Sir: I am grateful to Robert Tombs for highlighting the baleful use of ‘declinism’ as part of the anti-Brexit campaign and the persistent underestimation of the United Kingdom’s strengths (‘Down with declinism’, 8 July). It is ironic that the heirs of the old 19th-century Liberal party, the Liberal Democrats, are among its principal proponents, for declinism goes back even further than the 1880s cited in his article. Fearful of the advances demonstrated at the Paris International Exposition of 1867 by continental countries in engineering (e.g. the giant Krupp cannon) and the sciences generally, the Liberal minister Robert Lowe in 1870 opened the debate on the Education Bill — the first to introduce more or less universal primary education — by lamenting the backward character of British education, especially technical education, compared with France and Prussia. If one thread runs through a long-running debate it is that of concern that the United Kingdom was backward in technical education compared with its major rival. How much more ironic, then, that one of the positive proposals emerging from the wreckage of the Conservative manifesto was the biggest boost to technical education for generations.
Rod’s wrong this time
Sir: I am a rabid admirer of Rod Liddle and think he is the most sensible person on the planet. But his attitude to smoking has made him slip back a notch (‘Being anti-smoking damages your mental health’, 8 July). I loathe smoking — not for any ideological reason, not because I am a Nazi, not because of beliefs about health risks, but simply because tobacco smoke stinks.
The new news
Sir: Ian Katz says that the public increasingly doesn’t believe the news (‘Media culpa’, 8 July) but he fails to acknowledge the difference between traditional media and social media and the increasing impact of the latter on news. When there were but relatively few media outlets — a handful of national newspapers, TV and radio stations — people were forced to trust journalists. There simply was no other way to get the news or to understand its significance. Now that a smartphone gives access to untold points of view, it’s perfectly natural and sensible for people to ‘curate’ their own news and to try to take in as many views as possible. This is not about an increasing lack of faith in journalists. A structural change is taking place with regard to information flows and news analysis. In that sense, the traditional role of the news journalist is coming to an end.
Sir: Those of your correspondents who propose restrictions on foreign ownership of British property, and others who propose similar restrictions on foreign ownership of businesses generally, should consider how to finance spending beyond our means. While there can be valid debate whether near confiscation from ‘the rich’ might fund current public spending within the country, the huge regular deficit on overseas current account can only be balanced by selling off our assets. Whereas we were once the world’s international investor, we are now a large borrower and many former investments have gone to fund politicians’ profligacy. That includes all chancellors since Ken Clarke. There you are — something in politics for which I can praise him.
Sir: Having lived in southwest London for many years, and quite close to the Fulham Road, I can assure Tanya Gold that Bibendum is in fact in Chelsea (Food, 8 July). I would recommend Ziani’s for next time, as Taki does in the same edition.
Northern Irish Tories
Sir: Jenny McCartney’s thoughtful article on the DUP avoids two important elements of Northern Irish politics (‘Put out the fires’, 8 July). The first point is that any party is a coalition, and there are Conservative MPs who make the DUP look moderate. The second and much more important point is that moderate right-of-centre pro-Union Northern Irish voters have very little choice but to vote DUP. Why does the Conservative party not field candidates in Ulster constituencies? It does in Welsh and Scottish ones, and there would be no better way to lance the boil of sectarian NI politics. True, they might not win many seats the first time, but over time they would, and it would give Northern Irish voters an equal opportunity with voters on this side of the Irish Sea to vote for or against the government of the UK. The government in Westminster is their government too. It is time they had a say in electing it.
On Islamic law
Sir: I was pleased to read James Fergusson’s assessment of British sharia councils (‘Sharia for feminists, 1 July) and think such research should be more widely reported. Indeed sharia, and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) in general, are vast concepts that go well beyond simply ‘an eye for an eye’. Britons would benefit from learning about Islamic law in order to embrace its positive contribution to our country, and I eagerly await the publication of the government’s report.
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