What the result says
Sir: John O’Sullivan (‘Obama’s hollow victory,’ 10 November) says that after President Obama’s re-election, ‘America looks a less naturally conservative country, more a centre-left one.’ But we ought to consider what John O’Sullivan thinks of as left and right, conservative and unconservative; what Americans think; and what most of us British readers think. For most of this year, Obama has been, as Michael Lind observed in an earlier edition of the Spectator (‘All Right Now’, 8 September), the sensible conservative choice. Where Mitt Romney aligned himself with the forces of ideological radicalism and Tea Party craziness, Obama stood for moderation and calm. He spoke for fiscal prudence (even if his policies did the opposite), a measure of restraint in US foreign policy, and, as Lind put it, a ‘preference for Burkean incrementalism over utopian reform’. When, in the last weeks of his campaign, Romney stopped dog-whistling to the right and started attacking Obama’s economic failures in the voice of a sane-but-concerned American, the polls began to move sharply in his direction. Romney left it too late, perhaps, but we shouldn’t assume that America is becoming ‘a nation divided’, a demographic nightmare of squabbling minorities. The American public seems to have far more common sense than we realise.
Auden’s rent boy
Sir: Can I suggest that Douglas Murray is perhaps too generous in his assumption (‘Beyond a joke’, 10 November), that Auden did not use rent boys? Richard Davenport-Hines in his 2008 biography of Ettie Desborough writes, ‘Auden noted in his Berlin journal that his “sex snobbery” had been gratified to discover that a previous client of his rent boy “Pieps” had been “Lord Revelstoke, the banker who died in Paris, a friend of the King”.’
On easy terms
Sir: I refer to Kirsty Walker’s article (‘What the papers won’t say’, 3 November). As a matter of comparison, you may be interested to hear what happens in France. The weekly Rivarol never fails to refer to François Hollande’s girlfriend, Valérie Trierweiler, as his ‘concubine’ (still very derogatory in French). All other French media, be they newspapers, TV or radio, will use more politically correct and thus accepted phrases.
Carrying on as best we can
Sir: I wonder if Toby Young appreciates that a goodly proportion of the Spectator readers that he addresses via his column will be struggling with the problems of ageing upon which he muses — and may not be amused by his ironic thoughts about the ‘suffering that awaits us’ (10 November)? Most of us press on and continue to enjoy life to the best of our abilities. The weekly arrival of The Spectator helps.
A distorted view
Sir: When my wife and I accompanied Mary Wakefield in Lebanon we never expected to be rewarded with misrepresentations of our positions. (‘Die slowly, Christian dog’, 27 October). Ms Wakefield is at liberty to ridicule all points of view which do not fit into her binary prism, but her errors are of serious personal consequence because of the risk of us now becoming targets for vindicating extremists.
Ms Wakefield falsely asserts that we are ‘firmly in the Pro-Assad camp’. She patched together words which were either taken out of context or never uttered. An accurate portrayal of my views would have indicated that my main concern is that Syria will inevitably fragment along sectarian lines and only a negotiated settlement, in preference to war, could protect Syria as a unified state where democracy could become viable.
Incontestably, there are factions in Syria who would be legitimately happy to see an in-depth reform of the political regime. However, the country is falling apart and even the western media today report on growing concerns that foreign Salafist/jihadist mercenaries are fighting alongside the ‘opposition’ forces. It is these jihadist factions that will prevent Syria from attaining her legitimate aspirations. We all know how such factions operate and how generations of innocent persons can be condemned by them to a life of war and displacement. Ms Wakefield has distorted these facts, yet all the independent sources she met in Lebanon agreed on them.
Bassam El Hachem
Sir: In his Spectator’s Notes (10 November), Charles Moore writes of the re-introduction of bursaries to help poor pupils attain a public school education. When I passed the eleven plus in the Fifties, I chose, of those schools on offer, a direct-grant school. This was a school which took numerous fee-paying pupils but also a good number of local children who regarded it as part of their state education.
It was only some years after I had left the school that I appreciated what a privilege it was to have that education. Under the Conservative government of the 1979-97 period this scheme was revived and poorer children were able to attend grant-maintained schools. But Labour, with its levelling policies, abolished these schools. I would welcome a drive to give children from all backgrounds the education they need according to their abilities.
Sally A. Williams
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 17 November 2012