely mourns the sense of our national scientific competence. Imagine if virologists observed only visible evidence – cases and deaths – of Covid-19, and advised on containing the epidemic but not on causes. This is the approach in much social science. All scientists overlook their own bias if they fail to question governments that fund and work with them. Sage needs to dispel the illusion that science is separate from politics and power.
Social Research Institute, UCL
Just a tiny one for the admirable NS data team: the Covid deaths map has allocated several chunks of Indonesia to the Philippines.
[see also: Notes on a crisis]
Sarah Manavis writes that the number of people diagnosed with depression doubled in 2020 (Observations, 29 January). Prescriptions of antidepressants are now almost twice as high as they were pre-Covid. As Manavis points out, there is much to be miserable about. We talk of a mental health pandemic, yet we are medicating people for understandable reactions to significant adversity. We might consider whether a chemical solution should be embarked on so hastily.
I can’t describe how much of a relief it was to read Sarah Manavis’s article. I’ve not felt a moment of sustained joy since the spirit of Christmas faded away (and that had already been trampled to a minimum by Tory ineptitude). I have spent almost a month getting frustrated at myself for not finding any motivation and, as I have ADHD, this slump was exacerbated by an ugly, swollen inability to finish anything.
I have quoted the article to at least three different people, who all feel exactly the same way. Realising the root of my issues is much more widely felt somehow makes things a little easier. The article has drawn a bright red circle around this horrid sense of greyness, pulling my friends and me closer together in solidarity.
Richard J Evans uses a rather narrow definition of fascist regimes (“Demons of the Present”, 15 January). It is true that in the 1930s Germany and Italy were moving towards war in a way that was inherent to their general policy. In the same period, Spain and Portugal also had regimes that are usually termed fascist but, rather than taking part in the war, the leaders isolated their countries, turned their brutal force inward and survived into the 1970s. Both Salazar and Franco died peacefully and were able to select their successor. They may constitute a more plausible parallel with Donald Trump’s conduct than Hitler or Mussolini.
Pius ten Hacken
I hope Peter Wilby has by now had second thoughts (First Thoughts, 29 January). He is reassured that the star presenter of GB News will be Andrew Neil who, though “right-of-centre” is not “of the head-banging tendency”. As a journalist I covered the HIV/Aids pandemic for 20 years. I was reporting from Tanzania and Uganda in the early 1990s when the Sunday Times, edited by Neil, had a campaign to challenge that HIV causes Aids, and suggested the thousands of orphaned children in east African villages had been abandoned by parents for more exciting lives. Had my memory inflated this? I turned to Google. The first result was a New Statesman article from 2009, written by none other than Peter Wilby, reminding readers of Neil’s long championship of Aids denial.
Richard J Evans writes that in July 2005, “Memorial 2007” was proposed by the Windrush Foundation to commemorate the victims of slavery (“How should we remember the Holocaust?”, 22 January). I would like to point out that Memorial 2007 and the Windrush Foundation are two separate charities and that the latter is not involved in a memorial to remember the victims of slavery.
Oku Ekpenyon MBE
Chair, Memorial 2007
Whatever location is decided for the Holocaust memorial and centre, it is to be hoped that all relevant information will be made available. This would include those who remained silent, like the Vatican, while millions were being murdered.
Andrew Marr describes Francis Bacon as “the British painter who, from the beginning, barely seemed British at all” (The Critics, 29 January). Perhaps this was because, born in Dublin in 1909, he was Irish.
We reserve the right to edit letters.
This article appears in the 03 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s tragedy