The Spectator

Feedback | 23 October 2004

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Liverpool replies

I am a survivor of the Hillsborough disaster, so I imagine you can guess where this is going (Leading article, 16 October).

Unlike 96 less fortunate people, I was rescued from the Leppings Lane terrace on 15 April 1989 and so am able to provide a little bit of an insight into what exactly happened. Suffice to say, the findings in Lord Taylor’s report regarding the responsibility for the disaster being with anyone but the Liverpool fans were accurate. I can confirm this not only because I have read the report but because, of course, I was there. Not in the press box, not in another part of the stadium and not watching on TV, but actually among the dead and the dying. I was one of the people who was lifting the bodies of teenage children over the fence and being threatened with arrest by police officers for doing so.

The events surrounding Hillsborough do not fuel or form part of this perceived ‘victim’ culture that you accuse people from Liverpool of nurturing. The anger about Hillsborough is that over 15 years later the real truth about what happened is still not fully acknowledged or accepted. The proof of this, of course, is your own article, which once again attempts to re-affirm urban myths about the events of the day. I saw, heard, touched and even smelt those events, and if you think that all I or anyone else in Liverpool wants to do is use them as the poster boy for a ‘victim’ culture movement, then you are very much mistaken.

Ian Wadkins


Whatever next? Will Private Eye be apologising to the cultured residents of Neasden for years of disparaging remarks? Can we expect Essex men and women to rise up in protest against countless comments relating to their morality and aesthetic tastes? Just wait till the Welsh list their grievances, and people from Scunthorpe identify the many comedians who have made fun of their town, and we will soon be spending all year saying sorry to each other. When I heard the emotional reactions from some of the Liverpool folk, I could not help but think that they do protest too much.

Laurence Kelvin

London W9

I write to express my disgust at the recent unfounded criticisms of my fellow Liverpudlians. I have lived most of my adult life away from my native city but this does not mean that my pride in being a blood-and-bone Liverpudlian is in any way diminished. When the IRA disrupted the Grand National at Aintree a few years ago, local people — oversentimental Liverpudlians of course — took total strangers into their homes so that they could stop over, close to the racecourse, and see the race run the following day. The late, much-loved Archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Warlock, praised the Liverpool ‘Mams’ who instigated this kindly gesture.

I take comfort in the following, from ‘Portrait of Liverpool’ by Harold Channon: ‘Above all, I am enchanted by the ebullience, the sharp humour, the inquisitiveness, the generosity, the extravagances, the “’ello, luv!” and “tarrah well!” of the Liverpudlian. Maligned in print, lampooned on TV, endowed with Welsh fervour, Irish eccentricity, Lancashire gumption and a sailor’s perception ...’.

Elizabeth Rogers-Ross

By email

If you think that England is overrun by a culture of false grief, you should come over to Ulster.

Nobody — but nobody — ‘does’ manufactured grief and victimhood better than Irish republican terrorists and their supporters in this part of the United Kingdom. It is a 24/7/365 job for them in the belief that if they tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth, of which the wider world (and particularly the plastic Paddies in America) will be convinced.

Decent people here often have to put up with three-/six-/nine-month terrorist ceremonials for their propaganda purposes after each IRA hero’s death and annually thereafter. Daily we have to look at illegally erected memorials carved in the finest marble and solemnly dedicated to IRA murderers (although occasionally a solid citizen will sledgehammer the stone in the middle of the night). Also we regularly see the illegal — and sometimes legal, if the terrorists have enough Sinn Fein/IRA mouthpieces on the local council — naming of streets, parks, bridges and other facilities after dead IRA hunger-strikers.

Charles Thompson

Belfast, Northern Ireland

The editor of The Spectator may apologise; he may grovel, he may cover his head with sackcloth and ashes. But nothing can change, or excuse, or even forgive the fact that everything he published about the people of Liverpool was essentially true.

Colin Bostock-Smith

Milton Keynes, Bucks

It is interesting that you should quote Captain Scott in your leading article about the phenomenon of public grief and the ‘Dianafication’ of the nation. The announcement of Scott’s death in 1912 caused an unprecedented public outpouring of grief.

Ian Cunningham

Dufftown, Banffshire

My husband and I, a couple of old pensioners, would like you to tell Boris Johnson of our approval/agreement with the leader of 16 October. There must be a great many like us. Incidentally, we had a dear grandson in the Blues and Royals killed in Iraq, aged 25.

