The Spectator

Letters | 19 May 2016

Plus: Overpraised things; the EU, funerals; lycra; Sats; Clumbers; Trump; wine, and more

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Republican party schisms

Sir: Jacob Heilbrunn astutely analyses the predicament Donald Trump creates for America’s neoconservatives (‘Lumped with Trump’, 14 May). But the ideological schisms within the Republican party are even more profound than he indicates. In fact, Trump not only divides the populist right from movement conservatives — and neoconservatives — based in Washington, DC, he also divides neoconservatives against themselves. William Kristol, the neoconservative kingpin in Washington, has lately found himself under intense attack by David Horowitz, a California-based ex-radical-turned-rightist in the classic neoconservative mould. Horowitz has excoriated Kristol for dividing Republicans and effectively helping Hillary Clinton. Trump, Horowitz argues, is not only obviously better than Clinton on domestic policy but is also apt to be a better friend to Israel, in part because Trump talks about renegotiating Obama’s deal with Iran, while Clinton supports the deal as it exists.

Pro-Trump neoconservatives, like pro-Trump conservatives of other schools, do not have nearly the media presence that anti-Trump conservatives do. Yet Horowitz is far from alone: an anonymous group of writers in California, who evidently have ‘Straussian’ neoconservative leanings, have recently started an intellectual Trumpist website called the Journal of American Greatness.

DC-based movement conservatism commands the loyalty of far fewer voters than anyone had suspected. The mirage of a powerful and unified conservative movement was but an illusion fostered by a dozen journalists in the nation’s capital intoxicated by their fame within the pages of their publications. But nobody in the country at large listens to them — not even the neoconservatives in places like California. So who needs Bill Kristol?

Daniel McCarthy

Editor of the American Conservative Alexandria, Virginia

What Trump represents

Sir: I don’t think the Trump phenomenon would have traction in any other country (Leading article, 7 May). His success is bound up with an innate American worship of financial fortune — a worship that is deeply in the culture. This somehow blinds people to all faults — including bigotry, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, dishonesty, hatred, ignorance and narcissism. To be extremely wealthy is to be ‘great’, and little else matters. It’s the essential criterion for greatness for the growing US underclass. Trump claims to be their champion, their messiah: a believable plain-speaking common man. In their bones, these Americans are anti-intellectual — they find fluent speakers repellent and un-American. They can’t see that Trump is also a buffoon and a fraud.

The great hope is that Bernie Sanders connects, too. The polls show that he would beat Trump with ease, because of his authenticity. Hillary Clinton, in Wall Street’s pocket and devoid of charisma, is not the candidate to beat Trump. In truth, she has a charisma bypass.

A US political revolution is now unstoppable. With the collapse of the old GOP, social democracy is finally on the rise. It’s the duty of all thinking Americans to vote. They should never underestimate their power. They did it twice for Barack Obama. Yes, they can do it for Bernie Sanders, too.

Patrick Glass

St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex

Trump-like Brexiteers

Sir: Matthew Parris has, without naming the name, illuminated the very Trump-like behaviour of the Brexiteers (‘Brexit Tories are feeling disrespected. How awful’, 30 April). Next, I suspect those same loudmouths will be importing Mr Trump’s wall to be erected on top of the cliffs of Dover.

Michael Brod

Rhinebeck, New York

The future outside Europe

Sir: Toby Young’s contributions are always interesting, but I differ from him regarding Brexit. In his article of 14 May he looks inwards (‘These heartless Europhile snobs’). Outwards is the more immediately important viewpoint (though, whatever we decide, we do still have difficult internal problems to solve). The Hinkley Point fiasco and the recent interest of China are instructive. In Europe, we are an important component of a world power which ranks beside (and can, if required, stand up to) the USA, Russia, India and China. Outside Europe, we would be no more than a leading second-division nation of reduced economic independence and international influence.

Ray Quinlan

Ashtead, Surrey

Overpraised things

Sir: Mark Mason nails it (‘Guilty displeasures’, 14 May). Spike Milligan wasn’t funny (nor are Reeves and Mortimer). Coffee is hideous. Brandy doesn’t aid digestion. The Beatles were OK. The Book of Common Prayer (1662)? Other prayer books are available…

Revd George Pitcher

All Saints, Waldron, East Sussex

Critical mass

Sir: I agree wholeheartedly with Stewart Dakers’s view that funerals are far too concerned with celebrating a life (‘The death of the funeral’, 14 May). As a Catholic I am constantly appalled by ‘novus ordo’ funerals that have booklets titled: ‘A celebration of the life of…’.

Why oh why must a Catholic church that teaches the four last things — and many priests who should know better — allow these quasi canonisations to take place? The liturgy has already been rendered useless by this focus before the remains of the deceased have been brought into the church. In Catholic circles, it’s simple: the holy sacrifice of the mass; black vestments and prayers for the repose of the soul with ‘the hope of eternal life’. Requiescant in pace please!

