Peter Mandelson (Encounter, 14 May) believes that “over half the country is left-leaning in their values”, and he speaks of the Labour Party’s “terrible defeat in 2019”. Both statements are correct. In the 2019 election, the vote tallies in England and Wales were 13.9 million for the right (Tories plus Brexit Party) and 14.1 million for the left (Labour, Lib Dems and Green). Yet the Tories secured a landslide majority.
The right runs on a single manifesto, whereas we on the left spread our votes across our three parties. If we had run under a merged party, the Labour Liberal Green Party (LLG), in that election we would have won 59 seats that went to the Conservatives. The election would have been at worst a dead heat.
We three parties of the left should merge as fast as possible, well before the next general election, and prepare an LLG manifesto, which, given the common thrust of all three of our political objectives, is hardly a difficult task. The next general election will then be ours to win. And we will win it.
Sir Tim Waterstone, Founder of Waterstones
I agree with much of Tony Blair’s article (“The progressive challenge”, 14 May). However, his call to “deconstruct and reconstruct” the Labour Party is overblown. It conjures up a vision of years of internal agonising, enabling the Tories to pull further ahead. I don’t remember David Cameron or Boris Johnson “deconstructing and reconstructing” the Tories. Labour needs a stronger front bench and better, more focused policies, hopefully by using the input of Deborah Mattinson, David Goodhart and Peter Mandelson. The tide will turn on Boris Johnson and the Tories. Labour needs to be ready – not engrossed in prolonged, destructive navel-gazing.
I am curious that Tony Blair holds up Trevor Phillips as someone Labour voters get upset about if he is criticised. As a minister in 2005 I made a routine speech saying the ideology of Islamism was a threat to democracy and to Muslims everywhere. No one used the term “woke” then, and even today I am not sure if Hartlepool voters know what it means, as I don’t. The floodgates opened. Trevor was given a page in the Observer to brand me an Islamophobe because I had criticised Islamist ideology. I think he has moved on, and perhaps I haven’t. He is a strong writer and makes good points. But I wish someone would give me a tutorial on being or not being “woke”.
Former Europe minister
In his push for a new progressive coalition in the UK, Tony Blair forgets his Scottish roots. Without support in Scotland, the formation of a coalition bringing together progressive forces in Westminster will be ever more challenging. Coalition governments in Europe are borne of necessity rather than a desire to converge political priorities. The numbers for a progressive coalition in the UK are certainly not with Labour and the Liberal Democrats in England and Wales alone. By ignoring domestic politics and neglecting the implications of the SNP’s dominance in Scotland, Blair’s exploration of any future coalition is futile.
It would be interesting to know if Tony Blair ever reflects on the fact that he could have laid the foundations for the progressive movement for which he advocates. He had the parliamentary majorities required to bring in proportional representation for Westminster elections but did nothing. He had a decade to broker the alliance between our liberal and social-democratic traditions but succumbed to old-fashioned Labour tribalism and wasted the chance.
West Wickham, Greater London
Stephen Bush’s analysis of the local elections is somewhat unfair to Labour (Politics, 14 May). Labour had notable successes across London and Wales, and seized mayoralties in the west of England and Cambridgeshire.
It is clear, however, that post-Brexit, we must settle on cooperation between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and those of centre-left sympathies. Now is the time for Labour to ditch tribalism.
Liberal Democrat councillor, Twickenham Riverside
Philip Collins is wrong to think that Chipping Norton, a market town with a history of factory work in the woollen industry, is outside the area of interest for the Labour Party (The Public Square, 14 May). The so-called Chipping Norton set lives in converted farmhouses and other large properties outside the town, in leafy West Oxfordshire. But things are stirring even there. For the first time since I have voted here (27 years), the Conservatives have lost control of the county council. The Lib Dems now have as many councillors as the Tories, and together with Labour and Green councillors, are poised to take over the administration.
