Sir: If our Brexit negotiator David Davis has not read Robert Tombs’s wonderful article ‘Lost in translation’ (21 October) on how different the French and the British can be when it comes to the negotiating table, he really should, as it splendidly exemplifies how useful history can be.
The trouble is, of course, that politicians are often too busy to read history, or that historians get round to writing something useful too late to exert practical influence. In this instance, however, there is still time: manufactured deadlines can be adjusted, and (given adequate cross-cultural empathy) accommodations can be reached.
The law in France
Sir: Robert Tombs highlights the differences between the UK and France brilliantly. My prime reason for voting for Brexit is that the laws in these two countries are basically different. Here, they are essentially made from grass roots upwards, our Common Law. There, they come down from the top, Napoleonic Law. The former have the respect of the people, and are generally adhered to; in France there is the sense that they are imposed from the top, and are therefore held in some contempt. So when I need something that’s been banned in the EU, I will not find it in the UK, but put it on my list for my next visit to France.
Sir: Those concerned over the ever-increasing limitation to free speech so aptly reported in Lionel Shriver’s recent article (‘The young oppress their future selves’, 21 October) might have their anxieties doubled having read the Crown Prosecution Service’s Public statement on prosecuting racist and religious hate crime from August this year:
‘We have agreed with the police a shared definition. This is wider than the legal definition [previously agreed]... to ensure that we capture all relevant cases:
‘Any incident/crime which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or religion or perceived race or religion … the presence of any such motivation or hostility will mean it is more likely that a prosecution is required.’
It is difficult to believe that Parliament, when it passed the original Race Relations Act, meant freedom of speech to be curtailed in such a Draconian manner. Has the CPS exceeded its remit? Orwell must be spinning in his tomb.
Persevere to persevere
Sir: I fear that Toby Young falls into a common trap in his discussion of whether perseverance can be taught (‘Sadly, true grit can’t be taught’, 21 October). Should I not practise the piano just because I will never play with the skill of a Mozart? We teach all our children maths and English with no expectation that they will become university professors. We need to think about direction of travel: can people improve these skills and characteristics with practice? The issue really isn’t nature vs nurture or whether there is a resilience gene. There is substantial evidence that mental resilience, perseverance and application can improve with repeated exposure to the right situations. Don’t give up yet, Toby. These are exactly the type of characteristics you should be working on with today’s youngsters.
Love of the index
Sir: It was the legendary Scottish judge and writer Henry Cockburn who declared that ‘the author of a book without an index should be shot’ (Letters, 21 October). There should be severe punishment, too, for those who give a long lists of page numbers; a breakdown of entries is essential so that arresting comments can be located readily. One novel with an index is Tolstoy’s Resurrection in an American translation. Evelyn Waugh loved it: ‘the first entry is “Adultery”; the last “Why do people punish?”,’ he told Times readers on 16 October 1961 in a missive included in the recently published Times Great Letters.
House of Lords, SW1
An insult to northerners
Sir: Reluctant as I am to play the professional northerner, I can’t contain my irritation at Deborah Ross’s response to hearing ‘broad Yorkshire’ in her review of The Death Of Stalin (21 October). She describes the accent as ‘weird’, ‘pointless’, and ‘distracting’, and contrasts it unfavourably with the ‘British’ accents heard elsewhere in the film.
Those of us who live in northern England are well accustomed to being marginalised by the London media bubble. But it’s a provocation too far when we are begrudged even the occasional token acknowledgement that we exist.
Don’t knock friends
Sir: I feel a little balance is due following Julie Burchill’s column on friendships (‘Kill your friendships’, 14 October). Surely Cicero would not have written his treatise De Amicitia had friendship not been such a noble virtue?
One of our younger readers
Sir: Deborah Ross (‘Back to the future’, 7 October) suggests The Spectator does not have readers under 35. I would like to reassure her I am a subscriber and under 35. I read The Spectator every week for its excellent journalism and commentary. Unfortunately, I was not old enough to go to the first Blade Runner film (released 1982) but on her recommendation, I will rent it at the weekend.
Michelle de Vry
Raynes Park, London