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15 June 2022

Letter of the week: The turning tide

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By New Statesman

It’s heartening to read the rising sense of potential for seismic change expressed in the NS and in particular by Jeremy Cliffe (World View, 10 June) and Andrew Marr. There is also a feeling that the opposition parties have not yet devised an agenda to meet this hope, or that Keir Starmer is not sufficiently attractive to voters. The dominance of Westminster in an over-centralised state and the damage to communities after decades of relatively unconstrained globalisation are key causes of the desire to take back control – exploited spectacularly in Brexit and, in a different direction, by the SNP.

Starmer could neutralise critics by promising to: reduce the power of the office of PM; devolve much of the executive and fiscal powers of Westminster to the nations and regions; and retain for parliament, checked and balanced by a federal second chamber, the power to set a national economic and cultural climate, which would be managed and governed locally. It would be a rallying cry to create a more resilient and accountable state – one in which the opposition could park their tanks on the inspirational turf of “Take Back Control”.
Graham Johnston, Wymondham, Norfolk

Progressive priorities

If the blame for the perception of “visionless drift” does not, as Jeremy Cliffe (World View, 10 June) intimates, lie with the “empty vessel” residing an No 10, it has to be apportioned almost entirely to Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. Faced with a government devoid of any humanity or fairness, all Starmer offers is blandness, epitomised by the slogan “Security, prosperity and respect”. How ironic to find that the right-wingers who advised the dropping of Starmer’s commitment to ten pledges aimed at social and economic justice are now criticising him for a lack of substance in his policies!

So determined has Starmer been to distance himself from anything which can be judged by the right-wing press as Corbynite that he is guilty of cutting off Labour’s nose to spite its face. Unless there is a move to some of the popular fiscal and economic measures in the 2019 manifesto, voters will be unable to see any difference between the Labour Party and the Tories – and that can only lead to disaster in the next general election for Labour.
Bernie Evans, Liverpool

Progressives need to do more than just “create the conditions” for change (Leader, 10 June); they need to provide a route map and crucially, an order of priority. The constitutional reforms outlined are all needed, but the foundational change required is to significantly reduce levels of inequality – in income, wealth and opportunity. Failure to do so will mean the favourable conditions for “hucksters such as Boris Johnson” will endure.
Michael Haskell, Broughton, Flintshire

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On Andrew Marr’s crumbling Tories (Cover Story, 10 June), their fate may be more predetermined than their attraction to a leader who is fast approaching the point where he fools all of the people none of the time.

A right-leaning electorate allows the Conservatives extensive periods of office but these are brought to a sharp end, generally by a combination of scandals that suggest that too many Tories regard that office as an entitlement, plus a fiscal dilemma that requires tax increases. Thus in 1945, 1964 and 1997 Labour took power needing to demonstrate economic competence and fiscal prudence, rather than expansionary reform.
Roger Truelove, Sittingbourne, Kent

A broad church

Nick Burns (Letter from New York, 3 June) is perhaps a trifle sweeping in his dismissal of a world religion with approximately 1.3 billion members, namely Catholicism, as a “reactionary concept”, on a level with the “abandonment of ideals of social progress”. Burns might find it instructive to inform himself, for example, about the life of Óscar Romero, the former archbishop of San Salvador, assassinated for repeatedly speaking out against human rights violations by the Salvadoran government. 
Dr Clare Griffel, Bristol

The happy republican

Louise Perry (Out of the Ordinary, 10 June) equates “curmudgeonly republicanism” with a lack of patriotism. There is nothing patriotic about supporting a system that ascribes (and denies) status on the basis of heredity. We should be proud of our creative, multicultural state. But our parliamentary democracy would be much improved if we dispensed with the anachronisms of a monarchy and an unreformed House of Lords. We don’t need a king or a president – we need to update our system. That would be patriotic and would ensure all UK citizens had their interests represented. That would be truly unifying.
Jim Young (a non-curmudgeonly republican), Halesworth, Suffolk

Un-mind your language

In an excellent critique of Andrew Scull’s Desperate Remedies: Psychiatry and the Mysteries of Mental Illness, Sophie McBain (The Critics, 10 June) sometimes slips into an old fashioned mind-body dualism. She writes “Almost everyone recognises that mental illness involves an interplay between biological, psychological and social factors…” The statement would work just as well if she had deleted the word “mental”.
Peter McGuffin, emeritus professor of psychiatric genetics, King’s College London

Mathematical “Gini us”

A welcome addition to your informative State of the Nation data hub (10 June) would be to see Gini coefficients on income inequality for each country.
Michael Somerton, Hull, East Yorkshire

Lezard’s masterclass

Simply marvellous: Nicholas Lezard’s literary piece in his latest column (Down and Out, 10 June) should be on the reading list of all aspirant journalists as an example of what can be done with limited space.
Rob Imeson, London SE18

An unsung hero

I wait in vain for the Subscriber of the Week to include Michael Prodger in their favourite NS writers list. Consistently informative and interesting – how does he do it?
Caroline Bundy, Hove, East Sussex

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This article appears in the 15 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Big Slow Down