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26 July 2023

Letter of the week: The wrong kind of growth

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By New Statesman

One has to endorse Richard Seymour’s assessment (“A world on fire”, 21 July) that people are rightly sceptical “that anyone in power seriously intends to meet the crisis” of climate change. As long as we continue to live in a competitive world that yields “progress” (meaning growth), climate change will not be met with sufficient seriousness, as neither party politicians nor autocrats will jeopardise their status by retreating from policies of growth.

Is it not ironic that growth – rather than a world “humming with birds and insects” – is what we vote for at general elections! Thus, our “social contract” is patently false: a world on fire needs a fresh view of democracy. Rousseau’s view in 1762 is what the world needs today, immediately: direct democracy.

David Clarke, Witney, Oxfordshire

While the world burns

In British Columbia we just surpassed the record for the most destructive annual wildfire season and it’s only mid-July. More than 1,200 fires have burned more than 14,000 sq km of land this year and 480 fires are active. The largest fire, at Donnie Creek (5,800 sq km), is more than three and a half times larger than Greater London (1,590 sq km).

Despite the daily evidence of global climate system breakdown, the Canadian government continues to subsidise the fossil fuel industry, build oil pipelines and allow expansion of the tar sands while distracting the public with climate gestures.

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It is fitting that ground zero for the Anthropocene has been assigned to Crawford Lake in Canada, where core samples record the start of the new epoch at around 1950, when consumer capitalism pushed the great accelerator for the start of the collapse of the Earth’s climate system.Guy McDannold, Shirley BC, Canada

Room for manoeuvre

Andrew Marr’s article on Labour’s spending trap (Politics, 21 July) was a small island of hope. I am a lifelong Labour supporter and I die a little each time I hear Keir Starmer speak. I know that I am not his target audience, but I listen to him as a citizen, and I feel condescended to, uncertain and unimpressed by his lack of clarity. If he speaks clearly and passionately about what he believes in and why he wants to change things, we will get it!

Mick Lynch stands up for what he believes in, answers questions directly and explains clearly why the RMT is taking action. This plain speaking has largely resonated with people who are being inconvenienced by strikes because they have been involved in the discourse and so understand the reasons behind it.

Helen Flanagan, Penmaenmawr, north Wales

Andrew Marr writes that “there is an alternative radical economics of higher taxes and borrowing – but it’s not this Labour Party’s”. If he means such “big ideas” as a wealth or land value tax, no doubt he is right. But there are surely more modest moves that could be matched to similarly modest spending commitments, such as ending the two-child benefit rule.

Would middle England really be terrified of tackling the tax concessions to private equity or extending council tax beyond band H or even aligning capital gains tax with income tax? It is dispiriting to hear shadow cabinet members recycling the former Labour Treasury secretary Liam Byrne’s ill-judged “no money left” line that has given the Tories so much glee over the years, as if there is no room even at the margin to change what the country can afford.

David Griffiths, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Jess Phillips (The Diary, 21 July) states, “I am not that fussed about modernising our voting system – I’ll get around to that once I have stopped people being trafficked for their kidneys.” Admirable, but if Labour had been a bit more fussed about electoral reform in the past we would not be in this situation now. Please, Jess, don’t let Labour put the cart before the horse again!

Paul Hatcher, Reading, Berkshire

Emissions omissions

The everyday issues that counted when Conor Magill was canvassing for Labour in Uxbridge (Correspondence, 21 July) included, according to the victorious Tory Steve Tuckwell, the unpopularity of Labour London mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (Ulez) expansion. However, Tuckwell and others appear unaware that the Ulez expansion was first demanded by the then transport secretary Grant Shapps in 2020, in return for the government bailing out Transport for London after Covid decimated its income.

David Murray, Wallington, Surrey

While reflecting upon the by-election defeat at Boris Johnson’s former constituency, can Keir Starmer remember that while mayor of London Johnson announced plans in March 2015 for Ulez to come into operation in 2020. Sadiq Khan introduced them in April 2019, and expanded the zone twice without spitting out his dummy over implementing a Tory policy. The issue began as, and remains, one of saving lives, not deciding elections.

John Marshall, Bridlington, East Yorkshire

The personal and the political

Ashley Frawley (Lines of Dissent, 14 July) is sceptical of the ubiquitous shift from economic or other public policy problems, to talk of mental health. It is worth being precise about what is wrong with this. It is not that mental states are trivial compared with macroeconomics, but that mental health talk makes individual problems out of collective problems, and things that happen to us out of things done to us.

We reach for medical language because we lack confidence in moral language. Austerity is not bad because it makes us score highly on anxiety questionnaires, but because it makes our lives worse. We confuse ourselves if concerns about our flourishing must be dressed in the borrowed legitimacy of medical science in public discourse.

Elliot Porter, Brighton

Margaret Irvine 1948-2023

Margaret Irvine, who died on 24 June, was one of the country’s foremost crossword compilers. Born in 1948 in Crosby, Merseyside, she read mathematics and economics at York University and worked in IT at Manchester University. After taking early retirement she devoted herself to crossword compiling, as well as volunteering at a local primary school and various charities, especially Water Aid. She loved Bach and was a life member of Lancashire County Cricket Club. Choosing the pseudonym Nutmeg, Margaret made her Guardian debut in 2006 and was invited to join the New Statesman compiling team as Mace in 2018. She compiled 29 puzzles, with her final one (592) published on 15 July 2022.

Margaret’s health deteriorated after a fall in July 2022, but her appetite for crossword news and gossip remained keen.

Tom Johnson, “Anorak”, New Statesman crossword editor

The art of Morris

Thomas Beecham’s famous belittling of Morris dancing, “Try everything once, except folk dancing and incest,” (Correspondence, 21 July) was not shared by Ralph Vaughan Williams. When asked what he considered the four greatest wonders of the world, he replied: “Firstly, Bach’s B Minor Mass; secondly Michelangelo’s David; thirdly, New York City from the harbour; and fourthly the English Morris dance.”

Ken Worpole, London N4

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This article appears in the 26 Jul 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Special

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