The Spectator

Letters | 7 November 2013

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Counting on the country

Sir: I spent many hours helping to canvas for local Conservative candidates before the last two elections (‘The countryside revolts’, 2 November). I was motivated to do so because of the Labour government’s prejudice against the rural community. The Conservative party offered a chance to redress this prejudice through repealing or amending legislation on small employers, hunting, communication, transport, fuel, immigration and the EU. But progress on these issues has been negligible.

We see no action on the Hunting Act, and no action to stop the harassment of country people by vigilante pressure groups, despite managing a more robust reaction to anti-fracking campaigners. Huge effort has been lavished on promoting HS2, which will starve infrastructure spending in many rural areas. I cannot see that the issues have been addressed to any meaningful effect, with the exception of the economy. I could not therefore encourage others to vote Conservative at the next election.

Clive Gough

Buckland Common, Herts

Sir: With regard to Melissa’s Kite article last week, rural Tories might well be initially tempted to vote Ukip, but on examination of the Ukip 2010 manifesto I doubt they will actually do so. The Ukip manifesto proposed: ‘Allow county referendums to reverse the hunting ban at the local level’. This would be a recipe for chaos.

Parliament is where laws in this country are made or amended. The Conservative party in its manifesto offered a free vote in Parliament, an outcome sadly thwarted by imposition of the limitations of a coalition government. Those who want a vote on overturning the hunting ban, a referendum on the EU and a government with an understanding of rural concerns know that the only way to guarantee that is to have a Conservative government with an outright majority. A vote for Ukip just opens the way for another coalition. That’s why I, and many others, will be pounding the pavements again at the next general election.

William Astor

House of Lords, London SW1

Maybe it was Shakespeare

Sir: Alexander Waugh’s dramatic revelation as a smoking gun of a letter from a ‘sex-maniac clergyman’, alleging that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare’s plays, proves nothing (Diary, 2 November). That some people believed something at the time does not mean it is true — the same might apply for any popular conspiracy. Why should the letter from the ‘sex-maniac clergyman’ outweigh the wealth of positive evidence in Shakespeare’s favour, including from fellow and rival playwrights and actors — not to mention the fact that no one ‘exposed him’ either in life or after his death? The argument that a glover’s son from Stratford could not have had Shakespeare’s knowledge of the nobility cuts both ways: how could an earl have the deep familiarity with the rustic and urban working classes that Shakespeare so amply demonstrates? It also seems notably weak when one considers that Ben Jonson’s stepfather was a bricklayer and that even Cardinal Wolsey was supposedly a butcher’s son.

Samuel Johnson

London SE21

Helpful advice

Sir: Charles Moore notes the Environment Agency’s advice that floodwaters obey the law of gravity (2 November). Perhaps you could offer a prize for readers who spot similar pearls of civil service wisdom? My entries would be the Norfolk Broads Authority’s advice to yachtsmen arriving from the North Sea: ‘To find out when low water is check the tide table’ and the Highways Agency’s ‘This sign is not in use’.

George Rowell


Evidence on assisted dying

Sir: James Mumford, when he interviewed me for his article on assisted dying (‘The fight for our lives’, 2 November), told me he was writing a contribution to the debate on assisted dying. In fact his article is a rant against proposed legislation to enable terminally ill, mentally competent people to receive health professional assistance to end their own lives.

He suggests that people will feel pressured to end their lives. In Oregon, where legislation on which Lord Falconer’s draft bill is modelled has been in place for 15 years, there has not been a single instance of coercion reported. He ignores the evidence that the people who proceed to assisted dying in Oregon have been found to be unusually independent-minded.

He suggests that because many older people here live in deplorable circumstances, they will readily agree to any proposition to end their own lives. But being older or feeling a burden to society will not be indications under the proposed legislation for an assisted death, and they never should be. He claims that ‘euthanasia … is therefore illiberal’. No one is proposing euthanasia should be legalised, and to apply the term ‘illiberal’ to a proposal that dying people should have the right to end their lives if they are suffering intolerably is strange. Mumford concludes by comparing the current proposed legislation to the 1967 Abortion Act. He describes the Act as having led to a ‘great and terrible change’. The fact that, 46 years after its passage, public opinion remains firmly in favour of legal abortion suggests that he is among a relatively small minority who take a different view.

Philip Graham

Vice-chair, Dignity in Dying, London W1

Leave the Redskins

Sir: Alexander Chancellor refers to the political incorrectness of songs in the 1940s and 1950s about fat people or native Americans (Long life, 26 October). Recently, there’s been a kerfuffle hereabouts as to whether the Washington Redskins should rename the team in deference to Native Americans. Others have suggested that it might be more appropriate, given the horrors of the capital’s politics, to remove the word Washington instead.

W. David Woods

Philadelphia, PA