The wrong choice
Sir: Sebastian Vella’s new-found interest in politics is to be commended, but he has made the wrong choice (‘Letter from a Corbynista’, 1 July). He praises Jeremy Corbyn for being ‘politically consistent and transparent’ but believes that Corbyn and John McDonnell do not ‘aspire to a one-party socialism or a communist state’. If you check their record, that is exactly what Corbyn and McDonnell do aspire to.
He also trusts the democrats in Labour to rein in its leaders. Corbyn and McDonnell’s record over the decades includes extra-parliamentary activities such as demonstrations and marches, support for strikes, and even (as Charles Moore reminded us) for terrorist bombers. It is surely likely that if they were to gain executive power, they would be tempted to use it to make parliamentary opposition an irrelevance. Perhaps Sebastian could check out what happened in Russia in 1917 and in Germany in 1933 before trusting the likes of Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall to save us from the consequences of his voting decision.
Hayling Island, Hants
Sir: I read James Bartholomew’s article (‘To a young Corbynista’, 24 June) and the replies (especially Alex Scholes’s excellent letter) with great interest. Like many of your readers, I assume, I know far too many young relatives and friends who are being seduced by Corbyn-mania. As Alex Scholes said, they ‘want what we had’, which is fair enough. What they don’t realise is why we had what we had, viz: a Conservative government which, from 1979, rolled back the state and set the economy on a growth track that lasted until 2007. The challenge for us all is to make this argument again and again, so that enough of them are sufficiently convinced that they don’t have to suffer five or more years of a genuinely socialist government that would prove our point in the worst possible way.
The Tories do need to sort out housing and lower the cost of student loans, perhaps while reducing the number of students.
For James Bartholomew’s response to his nephew’s letter, see bottom.
Sir: James Forsyth makes some very valid points about the UK property market and its impact on the voting preferences of the young (‘This uneasy dawn’, 24 June). The Conservative party needs to offer hope to the young, not protect the status quo. So why are foreign nationals without a visa, and indeed foreign firms, allowed to buy UK property and rent it back to UK citizens, both decreasing housing stock and increasing rental prices? Where are the homes for the young? Too many young people have no ability to afford to buy or even to rent in certain areas of the UK, and have almost given up hope. Labour will say that property is seen by the Conservatives as an asset to be repackaged and sold to the global wealthy and rented back to our poor and young. This is what Corbyn will focus on next. He is appealing to those who have no memory of Labour in the 1970s and for whom the ladder of aspiration is an illusion.
Without affordable housing this country will revisit the polarity and economic stagnation of the 1970s through Corbyn and his cronies. Affordable housing for all is the ‘exam question’ conservatism must answer — failure to do so will finish the Conservatives as a party of government.
Andrew R. Keeling
Beyond our Ken
Sir: ‘Has any [tennis] player in history been as much loved by the Wimbledon crowd as Federer?’ asks Simon Barnes (‘Andy’s ace’, 1 July). He is perhaps too young to remember Ken Rosewall. When Rosewall lost to Connors in the final in 1974, I recall the loser receiving a warmer and longer ovation than the winner. In those days Wimbledon spectators were better-mannered and less overtly partisan — except on that occasion — than they are today.
Revd John Thackray
All is not lost
Sir: Mary Wakefield’s moving piece ‘Lessons in love and loss’ (1 July) rang all kinds of bells with me that I would like to share. My wife Hazel was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago and now lives in a nursing home. Last week we were sitting in her room with her friend and fellow patient, Jenifer. They sat facing each other in silence, knee to knee, contemplating each other, chomping on lemon sherbet sweeties like a pair of six-year-olds. Jenifer leaned forward to Hazel, tapped her on her knee and said: ‘We’ve had some wonderful times here, haven’t we, Hazel?’ Hazel replied, eyes reddening with tears: ‘Oh yes we have, Jenifer — give me a kiss.’
Here were two lovely ladies in their eighties, both genuinely viewing their Dorchester nursing home as if it were a luxury cruise on the Mediterranean.
Every night I thank God for saints like Jean Vanier and the wonderful staff at the Chestnut Nursing Home for their dedication. Yes, Mary -— truly a ‘lesson in love and loss’.
Sir: ‘The point [for people with learn-ing disabilities] is not just to have independence, it’s to have friends’. And how much better is friendship supplied in communities such as L’Arche than in a solitary flat. But current social services repudiate communities and favour the flat, a solution that suits some people, but condemns many to a lonely existence inadequately supported by overworked social workers. Meanwhile, it becomes harder for communities such as L’Arche to flourish if social services are reluctant to place people in them.
We don’t need sharia
Sir: I cannot reconcile myself to James Ferguson’s understanding of the sharia councils (‘Sharia for feminists’, 1 July). He says such divorce hearings are to protect women from abusive unregistered marriages and they have no other redress.
Nonsense. The law of the land is fully equipped to protect women who are in abusive relationships, whether married or not. And if Islamic marriages are not legal, then there is no paperwork necessary in order to separate. The lady can just leave.
