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24 November 2021

Letter of the week: The foundations of racism

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week.

By New Statesman

Jonathan Liew makes a highly perceptive point when he writes that structural racism is not about epithets and bad jokes (Left Field, 19 November). It is indeed far worse. On the rare occasion a person of colour (POC) finds themselves in a committee with decision-making power within an organisation, there is an unwritten expectation that they will simply nod and smile.

Should they breach this and make a remark critical either of decisions being made or the processes leading to them, silence and raised eyebrows ensue. These may be followed by friendly advice – politely delivered – on how not to be perceived as a “troublemaker” in the organisation. The POC is also likely to discover that procedurally defensible manoeuvres have subsequently taken place to keep them out of such gatherings.

Though rare, these are the unshakable foundations of structural racism, lurking beneath the surface in organisations, and they are far more hurtful than the abuse aimed at the Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq, or his own careless, juvenile tweets.
Professor Mahesan Niranjan, University of Southampton

The cruel world of politics

Following the murder of David Amess, there was much discussion about the nature of political discourse in the UK, and the need to tone down the hatred  and unkindness. A month on from this, I was disappointed that Philip Collins (The Public Square, 19 November) considered it appropriate to compare the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn to Long Covid.

To liken someone to a debilitating disease is at best gratuitous and at worst actively dehumanising. I understand that Collins does not care for Jeremy Corbyn or his politics, to put it mildly. But that only makes it more important that he discusses Corbyn with respect and basic human decency. In failing to do so in his article, he has demeaned both himself and his arguments.
Owen Clark, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham

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Philip Collins is right to emphasise leadership as the key factor in UK politics, but parties matter too.

If Boris Johnson is weak he will be replaced in time for the next election. The hallmark of Labour is bitter division, and it enervates the electorate. The Conservative hallmark is cruelty, which has much wider appeal than many progressives realise.
Ric Cheyney, Talsarnau, Gwynedd

Brexit bonfire

John Gray’s long read on Boris Johnson was interesting in relation to the Prime Minister’s energetic shape-shifting (“Behind the Masks”, 12 November). However, I was surprised Gray made no attempt to distinguish between the motives of the Brexit elite who fronted the Vote Leave campaign, and those who voted to leave.

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While many who supported leaving the EU may have seen their vote as “anti-globalisation” or, more accurately, “pro-protection”, the Brexit elite viewed things very differently. For them, the EU was over-protective with “too much red tape” – over issues such as workers’  rights, consumer protection and environmental standards – which they sought to remove. Attempts have already been made to enact this agenda, for example the plans to downgrade workers’ rights, which were leaked to the FT in January this year. The plans received such a negative response that Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was forced to shelve them.

The Brexit elite haven’t changed their views, but they’ve had to put their bonfire of protections aside for the moment – a bonfire that wouldn’t be possible if the UK had remained in the EU.
Rebecca Taylor, London N7

Covid’s toll on the young

I am surprised that Louise Perry, in her article on the young having a bad deal (Out of the Ordinary, 12 November), describes the lifting of the school mask mandate in the UK as “kind”.

It is true that the risk of the young dying of Covid is small, but children have died of the virus in the UK, not to mention those who are suffering from Long  Covid and may have sustained damaged that won’t be apparent for years to come. Many more children have had their education disrupted by contracting the disease and having to self-isolate. And some will have passed on the disease to their families and may have suffered bereavements as a result.

Given the effectiveness of masks at preventing the spread of the disease (a global study reported in the British Medical Journal found that  mask-wearing reduces incidence by 53 per cent), I fail to see how lifting the mask mandate can possibly be described as “kind”.
Jane Eagland, Clitheroe, Lancashire

How to predict history

Further to the point made by Martin  White (Correspondence, 29 October), EH Carr distinguished between the mere facts of the past and historical facts – “the facts speak only when the historian calls on them”. History shouldn’t be seen as a body of preordained knowledge – rather, the mere facts of the past are, as Carr put it:

not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slat. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants.

Jonathan Kiek, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Walking miracles

Reading about Amanda Craig’s bad experience with her GPs (Correspondence, 12 November), I am reminded that the media has a tendency to follow the rule of “good news is no news”.

In contrast to her experience, my brother’s life was saved recently from stage four melanoma by the actions of two Greater Manchester NHS hospitals. He is  a walking miracle. My husband’s treatment by NHS doctors for bowel cancer, discovered during regular screening, has been exemplary: just ten weeks from diagnosis to “cure”.

In every service there is bad practice, but this is made worse in a service starved of funds. I now believe that this government has no intention of solving the problems in the NHS.

Having failed to privatise from above because of public and political outcry, it is privatising it from below, forcing those who can afford it to go private. This will leave the rest using an understaffed and underfunded service, as in the United States.
Moira Durston, Manchester

The dangers of militarism

I read with interest Professor Colin Kidd’s summation of Linda Colley’s book The Gun, the Ship and the Pen (The Critics, 8 October).

Living in the United States, where guns outnumber the population, the notion of the “latent militarist origins  of constitutionalism” strikes me as pregnant with unsavoury implications. Militarism involves the application of  force to secure desired political objectives.

From all this, it doesn’t take much to imagine some of my fellow citizens deciding that the limits written into our constitution should be viewed as mere inconvenient twaddle to be pushed aside on the way to implementing constitutionalism’s true goal. 
Rex J Zedalis, Placitas, New Mexico

A democratic deficit

Jeremy Cliffe (“Can anyone topple the strongman state?”, 19 November) tells us that “the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index… has been falling since 2015, and in 2020 reached its lowest ever level”.

As with any superlative statement about a statistic, to be truly informed the reader needs to be told when the series was first calculated.

I can only surmise that the index was not around in the early 1940s, when the number of democracies in the world fell to the low teens.
William Claxton-Smith, London N5

Becky with the good pen

There was a young lady from London
Who gave us such wonderful fun
With brilliance she drew
And with words she cut through,
We hope she has hardly begun.

Thank you, Becky Barnicoat (Outside the box).
Margaret Sherborne, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan

We reserve the right to edit letters

This article appears in the 24 Nov 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Agent of Chaos