I might occasionally take issue with Mehdi Hasan (over halal meat or the role of religion in public life, say), but he was spot-on with his uncompromising criticism of Labour’s scratch record on immigration (Lines of Dissent, 24 January).
Ed Miliband’s concern should not be about leading an unelectable party in a country dominated by a hysterical right-wing press. Rather, the left should rise to the challenge and dissociate itself from the cynical agenda on immigration of an incompetent government.
No good will ever come from these maladroit attempts to ride the “popular wave”: the political agenda will shift further to the right and we will all live in a more unfair society.
Welwyn Garden City
Mehdi Hasan accepts economists’ claims that EU migrants are net contributors to the public purse (Lines of Dissent, 24 January). But this is demography’s equivalent of off-balance-sheet financing, for today’s young migrants will become tomorrow’s old and infirm.
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset
Mehdi Hasan’s argument is flawed. He fails to recognise that economic growth is just one factor. Another is that our country fails to offer equality of opportunity to a significant minority of its citizens – a situation that, generally, is exacerbated by high levels of economic migration. All parties must ask: do high levels of economic migration make people happier?
Anthony Clavane’s article “The radicalism of fools” (24 January) raises the question of how the Trotskyite anti-Semitic left stomachs the fact that Trotsky was a Jew.
In the article “The radicalism of fools”, the term “anti-Semitic” is used nine times to emphasise anti-Jewish feeling. Actually, the Semites were members of races descended from Shem, son of Noah, and they were Phoenicians, Jews, Arabs and Assyrians.
Anthony Clavane’s accusations regarding the left and anti-Semitism are a disgrace. While he felt uncomfortable as a youngster about the use of the swastika in punk fashion, it was we the supposedly “anti-Semitic” leftists who argued vehemently against it and recruited punk rockers to the fight against fascism.
As a young student, I can say that Anthony Clavane is more right than he realises about the relationship between the far left and anti-Semitism. With political apathy rife among my generation, the most commonly held political philosophy has become anarchism. In their (rightful) unremitting critique of Israel and its policies, some start failing to notice that the policies of Israel are far from universally condoned by Jews. From this, the roots of the virus begin to spread.
Although I take Clavane’s point about elements of anti-Semitism lurking in the guise of anti-Zionism, it is disappointing that there is no acknowledgement in any part of your cover story of the frequently deliberate conflation of the two. It was only a few months ago that the European Union, to howls of protest from the Israel lobby, finally ditched its draft definition of anti-Semitism, a definition that included the vilification of Israel.
“Should we stop sending women to prison?” Sophie McBain asks (“Choking to death”, 24 January). She concludes that women should not be sent to jail – due to the “fact” that “the prison system was designed for men”.
Having spent years as a prison nurse, looking after both men and women, I despaired when I read this article, militant feminism at its worst. A democratic society ruled by modern law cannot have two penal codes – one for men, another for women. Remember, if prisons, as the author wrongly states, originally were built for men, then parliament was also built for men and, according to her principles, should remain in their hands.
Lars G Petersson
Sophie McBain offers a powerful critique of the situation for many women caught in the prison system. Although she alludes to the current reforms to provide more tailored support for short-term prisoners, she omits the impending privatisation of the Probation Service. One likely consequence of these rushed and ideologically driven reforms may well be a system of competing providers. This could result in increased risks to public safety – and the loss of many of the gains achieved by probation staff in reducing harm to women affected by domestic violence.
Many women are locked up inappropriately, when they have drug problems, mental-health issues or histories of abuse. Many are in no way dangerous or violent. And for quite a few of these women, not only does prison create worse outcomes for them, but it is counterproductive for society. Surely there must be better alternatives. But much the same could be said for male prisoners, too.
In your most recent editorial (24 January) you state that “homelessness has increased by 34 per cent since 2010”. This figure relates only to “homelessness acceptances”. That is to say, there has been an increase in the number of persons fulfilling the criteria set out in law to be provided with housing assistance by local authorities as “homeless”.
