The Irish question13th October 2005 There is an error in your “In fact” column (October). You claim, citing the blog Slugger O’Toole, that “in the 1830s, the population of the island of Ireland was 8m, while the population of England, Wales and Scotland was 10m.” The figure for Ireland is more or less correct (7.8m at the 1831 census), but the correct figure for Britain in 1831 is 16.3m. However, the underlying point is valid, that the relative population of Ireland is much smaller now than it was then—due largely to some unpleasant British policies for which Prospect, had it been around then, would no doubt have found a way to apologise.
Wilson McLeod Edinburgh
Speaking to Europe30th September 2005 Andrew Moravcsik (October) is wrong: President Bush was not the first US president to visit the EU institutions. Ronald Reagan addressed the European parliament eloquently and movingly.
Richard Carswell Richmond
Trash cricket12th September 2005 Hundreds of club cricketers will feel insulted by Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s description (September) of the one-day game as “trash-cricket.” On the contrary, a good case can be made that the one-day game is the norm, and that the four and five-day versions are an over-refined development, generally a rather tedious one, though admittedly with exceptions. Did they play four-day matches on Hambledon?
Peter Rose Newport
India joins the west27th October 2005 Mark Leonard’s suggestion (November)—that India, by joining the west in opposing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and recognising Israel, was deeply shifting its foreign policy strategy—is wrong. These decisions probably had more to do with India’s hostility to the Islamic world. The BJP government’s recognition of Israel was an example of this—a case of my enemy’s foe is my friend.
Michael Palmer Addis Ababa
Paying for lighthouses17th October 2005 Terence Kealey’s eagerness (October) to show that there is no need for state action to provide public goods leads him to offer an example that shows the opposite. The market does not support the provision of lighthouses, in England or almost anywhere else. The fees paid by shipowners which finance lighthouses are in effect a tax, and the proceeds are handed to a monopoly supplier.
Paul Temple Institute of Education
Protestant resentment4th November 2005 Eric Kaufmann writes sympathetically about “Protestant alienation” in Northern Ireland (November). Yet the truth is that Northern Ireland’s Protestants have traditionally blocked moderate reform and got more radical reform instead. The Orange card was used at the start of the 20th century to block home rule within the UK. The result was an independent, republican Ireland outside the UK. The first major gun-running of the period was carried out by loyalists, not republicans. Loyalist paramilitaries blocked Terence O’Neill’s attempts in the 1960s to reform the internal rule of Northern Ireland. The result was the ending of Northern Ireland rule from Belfast and rule from London instead. “Protestant alienation” may be just a code for inchoate resentment of a fair deal for Catholic nationalists by some Protestants. So this alienation may be a sign that we are going forwards, not backwards.
C Seán Ó Luasaigh Blackrock, Ireland
Two cheers for Chomsky29th October 2005 The pieces by Robin Blackburn and Oliver Kamm on Noam Chomsky (November), your top global public intellectual, inspired me to respond. I signed up to Chomsky’s theory of language a very long time ago, and I continue to follow the developments of the minimalist programme out of professional interest. His ideas on language are not only original and insightful, but also deeply rational. Chomsky is clearly no social scientist, however. His writings on US foreign policy, while interesting and challenging, carry the marks of the subjective observer: Chomsky lives in the social world, and doesn’t like it. His knowledge of mathematics, neurolinguistics, languages and linguistics are of huge help in constructing logical arguments, but lead him to speculate on the workings of politicians’ minds as if they were calculating machines programmed only to serve well-defined elite interests. This narrow, pessimistic and possibly irrational viewpoint means that Chomsky’s work is not highly regarded by the international relations academic community. He receives very few citations, and is apparently regarded as an irrelevance. And yet his take on foreign policy has proved alluring to the general public. People obviously like a Jeremiah and Chomsky plays the role well. Some of us may not feel comfortable with this aspect of his popular appeal. lt is nonetheless entirely appropriate that Prospect’s poll has reaffirmed Chomsky’s colossal intellectual status.
Martin Millar Oxford Brookes University
European bureaucrats13th October 2005 Michael Lind (October) decries the existence of a spoils system in the top ranks of the US civil service and warns that Britain is heading in the same direction, thanks to the proliferation of politically appointed advisers. He contrasts the US and Britain with continental Europe, asserting that in the latter, civil services remain dominated by old-fashioned mandarins—liberal arts graduates versed in “high culture” who shun modern-day professionalism and provide a check on democratic leaders. This is inaccurate. In nearly every European country, from Italy to Sweden, the top few grades of civil servants are appointed for political reasons. In France and Germany, it is common for MPs to be civil servants.
