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16 February 2022

Letter of the week: The Brexit burden

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Andrew Marr, writing about possible successors to Boris Johnson (“Is Boris Johnson’s luck finally running out?”, 4 February), says of Jeremy Hunt: “[He] has done his best to make his peace with Brexit, arguing that if he knew then what he knows now, he would have voted to leave.”

That seems an extreme form of peace-making, especially if you believe that not all our woes are due to the pandemic. The queues of lorries in Kent are seldom reported outside that county but they will inevitably lead to a hike in prices, exacerbating the cost-of-living crisis. Brexit has created a skills shortage and hence job vacancies. But that is offset by the economic damage and lost livelihoods among smaller enterprises strangled by Brexit-generated red tape. Opportunities to work and study in the EU and for performing artists to tour have been cut off. All that, and the risk to the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland.

I, for one, cannot respect any politician who panders to those who still claim that this monumental act of national self-harm was a good thing.
Vera Lustig, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Purple pros and cons

It is a great boon that Andrew Marr has joined the NS but can we do away with the florid language? One paragraph alone (“Is Boris Johnson’s luck finally running out?”, 4 February) is full of adjectives: “choked”, “misty”, “vivid” and “strange”. Great political commentator Marr may be, but poet he is not.
Dan Rovira, English teacher, via email

The matter of mind

After 50 years working in psychiatry and community mental health, there is hardly a word I disagree with in Sophie McBain’s overview of psychiatric diagnosis (“The end of mental illness”, 11 February). I would only add that the fixation on the medical model is not simply the product of the diagnostic establishment. The law, the social security systems and the media are also now perpetuating this exhausted account. The diagnostic mission creep that McBain’s article depicts was driven not by medical overreach but by the US health insurance system, which demands a diagnosis before it will fund treatment.
Robin Johnson, Falmouth, Cornwall

In the history of psychiatry the consensus on cause has often swung between biological and social. Descartes’ mind-body dualism had a tragic effect on Western medicine. The impact of physical illness on the mental state, and vice versa, is often not considered. In many other systems, such as Ayurveda, there is a recognised relationship between the mind and body. As Leon Eisenberg outlined nearly 50 years ago, disease concerns pathology while its impact on social functioning is what should be called illness. Patients are interested in illnesses; clinicians in diseases. There is anecdotal evidence that many patients can live with their symptoms as long as they have housing, employment and economic independence and are able to form relationships. Diagnoses are important for several reasons, but patients often do not fit into neat diagnostic categories.
Dinesh Bhugra CBE, Emeritus Professor of mental health and cultural diversity, King’s College London

Against eugenics

John Gray (“A better kind of being?”, 11 February) parades his preferences in his take on eugenics and 20th-century British intellectuals: “While Christians were divided on eugenics, progressive thinkers were at one in supporting it.” Not so. Lancelot Hogben, scientific humanist, NS contributor and one of the three foremost biologists of the interwar period, led the moral and technical excoriating of eugenics. 
Professor Callum G Brown, Doune, Stirlingshire

Career opportunity

I  was very taken with Stephen Bush’s account of showing children around parliament (Bursting the Bubble, 4 February). In fact, I wonder if Mr Bush might consider extending his services to a different audience? As an OAP, I could easily cope with tales of gore and violence. I would promise to behave, and would enjoy the chocolate!
Jane Eagland, via email

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This article appears in the 16 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Edge of War