Corbyn and the zeitgeist
Sir: Your leading article is right about university tuition fees and the fruitlessness of Tory half-measures, name-calling and then unedifying policy-swapping (‘Corbyn’s useful idiots’, 24 February). But I believe the writing is on the wall for the wider involvement of ‘free markets’ in the public sector. We have seen growing public support for taking the railways and water companies back into public ownership as people justifiably ask what is in it for them under the current system.
In the NHS, as Max Pemberton makes clear (‘Wasting away’, 24 February), the internal market has been a wasteful disaster. We were told that costs would be driven down as standards went up. All too often the reverse has been the case. Only the corporate lawyers have benefited. It pains me, as a lifelong Tory, to admit it but Mr Corbyn is ideally placed. He exudes conviction and his is the zeitgeist as we move out of the post-Thatcher consensus in British politics. I sense one of those sea changes like the one James Callaghan saw before the 1979 election.
Dr Barry Moyse
North Petherton, Somerset
Inaction on the NHS
Sir: Our own work confirms the central NHS problem that Dr Pemberton describes. Everyone involved is all too aware of the waste and the frustration of medical staff. The Health Secretary has been in post for five years but is yet to address the issue. Why does he dismiss offers of help? Adversarial politicians have created the mess but refuse to let others resolve it. Proposals by Norman Lamb for a non-party ‘Convention’ and by Lord Saatchi for a Royal Commission are both constructive and practical. Yet they have been rejected out of hand without indication of any other way forward. We seem to be condemned to another four years of inaction.
Senior Fellow, Adam Smith Institute, London SW1
Bringing jihadis to justice
Sir: Your leading article ‘Justice for jihadis’ (17 February) eloquently sets out the drawbacks of different potential methods of bringing to justice British citizens who fought for Isis: drone strikes, Guantanamo Bay, the ICC (or other international tribunal) and trial in the UK. But your preferred solution, local justice, is unfortunately flawed. Who would administer this justice? Most of the British fighters are picked up by the Kurds, whose sovereignty the UK government does not recognise. It is just possible to imagine that we could acknowledge Kurdish justice in Iraq, where there is a more settled Kurdish region, but surely not in Syria, where those structures are lacking. Anyway, those who have suffered most from Isis brutality in Syria are not Kurds, but moderate Syrian Arabs. We are many years away from a situation where we could trust a Syrian state justice system, let alone observe it in action. The most successful local justice precedent is probably the Rwandan system of ‘gacaca’ community courts, following the 1994 genocide. But even that came seven years after the event, against the backdrop of a stable central government. Given the legal and political complexities of this issue, I am not surprised that the government is struggling to find a workable solution.
Mark Lyall Grant
Former National Security Advisor, London SW7
Sir: Rash as it may be for an amateur to cross swords with Professor Jones, in his piece on the Athenian Assembly and a possible second EU referendum (Ancient and modern, 17 February), he seems to have overlooked the famous Mytilene Debate of 427 bc. When Mytilene rebelled against Athens, the Assembly voted to exterminate the Mytilenians, the first (of only two) occasions on which any democratic assembly has voted to commit genocide. An execution squad was sent, but the next day the Athenians had second thoughts, convened the Assembly and voted to rescind the execution decree. A fast trireme was sent to stop the execution squad and no genocide took place. Perhaps a better precedent for second referendums than Professor Jones’s piece might suggest? Incidentally, the only other genocide vote was also that of the Athenian Assembly when it voted in 416 to exterminate the people of Melos. On that occasion they refused to hold a second vote, with tragic consequences.
Richard Mawrey QC
Don’t relax planning rules
Sir: Tim Coles (Letters, 24 February) admirably summarises the housing problem caused by overpopulation, but very few would agree with his solution that you just concrete over as much countryside as is needed to cater for uncontrolled immigration. Such thinking ignores the huge destruction of the natural environment that has taken place over only the past 150 years of our history of many thousands of years of human habitation. We must take a long-term view, particularly when building on even more countryside has become unnecessary because of the low density of our cities. At a time when land and wildlife are under unprecedented threat, planning controls must be strengthened, not relaxed.
Respect for the military
Sir: In her otherwise insightful article on the peculiar mix of politeness and violence in US culture (‘Wham bam, thank you Ma’am’, 24 February), Elisa Segrave draws the wrong conclusion about American sensibilities towards its military personnel. That five servicemen and women boarding a flight in Florida were individually applauded should be read as spontaneous recognition of their courage and self-sacrifice. I agree with Segrave that this would not happen here. More’s the pity.