No special protection
Sir: Rod Liddle’s joke that the election might be held on a date when Muslims cannot vote, thereby reducing support for Labour, has apparently led to outrage. There has been no similar outrage over your front cover (‘A vote is born’), which satirises the Christian nativity by portraying Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson visiting the stable in Bethlehem.
It should be a principle of free speech in any free society that all religions are equally subject to satire, criticism and even gentle mockery; there should be no special protection for one set of beliefs over another. In allowing satire about two mainstream religions in the same issue, you have shown admirable balance.
Sir: I like to think I read broadly across the political spectrum; Rod Liddle clearly likes stirring things up (‘The People’s Vote meltdown’, 2 November). But it’s not funny to laugh at minority ethnic groups on the basis of their religion. Quality comedic writing and sketches direct mockery at those who have power. But when mockery is directed at those who have less power or are marginalised, it becomes discrimination and bullying. I am Jewish and know only too well how some people who are not part of the community like to mock from the outside, and how this ‘humour’ directed at a minority group can be interpreted as condoning racism.
Over the edge
Sir: Rod Liddle has been tottering on the brink of acceptability for some time now and he’s just toppled over the — my — edge, I’m sorry to say.
How to squash a Speaker
Sir: Why was the verbose, undignified John Bercow who failed to rebuke clapping and permitted MPs to refer to each other as ‘you’ (The Spectator’s Notes, 2 November), while himself patronising them as his colleagues, allowed to remain so long? The Buckingham Tories could easily have got rid of him by bringing back the old custom which allowed a major party to put up a candidate against a Speaker seeking re-election. It survived until Betty Boothroyd’s re-election in 1997. If the other old custom of bestowing a peerage is not breached, our strict time limit on speeches in the Lords should at last bring him under control.
House of Lords, London SW1
Uniting… and dividing
Sir: Simon Barnes (‘All together now’, 2 November) rightly highlights how England’s ethnically diverse national teams can unite the country. This, incidentally, is even more true for the winning South African rugby team. But he touches only briefly on the divisions that sport can cause. The fact that, uniquely among the 193 countries in the world, the UK has four separate national football, rugby and cricket teams has surely played a role in undermining national cohesion over the years, not to mention reducing the UK’s overall success rate in international tournaments.
The converse is also true. Widening the Ryder Cup golf participation from UK and Northern Ireland to Europe changed the contest from regular humiliation to brilliant competition, and did much to foster a sense of European togetherness in the face of American might. I hope that even after Brexit, British supporters will still proudly wave the 12-star flag in future Ryder Cup encounters.
Mark Lyall Grant
A right-on read?
Sir: I read with interest Melanie McDonagh’s article on how children’s books have become ‘horribly right on’ (‘PC Plod’, 2 November). As a regular reader of The Spectator, I was particularly alarmed to see one of my eight-year-old son’s favourite books — Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different — on Ms McDonagh’s list.
It prompted me to take a closer look at the book. The book holds out as role models, among others, King Baldwin IV, King George VI, Jesse Owens and the unnamed man who defied the might of the Chinese Communist party by standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square — almost certainly at the cost of his own life. What is so ‘right on’ about that?
In the men’s room
Sir: On a visit to Prague some years ago, I visited the gents’ toilets in a large department store. On the walls above all the urinals were photos of lovely young women looking downwards into the urinals with a range of expressions on their faces — from astonishment to approval to disappointment (Notes On Urinals, 2 November). Consequently some of the urinals seemed much busier than others…
Broughty Ferry, Scotland
The wrong sea
Sir: May I point out a small but significant error in James Delingpole’s excellent article on Xenophon’s Anabasis (‘I’m taking inspiration from an ancient Athenian’, November 2)? The Ten Thousand cried out ‘Thálatta! Thálatta’ on sighting the Black Sea, not the Mediterranean. They were approaching Trebizond and they were still a long way from home.