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22 March 2023

Letter of the week: A true public servant

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By New Statesman

In your extended coverage of the muddle, misjudgements and worse leading up to the war in Iraq (Iraq War Special, 17 March), it’s a shame you did not find room to mention someone in the UK state apparatus who acted with wisdom, integrity and courage.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst resigned from her senior legal position at the Foreign Office in March 2003, for reasons that she made clear in her resignation letter (and later to the Chilcot Inquiry): “I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution… I cannot in conscience go along with advice – within the Office or to the public or parliament – which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law. I therefore need to leave the Office.”

It seems to me that this is what public service should look like, and that it deserves to be remembered.
Timothy Beecroft, St Albans, Hertfordshire

[See also: The long shadow of the Iraq War: how one town honoured Britain’s fallen soldiers]

The legacy of Iraq

There are three names missing from Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s irrefutable analysis (Iraq War Special, 17 March). First, the one person who could have stopped Tony Blair but who stayed silent (while providing the public money), Gordon Brown. Second, Robin Cook (in my view Labour’s lost leader), who resigned as Leader of the House as his “ethical foreign policy” was reduced to ashes. Third was the courageous and unequivocal voice of Charles Kennedy, denouncing Blair on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, the only Commons opposition!
John L Crawley, Beverley, East Yorkshire

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It is of little comfort to those of us who marched against invading Iraq that we were “on the right side of history”. As James Bluemel notes (The Critics, 17 March) much of the current refugee crisis can be traced to 2003, and the disgust many of us feel about the government’s response is heightened by it being a crisis much of our own making.
Martin Davis, Nottingham

[See also: The road to war in Iraq]

Challenging language

Andrew Marr (Politics, 17 March) sees no distinction between drawing attention to “language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s” and calling someone a Nazi. But Nazism was preceded by shifts in mainstream political language. In highlighting Suella Braverman’s choice of words, Gary Lineker did not call her a Nazi and close down serious debate, as Marr avers. On the contrary, it was a challenge to reflect on the dehumanising language used and the direction it could take.
Oliver Bennett, Bristol

[See also: Andrew Marr: The BBC needs to stop being its own worst enemy]

You’ve got no mail

It would have been difficult to deliver post on 9, 10 and 11 March where we live, due to heavy snowfall. But this past week we have only had one postal delivery – the New Statesman for 10 March, not the latest issue. Other parts of Sheffield have had postal deliveries, so we do not understand why our flats are treated differently.

We have complained to Royal Mail, but so far without any success. Are other NS subscribers having the same problems? Privatised Royal Mail is completely useless!
Veronica Hardstaff, Sheffield

Editor’s Note: the Royal Mail’s delivery service (once efficient and daily) has been poor for several years and this is causing frustration for our print subscribers. We share their frustration and apologise for the inconvenience.

Integrity and commitment

There are some inaccuracies in Adrian Pabst’s assault on the management of universities (Cover Story, 10 March), particularly regarding the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Pabst implies that REF measures excellence on the basis of publication in highly ranked journals, or by the downloads and citations it receives, and that its quality is an “afterthought”.

This is not how REF works. A minority of sub-panels use citations to inform their judgement, but they are never a primary measure. Downloads are irrelevant. All work is judged by highly regarded researchers and, as chair of the humanities panel, I can vouch for the integrity and commitment with which this work is undertaken.
Dinah Birch, emeritus professor of English literature, University of Liverpool

Adrian Pabst is right but does not go far enough. The financialisation of university values has led to a decline in path-breaking research and teaching about the seismic challenges facing humanity. Innovative intellectual leadership and collegiality have too often been replaced by bean counters and by league tables. Universities must defend their role as spaces in which ideologies can be debated freely.
John Benington, CBE, emeritus professor of public policy, Warwick University

The rent trap

In his review of Paul Johnson’s Follow the Money (The Critics, 10 March) Will Dunn explains how our tax and benefits system ends up targeting the wrong people, but fails to mention one of the worst-affected groups: renters. If, like me and several million others, you have children but don’t own your home, rising rents soon eat into the pitiful £344 per month we can earn as a couple who receive help with housing costs before huge deductions are applied. The obscene amount of wealth that flows out of our pockets and into property is what we need to be taxing.
Daniel Carter, Cambridge

In safe hands

Reviewing Jim Down’s book Life in the Balance (The Critics, 17 March), Anoosh Chakelian describes Down as an intensive care surgeon. For the avoidance of doubt, surgeons diagnose, dice and slice. Anaesthetists, like Jim and me, keep the patient alive during surgery and support them while they recover. You would not want a surgeon running your ICU!
Dr Gareth Greenslade, consultant anaesthetist, Bristol

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This article appears in the 22 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Banks on the brink