The Spectator

Letters | 28 April 2016

Plus: newspapers’ influence; the case for saving Port Talkbot; the benefits of old age

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Green reasons to stay in

Sir: As Conservatives we are clear that the European Union has been central to improving the quality of the UK’s environment. European policy is not always perfect, but on environmental issues it has allowed us to move forward in leaps and bounds.

The wealth of the environment on which our economy depends is not confined to national boundaries, which is why the EU has become such a vital forum for negotiating Britain’s interest in maintaining healthy seas, clean air, climate security and species protection.

It is largely thanks to European agreements that we now have sewage-free beaches in Britain. Because of tough European vehicle standards, British car drivers spend less on fuel. And it is because of European legislation that some of the UK’s rarest birds have started to recover after decades of decline.

There will be many arguments in the coming weeks on the merits for and against staying in the EU but, for environmental sustainability, we believe that Brexit is likely to damage our interests.

We would lose influence over the environmental impact of neighbouring countries, whose behaviour affects the migration of our wildlife, the pollution of our air and the health of our seas. It could also weaken our efforts to tackle climate change and undercut existing UK environmental protections, since there is no guarantee that the high standards we have negotiated within Europe will remain in place in Britain.

We are clear that the way to create a better environment for UK citizens is to strengthen environmental action through European cooperation, not by leaving the EU.

John Gummer, Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten and Caroline Spelman, former environment secretaries; Greg Barker, former climate change minister; Richard Benyon and Tim Yeo, former environment ministers; Charles Hendry, former energy minister; Laura Sandys, former member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee; Stanley Johnson, former Conservative MEP

Unreasoned debate

Sir: Roll on 24 June. Your well-argued call for a more reasoned debate on EU membership (Leading article, 23 April) will not, I fear, be heeded. As a voter, I have resigned myself to being treated as a child. What is more depressing is the infantile behaviour of campaigners on both sides. The trading of ill-founded or often patently false assertions is reminiscent of the playground. This is unlikely to change in the final month of the ‘debate’.

‘Rely on your instincts’ might be better advice for voters.

Clive Thursby

Hindhead, Surrey

Not just newsprint

Sir: The assessment in your leading article of the influence of the UK’s newspapers (16 April) made me wonder if the digital revolution had slipped the author’s mind. Now that people read across a variety of platforms, the global influence of newspaper brands has reached unprecedented levels.

In Britain, five of the top six news websites are owned and run by newspaper publishers, which means that national newspapers’ digital readership is more than 34 million a month. Print readership augments this figure, with seven million national newspapers bought each day. That’s one of the reasons the papers continue to set the agenda on television, radio and now social media.

The truth is that there is a bigger appetite for news and opinion than ever, but just as The Spectator’s online readership outstrips its print sales, so it is with our newspapers.

Rufus Olins

Chief executive, Newsworks

Banks vs steelworks

Sir: I am surprised that Martin Vander Weyer thinks that is acceptable for the government to pump billions into RBS and Lloyds ‘to save the banking system’ but thinks that a tiny fraction of the amount spent on those banks to tide Port Talbot over a difficult period would be wasted (Any other business, 23 April).

Mr Vander Weyer might like to consider that for its suppliers and customers, Port Talbot is as systemically important as the banks whose interests he so assiduously promotes. The failure to defend our productive industries, as other countries do, while eulogising the financial sector and its acolytes is somewhat depressing. Should we ever suffer a wartime blockade, what does Mr Vander Weyer suggest we use for weapons: multiple-warhead credit default swaps?

Richard Price

Upper Dormington, Hereford

Old-age benefits

Sir: Stewart Dakers’s lament about ageing in your 9 April issue (‘Live fast, die not too old’) misses a few vital points on the topic. Being in a truly decrepit state like Swift’s Struldbrugs is not to be desired, but surely one can have a wonderful old age without being what Nazi eugenicists would dub a ‘useless eater’? Even with the annoyances of physical decline, wonders are possible. For one, there is the fact of being sentimental social capital. The aged can be the matriarchs and patriarchs of a family, its link and anchor to its past and treasured for that — even in our youth-fixated, narcissistic age.

There are also the delights of being a spectator of life. George Carlin made a crack about life being a free seat to the greatest freak show imaginable, which is true but only part of the story. There is always the wonder of what history will next unfold before your eyes. After all, real life is far more surprising than any novel. Worth living for, I’d say.

Julius Wroblewski

Vancouver, Canada