The Spectator

Letters | 16 March 2017

Also in Spectator Letters: Scotland’s second referendum, economic warnings, the National Trust, manners, private schools and Shakespeare

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Pope Francis’s mission

Sir: Despite Damian Thompson’s intimations (‘The plot against the Pope’, 11 March), Pope Francis is going nowhere except onwards and upwards. Jorge Bergoglio has a loving family background which gives him a mature, balanced personality. He is gifted with a fine, open mind, underpinned by an Ignatian spirituality which reminds him of his sinfulness and his constant need for God’s grace. He also has vast experience of the pastoral ministry in the Buenos Aires slums.

No doubt there is a ‘Borgia’ element in the Vatican. This lust for power is not at all what the crucified Christ encouraged in His disciples. As the Pope presses on with the belated but vital reform of the Catholic church, we pray, and he must watch his back.

Father John Buckley


When to jump ship

Sir: Surely Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have called for a second referendum too early? If, as they seem to believe, Brexit will be a disaster for the UK economy, then why don’t they wait for that disaster to unfold and then call a referendum when they could almost be guaranteed to win it? As it is, we will probably still be negotiating the terms of our exit next autumn and it must be doubtful that the Scots will be keen to make the decision to jump ship before they know whether it is likely to hit the rocks or not.

Joss Walker

London SW3

Were warnings heeded?

Sir: Discussing a possible second Scottish independence referendum, your Scotland editor, Alex Massie, writes: ‘The economic warnings before the Brexit vote were equally virulent, yet made no impact’ (‘Back into battle’, 4 March). I don’t know what evidence he has for that. My impression, and I was involved in the Brexit campaign, was that they had a perceptible impact, and that had they not been widely (albeit erroneously) believed, the Leave majority would have been considerably larger.

Nigel Lawson

House of Lords, London SW1

A rocket for the Trust

Sir: May I add something to Harry Mount’s account of the National Trust’s activities? (‘Dumbing down the house’, 11 March) In January, the National Trust decided to close George Stephenson’s birthplace — a cottage near Wylam — for the whole of 2017. Attributing this to ‘rising costs and a decline in visitor numbers’, the National Trust described the closure as ‘temporary’, adding: ‘Throughout the year we will be looking at other ways to engage with visitors and tell the story of young George.’ Aside from the question of what form this engagement will take, I would have thought that less interpretative signage in the south might have meant funds were available to keep open this historically significant property in the north. The Trust’s ‘Visit the North-East’ webpage suggests: ‘Lose yourself in the dunes of the Northumberland Coast.’ Would it be too much to hope that some of its directors follow this advice?

Victoria Owens


Smartphone manners

Sir: Jenny Coad’s piece (‘Calendar clash’, 11 March) on the decline of spontaneity captures the reality of a modern social life. But she makes no mention of the demise of good manners in all this. A smartphone now serves as a tool for bludgeoning away long-made plans. With a quick text, one can simply drop out. Planning to be less busy is only half the battle. We should also concentrate on exercising good manners, and sticking by the plans we make.

Ben Judge

London SE5

It’s our money

Sir: Much as I enjoy Joanna Trollope’s writing, I would request that she doesn’t confuse fact with fiction when stating that road and buildings improvements in Wales are funded by money from the EU (Diary, 11 March). As the UK is a net contributor to the EU, this is UK money distributed by the EU, not a generous gift as implied.

Mrs Ann Wright

Stoke Bishop, Bristol

Schools for all sorts

Sir: In making his argument for adding VAT to school fees, Tom Benyon (Letters, 11 March) assumes that because 7 per cent of parents send their children to private schools, the other 93 per cent cannot afford the fees. Surely we all know people who could afford to send their children to independent schools but opt for a state school instead? It is similarly rash for him to conclude that private schools are the domain solely of ‘those who dominate the UK establishment’. During the past 13 years of using independent schools, I have been continually surprised by the breadth of professions represented among my fellow parents. While there has been no shortage of lawyers, doctors and businesspeople at parents’ evenings, my children have also been educated alongside the sons and daughters of teachers, social workers, hairdressers and bus drivers.

What opponents of private education often fail to grasp is how many parents make severe sacrifices in order to afford the best for their children. Mr Benyon (and Michael Gove) would reward this dedication by making private education so costly that only the super-rich can afford it — a sure way of stymying the meritocratic society they claim to champion.

Richard Hopwood

Brighouse, West Yorkshire

Prospero’s grave thoughts

Sir: ‘The King Lears among us — whose every third thought is the grave’, writes Cressida Connolly reviewing Julia Samuel’s Grief Works (Books, 11 March). Not Lear but Prospero (Tempest Act V sc. 1): ‘And thence retire me to my Milan, where/

Every third thought shall be my grave.’

Peter J Conradi

Presteigne, Radnorshire