Letter of the week: Counting sheep

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

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Reading Matthew Engel’s piece on Hay with special reference to the Bull’s Head at Craswall (The Diary, 8 June), bought back many happy memories from the early 1970s. At that time, I worked on a farm at Llanigon on the Welsh side of the Black Mountains. Sheep would be let up on the mountains in the summer to graze, but come autumn they would be gathered off the hills to lower pastures. There would always be some strays, so on a fixed date the local farmers would gather at the Bull’s Head, put the sheep into the various pens attached to the pub, and once sorted to the correct owners would revert into the Bull’s Head, drink multiple pints, chew through all the various points that needed discussing and then return home with their strays in tow.

In addition, some nights when we fancied a pint, the horses would be saddled, and two or three of us would ride across from the Hay side to the Hereford side for a few pints at the Bull before returning, believing we were imitating Lester Piggott, although putting up about 7st overweight. Happy days!

Matthew Harrison
Beverley, East Yorkshire

Missing middle

Paul Mason (Another Voice, 8 June) describes three positions on Brexit, and concludes, like many other commentators, that the best option is to leave the EU, while staying as close as possible to its regulatory principles. However, he misses the critical problem: that this third option is not the midpoint between two deeply divided camps. The fact that it will please neither, but might command a compromise parliamentary majority, does not make it desirable. It gives us neither the “control” that the Leavers crave, nor the voice that Remainers want.

Whatever happens, much of our economic and social policy will continue to be influenced by our large and powerful neighbour. We all agree that the EU needs reform, and social, economic and political change is taking place (albeit chaotically). But after 40 years as a major player in shaping Europe the UK is letting others decide the future.

Stephen McNair
Coltishall, Norfolk

Stable Sturgeon

What an extraordinary letter from Allan Sutherland (Correspondence, 8 June). What is “scandalous” about civil servants working on a white paper, which by definition is a publication by a government, not a political party? What actually “puffed” the Scottish independence vote to 45 per cent was not the white paper but an engaged and committed Yes campaign, not specific to the SNP but covering a wide range of organisations, including the Scottish Green Party and many cross-party groupings, such as Women for Independence, which reached out to and involved people who had not previously been drawn into the political process. Yes, we have a minority administration – our electoral system was specifically designed to avoid the distortions of first past the post – but we have a stable government, which has far from run out of steam, as shown by the most recent budget, passed with Green Party input and support. If only the Westminster government could boast of such cohesion.

Bill Redmond
Edinburgh

Lessons of Grenfell

It was helpful to train the spotlight on Pickett and Wilkinson’s follow-up to The Spirit Level to be reminded of the power of their arguments (Observations, 8 June), at the same time as Will Self considered the legacy of the Grenfell Tower fire one year after those tragic events.

I won’t get dewy-eyed thinking about growing up in a council house in the 1950s, but at least at that time such a home would not be seen as indicating that my parents were poor and that I could only look forward to growing poorer than them. Then, there was a consensus on the need for and value of, public housing; now, as the 40th anniversary of the divisive and wrong-headed Right to Buy policy approaches, the only consensus seems to be that we have neglected to maintain the remaining stock for rental from local authorities and housing associations.

Les Bright
Exeter

Rewriting history

Peter Wilby wonders whether it has occurred to Niall Ferguson that historians in US universities might have abandoned the Republican Party because it “has moved so far from evidence-based policies” (First Thoughts, 8 June). The trouble is that for Ferguson, unlike most historians, history has rarely been “an evidence-based subject”. In his biography of Kissinger, Ferguson claimed that responsibility for atrocities and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people should not influence “how we assess his legacy”. Again, by ignoring the evidence, Ferguson was able to claim that British imperialism, despite its greed for wealth, land and labour, its use of weapons, massacres, concentration camps and torture, was a force for good.

Bernie Evans
Liverpool

Heat on Lezard

Nicholas Lezard acknowledges that it was right for the previous week’s correspondent to rebuke him for mocking those less privileged than himself (Down and Out, 8 June). I won’t mention the correspondent’s name as it will embarrass him, but I would expect no less from one of the most gifted songwriters and singers of the past few decades, who has remained true to his principles and never does anything to embarrass his fans. He sends his children to local schools when members of other bands send theirs to top private schools. And he has long supported the homeless and the trade union movement. I have no connection with him save that I live in the same city and see him about occasionally. But I hope he knows that I (and many others) respect his contribution to culture and politics.

Alison Barnard
Via email

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This article first appeared in the 15 June 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Who sunk Brexit?