LETTER OF THE WEEK
An outbreak of democracy
In response to Jon Bew’s article “Doing good and resisting evil”(6 September): rather than being a blow to British prestige or UK/US relations, the debate about taking action in Syria has shown that parliament was right to pose questions and has given the lead to this process.
Far from knowing that the US would do the dirty work anyway, parliament has helped precipitate an outbreak of representative democracy in the US. This makes me wonder what could have been achieved if the same thing had happened in 2003. The idea that the UK and the US always act together is only in the minds of those with short memories. Since the Second World War the US and the UK have acted together in Korea, Kuwait, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. The US failed to support us in Suez and the Falklands, and it invaded Grenada without permission. We refused to support the US in Vietnam and would have done the same elsewhere, had we been asked.
France is the US’s oldest ally, from when it was run by the dictatorial last French monarchy. A sign of things to come that John Kerry perhaps did not intend to revisit.
Island of one
John Bew (“Doing good and resisting evil”, 6 September) laments the waning of British influence in the world and the “grave blow” to our prestige caused by parliament’s vote not to intervene in Syria. The assumption is that our overseas interventions since 1945 have been motivated by noble causes.
In fact, most of them have been colonial conflicts, fought with torture, murder and forced removal of populations, followed by disastrous military adventures to prove we can still “punch above our weight”. The notion that Britain’s standing should be defined by a readiness to invade other countries and the possession of weapons of mass destruction betrays a mindset that cannot yet accept the loss of power derived from empire. We are a small island. Let’s start behaving like one.
John Bew’s disturbing piece implies that bombing Syria was the only “grown-up” option for parliament to endorse. He also assumes that the vote against bombing will make British diplomatic protests even less effective than they have been over Israeli interventions in Gaza or Lebanon.
But he ignores a salient fear in the run-up to the vote: that “statement” bombing would be used, like the “humanitarian” bombing in Libya, to tip the balance in a civil war, a course of action that, as Jeremy Bowen shows (Notebook, 6 September), is fraught with risk. Bew’s injunction that legislators should have ignored the issue of consequences looks very lazy.
Friends of Sholto Byrnes (Qatar Notebook, 30 August) ask him about life in Qatar: “What’s it really like?” Well, if you’re a western professional in the pay of the absolutist al-Thani family, the answer is “pretty good”. It might not be, however, if you’re one of the south Asian or Filipino guest workers Byrnes mentions in passing, or if you criticise the Qatari regime. Luckily, he avoids this pitfall.
Hold on, reader Kathleen Ellen White (Correspondence, 6 September)! I agree completely that I would renew my annual New Statesmansubscription with greater enthusiasm if religion never crossed its pages again – but cricket? There are some things in life you just can’t get enough of, except maybe the last Test against the Aussies this year, which beat the Labour Party’s manifesto under Neil Kinnock as the longest suicide note in history.
Burwash, East Sussex
Cricket is certainly a matter of choice, and Kathleen can choose not to read anything about it if she doesn’t want to, leaving such articles to those of us who do.
Could do better
When Stephen Twigg refers to the “scandal” of unqualified teachers (“Five questions for Labour”, 30 August) I suspect he’s referring to those who have no Certificate in Education, not those teaching subjects for which they have no higher academic qualifications whatsoever. I don’t belittle the BEd but I’d be surprised if any of the outstanding teachers I remember from school had received training in putting their subject over. Are those who’ve been through the rigour of obtaining a diploma in education in one year necessarily empowered to teach whatever the head throws at them?
Fyfe’s banana skin
Sadiq Khan applauds the human rights instincts of the Conservative politician David Maxwell Fyfe (Guest Column, 6 September). Is this the same Maxwell Fyfe who in 1953 sanctioned the hanging of Derek Bentley and who opposed the decriminalisation of homosexuality?
In Lines of Dissent (19 July) Mehdi Hasan notes that “native” Brits have not been interested in fruit-picking for years and “many of the UK’s fruit-picking businesses could close without new migrant workers from outside the EU”. Interestingly, in H E Bates’s Darling Buds of May, the pickers were native Brits, and Pop observes that if they were called on to pay tax on their earnings, “they wouldn’t come. Then you wouldn’t have no strawberries, no cherries, no nothink. No beer!”
Rohan H Wickramasinghe
Colombo, Sri Lanka