The Spectator

Feedback | 28 May 2005

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French lessons

Peter Oborne (Politics, 21 May) finds it curious that British and French opponents of the European constitution find precisely opposite faults in what it would impose upon their countries.

As he correctly observes, the French see it as the imposition of Thatcherism on France while the British see it as the imposition of bureaucratic corporatism on Britain. Clearly they cannot both be right, but that does not render their shared opposition to the constitution illogical, contrary or ill founded.

It is the imposition of decrees that they cannot challenge by a foreign government that they can neither elect, dismiss nor change to which British and most French opponents object.

French and British alike wish to govern their own countries and neither to govern nor be governed by each other or by unelected foreign masters in Belgium.

Lord Tebbit
London SW1

Peter Oborne’s account of French bolshiness about the Whit Monday holiday tells only part of the story. None of the pay for work done on that day was to go to the worker. All of it was to be snaffled for a fund in aid of the elderly. This admirable act of ‘social solidarity’, proposed to much acclaim after old people had fallen victim to the heatwave of 2003, would be unimaginable in Britain. It cannot fairly be described as a ‘feeble attempt to impose a tiny measure of control on Gallic working practices’.

Patrick Ussher
Dublin

Undemocratic reaction

If you really think that first-past-the-post is as brilliant as all that (Leading article, 21 May), please consider what happened in Northern Ireland in the Westminster election of February 1974. Fifty-one per cent of the Northern Irish electorate voted against power-sharing and 11 anti-power-sharing Unionist MPs were returned. Forty-nine per cent voted in favour of power-sharing, and one pro-power-sharing MP was elected: Gerry Fitt. The Ulster Workers Council decided that this distorted result was a mandate for declaring a general strike with the aim of smashing power-sharing completely. They succeeded.

The result was a further 20 years of Republican and Loyalist terrorism.

Tom Carter
Somerton, Somerset

They can’t leave

I wonder which Belarus Julian Evans visited to prepare his article (‘Is Belarus next in line?’, 14 May). In the one I know, schools are without electric light, hospitals are virtual drug-free zones and one buys one’s petrol from a man with a jerrycan who waits outside the state-owned petrol station, selling the fuel he has just had issued to him for his collective farm. One needs a licence to blow one’s nose and the only way to get a licence is to pay a bribe to a government apparatchik.

The Belorussian people are educated, cultured and aspirational, and the regime survives only because the EU has erected an iron curtain to prevent their emigrating to the West.

Gerald Hitman
Brockhall, Lancashire

Rosebery brought to book

In what is on the whole an admirable and perceptive review of Leo McKinstry’s Rosebery, Jane Ridley asserts that ‘There has never been a full biography’ (Books, 21 May).

Not so. There was a very good one by Robert Rhodes James, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1963. Like Mr McKinstry, Rhodes James had access to the Rosebery archive at Dalmeny. There was an earlier, official biography written by Rosebery’s son-in-law, the first Marquess of Crewe.

Jane Ridley’s explanation of Rosebery’s political failure is convincing. But there is another possible reason. As a very old man Rosebery told his nephew Lord Stanhope that his one ‘very big mistake’ was to have followed Gladstone rather than Disraeli.

Allan Massie
Selkirk

Seduction at sea

In his article about Lord Cardigan and D.H. Lawrence (And another thing, 21 May), Paul Johnson wishes that there was a book about the great steam yachts.

Published in New York in 1970, The Steam Yachts: an Era of Elegance is by Erik Hofman. As well as giving details of dimensions, speeds, plans and names, it contains some hilarious anecdotes.

According to Hofman, one yacht owner had a luxurious cabin with an electric control board. If the third button was pressed, the wall adjoining the owner’s bed rolled away. The guest of the evening who had retired to the assumed sanctity of her private cabin suddenly found the owner’s bed alongside hers!

Christopher Chetwode
Cheriton, Hampshire

Big fish

King Carlos of Portugal may have published a book on tuna (‘Food for thought’, 21 May), but two other reigning monarchs have published extensively on ichthyological questions in marine biology journals. They were/are the Showa Emperor (i.e., Hirohito) and his son, the present emperor of Japan, Akihito. I lack the competence to judge whether the articles were accepted because of their learning or because of their source.

Bernard Hassan
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA