Is WeWork’s flawed business model the cynical commodification of community, rather than work-based communities themselves (Lines of Dissent, 16 April)? Disassociating the dubious ex-chief executive from the concept itself, a sense of “togetherness’’ has a proven relationship with good health and well-being. From schools to scouts, places of worship to workplaces, communities can be nurtured everywhere.
In Megan Nolan’s home country, they plan to create 400 remote working hubs to support rural economies and flagging town centres. In our post-lockdown reluctance to resume commuting, but with a growing appetite to broaden the conversation beyond Minecraft and Lego, “co-working and drinks at the office” might be exactly what we need.
John Gray’s exposé of David Cameron (“The great sell-out”, 16 April) rightly states that he has “become a symbol of the passing of the neoliberal order”. Gray defines neoliberal as “the doctrine that every institution should be reorganised according to market norms”. He notes that New Labour succumbed to this ideology and its influence still exerts a magnetic pull on sections of the Labour leadership. However, by a sleight-of-hand, for the remainder of the article Gray calls this ideology “centrism”. This enables Gray to frame politics as a choice between “centrist” globalisation and its nationalist, “democratic” counterpoint.
As a devotee of the latter, Gray is unsurprisingly silent about the right-wing, market-infatuated character of this nationalism, as shown by the way Boris Johnson’s government, too, is “subordinated to the dictates of the market”. The move from Thatcherism to national populism has reinforced the links between the Conservatives and corrupt business practice: Robert Jenrick and Richard Desmond; Johnson and Jennifer Arcuri; the VIP lane for PPE contracts; and the test and trace fiasco.
The choice for Labour is not a nationalist Blue Labour bolthole but the type of inclusive, alliance-building social democracy that is anathema to Gray. The new US president is showing what is possible.
Kings Heath, Birmingham
John Gray reasonably suggests that by selecting “an identikit Remainer” as Labour’s candidate in 70 per cent Brexit-supporting Hartlepool, Keir Starmer is “putting two fingers up” to the electorate. Equally valid is the possibility that those two digits are being aimed at critics on the left of his party. When the inevitable defeat comes, Starmer will have a ready-made excuse.
Radical economic policies, which, as Gray states, are “popular among working-class Labour voters”, and which figured prominently in the ten pledges Starmer made before becoming leader, have been rejected in favour of “economic orthodoxy”. Starmer’s refusal to support the majority of the pledges risks continued party disunity and electoral disaster. It is not so much the “attitude of much of Labour’s membership towards the party’s traditional working-class supporters” that concerns me, but the attitude of the leadership towards them.
John Gray points out that “an invincible attachment to a closed way of thinking is not confined to the fringes of politics”. Such closed thinking also applies to Brexit supporters such as Gray who repeat the myth that Labour’s “traditional working-class supporters” overwhelmingly backed Brexit.
There is only one coherent definition of working class: people in work. And, according to the Ashcroft polls, “a majority of those working full-time or part-time voted to remain in the EU; most of those not working voted to leave”. Gray needs to understand that the working class is racially and culturally diverse, based in cities, and employed in a range of white-collar and service industry jobs. This amounts to much more than simply “London and a scattering of woke university towns”, as Gray sneeringly puts it: it is the actual, existing working class.
Leo McKinstry’s polemic is likely to provoke a case of “whataboutery” in Northern Irish readers, even those of us who oppose Ulster unionism (“A hundred years of trouble”, 16 April). He pays no attention to what was happening in southern Ireland as Northern Ireland was being conceived and developed: he makes no reference to the IRA murders of Protestants in the south or to the deference given by southern ministers to the Catholic hierarchy.
There was an alternative. Lloyd George’s Government of Ireland Act offered home rule parliaments, a Council of Ireland and a boundary commission to settle the border. The unionists reluctantly accepted this deal; Sinn Féin rejected it, and two sectarian states emerged.
Those like McKinstry who favour a united Ireland will have to do a lot more to fulfil the promise of the Easter Rising Proclamation to “treat all the children of the nation equally” if they are to win people over without further bloodshed.
