New Times,
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24 July 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 3:16pm

LETTER OF THE WEEK With great power?

By New Statesman

The NS cover (19 July) says, “How Nick Clegg became the most powerful British politician in the world.” Really? Once, in the distant past, politicians fell over themselves to agree with Clegg during the debates before the 2010 general election, after which he became deputy prime minister. As a Lib Dem voter then, I felt it was opportunistic, and would have preferred the party to have adopted a “confidence and supply” arrangement with the Tories, taking each issue as it arose. In that way its influence might have been greater.

I am saddened by Mr Clegg taking the Facebook shilling. I can see why he wanted to do something different, away from politics in the UK. He gives Facebook an entrée into the offices of senior European politicians. If there are measures proposed to control the giants of social media by the EU or individual governments he, no doubt, will be a very effective advocate for Facebook.

But will Mr Clegg’s association with the tech company enable him to be the most powerful British politician in the world? His power depends on how Facebook is viewed by governments, particularly how they view its treatment of the data it obtains on its users. This is coupled with the influence he can exert on the direction Mark Zuckerberg takes the company. Mr Clegg might have been better advised to have sought a position in one of the major international bodies, where his experience and access to those in power could have benefited mankind.

Richard Dargan
Old Coulsdon, Surrey

Clegg’s clanger

In his article on Nick Clegg (Cover Story, 19 July) Edward Docx seems to want us to believe that the Lib Dems’ main function in the coalition was to moderate the excesses of an increasingly “toxic” Tory party. The evidence Docx offers is fairly convincing but I still think he was too easy on them.

One policy he fails to consider is the Lib Dems’ flagship proposal to raise (and keep on raising) the income tax threshold. But it is widely understood, and must have been understood by them at the time, that the effect of this measure is overwhelmingly to benefit the rich. Basic rate payers only enjoy a quarter of the gain that a higher rate payer receives, and in fact around 85 per cent of the lost tax accrues to the latter; who, incidentally, are mostly older white men.

Women and people on lower incomes, including those on benefits, don’t gain much, and of course the most vulnerable don’t pay income tax and are therefore not helped at all.

This was a completely cynical policy aimed at benefiting middle-class voters who, the Lib Dems no doubt hoped, would give them the credit for it. The same money could have been used to help people on benefits, who we are asked to believe the party really cared about.

Jeremy Cushing
Exeter

Carbon copies

Paul Mason’s article (The NS Essay, 19 July) rightly skewers the “past-oriented ideologies” that threaten our collective survival. It further convinced me that the left’s urgent task is to offer a better future and, crucially, one stated in plain terms. We need something as powerful as Lenin’s “Peace, Land and Bread” or the Swedish Social Democrats’ concept of “the People’s Home”. It needs to indicate how good life will be when we get there.

The right understand this better than the left. While we may sneer at the banality of “Take Back Control” and “Make America Great Again”, they were positive and empowering phrases that worked. Maybe we need an NS essay competition asking for a vision of hope and a pithy phrase to sum it up.

Bill Kerry
West Wickham, Greater London

 

Beyond a boundary

Michael Henderson’s sepia-tinted description of county cricket at festivals around the country (Observations, 12 July) has clearly been well researched – he has been to all of them. The audience is similar in age and outlook to those collected in our churches and the National Theatre. I live close by the Oval in south London where Twenty20 cricket is all the rage. The grounds are sold out, with young alpha males rounding up their mates and piling into the bars to consume industrial quantities of alcohol and to hell with what’s going on out in the middle. The tills are ringing so all is well. I suspect that the same audience might be present if there were bear baiting or public executions served up as entertainment.

The new Hundred competition being launched next year is 15 years late. The ECB in its wisdom has allowed the Indian IPL, the Aussie Big Bash, plus tournaments in Pakistan and the West Indies, to steal all the thunder and all the best players. The Hundred needs these players, but they are already fatigued and contracted elsewhere.

Cricket sold its soul to Sky many years ago to keep 18 county clubs from bankruptcy and they are reaping in national indifference what they sowed.