Susanna Kalitowski London W1
Roy Meadow and cot death 123rd October 2005 Let me first correct the obvious howlers in Raj Persaud’s defence of Roy Meadow (November). Persaud asserts that the appeal court did not criticise Meadow when freeing Sally Clark. The judges described his “73m to 1” statistic as “grossly misleading” and “manifestly wrong”—phrases which appear to imply a degree of criticism. Persaud asserts that the government report in which Meadow found “73m to 1” was published at the time of the original trial. It was not. Meadow quoted from a draft copy which he, and not the defence, had sight of. Meadow did not tell the court about the report’s qualifications on that statistic. The burden of the rest of the report is that once you suffer one cot death, the chances of a second are more likely. To multiply two connected odds is wrong.
On the Clark case, Persaud says: “even today, the precise cause of the two babies’ deaths remains unidentified.” In 2002, Radio 4’s File on Four broadcast the following: “The prosecution did not disclose the key findings of the lab report pointing to a potentially fatal infection in baby Harry. The bacterial infection was Staphylococcal aureus and found in eight parts of the body, including the spinal fluid. The test results also showed that the infection had been active while Harry was alive. Two leading pathologists have seen the results, and both have said the Staph A infection was the most likely cause of death.” One, James Morris, a pathologist at the Royal Lancaster infirmary, added: “no other cause of death was sustainable.”
Persaud appears to imply that those of us concerned about the fairness and intellectual rigour of Meadow’s evidence rely wholly on the Sally Clark case. Meadow gave evidence against a number of cot death mothers, always—as far as the BBC has been able to establish—against the mothers. He told the Donna Anthony murder trial jury that a child under one could not pick up a button and swallow it. Yet the government’s home accident survey records babies under a year who have ingested a plastic fish, a scrabble counter, a wooden toggle, a fridge magnet, an AA battery, a condom, a tiddlywink, a marble and a crucifix. Donna Anthony spent six years in jail thanks, in part, to this “evidence.”
Angela Cannings fell foul of Meadow’s “law,” which states that until proven otherwise, one cot death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three murder. Angela lost three babies. Meadow “diagnosed” smothering. He did not meet the mother or her family, still less establish her family history. The BBC discovered that Angela’s grandmother had lost two infants and her great-grandmother one—evidence that helped free Angela from prison.
In these cases Meadow gave evidence at public expense in open court in the adversarial, criminal system, which Persaud deplores. In that open system, the BBC and others were able to test his evidence—and find it flawed. Meadow has also given evidence in the closed family court system, leading to families losing their children to forced adoptions. If his evidence was flawed in the open system, can we assume that it was correct in the secret system?
John Sweeney BBC
Roy Meadow and cot death 2 28th October 2005
Raj Persaud is wrong to claim that absent a “genetic” problem, Roy Meadow’s probability of 1:73m “would have been about right.” That would be to claim not merely that no cause of cot death is known, not even that no cause will ever be found, but that there is no cause; no risk group can exist. An effect without a cause is a miracle—a malign miracle in this case. The situation is more likely to be similar to that with lung cancer before the link with smoking had been established. If there is such a thing as a group at high risk of suffering cot death, Meadow’s figure must be wrong. That we cannot identify the group is irrelevant; we need only acknowledge that cot death must have a cause—or causes. So a high risk of a second cot death is inevitable. The correct argument is that the frequency of a second cot death indicates the size of the risk group, not that there is no risk group and that two cot deaths is so unlikely as to be discounted.
Before concluding that one cot death might be counted a misfortune but two looks like murder, it would be as well to look at the probability of the latter. According to Persaud, there are 30 to 40 child murders a year. On Meadow’s reasoning, that would make the probability of murder as the explanation of two unexplained child deaths roughly 1 in 400m!
It is, though, not easy to interpret probability in the case of an individual occurrence of a very unlikely event. The credibility of an unlikely claim depends in part on the existance of a mechanism. No one I believe disputes that cot deaths occur; there is a mechanism. Double cot death is undoubtedly unlikely. So is winning the lottery. But if someone comes into the bar and cries, “Drinks all round; I’ve won the lottery !” you do not immediately phone the police on the reasoning that, since the claim is so unlikely, the fellow must have robbed a bank. You say, “Mine’s a pint.”
