The Spectator

Letters | 25 May 2017

Also: Boris Johnson and Libya; battle names; hidden art; the most brilliant prime minister

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NHS in a mess

Sir: Max Pemberton is quite right to say that the NHS is close to collapse, but I’m not sure a Royal Commission is the answer (‘This is an emergency’, 20 May). The problems facing the NHS have been obvious for years, and need, as Max points out, a strong politician to take unpopular decisions, not an expensive Royal Commission to decide what the issues are. The other problem with a Royal Commission is that it would draw its membership from senior doctors, retired politicians, and other members of the establishment, some of whom are responsible for the mess in the first place.

Dr Chris Nancollas

Yorkley, Gloucestershire

How to free up beds

Sir: How gratifying to read Max Pemberton’s well-constructed debate on NHS funding. One thing Mr Pemberton did not mention is reversing Gordon Brown’s abolition of tax relief on private medical insurance for the elderly, which was a spiteful act driven by political ideology. This seems particularly relevant because, as Max Pemberton says, two thirds of hospital beds are taken up by over-65s. If restoring tax relief took a significant proportion of these patients out of the NHS then that would free up not only a significant proportion of beds but also of NHS resources.

Pete Lewington

Byton, Herefordshire

Boris is wrong on Libya

Sir: It is true that this is a moment of hope for Libya that must not be missed, but Boris Johnson’s analysis will not lead to peace or stability (‘A moment of hope for Libya,’ 13 May). His failure to understand what is really happening threatens to betray the 2011 revolution. Libya needs Britain’s help. Rewarding General Haftar’s brutality by welcoming him into government, as the Foreign Secretary suggests, is not the answer. Haftar’s war on terror is nothing more than a sham giving him licence to obliterate the opposition with impunity. The people he is targeting are fighting for the right to elect a civilian government and to stop Gaddafi’s supporters from returning to power. This fight is not about combatting Isis. We need western governments to support the UN-backed government in Tripoli, to enforce a no-fly zone so that the bombing of civilians stops, and to keep the arms embargo in place.

Muhammad Abdullah

Benghazi, Libya

War babies

Sir: Charles Moore (Notes, 20 May) writes of the naming of children after battles. The fashion, especially among working-class parents, of naming children after Boer war battles was guyed by Messrs Murphy and Hall in the popular music-hall song ‘The Baby’s Name’ which, performed by Charles Bignell, was a smash in 1901. In a fit of patriotic fervour, a Mrs Bloggs commemorates not only the battles but the military leaders who fought them: ‘The baby’s name is Kitchener Carington Methuen Kekewich White Cronje Plumer Powell Majuba Gatacre Warren Colenso Kruger Capetown Mafeking French Kimberley Ladysmith Bobs Union Jack Fighting Mack Lyddite Pretoria Bloggs.’

Hailz-Emily Osborne

Eton College, Windsor

A better use for Battersea

Sir: It pains me that Antonia Fraser can’t see the Tate’s 13 works by David Jones because they’re kept in the cellar (Letters, 20 May), but more than half of British galleries’ collections are stored away from view. If only George Osborne had not been so hooked on angling for foreign cash, the London art establishment so up itself and successive culture secretaries so dim, then the long-abandoned Battersea Power Station could have been had for a knockdown price, and could have hosted exhibitions of works for which London and provincial galleries had no wall space. It would have livened up a drab part of the south bank. But no: it was handed over to foreign money to turn into a warren of unoccupied flats for overseas investors.

Ross Davies

London SW8

Empty houses

Sir: Theresa May could secure at least five Tory seats in London on 8 June if she addressed the problem that in the capital many expensive houses and flats are owned by people, mainly but not exclusively Arab, Chinese or Russian, who occupy them for only a few weeks a year. Foreign owners enjoy the benefits while not contributing to the economy or to the security of our nation. Legislation should be passed to ensure that absentee owners compensate for their privileged position by paying higher rates, especially if they occupy their property for less than three months a year.

Chris Minter

London SW6

The most brilliant PM

Sir: Toby Young (20 May) rates Harold Wilson the most brilliant 20th-century prime minister because of his exam results in PPE. I would have thought that was bested by Margaret Thatcher’s dual qualification as an industrial chemist and as a barrister. In these days, when vocation enjoys all the prestige, I would have thought that professional qualifications outranked the academic. In any event, both would have to defer to Sir Robert Peel’s double first in classics and mathematics.

Anthony Cutler

London SW7

On the Richter scale

I was surprised to read in Norman Lebrecht’s entertaining article about Emil Gilels (Arts, 13 May) that the great pianist never referred to his rival Richter. I read somewhere that when Gilels first visited the USA and was drenched with applause from all sides, his response was: ‘If you think I’m good, wait till you hear Richter.’ It speaks well of both of them if this anecdote is true.

Mitchell Horwood