Emily Tamkin’s column on the US’s weak moral authority in international affairs (World View, 19 February) coincided with the death of Dianna Ortiz, an American nun who was tortured in Guatemala in 1989 by security forces trained and equipped by the US. Once recovered, she revealed evidence of decades-long US complicity in human rights abuses in a war that cost more than 200,000 lives. The US’s methods in Latin America have changed since then but its agenda remains the same: protect regimes favourable to US policy even when they perpetrate gross abuses (Honduras, Haiti); undermine or overthrow elected leaders whose policies are viewed unfavourably (Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia); or impose illegal economic sanctions (Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua) that affect the poorest people. Were Joe Biden to “begin to repair America’s moral standing in the world”, in Latin America it would require a reversal of more than a century of US policy.
Your leader (“The future of the BBC”, 19 February) states that “Conservative critics charge the BBC with having a liberal, or left-wing bias, while their opponents allege the reverse. Neither is correct.” In fact, both are correct. When it comes to socio-economics and politics, the BBC is biased towards the status quo. Any threat to the Thatcherite consensus is perceived as extreme. Yet the BBC is behind the left almost entirely on identity politics and the culture wars, so it is seen as being irredeemably “woke” by many on the right. The two opposing biases do not cancel each other out.
Your leader articulates well the problems with BBC News and its current affairs output. A further point is how BBC News has been dumbed down over the years. Watching a clip of the children’s news bulletin Newsround from 1974, I was struck that the language and pitch deployed by John Craven sounded awfully like today’s BBC News at Six.
Harry Lambert’s article on the challenges facing the BBC (Cover Story, 19 February) focused on the corporation’s news and current affairs programming. While this is the part of the BBC that is most open to political critique, many viewers, including myself, are more likely to tune into its extensive coverage of sport, comedy, drama and documentary. Surely a defence of the BBC should give at least equal weight to these parts as the one that is mainly of concern to the minority who live and breathe politics?
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
The left behind
Keir Starmer has not “lost” the support of “Generation Left” – he never had it (Observations, 19 February). Most of the newer, younger members voted for other candidates. He has made no overtures to them.
I belong to another group of members that Starmer is not taking into account. In the 1990s we supported traditional Labour policies. But despite increased spending and some good projects such as Sure Start under Tony Blair, we became disillusioned with his government. Labour membership fell from 405,465 in 1997 to 176,891 by 2007. Considerable numbers rejoined when Blair resigned. Most of us voted for Starmer in the hope he could unite the party – we did not expect him to take advice from Peter Mandelson.
Housing fat cats
Francisco Garcia’s article about the regeneration of Catford in south London was excellent (“Goodbye, Catford”, NS online, 16 February). However, the “regeneration” is not really about gentrification issues but squeezing housing into every space to meet targets, make profits and bring in revenue to a cash-strapped council. The government’s own 2019 figures state that the average tenancy stay in England is just over four years. The pandemic has highlighted the value of communities coming and staying together, and the Catford proposal negates this.
London SE6 (Catford)
In his review of Sathnam Sanghera’s Empireland (The Critics, 12 February), Stephen Bush suggests that the author puts “too much faith in the power of historical education to change minds”. If he is right, it is difficult to explain why the government is doing so much to preserve our sanitised version of history. What is currently on offer in schools, universities and on our screens is exaggerating the notion of British “exceptionalism”.
Less of the Soviet
Stephen Tompsett, with his blithe comparison of any break-up of the UK to the dissolution of the USSR, is not very encouraging about the future of the British nations (Correspondence, 19 February). The break-up of the USSR also featured bloody civil wars in Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan and Chechnya; thuggish strongmen taking over in several of the breakaway republics, many of whom continue to rule decades later; and the total economic collapse of Russia, its parliament being shelled and the government’s replacement with kleptocratic oligarchs. I’m not sure the people of Wales would like being dismissed as the British Belarus. If this is our model, I’d rather keep the UK intact.
Salford, Greater Manchester
The rite stuff
For various reasons I have got very behind in reading the New Statesman, and so I have just read John Burnside’s column concerning pagan rites and rituals (Nature, 4 December) – what a flash of blinding light! I have long been an atheist and felt that we are very much on the wrong track. Burnside’s beautiful piece confirms that.
Abreast of trends
A maternity unit is trying to keep up with the times, but the anatomical and everyday use of words is salient (Out of the Ordinary, 19 February). Any adult can swim breast stroke – or develop breast cancer. Breastplates of armour were worn by men. Birds are often defined by breast markings, our favourite being the robin redbreast, male or female.
Not Hove, actually
Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 5 February) was misinformed that the boundary between Brighton and Hove is Montpelier Road. In fact, it used to run down Boundary Passage but some years ago was shifted slightly east to Norfolk Road. This converted a number of Brightonians into Hoveites, several of whom mourned the loss of their Green MP. But there was a silver lining: they acquired a Labour one.
Hove, East Sussex
I sympathise with Nicholas Lezard and the impossibility of tiebreak questions (Down and Out, 19 February). Another of your writers, Matthew Engel, has a fiendish version. At a pre-Covid quiz in Herefordshire, a tiebreak was needed. I was sitting closest, so Engel passed me a copy of an ancient Wisden and asked me to open it at random. The subsequent question was: “How many did Leicestershire score in their second innings against Northamptonshire on…”? I silently cursed him.
Beef about Bacon
Michael Henderson (Correspondence, 12 February) is incorrect in his criticism of John Boaler’s letter. First, Francis Bacon’s father was born in Australia to an English father and an Australian mother. Second, Ireland never has been part of Great Britain. It was, and Northern Ireland still is, part of the United Kingdom. Third, Joyce and Beckett, while born and bred in Ireland, both lived the majority of their lives on continental Europe. Presumably he would also lay claim to George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.
Peter Wilby claims that to true cricket lovers, nothing matters more than winning the Ashes (First Thoughts, 12 February). A truly populist point of view. Spinning out the opposition in the subcontinent is just as satisfying to a cricket badger like me.
The Mighty Greys Cricket Club, Brighton
Looking for Eric
Philip Collins’s remarks that noting when and where he bought a book can invoke memories (The Public Square, 19 February) reminded me of my own pre-pandemic habit of using gig, cricket and football tickets as bookmarks. I would intentionally leave them in books after they were finished as a reminder of what I was reading when, and for others to discover later. I suddenly find myself wanting to rummage through my modest collection to see what I was reading on the evening of Eric Cantona’s famous kung-fu kick at a Crystal Palace fan.
Who’s the daddy?
Each week I look forward to Michael Prodger’s articles on landscape painting. Perhaps one week I might see Daddy Bruegel being featured; I know it’s not the most original of suggestions but I’m keen to see which less commonplace landscape Prodger uses to illustrate the great man’s genius.
Moira, Co Down
As a long-time Wolves fan, I should point out that the poster “out of darkness cometh light” is not religious but the motto of Wolverhampton, whose wealth was built on the metal-bashing industries of the Black Country (The Fan, 19 February).
Aston on Clun, Shropshire
The reason for the sign Hunter Davies saw is that on the rare occasions West Brom score in the Premier League, we long-suffering fans sing the first two verses of Psalm 23. There was once a question on University Challenge on what comes after the second verse. All I could think of was: “The West Brom, the West Brom.”
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This article appears in the 24 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Britain unlocks