Letter of the week: Lessons from 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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David Robson’s letter, on how long he has read the New Statesman, reminded me that it is 70 years since I first came across the magazine (Correspondence, 21 June).

When at 15 I decided to see the wider world, I went to Dublin and found a job, staying with a family in Dún Laoghaire, the port town just outside the city. The NS arrived regularly, and I became an eager reader. Just as Ireland is in the news now over the backstop in the Brexit talks, it was in 1948/49, when the newly elected Irish government declared the country, already in effect a sovereign state, would become a republic. As a result, there was a very large gathering in Easter 1949, which I went along to, outside the main post office in Dublin, where in April 1916 republicans staged an armed rebellion. Afterwards, the executions of the leaders helped to bring about the triumph of Sinn Féin in the 1918 election, a result that the British government ignored, leading to much bloodshed.

“Don’t mess with Ireland” is the best policy to maintain good Anglo-Irish relations.

David Winnick
London

The 93% problem

Francis Green and David Kynaston show an unerring ability to draw the most insignificant conclusions from the important evidence that lies before them (Observations, 7 June). Let’s start with the title of their article: “The 7 per cent problem: how to reform private schools.” Why not focus on the struggling academic performance of too many schools catering for the statistically rather more important 93 per cent? Why not ask why competitive games have disappeared from so many state schools, as they did from the comprehensive I attended in the 1970s, along with modern languages, and, all too often, the creative arts?

Why not ask what we can do about the fact that British schoolchildren are among the most overweight, the most unhappy and the most bullied in Europe?

Aren’t these rather more important challenges?

And then let’s look at their suggestion that top universities can “up the ante” by making offers based on lower grades to children who have never been to an independent school. Surely the more striking problem is why so many thousands of bright children in the 93 per cent need such patronising measures to help them over the threshold? Part of the problem for schools is the near impossibility of encouraging enough people with “Stem” (science, tech, engineering and maths) degrees to go into teaching. We know Messrs Green and Kynaston admire our state schools; what can we do to make more graduates feel the same way?

I’m afraid the authors’ “7 per cent problem” is far too dilute to make the slightest difference to the most fundamental problem facing our schools: that the UK is the only country in the developed world whose young people are less literate and numerate than their grandparents.

Andrew Halls, Headmaster,
Kings College School, Wimbledon

Laboured response

Alastair Campbell (Observations, 21 June) is right to suggest that any delay to Labour supporting a second referendum is to risk not getting significant, subsequent political credit.

I would go further and suggest that Jeremy Corbyn will have to alter his position on Brexit and make Labour the anti- Brexit party sooner rather than later. It is extremely sad that he is going to have to be dragged to this position – over the dead bodies of Len McCluskey and Seumas Milne – but it will happen. Then three things fall into place: (i) Labour can properly oppose Boris Johnson’s hardline Brexit position; (ii) Labour will have a great chance to win any election that Johnson might call in order to push a Brexit deal over the line; and (iii) should the Tories get some sort of deal, all the blame for the subsequent economic and social disaster will lie with them. Surely Corbyn must realise any other position is electoral suicide, and threatens economic ruin for large parts of the country. That Corbyn has not seen this earlier is further testimony to his extraordinarily poor political judgement. If it does not happen by September, the Labour Party conference will make it happen; but as Campbell hints this may be too late.

Phil Lee
Elslack, North Yorkshire

Scribe of the times

Cometh the moment, cometh the man, and the man is Simon Heffer (Another Voice, 21 June). His account of the impudent and shameless Gavin Williamson’s excruciatingly oleaginous and ill-weaved ambition, and Boris Johnson’s merciless manipulation of the fools who surround him, is a compelling essay worthy of the works of Sallust or Shakespeare. Here laid out for all to see is the tawdry and tragic horror of the depths to which the Conservative Party has sunk.

Heffer’s depictions of the shabby corridors of parliament, largely populated by loathsome derelicts, rampant cynicism and desiccated incompetence, all engaged in a conspiracy of outrageous villainy have made for by far and away the most compelling New Statesman reading in the last few years. Indeed, I read them repeatedly. They make me almost glad to be living through this time.

