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22 June 2022

Letters of the week: Dark heart of government

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By New Statesman

I’m surprised that Andrew Marr (Politics, 17 June) doesn’t believe the Prime Minister “harbours any dark desire to crush opposition or to break democracy”. Really? Despite suspending parliament, trashing the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, laws for voter and protest suppression, and plans to break international treaties?
Steve Elliott, Swanwick, Derbyshire

Andrew Marr reassures us that Boris Johnson “is not a fascist”. Later he notes “the government’s attempts to seize control over the Electoral Commission” and its “rewriting of the ministerial and parliamentary codes”. Well, sounds a bit like the F-word to me.
David Kynaston, New Malden, Greater London

The green engine

Duncan Weldon’s call for a new growth model centred on productivity (Cover Story, 17 June) – ie, squeezing more out of workers for less – is not what is required to heal the UK, the “new sick man of Europe”. Instead, a massive increase in economic activity is required, with a goal of economic and environmental security and local regeneration, ranging from adequate health and care provision to making all buildings energy efficient.

The huge funding required is not a problem. The banking and Covid crises were paid for by the Bank of England’s creating £895bn of new money through quantitative easing (QE). The opposition parties must unite around a call for a third tranche of QE money to fund a social and green new deal – a platform that could win them the next election provided that, as your Leader (17 June) made clear, there is a “progressive alliance”.
Colin Hines, convenor, UK Green New Deal

Britain’s productivity has suffered from an overly financialised corporate culture. A report by the think tank Common Wealth found that the 100 largest non-financial UK firms paid out £400bn in dividends, equivalent to 68 per cent of their total net profits, and £61bn in share buybacks between 2011 and 2018. Most finance goes not to investment in productivity but back to finance, insurance and real estate. 
David Murray, Wallington, Surrey

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Nice wheels

That Geoff Dyer’s elbow surgery (Personal Story, 17 June) cost $90,000 is symptomatic of the private healthcare system that some politicians want to introduce here. In my NHS clinic I offer a tennis elbow release as an “office procedure” – ie, on the spot – at the cost of a small amount of local anaesthetic, a scalpel, gloves, some chlorhexidine and a sticky plaster. The cost for this five-minute procedure, including my time, is probably less than £50. But my patient wouldn’t get a wheelchair! Was Dyer taken for an expensive ride?
SU Sjolin, FRCS Ed Orth, Bury St Edmunds, Suff

Tidal power

Talking of alternative forms of energy in his review of Atoms and Ashes: From Bikini Atoll to Fukushima (The Critics, 17 June), Ray Monk writes that “Wind and solar… have got to keep expanding, but what happens when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?” The answer, of course, is that the tide invariably keeps ebbing and flowing. This surprising oversight of the huge potential of tidal power seems, unfortunately, to be something currently shared by our myopic government.
Philip Kemp, London NW1

Bird brains

I heartily agree with John Burnside’s words on the intelligence of nature (Nature, 17 June). Scientists have revealed signs of,for example, bird intelligence (especially corvids) with patronising surprise. Why should it be surprising that animals and birds tell each other things, and even do things for fun? By attributing all animal behaviour to reflex modes of survival, humankind has given itself an excuse to exploit the non-human animal.
Cecilia Grayson, Leicester

John Burnside asks why we overlook the intelligence of nature. One possibility is the loss of a distinction made by ancient and medieval thinkers, who saw that human beings are capable of “ratio”, a sort of logical struggle to work things out, but also of “intellectus”, which is shared with all creatures, as an intuitive awareness that emerges when participating in life.
Dr Mark Vernon, London SE5

In an excellent column John Burnside articulates a common misconception that  “it is as dogmatic to insist that evolution is all chance as it is to insist upon an external creator”. At the molecular and whole-organism level, evolution rests on the non-random selection of random DNA mutations and is very far removed from an “all chance” principle.
Dr James Beattie, Ayrshire

Doctor at large

What a measured and insightful review by Gavin Francis of Jeremy Hunt’s book on the NHS (The Critics, 10 June). I would welcome more writing from Dr Francis on the intersections between healthcare and politics, pieces that go beneath the blanket wish of more money for the NHS, to look at the nuances in play.
Emma Trott, Leeds

Nott right

In her review of Sherwood (The Critics, 17 June), Rachel Cooke praises James Graham’s “incredible sense of place” and native understanding of “the way people speak”. Yet who doesn’t know that Nottinghamshire folk call everybody “me duck”? As for his cloth-eared reference to “Notts” Forest, rather than “Nottingham” – Graham might find a tin helmet comes in handy the next time he goes home!
Michael Henderson, London W13

Subscriber knows best

The NS and I have a mutual dislike of the current prime minister, and we should continue to be aware of his shortcomings, however gloomy this makes us. I would like to agree, however, with the Subscriber of the Week (17 June) who suggested the NS look at best practice abroad in social care, health and education (and I would add environmental innovation to this list) to give us some ammunition to counter some of the many issues we have with this government.
Stephen French, London SE15

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This article appears in the 22 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Britain isn’t working