The Spectator

Letters | 1 February 2018

Also: EU autocrats, vexatious vets, steam baths, UN sex abuse

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Creeping repression

Sir: John O’Sullivan is correct to argue that Europe’s centrist establishment often ‘does not really accept the right of its challengers to come to power. And when they do, it casts them as being illegitimate as extremists’ (‘A new Europe’, 27 January). We fear, however, that like a number of our fellow conservatives, Mr O’Sullivan’s enthusiasm to see elites get their come-uppance creates blind spots for creeping authoritarianism.

At the end of a second term by its Fidesz government, Hungary performs worse on all of the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators than it did a decade ago. In its Index of Economic Freedom, the Heritage Foundation finds a sharp decline in government integrity in Hungary and Poland over the past year and classes Hungary as ‘repressed’. From 2010 to 2015, Hungary also took a sharp plunge on Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, from 28th to 44th place worldwide. Fidesz promised to ‘sweep out’ the civil society organisations funded by George Soros. It followed up with legislation echoing the 2012 Russian law labelling foreign-funded NGOs as ‘foreign agents’ and a bill that leaves the Central European University — arguably the region’s most prestigious academic institution – in a legal limbo.

In Poland, judicial reforms go far beyond the stand-off over the Constitutional Tribunal, which Mr O’Sullivan describes as a ‘response to court-packing by the previous government’. The changes give the justice minister full discretion to appoint, dismiss and ‘discipline’ presidents of ordinary courts, and bring the National Council of the Judiciary (a self-governing body which makes judicial appointments) under full control of parliament.

The average age of judges in Poland is around 40, so bringing the judiciary under political control is no longer about taking levers of power out of ‘post-communist hands’. And neither is there anything remotely conservative or patriotic about it.

Jeffrey Gedmin and Dalibor Rohac

Washington DC

EU autocrats

Sir: Alex Massie claims: ‘We’re getting more than Brexit: we’re leaving the single market’ (‘Ukip’s victory’, 27 January). Yes, perhaps we are. But only because Brexiteers understand the caveats attached if we don’t, such as freedom of movement and the supremacy of the ECJ, which are incompatible with leaving the EU. This is where some EU flexibility is required but, so far, any attempt at a British handshake has been met with an EU clenched fist. Can I therefore suggest that Mr Massie direct some of his ire at the EU itself? As he states, it didn’t have to be like this. The referendum was never inevitable but a by-product of the EU’s autocratic nature (its quest for power trumps everything, including sensible economics).

The pre-Brexit renegotiation was an open invitation for the EU to reform but, with myopic arrogance, its leaders misguidedly offered us nothing, assuming Brexit would never happen. This attitude is matched by their belligerence since the referendum, where their side of the talks appears driven by their pique at our having the temerity to leave.

Mr Massie says the government should give attention and reassurance to the 48 per cent, and perhaps it should. But so should the EU. Remainers are its chief cheerleaders, but the EU has abandoned them. If we are headed for a no-deal Brexit — and maybe some Brexiteers do secretly want this — the EU has proved a willing and compliant partner in its creation.

Tom Wilson


Charity checks

Sir: Charles Moore accuses the Fundraising Regulator of high-handed tactics in its pursuit of charities and their sometimes questionable fundraising tactics (The Spectator’s Notes, 20 January). There are far too many registered charities in the UK: 168,000-odd as of last December. Although many no doubt do good work and have pure motives, others such as the Legatum Institute, have more political fish to fry. So more power to the elbow of the Fundraising Regulator, which provides one of the few checks on this tax-avoiding behemoth.

Leslie Buchanan

Barcelona, Spain

Better health

Sir: I feel very sorry for Elizabeth Roberts and her truly dreadful experience in an NHS hospital (‘Admission of failure’, 27 January). But I resent the implication that the use of a Zimmer frame places you among the raggle-taggle of the bewildered. We call the frames ‘walkers’ and I have four of them. Two for inside (one upstairs, one down), a three-wheeler for local visits, and a four-wheeler for longer walks.

I am 87 and was married for 50 years until my wife, Susan, died ten years ago. I am a member of a close-knit family, but rather than live with my children and restrict them, I live alone, and they visit me regularly. A housekeeper comes in daily. My mental faculties are reasonable — I read The Spectator weekly from cover to cover. I get out and about using local transport as I no longer drive (or play golf).

I have been in NHS hospitals several times for operations and other treatments, and on every occasion have received excellent care and attention. I wonder whose experience is the more typical?

Barry Hawkes,

Bourne End, Bucks

UN abuse

Sir: Mary Wakefield is right to point out that there have been incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by international aid workers including United Nations peacekeepers (‘Why hasn’t the #MeToo gang exposed the UN?’, 27 January). However, she is wrong in claiming that nothing has been done about it.

