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10 November 2021

Letter of the week: Forced to go private

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By New Statesman

Rupert Marlow’s description of how he is waiting for a face-to-face appointment with his GP, yet could take his dog to the vet on the same day, raised a wry smile (Correspondence, 5 November).

The difference is that his vet appointment will have been paid for, rather than being funded from general taxation. After seven years of complaints to my GP practice regarding agonising abdominal pains, exhaustion, devastating bleeds and many other alarming symptoms, including fainting, I was told (without so much as a scan or a blood test) that I was a middle-class, middle-aged hypochondriac. In despair, I paid to see a private GP. She ran the bloods, did the scans, and discovered that I had thyroid cancer. I also, it turned out, had endometriosis. Following surgery, my health was restored.

I have great admiration for Phil Whitaker, and all the doctors who work as hard as he does. But I hate to think of how many simply do not listen, or look – presumably because they are not being paid by private patients.
Amanda Craig, London NW1

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I welcome Alan Parker’s response (Correspondence, 5 November) to Keith Morgan’s letter of the week (29 October), and his conclusion that the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies is the best route.

Since I moved support from first-past-the-post to proportional representation in 1988, and having served on the Plant Commission and chaired the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, I have always been adamant about the single-member constituency link. This has driven me to support a mixed-member system as in Germany, New Zealand and Scotland.

Now I can see the situation we face is not comparable to the second half of the 20th century. Party control must be weakened and the need for tactical voting eliminated; voters must be given a reason to believe that candidates are more dependent upon their local base than head office.

To bring this about we need a progressive alliance. Purity will not suffice. Margaret Thatcher understood when she said in 1995, “If you [the Tories] went into opposition you may not get back for years – they might change the voting system.”

Jeff Rooker, House of Lords, London SW1

US and them

John Gray’s great article begs the question of how America has not realised before now that its continued interference in other countries has generally not been effective (“End of the grand illusion”, 20 October). Since 1945, the US has bombed.

North Korea, Guatemala, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Libya and more. None of these campaigns led to the establishment of humane democracies. The West needs to shed the delusion that the rest of humankind is a backward version of itself.

Michael Lenthall, Wateringbury, Kent

Collateral damage

Brendan Simms’ and Charlie Laderman’s timely and sobering article on great power rivalries (“Destined for war?”, 5 November) fails to make the connection to the effect of modern warfare on the deterioration of the climate. Aerial warfare and weapon-testing since the 1930s have increasingly fouled the atmosphere as well as causing death and destruction in large areas of the world.

Preventing future wars does not seem to be on the Cop26 agenda but will need to be a priority in future international plans for saving the planet.

Margaret Morris, London N8

Orwell’s brush with death

Although it makes little difference to Philip Collins’s argument (The Public Square, 5 November), George Orwell was not “shot in Barcelona” as he states. Orwell was in Barcelona during the so-called Fets de Maig (“May Days”) between 3 and 7 May 1937, when fighting erupted between different factions supporting the Spanish Republic.

As he recounts in Homage to Catalonia, he spent most of the time on the roof terrace of a cinema guarding the headquarters of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification, whose militia he had joined on his arrival in December 1936, but he did not fire a shot. Afterwards he returned to his military unit on the battlefront near Huesca. It was there, on 20 May, that he was hit in the neck by a sniper’s bullet.

Charlie Nurse, Cambridge

Fall of an empire

As Tim Ross and Rachel Cunliffe argue, Boris Johnson’s assertion that the Roman empire ended “largely as a result of uncontrolled immigration” is complete bunkum (“Dreams of Global Britain”, 5 November, and NS online, 1 November). If anything, the Roman empire was built on the mass movement of peoples. A list of the causes contributing to the swift slide into a state of ex-Romana could include: economic incompetence; government corruption; an employment deficit leading to an over-reliance on slave labour; military overspending; climate change and the rapid spread of the Antonine plague. Are there any lessons that the Prime Minister might care to learn from history?

Austen Lynch, Garstang, Lancashire

The perils of ageing

I agree with Nicholas Lezard about the prospect of one body part failing after another (Down and Out, 5 November). My GP cheerfully told me that once I reached 60, bits of me would start to misfire or fall apart at regular intervals, and he was right!

Within a year of that statement I had two serious health scares that thankfully have been resolved. It’s a bit like my hardy old motor needing a new coil in its engine cylinder every six months. What fun!

Noel Dollimore,
Little Comberton, Worcestershire

Spotlight on Stonewall

It is a strange moment to be printing an article that includes an uncritical interview with Nancy Kelley of Stonewall (“The eye of the storm”, 5 November). Wasn’t this the moment to question Kelley about the issues raised in BBC Ulster’s ten-part podcast on the charity? For example, why are so many organisations – including the Department of Health, Ofcom, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission – removing themselves from their association with Stonewall? Why has Stonewall been giving false information on the Equality Act and campaigning for the removal of women’s single sex spaces from that legislation? Why do they appear to insist on no debate when their policies are challenged?

Margaret Bluman, London N19

Hopeful thinking

I found it refreshing to turn from John Gray’s “we are where we have always been, making the best of our difficulties and somehow getting by” (The Critics, 5 November), to Lea Ypi proclaiming in the Encounter: “There is something in the human being that defeats nihilism… It’s a question of helping other people to discover [this inner potential].”

Tony Bovaird, University of Birmingham

Syntactic nuances

I feel compelled to defend Pippa Bailey against the criticism levelled at her by Gillian Bargery (Correspondence, 5 November). The use of “us” as an object pronoun after the preposition “to” would be fine to replace “we nerdy former English students”, but the job of “we” in this instance is part of the noun phrase, to denote which nerdy students, rather than acting as a pronoun on its own. It is a matter of grammar as form vs grammar as function, and why it is so easy to trip up. Consider how “Us three Kings of Orient are” would sound.

Helen Ryan-Atkin,
Saddleworth, Greater Manchester

Gillian Bargery takes Pippa Bailey to task for using the nominative rather than the accusative of “we” when it is both governed by a preposition and followed by a modifying noun phrase (to we English students). Although such a construction is not the default choice in general English, it is not exactly correct to claim that it is just as ungrammatical as “give it to we”.

The first person plural pronoun in English is somewhat more open to variation in case assignment than other personal pronouns: for example, “us students of English embrace the richness of language” may be informal, but is certainly grammatical. It is important to distinguish stylistic preferences from factual claims.

Pavel Iosad, Edinburgh

Licence to grill

Felicity Cloake (Food, 5 November) underestimates 007’s prowess in the kitchen in the James Bond films. Thirty years before Daniel Craig was making pancakes, Roger Moore served up a pretty decent looking quiche in his 1985 swan song A View To A Kill.

John Adcock, Ashtead, Surrey

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This article appears in the 10 Nov 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Behind the Masks