The Spectator

Letters | 13 December 2017

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Returning jihadis

Sir: Coping with those who pose a terrorist threat to the UK but cannot be prosecuted for a criminal offence has been a perennial problem since 9/11 (‘Bring jihadis to justice’, 9 December). Despite various initiatives, the number of potential attackers has continued to grow.

The latest twist to this story is the return of jihadists to the UK from Syria and Iraq. We should assume that anyone returning from Isis-held territory in Syria/Iraq poses a continuing risk. Wherever possible they should be prosecuted. But criminal cases are hard to build, given the fog of war and the problems of gathering evidence from Isis-controlled territory. I propose, therefore, that those who claim to have repented of their extremist views and who want to return to the UK should be expected to demonstrate their change of heart by giving a full and detailed intelligence debrief to the security services, and by giving evidence in court against their erstwhile colleagues in Isis.

Jonathan Evans

House of Lords, London SW1

Gunning for no deal

Sir: Martin Vander Weyer (Any Other Business, 25 Nov) said it was ‘fatuous’ of me to state that Wetherspoon was ready to leave the EU now, in response to a BBC question about ‘complex supply chains in the car industry’. In fact, catering supply chains are of similar complexity to the car industry. Leaving the EU in March 2019 would allow parliament to eliminate tariffs on non-EU food imports which, WTO rules stipulate, would result in continued tariff-free imports from the EU — and cheaper food. In contrast, the proposed ‘transitional deal’ would maintain tariffs and require multi-billion-pound payments to the EU.

The CBI and big business have misled the public about food prices and supply chain difficulties, a pitch has been accepted by credulous economists, journalists and MPs. In reality, it will enormously benefit the UK to leave the EU, without a deal, at the earliest opportunity.

Tim Martin (Chairman, JD Wetherspoon) Exeter, Devon

The Labour abyss

Sir: Your interview with the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, was clearly intended to make this Christmas a very glum one for those of us in the Labour party who are dismissed by young Momentum types as ‘centrist dads’ (‘King John’, 9 December). It is not McDonnell and his comrades who are staring into the abyss and considering their own mortality; rather it is we moderate members who are feeling politically suicidal. We yearn for Labour’s guardian angel to show us how politics might have turned out had McDonnell failed in his efforts to persuade gullible Labour MPs to nominate his friend Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership in 2015.

With any of the alternative leaders in post — Kendall, Cooper or Burnham — Labour would not have spent the past two years in dysfunctional turmoil, and would have presented a more effective opposition in response to the government’s travails over the EU referendum. Mrs May would not have been tempted to hold an early election, and her (now obvious) failings as a campaigner would today remain hidden.

A united and effective opposition would have spurred recalcitrant Tories to toe the party line rather than play fast and loose with the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy. And, of course, May would still enjoy the majority she inherited from her predecessor and would not be in hock to the DUP.

Tom Harris


Stokes can’t play

Sir: I fear Roger Alton has fallen into the trap of letting the poor start to the Ashes lead him to begging Santa to let Ben Stokes play in Perth (‘Why Stokes should be picked for Perth’, 9 December). He is right that England’s Botham-esque all-rounder is a vital missing link and indeed is probably worth a 10 per cent margin when at his best. But it would be weak and crass if Andrew Strauss and the England and Wales Cricket Board changed tack now on their decision to await the outcome of the police investigation of what is possibly, pending the opinion of the Crown Prosecution Service, a very serious crime, simply because England are two-nil down.

I do vaguely recall that my great mate Sir Ian was once allowed to tour the West Indies with an assault charge pending — he was subsequently acquitted. But the correct stance was taken by the ECB at the outset in this case. There are greater principles at stake concerning the role of our leading sportsmen, the reputation of the Ashes and of the sport itself, which all take precedence over the fate of the team.

If, however, the CPS decides there are no charges to be pressed, it is up to the ECB Disciplinary Panel to decide what happens next; and then I suspect Stokes will be on the next plane to wherever the England team is at the time. It is likely that Santa might have his feet up by then.

David Gower

Romsey, Hampshire

The lesser-spotted Sloane

Sir: Harry Mount is correct to suggest that the British aristocracy has been assimilating itself with celebrities for the past decade or so and this has given way to the glamocracy (‘Rise of the glamocracy’, 9 December).

But it’s a bit more complicated than that, because this evolution has actually spliced the aristocracy in two. As Mount says, you now have the likes of Lady Mary Charteris and the future Marchioness of Bath: glamorous figures with shiny hair who spend a lot of time Instagramming themselves. But in pockets of Norfolk and Lincolnshire you will still find Barbour-clad Sloanes with grubby fingernails who are in love with their labradors. They are not glamorous. They don’t much care for Instagram unless it’s to put up a picture of their new tractor. They wouldn’t want to be at parties in London or nipping to Ibiza for the weekend. I merely point out, in the manner of David Attenborough, that they do still very much exist.

