Letter of the Week: Alert to bad messaging

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 read Harry Lambert’s column (Politics, 8 May) with interest. The cunning partnership between Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings has hit the pandemic buffers and is fast losing purchase. This is particularly apparent in the “Stay alert” slogan, which appears to have missed its target by a country mile.Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all dismissed the current message, and this itself speaks volumes.

Brexit’s messaging was sharp and misleading – but it was not life or death. In the case of this virus, it is. Dangerous times call for clear and pragmatic actions. Concise, unmixed messaging is what the public wants, and we will demand it in the months to come.
Judith A Daniels
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Chance for change

Paul Collier makes good points in his essay about the need for decentralisation and diffusion of the knowledge and skills that support people and our society (“Capitalism after coronavirus”, 8 May). But is it not the centralisation of the political, rather than the administrative, that is the problem? He is right that the system is deaf to real need and disconnected from expertise. But it is the political class that puts itself at the centre, and for whom control is more important than content.
In Assembly, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt point out that an inversion is needed. The strategy of identifying what we want needs to be diffused. Elected representatives then deliver through a civil service providing expertise. That aligns popular needs, decision-making, administration and outcomes. Similar thinking around the “market economy” might help. Responsiveness to human needs is more likely to occur with democracy in corporations. The Covid-19 crisis is opening up possibility for profound change. 
C Merrill
Cardiff

Matisse’s women

I watched Becoming Matisse on Rachel Cooke’s recommendation (The Critics, 1 May) – her reviews are my go-to when looking for new TV. As expected, I can only agree with her. Sophie Matisse is personable, intelligent, warm and watchable. The use of Henri Matisse’s own diary entries is inspired and intimate. But I felt we only got close to the heart of things when we saw the various portraits of Amélie and learned of her support of and influence on Matisse. I learned about impressionism and post-impressionism as a (very opinionated) teenage girl, and I so wish I had also learned of the many, many women who contributed to global artistic movements but did not get the recognition they were due. “Vive la liberté” indeed!
Shona Cocksedge
Via email

Missing cricket

Jason Cowley’s delightful column on an English summer without cricket is a welcome distraction from the virus (Editor’s Note, 8 May). I was reminded of a party I attended in 1989 at 165 Railton Road, Brixton, for CLR James, who died shortly afterwards. More than 60 years earlier Learie Constantine had put him in touch with Neville Cardus who arranged for James’s piece on Sidney Barnes to be published in the Manchester Guardian.

At the Oval in 1956 I saw Laker take all ten Australian wickets before repeating the feat at Old Trafford for England.  James later reflected: “When Jim Laker writes that he bowled Bradman an over and knew that he had beaten him with every ball, he is talking about bowling at its highest. In the rout of the Australians in 1956 the decisive factor was not Laker’s off-spin. It was that he had them on the run and kept them there.” 

A year later, in June, the first cases of an Asian flu pandemic, from China, hit Britain, going on to affect 9 million people. Yet that month, and again in July, Macmillan’s health secretary, Dennis Vosper, refused to make a public statement setting out the threat the flu posed, arguing that it was not spreading in the UK.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

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This article appears in the 15 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Land of confusion

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