A court deals with one case, not with a set of similar cases. The premium for house insurance depends on the average number of houses that burn down in a year. The equivalent probability will be very low, but that does not tell the individual whether or not he will suffer. If your house burns down, it is of no help to know that the risk was very small. Your house is unlikely to burn down, but if it does, the chance of your next house burning down is no less. The insurance company would not, indeed could not, refuse to pay up on the second occasion, on the grounds that it “must” have been arson. Arson would have to be proved. The company might get suspicious if second house fires kept occurring. But I doubt it would conclude that there must be a bunch of deranged arsonists among those insuring. If there were no suspicious circumstances, the company would probably hope to identify a high-risk group that could be charged a higher premium.
Too often scientists succumb to the temptation to play the role expected of them, omniscient, objective expert—in Meadow’s case with very unfortunate consequences.
Africa vs Asia4th November 2005 The aid and development industry has a new fad: state-building. For once, the industry is on the right track. There are, however, two big problems with the analysis as developed by Matthew Lockwood (November). First, the validity of his Africa-Asia comparison. Second, the weakness of his proposed solutions.
Lockwood focuses on “neo-patrimonialism” as the dominant feature of non-developmental states. But such patronage-based politics has been a feature not only of a number of African countries but also of some of the most successful developmental states, such as China, India, and Japan. For a state, government or leadership project to be meaningfully called developmental, two ingredients are required. First, the possession of core state functions across much of a state’s territory which allow it to deliver policies. Second, and closely linked to this, the project must involve some degree of reach and inclusion, and operate with a longer-term vision (the vampires care about the health of the host). This is what Ashraf Ghani and others are calling “closing the sovereignty gap.”
Many of us would agree with Lockwood that the main development issue today is dysfunctional states. The solution is simple—effective, responsive, functional states. The challenge is to create them. Lockwood’s solution is to stop micromanaging their policies and instead micromanage their politics. Not only does this approach appear contradictory, it has a painful history of its own. Additionally, relabelling all development problems as “politics” does not take us much further. Ghani, in contrast, begins to provide a more holistic framework for what needs to done. Both agree that transformation cannot be imposed from the outside, though external support might be useful and catalytic. Structuring the “international community” so that it is capable of providing such support may be an even greater challenge than building a state.
Karin Christiansen Overseas Development Institute
4th November 2005
In his lament about Angela Merkel’s post-election difficulties, Jurgen Kronig (Prospect, November) displays a perverse view of how parties and governments work, at least to Brits who have suffered a grossly over-centralised, unresponsive state diktat in past decades.
Kronig believes Germany suffers from “a strong constitutional court.” For “strong,” I suspect we should read “independent”; in Britain, where we see an over-strong government riding a coach and horses through the judiciary, threatening among other cherished practices, trial by jury, more strength through independence would be welcome. Next, Kronig laments “a powerful second chamber representing the states”; while here we struggle to find a legitimate second chamber at all, let alone one that can reflect the many different regional and local community interests that make up this country. We’re stuck with “one size fits all.”
Finally, Kronig laments the German electoral “PR” system, for requiring coalitions—well, try that against the British predicament, where we perpetually suffer government which has no constraints, no checks and balances on its actions and claims a mandate on barely a third of the popular vote, and with the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate. A coalition political culture, with consensual politics where parties have to reach agreement based on the strength of votes received, would be a welcome, positive change.
Kronig is also wrong to claim that Britain’s political arrangements allow parties to reform or “renew.” The opposite is the case. The British Labour party hung on to disastrous, out-moded ideologies and policies for decades too long, at least partly in the belief and hope that the electoral system would give them their turn again before too long. It took four crushing defeats to force Labour to reform, finally, in the mid-1990s. In contrast, the SPD in Germany had reformed itself into a more modern social democratic party by the late 1950s/early 1960s.
The reason Merkel struggled to form a government is not because of Germany’s constitution or electoral system. It’s because not enough people voted for her party. That’s democracy—where politicians take power not through a convenient filtered arrangement that suits ruling elites, but only with the direct permission of a majority of the electorate.