Never say never
Sir: Dot Wordsworth (Mind your language, 20 September) quotes various telling usages of ‘never’ for rhetorical or theatrical effect. But she missed one of the earliest and spine-chilling best: the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320. Quite apart from including the first-known written statement of the old Scottish principle that kingship is essentially a contractual appointment, and can be terminated if the people feel let down, the translation ends with: ‘For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never shall we on any conditions be brought under English rule.’
Even Scots like me, who would have voted ‘No’ last week if we had been able, thrill to the resonance of these words. So what do they do for a ‘yes’ voter, even after 700 years? How’s that for an example of the power of words?
Sanity about Scotland
Sir: Many thanks to Matthew Parris for the sanest piece on the Scottish referendum that I have seen (20 September). I did not read the various pleas for the Union that you published the previous week; the various outpourings of alarmed politicians were nauseating enough. The whole episode has been dispiriting and one has a sinking feeling that the issue of devolution will continue to loom large, and at the expense of much more important matters.
Sir: Now that there is talk of giving English MPs exclusive say on English matters, may I suggest that the first bill is one that fixes British Summer Time as standard throughout the year? Perhaps Spectator readers can suggest other measures that would benefit England, but up to now have been blocked by MPs from another nation?
Sir: Your leading article (20 September) certainly managed to strike the right chord with me. I have been telling my friend Andrew Mitchell over a period of several years that David Cameron was simply never really up to the job of Prime Minister. It would have taken a man of the calibre of William Hague to stand up to such a tough old rascal as Alex Salmond. But I shall anyway be voting for Ukip at the next general election — assuming I’m still alive. The Conservative party is in need of a darned good shake-up.
Gerald Charles FitzGerald
Conforming to stereotype
Sir: Rod Liddle (20 September) fails to mention an important British trait: that we bloody-mindedly live up to stereotypes that others impose on us as a way of sticking two fingers up at them. With that in mind, I shall now proceed to drink, fight and shag too much, and then go out ‘on the rob’.
Picking up the pieces
Sir: As a former probation officer and now a retired family court adviser with Cafcass, I was most interested in your editorial comment of 30 August, and the accompanying article by Colin Brewer (‘Does social work work?’) focusing on the failure to protect vulnerable children in care in Rotherham. Of course there were many failings and those involved should be held to account exactly as you suggest. However, I struggle to think of any organisation where grotesque and hugely damaging failures have led to resignations or sackings, be it in the NHS, prisons, education agencies or the government itself.
It is simple, and perhaps agreeable, to apply the doctrine ‘off with their heads’, or to condemn social work in general. I understand why — I have felt the same way about bankers. But the focus should be on the fact that many thousands of children have no mother, father, grandparent or family member who is remotely interested in their welfare. The family in modern Britain has collapsed and — surprise, surprise — the social work profession does not have the answer.
Lost their Marbles
Sir: Modern Greece really is utterly hopeless compared to its ancient variety. Boris Johnson usefully informed us (‘The spirit of Athens’, 13 September) that the Parthenon was built in just nine years, 447-438 bc. It was blown up in 1687 because the occupying Ottomans carelessly used it as an ammunition dump. It is astonishing that 325 years later (184 of them as an independent state) the Parthenon remains a ruin. Pericles would not be impressed, and despite what Eddie O’Hara writes (Letters, 20 September) the Elgin Marbles are much better off in the British Museum.
Sir: I’d like to offer a footnote to Hilary Spurling’s review of the biography of Pamela Hansford Johnson by Wendy Pollard (Books, 20 September) in which she refers to C.P. Snow’s ‘implacable lofty tone’ and ‘the aridity of his private life’. I knew Snow a little in the 1970s. He used to come to tea sometimes. I would collect him from Richmond station in my small Fiat and drive round the park. If a Test match was on we would sit in front of the TV eating sandwiches. We also had a few lunches in town, when he would imitate Kingsley Amis doing imitations. He seemed to me an easy, friendly sort of person.