Rachel Cooke’s fond review of Channel 4’s Johnny Vegas: Carry on Glamping (The Critics, 7 May) brought back memories of my frequent visits to Malta in the 2000s. As an inveterate bus enthusiast I was drawn to all the yellow buses on the island before they were withdrawn in July 2011.
Johnny’s “Patricia” bore the registration FBY 803 in Malta and I have fond memories of seeing the bus looking in far better shape than it was in the programme. I saw the vehicle on most of my visits and have photographs of it in service. This oddball obsession of mine led to the creation of my alter ego of Anorak, when Gordon Holt, the founder of the NS’s current crossword series, invited me to join him as co-compiler at the very start, back in January 2010.
Nicola Sturgeon claims to be a “utilitarian”, as opposed to “existential”, nationalist (“If not now… never?”, 7 May). She intends to portray herself as the acceptable face of nationalism in Scotland. Her party seeks to avoid the more blatant anti-British attitudes and ancient grudges that led earlier guises of the SNP to be kept on the political sidelines. Her careful presentation of the arguments for Scotland leaving the UK emphasise idealised visions of self-determination and play down the practical realities.
Yet modern Scottish nationalism depends just as much as its earlier iterations on the pretence that independence is an all-or-nothing concept. In truth, Scotland within the UK has a great deal of autonomy and benefits from the sharing of resources across the nations.
While Nicola Sturgeon has perfected her place on the moral high ground through effective political spin, for so many in Scotland the SNP’s independence project asks us to turn our backs on so much that we value deeply. There is nothing romantic or progressive about breaking apart people and their shared history and cultures. The SNP’s politics of identity and false exceptionalism has soured Scottish public life for too long, and its leadership appear determined to impose their dogma on the people of Scotland at whatever cost.
West Linton, Scottish Borders
Chris Deerin’s article was well-written and fair. Despite campaigning against Scottish independence, I am shocked by my Conservative-minded friends and relations’ vitriolic hostility to Nicola Sturgeon personally.
As a sportsman, I was always taught to play the ball, not the man, and think this principle should apply to politics. By all means criticise her policies and performance, but opponents should be fair about her appearance and personality.
Chris Deerin’s interview with Nicola Sturgeon was excellent. Unlike most political interviews, it was a thoughtful conversation about Sturgeon’s patient approach to achieving a legal and winnable referendum.
But Deerin seems to have forgotten his history: the Scots famously triumphed at Bannockburn. So if the SNP turns out to be “slouching towards Bannockburn” it won’t be bad news for them, it will be the end of the Union.
I wasn’t sure if the omission of Britain from your leader as one of the contributors to China’s “century of humiliation” was intentional or a slip of the pen (“The revenge of history”, 7 May). Britain ranks highly when it comes to deprivation in China, including the Opium Wars, when Britain used military power to force China to permit the unrestricted import and sale of opium, resulting in destitution and death. It was a particularly low point in British history – one that should not be forgotten.
Sai Kung, Hong Kong
A pint of fibs
Rachel Cunliffe’s article on encountering misinformation on alcohol and the Covid-19 vaccine from Drinkaware highlights a larger problem (“Covid-19 vaccines and alcohol: a case study in confusion”, NS online, 5 May).
Drinkaware is funded by the alcohol industry, and our own research has shown that Drinkaware communications contain significant misinformation about health issues. This reflects a pattern we found repeated across similar alcohol industry-funded national charities in Canada, South Africa, Ireland, Australia and the US.
One reason for this is that it allows the industry to appear to be a legitimate health actor, which makes it credible to policymakers and the public.
There is a clue to another possible reason in the headline of Cunliffe’s article: “a case study in confusion”. Many harmful commodity industries benefit from sowing doubt about health harms in order to delay meaningful action – as captured in the famous quote from a tobacco industry memo, “Doubt is our product”.
Professor Mark Petticrew and Dr May van Schalkwyk, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and Dr Nason Maani, LSHTM and Boston University School of Public Health
Prince of darkness
We all know that Peter Mandelson does sound-bites, but it would be refreshing if the man who was the Labour MP for Hartlepool from 1992 to 2004 properly addressed the accusation that many voters in the constituency felt the Labour Party had taken them for granted for too long.
What responsibility does he bear for that?
Lost in translation
Nicholas Lezard is the latest non-Russian-speaking columnist to riff on the “untranslatable” Russian word vranyo (Down and Out, 7 May). It simply means “a collection of lies” or “the act of lying”. It doesn’t denote a special Russian kind of lie involving some weird duplicity feedback loop. At the time of the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, it was often sagely noted in the papers that Russian has no word for “invasion”. That wasn’t true either.
Jeremy Cliffe argues convincingly for the benefits of a new concert of global powers (World View, 7 May) to help manage tensions in a multipolar world order. In tandem, the evolving global architecture requires a new mechanism for democracies to work together on remaking the case for liberal values at a time of growing authoritarianism. Joe Biden’s D-10 concept could be the basis for such a grouping, but it will lack credibility unless member nations have a shared commitment to democratic norms, shared values and minority rights.
Philip Collins (The Public Square, 7 May) writes that, “Labour is deeply committed, psychologically, to being the party of the sans-culottes…but their aim was always to talk de haut en bas to the northern working class. Now, to their surprise, the northern working class is talking back.” Part of this attitude was seeing working-class voters as victims who needed saving. Labour must move away from its fixation on victimhood and minority politics.
Red Wall voters do not see themselves as victims. They simply want the opportunity to make something of their lives. To win these voters back, Keir Starmer needs to lead a shift away from the pessimistic politics of victimhood to an optimistic politics of opportunity and agency.
The northern voters felt they were being taken for granted by the Labour Party, and they were right. No amount of apologising and contrition will make a difference. Labour politicians who wish to be seen as knights in shining armour have been shown the door.
St Antony’s College, Oxford
Planet in jeopardy
Ali Hull responded to my letter about the achievements of Extinction Rebellion (XR) by saying that XR is self-righteous (Correspondence, 7 May).
All the activists I know are well aware that not nearly enough has been achieved – the world is still on the way to a disastrous level of warming and biodiversity loss. We also recognise the importance of other groups and individuals in raising awareness. My overwhelming emotion is profound grief for the future of our planet; it is certainly not self-righteousness.
Our man in Berlin
Getting my copy of the NS about ten days after publication here in Germany, I have only just had the pleasure of reading Jeremy Cliffe’s excellent profile of Annalena Baerbock (“The green power-player”, 23 April). When will a book of his about modern Germany be coming out? His reporting from Berlin is more perceptive and insightful than most German journalism, and is one more reason to look forward to the large white paper envelope containing my copy of the NS.
A cruel sport
The “vision of the ideal relationship between man and nature” in Michael Prodger’s article on Gaston Fébus (“The thrills of the chase”, 7 May) is questionable. A vision of an activity in which men, dogs, hounds and hawks work together to slaughter deer, wild boar, bears, wolves, foxes, otters and wild cats in a ritual of butchery has little to recommend it to modern sensibilities. The “ideal pleasure grounds” and “man-made paradise” through which “game” is hunted offer even less to any responsible vision of ecology. That there is still a market for the cruel self-gratification of tweed-clad oafs in the deliberately denuded uplands of Britain should be a source of shame.
The subtitle of Michael Prodger’s article was “a vision of the ideal relationship between man and nature”. I beg to differ. To be outnumbered, terrified, wounded and killed, in no matter how gentlemanly a style, probably meant that it wasn’t at all ideal for the deer.
[see also: Gaston Fébus and the thrills of the chase]
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This article appears in the 12 May 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Without total change Labour will die