Sir: Jane Ridley (‘Women on the warpath’, Books, 10 February) claims that Millicent Fawcett and her suffragists had ‘got nowhere’ by the time the militant suffragettes came on the scene in 1903. In fact Fawcett’s law-abiding movement, with a membership of some 50,000 (far more than the quarrelling Pankhursts ever managed), had won round the majority of MPs by 1897. Between that date and final victory 20 years later, there were always more MPs in favour of women’s suffrage than against it, though the gap shrank during the years of the suffragette campaign. Its violence has to be high on the list of factors that delayed victory.
Ridley repeats the claim that Emily Davison ‘jumped out in front of the King’s horse at the Derby’. The coroner at her inquest concluded that ‘it was evident that Miss Davison did not make specifically for the King’s horse, but her intention was merely to disturb or upset the race’. She had positioned herself on a bend where she could hear, but not see, the horses approaching.
Ridley feels that Dame Millicent should not be alone in having a statue; Mrs Pankhurst should have one too. She already does. It stands, much admired, just beyond Parliament’s Victoria Tower where it was unveiled by Stanley Baldwin in 1930, two years after he had faced down intense opposition from Churchill and the Tory right to give women the vote on the same terms as men. Mrs Pankhurst died just after the legislation had passed, as the proud Tory candidate for Whitechapel.
House of Lords, London SW1
Better tax property
Sir: Matthew Parris is correct (10 February). There is no shortage of housing stock, and no feasible programme of housebuilding will fix the housing market. The generations endowed with housing wealth through tax and lending policies continued by all parties since 1959 have no incentive to use it productively; the next generation competes for a disproportionately small portion of the stock. But there is a solution to be explored. Someone who invests in improving the productivity of their labour will pay tax (including employee and employer NI) at a marginal rate of around 40 to 60 per cent, while someone who invests in under-occupied property pays no tax on the gain in value. We must shift the balance of taxation away from earnings and on to property.
More support for May
Sir: I feel compelled to write in support of Lindy Wiltshire (Letters, 10 February). Our PM often appears a lone voice in a torrent of unfair and unnecessary criticism. Splits in the cabinet seem inevitable and merely reflect the division in public and professional opinion. Healthy debate to reach a compromise of sorts and deliver a package that will also take the 48 per cent Remainers with her will undoubtedly transpire. But take a moment to consider the alternative — if she had taken a solid position from the outset, she would be accused of not representing the majority, of being elitist, inflexible, out of touch and only interested in self-preservation. Labour is equally split on this complex matter and offers no credible solution. As Lindy points out, this is a unique state of affairs, so it is time for us all to rally round.
Not a reason to love Brexit
Sir: Antony Browne deludes himself in harking back to what he calls the ‘simple purchase tax’ days (‘17 reasons to love Brexit’, 10 February). I recall endless arguments with the authorities over which rate of PT applied to which articles: for example, when was a ‘sweet dish’ (around 10 per cent PT) really an ashtray (25 per cent)? Dolls and chinaware were among many products which also encountered disputes with those in authority. These disputes invariably caused long delays while ‘Authority’ (in London’s Kings Beam House, as I recall) mulled over these reasons, and yet more when appeals were launched. While I am always eager to learn of reasons to love Brexit, the restoration of purchase tax is not one of them.
A plastic-free future
Sir: Ross Clark concedes that the seas are ‘unquestionably heavily polluted’ with a potpourri of discarded packaging (‘The truth about plastic’, 20 January) but then goes on to rail against efforts to stem the garbage tide. It’s perverse. The future has to be plastic-free.
Plastic pollution has become a voguish issue not because some out-of-touch elite has made it so, but because its effects are now so devastating that even the most ardent plastic advocate can’t bury their head in the sand. Vast swaths of coastline are tainted by the hangover from our decades-long addiction to goods wrapped in plastic. One in three fish caught off the coast of south-west England contains traces of it.
On top of this environmental impact, by wrapping fruit and vegetables in layer after layer of plastic, supermarkets have ensured that we have lost the multisensory experience that food shopping used to give us. Aisles of plastic, entombing everything, make the trip to our local supermarket one of sensory deprivation.
An important first step in the right direction — one that would give consumers more choice and protect the environment — would be plastic-free aisles in supermarkets, which are supported by more than 90 per cent of the adult UK population and have the backing of Theresa May. Such a step would make 2018 a milestone year for what has become the defining environmental issue of our age.
Sian Sutherland (co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet)