Reasons to use less plastic
Sir: Yes, packaging from petrochemicals is bad, but what if we set out to use less of it? Like Ross Clark, I was once dismayed by wilting vegetables in my village shop (‘The great plastic panic’, 20 January). Then the shop closed, to be replaced by a community shop and café which stocks produce from local farmers and steers away from excess plastic packaging. This is not just a middle-class rural luxury: grass roots movements such as Food Assemblies are springing up in major cities, enabling shoppers to bring their own bags and buy food straight from producers who don’t put their vegetables in plastic costumes. These may be micro-gestures, but they point to the need for a root-and-branch rethink of packing in our food industry. It would be heartening, for a start, to see British supermarkets introduce dispensers for dry foodstuffs, and incentivise customers to re-use bottles and containers, as is common practice on the continent.
And can we also widen the debate about plastic vs paper bags beyond climate change? Albatrosses and other seabirds are not dying excruciating deaths as a result of swallowing bits of waterlogged brown paper, are they?
Go and see Darkest Hour
Sir: I think Charles Moore should rethink and go to see Darkest Hour (The Spectator’s Notes, 20 January). As regards the power of the central performance, I can only say (as someone whose father was at Dunkirk as a BEF staff officer who refused early evacuation and remained as a despatch rider, and who married my mother in Northumberland only two weeks after repatriation) that it moved me to understand how this moment and this individual inspired, for my parents’ generation, their endurance of the four years ahead. Mr Moore should be prepared if necessary to hold his nose and avert his eyes from that one scene, and trust his own judgment on the whole production.
The one-stop commute
Sir: In explaining why he has given the latest Churchill biopic Darkest Hour a miss, Charles Moore asserts that only a madman would travel from Downing Street via St James’s Park station to get to Westminster. While historical inaccuracies ought to be called out where possible, I write in defence of those who opt for the one-stop commute. Admittedly my starting point is the Spectator offices, not Downing Street, but I must confess that sometimes — particularly in the case of rain, cold weather or kitten heels — the District Line really is the only way to travel from St James’s Park to Westminster. With an exit from the tube straight into Parliament, it’s public transport to your desk.
The elephant on the farm
Sir: Sir James Dyson is right (Letters, 20 January). We need big farming; that is where our food comes from. But the elephant in the room is tax — inheritance tax and roll-over relief — which of course he conveniently skirts. Farming at this level needs subsidy precisely because land is too expensive for food production to give an economic return through income. And why is this? Because so much money chases land for tax reasons. The massive distortion of the allocation of capital due to tax reliefs is one of the fundamental problems of the UK. The solution is not more tax, it is to reduce tax to a level so that the economic case , not tax, drives decisions; and then remove reliefs. Inheritance tax and long-term gains tax at 15 per cent would do the trick nicely and probably raise no less tax. The problem with both removing relief while keeping tax at its full rate, and radical reform, would be the capital hit on property assets. At some stage, though, we do have to tackle this, but it requires someone with courage. Might that be Michael Gove?
The church’s minerals
Sir: In regard to Harry Mount’s entertaining whizz through the history of the Church of England’s land holdings (‘Holy lands’, 20 January) we would like to make the following clarification. Under the Land Registration Act 2002, in order to safeguard their interests, the Church Commissioners and every other mineral owner in the country was required to register their mineral rights with the Land Registry. This has enabled the Land Register to show who owns the surface and, where severed, who owns the minerals interest. We have long owned all the interests we registered. This recent legal obligation to register was about properly registering existing interests, not claiming new ones. Our mineral rights registrations have no relation to fracking, as all oil and gas deposits in the UK are owned by the crown. There are no plans for us to use our land or mineral rights for that purpose.
Chief surveyor, Church Commissioners for England, London SW1
Ferrari’s prancing horse
Sir: The real story of Ferrari’s use of the cavallino rampante is a little more romantic than Stephen Bayley’s suggestion that he had ‘slyly lifted’ it from a first world war fighter ace (‘Hot wheels’, 20 January). The ace in question was Francesco Baracca and the prancing horse from his family crest was painted on the side of his SPAD aircraft. He was shot down and killed in June 1918. In 1923, after Enzo Ferrari had won a race at the Savio track in Ravenna, Countess Paolina Baracca, Francesco’s mother, asked if he would put her late son’s cavallino rampante on the side of his cars, as she hoped it might bring him good luck. It seems to have worked.