Lola Seaton rightly diagnoses that one reason for Labour’s failure is “the fact that a party’s expressive and governing functions are related” (Lines of Dissent, 14 May). As a liberal Jewish South African émigré living in Wales, I hoped to get my local Labour Party to put the Israel/Palestine issue on the agenda to ventilate Jewish and enlightened pro-Palestinian feelings that non-Jews and Jews often ignore. The branch official who writes to me thought this would be too divisive. Why didn’t Keir Starmer anticipate the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities and try to win back the Jewish and Islamic votes that now go to the other parties by giving us a balanced view of Britain’s potential peace-making role?
When will the likes of Blair and Mandelson accept that Labour is not, and never will be, the same as New Labour? As the wise Lola Seaton points out, Labour politics under Jeremy Corbyn was participatory, while under New Labour participation was discouraged until election day.
Whatever you think of Keir Starmer, he’s surely deserving of sympathy. Last week’s edition featured Jason Cowley, Stephen Bush, Philip Collins, Jeremy Cliffe, Maurice Glasman, Lola Seaton, George Eaton, Anoosh Chakelian and Tony Blair all offering highly perceptive and contradictory advice about what he needs to do. If I were Keir, I’d bury myself beneath the covers, like Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 14 May).
Andrew Marr (Diary, 14 May) claims that he makes “no political point when I say that Glasgow feels as distinct from an English city as, for instance, Dublin”. But of course he does. I share his enjoyment of Glasgow, as I do Dublin, and indeed Cardiff, but there are many different cities in each of these countries. Equally, the great English cities are all very different in feel. Marr’s essentialising of Scottishness through his personal evocation of Glasgow needs challenge from a territorial journalism that hopefully can become more sophisticated in its treatment of even such indirect issues bearing on the Union.
Not solely the SNP
Your leader (“The SNP’s mandate”, 14 May) was promoted by the SNP on social media – the headline is, of course, agreeable to the party. But the truth is that the Scottish electorate has won such a mandate using the SNP as its primary vehicle. The majority and the mandate rely on the equally pro-independence Scottish Green Party, as well as the SNP.
The leader points out the challenges for the SNP. The SNP is not the embodiment of the whole independence movement, and its proposals on these issues will be one prospectus among many. Independence supporters will not be endorsing the rest of the SNP’s policies when they vote Yes.
It was brave of Tom Johnson to come out as “an inveterate bus enthusiast” (Correspondence, 14 May), and equally brave of the NS to give him pride of place as Letter of the Week. In the museum world, in which I enjoy a voluntary role, I was told by a friend that among her colleagues there was a hierarchy of eccentricity among visiting transport anoraks. On a scale of “normality” the most respectable were plane spotters but the lowest of the low came we humble bus spotters!
Education officer, Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester
War of words
Jonathan Bastaple’s criticism of the incorrect understanding of Russian words was interesting (Correspondence, 14 May), but he himself misuses an English word. Originally used in jazz, a “riff” is defined in the Collins dictionary as an ostinato (continuously reiterated musical phrase). It is not an improvisation, as many journalists seem to think.
A special bond
I was saddened by Pippa Bailey’s monocular view of My Octopus Teacher (Deleted Scenes, 14 May). I feel that Bailey is missing something. A young, male red deer befriended my wife and me, spending days about the house and going for walks with us. It would take a cynically reductive approach not to accept that as some form of trust. And that does teach you something: perhaps if we can learn to be part of the natural world we can break down the “otherness” with which we view so many humans.
We lost our animal teacher. He was poisoned, and we grieved for him more than the deaths of most people I have known.
Pippa Bailey doesn’t get it when contemplating the bond humans can forge with animals. Reading her column, I began to suspect she hasn’t ever owned a dog. And as for whether she sobbed uncontrollably when Weedon Scott makes the momentous decision not to abandon White Fang in the Yukon, but take the animal home with him to California: impossible!
Marple, Greater Manchester
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This article appears in the 19 May 2021 issue of the New Statesman, In defence of meritocracy