Seeing off the Speaker
Sir: If senior Tories in Buckingham had had their way, John Bercow’s career as Speaker could have been over long before he had a chance to make any ‘spectacularly ill-judged’ remarks (Politics, 18 February). At the 2010 election, an impressive local Tory was keen to prevent the new Labour-supported Speaker retaining the seat where the party had had an 18,000 majority in 2005. Conservative headquarters insisted that Buckingham must abide by the long-standing convention that the Speaker is returned unopposed. The local Tories should have gone ahead; there is no such convention. All ten Speakers since the war have faced opposition. Six, including Bercow, have faced independents or minor parties. Four, all from the Tory ranks, had official Labour and/or Liberal candidates against them. If the Conservatives had taken a leaf out of their opponents’ book, they could have dislodged a Speaker who had moved sharply to the left in order to get his high office.
House of Lords
Sir: Your correspondent Anne-Marie Baxter (Letters, 18 February) opines that Britain has plenty of room for more housing. Perhaps she would have a few housing estates on the underdeveloped wilderness of Exmoor near her home? Here in rural Staffordshire it is two years since I saw a hedgehog, five since I saw a toad, and eight since I saw a frog. Sparrows here are down to one small flock, and I have seen none in London — not a single ‘cockney sparrer’ — for many years.
The question, with unlimited fecundity and technologies which have made humans as near as dammit immortal, is not ‘How many houses can we crowbar in here?’, but ‘What sort of world do we want?’ Having created, with blithe indifference, an ecology which will no longer support frogs, toads and hedgehogs, perhaps we should begin to wonder if the ecology we are creating will, one day, not support humans.
Sir: My memories of my conversation with Harry Mount about Bullingdon Club photographs are different from his (‘Bye bye, Buller’, 18 February). No doubt I mentioned the Stalinist habit of airbrushing inconvenient persons from pictures and from history. But this had ceased long before I lived in the USSR in the early 1990s. And the picture which I discussed with him was not the famous image of David Cameron and friends in their Bullingdon battledress, but a later study of the club, featuring Mr Mount himself, George Osborne and Nat Rothschild. As I noted in my Mail on Sunday column back in 2008, it is very odd. I had and have no explanation, certainly not the one he attributes to me in his article.
To the left of the middle, there’s a peculiar gap where somebody ought to be standing, but isn’t. Curiously, there’s a patch of shirtfront and waistcoat there, with no person wearing them. More puzzling still, Mr Rothschild’s right trouser leg has a white lapel on it, not a usual arrangement even under the distinctive dress code of the Bullingdon. On close examination, the three seated figures at the front appear to have been stuck in place after being moved from somewhere else. Mr Mount did at one stage offer to explain to me what had happened, and we arranged to meet. But he then cancelled the meeting. I thank him for reminding me of this.
Betting on Trump
Sir, I have always enjoyed reading Matthew Parris: his articles are always cogent, trenchant and beautifully expressed. However, he has recently acquired the habit of being invariably wrong. His offer to take a small bet that Donald Trump’s state visit won’t happen (18 February) is therefore worth a punt. May I offer £50?
Sir: I read with interest Charles Moore’s comment on the verse in Psalm 42 regarding the ‘water pipe’ (Notes, 18 February). He asks about the original Hebrew text. The word in Hebrew is tzinor, which in Talmudic and modern Hebrew does mean pipe. But the word in Psalms seems to refer to a water channel — which is conceptually similar to a water pipe. This would make more sense in the context. There is supporting evidence in 2 Samuel 5:8, the only other place in the Bible where tzinor appears. There it was originally translated as ‘gutter’, but since excavations by Charles Warren in 1867, it has been thought to refer to a water tunnel which helped Jerusalem’s inhabitants access their water supply from the Gihon spring.
How not to dance
Sir: Poor old Mark Mason, who dislikes dancing and hates being pressured to join in (‘Let’s not dance’, 18 February). As the years advance I feel the opposite pressure. Most men of my generation shy away from the dancefloor thanks to the invention of the phrase ‘dad-dancing’, which is seen as terminally uncool. In fact the only thing more uncool is air-guitar playing, which Mark enjoys. When next pushed to dance he should strap on his phantom Fender and make agonised faces in the manner of Carlos Santana mid-solo. He won’t be asked again.
Sir: Martin Vander Weyer (Any other business, 18 February) cites a widow of 72 who manages fine without cash or cheques. Does she have a cleaner or window-cleaner, and if so how does she pay?