In reply to Louise Perry’s column (Out of the Ordinary, 23 April) I would like to point out that there is a climate emergency. Extinction Rebellion (XR) does not aim to win a popularity contest, it aims to be effective. Many of its activists have spent years signing petitions, writing to politicians, engaging in wildlife projects and going on authorised marches. This has laid the groundwork for our protests. Since the actions of XR and Fridays For Future there is far more public awareness of climate change. It’s still not nearly enough but I count it as a success. She states that “few people are willing to make the kind of sacrifice demanded to reduce their carbon footprint to almost zero”. This is not borne out by the conclusions of citizens’ assemblies held last year by six government departments. We need governments to enable us to make changes, and I would not consider it a sacrifice if I could breathe clean air and ride my bike safely instead of vying for space with cars.
I am glad Philip Collins included David Cameron in his column on past prime ministers and the cursory treatment they receive when dismissed or resigned (The Public Square, 23 April). Although the Greensill episode is regrettable, we all have ten-tenths hindsight. It is only fair to recognise that Cameron was doing his best for Greensill, his employer; to assume that his own self-interest was uppermost is unjustified. Who is to say, too, that the survival of the British steel industry didn’t play a significant part in his motivation?
Cameron pulled together a successful coalition with the Liberal Democrats that rebuilt the country’s finances, only to sacrifice himself in a referendum that, at great personal cost to him, largely healed the festering national sore of Britain’s membership of the EU. Most Remainers, including me, now accept that we have left the EU and it’s time to move on. David Cameron should be recognised as the PM who brought this about, not vilified for a minor error of post-prime ministerial judgement.
Sir Andrew Cook, chairman, William Cook Holdings
David Cameron needs our generosity to ensure he has something to do and squillions to live on after leaving office? I read Philip Collins’s column with astonishment. He apparently considers that the central issue isn’t about corruption, dishonesty, elitism and greed, it is that we are not paying ex-prime ministers enough. Compared to the miserly sums paid to people on Universal Credit and disability benefits, £115,000 – the maximum annual payment to ex-PMs – is a cushy number.
There are also many urgent issues arising from Cameron’s lobbying and his access to ministers and civil servants that are far too important to be brushed aside as Collins did. I still wonder if the column was meant to be a joke. Sadly not.
Philip Collins writes that relative to the US “we are less than generous to our former prime ministers”. But American leaders have a personal mandate from their electors; British PMs do not.
Philip’s plea that ex-PMs should receive more support from taxpayers doesn’t stand up. An allowance of £115,000 is hardly a pittance, and former leaders can stay in parliament if they wish. Directorships, board appointments, memoirs and the lecture circuit can also provide healthy pay packets.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Philip Collins suggests that “we should be more generous to our former prime ministers”. I’m inclined to agree, and can’t wait to try it with the current one.
Hampton, Greater London
Women left out
Your editorial is right to praise Joe Biden as a man of action in the US government’s economic recovery strategy (Leader, 23 April). However, one has to challenge the assertion that Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are emulating him. Biden invested $400bn in the care economy, recognising it as infrastructure; Rishi Sunak’s Budget reinforces patriarchal ideology, committing billions to business, tax breaks and physical infrastructure while cutting investment in public services, education and health and social care.
Women have no recognition in the UK’s economic strategies. The Women’s Budget Group finds that 2.7 per cent more jobs would be created investing the same amount in the care economy as in the construction industry.
I found Aditya Chakraborrty’s review of Mariana Mazzucato’s new book very interesting (The Critics, 23 April). As Mazzucato is also a member of South Africa’s presidential economic advisory committee, it is useful to complement Chakraborrty’s review with a perspective from a developing country. The South African state’s capacity to implement industrial policy is generally weak and plagued by corruption. Policy advice for the state to develop strategic sectors demonstrates a lack of understanding of South African realities and provides no more than an intellectual fig leaf for bad policy choices to prop up inefficient state-owned enterprises.
Washington, DC, USA
Anoosh Chakelian did not ask Zara Mohammed, the first woman to become secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, her views on the atrocities committed by Islamist extremists in Britain (Observations, 23 April). What effect does she think these massacres have on many Britons’ views of Muslims? What is the new secretary-general going to do to combat Islamic extremism in this country, educate young Muslims and create a dialogue with other faiths and those of no faith?
Helen Thompson’s column on the European Super League (These Times, 23 April) perfectly summed up my feelings on it. Uefa and the FA ought not to be held as bastions of football tradition. They are just as money motivated as the rest of them. As a fan, the competition and dreams are what matter.
Margaret Drabble’s review of John Sutherland’s book on Monica Jones was lively and shrewd (The Critics, 23 April). But I must protest at the implied denigration in the observation that this odd couple claimed “to fancy the little bunny rabbits of Beatrix Potter and Racey Helps”.
Beatrix Potter’s rabbits are far from whimsical. Peter Rabbit’s mother unsentimentally reminds him that his father “was put in a pie” by Mr McGregor; Peter himself, on hearing that Mrs McGregor has gone out in her new bonnet, tartly observes that he hopes “it will rain”; his uncle, Old Mr Benjamin Bouncer, carries a little switch with which to whip his delinquent son and nephew, has “no opinion” of cats and, when “stricken in years” allows the nefarious Tommy Brock to make off with his grandchildren and has his ears boxed by his furious daughter-in-law.
While sharing none of the couple’s other tendencies, I remember as a small child finding Dr Maggoty, the physician magpie in The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan, extremely sexy.
I was disappointed that Margaret Drabble gratuitously caricatured Richard Hoggart as a “professional northerner”. It seems that for Drabble his classic evaluation of working-class experience was no more than regional affectation. Even Kingsley Amis might have avoided this kind of metropolitan condescension.
The title of John Sutherland’s Jones-Larkin narrative echoes an equally significant memoir, Jean Hartley’s Philip Larkin, the Marvell Press and Me (1989), which is still in print .
With her husband, George, Jean founded the Marvell Press, which published Philip Larkin’s first poetry collection in 1955; she admits that much trepidation was felt since “it would be a bloody marvel if we did manage to publish a book”. For Jean (who lived in our road) and Philip (who was a colleague at Hull University) it was the start of a friendship that lasted up to his death.
Philip does not emerge well from Sutherland’s account. However, Jean refers to his “chameleon-like nature”, noting that she always found him fair-minded, scrupulous and warm-hearted.
[see also: The misrepresenting of Monica Jones]
Nicholas Lezard is a little harsh on ’Spoons (Down and Out, 23 April). The trick to a very acceptable experience is to visit during the day – the pensioner crowd doesn’t cause trouble, the breakfasts are very fine – and order via the app. If possible go for the more modern places, brighter and more spacious than the old-style boozers. Mind you, NS readers of a sensitive disposition are advised to pick up the Brexiteer rag Wetherspoon News with extreme caution.
Nicholas Lezard is not quite right: membership of Middlesex County Cricket Club is not cheap, but it is readily available and allows access to Lord’s Pavilion Bowlers Bar when Middlesex are playing County Championship matches.
Over the past six months I have taken an interest in who your subscribers of the week would least like to be stuck in a lift with. Over the period there have only been two women: Priti Patel and Marine Le Pen. Jacob Rees Mogg and Nigel Farage have each received a whopping three nominations. Arron Banks and the Grinch also seem to have made it in. All nominees are on the far right of the political spectrum, with the possible exception of the Grinch. This seems ripe for more research. If the data supported it, building managers could recommend that men in positions of power with far-right views take the stairs.
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This article appears in the 28 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The new battle of ideas