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29 September 2021

Letter of the week: A different class of party

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By New Statesman

There is a symmetry between the two articles on Labour’s current debility (Politics, and “The noise before defeat”, 24 September). Both are summed up by Philip Collins: “After a century in which first socialism, then nationalisation and then equality ceased to provide the party with its intellectual ballast, Labour is left unsure quite what it stands for.”

At the turn of the 20th century and the establishment of the Labour Party, the condition of the working class warranted drastic action that neither the Liberals nor Conservatives appeared capable of. This lacuna was filled by the Labour Party. Its base, underpinned by the trade unions, never had much ideological content despite the intellectual veneer of the philosophical socialists, and this was its eventual downfall. Many Labour supporters committed to the party by class had views far to the right of mainstream socialism. Ever since the party’s high electoral point of 1951 it has failed to confront this contradiction.

The lesson today is that there is no political future for a party that has to rely on class. Progressive politics in Britain today, as well as in Europe and the US, has to espouse sound intellectual philosophies that can sustain the argument for crucial and necessary policies that are currently unpopular, whether on climate change, migration or the high cost of maintaining public services. The Liberal Democrats could do this but they show no sign of the rigour required. And Labour appears to have little awareness that relying on class loyalty cannot deliver a Labour government. The Conservatives must be laughing.
Michael Meadowcroft, Liberal MP 1983-87, Leeds

Going nuclear

China bullies Australia with “bans and restrictions on its exports”, and this justifies the Australian PM’s breaking the global rule that the Southern Hemisphere should not be nuclearised, argues Helen Thompson (Newsmaker, 24 September).

According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in May Australia exported 20 per cent more iron ore and 28 per cent more meat to China than the previous month. If China wanted to put pressure on Australia it could cripple Australian exports. The French submarines Australia commissioned were originally designed to be nuclear-powered but Australia demanded they be diesel-electric. The damage done to the broader alliance of democracies is serious. New Zealand and Indonesia are upset at the Australian government for bringing nuclear power into their shared ocean.

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The deal exerts no pressure on China to slow down repression in Hong Kong or treat the Uyghurs decently. Emmanuel Macron’s ratings have risen as France sees Australia behaving with duplicity, apparently in cahoots with a Francophobe English government and media.
Denis MacShane, former Europe minister and senior adviser at Avisa Partners, Brussels

A new union?

John Home Robertson (Correspondence, 24 September) raises the possibility of Scotland joining Northern Ireland in the single market. This would not breach any principle that has not already been breached; the border that has already been created inside the UK would simply be extended. If Holyrood was given the power to join Northern Ireland in that way, it would weaken Scottish demands for an independence referendum, given that those demands are largely driven by the UK government’s decision to leave the single market. I would have thought that Boris Johnson, with all his rhetoric about “our precious Union”, would welcome that.
Alan Pavelin, Chislehurst, Greater London

John Home Robertson must feel he is reliving the Sixties, when his mentor, the late John P Mackintosh, was fighting the European cause – not against Little Englanders, but a defiantly antagonistic Labour Party. Gordon Brown (Politics,  17 September) knows the damage this did to the party, not least in provoking the founding of the SDP. In addressing the need to revise the political structures in the UK, Brown’s proposals would not preclude a future inside the European Union.

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The irony of our predicament is that the SNP and the Tories need each other. Neither wants another referendum. Nicola Sturgeon knows a vote for independence is unlikely, and Johnson knows that another referendum so soon after Brexit would provide a precedent for any campaign  to insist on “putting it to the people”. Referendums are a populist’s means of undermining parliamentary democracy.
Lorimer Mackenzie, Duror, Argyll

Demoralising decades

I retired in 2005 from nursing in the NHS. The community mental health service that I helped develop was being quietly taken apart, and my last two years had been stressful. Phil Whitaker’s sentence, “The demoralising inability to provide the standard of care they trained for, in a system that has been progressively starved of resources relative to need” (Health Matters, 24 September) literally makes me weep. It applies to all public services and it has been going on too long.
Caroline Tilley, Emsworth, Hampshire

At fault

Following the unforced error in the description of Heather Watson in Jonathan Liew’s article on Emma Raducanu (Newsmaker, 17 September), there is another in the review of Billie  Jean King’s autobiography (Reviewed in Short, 24 September). King was the dominant and largely unchallenged female player of her era and a pioneer for better treatment of women players. To say she is best known for beating the male player Bobby Riggs is wrong. It’s like saying Paul McCartney was best known for performing with the Frog Chorus.
Andy Leslie, West Grinstead, Horsham, West Sussex

A lesson in fractions

Even a drama-seeking journalist must realise that 27 per cent is nearer to a quarter than a third. So why the “Chart of the Week” (24 September) caption “China has increased its defence spending by almost a third” rather than “more than a quarter”?
Dietmar Küchemann, London SW1

Power posers

I enjoyed the choice of images of world leaders on last week’s cover (24 September). Biden strikes a pose, Macron paces anxiously, and Johnson seems bewildered, while on the other side of the submarine, Xi Jinping looks like a man who is unconcerned about anything these three might do.
Danny Bootle, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Keep it brief

Congratulations on the introduction of the NS Crossword In Brief. As a long-time solver and fan of US puzzles – and someone for whom cryptics remain essentially a foreign language – it’s great to see a tractable crossword with fresh, current entries.
Kelly Varnsen, Ilkley, West Yorks

Thank you for providing the NS Crossword In Brief as an alternative to the nigh-on impossible cryptic crossword. However, in the latest issue (24 September) I was confused as to how I was supposed to fit “Markievicz” in the five boxes for the first female MP. Then it occurred to me that Markievicz’s title was Countess, not Lady, as the clue demanded. Then I realised that the setter had mistaken the first female MP to actually sit in the Commons for the first female MP ever.
Christopher Rossi, Enfield, Greater London

Idle hands

I read Will Dunn’s article (“The fidget business”, 17 September) with interest.  As an academic I attend a lot of lectures and conferences, and regularly take  out my knitting while I am listening.  It is a great aid to concentration. Responses from fellow audience members range from polite intrigue to visible disapproval, and sometimes (especially when I was an anxious PhD student)  I have felt too self-conscious to risk it.

As events moved online, it seemed  more acceptable to occupy one’s hands creatively while listening to a lecture, and I have seen people knitting, colouring, and even dress-making through online conferences and meetings. I hope that as such events return to being held in-person, this wider recognition of the cognitive benefits of the tactile will endure. I have socks to finish!
Lucy Razzall, London EC1R

Songs for solitude

Pippa Bailey’s column on being alone was tremendous (Deleted Scenes, 17 September). I suggest she listens  to “Flowers in December” by Mazzy Star, or the whole album, Among my Swan, and “Five String Serenade” on So Tonight That I Might See. Music can save our souls.
Charlie Godfrey, Tonbridge, Kent

Money makers

Instead of relying on the kindness of strangers, perhaps Nicholas Lezard should do the British thing and either marry someone with money or tap his well-heeled friends for cash. Or, God forbid, get a proper job.
Peter Lee, South Yorkshire

We reserve the right to edit letters

This article appears in the 29 Sep 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spirit of the Age