Sir: Matthew Parris’s bizarre reference (‘Unforgiven’, 10 December) to the UK economy as merely ‘medium-sized’ is a classic instance of Remainers’ tendency to pass Britain off expediently as a vulnerable country on the margins of Europe, which couldn’t survive without our EU umbilical cord. The UK is actually the fifth or sixth largest of the world’s nearly 200 national economies. If we are only medium-sized, how can all the world’s ‘even smaller’ economies — such as India, Canada, South Korea or Australia — possibly hack it as independent sovereign states outside any supranational governance bloc like the EU? How have they managed so far?
Mr Parris does at least promise that if in seven years’ time our economy is growing faster than our European partners, he will admit that he was wrong. As it happens, even since the referendum it has been.
In any event, for those who voted to leave there are more important things than our medium-term economic performance. Britain has been beholden to the EU’s governing elite for over 40 years. It may take a while to unencumber ourselves fully. But when we do, the benefits will be as much sociopolitical and cultural as economic. It seems the British psyche has been infantilised by our long dependence on Nanny Brussels. It is time we grew up.
Sir: In discussions of Brexit, I wish Matthew Parris and other Remainers would not use ‘Europe’ when they mean ‘the European Union’. Being against the latter is not the same as being anti-European. I have lived for 29 years in Switzerland, which has always been part of Europe. Switzerland is not in the EU, and Swiss referendums show that the EU is not trusted by a majority of voters. Referendums are an essential part of Swiss democracy. The side that loses accepts the will of the people.
Sir: Your article on Cambridge Analytica’s role in the US presidential race may have misled your readers (‘The Brits behind Trump’, 3 December). We did not ‘manipulate the electorate’, or use personality types to predict which candidate a voter preferred. We do not claim to have predicted the result, or to have single-handedly won the race for our client. Cambridge Analytica provided the President-elect with field research, data analysis and digital marketing to inform campaign strategy and win over undecided voters. President Obama and Hillary Clinton also used data science in their election campaigns. It has revolutionised the way political campaigns can now be run.
CEO, Cambridge Analytica, London
Sir: Anne Booth can cease her bafflement at the appearance of maize in 1940s England (Letters, 10 December), for I am in fact the ‘anorak’ who was approached by Stephen Poliakoff’s production company for assurance on the historical accuracy of the crop’s inclusion in the BBC’s Close to the Enemy. The storyline called for the characters to take cover and hide in a field crop; most likely wheat. Common 1940s wheat varieties were remarkably tall by modern standards, and quite capable of providing a hiding place. But physically, the scene would not work if filmed in a contemporary, reduced-height crop of wheat (which itself would have been anachronistic). A field of maize had been presented as an alternative. ‘Is it acceptable?’ asked the producer.
Yes, I told her, after my research. The South-Eastern Agricultural College (later Wye College, now closed) conducted maize trials in 1901. In 1902, English farmers were issued with advisory notes, ‘Cultivation of Maize for Fodder’, by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. It extolled the virtues of a crop that had been grown in these islands since at least 1886. Further records suggested the crop had been grown during the 1860s and as far back as the 18th century.
During the 1940s and 1950s, some 1,000 to 5,000 acres of maize was grown annually, a figure which would continue to rise as better varieties became available. No, it would not have been commonly grown, but it was certainly no anachronism to see it appear in a drama set during the second world war.
Democracy lives on
Sir: I do not wish to query Alexander Chancellor’s considerable experience of US elections but can it really be true that the recent campaign ‘has left Americans … more disillusioned about politics than ever’ and that ‘democracy is in serious trouble’? (Long life, 12 November). Mr Trump’s supporters are surely not disillusioned. Nor would they agree that democracy is in serious trouble. The Democrats — possibly; democracy — no.
Sir: Rodney James (Letters, 10 December) has stopped drinking EU wines and seeks guidance as to New World wines with which to replace them. Can I offer him some alternatives from nearer home?
Nyetimber sparkling wine is a more than adequate champagne substitute, and has beaten its French confrères in blind tastings in Paris. I maintain that Aquitaine is still legally part of England, making the wines of Bordeaux, as well as Cognac and Armagnac, entirely acceptable. (For those with a less confident grasp of history, I suggest sticking to obviously British clarets such as Lynch Bages, Talbot, Léoville Barton etc). Thanks to the Symington family it is clear that port remains an entirely British drink. Whisky is obviously British, as is gin. Happy patriotic drinking!