On Benefits Street
Sir: Fraser Nelson asserts that people in charities do not want to talk about what life is like on poverty (‘Britain’s dirty secret’, 18 January). To those of us who have experienced poverty or supported others stuck in it, there is no secret. We didn’t need a sensationalist pseudo-documentary to know that life with no money is grinding, miserable and soul-destroying. However, few answers to the problems of the poor are offered by low-paid workforces combined with flawed markets deciding the value of essential goods and services.
The real means to help people out of this poverty trap would be to reduce rents, utilities and childcare costs while creating a much more generous withdrawal rate of benefits when people start work. Universal Credit attempts to do some of this but does not go anywhere near far enough. The Treasury approach of cutting benefits, which are already set at subsistence levels, is just serving to move people from being poor to destitute, making them less likely to be able to work in the future.
Policy Manager of Homeless Link
Sir: Rory Sutherland’s column about the modern smartphone being rubbish was spot on (The Wiki Man, 18 January). I’m sure they are marvellous at allowing you to learn what Sally Bercow had for breakfast, or what Stephen Fry thinks of roundabouts, but as phones they are hopeless. I detect small signs of a design backlash, however: for my birthday I was given a rather nice leather and Harris tweed iPad case. Next year the Malacca phonestick?
Ward was hung out to dry
Sir: William Astor’s defence of his father is understandable (‘Notes on a Scandal’, 11 January). I, though, as Stephen Ward’s nephew and a lawyer, have made a close study of both background and trial. It is clear that Bill Astor was a decent, kind and generous man, but also a weak one who behaved very badly. This is principally because he received very poor advice from a lawyer that he was in the clear and should therefore behave as though nothing untoward had happened. Significantly, this meant that he would have nothing to do with the pending proceedings save to deny any involvement. This crucially contributed to Stephen’s other influential friends and patients deserting him, leaving no character witnesses at the trial.
His son is wrong in stating that Stephen’s counsel decided not to call him. He is also wrong about Stephen giving up the cottage. In truth, Astor asked him to offer to do so, which enabled Astor to write him a sympathetic letter accepting with regret. He also generously contributed £5,000 (a great deal of money then) towards Stephen’s legal fees.
To then say that Stephen ‘was not necessarily a victim’ is crass. It is evident that he was hung out to dry at the behest of the home secretary, Henry Brooke, with the aid of two corrupt policemen, Herbert and Burrows. This was then achieved by connivance between the Lords Appellate at the Court of Criminal Appeal and the High Court judge at the Old Bailey.
Having read Geoffrey Robertson QC’s Stephen Ward was Innocent, OK with particular reference to the suggested grounds of appeal, I am confident that his conviction will be set aside when the transcript of the trial is eventually disclosed.
Sir: In his generous review of One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper (Books, 18 January), David Womersley regrets that the book does not include a hilarious letter about Harold Macmillan’s election as chancellor of Oxford University, but adds that it can be consulted in the archives of Yale University. This mischievous masterpiece is far more accessible: it is printed in Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson.
Dear Ms Taki: Although The Spectator is a lovely read, I always skip your column, I’m afraid. I am simply not interested in your social life. I know that you delight in telling readers that your friends of Prussian nobility find you hilariously entertaining company at their swanky Europoncy parties.
But it was very hapless of you to spring to Nigella’s defence last week (High life, 18 January), as she always found you toe-curlingly vile, and would have been aghast at having you as her valiant supporter.
People tell me that in your unreadable column you also like to brag that you are a Black Belt at karate. Well, me too, old boy. But apparently your ‘fights’ are genteel affairs, against other soppy geriatrics rolling around the floor in crisp white outfits, in some bit of Judo Kai nonsense. Mine take place in cages, 20 feet square, unofficial little events with no gloves, no rules, and the loser being carried out, usually battered to bits. You will understand why I laughed out loud at your schoolyard boast that I should try throttling a real hard case like you.
Sir: Taki’s comments on Saatchi are worth the annual subscription fee.
Sir: If Steve McQueen is of Nigerian descent, as stated by Deborah Ross in her review of 12 Years a Slave (11 January), this was many generations back. His parents are from Grenada in the Windward Islands, where plantation slavery was long practised.
Taki replies to Charles Saatchi in High Life