New Times,
New Thinking.

28 November 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 4:38pm

Letter of the week: It doesn’t have to be either-or

By New Statesman

I think Kathryn Ecclestone (Letters, 2 August) has a point about the absence in the New Statesman of an analysis of the “powerful… forces leading to both the French gilets jaunes and Brexit”. But the absence of such an analysis hardly detracts from the Martin Fletcher-Simon Heffer attacks on Boris Johnson.

As a member of the Labour Party I find it painful to see so many of the working-class people I grew up among in West Yorkshire in favour – disastrously for them I’m sure – of leaving the EU.

I still make regular visits “back north” and have watched countless episodes of BBC Question Time filmed in the former industrial areas of my youth, which were left in tatters by Margaret Thatcher and the Tories – and never adequately revivified by the Blair-Brown governments.

In particular I’ve watched in despair since 2016, as the people of those depressed areas have blamed Europe for their poverty, either because they are too young to remember the 1980s or have been hoodwinked by Johnson/Banks/Cambridge Analytica. Their fervour for “taking back control” illustrates their ignorance.

Worse still, in the Jeremy Corbyn-induced information lacuna, working people are not encouraged to vote for what was once their natural party because they no longer know what it stands for.

This was a rough analysis of the Brexit problem – have I missed a fuller one in the NS? I agree with Ms Ecclestone that an analysis of the origins and motivation of the Brexiteers would have been welcome. But her intervention seems out of place to me. Berating the NS for publishing Fletcher and Heffer’s systematic exposé of the charlatan Johnson but omitting such an analysis of Brexit seems to miss the point. These are two top journalists whose united condemnation of Johnson surely makes an important point and needs no analysis.

Academic Andrew Hussey, however, is a different kind of writer. He offers us a fascinating analysis of the raison d’être of the gilets jaunes. Would that he might do the same for members of the Brexit-voting English working class – people in my opinion seemingly unaware of their own interests. He might even still be in time…

Bob Knowles
London SW15

Euro division

Helen Thompson’s article (These Times, 26 July) gets the record a bit wrong and draws, I would suggest, the wrong conclusion. By the time Margaret Thatcher sealed her fate with her “no, no, no” cry to the euro in the Commons in 1990 she had already been told by her chancellor of the Exchequer (John Major) and her foreign secretary (Douglas Hurd) how to avoid getting locked into the euro by negotiating a treaty-based opt-out, and she had rejected it (subsequently this opt-out figured in the Maastricht Treaty). This opt-out was neither “misnamed” nor was it “a mechanism to delay choices”. It was a mechanism that ensured that a decision on whether to join the euro was the UK’s, and the UK’s alone, unconstrained by any obligation to join, such as applied to the other member states. That remains the situation.

So much for the record. As long as the UK remains a member, not only the euro opt-out but the opt-out from the Schengen zone, the budget rebate and the right to opt in or out of justice and home affairs legislation remain entrenched in treaty provisions that cannot be changed without the UK’s consent. Is that not a good option when compared with the dog’s breakfast Theresa May served up and the no-deal Brexit the present prime minister seems determined to impose whether parliament agrees or not ? Might it not be a good idea to ask the electorate what it prefers?

David Hannay
House of Lords, London SW1


I was sorry to read Professor Helen Thompson repeat the old myth that “Gordon Brown ensured there was no risk” of the UK joining the euro.

The decision not to enter the euro was taken when Tony Blair promised a referendum on euro entry prior to the 1997 election. He did so to match a similar offer from John Major. I served in the Foreign Office as parliamentary private secretary and minister from 1997-2005, and for Blair on EU politics, and there was never the slightest discussion of joining the euro.

All Brown did was set up the red herring of the time-buying five economic tests. Everyone in government knew these tests would get a fail mark.

Blair had the sense to know that any populist plebiscite on Europe would get a no vote so would not take the risk. David Cameron was not so smart. Mrs Thatcher said referendums were a “device of demagogues”, but they are popular as an offer to voters. Corbyn, Swinson and Sturgeon are all proposing a referendum on Johnson’s EU policy. If he risks a general election Johnson will oppose letting the people decide. That is not a vote winner.

