Letter of the Week: English amnesia over Ireland

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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Andrew Hussey’s article (“The return of the repressed”, 23 November) concerning France and its torture and murder legacy in Algeria, was excellent; but was yet another example of the English national amnesia over Ireland.

Perhaps, to balance things, can we now have an article about the north of Ireland and the recent Anglo-Irish war. It too had its death squads, torture, abduction, internment camps, political prisoners, its subdivision of Belfast by walls and barbed wire that was exactly like what was done to Algiers. Plus, there were the thousands of dead, and the tens of thousands of wounded and injured.

My own family, over the past hundred years, lost members who underwent all of the above. This was not in any way exceptional. It was commonplace.

The French, as Hussey reported, are at last coming to terms with and trying to apologise for what they did in Algeria. I do not see any sign of such regret in England. But telling the truth is always painful.

Michael Ennis
Via email

Brexit wish-list

Paul Mason (“A country in a critical condition”, 23 November) caricatures Brexiteers as xenophobic nationalists who are “opposed to multiculturalism” and want the opposite of “an open, globalist, tolerant country, offering high welfare and social justice”.

Let me paint another portrait. Brexiteers are people who prefer the imperfect party democracy of Westminster to the bureaucratic control of Brussels. They want a UK government that defends the British people, preventing the exporting of jobs or the importing of cheap labour in the name of globalisation; that is able to set its own national budget as it sees fit; and that is able to intervene to help troubled UK enterprises.

They want a country where there is no shame in identifying as British or English, and where newcomers enjoy the rights of existing citizens (with no special privileges), but also recognise their responsibility to adapt to some degree to our tolerant culture. They demand the basic sovereign right to decide who can come here and how many, and who can’t.

Brexiteers are selectively open and selectively globalist in the name of the British national interest. They are citizens of somewhere and that somewhere is the UK and not the so-called European Union.

Jonathan Notley
London W3

A rigged vote

In his interview with George Eaton (Encounter, 23 November), Yanis Varoufakis said of a second European referendum, “To call it a people’s vote is to try to delegitimise the original vote – to say it was dictatorial, it was rigged.” It was. Not only was it supported by a barrage of dishonesty but it posed a single binary question on a matter of labyrinthine complexity. It is now regarded as patronising to suggest that most people had no idea of what their vote implied, despite the whole of parliament and the civil service having spent more than two years trying to find out.

Varoufakis, like many Greek commentators, also put all the blame for Greece’s financial plight on the EU but did not mention the part played by much of the population’s reluctance to pay any taxes.

Peter M Dryburgh
Edinburgh

Imperial fantasies

The headline to Fintan O’Toole’s column, “Britain must ditch post-imperial fantasies for a shot of sober realism”, misrepresents the brilliantly observed piece that follows (Another Voice, 23 November).

What O’Toole surely describes is the quintessential English affliction. Part of the English (British) nationalist delusion that is leading to the Brexit catastrophe is to ascribe to subject nationalities that English sense of “exceptional entitlement” that drove the subjugation of its archipelago and which led to global imperial adventure.

Its continuing legacy is England’s pathological inability to see itself as just another small European country.

Neither Scotland nor the six counties of Northern Ireland now share that delusion, and hence rejected Brexit. Sadly, Wales is too long and too completely lost. The Tory partner and Brexit-supporting DUP is a minority even in the contrived Orange statelet.

O’Toole’s Irish insight derives from his being from the only part of the archipelago that has yet managed to cast off the imperial yolk. The only good that Brexit will do is that others will surely follow the Republic’s lead.

Dr John O’Dowd
Bothwell, Lanarkshire

Green efforts

There’s a phrase that used to be a commonplace in green circles along the lines of “going green is good even if you’re the only one doing it”. That’s what I choose to believe Peter Wilby was saying (First Thoughts, 23 November), and not “might as well give up now, the odds are stacked against us”.

