Your leader on George Osborne’s performance (14 March) and Robert Skidelsky’s piece on defective thinking (“The economic consequences of Mr Osborne”, 14 March) were wonderful, but rare, examples of insightful economic analysis in the English-speaking press (in the German or French media, they would not have raised an eyebrow). Your front page bothered me, however, announcing that “the Great Recession is finally over”. It is not, and the growth of the past 30 years is not coming back. It can’t, because it was based on ever-increasing debt, which caused the financial crisis. It will also be constrained by the rising cost of raw materials and energy, partly because there are more people in the world; by an ageing population (those over 65 spend 25 per cent less than the average); and by climate change. We need to get used to a world with no growth and where unemployment will tend to rise. Policymakers need to stop focusing on growth and start concentrating on reducing unemployment and inequality instead.
Benn back then
Your otherwise excellent editorial on Tony Benn (21 March) reiterates the canard that he “ignored the electorate” in advocating extreme-left policies. This ignores the concentration of media ownership and its domination by right-wing ideology, which plays a vital role in determining how much of the electorate views the world. Many people, given the chance to hear Benn put his ideas across, actually agreed with many of them.
Peter Wilby’s reminiscences about Tony Benn’s thin-skinned approach to criticism as postmaster general (First Thoughts, 21 March) come as no surprise to those of us who were able to record our first vote at the 1970 general election. The franchise having just been extended to the over-18s, we were an unusually large proportion of the potential electorate; many of us were motivated to go to the polls largely due to the postmaster general’s vindictive legislation to outlaw all the wonderfully liberating pirate radio stations.
Kathryn Dodd (Letters, 14 March) claims that “as John Denham has proved”, council cuts show that northern and Midlands cities have suffered disproportionately. My Commons library figures showed something rather different. The poorest councils have suffered everywhere. Poor London boroughs were hit as hard as northern cities. Deprived coastal communities in Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and East Anglia have suffered just like their northern counterparts. The difference in treatment of Southampton (£150-per-head cut) compared to neighbouring Eastleigh/Hampshire (£33 per head) is as stark as many north-south comparisons. Talking about “a southern hegemony” is profoundly unhelpful. Our problem is not one region against another, but an unfair government.
John Denham MP
Chair, Labour Southern Taskforce
May I draw your attention to the proportion of women writers in the last issue: Observations (1/8); columns (1/5); articles (0/4); The Critics – reviewers (4/10), books reviewed (2/8); Back Pages (2/6). Total: 10/41. Not only are numbers down but, apart from Laurie Penny, who has rightly attained “NS treasure” status alongside Nicholas Lezard, female columnists are being marginalised. Alice O’Keeffe and Eleanor Margolis have had their word counts severely reduced compared to their male counterparts and they now appear only on alternate weeks – while Will Self alternates at length with himself and Hunter Davies remains regularly verbose on the minutiae of football.
Western leaders are indeed hypocritical to condemn Vladimir Putin’s behaviour over Crimea (Lines of Dissent, 21 March). However, Mehdi Hasan loses traction when he tries to compare the separation of Crimea from Ukraine with that of Kosovo from Serbia.
The Ukrainian government has not launched a genocidal war against anyone, let alone a majority population in a province. The Albanian majority in Kosovo had been progressively deprived of their civil rights and were finally slaughtered and driven out.
Whether we like it or not, the Nato bombing campaign stopped this. Strangely, the Kosovar Albanians no longer trusted the Serbian state to treat them fairly and voted not
for annexation by Albania, but for independence.
William Burroughs seems to have mesmerised the reviewer Douglas Kennedy with his self-indulgent exploits (The Critics, 21 March).
Burroughs’s slim body of achievements and surprising longevity were primarily at the expense of others close to him, sucked in like moths to a flame. Rather than deserving hyperbolic eulogies for his “faultless outlandishness”, he comes across as a wealthy sociopath, with his wife and son both victims of a dilettante who cared only about his own ultimate survival, and the confected mythology that still surrounds it.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
The inside back page of your magazine (21 March) carries an advertisement from HM Revenue & Customs. “We are closing in on you,” they declare, beneath a pair of menacing eyes bursting through a map of the world. The message is clear: they will track you down wherever you are on the planet.
Alas! They will never find you – or not with this map, anyway, which shows the Greenwich Meridian running down through Ireland before heading off to Liberia: a good 7° off.
Sorry, we geography teachers should get out more.
Camden School for Girls