Guy de la Bédoyère
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Parental guidance

We write as an alliance of charities and campaigners to express support for the developing a procedure and allocating a budget that would grant all MPs access to six months of parental and adoption leave (Leader, 21 June).

 Although we appreciate that MPs can make a contingency application for the cost of providing a locum to cover non-parliamentary-chamber duties while on maternity leave, we do not believe this to be a sufficient solution. Given that 24 MPs have given birth since the inception of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) in 2009, yet not a single MP has made a contingency application, we believe it is not fit for purpose. The statement from Ipsa that it does not recognise that MPs go on maternity leave is deeply troubling. Parental leave must be formally recognised by both parliament and Ipsa.

Finally, we believe that having formal parental leave arrangements for MPs will encourage wider conversations on caring responsibilities and making sure our employment laws meet the needs of our diverse workforce. We will never make workplaces work for women if Westminster fails them every step of the way, and the current policy fails women.

Pregnant Then Screwed; Parental Pay Equality; Fawcett Society; Happen Together CIC; EqualiTeach; Working Mums; Women’s Equality Party; Women’s Budget Group; Young Women’s Trust; Fatherhood Institute; Fathers Network Scotland

Tories in crisis

Your agenda-setting series on the closing of the Conservative mind accurately highlights in Ferdinand Mount’s article (“Boris Johnson and the hollow men”, 21 June) one of the key causes of Brexit and the collapse of confidence in parliament: the chronic “contempt for local government expressed by [Conservative] cabinet ministers”. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were given some solace in Labour’s devolutionary settlements and the Good Friday Agreement. However, the loss of control suffered by the English regions continued and then accelerated in the austerity policies after 2010, until the debacle of Brexit revealed the untenable faults of Westminster-centric government, which had left behind so much of the country.

Having reached this point, would not meaningful English devolution, with decentralised power and funding allied to federal representation of the regions and nations in a reformed second chamber, be the real means to give back control to the disenfranchised of England? Such a policy would also give the opposition an urgently needed counter-narrative for UK-wide renewal and unity, whether Brexit happens or not.

Graham Johnston
Wymondham, Norfolk

In his critique of modern Conservative thinking (“The closing of the Conservative mind”, 14 June), Robert Saunders quotes Arthur Bryant that the “Conservative acts always with caution”. Bryant, no stranger to glossing over facts, ignored how, in 1912-14, the Conservatives had come perilously close to provoking a civil war in the north of Ireland. Perhaps ironically for our times, it was only the outbreak of conflict on mainland Europe that saw the party draw back from the brink of precipitating constitutional crisis.

Tom Lowe
London

I am appalled that instead of helping the needy Boris Johnson plans to give tax breaks to the already wealthy. These precious billions of pounds could instead be spent improving the lives of people living in poverty in Britain today (as well as those “just about managing”). Poor people are all too often blamed for their predicament in life. We are not all endowed with equal talents, health, privileges, opportunities and so on… Giving those at the bottom more would make a greater difference to their quality of life than giving extra to those at the top.

Alison Hibberd
Whittlesford, Cambridge

State the obvious

Well done to the New Statesman for being the only publication so far to name the elephant in the room of the Conservative leadership contest (Politics, 21 June): the fact that the millions of Remain supporting Conservative voters could defect to the Liberal Democrats in a general election, and cancel out Conservatives returning to the fold from the Brexit Party. It seems such an obvious point, but I have not seen it mentioned except in your pages.

Dr Christopher Catherwood
Cambridge

Reader regret

Damn you, Helen Lewis, how dare you leave the New Statesman before I get to be subscriber of the week and nominate you as my favourite columnist.

Paul Stockton
North Weald, Essex
(even quieter and less fashionable than Loughton)

The Phil picture

Further to recent correspondence, can I confirm that I have never been subscriber of the week, and I most definitely am Dr Phil.

Phil Whitaker
Norton St Philip, Bath

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This article appears in the 28 June 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Restraining order