David Willis
London SE11

 

Jonathan Liew writes a stirring tribute (Left Field, 19 July) to the diversity of England’s world champion cricket team. How starkly our cricketing diversity contrasts with our stereotypical national leadership. Since 1945, 14 people have been prime minister. All have been white. All but two have been male. One university has spawned ten of them. A 12th – male, white, Oxon – is about to be added. Could Eoin Morgan spare the time to fix this?

David Butler
London SW13

 

Jonathan Liew regrets that England’s victory in the cricket World Cup final was immediately devalued by its immersion in the post-Brexit culture wars, but then wades enthusiastically into those murky waters. It is, as he says, wonderful that five members of the victorious side were born overseas. Three cheers for “diversity”.

Had he done his prep he would have noted that, when England lost a final to Pakistan in 1992, the team contained six players who had not been born in England. It’s kind of Liew to say that, at last, we are “getting there”. In reality we have been “there” for decades. Where cricket is concerned, this has always been a land of immense tolerance.

Michael Henderson
London W13


Elephant in room

The mindfulness courses offered to Heygate Estate residents (Observations, 19 July) is sadly one example among many of such practices occurring under the jurisdiction of Southwark Council and in London more generally.

The ongoing development project at the Elephant and Castle shopping centre in south London is another, one in which art and culture investment are used as a means of rejuvenating a “non-productive” (ie non-white) economy. University of the Arts London is due a new campus on the site, and its partnership with property developers has somewhat taken the edge off poor affordable housing provision for Southwark, under the guise of socially beneficial “cultural institutions”. UAL’s vice-chancellor, Nigel Carrington, waxes lyrical about the arts’ vital role in economic growth, to which the obvious question is: growth for whom?

Former Heygate residents were cynically provided with wellness courses by those who have caused them emotional harm. Meanwhile, the environment they once called home has been lobotomised in the name of urban renewal. One suspects that residents are expected to think richer and whiter, in order to be assimilated into what these sites are soon to become.

Sam Stafford
Former UAL student, via email

 

Lead by example

Stephen Bush (Encounter, 19 July) wonders what rank-and-file Lib Dems make of Jo Swinson’s acknowledgment of the mistakes the party made during the coalition years. I cannot speak for my fellow activists, but I can assure him that this was exactly the reason why I voted for Jo as our new leader. We owe it to people whose lives were blighted by the austerity measures of those years to examine our own role. We need to listen to voices from alienated communities and strive to remedy Brexiteers’ concerns, while remaining opposed to the Brexit project. I think we should replace the dismissive “Bollocks to Brexit!” with “Yes to Europe!”

Vera Lustig
Walton on Thames, Surrey

 

Sense of mission

Erica Wagner (“The dark side of the moon”, 19 July), remarks on the “darker hue” of Apollo 11’s cultural legacy. For those familiar with the optimistic visions of Arthur C Clarke, Carl Sagan and others, the darkest aspect of the 1969 moon landing was probably its failure to lead to anything else. By about 1972 the Apollo missions began to resemble in public memory the climbing of Everest or Francis Chichester’s ocean voyages – quixotic but essentially dead-ends.

There were many reasons for the curtailment of Nasa’s projects: the vast expense, the diminishing US-Russian rivalry, the widespread feeling that space travel should wait while earthbound problems of war and poverty were addressed. Now in 2019, China and several smaller countries, and mega-rich individuals and corporations, are players in a renewed space race.

The way to the stars may not turn out to be quite what we expected 50 years ago. But the future, as always, is unpredictable.

MG Sherlock
Colwyn Bay, Clwyd

 

Essential Lezard

Nicholas Lezard’s article about what you need when you don’t have a permanent home (Down and Out, 19 July) was so useful. I, like so many others, have too much “stuff”. Now I know what to pack for a week’s holiday. What Nicholas said you need when you don’t have a permanent home is exactly what you need to go on holiday. The case is packed, ready for the taxi to the airport tomorrow and weighs less than 9kg (I am allowed 20). On my return I promise to declutter.
 

Catherine Charman
Coulsdon, Surrey

 

All in a name

May I say a word in defence of the term “Wykehamist”? Given the influence, real or purported, of old boys of Winchester College on the UK over the past 150 years, it seems only reasonable to have a name for them – whether it is deployed in praise, execration, or simple description.

Andrew Connell
Cardiff

 

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