The Spectator

Feedback | 7 May 2005

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Made in Britain

‘Today, the Mother of Parliaments has lost half its power, with Brussels making half of British laws,’ says Anthony Browne (‘Parliament of eunuchs’, 30 April). My Conservative opponent in Rotherham goes further. His election address says that 70 per cent of UK law is now made in Brussels.

The truth is more modest. According to the House of Commons Library — an impartial all-party outfit — in a report produced in March, less than 9 per cent of UK law originates in Brussels.

Confusion seems to have arisen because under the EU’s Single Market there are common rules applying to all European business — many of them imposed by Lord Cockfield when Margaret Thatcher sent him to harmonise EU legislation — and about half of business regulations in all 25 member states now come from Brussels. No member state has a national agricultural regime any more, and many of the UK laws fixing agricultural rules, prices, etc. stem from Brussels.

But the MPs swearing their oaths in the Commons next week will find they are debating made-in-Britain law. Anthony Browne’s points about the need for better parliamentary scrutiny of EU business is fair, and I hope MPs will support proposals which government ministers and others like Sir Digby Jones of the CBI have put forward to improve parliamentary debate and examination of what Brussels proposes.

Denis MacShane

Foreign & Commonwealth Office,

London SW1

Messy Labour

Peter Oborne’s article ‘Victory will prove a humiliating experience for Tony Blair’ (Politics, 30 April) is another outstanding piece. Mr Oborne never disappoints in both his incision and precision. Again he has raised key issues about Mr Blair that very few other commentators are prepared to put on paper. I agree with him that the best thing for the Conservatives is to lose this election and for Labour to win (I think a 60–80 seat majority); if the Tories won, they would inherit Labour’s problems and probably lose the subsequent election. No, it is better for Labour to win, hands tied by the lack of an overall majority, and be left to muddle through all their self-inflicted problems of the previous two terms. Why should anyone but Labour have to clear up the mess in Iraq? The electorate will have a chance to see that Labour has done nothing of stature for the country other than embark upon wars of vanity and give in to bleeding hearts about fox-hunting — a preoccupation that in the light of real domestic problems affecting real people I find quite sickeningly immoral.

Julian Pack

Skopje, Macedonia

Cheltenham races

Germaine Greer implied, in her article about William Shakespeare (‘The man who made England’, 23 April), that John Taylor, who stood as the Tory candidate in Cheltenham in 1992, lost the election there because he was black. Greer should not jump to conclusions. Look at Gloucester. Gloucester is the closest constituency to Cheltenham, in terms of character as well as geography. The swing against the Tories was bigger in Gloucester than in Cheltenham, and the Tory candidate there was white. Perhaps Greer should apologise to Cheltenham?

Ralph Prothero

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

On the beech

It’s hard not to share Paul Johnson’s enthusiasm for beech trees (And another thing, 30 April). However, in southern England the beech (Fagus sylvatica) is at the northern edge of its natural distribution, and it suffers from several unfortunate drawbacks.

First, it is not deep-rooted but very shallow-rooted, which reduces its capacity to withstand drought. Second, it is not an especially long-lived tree. Its timber lacks durability, and supports a variety of wood-rotting fungi, so veteran trees of 200 years and over have an unfortunate tendency to fall to bits. This probably explains the apparent vandalism of the Forestry Commission in removing Paul Johnson’s favourite tree in the Quantocks.

Nor do beech woods support much in the way of biodiversity. The leaves are tough and unpalatable and can’t be compared with good old oak leaves as insect fodder; and this affects bird life. The beech woodland floor is also poor in species and often devoid of a shrub layer.

I admit that the emerging beech foliage is, as I write, incomparable, but for good all-round performance it has to be oak.

David W.G. Taylor

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Moral problems

Professor Simon Blackburn (Letters, 30 April) runs together two separate questions: does morality need an objective underpinning and, if so, does it have to be theological? Many, including Paul Johnson, clearly believe that without the former, morality cannot be a bulwark against relativism and other ills they detect in contemporary society. Some of the philosophers Blackburn cites as giving ‘compelling philosophical accounts of morality without illusory theological underpinnings’, such as Hume, supply no objective foundation for it at all. The difficulties encountered by those who do attempt to provide this basis, but without going outside human needs and desires, and consistent with Darwinism, may explain the despair that now leads Paul Johnson and others to seek it again in theological contexts.

Sophie Botros

London W2

‘Tiger’ roars

aroline Moorehead’s review of my book The Boy in England (Books, 30 April) is fair enough. She is certainly not a fan. But why the continued obsession with Jennie Erdal’s Ghosting, which is more of a fiction than a memoir? Would it not be more prudent to await her next oeuvre, without the presence of ‘Tiger’, for Miss Moorehead to make a more balanced judgment on what is becoming a tedious and rambling subject?

N.I. Attallah

London W1