Letter of the week: Labour’s leaders lost

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.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

I’d hazard a guess that I am not alone among your readers in placing Bryan Gould near the top of that fabled list of best leaders the Labour Party never had.

It was pleasing, therefore, to see his 80th year marked so warmly by Matthew Engel (“To the ends of the Earth”, 10 May).

To his eternal credit, Bryan Gould, when active in British politics, advanced, and continues to advance, highly persuasive Keynesian arguments in favour of the real economy throughout the – now fading – era of laissez-faire dominance.

Long may he continue to give succour to the “soft left” tradition that did so much to save the Labour Party during the period from 1983 to 1992.

Colin Lloyd
Crawley, West Sussex

24-hour heroes

As much as my shattered concentration would allow, I read your Spotlight special supplement on “Mental Health: The Quiet Crisis” (10 May). As a sufferer from what are wincingly called “mental health issues”, I’d say that, though I become catatonic when the illness is at its worst, my own crisis feels anything but “quiet”: the black dog of severe, treatment-resistant depression and anxiety has a shrill, persistent bark.

When it comes to mental illness (yes, call it by its name, please) the voluntary sector has taken up the slack to a remarkable, yet unremarked, extent. I cannot overstate how much the Samaritans have helped me over the years. I’m lucky enough to have a Samaritan centre in my town, and face-to-face meetings really help.

Samaritan volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. They are my heroes, and my salvation. Although I am often incapable of speech in the tormented small hours, it’s the knowledge that somewhere, in lighted rooms, there sit people dedicated to saving lives, alleviating pain or metaphorically holding the hands of the dying, that gets me through.

Vera Lustig
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Superpower tools

In his erudite and entertaining article, my esteemed ex-editor Michael Prodger is pessimistic about Notre Dame being rebuilt inside Emmanuel Macron’s five-year deadline (“An act of faith”, 3 May). Most cathedrals take centuries to finish, he notes, and “their originators knew they would never live to see the completed building”.

All true. Yet church-visiting viewers of Avengers: Endgame will be more hopeful. When Thor (spoiler alert) revisits his mother in Asgard, the scene in fact takes place in Durham Cathedral, an extraordinarily complex structure, whose main body was completed, start to finish, in 40 years flat. With no power tools.

So there is hope. Of course, the originator of the Avengers, Stan Lee, did not live to see the completion of his series, and, despite the latest title, it’s far from certain that we’ve reached the end. Perhaps that complex creation is the one requiring the extended time-scale.

Lawrence Norfolk
Via email

The family line

Only a touching family piety could excuse Helen Carr’s encomium of her great-grandfather EH Carr in which she called him “one of our greatest and most influential thinkers” (“EH Carr and the truth”, 10 May). How could a great thinker possibly be “convinced by Soviet ideology” as she tells us he was? In fact, he was not a “thinker” at all, as emerged when he ventured on a philosophical analysis of his subject in What is History?, a book treated with undeserved respect by historians. The book does contain a lot of interesting information about historians and their pronouncements but, as the philosopher Frank Cioffi pointed out in 1964, it is written in an idiom that makes it impossible to discuss the topic profitably.

Helen Carr’s account of her great-grandfather’s views repeats his flaws. Far too contemptuous of the admirable Leopold von Ranke’s sensible remark that the task of history is to give a true account of actions and events, Carr goes on to make a terrible mess both of the notion of “subjectivity” and of the notion of “fact”. EH Carr’s advice on page 23 of his book, “Study the historian before you begin to study the facts”,
is absurd. 

Edward Greenwood
Canterbury, Kent

A bug’s life

I enjoyed Stefan Buczacki’s latest gardening column (Back Pages, 10 May) and commend his words on reducing plastic. I can’t condone his justification of pesticides for killing aphids, however. With the current
rate of insect extinction, and the knock-on effects on our bird population, now is not the time to wipe out more of them. Ladybirds eat aphids; as do wasps (which do more than just ruin a picnic, as one of our pollinators). It is better by far to attract bugs with nectar-and-pollen-producing plants. If you have to kill aphids, use soapy water with garlic oil.

Roselle Angwin
Diptford, Nr Totnes, Devon

Never mind the…

In The Fan (10 May) Hunter Davies claims that “To Dare Is To Do” backwards is “To Do Is To Dare” and is “still bollocks”.

“To Dare Is To Do” backwards is actually “Do To Is Dare To”, which is even more bollocks.

Tim Eveleigh
Croydon

We reserve the right to edit letters.

This article appears in the 17 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Return of the Irish question