The Spectator

Feedback | 18 December 2004

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Ulster is not all right

Leo McKinstry’s knowledge of his native province as it is today seems somewhat superficial (‘Ulster is all right’, 4 December). It is not clear how the rebranding of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as the Police Service of Northern Ireland — a move resented with good reason by many in Ulster — can be regarded as bringing policing here ‘into line with the approach taken in the rest of the United Kingdom’. And it is more than a little shameful that in paying tribute to the army’s role in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, McKinstry neglects to mention the RUC; he may have forgotten the more than 300 police officers murdered since 1969, but few here have done so.

In his concluding paragraphs, he says that Northern Ireland has more cultural amenities, better schools and higher standards of healthcare than the rest of the United Kingdom. The real Northern Ireland rather than McKinstry’s fantasy version has its education and library boards in financial crisis (one third of Belfast’s libraries may be closed next year), longer hospital waiting lists than the rest of the UK, fewer specialists in critical areas such as neurology than elsewhere in the country, and fewer diagnostic tools such as MRI scanners than the mainland.

McKinstry writes, in sarcastic tones, that Northern Ireland ‘does not have to cope with the delights of multicultural Britain’. Northern Ireland may have the smallest ethnic minority population in Great Britain, but it is not without its own race-relations problems. Attacks on ethnic minorities — often orchestrated by ‘loyalists’ — have increased considerably over the past few years.

Before he writes about Northern Ireland again, Mr McKinstry would do well to familiarise himself with the province today; the odd visit to a smart south Belfast restaurant will not do.

Colin Armstrong

Belfast, Northern Ireland

The right to repent

Bruce Anderson (Politics, 11 December) suggests that the quarter of a million males who are responsible for half of all crimes should have their details recorded on computer. But he fails to explain exactly how this would allow us to cope with the ‘criminal underclass’.

Records are already kept of the convicted and their offences, as well as of those suspected of offences but never convicted or brought to trial. This by itself does not prevent repeat offences. Furthermore, Mr Anderson suggests that this ‘quarter of a million’ have ‘their activities monitored’, which means that they would be considered irredeemable.

The government’s new laws may very well not make us safer, but Mr Anderson should consider that we also need protection from the lawmakers and their officers. Surely the best strategy is not to remove from the convicted the right to repent and make a fresh start in life.

Daniel Veen

London SW17

Sucked dry by the EU

The contribution by Nick Herbert on Swedish taxes (‘Gordon’s Swedish model’, 4 December) is interesting, but incomplete.

To be specific, the highest taxes in the world could easily have allowed this country to retain the highest welfare level in the world had it not been for an overdose of internationalism. By that I mean sending billions of crowns to countries in the Third World so that they can buy weapons and plane tickets and, worst of all, join the EU. If you want to know what happened to Swedish welfare, a large slice of it has been transferred to Brussels.

The most amazing part of all this is that membership of the EU has resulted in everything that Swedes do not want. Examples are more alcohol, more crime and excessive immigration, which in turn have taken resources from healthcare at the same time that demand for this service increases (because of more alcohol, more crime and excessive immigration). You can add more exposure to a major curse of globalism, by which I mean the departure of employment opportunities to ‘low-wage countries’. These things translate — for those of us who remember how to add and subtract — into an inability to reduce the tax burden.

I remember laughing at, and later apologising to, the Nobel laureate Sir John Hicks because of his belief in the rationality of the electorate. Had I known what I know now, he would never have received an apology from this teacher of economics and finance.

Ferdinand E. Banks

Uppsala, Sweden

History lesson

In the first volume of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon describes how Augustus deliberately and effectively replaced the institutions of the Republic with his own autocratic rule. He says: ‘The principles of a free constitution are irrecoverably lost when the legislative power is usurped by the executive.’ This seems to match almost exactly Lord Butler’s view of what is happening now (‘How not to run a country’, 11 December).

John Radford

London E1

More letters please

Tom Sutcliffe takes ‘serious issue’ with a point I make in the introduction to Never Apologise: the Collected Writings of Lindsay Anderson (Books, 11 December), but his objection seems based on a slight misreading. I did not say that Lindsay’s ‘small private income’ was an ‘advantage’, nor that it ‘meant Karel Reisz could tell him he didn’t need the money, had freedom to choose’. What I actually wrote was that Lindsay ‘was fortunate that his small but constant private income allowed him to remain aloof from the desperate financial need that motivates some artists’. Of course he needed money, and having ‘freedom to choose’ means little in the film business if you are not yourself chosen by backers and producers. How Karel got dragged into the argument, I don’t know.

Elsewhere, Mr Sutcliffe finds the subtitle of The Collected Writings misleading — it is not, it merely refers to writing which is deemed collectable (the choice, as his review makes clear, was largely Lindsay’s own); it made no claim to being complete. He is also frustrated that the book’s index has no ‘keyword references’ such as ‘alienation (Brechtian)’ — God help us — or a ‘definitive list of all Lindsay’s writings ever’. Like Lindsay Anderson’s earlier book, About John Ford, Never Apologise was always intended for the intelligent general (rather than academic) reader; Lindsay did not want a book that was ‘clogged’ (his word) with footnotes and references, and I am pleased that I kept faith with him on that. I am sorry if Mr Sutciffe thinks this poses difficulties for those wanting to ‘use it seriously’ — the only real way to use a book seriously is to read the damn thing.

But this is nit-picking and, while picking a few nits of his own, Mr Sutcliffe makes a great many valuable points in his article. Not the least of these is his complaint about the volume of Lindsay’s diaries managing to ‘muddy the waters of a primarily confessional text’ by deploying letters to and from Lindsay himself. Lindsay Anderson was a prodigious and brilliant letter-writer, but the tone of voice in them, while often intimate, is strikingly different from that of the private diarist. Let us hope that a smart publisher will commission a volume (or more) of these letters, edited by someone who had a real knowledge of Lindsay and his work, and who has the assiduousness to guide us through the broad social and cultural sweep encompassed by them. Might I suggest Tom Sutcliffe?

Paul Ryan

London WC1

As the editor of Lindsay Anderson’s diaries, I very much enjoyed Tom Sutcliffe’s review. It gave me a good laugh. There are few sights and sounds more British than a green journalist yapping at the ankles of a wr iter who dared to think up and carry off a project that the journalist hadn’t the conviction, the talent or the learning to do for himself. My favourite bit was Sutcliffe’s reference to the ‘friendly’ letter from Anderson to the ‘presumptuous’ Sutton (whom we are told was too young to know Anderson). I have the book in front of me but can’t find the letter. What page is it on, Tom?

Paul Sutton

London SW1

Glory of Livia’s garden

It would be a pity if Mary Keen’s review of the book Gardens of the Roman World (Books, 4 December) were to put readers off going to see one of the most enchanting and well-preserved survivals from classical times, the frescoed garden chamber from the Empress Livia’s villa, on the grounds of its being inaccessible. Since the reordering of the main classical antiquities in Rome into various museums during the late Nineties, there has been absolutely no problem in viewing it. It is to be found on the top floor of the superb Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo, along with other exquisitely frescoed rooms, splendid mosaics and many of the finest extant examples of ancient sculpture.

John Fort

Rome, Italy

Creepy Taki

Taki fawns continually on Hitler’s generals. If it is not Guderian, it is Rommel. If Rommel was such a smart military man, how is it that he skived off on a 48-hour leave just as Eisenhower was about to launch D-Day? He could have spent some overtime trying to break the Allies’ codes, for example.

If the old fool ran out of fuel in the desert there must have been a good reason for this state of affairs. Such as Admiral Cunningham and the Royal Navy which controlled the Mediterranean sinking Germany’s tankers. At the same time the RN maintained supplies to the 8th Army at El Alamein. Some achievement.

I am no military strategist but it appears to me that Taki’s continual creeping to Hitler’s High Command is misplaced.

Eric Potts

Bishop Middleham, Co. Durham

Daily grind

Bevis Hillier states that Spinoza pursued ‘his hobby of glass-engraving’ (Books, 11 December). Spinoza renounced most of his inheritance and earned his living by grinding and polishing lenses.

A.N. Binder

Speldhurst, Kent

Avian error

I feel compelled to take issue with Rachel Johnson. In her enjoyable piece on the Diana Memorial Fountain (‘What a shower!’, 4 December) she mentions that fencing erected around the fountain may limit take-off space for grey-leg geese that have migrated ‘all the way from Canada...’. I’m no bird expert, but it’s my understanding that the grey-leg is not native to Canada. The migration pattern of North America’s geese is north-south, but never transatlantic.

Manuel Escott

Toronto, Canada