The Spectator

Letters | 23 November 2017

Also in Letters: who follows Corbyn, Edwina Currie on I’m a Celebrity and why fishermen fish

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The medium is the message

Sir: In his piece about the tech-savvy Labour party, Robert Peston writes: ‘A party’s values and messages matter. But in today’s digital Babel, they are probably less important than how the message is presented and to whom it is communicated’ (‘Corbyn 2.0’, 18 November).

Some of your readers may remember the late Marshall McLuhan who in the 1960s coined the phrase ‘The medium is the message.’ I’ve always thought this to have been prescient for its time and it has become ever more pertinent. It is an enormous downside to the digital age that the means of transmitting data is more important than its content.

Geoff Neden

Diddlebury, Shropshire

Corbyn’s ‘followers’

Sir: Robert Peston’s piece on elections and social media was sensationally well written and researched. He made one wrong assumption, though: that every ‘follow’ on Twitter is an endorsement of the politician or party’s views. I followed Mr Corbyn on Twitter in the run-up to the 2017 election to receive regular updates on his policies and views, as well as to get out of my social media echo chamber. Of course, the more followers Corbyn has, the greater likelihood that his views are retweeted. But many of his base are there for intrigue and at times irony.

James Bowler


Edwina’s experiences

Sir: Toby Young (‘It’s a jungle in there, Stanley’, 18 November) is wrong to warn Stanley Johnson of the ‘complete absence of intelligent conversation’ on the set of I’m a Celebrity. On my sojourn there in 2014, the only other graduate was Tinchy Stryder, a rapper, son of Ghanaian immigrants. He talked me through the social development of modern music; we got to Dizzee Rascal before he was voted out. Michael Buerk, former BBC Africa correspondent, spoke of Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela; Vicki Michelle, actress and wicked mimic, gave us ’Allo ’Allo! and other shows. And I had fierce intellectual arguments with a former Playmate of Hugh Hefner.

Nor should Stanley’s age (77) be a barrier. He’ll manage happily without a phone or Facebook; he’ll excel at mind games requiring concentration and a good memory, all refined in pre-internet days. His old-fashioned courtesy will make him a star. As for the food: I didn’t have to eat anything particularly horrible, but was ready with a line, if necessary: ‘This reminds me of my husband’s cooking…’

Edwina Currie Jones

Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire

Pointing out howlers

Sir: As many Spectator readers will be aware, Stratfordian scholars are short on facts, which is why a whole industry is now built around the task of correcting their howlers. In a short paragraph adverting to his literary tastes, Lewis Jones complains of a ‘book’ by a ‘scholar’ (why the inverted commas?) which he calls ‘sensibly priced at £0.00’ and which he believes ‘argues that Shakespeare’s works must have been written by a proper toff’ (Books, 18 November). Into this muddle he facetiously drags my grandfather, Evelyn Waugh, claiming that he ‘scraped a third at Hertford’.

Where shall I start? Evelyn Waugh did not ‘scrape a third at Hertford’, he never graduated from Oxford or anywhere else. The title to which Jones refers (Shakespeare in Court) costs £1.74, which is the average price of a Kindle-Single, and it does not argue that a ‘proper toff’ or any other candidate wrote Shakespeare’s works, but simply lays out the facts that demonstrate why orthodox assumptions about Shakespeare are incorrect. Jones has neither bought nor read this book — that much is obvious — so did we really need his error-strewn opinions on it?

Alexander Waugh

Milverton, Somerset

Emperor Charles I’s efforts

Sir: Lord Lansdowne (‘The Great Lost Peace’, 18 November) was not the only European leader advocating peace initiatives well before the first world war came to an end in 1918. Emperor Charles I of Austria-Hungary, who had succeeded his father in 1916, made strenuous efforts to end the war immediately. His initiatives would have secured peace in Europe by 1917, possibly even 1916. It was the entry of the United States into the war in 1917 that fundamentally destroyed any chance that his efforts might succeed. Had they done so, Europe’s monarchies would have been saved, and the history of Europe would have been very different. The Russian tsar and Austrian and German kaisers would have survived, and the rise of European fascism would have been prevented.

Woodrow Wilson, who is said to have been delighted by news of the overthrow of the Russian tsar, was ideologically committed to the destruction of European monarchies. The fact that his democratic creations of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia fell apart so quickly suggests that they were not an improvement on what had preceded them. As a model of a successful, liberal, multicultural society, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had a record second to none.

Major Mark Jenkins

London SW10

Why fishermen fish

Sir: I enjoyed Rose George’s review of Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilisation (Books, 18 November) and am inspired to put it on my list to buy. I was, however, struck by the omission of the fact that many fishermen either don’t own land or, as in the case of the people living on the coral atolls of the Pacific Islands, that their land is too poor to sustain their families. Working with fishermen in a number of developing countries taught me that in almost all cases they are at the low end of the social scale because of the lack of land. I was repeatedly assured that they would cheerfully give up the business of risking their lives in fragile vessels on the ocean in exchange for a patch of fertile land.

Richard Elsy