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11 January 2023

Letter of the week: The Tory Bennites

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

For Conservative councillors like myself, trying to support their communities in challenging times, the party lacks direction largely because of the internecine battles of recent years. The “pragmatists”, as David Gauke describes them (Cover Story, 6 January), are a diminishing force at Westminster after Gauke and other “sensibles” were forced out in the Brexit shambles.

While in the past there was a focus on power, some would say above all else, now it feels as though there are many who would prefer opposition. The appearance of the Conservative Democratic Organisation has parallels with the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy – the Bennite vehicle that railed against an alleged “move to the right”, contributing to the Labour Party split and the creation of the SDP. We know how that turned out for Labour.

Key to the Tory dysfunction has been a loss of discipline in a government that started with an 80-seat majority. It is impossible to have sympathy for the likes of Boris Johnson when he fomented opposition to his predecessor and continues to be “on manoeuvres”. As Gauke states, Rishi Sunak may indeed be an aberration.
Councillor Richard Kennett, Emsworth Ward, Havant Borough Council

[See also: Letter of the week: Growth to nowhere]

True faith

As usual, Andrew Marr makes crystal-clear observations (Politics, 6 January), this time accentuated by his reflections after losing his mother. She was “a Conservative Christian and I am not. But she was also a bold, unorthodox thinker, who radiated goodness – a practical helper, an energetic supporter of others…” These sides are not seen as incompatible. Those of us who share his mother’s practical, energetic faith also find no contradiction with Jesus as a role model, and the practical implications of his example to love one another.

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THANK YOU

Suppose all our politicians were like Marr’s mother; would the world be a better or a worse place? We may retort, “Caring is not the sole prerogative of Christians,” but in our rush to pretend we are a secular, post-Christian society, a logical conclusion may be that “by their fruit you will know them”. And if our politicians are first motivated by self-promotion rather than the stated desire to make life better for people, this also reflects on the rest of us, as we have chosen them.
Trevor Hadfield, Lichfield, Staffordshire

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Suella Braverman (Correspondence, 6 January) belongs to a long and fertile tradition of senior politicians demonstrating, on the subject of immigration, a shameless disconnect between their populist rhetoric and the ethical values of the faiths they profess.

In May 2012 Theresa May, a politician whose integrity rests in part on her Christian faith, justified generating “a really hostile environment for illegal immigration”, and launching the notorious 2013 “Go home or face arrest” vans in London boroughs with high immigrant populations. She shares a faith with Gordon Brown, who in September 2007 called for “British jobs for British workers”.
Paul Thomson, Mobberley, Cheshire

Restricted growth

Hats off to your “Letter of the week” writer Marilyn Spurr (Correspondence, 6 January). Never mind Kevin – we need to talk about “growth”. This apparently unassailable mantra needs some very close scrutiny and debate.
Felicity McGowan, Cardigan

An awokening

I learned much about the etymology of “woke” from Stuart McGurk’s very interesting article in your Christmas special (Reporter at Large, 9 December). However, I remain unconvinced that the beast has been killed, given the dire intellectual condition of almost all our cultural institutions. If wokeness can be defined as authoritarian identity politics actively promoted to undermine accepted social, political and historical norms, then I fear it is very much alive.
Professor Alan Sked, London N1

Stuart McGurk’s article on the history of “woke” is very interesting. What seems clear to me is that “wokery”, much like its “politically correct” cousin, usually, with a few ego-massaging exceptions, means “kindness”, “decency”, “politeness” and “civility”. Anti-woke “culture warriors” are, and always have been, the opposite.
Sebastian Monblat, Surbiton, Greater London

Cornish extremity

Tanya Gold’s article about the extremes of inequality in Cornwall (Letter from Penzance, 9 December) was very welcome, and shared some of the dreadful experiences of people renting, including how this kind of insecurity wrecks lives.

The popularity of Cornwall to people with far greater purchasing power than those on local incomes means that the house price gap is enormous. Mean annual income is £21,214. Mean house prices are 14 times higher at £302,121. Our recent Institute of Cornish Studies “Local Housing Affordability” report showed that of the 47 Cornish postcode districts, a couple on a median income would only be able to buy a flat (not a house) in six postcode areas.

Ms Gold was also right to avoid placing sole blame on second-homers and Airbnbs. The problem is clearly structural, and we need solutions that protect persons on local incomes, perhaps borrowing from places with similar issues such as the Channel Islands and national parks.
Dr Joanie Willett, senior lecturer in politics, University of Exeter (Penryn Campus)

Train in vain

I was amused to read (Commons Confidential, 6 January) that Labour MPs were being told, due to rail strikes, to drive “wherever possible” when visiting the by-election campaign HQ in Skelmersdale, Lancashire. Rail strike or no rail strike, they would always need to drive as Skelmersdale is one of the largest towns in the UK not to have a train station. The good people of “Skem” were promised a station when the new town was first proposed in 1961, and more than 60 years later they are still waiting, with the latest proposals being rejected in 2022.
Simon Tong, London SW12

@hanskundnani
Hans Kundnani, associate fellow, Chatham House
Good to see the @NewStatesman reporting on this. Not many other mainstream media organisations seem to have done.
“Ukraine’s problematic nationalist heroes”, Ido Vock, 5 January

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[See also: Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer still need to sell their visions to the public]

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This article appears in the 11 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Burning down the House of Windsor