The Spectator

Letters | 1 September 2016

Also in Spectator Letters: the pointlessness of HS2; Labour’s realignment; the creation of the Lottery

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Against Boris

Sir: In discussing my attitude to Boris (‘The Boris-bashers should be ashamed’, 27 August), Mary Wakefield is too kind — to Boris. She claims that I am agin him because he has no plan and no philosophy. Not so: my criticisms are nearer those of the Oxford contemporaries whom she cites and who described Boris as a ‘sociopath’. He is a charismatic narcissist in a long tradition stretching back to Alcibiades. Such characters have no moral, intellectual or political integrity, but have a sublime confidence in their ability to charm themselves out of every embarrassment.

Mary goes on to claim that David Cameron had no plan either, and surrounded himself with ‘yes men’. David was once asked about his overall objective. He replied: ‘To leave the country stronger and the people more prosperous.’ A sound goal, surely. David also promoted changes in welfare and education and in the size of the public sector.

As for yes men — bunkum and balderdash. I have been watching politics for 40 years, and Cameron’s was much the strongest Downing Street team I have seen. All of them were used to speaking their minds: all had minds to speak.

Mary also accuses David of snootiness towards the staff at Buckingham Palace and discourtesy towards drivers. As for the Palace, Mary’s sources are obviously better than mine, but I have talked to a couple of chaps who know a bit about the place, and were mystified by the allegation. I have frequently travelled in a car with David and his relations with the drivers were easy and relaxed. Under the Camerons, Chequers was a happy family house.

Over the past couple of centuries, we have had two great foreign secretaries, Castlereagh and Bevin. Both rose to the challenge of great events: in Bevin’s case, national survival was at stake. Today’s difficulties are not on that scale, but they are grave. We need a foreign secretary of the first rank. Could Boris meet that specification? In the national interest, we must hope so: hope that the Boris-sceptics are confounded. Again, we shall see.

Bruce Anderson

London SW1

Boris is the best

Sir: I should like to thank Mary Wakefield for her defence of Boris (27 August). When Boris left The Spectator, I wrote him a rather cross letter saying that the country didn’t need any more politicians, whereas we were short of decent journalists. I was wrong. He has since proved himself as an excellent Mayor of London, and a fine advocate for Brexit. I am not at all surprised that he is ‘unfailingly polite to everyone, irrespective of rank’. People forget that he is a scholarship boy who does not come from wealth. He seems to understand the mood of the country, and I for one would trust him.

If in the future he and Michael Gove could work together, I believe that Britain would be in good hands.

Patricia Kershaw

London NW7

The pointlessness of HS2

Sir: Three cheers for Ysenda Maxtone Graham and her article attacking HS2 (‘The vanity line’, 27 August). I am pretty sure she is spot on when she says that almost no one thinks shaving 20 minutes off the London to Birmingham journey time is a worthwhile return on this humongously large investment.

But why take my, or her, word for it? Why does the Chancellor not ask the public: ‘I have £65 billion to spend — that’s £1,000 for every man, woman and child — what should I spend it on?’

My vote would be not HS2 but HSB: high-speed broadband for all. And nationwide 4G mobile phone coverage while we are about it. You could get both for £65 billion and a chunk of change to boot, and then those outside the metropolis wouldn’t need to rush to London at all.

John Nugée


Voter realignment

Sir: There is another way in which party realignment may occur beside the possibilities anticipated by Isabel Hardman (Politics, 27 August). Isabel takes the high-politics approach, whereby elites are not only in control of events, but act. The alternative line is to see realignment as occurring whatever the elites plan.

Voters were on the move before the referendum as they tried to back candidates who best reflected their views. It is because a very significant proportion of the Labour leadership has become increasingly out of touch with its base that significant numbers of Labour voters have moved to Ukip — nearly a million by the last election.

Isabel is right that the PLP’s Europhile views are totally at variance with at least a good third of Labour voters. The idea that this group is going to vote for a new political party offering more of the same on globalisation is sheer fantasy. Labour’s danger is that it has nothing to say to its wider working-class base who want protection via border controls from globalisation, not greater exposure via the same policies of a new Europhile parliamentary group.

Frank Field MP

House of Commons, London SW1

Lord Rothschild’s baby

Sir: While it is true that Sir John Major introduced the National Lottery, and deserves the thanks of those who enjoyed Team GB’s Olympic successes, it is wrong to claim, as many have in the last week (including Simon Barnes and Andrew Marr in The Spectator) that it was his idea. The Rothschild Royal Commission into gambling, established in 1976 by the Labour government, made 303 recommendations of which one was the creation of a national lottery for good causes.

Mark Davies

London SW13