Letter of the week: Mind your language

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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I was appalled to see on the cover of the New Statesman (15 June) a headline reading “Who sunk [sic] Brexit?” Your apology (Correspondence, 22 June) was equally appalling. It is well known that many Americans speak English as if it were their second language, even when it is not. Why emulate them?

I know that it has become fashionable for presenters at the BBC to speak English as if it were not their first language – why, I cannot imagine, unless it is an attempt to pander to semi-literate teenagers. I have given up on “data”, “media”, “strata”, “criteria” and “phenomena”, which are plural nouns. One presenter a year or so ago even spent seven minutes declaring that thenceforth he would be using “bacteria” as a singular noun and would be talking of “a bacteria”. Who started this? Is there no one with a basic knowledge of English to correct it? I learned grammar in my state primary school (reception class numbering 53, that is fifty-three, five-year-olds) – admittedly, that was 60 years ago.

Marie Parker
London SW15

Why, in seeking to justify use of the American archaism of “sunk” for “sank” do you cite a biblical reference using the US name “the King James Bible” instead of “the Authorised Version”?. Is this cosying up to the US part of the NS preparation for a post-Brexit world?

AM Murray
Kingston upon Thames,
Greater London

A kind of blue

Hurrah for Nick Timothy’s thought-provoking article (“The crisis of conservatism”, 22 June). Not a cry in the wilderness just for the partisan party politics of today nor the resuscitation of government for the few. Rather, it was a philosophical call worthy of consideration by all who recognise the need for Britain to develop fresh ways of being an effective and inclusive society, if we are to tackle the global challenges that we face.

Those of my generation need to leave a fairer and more equal legacy for future generations and we doubt that current political practice offers sufficient hope.

To avoid descent into authoritarianism, our form of democracy must surely find ways of harnessing the energy and interest of the wider population through a judicious mix of representation and participation. Whatever the outcome of the next few years, Britain will need to involve all its citizens in maintaining our society and its standards if we are to avoid the fate of “divided houses”.

Sandy Blair
Usk, Monmouthshire

Nick Timothy does a stellar job of conveying the essential wisdom of conservatism: an innate scepticism (although not necessarily a rejection) of grand projects. He is also right that many modern “conservatives”, in their advocacy for Brexit and market-driven globalisation, barely merit the name.

What Timothy misses is also invariably missed by his fellow conservatives. Conservatism has no convincing account of power relations, other than an assumption that those with a long enough tenure are legitimised by tradition. It is all too easy for conservatives to confuse scepticism of change with the special pleading of vested interests.

This is why no Tory prime minister, no matter her good intentions, will succeed in instigating major progressive change. It is also why the left needs to understand the appeal of conservatism, rather than merely dismissing it as ideological blasphemy.

James Bartholomeusz
Via email

Nick Timothy is not facing reality if he thinks conservatism has run out of ideas and that a new Tory leader only needs to deliver “deep change”. Recent conservative ideas, ideology and deep change have all but destroyed the UK.

Ask those who have invested their future in the EU, who travel on the railways, want somewhere to live, relied on the now defunct forensic science service or the probation service, or want a routine operation, clean streets, fairly priced water and energy, safe roads and so on. The crisis in conservatism is the EU, of which Nick Timothy says little. Conservatism, by which he means the Tory party, has been fragmented and wrecked by decades of bitter internal wars over the EU. To hold the EU referendum was a hugely inept political decision. An associated right-wing shift to an ideological belief in laissez-faire markets, and the accompanying sharp practices, has destroyed once proud public services. We are a reduced presence in the world.

The Conservative Party, having brought the UK to its knees, is now destroying itself. Liam Fox and his absurd department are a good symbol of the state of the Tory party in government.

Dr Robin C Richmond
Bromyard, Herefordshire

I enjoyed reading Nick Timothy’s thoughtful account of conservatism in crisis, but I am left wondering in what practical ways an ideology that believes in parliamentary democracy, gradual rather than revolutionary change, order, and tackling inequality, all as preconditions for liberty, differs from social democracy. Perhaps this failure of moderates to articulate something distinctive is why many are increasingly turning to the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum. I note, however, that Nick Timothy shares one thing in common with the libertarian wing of his party. He continues to blame austerity on the profligacy of Labour, airbrushing from history the role of the global financial crisis.

