Sir: I enjoyed Kelvin MacKenzie’s Diary (29 April). The obloquy thrown at him after his criticism of Everton footballer Ross Barkley would be laughable if it were not for the unpleasant undercurrent on Merseyside now. His remark was football banter, not a racist slur as the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has alleged.
What the mayor (or ‘Fat Joe’, as he is known) has failed to do is speak up for free speech. It is — and I deeply regret to say this about my home town — a scandal that newsagents in Liverpool are threatened by violent thugs if they stock the Sun.
There was a ‘Ban the Sun’ campaign in Liverpool before Hillsborough, run by trade unions which opposed Wapping. For a long time the campaign was in decline. But the fact that the Liverpool Echo is owned by the Mirror Group gives it endless fresh legs. It seems to me that for a lot of agitators, the fact that the Sun legitimised working-class people voting Tory was its biggest crime. This is not what freedom is about.
Unionism must be fostered
Sir: Since, as your excellent leading article (29 April) recounts, the Tory party is once again ‘speaking to the whole of the UK’, it must rediscover its authentic unionist voice in Northern Ireland. Nowhere is the need for Mrs May’s much vaunted strong leadership more obvious than in this part of the Union which she has said is ‘precious’ to her. Despite interminable hours of talking, there is no possibility of resurrecting a devolved executive. The Assembly, elected in March, should be given the task of scrutinising public services and the large Northern Ireland civil service which delivers them. More responsibility for legislation will inevitably pass to Westminster, a prospect which British politicians have customarily viewed with dread. A Tory party determined to do its duty to the whole UK should not shrink from engaging more fully with the affairs of the province. In the process it should do everything possible to foster a renaissance of moderate, inclusive unionism, in eclipse since the tragic triumph of Ian Paisley over David Trimble more than a decade ago. The Tory party manifesto at the last election claimed that ‘we will always do our utmost to keep our family of nations together’. Mrs May must now give Northern Ireland a stronger place within the family in order to ensure its survival.
House of Lords, London SW1
Hard and soft atheism
Sir: One would expect an Anglican theologian (as Theo Hobson is described) to be clearer than he seems to be about the distinction between atheism and secularism (‘Do do God’, 29 April). Atheism comes in hard and soft varieties, like Brexit: some claim certainty that God doesn’t exist, while some are merely waiting (though unexpectantly) for the proof that he does. Secularism on the other hand is agnostic about gods, only seeking a society free from the disproportionate influence of religion — one in which no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged because of their beliefs.
Chichester, West Sussex
Test the young!
Sir: I must take issue with Charles Moore over his comments on elderly drivers (Notes, 29 April) — and not only because I am the wrong side of 70. I would have no quibble with a proposal that every driver, like a pilot, should undergo regular testing, but to single out one age group without producing any evidence feels like a kneejerk reaction. The Department for Transport says that there is no evidence that older drivers are more likely than younger ones to cause an accident. In 2011 there were 10,974 accidents involving drivers over 70 years old, while there were 35,953 where the driver was between 17 and 24. Additionally, the RAC Foundation’s figures show that the over-75s comprise 6 per cent of licence holders but are involved in 4.3 per cent of accidents involving death or serious injury. The 16- to 20-year-olds, on the other hand, comprise 2.5 per cent of drivers but are responsible for 13 per cent of those killed or injured.
I suggest that if anyone is to be retested regularly, it should be the under-30s. Perhaps initial driving licences should be issued for a three-year period and renewed only if the driver can demonstrate that they have been responsible for no accidents.
Sir: Anyone who ever had to suffer through Andrew Lloyd Webber’s telling of the Genesis story knows it was Joseph, not Joshua, who predicted the seven years of famine (‘The lords of poverty’, 29 April). Joshua would arrive much later to bring the walls of Jericho tumbling down.
A feat of belief
Sir: Many of us will share the sympathy felt by Rod Liddle for Tim Farron, whose Christian conscience on matters of gay sex was recently slayed by the merciless forces of liberal tolerance (29 April). But perhaps he underestimates the fascination we have for people like Tim, who seem genuinely able to believe, with fervent passion, two perfectly inconsistent things at once.
A budding artist?
Sir: As a crusader for prudes (‘Proud to be a prude’, 22 April), I applaud Angela Hilturn (Letters, 29 April) for scrumpling the drawing made by the boy in the sixth form who had imagined her naked, but as an art historian I wonder if she was too hasty. The boy must have been crushed. Kinder perhaps to have thanked him for his pains and kept the drawing unscrumpled as a bet on future success. Modiglianis and Lucian Freuds must start somewhere.