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21 June 2023

Letter of the week: House rules

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Andrew Marr writes (Cover Story, 16 June) that we live “in a long-tested and flexible parliamentary democracy”. Up to a point. It is a rich irony that “parliamentary privilege” allowed Boris Johnson to mislead the Commons until even he concluded that the damning report of the Privileges Committee meant he could no longer continue as an MP.

In January 2022 Ian Blackford was removed from the House on the grounds of “unparliamentary language”, for insisting that Johnson was lying. Writing as a private citizen in a letter to the Guardian, I was able to point this out and to accuse Johnson of lying. I am yet to hear from his lawyers.

The parliamentary privilege that no one may use the terms “lie” or “liar” is based on the assumption that “honourable” members would not stoop so low. Now that a holder of the highest office has been definitively proven to have stooped so low, and so often that he was found unfit for office, that privilege should be appropriately amended. A flexible democracy must allow truth to be told to power and lies called out.
Austen Lynch, Garstang, Lancashire

[See also: Letter of the week: The Treasury tyranny]

System failure

I find it hard to agree with Andrew Marr (Cover Story, 16 June) that the political demise of Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon are indicators of a healthy democracy. The citizens of Northern Ireland have no current representation, the last two prime ministers were chosen – the first by an increasingly small number of Tory members and the second by Tory MPs from a moribund talent pool. First-past-the-post is looking increasingly redundant, along with the House of Lords. Marr points out the difficulties that face Keir Starmer and an incoming Labour government, yet without a radical reshaping of the electoral system, Starmer’s job is likely to become harder.
Felicity McGowan, Cardigan

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Andrew Marr invites us to celebrate an imperfect system working because the Privileges Committee has reported on Johnson. But Johnson attempted to illegally prorogue parliament so that he could rule by decree, and was tolerated by his party for another two years. Would we describe a car’s safety features as “working” because after the brakes, seatbelts and airbags failed, the crumple zone collapsed as expected? If we set the bar for “the system” this low, the populists are doing fine.
Elliot Porter, Glasgow

Andrew Marr lumping Boris Johnson in with Nicola Sturgeon is misleading. Johnson, having been fined for breaking the law while in office, has been found by a Commons committee to have deliberately misled parliament. By contrast, Sturgeon was released without charge pending further investigations. And while Johnson has spluttered about witch hunts and kangaroo courts, Sturgeon has done no such thing and cooperated fully.
David Murray, Wallington, Surrey

There is an alternative route to proportional representation to the two offered by Andrew Marr. In its manifesto Labour could promise to set up a citizens’ assembly on PR and to commit to implement its decision. It is a complex issue and needs proper consideration as well as some form of public endorsement.
Paul Lally, Liverpool

[See also: What does Keir Starmer stand for?]

The kids are all right

If Keir Starmer is serious about enfranchising 16- and 17-year-olds, he need look no further for inspiration than Clara Beasley-Murray (Subscriber of the week, 16 June). At 14 she displays great political perspicacity and in another two years would be ready to vote. So many older people squander this hard-won democratic right; let’s widen the base to young people. Contrary to popular opinion, this demographic do care about politics.
Judith A Daniels, Cobholm, Norfolk

Power populism

I was so disappointed to read that Rachel Reeves (Cover Story, 9 June) only plans to nationalise the railways. What an opportunity missed not to bring all the utilities back into state ownership. A Labour government could rectify the paying out of huge shareholder dividends and clean up our rivers and beaches with the money saved. Polls consistently show that the majority of the British population supports this policy, usually around 75 per cent, which is a lot more than the vote for Brexit. Maybe we need a referendum.
Steve Irwin-Banks, Greater Lincoln

The politics of envy

In one regard, Labour’s intent to put VAT on private school fees is uncontentious (Leader, 9 June). It plays to the narrative of equality, fairness and will be loved by the party faithful and wider community. Arguably it satisfies the politics of envy. But by putting this rise on parents, at least 30 per cent of private schools will go to the wall within three to four years. Whether the state will have to raise taxes to accommodate the extra pupils coming into the state system is not known. After all, parents who send their children to private school are already paying their taxes, so there will be no new revenue.

The government will get a few billion into the Treasury coffers at first, but this could decline quickly if a lot of parents take their offspring out of private schools.
David Rimmer, Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire

Top dog

Regarding the editorship of the Daily Telegraph, Kevin Maguire (Commons Confidential, 16 June) says that “Johnson is probably too lazy for the top job”. Sadly, however, history reminds us that the man’s hubristic sense of entitlement has meant that a lack of aptitude was no obstacle to his assuming such positions as mayor of London and prime minister. “Top” is the bit he wants, while others must be expected to do the “job”.
Tony Benjamin, Bristol

Beyond satire

“I own more than a hundred suits, but I find myself at 6.30 every morning pouring myself into a pair of Ralph Lauren jeans, a foxed Tommy Hilfiger white shirt and a navy-blue jacket” (The Diary, 16 June). I, for one, am delighted that the NS has followed Private Eye’s lead in publishing parody diaries of famous people such as Dylan Jones.
Andy Froud, Colne, Lancashire

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[See also: Letter of the week: Intellectual stimulants]

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This article appears in the 21 Jun 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The AI wars