Bugs bite back
Sir: Matthew Parris is quite right to say that we Leavers would prefer independence in reduced circumstances to affluent federalism (‘Dear Leavebugs, it’s time to admit your mistake’, 22 July). But he is wrong to suggest that our preference is a guilty secret, or that it should be.
Many of us despaired at the narrowness of both referendum campaigns, which made no attempt at addressing our ‘spiritual’ concerns about EU membership, or indeed the equally spiritual hopes of the Remainers. Spiritual, moral and cultural questions are at the root of all politics and economics, and any debate which leaves them out is empty. What should have been a great national conversation about our heritage, the survival of our culture and our national identity was reduced to competitive bean-counting.
The Leavers may therefore have won no majority for their spiritual vision of the country’s future, but the Remainers never had a majority in favour of theirs, either.
Welham Green, Hertfordshire
Sir: I’m sure Matthew Parris enjoyed stirring the hornets’ (or leavebugs’) nest. He claims to ‘know what we really want’, but little of what he says resembles my reasons for voting to Leave, or those of anyone I know who voted likewise. He comes closest when he mentions ‘independence’, but that aspiration is not necessarily to escape ‘any entanglement that spans the English Channel’; rather, it has everything to do with democracy. And yes, I would accept some adverse economic impact as the price of that. Is the public mood turning? I suggest it’s too early to say.
Sir: Matthew Parris writes 800 words on Brexit without mentioning the word ‘democracy’. As an economist and fervent supporter of the European project for more than 50 years, I gradually changed my mind and voted leave, not for nostalgia but because I want to live under a system where a government can be held to account.
My wife lived for 38 years under Communist rule in Romania and knows what life in a non-democracy is like. If Matthew Parris doubts the analogy, just ask the present Polish government.
The joy of cheques
Sir: Complainers about Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (The Spectator’s Notes, 22 July) as an encore at the proms because it is the EU’s ‘anthem’ should recall that the 9th Symphony has a strong British connection. It was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society who, much to the hard-up composer’s gratification, gave him £50 in 1822, even though he took seven years to complete the work.
Fears for Hong Kong
Sir: Sir Henry Keswick (Books, 22 July) claims that Baron Patten is wrong to be fearful for Hong Kong, and asserts that the Joint Declaration, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the transparency of the government have been maintained. In fact, the Chinese government has stated that the Joint Declaration is a historical document with no current significance, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary have been constantly eroded by Beijing’s ‘interpretations’ and the government is accused of colluding with real estate and big business. There has been a related decline in living standards and soaring inequality. When Keswick mentions red lines crossed, perhaps he means the extrajudicial kidnapping of a bookseller?
As for suggesting that Patten might have won universal suffrage with an approved candidate list, this is the proposal that triggered a two-month street protest in 2014 — because it is not democracy.
Of course, this leaves him free to run his businesses with little interference, but if he is so confident of the future, why did Jardine Matheson redomicile to Bermuda before the handover?
Mui Wo, Hong Kong
Sir: Nick Dawson (Letters, 22 July) blames the smoking ban for rural pub closures, but this is not necessarily the right cause and effect. All pubs suffer competition from cheap supermarket alcohol and changes in communal drinking patterns. Conversely, country pubs serving good food now win the custom of diners who can enjoy a meal and a pint in characterful surroundings without smoke-tinged clothes afterwards.
Sir: Charles Moore admonishes the Electoral Commission for an alleged failure to police voting registration (The Spectator’s Notes, 22 July). He goes on to pose the question: ‘Why is it that students are allowed to register in their place of study as well as their home?’
The answer is because this is what the Representation of the People Act 1983 permits. It makes provision not just for students but for other groups, including people with second homes. Any reform of this legislation requires a proposal from the government and for parliament to agree.
The Electoral Commission, a body independent of government, argued in a report published earlier this week that further modernisation of voter registration is urgently required to safeguard against electoral fraud. Details of these and other proposals are on our website.
Sir John Holmes
Chair, The Electoral Commission