Thomas Raw
Via email

Nick Timothy rightly describes Margaret Thatcher’s economic policy as favouring the free market. But the same government’s inclination to industrial strategy should not be forgotten.

When Keith Joseph was secretary of state for industry, a team led by Reay Atkinson of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency examined the Japanese drive to lead developments in information technology. As a result of this investigation, the government invested in companies designed to produce world-beating chips and integrated office systems. The impact of those companies on UK industrial growth is debatable. But the effort was made.

David Butler
London SW13

I read Nick Timothy’s hagiographic assessment of Theresa May with mounting incredulity. To claim that it is Brexit and her divided and directionless party that is stopping her becoming a transformative prime minister left me lost for words; in much the same way as David Reynolds was when discussing the urgent need for effective leadership on the world stage (“The diplomatic Trump card”) in the same issue. You must get Simon Heffer to produce a rejoinder to Timothy.

Roger Whitmore
Bath

As a student of Conservative history and ideas, I was excited to read Nick Timothy’s essay. However, when he stated that “Tory leaders more often than not find themselves elected to clear up an economic mess left by Labour governments”, I read no further.

I was expecting to read an academic and thoughtful piece, yet it became clear that Timothy is still prepared to promote seriously the great lie about New Labour’s economic record. Once again it needs to be repeated: the much-publicised deficit was created by an unprecedented international banking crisis rather than Labour mismanagement.

Ben Porter, PhD student
The School of Education,
University of Birmingham

I was impressed by the breadth of thought displayed in Nick Timothy’s contribution. How sad therefore that he lets himself down by perpetuating the false narrative of Conservatives having to clean up Labour governments’ overspending. It is odd that such cogent thinking displayed in his piece can also accommodate this nonsense.

Keith Marr
Hemel Hempstead,
Hertfordshire

Nick Timothy is the latest writer to comment on the dangers of increasing inequality. In 1954 Isaac Asimov published The Caves of Steel, which imagined the ultimate society created by this process. I think that we all, but especially politicians, would benefit from reading it. Such a future is not comfortable to contemplate and perhaps we could still do something about it if we act soon.

Janet Tinbergen
Oxford

Nick Timothy writes that “the Treasury opposed every effort to reform broken markets that were being used to rip off consumers”. What on Earth has the Treasury to do with reforming broken markets?

I bet lots of your readers would like to know more about this. It could even be a good starting point for a whole series of insiders and mandarins lifting lids.

Francis Cubitt
Newbury, Berkshire

Flagged down

Jason Cowley made the classic mistake of calling our Union Flag a Union Jack (Editor’s Note, 22 June). The Union Flag is only called a Jack when it is flown from the jackstaff on the bow of a royal navy ship, and only when at anchor or moored. He joins the ranks of many others who make this error, including Wikipedia.

Steve Irwin-Banks
Via email

We’re with EU

David Lammy (Observations, 22 June) may have initially felt isolated in Labour over the EU but the reality is that around 75 per cent of his solidly working-class constituency in Tottenham voted Remain (myself included). I don’t think that love for the neoliberal institutions of the EU is particularly high in the area, but there is a recognition that a right-wing Brexit would increase racism, the last thing that is needed. Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy has underlined the point.

Keith Flett
London N17

Up the country

By coincidence I read Kate Mossman’s column (Access All Areas, 22 June) shortly after seeing the duo Blue County, about a week after they started their tour in London. They had since criss-crossed the country to play a further six dates. I’m delighted to report a following that seems to be gradually heading north. An audience of 40 or so enjoyed a superb performance in the “true blue” county of West Sussex, albeit in splendidly red Crawley. My wife encouraged the guys to head north of the border next time, in pursuit of the legions of Scottish country/Americana enthusiasts.

Colin Lloyd
Crawley, West Sussex

Wiki tweaks

It is surely not going to help Theo Morgan’s bemusement (Correspondence, 22 June) when he learns that Peter Wilby would be unable to edit his own Wikipedia page (even if he wanted to) as one cannot edit a page about oneself.
Elizabeth Mansfield
Via email

Seriously funny

I share Rachel Johnson’s fondness for oxymorons (The Diary, 22 June), and in response to her request for “any more goodies”, perhaps I could suggest two: “military intelligence” and “happily married”.

Colin Marsh
Leicester

Rachel Johnson says she collects oxymorons. How about “Rachel Johnson, columnist”?

Michael Henderson
London W13

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This article appears in the 29 June 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Germany, alone