The Spectator

Letters | 27 April 2017

Also in Spectator Letters: Remainer readers; private schools; Rod and the elites; Queen Camilla; Islam; sheep worriers; and mumbling

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Aid is not the answer

Bill Gates says he is a huge fan of capitalism and trade (Save Aid!, 22 April) but then spoils it by repeating the received wisdom about aid: ‘If you care at all about conditions in Africa – the population explosion, measles, polio — then don’t suggest there is a private-sector solution to these problems. It’s outrageous.’

No. It is not outrageous. A vigorous private sector is the only answer to African development. I have spent my life in Africa, working in 18 of its countries, usually deep in the bush. I have watched numerous aid programmes fail once the external funding is removed, and have spent much time thinking about and discussing why this should be so.

After 50 years and something like a trillion dollars, Africa’s growth rate is barely keeping up with its population. Mr Gates has put aside $40 billion to help, and yes, the clean water, sanitation and vaccinations it funds will save many thousands. But it will not drag Africa out of poverty. This requires cultural changes.

The problem here is the nomadic roots of African culture. Nomadism eschews private property, and communal land ownership is still the norm in Africa. If Africa is to develop, then aid money should be directed at changing this. Until this cultural change occurs, the money spent by Mr Gates will not develop Africa. It will simply keep it running on the spot.

John Hollaway

Harare, Zimbabwe

Rich history

Sir: When future historians attempt to explain the recent rise of populism with policy-related examples, they can be assisted by Bill Gates’s recent intervention in the political debate around the UK’s contribution to overseas aid. Although he is the richest man in the world, Gates has no electoral mandate. However, it seems that his advocated aid budget of 0.7 per cent of GDP has the support of all the main UK political parties. In contrast, among the UK electorate, opinion is mixed. Some opinion polls showing a majority against the current levels of aid. Disparities such as this, between the elected and the electors, help feed the populist narrative that we are controlled by a wealthy global elite.

Charles Jenkins

Penn, Buckinghamshire

Bored by the ballot

Sir: We British are not political animals. To be asked, two years ago, to vote in a general election, and then last year in a referendum is more than enough to be getting on with.

It may amuse and employ the media. It may seem a good ploy in the game of Westminster politics. But we the people elect our MPs to get on with the serious business of government — legislation, managing the economy, diplomacy, implementing policies and so on — hopefully unfazed by opinion polls, social media, and the feverish daily contradictions from the pundits.

We do not want to be bothered every five minutes — you were elected, get on with it. One supposes one will have to go and vote in June, but I am not sure I can be bothered to contribute in any way to the election. What a bore.

Anne Booth

Shaftesbury, Dorset

Slippery polls

Sir: Rod Liddle is right to mock the credibility of the pollsters (‘What I expect from this pointless election’, 22 April). Their record since the 2015 general election has been nothing short of an embarrassment. I’m not one for conspiracy theories but I do not recall a single occasion in over 40 years when I have been asked by a pollster about my voting preferences (or anything else, for that matter). Evidence from family and friends suggests that these pollsters are rather discreet. I’m curious to know if any of your readers can prove otherwise.

Charlie Ainsworth

Haywards Heath, West Sussex

No comparison

Sir: Rod Liddle, whose writing I always enjoy, describes Tim Farron as possessing the ‘sparkling allure of a Methodist Church Hall in Bishop Auckland in late November’. He may be quite right about Mr Farron, but this is surely very unfair to Bishop Auckland, a lovely town with a splendid episcopal palace.

Eliot Wilson


Side-saddle suffering

Sir: Simon Barnes makes an interesting point about riding side-saddle (‘Side-saddle is sexy’, 15 April), but as a teacher, writer and rider with 50 years of horsemanship behind me, I beg to differ. Most importantly because it causes inevitable suffering to both rider and horse. First, by not remaining square to axis, the rider is placed in an unnatural posture. Secondly, this inevitably leads to a harmful twisting of the rider’s spine. Thirdly, this leads to the overloading of one side of the horse’s body, leading to a similar imbalance. Finally, it is unsafe. If the horse falls to the ‘wrong’ side, both the rider’s legs will be pinned underneath.

Much as I understand the ‘step back into history’ attitude of riders such as Simon Barnes, I have to disagree that side-saddle riding is harmless. It may indeed be a way of ‘having fun with a horse’, but for the horse it’s not much fun at all.

