Letter of the week: Biding time

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 don’t disagree with anything you say about Boris Johnson and could probably add to it. I know only too well, having done it myself for decades, the need for editors and political writers to rush to print – but may I urge politicians to be more cautious? Jeremy Corbyn didn’t know what to say in reply to Johnson’s arm-flailing performance at the despatch box and took a dismally long time to say it. He should have confined himself to a dismissive put-down to the Tory benches – Walpole’s “Now they ring their bells, soon they will be wringing their hands”, perhaps – and held his fire.

For countless Labour and other MPs to pile into the broadcasting studios or hang about College Green hoping to be called to the microphone to denounce him was stupid – crying “wolf” too early and too often. If we believe all we say about Johnson then the time will come soon enough. The week after Harold Wilson lost the June 1970 general election he said to me that he would not mount any attacks on Edward Heath – unless something major occurred – until the year was out “because the voters won’t be listening”. Outside the Westminster bubble, the world is a different place.

Joe Haines
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

The Johnson jury

The most ridiculous of Boris Johnson’s extravagant opening pronouncements was when he declaimed in the Commons on 25 July that we will be able to look back and see this time as the beginning of a new Golden Age for the UK. For a classicist who should know better this was particularly reckless.

In AD 286/87 the commander of an imperial fleet, Carausius, rebelled from the Roman empire, throwing off the yoke of Continental rule. He declared himself emperor in Britain in a breakaway regime he claimed was Rome Restored. On new silver coins, he placed with monumental and unprecedented audacity an abbreviated reference to the sixth line of Virgil’s messianic Fourth Eclogue, which roughly translates as “The Golden Age is back”. Other coin legends of his echoed this sentiment, including a medallion featuring the next line: “Now a new generation is let down from heaven above.”

But confounded by circumstances, Carausius failed to deliver – as do all those who make such ludicrous promises. He also overlooked the ambitions of others. In AD 293 Carausius’s Never-Never Land abruptly ended when he was murdered by his finance minister Allectus. Allectus was then killed in a battle in southern England in AD 296 when the forces of the legitimate Roman empire arrived from Gaul.

Like all utopian dreams Carausius’s Golden Age had disappeared in a cloud of dust. Britain returned to more than 100 years of Continental rule. The emperor Constantius could not resist issuing a medallion that depicted a grateful London welcoming him in as “Restorer of the Eternal Light”.

Guy de la Bédoyère
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Jason Cowley (Editor’s Note, 26 July) made a number of penetrating comments about why Boris Johnson is unsuitable to be prime minister. The most pertinent one was the fact that Johnson, in his BBC interviews over many years, was most discomfited by state school-educated Scots Eddie Mair and Andrew Neil. They are forensic in their questioning. Johnson was outside his comfort zone, and it is also, I suspect, why he avoided being interviewed by the BBC’s Today programme during the leadership contest.

David Rimmer
Hertford Heath, Herts

I was much impressed by Jason Cowley and Martin Fletcher (Cover Story, 26 July)for daring to put their heads above the parapet in the face of enemy fire. Also for having the courage not to hero worship in a climate of immense and intense hero worship. By describing so accurately a Boris Johnson not merely with feet of clay but also poisoned tongue, both editor and contributing writer have effectively cut themselves off from dinners, receptions, flights… access. It’s far easier to fall into line, go along with the crowd, hope for the best, back a winner. But as someone far cleverer than me said: liars make liars of us all.

Godfrey H Holmes
Withernsea, Yorkshire

Boris Johnson describes his policy on Brexit as “do or die”.

Given his well-known love of literature, he will be aware that this line comes from Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, lamenting the futile, chaotic British attack in the Battle of Balaclava in October 1854 – hardly the most encouraging precedent for his EU policy.

Johnson also misquotes the line from the poem, which actually reads “do and die”.

Anand Shukla
Via email

Balancing act

I began subscribing to the New Statesman (and the Spectator) before the 2016 EU referendum, realising that, like many of my middle-class, educated, professional, left-leaning peers, I actually knew very little about the EU, its history and the implications of leaving. I’ve continued subscribing since then and read each issue, pretty much cover to cover, every week.

