Sir: Alex Massie (‘The painful truth for Ruth’, 9 January) correctly identifies the challenges facing the Scottish Conservatives. But he is wrong to say it will ‘never’ be the moment for a Tory revival. Tax devolution is a game-changer. For the first time in years, the Conservative party gets to fight a Scottish battle on its strengths of economic competence; meanwhile, the SNP finally gets to demonstrate how to eliminate austerity and raise public spending — all without raising taxes. (In a low oil-price environment.)
Toxic Tories? Not half as toxic as Labour are now. Post-referendum, voter positions are deeply entrenched and a party that can’t even agree on the basics (the Union, tax credits, Trident) is rightly held in contempt. Corbyn’s arrival hasn’t exactly diminished the London-centric image, either. The referendum was won by just 400,000 votes; the Scottish Conservatives are pulling in more than that while barely out of first gear. The further devolution goes, the greater the opportunities.
Sir: As chief executive of an independent charitable foundation, I concur with Harriet Sergeant’s recommendations (‘How to spot a charity snake’, 2 January). What was so depressing about the Kids Company story is that we and other funders have always believed that funding in the charity sector must be held to normal standards of scrutiny: there is no reason to fund substandard work in an environment abounding with small but mighty charities which are well governed.
Harriet’s central challenge — ‘How do you know if a charity is changing lives?’ — is one that we ask ourselves every day. Our regional grant managers visit charities week in, week out, to find out who and how many use the charity, meeting beneficiaries directly, and asking for evidence of effectiveness now and over the long term. If only the government had been anywhere near as robust in its assessment of Kids Company.
As Harriet also says, ‘Small, local charities are often the best way of helping troubled people who have been let down by the state.’ We must keep asking searching questions of any charity, but our belief is that doing so will help to restore faith in a resilient and much relied-upon sector.
Paul Streets OBE
Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, London SE1
A fitting end
Sir: John Peake’s letter (9 January) on Charles Moore’s sad loss of his hunter brought to mind a painful experience of my own. One autumn morning in 1959 my mother and I (aged eight) were out cubbing when suddenly her horse, Mary Cockerby, collapsed and died of a heart attack.
This was a fitting end for a horse who loved her work so much that she would amuse herself in the long summer months by jumping out of the field where the hunters grazed and then back in. She would not have relished a tedious retirement.
As was the custom, my mother donated Mary’s carcass to the hunt kennels. She received a letter of thanks from the Master, paying tribute to ‘the old grey mare’. It comforted us all to know that Mary’s remains nourished the very animals that gave her such good sport as a hunter over some of England’s finest country.
I wonder if Charles Moore received this small solace. I do hope so: then he will know that Tommy continues to live. I think he will understand what I mean.
The art of belching
Sir: In Toby Young’s thought-provoking Status Anxiety (9 January), he quotes Mr Chagnon’s description of the Yanomamo Indians’ primitive and undesirable tendencies, which include belching after they eat. A Scottish friend once quoted me an anecdote from north of the Border:
Where ere ye be,
Let your wind go free;
For keeping it in
Was the death of me.
By sticking to this advice I find myself approaching octogenarianism. It is in fact a seldom-aired social accomplishment to submerge the breaking of wind, either post-prandial belching or even emitting de profundis, so that others in proximity remain in blissful ignorance that anything untoward has occurred.
Kelso, Scottish Borders
Before ‘virtue signalling’
Sir: James Bartholomew coined the term ‘virtue signalling’ in The Spectator last year. Yet I believe the Oneupmanship guru Stephen Potter identified the practice first. In his 1956 book Potter on America he described how Victor Gollancz told him how ‘the thought of hanging always made him feel uncomfortable and sick since he was a boy, as if this feeling was peculiar and particular to him’. Potter described this as ‘spiritual swank’, but generously absolved his friend, given that he led campaigns to abolish capital punishment.
Southport, North Carolina
Sir: Over past weeks, Rod Liddle has built up in his column a ‘stupid white liberal’ thesis. But on the whole, liberals cleave to the mantras of political correctness not because they believe them, but because of the dire social as well as professional consequences in liberal circles of not conforming to them. Not so much ‘stupid white liberals’, therefore, as something far more shameful: ‘gutless white liberals’.
The first woman
Sir: On what grounds can Amanda Foreman (Diary, 9 January) state that Eve did not exist? Who, then, does she think the first woman was?