This definition of homelessness is a very restricted one, and the problem may well have increased by more than the 34 per cent stated. I would suggest that the increase in homelessness is in fact much higher than official figures suggest and, as such, this should make it an even higher priority for action by the Labour Party.
Laurie Penny is right that the Rennard debacle in the Liberal Democrats is simply another sign of the sexism that still pervades much of politics (In the Red, 24 January). However, it is not just about people’s attitudes: there are material roots. The Equal Pay Act 1970 said that women should be paid equally for the same work as men. In several areas, that law is flouted. Before the 2010 election, the Lib Dems proposed equal pay audits to address that. In office, the idea was dropped. A signal is sent from the workplace that in many cases women aren’t held to be equal. This gives a green light signalling that it is OK to treat women unequally in social situations, too. It isn’t.
“But anyone inclined to underestimate [Shirley] Williams’s personality or her intellect should reflect on the serious relationships she had with men” (The Critics, 17 January). And who said the Lib Dems had a problem with gender equality?
The problem with water cannon (Science, 17 January) is that they are effective only for controlling organised demonstrations. Because they are not especially quick or flexible to deploy, they are of little use for the kind of spontaneous civil disorder that Boris Johnson is supposedly worried about. By the time they’ve rumbled into position, the rioters have melted away and popped up somewhere else.
Dan Taylor’s letter (24 January)asserting that Israel “is still a country of which socialists and liberals can be proud” flies in the face of reality. Since 1948, hundreds of resolutions condemning Israel’s actions against the Palestinians have been tabled at the UN and vetoed by Israel’s protector, the United States.
Troon, South Ayrshire
By the Good Book
Donal O’Keefe points out (Correspondence, 24 January) that Cristina Odone opposes gay marriage because “marriage is the union of a man and a woman open to procreation” (“The new intolerance”, 10 January). This is a desperate non-argument and I’m tired of hearing it. If having children (naturally) is such an intrinsic part of marriage why are heterosexual couples not quizzed about their intentions before being given a marriage licence?
Peter Lee writes in last week’s letters (24 January) that Will Self has nothing to say. On the contrary, Will’s meal dealings and hilarious diatribes are a much-looked-forward-to highlight of every issue.
Although she is my favourite contributor, two things vex me about Laurie Penny’s article on abortion (In the Red, 17 January). First of all, the Pope’s description of abortion as “horrific” states an undeniable fact that has little to do with gender power relations. The descriptions of some invasive abortion procedures such as vacuum aspiration or dilation and evacuation are harrowing. Second, I have grown more and more sceptical of the “control of our own bodies” line.
I certainly don’t disagree that women and men should be in charge of their person, per se, but I disagree with how that argument is sometimes used in abortion debates. In some cases, not all, it allows a woman to avoid accountability for creation of a life – through negligence on her part and the part of her partner – that she had never wished to create.
New lease of life
Weighing my latest New Statesman by hand, I felt it a little lightweight (24 January). But if ever there was an issue you need to buy, it’s this one, with George Eaton on renationalising trains (Observations), Laurie Penny on groping Liberals (In the Red), two articles on Anelka’s quenelle and “Should we stop sending women to prison?”. Women are more likely to be sent to prison for first offences than men, as judges perceive them as the “caring gender”. The NS is back on form.
Thank you for Anorak’s Cheshire-themed crossword Ten Inches (Back Pages, 24 January). It brought back happy memories of that beautiful county to this exile.
Me and EU
Robert Cooper (NS Essay, 10 January) says there is no wish for a referendum on the EU among British voters. Yet the rapid emergence of Ukip as a force in local elections last year would seem to contradict this. Furthermore, participation in elections to the European Parliament in the UK and other European countries has generally been low and falling. For me, the issue is not whether the UK should be a member of the EU but what kind of EU we will have.
Simon Heffer’s engaging review of recent books on Napoleon and Wellington (The Critics, 24 January) is undermined by its misleading subtitle “How Britain won Waterloo . . .” It was the Seventh Coalition – consisting mainly of the UK, the Netherlands and parts of modern-day Germany – that won the battle.