Sophia Money-Coutts

London W12

Harry’s clever choice

Sir: Harry Mount is concerned by the ‘glamocratic mating’ that sees young royalty marrying people purely for their looks, money and celebrity. But in Prince Harry’s case, I think he’s made a clever choice. As Meghan Markle proved in their engagement interview on the BBC, she is a superb media performer, entirely at ease in front of the camera and dealing with questions from the press. She’s not just beautiful, rich and famous — she’s a pro.

Emma Barlow

Andover, Hampshire

Origins of clunge

Sir: In his thoughtful essay on female pudenda (‘If Damian Green lied I don’t blame him,’ 9 December), Rod Liddle says he was familiar at the age of 12 with the words clunge and flange. This would be about 1972. I hope he informs the Oxford English Dictionary, preferably with dated written references, as otherwise the word clunge will be claimed as the invention of the ‘cringe comedy’ series The Inbetweeners, first shown in 2008. In it one character, Jay, remarks to his friend Neil: ‘You may want to bring your wellies with you, cause you’ll be knee-deep in clunge.’

The need for the neologism, I think, was that clunge did service for another C-word before which even hardened comedy producers quailed.

Clunge had previously found its place as a part of the verb cling, which in its strong Anglo-Saxon form follows the paradigm cling, clang, clungen. In the Middle Ages, clots and clods would clunge together.

As for flange, Mr Liddle’s pre-teen apprehension of its meaning gives a new angle to Hopkins’s lines in ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, in which Death boasts: ‘Some find me a sword; some / The flange.’ A less celebrated work, Edward Knight’s posthumous Practical Dictionary of Mechanics (1884), explains that ‘flange bushing’ is a ‘flange that carries a shell which acts as a bushing to a hole’. That sounds more like Mr Liddle’s territory.

Elizabeth Johnson

London SW5

A pointless third

Sir: Alexander Waugh and Dr Geoffrey Thomas are in disagreement about whether Evelyn Waugh ‘scraped a third’ at Oxford (Letters, 9 December). I wonder if Brideshead Revisited offers a clue to the origins of this mystery. When Charles Ryder arrives at the university, he is firmly advised by his cousin Jasper: ‘You want either a first or a fourth. There is no value in anything between. Time spent on a good second is time thrown away.’ If Waugh did get a third, as Dr Thomas suggests, perhaps he didn’t want anyone to know.

Peter Loring


Dubious acquaintances

Sir: The British ambassador in Rome recorded that Churchill’s holiday meeting with Mussolini in 1927 (The Spectator Notes, 2 December) produced ‘much mutual appreciation’. For years afterwards the Duce spoke warmly of his visitor; Churchill continued to laud his host as a scourge of communism, hailing him in 1933 as a ‘Roman genius’ and ‘the greatest lawgiver among living men’. In September 1932 a holiday visit by Churchill to Munich was scheduled to bring a meeting with another fierce enemy of communism. The Regina Hotel, where Churchill was staying, was the agreed rendezvous. He awaited the arrival of this ‘patriotic German’, having a strong regard for ‘men who stand up for their country in defeat’, but for some unexplained reason Hitler failed to show up. It was only during the years which followed that Churchill decided that fascism was a greater menace than communism.

Alistair Lexden

House of Lords, London SW1

Better-framed solution

Sir: Having swallowed my gall at John Gray’s assertion that timber framers require ‘skills little higher than those required for an Ikea flat pack’ (Letters, 2 December), I felt compelled to write. While I would wholeheartedly accept that the future of British building lies in the greater use of sustainable timber, to do so in a fashion that repeats the mistakes of previous generations of planners would be naive and shortsighted. The form of timber building he is happy to disparage is in fact an import, the style of balloon framing having come from America in the late 19th century. Far from these buildings being torn down at the end of their natural lives, they remain a blight to our towns and villages today. So too would be the (by then) shoddy buildings Mr Gray suggests we import and build in such numbers.

As a traditional oak framer myself, my alternative would be to upskill our young carpenters, to work with the rich architectural vernacular inheritance we have in this country, and to build houses that last and remain pleasant places to live far beyond the lifespan of the cheap buildings he promotes. This surely would be a responsible, conservative and cherished legacy to leave future generations.

Joshua Webster

Hobbans Timberworks, Essex

Flash update

Sir: The article about Kate Flint’s Flash! Photography, Writing and Surprising Illumination states that Harold Edgerton’s high speed photography was enabled by ‘electrically controlled neon tubes’. Surely she meant xenon-filled tubes, which give a bright white light? Neon produces a characteristically orange light when excited.

Terence Weston

Swannington, Norfolk

Stick it to ’em

Sir: Stephen Bayley’s review of Helen Peavitt’s Refrigerator: The Story of Cool in the Kitchen (Books, 9 December) was insightful, but he didn’t mention the fridge’s most important accessory: the magnet. How else would I post shopping lists, children’s art and Michael Heath cartoons?

John O’Byrne