The Spectator

Feedback | 3 May 2003

Readers respond to recent articles published in </i>The Spectator</i>

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Comment on Why I nearly resigned by Mark Steyn (26/04/2003)

I have only recently come across Mark Steyn and have been impressed by both his insight and wit - I'm delighted that he has decided to stay on at the Spectator. Reading the archives, his predictions post 9-11 have proven almost prophetic on the UN topic. On the latest article I agree with the argument that the UN lacks any sort of coherent vision and is incapable of decisive action, either in war or post-war. However I do understand, if not agree with, the psychological steps taken by people who say that now is the time to attend to the rifts that have emerged in the West. It would be nice to have a united front and now the main threat appears to have been eliminated and the objective of the war achieved, why not throw a bone magnanimously to the anti-war camp to kiss and make up? "Now that we've done something that was unpopular with the Arabs, let's do something to try to get them back onside and sterilise these fertile breeding grounds for extremism." The problem is that the Iraq campaign, whilst incredibly successful in itself, only goes a short way towards eliminating the nuclear/wmd threat posed by militant anti-Westerners. The French/German/Russian party (not to speak of other fully paid-up UN members such as Syria) don't even begin to understand why such radical proactive steps are required and so even pretending to try to cooperate with the UN will lead to a retardation of the clean-up process, add legitimacy to the arguments favouring inertia and provide a lifeline to militants who have seen significant results from their tactic of sowing dissension in 'enemy' ranks. The UN has to recognise the inherent righteousness of the US's defence strategy before it can have a part in it. Trying to accommodate the Arab communities' views is frankly, a waste of time. Unfortunately you don't win over enemies by trying to be nice to them, when what they want to do is destroy you. Whether or not the UN or the US forms the blueprint for future Iraqi society is not going to sway many people on the decision about whether to go on a suicide mission - the die is already cast and nothing short of US adoption of Sharia law will change that. Whether someone is in a position to unleash an attack on the West in the first place is much more important, and having responsible governments in Muslim countries is key to this. Democracy is seen as the cure to all ills by most of the UK media, but we have to be thankful democracy doesn't carry the day in Algeria, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. The US's aim should be to counter the radicalism of the Islamic religion rather than ensuring everyone has a vote and has the freedom of speech to call for jihad at the drop of a hat. Try telling that to the Syrian and Libyan delegates to UN.

David Blair

There's a word that describes people who stamp around saying they will act on principle but then decide that no they won't, they will instead continue to take the shilling of people they despise. Mark Steyn makes it clear that it applies to him -- which is little surprise to your readers. But it's not a nice word, and I do not offer it to your columns.

Steyn also makes it clear he can't understand simple declarative sentences delivered by others including, in this piece, the foreign minister of Russia. Or else, he declines to. This makes him more of a debater than a journalist, and deepens the wonder that he has any job on The Spectator to threaten to resign from. Fortunately for Mrs Steyn, his threats weigh no more than his polemics.

Paul Kunino Lynch

Why not insist that Mark Steyn resigns? For one thing his absence may cause some of us to reinstate our subscriberships because his rants were the reason we terminated it. As a rabid neocon, even he would understand that reducing costs on the one hand and increasing income on the other makes sense.

We have enough avenues for the neocons to vomit their bile at us already, let "old Europeans" display their experience and culture by reducing by at least one.

Brian Hope

I thoroughly agree with Mark Steyn on the unwanted role of the UN in the future of Iraq. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw The Spectator endorsing the United Nations as if nothing has happened over the last six months.

The very composition of the world body tells you why it is worse than useless: it is no barrier to belonging to be a dictatorship. How can any body bring progress when its standards for participation are as low as that?

Let us hope the Americans bring Iraq a constitution in which dictatorship--whether by a tyrant, a religious sect or even a majority is impossible. The UN would support any of those solutions, but good sense demands the rule of law and specifically of the legal principle the US best embodies: the inalienable rights of the individual.

This is the only effective buffer to oppression and the UN is wholly inconsistent about it.

Tom Minchin

Comment on It's still the 'nasty party' by Michael Gove (26/04/2003)

Your article makes some good points, but one is not emphasised enough, and that is the effect that immigration has had on voting habits. Despite laughable attempts to fool themselves that this is not the case, virtually no coloured immigrants vote Conservative. And considering there are about five million of these sort of people in Britain now, most in the cities, continuing to grow at an incredible rate, the Tory party cannot hope to survive. In 50 years time, when this country will be about 40 per cent non white, will the party even still exist? I very much doubt it. Lastly, can I say that I regard this state of affairs as quite tragic but inevitable. I'm sure that in 1968 Powell had it in mind when he made his speech. A Conservative party like the one we've been used to can only survive in a society like the Britain of the past. It will not be able to survive in the Britain of the future, ie a multicultural, predominantly working class ethnic country where old values about duty, civility, neighbourliness and the work ethic do not hold true. In a way it serves them right - the Conservatives have done almost as little as Labour have to stem the ultimately destructive flow of post war immigrants.

