The referendum parties
Sir: Zac Goldsmith and Sir John Major are each of them both right and wrong on the EU referendum (‘My dad saved Britain’, 28 February; Letters, 21 March). I was an MP interested in Europe, and then a PPS and minister on EU issues in the Foreign Office from 1997 to 2005, and it was pretty clear to all of us that Sir John’s decision to call a referendum on euro entry was motivated by his need to appease the rising Eurosceptic fronde in his party. He may sincerely believe that the creation of the Referendum party by Sir James Goldsmith had nothing to do with the decision. But for the rest of us at the time the use of a referendum — described by Margaret Thatcher as ‘the device of demagogues and dictators’ — was a ploy to shore up Tory votes against the Eurosceptic passion for a plebiscite.
Sir John’s offer of a referendum was immediately matched by Tony Blair. The claim that Gordon Brown kept the UK out of the euro is just silly. The five tests, though properly done by good economists, were a red herring. No one in government thought Blair would risk a referendum on the EU. It would have revived and reunited the down-and-out Conservatives. It would have ruptured Blair’s alliance with Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere. And it would have divided Labour, whose conversion to pro-Europeanism was recent.
Today, does anyone doubt that David Cameron’s offer of an in/out referendum is disinterested and not a response to the rise of Ukip? Ed Miliband has been more courageous than Tony Blair and refused to support a plebiscite that risks Britain quitting Europe. Whether this stand is validated on 7 May remains to be seen. But with referendums now fully part of our unwritten constitution, British politics is becoming more and more continental.
Annie get your gun
Sir: The solution to the problem of squirrels raiding bird feeders posed by Anne Wareham (‘The ultimate pest’, 21 March) is simple: get an air rifle. You do not need a licence to buy one; all that is required is that you are over 18. In fact, you can buy one by mail order: it won’t cost you much more than £70, and opens up a whole new activity. As Anne Wareham explained, grey squirrels are not nice cuddly creatures, but enjoy nothing more than tucking in on newly hatched songbirds, and have ethnically cleansed most of the UK of the lovable red squirrel. These are the animal equivalent of Nazi stormtroopers; even politically correct friends and neighbours should applaud your new bloodsport.
Annie get your dung
Sir: On reading Anne Wareham’s amusing piece on squirrels and her reference to ‘the nonsense about deterring deer with lion dung’, I feel I should share the following tale. A few years ago our red deer herd was dominated by a stag named Actaeon, who occasionally escaped from his duties to visit the terrace on the south side of the house. He particularly enjoyed strolling through the border, eating some plants and wearing others around his antlers. Our head gardener wanted him shot. Various less drastic measures were taken, but Actaeon went on munching. Desperate, we appealed to a zoologist friend at a wildlife park who sent us a quantity of puma dung, which we spread at each end of the terrace. Actaeon maintained his alpha status for several years but he never returned to the terrace.
Joining the free world
Sir: Roger Broad (Letters, 21 March) repeats the assertion, so often made, that European countries formerly controlled by the USSR became EU or Nato members by their own free will. It depends what you mean by free will. In a world where even this country no longer feels able to assert sovereignty, few nations freely choose anything. Broken economically and morally by decades of Leninism, Moscow’s former vassals were understandably anxious to climb into any ambulance that offered to pick them up. They have already begun to pay the bill, having lost their frontiers, their ability to make independent foreign policy and (in many cases) their currencies. It may be worth it. But it is not that free, and we should not pretend it is.
The name of the Father
Sir: I’m surprised by Peter Jones’s denunciation of the ‘deliciously pagan’ Christian cleric who gave thanks to God as ‘Allah’ (Ancient and Modern, 21 March). Clearly Mr Jones has not been to a Catholic Mass in Maltese or Arabic, or he would know that the Arabic word for God is indeed ‘Allah’. The much-endangered Arabic-speaking Christians of the East — who no one could call ‘pagan’ — have been praying to God by this name from the outset. Of course, the Christian name for God is (also) ‘Jesus’.
Sir: Oh no! The wonderful Lloyd Evans loathes Stephen Sondheim (Arts, 21 March)? Say it ain’t so! In highlighting Sondheim’s poor rhymes, he’s missing the point. Sondheim isn’t just about rhyme, internal or otherwise. His talent is about the often perfect combination of music and lyrics. Who could maintain a dry eye when middle-aged Sally sings ‘In Buddy’s eyes, I’m young, I’m beautiful…’? Sondheim is a lyricist who wants you to smile. His songs paint pictures and tell stories. Perhaps his most searing, most truthful, most painful, most beautiful song is ‘Our Time’, about a time in your life when you believe anything is possible, yet also sung when you’ve discovered it isn’t. I believe anything is possible. I believe I can make Lloyd Evans fall in love with Stephen Sondheim. Are you up for it, Mr Evans?