The Spectator

Letters | 30 May 2013

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HS2 v broadband

Sir: Rory Sutherland (The Wiki Man, 25 May) is rightly sceptical of HS2, but in limiting his remarks only to the transport of people, he is still too kind. Why spend 20 years building Victorian technology when the infrastructure of the future will be a broadband network of far greater capacity than exists now? The internet has revolutionised the distribution of most services and the production of some products. New technologies like 3D printing are on the cusp of transforming the location of industry and the distribution of manufactures, which could benefit depressed areas far more than HS2. These technologies require the downloading of vast amounts of data at speeds with which the existing UK broadband capacity cannot yet cope. Those who campaign to stop HS2 would have a far better case if they argued the money be spent on building a high-capacity infrastructure that will connect every citizen to millions of points for millions of purposes in virtual zero time. There is a petition on the Downing Street website asking the government to cancel HS2 and spend the money on broadband capacity. I urge anyone interested in the UK’s future prosperity to sign it.

Matthew Quirk

Chiddingstone, Kent

A very public enquiry

Sir: Peter Jones (25 May) is right to draw an unfavourable comparison between ancient and modern democracy, but he is focusing on the wrong institution. The Athenian council was merely the secretariat for the general assembly, and the legislation passed by the assembly was often as erratic as modern referenda. After the restoration of democracy in 403 bc, legislation was entrusted to nomothetai — large randomly selected juries that, unlike modern parliamentarians, were obliged to listen to the arguments of well-informed advocates for and against the proposed law before deciding the outcome by secret vote.

If David Cameron wants the people to decide whether or not to remain in the EU, he should institute an adversarial public enquiry. However, rather than leaving the verdict to a Lord Justice, it should be decided by a randomly selected citizen jury, several hundred strong. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that such juries are capable of deciding complex issues in a sensible way and, crucially, that the majority verdict would represent the considered judgment of us all.

Keith Sutherland

Department of Politics, University of Exeter

In Rod we trust

Sir: It is fascinating to me how often I either disagree completely with Rod Liddle (25 May) or find myself in total accord with him. This week we are very much on the same wavelength with regard to asylum for mass murderers. It must be the case that many politicians and also the judiciary read your journal. Could I invite them to write to you to explain why judges persist in ruling in favour of keeping such villains from overseas here, in complete defiance of British public opinion? Either the law is at fault, in which case the politicians should legislate to correct the situation, or the liberal interpretation of the law by our judges is at fault, in which case they need to be brought into line. Each side has been allowed to fob off the nation for too long.

Quentin Skinner

Lower Zeals, Wiltshire

Know yourself

Sir: Either the Bishop of London or Martin Vander Weyer has got the wrong end of the stick about the inscription at Delphi (Any Other Business, 11 May). The relevant inscription is not ‘Know you are mortal’, but ‘Know yourself’ (gnothi seauton), something quite different.

Richard Pratt

Burley, Hampshire

Swivel-eyes and dirty tricks

Sir: The swivel-eyed loony story certainly seems to have hit the spot in terms of media coverage and damage to the Conservatives. Isn’t it straight from the playbook of Labour’s dirty tricks department? What was the name of that chap Gordon Brown had to fire? I wonder what he’s up to these days?

Will Roebuck


Sir: I have just finished reading this week’s Speccie (25 May), and I want to thank you for the most hilarious edition in many years. I am still chuckling as I type at the insanity of the world we’re living in, as described in your pages. Please remind me, who exactly was the expression ‘swivel-eyed loons’ directed at? If Wallace and Gromit replace this bunch, at least everyone would be able to laugh without crying.

Patrick Corden


Charles Moore’s holidays

Sir: I do not know whether to be alarmed or excited when I read the words ‘Charles Moore is away’. Alarmed because I always turn first to his column when opening the Speccie; excited by the thought that this might be the basis of a play on the lines of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, which was such a hoot. What does Charles Moore get up to when he is ‘away’?

Roland Fernsby

Furneux Pelham, Hertfordshire

Swift return

Sir: Let me assure Lord Lamont (Diary, 25 May), that not only swallows are late this summer. Here in rural Lincolnshire, I have just seen the first swallows and house martins. They should have been here in early April. In May I saw leaf warblers and heard one cuckoo: again, normally here in April. I have listened in vain for the nightingale. Everything is behind.

Despite concern about global warming, the present Interglacial, which has lasted about 10,000 years, is due to end quite soon. The climatic optimum was passed about 5,000 years ago. The next Ice Age is due to begin.

Alistair Kerr