The UN has a unique role in setting and implementing global standards. We have made good progress in confronting sexual exploitation and abuse through

a system-wide approach.

In the field, we make communities aware of what they should expect from UN personnel and how they can safely complain. Victims’ assistance protocols are in place to ensure that immediate care is provided, and counselling and medical assistance are made available through our humanitarian partners.

Secretary-General António Guterres is committed to eradicating this conduct, and has made it clear to UN personnel at all levels that it will not be tolerated. We vet thousands of would-be personnel each month and each recruit receives mandatory training. If allegations of sexual abuse against UN personnel are substantiated, money is deducted from their pay then transferred to a fund which supports victims. These personnel are barred from future participation in any UN peace operation, and we publish details of all allegations and their current status on our active database.

The Secretary-General is clear: ‘We will not tolerate anyone committing nor condoning sexual exploitation and abuse. We will not let anyone cover up these crimes with the UN flag.’

Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-Generalfor Field Support, New York

Full steam

Sir: I was fascinated to read Ian Thomson’s description of the New Docklands Steam Baths (‘Steamy Encounters’, 27 January), not least because, as a dedicated enthusiast for hammams, saunas and steam baths, I had recently been there myself for the first time. Certainly Mr Thomson makes the whole setup sound deliciously raffish and archaic, like something out of Sherlock Holmes’s London, but a word of warning: this place is not for the faint-hearted.

In the lounge, I saw five ageing East London geezers playing cards around a table in dressing gowns, gold chains and nothing else, reminiscing about promising boxers of the 1970s. It was like walking into a Guy Ritchie movie.

My friend commented that the bare white tiling and butcher’s PVC strip-curtains in the baths downstairs gave the venue the feel of a former abbatoir.

But don’t get me wrong — places like these offer an antidotal jab to anodyne Western life, and I’ll definitely be back.

Benedict Carter,

Greenwich SE10

Broken borders

Sir: I agree that £45 million is a relatively small bill to keep the current immigration arrangements with France, so I support it (‘France is doing us a big favour in Calais’, 27 January). However, Matthew Parris ignores two important points in his hurry to congratulate France for its forbearance.

First, asylum must be sought in the first safe country that the asylum seeker reaches: them’s the rules. Second, the countries of continental Europe have porous land borders, hence the scale of the problem. This is not a sin of commission by Britain, but rather a sin of omission by our EU neighbours. If they can’t or won’t secure their borders, they can expect millions of illegal migrants for the foreseeable future, regardless of whether those migrants seek asylum or merely are taking a punt on a better life.

Alasdair Ogilvy

Stedham, West Sussex

Bishop Bell

Sir: Unfortunately the Archbishop of Canterbury was not in the House of Lords on 22 January when I called on the Church to accept the Carlile Report’s central conclusion that, in the absence of convincing evidence against the great Bishop Bell, his name should never have been publicly besmirched (The Spectator’s Notes, 27 January). Lambeth should heed the wise words of the Bishop of Peterborough who said that ‘where the complainant has a right to be anonymous, there seems to be a case for the respondent also to be anonymous… until there is overwhelming evidence to suggest guilt’.

If the Archbishop expressed belated remorse for not adopting such a course, which is in accordance with official police advice, he might begin to calm the furore that he has aroused.

Alistair Lexden

House of Lords

Sat’s that

Sir: Charles Moore brings up the solecism sat/stood (The Spectator’s Notes, 20 January). Surely it must have received the royal imprimatur when Prince William, outside the hospital housing his firstborn, said to the waiting crowd: ‘I know you’ve all been sat there a long time.’

Godfrey Dann

East Grinstead, West Sussex

Vexed by vets

Sir: As an animal lover and one-time farmer’s wife, may I raise a paw in support of the peerless Melissa Kite and her right to be witty, even at the expense of barking vets (Real Life, 27 January). The British Veterinary Association has objected to her perfectly valid quip about the expense of veterinary treatment, bleating that ‘the veterinary profession is one that already experiences high levels of stress’.

Really? I’ve only ever met cheerful vets, but they’re not an identikit flock. There was the tough Aussie who couldn’t understand why soppy Brits were making a fuss over a sick sheep: ‘Mate, back home we’d just chuck her out the back of the shed.’

Then there was the compassionate ex-army vet I interviewed for my book on pet bereavement, who said of course she’ll go along with a sorrowful owner’s hope that she will see Tiddles or Rex again, even though she doesn’t believe it.

The worst vet ever was the snooty, hideously interventionist and expensive bloke in west London who, after treating our cat, would swing round to his screen to sort the bill without so much as a pat or a goodbye. I swear there were cartoon pound signs in his eyes. All vets are different, and not all of them preen on a high horse.

Bel Mooney

Bitton, South Glos