Russell Lewin

Michael Gove has given us an insight into what he regards as the malaise afflicting the Conservative Party. Some of the issues are well known - an over reliance on middle class, white people of a certain age group, combined with a continuing ambivalence over whether Conservatism stands more for liberty or for social order.

However, I think Mr Gove over eggs the pudding. The Conservative Party is the only mainstream right of centre party in the UK. If it were to disappear without trace, just who would represent those of use who reject the left of centre approach to political and social organisation?

The problem as I see it is two-fold:

1. The lack of a truly coherent philosophy that can grasp the imagination and encourage support.

2. A consequent shortage of champions in the media, in particular the broadcast media and the world of entertainment, which have become monotonous fiefdoms of the left.

How do we address these issues? To a point, Michael Gove is correct that the traditional Conservative Party looks unappealing to much of the young and to metropolitan Britain. However, it is facile to say they should become more like New Labour - what would be the point in that? After all, the whole point of democracy is that it provides real choice to the electorate.

The Conservative Party has to become above all the Freedom Party. Where this causes internal problems, they will have to be overcome, seems freedom in its true sense means social liberalism as well as freedom from an all-powerful state.

Freedom means attacking the Government's tax and spend head on - not from the point of view that tax cutting is the main plank of the agenda, but that high taxes and centralised spending are inherently inefficient in providing the services people want as well as being fundamentally illiberal. Freedom means attacking the Government's ever more draconian policies on Home Affairs - starting with restrictions on the right to trial by jury. Freedom means turning back the ever more intrusive bureaucratic interference in our domestic affairs wrought by Gordon Brown's obsessive social engineering. Freedom means enshrining the right to freedom of expression, even where it is may be uncomfortable and not politically correct.

Richard Marriott

Michael Gove's article in this week's Spectator makes depressing reading for the Conservative Party and encapsulates the frustration of those on the right that whilst the electorate clearly feels that Labour has not worked there is still no appreciable growth in support for the Party.

It would be hard to disagree with his assertion that the Conservative Party is now deeply unattractive to the majority of the electorate, especially those in key younger and more affluent and aspirant demographic groups would traditionally have appealed to, however it is important to separate the Party and the way in which its policies are currently framed from its core beliefs and values.

The article is somewhat disingenuous to Tony Blair and the New Labour project who have managed to convince the electorate that they could have higher public spending without any substantial increase in taxation supported by an economy that would continue to grow at a healthy rate each year, indefinitely; jam today, jam tomorrow, jam for everyone. Blair managed this in part because he looks, walks and often talks like a Tory and, during a period when the Conservative Party has collapsed at all levels, he has provided a seductive option for former and potential Conservative voters who have had neither the time nor inclination to think about or look too hard at the core beliefs of the Labour Party which he leads.

The electorate's faith in Blair and Labour will now be properly put to the test in a month when they will feel the weight of higher National Insurance contributions and double digit council tax increases at a time when, for those who are employed in the private sector, pay rises are low or non existent, the value of their pension funds has plummeted and job insecurity is on the rise whilst no improvement may be seen in any of the public services they have paid for through taxation.

Whether or not there is an immediate fall in Labour's standing in the polls is less important than the fact that the seed will be sewn with the electorate that voting for Labour is voting for less money in your wallet. Only now will the public perhaps begin to question the defining ideology in British politics over the past decade; that health, education, transport and all the other essential services that a civilised society requires can only ever be adequately provided through unquestioning and limitless expenditure from the public purse. Successfully changing the ingrained belief amongst the electorate that higher taxation is not only necessary but morally correct is the single greatest challenge facing the Tories.

Setting aside the failures, divisions and personalities that have beset the Conservatives for the past decade the starting point for the Party should now be the question, "If there was no Conservative Party would there be a need to invent one?" The answer is a resounding yes. There is a demand for a political party that believes in low taxation, 'traditional' family values, that selection in education provides a level of social mobility that the Comprehensive system can only ever dream of and yes, even in matrons in hospitals.

Some of the Conservative's policies may appear dated but none is any more dated than Labour's antediluvian tax and spend, nanny state doctrine that has been so damaging to this country over the past six years. Whilst the Party continues to indulge itself with squabbles about its leader and Europe and continues to question its own central beliefs it will remain separated from the electorate across a wide and turbulent political ocean. Labour's insatiable appetite for regulation of every aspect on our lives and control of every penny in our pockets is finally encroaching on the electorate's consciousness. There is now clear blue water in the central ground as the Chancellor's socialist reflexes drag Labour to the left as the economy falters, there should now be a clear choice for voters, but in the absence of a tax cutting alternative from the conservatives there isn't.

