Sir: Tristram Hunt’s argument (‘Gove’s Paradox’, 21 April) seems convincing. At first glance, economic liberalism does appear at odds with social conservatism. However, one cannot exist without the other, as Thomas Hobbes realised over 300 years ago. Without a social contract based upon shared values and common interests, anarchy would ensue, making it impossible to trade freely and conduct economic affairs. Nothing suppresses freedom as much as chaos, fear and poverty. Social conservatism and economic liberalism are therefore, and paradoxically, two sides of the same coin.
Hunt conveniently ignores Labour’s more profound, irreconcilable contradiction borne out of its revolutionary zeal. It advocates social liberalism to such an extent that it threatens the very contract that binds society together. However, it also champions central economic control through higher taxation and state ownership in an effort to redistribute wealth and create a fairer, more equal society bound together by collective endeavour. But how can this be combined with a commitment to non-judgmentalism and moral relativism?
Sir: Tristram Hunt will be pleased to hear that English history will be allotted six lessons per week at the Phoenix Free School in Oldham. The old Whig Historians weren’t entirely mistaken in claiming that such free institutions as exist in this world are largely the product of the intellectual ferment created by the likes of Lilburne, Locke, Priestley and Paine. We should not be surprised that this radical tradition has been airbrushed from our national curriculum. William Godwin claimed that ‘Whenever government assumes to deliver us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves, the only consequences it produces are torpor and imbecility.’ This is a pretty fair description of what happens when government presumes to decide what should be taught in schools. Michael Gove deserves full marks for encouraging free schools and academies, which are not obliged to follow the national curriculum.
Director, Phoenix Free School of Oldham
Sir: I must object to Peter Jones’s claim (Ancient & Modern, 21 April) that local councils have been ‘seizing’ power from central government. The only powers councils have are those gifted to them by parliament and central government. In the half-century I have had some involvement, one of the most frequent gripes by councils is that governments load more responsibilities on them so they have to raise their taxes. A classic recent example was the transfer of alcohol licensing from magistrates to town halls — which meant expensive new departments had to be set up.
Sir: I met Siobhan Benita last week and would point out to Leo McKinstry (‘A Mayor for Whitehall’, 21 April) that her basic complaint was about being excluded from the public debates. Since there are only seven candidates this time, surely they should all be included?
Sir: After reading Leo McKinstry’s grubby, ungracious piece on the candidate, I am very tempted to vote for her.
Sir: Rory Sutherland’s witty portrayal of Crossrail parking issues (The Wiki Man, 14 April) touches on only one aspect of the project’s woeful lack of vision. Another is its route: from Maidenhead to Shenfield. In other words, it will provide local shuttle for short journeys (like the Thameslink line), while the vast majority of travellers must still disembark at a terminus, drag luggage across the metropolis, and continue their journey at another terminus. Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe, will be out on a spur, served by some (not all) Crossrail trains eastwards, none westwards, and no long-distance trains at all. Contrast that with, say, Amsterdam, where the main through line serves the airport.
Berlin has an east-west through line for long-distance trains. Amsterdam has two, plus a rail ‘ring road’ to boot. Intercities have run east-west through Warsaw since 1933 and north-south through Brussels since 1952. London cannot even manage a train from Kent to Heathrow, and £16 billion is being spent on not providing one.
A slur on Scotland
Sir: Usually I look forward to Bruce Anderson’s column on drink but last time (14 April) found him lacking his normal common sense when he wrote that ‘Scottish cuisine’ is an oxymoron. Despite my name I am a fourth-generation Englishman, but visit Scotland from time to time. On a recent walking trip, I ate the best fish and chips I have ever tasted (Tyndrum), a most exquisitely well prepared haggis and bashed neeps (Bridge of Orchy), and a mouth-watering sticky toffee pudding (Inveroran). All this good food was served with charm, cheer and lashings of malt whisky. I urge Mr Anderson to get his hiking boots on and bag a Munro or two before dinner to properly appreciate what the Far North has to offer.
Dr Peter McDonald
Sir: It’s still easy to visit the grounds of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire and see the tomb of Byron’s dog Boatswain (Letters, 7 April). But seeing Boatswain’s portrait is trickier. As an austerity measure, the house is at present routinely open only for two tours a week, at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. each Sunday, ‘subject to demand’. It might be wise to demand sooner rather than later.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated April 28, 2012