The Spectator

Letters | 5 January 2017

Also in Spectator letters: what we owe the USSR, Norman Vincent Peale, Leveson, cathedrals, hepatitis and wine

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Yet another kind of snob

Sir: May I offer another definition of a ‘snob’ to the one described by Bryan Appleyard (‘A different class of snob’, 31 December)? I have always believed that a snob is someone who has risen in the world and now looks down with disdain on those they have left behind. This is an altogether more cynical and divisive form of elitism than that of the serial narcissists Mr Appleyard describes in his article.

In the United Kingdom the abolition of grammar schools and the incursion of cheap foreign labour have damaged the legitimate aspirations of those wishing to improve their lot in life, stalled social mobility, and polarised society.

We can tolerate Mr Appleyard’s snobs because, for all the irritations they may arouse, they are basically harmless. But the breed of snob I have described is not. The bitter resentment that is felt towards those who escape fair taxation, who exploit their workforces with zero-hours contracts, and who deny their employees a just pension, is a significant threat to social cohesion.

Tom Blackett

London W1

What the USSR gave us

Sir: Max Hastings’s catalogue of Soviet failings (‘Red with the people’s blood’, 10 December) overlooks one crucial benefit the western democracies derived from the very existence of the Soviet Union: that is, the various forms of social democracy they virtually all adopted in the wake of the second world war.

Social democracy may not have represented the most efficient or desirable form of societal organisation, but there can be little doubt that it saved most western states. It obliged the propertied classes to compromise, and obliged the left to come up with reasonable and pragmatic solutions to the challenges of communism.

It may also be true that it was the disappearance of communism as a plausible alternative to western capitalism — broadly in the late 1960s — that freed up the loopier elements of the right to mount their crusades against reason, while condemning the left to the charlatanism in which it currently wallows.

Richard Michaelis

New York


Sir: Melanie McDonagh’s sarcastic misrepresentation (‘Positively Trumpian’, 31 December) of Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking saddened me. He may be Donald Trump’s favourite pastor, but his book is not a Bible for billionaires or aspiring Trumps, as she insists; rather it is an inspirational self-help guide for those who may often be at the lowest ebb. I write from experience. At a time in my life when I was jobless, homeless, deserted by my husband and with a child to support, this book brought me a timely reminder to trust in God. By following the priceless advice within its pages, I bounced back and continue to be grateful. Norman Vincent Peale was a friend indeed to many millions of people.

Jenny Nisbet

London EC2

A knight, not a peer

Sir: It might possibly help the campaign against coercive regulation of the press by the Leveson-inspired royal charter body if people were rigorously to refer to Sir Brian Leveson by that (his correct) title. He has been a Lord Justice of Appeal but he is not a peer; it is a misleading courtesy title.

Richard de Lacy QC

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

On Catholic cathedrals

Sir: Your review of Simon Jenkins’s architectural survey of England’s cathedrals (Books, 10 December) mentions that seven of the great Church of England cathedrals are awarded five stars, while many Catholic cathedrals are in the ‘one‑star league’.

Regardless of one’s views on such a scoring system, it should be noted that these magnificent Anglican places of worship were originally constructed as Catholic cathedrals. There was of course no Church of England until the Reformation in 1534, following which all church properties, including the great cathedrals, were expropriated into the Anglican Church, where they remain to this day.

It was illegal to worship as a Catholic until 1791, and it was not until the Emancipation Act of 1829 that fuller rights of worship were restored to Catholics. Thus, most Catholic cathedrals in modern England were built, or redesignated from simple church status, in the rapidly expanding cities of the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.

The wonder is that after 300 years of oppression, there are any Catholic cathedrals in England at all; rating them out of five for architectural merit rather misses the point.

Craig Goldsack

London N7

Hep B or not hep B

Sir: As much as I enjoy Rod Liddle’s rants, in his latest piece he mentions hepatitis B as being the type most associated with fun-loving users of intravenous drugs. Although I do know a few people who have hep B, most sharing, uncaring spike freaks roam around with hep C, or ‘the other one’ as it was originally known. The result for us all will, sooner or later, be a visit from Mr Reaper, unless we die from something else first. Happy New Year.

Dave McGowan

Usk, Monmouthshire

Old World wines

Sir: I hesitate to advise Rodney James (Letters, 10 December) about quality red wines from the New World, but I can recommend an unrivalled source of Old World wines that are not from the EU. He need look no further than South Africa, whose wine industry was established in the late 17th century. Platter’s Wine Guide will tell him all he needs to know.

Gordon Rawlins

Ingleby Arncliffe, Northallerton