Planting trees, improving public transport, not exterminating every other living creature that dares to try to live independently of us etc, are not useless gestures. These actions benefit us all immediately, in terms of our mental and physical health as well as sheer joy, and would at least make our small island stand out as a beacon of sanity against the Trumps and Putins and their apologists.

When I walk down our main road, breathing in the stinking exhaust fumes of deadlocked traffic, I can at least, with a short detour, drop down into the cleaner air and green pathways of a local nature reserve, and, sometimes, do my bit to keep it green.

What’s not to like? And also, maybe, it’s a win-win situation.

Marion Seed
Preston, Lancashire

Unto the breach

Echoing Hamlet, Stephen Bush writes that the confidence-and-supply agreement between the Conservatives and the DUP is “more honoured in the breach rather than the observance”, clearly meaning that it is often ignored (Politics, 23 November). But Shakespeare intended the phrase to have a different meaning.

When Hamlet says that the Danish custom of boozy revelry is “More honour’d in the breach than the observance” he sees that it is more honourable to ignore the custom of drunken carousing than to follow it. Thus, Shakespeare refers to a practice that is more honourably ignored than followed – not one that is often ignored.

Dr John Doherty
Stratford-upon-Avon

The sloppy shorthand referring to “a low-tax, low regulation Singapore-style economy” in Stephen Bush’s column last week misses the point, and denies Singapore’s raison d’être.

With about 90 per cent controlled public housing, a deeply interventionist state and exceptional levels of public investment, it’s more Corbyn than May, and more popular than either.

Chris King
London N3

Dark reflections

The verse novel with the strongest – and darkest – link to Robin Robertson’s The Long Take is MacKinlay Kantor’s Glory for Me, published in 1945 (The Critics, 16 November).

Kantor was asked by Sam Goldwyn for a screenplay about returning servicemen, which became the source for William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, released the following year.

A social-problem film with a worthy subject and prestigious pedigree, it strives towards an affirmative postwar message, but there are several instances in which the film ameliorates the novel’s much darker narrative.

Glory for Me conveys a dismal noir sensibility that the film does not, and reflects Robertson’s claim about “a time when victory soured into a slow failure and certainties were corroded by flux, greed and paranoia”.

Ian Brookes
University of Nottingham

Class dismissed

Michael Meadowcroft (Correspondence, 23 November) quotes the late Liberal leader Jo Grimond’s response to being asked what he was going to do about the working class: “I’m going to abolish it!”

In colluding with the Tories to make savage cuts in welfare benefits and social services from 2010, the Lib Dems had a bloody good try.

Roger Whitmore
Bath

The 1945 legacy

Since he has on occasion been disparaging over the postwar Labour government, I’m glad to see Michael Heseltine write that we should treasure the NHS (The Diary, 23 November). The 1945 Labour government  legislated for fundamental improvements that, like the health service, immensely improved the quality of life for the large majority.

Though damage was done to some of these measures during the Thatcher years, it didn’t manage to destroy what the Attlee administration put in place, and what it had pledged to do if elected.

David Winnick, former MP
London NW10

Larkin about

Tracey Thorn, in her wonderful column on teenage university reconnaissance and visiting the settings for old album covers, blames the parents (Off the Record, 23 November). As an alumna of Hull she may appreciate the thought of Philip Larkin looking down, gin in hand, saying, “I told you so.”

Paul Anderson
Beeston, Nottingham

Get what you need

According to John Gray, David Wootton cites the Rolling Stones’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as a song that captures the insatiable desire that drives modern society (The Critics, 9 November).

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote another song that offers a way out of this trap, with its lyric “You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometime you find/You get what you need”.

Anand Shukla
Via email

Clarity on Michelle

I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed Helen Lewis’s review of Becoming by Michelle Obama (The Critics, 23 November). The book was explained in a clear and kindly way, and would encourage others to read it. The fact it was just one book being reviewed, as opposed to two or three, which often is the case in your long lead reviews, was a great plus point.

Gill Leppard
Via email

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This article appears in the 28 November 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How the Brexit fantasy died