The Spectator

Letters to the Editor | 27 August 2005

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Scotch myth

Andrew Neil’s lament at the decline of the so-called ‘Tartan Raj’ (‘The last days of the Tartan Raj’, 20 August) is a Scottish view of what, to the rest of the country, is a non-phenomenon. Englanders aren’t looking jealously over their shoulders at Scottish success, and never have done.

Gordon Brown will be a wildly unpopular leader, not because he is Scottish, or Scotland-educated, but because he is surly and tax-happy, more concerned with shafting his ‘Scot-lite’ boss than doing his own job. Brown might resent Oxbridge, but Oxbridge is broadly indifferent to him. If the Raj was really as all-powerful as Neil suggests, then why didn’t it do anything to arrest the decline in elite education in Scotland and elsewhere? The preponderance of Scots in the broadcast media in particular occurred because the Scottish accent is classless to the English ear, not because a generation of would-be Scottish TV presenters got off their backsides and decided to exploit a post-war meritocracy.

Robert Westbrook
Trinity College, Oxford

Doubly ungallant

While normally an admirer of Mark Steyn’s abrasive and incisive style, his assertion (‘Hold your tears’, 20 August) that Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war protester camped outside Crawford Ranch, ‘is having a mental breakdown in public’ was ungallant and therefore reprehensible.

He made an excellent point — that certain Democrats are cynically exploiting her grief at the death of her soldier son in Iraq — but then to describe her as indulging in ‘a narcissistic rage’ was to be doubly ungallant. If she is ill, then any further comment on her behaviour is just plain bullying.

Please continue to tilt amusingly at the whingeing lefties, Mr Steyn, but don’t become infected by their churlish habits.

Matthew Hall

Wrong about us

The article on the anti-war movement by Douglas Davis (‘United in hate’, 20 August) contains a number of factual errors. Muhammad Aslam Ijaz is not, and never has been, co-chair of the Stop the War Coalition. He is not even a member of our steering committee. That committee has 50 members, not 33. It includes at least ten members of the Labour party, not three. They are joined by three representatives of Muslim organisations, not eight. We have one ‘leftist ecologist’, not four. There are nine members of the committee representing national trade unions, which Mr Douglas omits to mention, as well as a spread of representatives from liberal campaigning groups. This information is publicly available on our website (
Andrew Murray
Chairman, Stop the War Coalition, London WC1

Music sans frontières

Roger Scruton’s moving description of music’s inherent cosmopolitanism (‘The sound of silence’, 20 August) could not have been more poignantly illustrated than by Sunday’s Ramallah concert, directed by Daniel Barenboim. What Volker Hartung’s Young Cologne Philharmonic and Barenboim’s West–Eastern Divan Orchestra have in common is talent, mastery and political independence. Hartung’s performances are among my most cherished music experiences; his combination of artistic genius and entrepreneurial independence is a vibrant counter-example to the sterility of state cultures. Mr Scruton is to be complimented for reminding religious, cultural and political institutions of their unique role as protectors against sectarian jealousy and hatred and violence.

Leon Kriez

English, actually

Elisabeth O’Flynn has misremembered (Letters, 20 August). The chorus to ‘Song of Patriotic Prejudice’ goes, ‘The English [not British] are best’. The distinction was dwelt on by Michael Flanders in his lead-in to the number, and the first verse leaves one in no doubt that he meant what he wrote:

The rottenest bits of these islands of ours

We’ve left in the hands of three unfriendly powers:
Examine the Irishman, Welshman or Scot,
You’ll find he’s a stinker as likely as not.

Marcus Pitcaithly
Rhynd, Perthshire

Awful August

I know what Charles Moore means about August being a depressing month (The Spectator’s Notes, 20 August). For me the autumnal mood arrives when I notice the leaves turning limp, dull and dark green. If it is any consolation, Mr Moore’s ‘feeling’ is justified scientifically. August is when the swifts leave, which is why the UK Phenology Network defines it as the first month of autumn.

Nigel Farndale
London SW4