We may be forced to confront both the feeling of doom by unionists and the possibility of a border poll sooner rather than later. The 2020 census is likely to show Northern Ireland as majority Catholic – no longer a Protestant state.
Ballymena, Co Antrim
James Craig, who died as Viscount Craigavon in November 1940, was succeeded as prime minister of Northern Ireland by John M Andrews, who had been minister of finance from 1921. Andrews resigned in April 1943, having apparently lost the support of his backbenchers. He was succeeded by Basil Brooke. Andrews was the only one of the six prime ministers of Northern Ireland not to be elevated to the House of Lords.
Dunbar, East Lothian
Not a threat
Deirdre Feehan writes to complain about Kevin Maguire’s description of Liz Truss’s “culture war view” of women’s rights (Correspondence, 16 April). She then describes the fight for transgender people’s rights in the UK as “an ideology [that threatens]”. There is no clearer example of stoking a culture war than the language Feehan herself uses, which is offensive and misleading. Many women, myself included, see no conflict between our own rights and those of our trans sisters, and find the language used by people like Feehan extremely troubling. Solidarity to transgender NS readers.
In a short letter, Oscar Despard (Correspondence, 16 April) succeeds in completely mischaracterising first Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of a “language-game” (which, far from being “part of a search for meaning and ethical knowledge” is rather a means by which words and sentences generate meaning); second, modern “anglophone departments of philosophy” (the employees of which are Wittgenstein’s “successors” only in the sense that they come after him; they are in no way comparable, in their relation to Wittgenstein, to Derrida’s followers in relation to Derrida); and third, the signatories to the letter objecting to Derrida’s honorary degree at Cambridge (the majority of whom are neither “successors” to Wittgenstein in any meaningful sense, nor members of anglophone philosophy departments). Otherwise, not a bad letter.
Jonny Ball’s article (“Is this Bitcoin’s moment?”, Spotlight, 16 April) was interesting but I disagree that “[Bitcoin’s] use for legal products is extremely rare”. The association of Bitcoin and illegal activity is weak. The UN estimates 2 to 5 per cent of global GDP is involved in illicit activity. Meanwhile, the criminal share of all cryptocurrency in 2020 was 0.34 per cent.
Duke’s good deeds
What a mean-spirited dismissal of the Duke of Edinburgh by Peter Wilby (First Thoughts, 16 April). Many of us own books that we will never have time to read. Even unread books say something about their owner’s range of interests. A more accurate assessment of the lunch with Brian Cox would have noted that it was the duke who introduced the Buckingham Palace lunches to enable him and the Queen to meet some of Britain’s most impressive people. It is only with the duke’s death that many of us have become fully aware of all the good that he did for Britain. We should remember him with gratitude.
Sutton, Greater London
Get it right
The constant shoehorning of Sam Harris into the “alt-right” category is an example of how tribal much discourse is (Correspondence, 26 March). If a Democrat-voting, pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, gun control advocate is alt-right, then I don’t understand the spectrum.
I was appalled at the behaviour of the BBC after the death of the elderly consort last week. As Roger Mosey says, it was a BBC “frightened of doing the wrong thing” (Observations, 16 April). He then writes that the BBC is paying more attention to the “diversity of modern Britain, but suddenly we were all expected to watch the same thing and feel the same way”. Diversity of modern Britain? With this government’s attitude and the insularity that will follow after their Brexit triumph? Perish the thought.
Julia Edwards Winchester
Pinker in the red
Anjana Ahuja, in her review of Martin Rees’s book On the Future: Prospects of Humanity (The Critics, 26 October 2018), wrote: “Rees calculated a 50 per cent chance that, by 2020, a single incident of bioterror or bio-error (the accidental release of a pathogen) will lead to a million deaths. The Harvard psychologist and arch-optimist Steven Pinker bet him $200 against.” Do you know if Mr Pinker has paid up on the bet?
Pelsall, West Midlands
We reserve the right to edit letters
This article appears in the 21 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The unlikely radical