As a Eurosceptic Remainer who believes the referendum must be respected, I have found since 2016 that the NS is one-sided and too often vitriolic in its coverage. This reached a nadir with eight pages by Martin Fletcher and Simon Heffer (Inside Politics, 26 July) in the last issue about the implications of Boris Johnson for Brexit and British politics. I have no time for Johnson but the NS makes no attempt to go beyond worn, repetitive, almost hysterical hyperbole. Fletcher’s article was especially bad in these respects.

Luckily, my resolve was bolstered by the brilliant article by Andrew Hussey on Christophe Guilluy (“Elites against the working class”, 26 July). This is the sort of careful, illuminating analysis that you should do much more of if we are to understand the powerful social and cultural forces leading to both the French gilets jaunes and Brexit. This article was especially important in the light of the mainstream media’s silence about the gilets jaunes and my peers’ simplistic condemnation of them as “right wing” and “xenophobic” – a characterisation they also apply to Brexit voters and now, of course, to Boris Johnson.

Kathryn Ecclestone
Buxton, Derbyshire

Back to school

Much has been made of the preponderance of those educated in private schools in the upper echelons of the political system. A far more important issue is their intellectual shortcomings. The ruling class tend to study soft subjects or that pseudoscience economics, predominantly under the flag of PPE. These subjects seem to produce arrogant individuals with little concern for their fellow man. They also lack scientific knowledge. Armed with a sense of superiority they attend Oxbridge, which for many is just a finishing school prior to entering the City, largely through the old-boys’ network. The financial world suits them well as it is an environment where mediocrities can rapidly accumulate wealth grossly disproportionate to their talents or contribution to society. The complete lack of accountability in the financial sector helps as well.

Now wealthy, they enter politics and usually misgovern the country as they have neither the knowledge nor intellect to operate in the modern world. The great gift is in lying to fool the easily led into voting for them against their own interests – usually by stoking the flames of envy, greed and mistrust.

We should be able to do better than this. One only has to look at the current cabinet stuffed to the gunwales with the type of mediocrities described above to fear for the future. I will be honest and admit I am a retired doctor and I do not wish to be ruled by these people, and I hope we can reform our education system to prevent this system continuing.

Dr Peter Gregory
Lichfield, Staffs

Cross-examination

The profile of Ali Milani, the Labour candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruslip, the west London constituency of Boris Johnson (Observations, 26 July), had just one paragraph, in almost a page and a half, about his past anti-Semitic remarks, and then went on to quote his defence: just a “mistake”, “I went on an educational journey”. Milani says he has changed, unlike Boris Johnson with his “racist and offensive remarks”.

All this bears an uncanny resemblance to Richard Burgon’s defence of Milani recently on Sophy Ridge on Sunday (Sky). Word for word. That’s the party line. I know how seriously the New Statesman takes the issue of anti-Semitism, and yet there was no attempt to interrogate Milani properly about this.

David Herman
London SW13

Much missed

I was saddened to learn from Marigold Johnson’s Diary (26 July) that her husband Paul was suffering from dementia. That would presumably rob us of any further publications, such as Paul Johnson’s prolific output of short biographies (including those on Churchill, Darwin, Eisenhower, Mozart and Napoleon), biographical sketches and historical surveys in the Noughties.

Paul was editor of the New Statesman when I first became a reader, towards the end of his editorial term. Our political paths subsequently rather diverged as Paul became a supporter of the Thatcherite revolution in the 1980s, while I have remained a steadfast member of the Labour Party (throughout its twists and turns) and a social democrat in the northern European mould. But I will miss his incisive recent commentaries on people and affairs.

Geoffrey Hammond
Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

Literary Lezard

I read Nicholas Lezard’s column weekly, often first, just to make sure it’s still there and that nothing untoward has happened. Am I the only one who is struck by its uncanny resemblance to Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim? Amis’s famous description of a hangover could have easily been taken from Mr Lezard’s “Down and Out”, and if Lucky Lez ever finds himself in Islington I’d be happy to treat him to a drink or a few, and see whether he too stirs the next morning and finds himself having “somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by a secret police”.

Daniel Porter
Islington, London

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This article appears in the 02 August 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special