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Letter of the week: The centre of the system

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By New Statesman

John Gray (Lines of Dissent, 3 June) argues that centrists are failing in the UK due to their inability or refusal to heed the wishes of the electorate. He argues that centrists act as if they believe that “the voters are there to be educated, not learned from”. Labour fails because it refuses to offer the policies desired by the electorate.

However, at the end of the column Gray suggests that “the prospect of some form of proportional voting” – which might be introduced by a centrist coalition government – “could lock the Tories out of government indefinitely”. Presumably, this is because the fairer voting system would more accurately reflect the views of all voters, in a country where the majority of those who do participate in elections consistently vote against the Conservative Party. Gray’s sweeping statements about centrist politicians and voter appeal are perhaps only relevant in our unfair, antiquated and unrepresentative first-past- the-post voting system.
Michael Heery, Bristol

The old story

From time immemorial, through the story of Gilgamesh to the Icelandic sagas, the Plantagenets, Tudors et al, we have always had dynastic cult-like, role-model families, just as we now have the Windsors (Cover Story, 3 June), or the bargain-basement version, the Kardashians, to provide us with A-list family dramas.

These unreal figures, who don’t contribute much except development of their personal brand and promotion of a highly idealised style of living, pose the question: what is it in human beings that means we continue to require these illusory figures and maintain this unnecessary hierarchy?
David Morgan, London NW3

Order from disorder

While “The New World Disorder” (Cover Story, 27 May) had plenty of gloomy political and economic observations on the parlous state of the world, I would have liked some recommendations for how “Britain’s failure to reckon with global forces” could be addressed. There is, for example, political potential in a growing progressive alliance of the centre left, which could lead to constitutional change; the potential of the green economy through investment in the regions to expand Britain’s renewable energy capacity; and the social opportunities of regional devolution and greater local democracy, such as the Preston Model.

I think New Statesman readers are wearily familiar with the problems, and instead seek solutions.
Dr Peter Williams, Malton, North Yorkshire

Was it only 30 odd years ago that we all greeted the collapse of communism with such extravagant fervour? Capitalism and democracy were triumphant – it was the only possible future. And now we have John Gray and Andrew Marr (Politics, 27 May) virtually saying it’s all over, that these systems are not delivering the goods.

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Even more depressing is Gray’s assessment that there is “no clear successor to a failing model of government and the economy”. Oh, woe is me.
Liz Davies, London SE11

John Gray is not wrong when he argues that “reframing Labour as a bastion of fiscal orthodoxy will not win back [traditional Labour voters]”. But in a time of great economic discomfort, reframing the party as the bastion of fiscal competence may well do, and could be a tactic that pays dividends in public perceptions of Labour in years to come. The current leadership seems unable to propose more radical economic policies because its previous manifesto, though it contained policies that were individually popular, collectively seemed like a wish-list. Although Labour has taken great steps to demonstrate that it can be trusted with the economy, it must do more to set out their principles of competent but radical economic change.
James Milton, Romford, Greater London

The West’s great error

The answer to the question posed in David Reynolds’ excellent article (“How the Marshall Plan made Europe”, 27 May) is clearly: “Yes, it is the model that will be needed in Ukraine.” However, the historic error was the failure to institute a Marshall Plan in Russia to help Mikhail Gorbachev achieve a far more gentle and constructive break-up of the Soviet Union.

Disastrously the US, abetted by the British government, encouraged the exploitative capitalism that produced the oligarchs. The collapse of the rouble in 1998 was the final straw, increasing poverty among millions of Russian people.

We must not make the mistake a second time of failing to respect and work with the Russian people after Putin’s inevitable fall. We must draw Russia into Gorbachev’s “common European home”.
Michael Meadowcroft, Leeds

The lost Thatcherites

It is obvious that the socialist MP Zarah Sultana has great potential as a politician. Her passion and convictions came through strongly in her interview with George Eaton (Encounter, 27 May). However, many floating voters are not impressed when someone expresses a desire to end an “ism” such as Thatcherism. It smacks of a lack of tolerance. Thatcherism was cruel and tough for millions, but it was also about old-fashioned virtues of self-reliance and initiative respected by much of the electorate. I suspect there is still a strong minority out there (albeit an ageing one) from those years that believes in these virtues but is horrified by Boris Johnson and most of his cabinet.
David Rimmer, Hertford Heath, Herts

On the shoulders of giants

Will Dunn closes his review of James Poskett’s Horizons: A Global History of Science (The Critics, 27 May) with the appropriate reminder that even medieval scientists and philosophers owed a debt to their classical forebears. Fortunately those medieval scholars readily acknowledged this: “our greatest scientist’s greatest line” about “standing on the shoulders of Giants” was first attributed to the 12th-century scholar Bernard of Chartres.

I’ve always preferred to assume that Newton reused this not only knowingly, but with an ironic smile.
Michael Collins, Nantwich, Cheshire

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[See also: Can Zarah Sultana save the Labour left?]

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This article appears in the 08 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Marked Man