The Conservatives‘ journey back to power does not begin by learning how to ape the Liberals or Labour, by being "nice" or promising to throw more money at failing public services but by remembering what it means to be conservative and by having sufficient strength of faith in those values to begin convincing a sceptical electorate.

Jonathan Guy
London W11

Whilst there are certainly some interesting messages in the article concerning the current state of the Tory party, there is also one major flaw, far too self serving, its a commercial pitch for business not a cold eyed assessment of the facts.

As an experienced businessman, I have seen indeed, used such an approach before. The basis is to show just how bad "they" are doing with their current business plan or approach so that once they are suitably reminded and depressed about their current performance, you can pull a few rabbits out of the hat.

The consequence being that you may seem stunningly creative in the process, in reality, the remedies you offer are little better than what they are currently doing. However, telling them that basic truth (you don't need me) brings no large consultancy fees with it.

More battles have been lost than ever won by the opposing side and today/tomorrow, will be little different. New Labour is a one man party; without Blair, it will be nothing.

All the Tories have to do is be sensible and also, be there; in the end people may well give them another chance by default.

When the great British public come to give their judgement, it will be between Labour and the Tories,

John Haynes

Comment on Is Blair just an empty, vainglorious, narcissistic creep? by Peter Oborne (26/04/2003)

The answer to Peter Oborne's "two fascinating questions" holds, I have long believed, the key to effective government of the United Kingdom and is just one word long - Leadership.

To restate the question: why should the performance of two groups of people who have been educated together and who live within the same political and social systems as each other differ so greatly in the performance of their duties?

Members of the Armed Forces have thought long and hard about this and the ONLY difference that can be found between the groups is the way members of each group are trained when they start work.

In the UK Armed Forces the teaching of leadership is based on one simple assumption: that all those engaged in an enterprise together need to be regarded as, and feel themselves to be, capable of leading the group. Thus every man and woman in the Armed Services is taught leadership and is given the opportunity to apply what they have been taught at an early stage in their career.

The culture change and costs to the civilian public services required to enable such training to be carried out effectively are huge - but so are the prizes for success!

Ray Hunter

Comment on Feedback (26/04/2003)

Mark Chaiken (referring to Rod Liddle's piece) argues that British Conservatives are different from Texas conservatives. I'm sure that's true, but not in the ways he suggests. We are no more committed to the market than Margaret Th atcher was. And we love ancient things: surely we've bought most of your old stuff by now. Thanks. In fact, Texas conservatives in particular, and American conservatives in general, are far more conservative than the Conservatives: our demotic language is more like Elizabethan English than yours is, for some reason (ask Dot Wordsworth); we still go to church; we execute our murderers; we aren't embarrassed about our country; we would never cede any important elements of our sovereignty to people with very little in common with us; we eats lots of beef, pork, and poultry; and we live for killing - animals, foreigners, criminals, whatever. It's ironic, but true: if you want to see Olde England - seriously - get thee to Texas.

Jason Boatright
Austin, Texas

Comment on Feedback (26/04/2003)

With regard to Algernon Turner's comment on Philippa Wragg's piece:

What a sad reaction to a tragic story. From what I read, the child did not just experience a "pervert having tried to 'cop a feel'"; this child lived through the most appalling harassment over a considerable period of time from which he had no escape.

Child abuse is no trivial matter and can affect lives forever. It has, maybe, only come to the forefront of people's minds recently because of brave children like this boy who are prepared to speak out and put a stop to it. Before this it was a taboo, never spoken about and so never dealt with and often lead to the abused becoming abusers, thus perpetuating this terrible crime.

I also believe that Mr Turner's final point about the "emotional resilience" of people during the Second World War is flawed. I have met a number of people who still, more than fifty years on, cannot talk about what they did or lived through during that war - if that isn't emotional scarring, I don‘t know what is.

Jane Olds

Comment on Dying for a cigarette by Joe Queenan (26/04/2003)

The Joe Queenan article on smoking in New York City is one of the most foolish articles about banning smoking I have ever seen. Studies repeatedly show that non-smokers who go to smoking venues might as well take up the habit themselves. Non-smoking areas are a joke in most cases. Banning smoking in public places is the best solution. If people are hanging around outside bars and disturbing the peace, then they need to be dealt with. Bar patrons acting irresponsibly around the bar's neighbours is not exactly a new phenomenon in New York.

John Moore

I am a fifty four year old non-smoker. I have never smoked. For most of my life, I have had to put up with self-absorbed jerks, like this silly article's author who believe that they, somehow, have the right to subject others to their addictions. Worse, they begin whining like deposed despots when others object to their abusive behaviour. One shouldn't have the right to do things that take away another's right to decline participation, whether it be tobacco, trash music amplified by a boom box, food not to one's taste, religious presumptions, and so on...

Russ Thayer

Smoking bans are simply Toilet Training for Adult Minds -- nothing more, nothing less, including the stink.

Only a very big baby would have a real problem with it!

Bill Burke