David and Moyra Smiley

By email

A gypsy life for me

The Times reports that Michael Howard has chosen to criticise your leading article, which makes adverse comment about Liverpudlians. May I respectfully suggest that, as Howard has chosen to comment on that issue — and if he is reported correctly his comments are misplaced — he might also care to comment on the more important matter highlighted by Roger Scruton in the same issue (‘The state can’t set you free’, 16 October): the serious encroachment of the Human Rights Act on our lives, to the considerable damage of our society.

As Scruton observes, this Act, apparently part and parcel of our membership of the EC, introduces vagueness all through our judicial system; if something is a right then it must be provided, but if it cannot be provided then the right becomes the focus of dispute. Scruton correctly points us to Cambridge, where the human rights of gypsies to live somewhere have trumped the conventional rights of the planning laws, thereby wholly ruining the property values of law-abiding folk who live adjacent to them.

When I sell my house I intend to change my name to Gypsy Rose Benyon. I shall then buy a plot of land without planning permission from a broke farmer in a prime area. Then I will erect a mobile home or two and flout the planning laws. The rest is easy. Perhaps a few of you out there will join me.

Tom Benyon

Adstock, Buckinghamshire

In praise of Sir Anthony

Stephen Glover, as one of the Independent’s three original founders, helped set the title’s tradition for fair, accurate and independent reporting. What a pity some of those elements did not pervade the wild surmising in last week’s Spectator (Media, 16 October).

His headline raises the question ‘Why might Dr O’Reilly want to sell 30 per cent of the Independent?’ There is a very simple answer: Sir Anthony O’Reilly, to give him his correct title, doesn’t. The story was based on an erroneous and speculative piece in a rival newspaper. A simple call might have helped answer the question, which Mr Glover labels ‘astounding’.

What is truly ‘astounding’, as Mr Glover more graciously acknowledges, is the success of the Independent in the past year; the latest ABC circulation figures show the highest figure since 1997, full-price UK sales up 33 per cent and market share at its highest for eight years. Given that unprecedented success, it would be surprising if the Independent’s ‘spectacular achievement’ (Mr Glover’s words) had not caused at least a frisson of interest within the media industry. Of course it has. But that is a long, long way from saying that Sir Anthony wants to ‘sell off the family silver’. No one has backed the paper more enthusiastically or financially than Sir Anthony O’Reilly. And given the healthy state of the finances of the parent company, Independent News & Media Plc, it can — and will — go on doing it. Now more than ever.

Mr Glover also implies that Sir Anthony may not be in the best of health. Rubbish. In recent months he has travelled on business to the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, China, Russia and India, and that’s a fraction of what he does. I suggest Mr Glover tries to take him on at tennis, which he plays intensely every day. He has more energy than anyone I have ever met and he’s not running out of it.

So, Mr Glover, the only thing that has ‘changed’ is that the Independent has never been in better shape — or hands.

Ivan Fallon

Chief Executive, Independent News & Media, London E14

Educating Magnus

An English public-school education failed to deracinate those Buchan paragons Sandy Arbuthnot and Charles Lamancha but it seems to have worked its wiles on Magnus Linklater. He states in his review of ‘Scone’ (Arts, 16 October) that the author ‘invents with gleeful ease’ a number of dishes: ‘kail brose, potted hoch [sic], crappit heids and chappit neeps.’ But the first three are staples of the Scots cuisine of old and can be found in F. Marian McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen, the standard work on the subject, first published in 1929. ‘Chappit neeps’ is indeed an invention: it should be ‘champit’, that is, mashed, neeps or turnips, familiar to anyone who has attended a Burns Supper. The memory of my grandmother’s potted hough lives with me still, and my excellent local butcher continues to produce his own splendid version. Should Mr Linklater wish to give me his address, I will be happy to oblige him with it.

A.H. Ronald

Polmont, Scotland

How Bush uses Blair

I can confirm Peter Oborne’s depressing account of Tony Blair’s relationship with George W. Bush and the willingness of the Labour party to tolerate it (Politics, 16 October). At the end of August, after a visit to the United States, I wrote to every Labour MP to suggest that Tony Blair was being used as a political asset in the Bush campaign and to urge them to take steps to end this. I received 25 replies. (Intriguingly, none, not even the lone minister, defended the Bush-Blair relationship.)

I have worked or voted for the Labour party in every election since 1959, but if Bush gets a second term, with the support of Tony Blair and the acquiescence of the Labour party, I shall not vote Labour again.

Richard Heller

London SE1

Credo or credimus

The Revd John Fellows (Letters, 16 October) claims that the original version of the Nicene Creed read ‘We believe’ and that the modern Anglican version translates this.

It is true that the very first version of the Nicene Creed read ‘We believe’. However, this was a first draft, which modern congregations would find unrecognisable. It was subsequently much amended. The final version, agreed at the Council of Constantinople in ad 381 (incidentally, well before the rise of clericalism), was ‘I believe’, and this has always been used in the Eastern Church. It is depressing to find Anglican clergy having recourse to such specious reasoning to justify their unilateral alterations to the faith.

S.E.G. Hopkin

London SE9

Pagans are pantheists

Digby Anderson’s review of Alister McGrath’s examination of atheism (Books, 9 October) was superb. While I agree that what is prevalent in this postmodern jumble of a world is not so much Christianity anymore but ‘paganism infused with a few sentimental Christian strands’, I must object to his use of the term ‘paganism’ on two accounts. Firstly, in the above sentence he appears, as so many do, to confuse true Paganism with the spiritual eclectism of our modern world. Someone who is not a Christian is not by a process of elimination a ‘Pagan’. We are long past the delineation of Christian town versus countryside paganus, by about 17 centuries. Paganism is a specific polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion, which incorporates beliefs and ritual practices from ancient traditions.

Secondly, when he does go on to speak of modern Pagans and their possible unhappiness with ‘our reverence for the idol of “diversity”’, he refers to them in Hammer Horror terms. They are not involved in child sacrifice or any of the other stereotypical crimes they have been accused off since coming out of the broom closet in the 1970s. Paganism is also about recognising that nature is the Divine and therefore sacred, and that the Divine must contain within it all possibilities of nature, and that diversity in religion is evolutionarily necessary. That is the real reason why Christianity and other religions are becoming de-traditionalised (or in some cases, more fundamental) — because change is the only way that they will survive in the face of atheism and other factors.

Beth White

London W5

Home of lost houses

You have reproduced my photograph as an illustration of the work of the architect Raymond Erith following Alan Powers’s excellent review of the current exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum (Arts, 16 October). You have made an excellent job of the reproduction of the image, but sadly have printed the wrong descriptive caption. The house shown is not the Provost’s Lodgings at Queen’s College, Oxford, but 15-19 Aubrey Walk, London W8.

Mark Fiennes

Clare, Suffolk

Taxed to the limit

I write in support of Ross Clark (‘Labour is turning Britons into paupers’, 16 October). I am a South African economic migrant and I happily pay my dues: life insurance, home insurance, mortgage insurance, credit card insurance, national insurance, private health insurance, buildings insurance, car insurance, council tax, corporation tax, income tax, value added tax, airport tax, PAYE, congestion charge, parking meters. It costs me a fortune but at least it makes me work hard — we all know how good a motivator fear of debt can be.

But having grown up in a country without a welfare system, I find it amazing that a significant proportion of my English social circle do absolutely no work and yet lead a lifestyle just like mine, apart from the fact that they get to spend more time with their children. This level of state dependence appears to be endemic in British society but it can’t continue. With oil prices on an upward journey, long-term global war an inevitability and the stock markets failing yet again, the £57 billion pension shortfall is looking dangerously like a hole that only heavy taxation can fill. But who among us can afford to pay more?

Jonty Hurwitz

London W2

Cost of keeping dry

In her introduction to your Carbon Trust supplement of 9 October, Margaret Beckett stated that the cost to the country of flood damage was currently £1 billion per annum and could rise to £25 billion. The country should then be aware that the government is withdrawing funding for essential flood defence repairs on the east coast under the pretext of ‘managed retreat’. If Margaret Beckett’s figures are correct, surely it would be far cheaper for the government to keep financing the repair of existing flood defences than to let them go?

Nicholas Bushill

Saxmundham, Suffolk

Hero of Nottingham

In his review of General Sir Peter d e la Billière’s book Supreme Courage (Books, 25 September), M.R.D. Foot states that Albert Ball, VC, was a Canadian. He was born in Nottingham in 1896 and went to Trent College. Billy Bishop, VC, was a Canadian.

Barbara Harper-Nelson

Lesmurdie, Western Australia

Baltic patrols

Dr Jeremy Stocker writes that no Western weaponry can reach St Petersburg in a few minutes (Letters, 16 October). He is wrong. Nato has been patrolling the air space of all three Baltic states since March, using supersonic fighter aircraft from the the northern Lithuanian airbase at Zokniai.

John Laughland

British Helsinki Human Rights

Dead already

‘Just wait until Jacques Lacan dies’, warns Rod Liddle (‘Is Derrida really dead?’, 16 October), apparently unaware of the fact that Lacan died on 9 September 1981.

Edmund Standing

Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex