Since the death of the Labour MP Jo Cox five years ago, and the killing of the Conservative MP David Amess, I have wondered about our political system and what brings us to these horrific events. I keep returning to our binary system of voting and the adversarial nature of our parliament, both of which lead to the exclusion of a considerable amount of the electorate and breeds an “us and them” culture. Less than a week after Amess was killed, the Prime Minister was shouting across the chamber at Keir Starmer, forgetting his weasel words of sympathy three days previously. Starmer took the floor and said: “After the week we’ve had, I don’t want to descend into that kind of knockabout.”
Proportional representation, for all its faults, forces politicians to talk civilly to each other to devise a workable strategy. If you have contributed to the plan, you have an interest in making it work. Adversarial politics does nothing to modify the behaviour of our citizens; our politicians need a structure to work within to demonstrate their normal behaviour, as exemplified by the late Amess.
Keith Morgan, Collingham, Newark
In “End of the grand illusion” (22 October), John Gray makes a case for a “Biden Doctrine” marking a significant change in US thinking about other cultures and ways of engaging with them. He is right that the prevailing doctrine adopted by George W Bush and Tony Blair when initiating a war in Afghanistan was preordained to end in ignominious chaotic withdrawal. There was no alternative. The war dragged on because no one had an alternative vision.
Joe Biden’s bungled withdrawal doesn’t amount to a new doctrine, strategy or vision – quite the reverse. There is nothing positive or constructive about Doha, February 2020, and Bagram, July 2021, or about Bush and Blair’s original initiative. There may be a dawning of a realisation that human civilisation isn’t a series of pale imitations of New York and London, but that isn’t evident from the Afghan withdrawal. What is evident is that the US has become disenchanted with trying to impose its version of civilisation by military occupation and lavish spending, pointlessly fuelling corruption.
The strategy for assertion of Western military power is still evident in the Aukus deal, the same strategy that informed Bush and Blair’s shock-and-awe invasion 20 years ago. It would be nice to think that there was a sea change in Western “cognitive disorder”, as Gray puts it. Jihadi terrorism – aided in no small part by the presence of radical Muslim leaders in the refugee camps in the Western Frontier of Pakistan, where many of the problems began – doesn’t suggest enlightenment. Far more than a humiliating withdrawal of US troops is needed to show evidence of change.
Noel Hamel, New Malden, Greater London
John Gray presents us with a profound overview of realpolitik in a male-centric world. His global analysis does, however, beg the question as to where the other half of the world’s population fit in, from women living in the tribal villages of Afghanistan to those in Texas. The oppression of women knows no borders, which is why the UN Fourth World Conference adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action towards the emancipation of women across the world. Whatever the power-based bricolage of military politics, the women’s liberation movement remains international.
Sue Cohen, Bristol
A moral market
Will Dunn’s masterly exposure of the hypocrisy of “woke capitalists” (“Woke capitalism!”, 22 October) reminded me of my time as chairman of a publicly quoted company in the 1990s. At the time the dominant creed, eclipsing all others, was “shareholder value”. Believing in a wider sense of duty, I challenged this, reminding my shareholders that there were other interested parties, among them the employees, the customers and the suppliers. I was an individualistic leader with a sense of social responsibility, but this was the time of the Cadbury and Greenbury codes, which aimed to dilute individual responsibility and spread it among a raft of faceless non-executive directors, and I did not fit into their stereotypes. My “reward” was opprobrium and a hostile takeover bid, which I defeated by staying true to my principles.
Jamie Dimon, Jeff Bezos, et al, should be honest with themselves and tell the truth to their stakeholders. Their facile virtue-signalling convinces no one and is suggestive of a fundamentally weak character, something undesirable in a titan of global business. They should also remind themselves of a lesson from history. Revolutions devour their own, and the “woke” revolution will be no exception.
Andrew Cook, chairman of William Cook, Castagnola, Switzerland
Acts of extremism
Your Leader (“A Climate of Violence”, 22 October) spoke movingly of David Amess’s brutal murder, and cited a range of issues with social media and language in politics. What it almost totally omitted was the motive that security services have pointed to: an act of Islamist terror. The word “Islamist” appeared only once, in relation to the stabbing of Stephen Timms.
It is all very well wanting to improve decorum in our democracy and to reduce the abuse of MPs. But until Islamist extremism is called out and addressed, the editorial’s call that “this time must be different” will never be met.
James Johnson, via email
I agree with much of your Leader. It was, however, the Irish National Liberation Army, not the Provisional IRA, that killed Airey Neave in 1979, and your list of those MPs who have been assassinated in, or on their way to, constituency surgeries omitted the Reverend Robert Bradford, the Ulster Unionist MP for Belfast South who was shot dead by the Provisional IRA in 1981.
Richard Briand, Leek, Staffordshire
The nature of facts
Edward Greenwood (Correspondence, 22 October) does EH Carr a disfavour. Of course there are such things as facts in history, just as in science. Both historians and scientists recognise this, and also that there is always more to discover. Both disciplines can be taught as a collection of facts, but serious students should eschew this approach as inadequate. Carr contended that historians, like scientists, choose which areas to study for individual, social and practical reasons. Those who only want facts and complain about rewriting history do not say the same of science, yet the processes are the same.
Martin White, Sheffield
A human cost
Stephen Bush (Politics, 22 October) delineates the toll that threats take on MPs and their staff. However, he omits the physical danger staffers can experience when at constituency gatherings. Nigel Jones MP’s caseworker was killed when he defended his boss in 2000, and the trauma experienced by Jo Cox’s and now David Amess’s attendant staff must be horrific.
Sue Lloyd, retired MP caseworker, Bristol
As a Sussex alumnus, I was mortified to read that Kathleen Stock may leave her post (Encounter, 22 October). If her departure results from this sorry saga, it bodes ill for free speech at British universities. Allowing mob rule to end the career of a capable academic sets a dangerous precedent. Sussex must act to prevent this injustice.
Keith Jago, Brighton
Presence of God
Rowan Williams, in his review of God: An Anatomy (The Critics, 22 October), quotes a 16th-century statement that the Church of England declares that God is “without body, parts or passions”. However, there are many statements in the Bible about people being at the right hand of God, including Jesus in the Nicene Creed, which is recited in Anglican services. Is this figurative, or is it a belief that God has physicality – or, that, alternatively, God is left handed?
RJ Jarrett, London SE26
Doom and gloom
I love the New Statesman for its culture pages and columnists, but I sometimes I find the views on politics too apocalyptic, even for these apocalyptic times. I’m expecting the NS will soon come out with the coverline: “The end of things to declare the end of.”
Giacinto Palmieri, London SE19
I found Nicolas Lezard’s latest dispatch (Down and Out, 22 October) unusually positive after the gloomy contributions by John Gray, Lawrence Freedman and Will Dunn. Keep it up Nicholas. We need your balanced view in this mad world!
Chris Le Cluse, Hampton, Greater London
The trouble with turnips
If Ruth Potter (Correspondence, 22 October) needs butter, bacon and parmesan to make a turnip tasty, the case against them is proved.
Alan Slomson, Leeds
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This article appears in the 27 Oct 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Our Fragile Future