Denis MacShane
Former Europe minister
London SW1


Royal rebuttal

Simon Heffer’s entertaining history essay is grossly unfair to Queen Victoria (“The Victoria delusion”, 2 August). Only a man could write so dismissively of giving birth to nine children, by which she fulfilled her first duty of securing the succession. Victoria may have lacked formal education, but she was a witty diarist and letter writer.

As for Disraeli, far from being a flashy charlatan, his achievements were astounding by any standards, and especially coming from such an unpromising background. He remains our only ever Jewish prime minister, disregarding his formal baptism at the age of 12, without which he would have been ineligible to stand for parliament. There is plenty of evidence that his friendship with Victoria was one of genuine affection on both sides.

The analogy with Boris Johnson is wrong on every count. Unlike Johnson, Disraeli did not go to Eton or Oxford. He did not inherit money or grand connections. He was the most unlikely candidate to be Conservative prime minister one could possibly imagine.

We may have mixed feelings now about his declaration of Queen Victoria as Empress of India or purchasing shares in the Suez Canal, but surely it was not nothing to extend the suffrage to all adult males and to end the barbaric practice of using boys to sweep chimneys.Disraeli’s novel Sybil, or the Two Nations is as relevant today, in a time of proliferating food banks and homelessness, as when it was written. Above all he was an internationalist and would have been horrified by our suicidal journey towards Brexit.

Sonia Jackson
Thornbury, Gloucestershire


Number crunching

In her “Scenes from the end of the world” (2 August) Anna Leszkiewicz describes the increasing attention accorded to climate change by the media. She rightly also points to the media’s “failure of comprehension” that it is we humans that are the cause. It may help to provide figures supporting this observation, along with potential remedies.

There are currently 7.7 billion of us, increasing at 81 million annually. Each new soul needs extra food, clean water, clean air to breathe, increased capacity for waste disposal and more. And we are destroying our environment – the soils, the world’s forests and an increasing proportion of the plants and animals with which we share the planet. Scientists tell us that the planet could sustainably support about three billion of us at current living standards around the world.

The good news is that this is attainable. Had we taken appropriate action decades ago it would have been easier: a world average of two children, but now it is one child, on average, per woman.

In the UK, reversal of the 2015 health cuts is needed. By 2018 half of local authorities had cut or planned to cut contraception services, at a time when 33 per cent of births in England are unplanned.

Richard Vernon
Population Matters, Oxford


Free-market fault

Your leader promulgates right-wing propaganda (“Tyranny of the free-market right”, 2 August). In accepting their misleading use of “free market” you are aiding a deception. Free markets are ones in which both buyers and sellers are free to make choices, and are, on the whole, good for consumers. However they can only persist if they are closely regulated. Deregulation destroys free markets and promotes monopoly. Confusing “free” and “unregulated” is a deliberate right-wing ploy, and one you should be countering.

If “unregulated” is too long to replace “free” in a headline, at least use inverted commas.

Richard Salisbury
Tyn-y-Gongl, Anglesey


Speak plainly

There are more otiose speech mannerisms than prefacing sentences with the word “so” (Correspondence, 19 July). One might protest more at clichés such as “on a daily basis”, instead of the plain “every day”. Nowadays the former is used far more frequently than the latter. Likewise “the vast majority” replaces “most”. These clichés slip into our parlance without our noticing and are repeated ad infinitum.

David Bye


Bush conspiracy

I’m sorry but who is Stephen Bush, or to put it another way, how many of them are there? I’ve seen him on TV, the painting of him in the NS every week and his photograph in the i. But they all look different.

I have a theory that the Stephen Bushes are a group of left-wing rabble-rousers known to each other by their jumper-under-jacket uniforms. When they have amassed sufficient power they will rise up and lead us to socialist arcadia.

Martin Eade
Saltdean, East Sussex


Common decency

Both right and left have, at various times, claimed George Orwell as their own. Over the course of my adult life I believe I have read every word that Orwell wrote, and nearly every word written about him. Unusually for any great writer and thinker, his ethos can be captured in just two words: common decency. Orwell himself said that there is no need to define what it means, everyone knows instinctively if a thing is right or wrong. Show me the political party that stands for common decency, and I’ll vote for it every time.

Brian Cunningham

Bad news

Dominic Cummings’s view of broadcast news, as reported by Peter Wilby (First Thoughts, 2 August), is reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s “rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read”.

Timothy Beecroft
St Albans


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