Paul Madden

Dunfermline, Fife

Cameron’s Scottish absence

Sir: Andrew Hamilton laments the non-appearance of David Cameron in the recent Scottish elections (Letters, 7 May). I beg to differ: his involvement would have been a great error, and the success of Ruth Davidson would have been compromised by his participation. A certain distancing from perceived Westminster and southern toxicity was essential to her rebranding of the party here to give it a distinctive identity. Her plan seems to have paid off handsomely.

John Scarlett

Gorebridge, Midlothian

Sats test shambles

Sir: As Toby Young (Status anxiety, 7 May) says, the case for testing children in schools by objective means is incontrovertible. However, the shambles of tests being leaked and accidentally published indicates a deeply flawed test-development process. There were clearly no spare test forms to distribute at short notice when one was compromised by being published on the Department of Education website, which meant that the whole exam cycle had to be cancelled.

In any well-run process, if a test is compromised it is simply replaced with another test. Tests should be developed as a batch of individual ‘test items’ which are combined into a ‘test form’. A suitable replacement test form should have been available at the touch of a button. So while the case for tests is clear, there must be grave doubts as to the reliability of the tests themselves.

Toby is right about the need for data, but it seems that the data we get may well be garbage. The drive to increase testing standards seems to have a long way to go.

Stuart Fraser

CEO, Communicaid Group, London EC3

Social Clumbers

Sir: Allan Massie’s interesting piece on Clumber spaniels noted that George V kept them at Sandringham. But he omitted to mention the fact that as soon as he died, Edward VIII ordered the whole pack destroyed (‘Notes on’, 7 May). The reason? One of the dogs had once peed on his trousers.

Happily, the keeper disobeyed his orders and kept a breeding pair from which, it is said, most modern Clumbers are descended. I think this incident says a great deal about Edward VIII’s fitness to rule.

John C.H. Mounsey

Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire

Licence to bully

Sir: I can testify to being one from whom the BBC is currently demanding ‘money with menaces’ (Notes, 14 May).

I stopped watching live TV some years ago, and informed the BBC that I no longer required a licence. A few years on they have decided that I must surely be watching TV again, and have sent me a raft of increasingly aggressive letters threatening me with prosecution if I don’t either pay a licence fee or inform them that I don’t watch live TV. I know that a simple phone call would be sufficient to stop the flow of threats, but why should I have to contact them to tell them that I’m still not doing something that they think I must be doing? Why the assumption that I can’t possibly live without live television?

Possession surely cannot imply misuse. I also possess an efficient set of kitchen knives, but I don’t get regular letters from the police asking if I’ve murdered anyone yet. It’s time for an end to this pernicious form of government-sponsored institutional bullying.

Jonathan Poulton

Honiton, Devon

Burgundian problem

Sir: Please tell Bruce Anderson that the reason for almost all prematurely oxidised burgundies is a lack of ‘free’ SO2 (Drink, 7 May). With rising temperatures and lower acid levels, the effectiveness of sulphur dioxide is lessened. Everyone seems to know this but the Burgundians. Ask yourself, have German Rieslings ever suffered from ‘premox’? No — because they have always bottled at 60 mg/l of free SO2. This is often derided as over-sulphuring, but at least their best wines keep for decades without spoiling.

The Burgundians can blame corks or the weather or whatever they wish to blame, but if they had added enough SO2 the problem would not have occurred. True, their wines might not have been quite so forward and attractive for their equivalent of ‘en primeur’ tastings, but is this a loss compared with the vast amounts of potentially fine wine spoilt?

Stephen Skelton MW

London SW6

Firefly in disrepair

Sir: It was sad to learn in Petronella Wyatt’s diary (7 May) about the lamentable state of Noel Coward’s Firefly in Jamaica. But I would still urge people to visit the house.

It was not, however, Princess Margaret who came to lunch with Coward in 1965 but the Queen Mother. The ‘crocked crockery’ on display was borrowed from Blanche Blackwell, mother of Chris Blackwell, who discovered Bob Marley.

Mark Palmer

London SW6

Not fighting but killing

Sir: In his article on bullfighting, Simon Courtauld writes that he hopes to see the Peruvian matador Andres Roca Rey fighting in Madrid later this month (‘Notes on’, 14 May).

That indeed would be a sight to see. However, Andres Roca Rey will not be fighting any bulls that day. What he will be doing is killing several innocent animals — quite a different matter.

Aart van Kruiselbergen

London N1

Great Dane!

Sir: Charles Moore may be forgiven almost anything, but Norman Scott’s dog Rinka was not an Alsatian — it was a Great Dane (Notes, 14 May).

Justin Swan

London SW16