Sylvia Loch

Dressage trainer and founder of the Classical Riding Club, Suffolk

Tall stories

Sir: Thank you for Mark Mason’s article about being tall (‘My towering problem’, 8 April). I am 5ft 10, which back in the 1970s when I was beginning to grow and grow and grow was terrifyingly tall for a girl. In the minds of the fashion industry, I did not exist so I had to buy either men’s clothes, or women’s in a size far too large. I spent my youth draped in clothing rather than wearing it, and when my classmates looked forward to ‘home clothes’ day at school my great dread of it was in exact proportion. I will gloss over having to be ‘a man’ in dancing lessons and school plays, and leap forward to my pregnancy at the age of 22, when I could find nothing at all acceptable to wear. In the end, I dragged out my mother’s old Singer sewing machine and started to make my own clothes.

I now run a part-time B&B with beds a full 7ft long. I had the side rails extended by a local blacksmith and commissioned the mattresses to fit. I’m always very pleased when a tall person arrives to stay.

Caroline Lawrence

Builth Wells, Powys

Melancholy moderns

Sir: Norman Lebrecht (‘The decade the music died’, 15 April) may be right to suggest the decline of London’s orchestras is attributable to the ‘inertia of state funding’, but he assumes that half-empty halls and grey-headed audiences are the province of the capital alone — they are not — and fails to ask why politicians (and educationalists) have judged it safe to wield the knife. Classical music has failed to engage new listeners and establish new repertoire. Post-war modernism is a god that failed. We are living through its ‘melancholy long withdrawing roar’.

Nick Simpson

Cheadle, Cheshire

Against the bias

Sir: The debate between Nick Robinson and Charles Moore on alleged bias of the BBC coverage of Brexit was entertaining — but inconclusive (‘Bias and the BBC’, 15 April). Both made good points. However, it seems that very many people of a conservative and self-sufficient mind do feel that the BBC shows a distinct bias towards a liberal and left-of-centre view.

Interesting to know if those of a liberal or left-of-centre view also think the BBC coverage is biased. And if so, which way?

Tim Elworthy

Swyncombe, Oxfordshire

Prudery and nudery

Sir: I applaud Laura Freeman’s plea for prudery (Proud to be a prude, 22 April), but found her too willing to bend to the spirit of the expose-yourself generation. She was glad to have been ‘at school in the age of Nokia, when the best a boy could hope for... was a tiny pixelated photo…’. Even if we’d had camera phones in my day, we certainly would not have let boys tell us what to do with them. In the sixth form a boy dared to give me a drawing of what he thought I looked like naked. I was meant to be flattered, but it offended me. I scrumpled it up in front of him and threw it in the bin.

Angela Hilturn

Bampton, Oxfordshire

Logging off

Sir: Henry Jeffreys is right about avoiding social media and politics (‘Anti-social media’, 22 April). I’m an expat German and I’ve lost count of the friendships I’ve soured by getting into furious online discussions on subjects we would not have discussed face to face. We have an election coming up in Germany and, like Mr Jeffreys, I will be logging off until it’s all over.

Wilhelm Nimitz


Life is tweet

Sir: I have started a new policy of ‘unfriending’ people on social media if they start talking about politics. I now have fewer friends, but my life is more peaceful. It seems a reasonable compromise.

Rose Douglas

Bosham, West Sussex

Trust Trump?

Sir: I can see that James Delingpole might have gotten a little intoxicated by his Breitbart connection to the White House. But it’s hard to feel sorry for him now he’s ‘nervous’ about the Trump revolution because his former boss Steve Bannon is not running the White House. Did anyone really think that President Trump was a leader they could trust? Did he really think Trump would stick to his nationalist populist guns when everything was falling apart? Trump is a Democrat turned Republican. You don’t have to be a metropolitan liberal elitist to think he is a fraud and a charlatan. Get real, James.

Poppy Robinson


Visor advice

Sir: In Dear Mary’s column (22 April), she suggests using a broad-brimmed hat with a hole cut in the top in order to keep skin fair but to give hair the chance to develop highlights. Could I suggest another option? While it may not be terribly fashionable, a sun visor also works very well. The trick is to avoid anything made of nylon or plastic, which looks a little too Palm Beach in style. Instead, opt for one made of straw — preferably in black — which wouldn’t look out of place on the Côte d’Azur.

Annabelle Pumfret

London N7

Leave me out

Sir: A message for Toby Young (‘This snap election’s real victims? Bankers’ wives’, 22 April). I am a banker’s wife, I live in Notting Hill, I voted for Leave, I will vote for Theresa May, and I don’t mind telling people all that at dinner, thank you. Don’t pigeonhole me in your ‘elite remainer’ bracket!

Susannah Smith

London W11