I had a colleague who left exactly such a quasi-marriage 16 years ago. She had figured out that her ceremony had not been legal when it was explained to her that if it had been, she would have signed a marriage certificate at the time. She hadn’t even spoken at her own wedding.
Why is there an assumption that women are powerless and will not be protected by the excellent legal system already in place? Is it Muslim community prejudice which requires them to sit through this sort of hearing to be free from such a man? If so, may I respectfully submit that the problem is not the lack of an adequate legal system, but a lack of allegiance to one already in existence.
Uplifted by Eid
Sir: I regret that Charles Moore’s heart is not ‘completely at ease’ with the sight, of the very large congregation of men attending Eid prayers at Small Heath Park (The Spectator’s Notes, 1 July). The entertainments following the prayers were open to all, and the media also showed women and children celebrating this festival.
This is a public park and the congregation contribute to the City of Birmingham with their council tax, labour and enterprise. I think that the Muslim community in Britain has had a particularly difficult time recently and it was uplifting to see happy faces.
In my opinion, promoting false fear does nothing to achieve the harmony to which I hope we all aspire.
Catharine Jalil (a non-Muslim)
Solihull, West Midlands
The story as told by Caroline Dawnay to Sam Leith (Diary, 1 July) has suffered from ‘chatterati whispers’ and is funnier in its original. At the Century Club in New York, a member of a lunch party consisting of literary agent Ed Victor and friends spotted, as he said, Ved Mehta enter the room, take a seat at a remote table and order lunch without looking at the menu.
The man insisted that Mehta was not really blind and he would prove it. Bets were placed and the challenger passed Ved’s table twice, pulling faces and waving wiggly hands in front of his face and being met with an immovable stare. He conceded that he had been wrong — then the table was joined by someone who asked why he was making faces at V.S. Naipaul.
Naipaul wasn’t aware why any of this had transpired. After I heard about it I asked Vidya, and he said: ‘Yes. Some idiot did come and make faces at me, but I was damned if I was going to respond to such idleness.’
Sir: Sam Leith’s quick romp through indexes (Diary, 1 July) reminds me of the best entry I have come across. Between ‘Falklands War, 314, 316,’ and ‘Fayed, Mohamed Al, 154, 235’, Andrew Marr’s short history of British journalism, My Trade, contains the following: ‘Fallon, Ivan, triumphant and brave journalistic career of, unaccountably not mentioned’.
Sir: Patrick Hickman-Robertson is absolutely correct when he says that a resourceful midshipman could well, in theory, have sent a message to Downing Street from the beaches of Normandy (Letters, 1 July). However, the first use in warfare of the means of doing so (wireless telegraphy) came three years earlier than he asserts. It was in 1900, during the height of the Boer War, that the Royal Navy made exceptional use of Marconi’s apparatus when five of its cruisers were conducting blockade operations in Delagoa Bay off the neutral port of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), through which German vessels were trying to supply the Boers.
HMS Thetis was, in fact, the first RN ship to be fitted with wireless apparatus. The others were HMS Dwarf, Forte, Magicienne and Racoon.
West Kirby, Wirral
Letter to my nephew
By James Bartholomew (in response to the letter above from Johnny Cameron)
Thank you for your reply to my letter. Your words are a reality check. I have spent decades closely following economics and politics in various parts of the world and reading a lot of history. You, as you say, are not particularly political. You have pursued your career, played in a rock band and done really well. But the result of our different paths is that we think about politics in a different way. I have to admit that your way is probably more typical than mine.
The thing that strikes me, above all, about your letter is how much weight you put upon the personality of individual politicians. You write about whether or not they are consistent and dedicated to the good of the country. You are interested in their aspirations and feelings. You say that Jeremy Corbyn ‘puts people first’ and I concede that you might be right about his sincerity. On reflection — and this may sound odd — your emphasis on personalities may help explain why Margaret Thatcher won three elections. She, like Corbyn, had a passion and a belief in what she thought was good for the country which probably impressed people. Even Tony Blair claimed — with apparent earnest sincerity — to have found a ‘Third Way’ to make Britain a better place.
Your words are an important lesson for politicians. But for me, I hold to the view that policies matter more. Jeremy Corbyn has called himself a socialist and I see no reason to disbelieve him. As a backbencher, he consistently rebelled against his colleagues in the Labour party who are social democrats. If you look on YouTube, you will find a video of him endorsing Hugo Chavez, who was then the leader in Venezuela. Corbyn proclaims: ‘Chavez shows us that there is a different and better way of doing things. It’s called socialism.’ Since that video was recorded, Venezuela — once South America’s richest country — has become an economic disaster where people are suffering malnutrition and shortage of basic medicines. The poor have suffered most. I would like to suggest to you that any of us who want to help the poor should care not too much about kind words or bold aspirations, but above all about what works. I contend that socialism has repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn’t.
Respectfully and affectionately yours, James