Letters: June 2024 edition

From electoral politics to the surprising history of the sea shanty, readers respond to our May edition
May 1, 2024

Green shoots?

With the polls resolutely showing a large Labour lead, it is not surprising that political commentary—such as Sam Freedman’s latest column—is increasingly turning to the shape of party competition in a post-2024 world, and the question of how voters might respond to a new government. 

With a widespread expectation that a defeated Conservative party will move further towards the right-wing Reform UK, challenges to Labour from the left will be worth watching. When there has been a Labour government in recent times, this challenge has come, in England, from the Lib Dems. But it is likely that many Lib Dem MPs will be reliant on the votes of disaffected Tory voters and less keen to fight Labour on its left flank.

The Greens, meanwhile, have been making gains at the local level in surprising places, forging an unlikely alliance across the rural-urban divide. They might also boast of their involvement in “grown-up” politics, engaging in electoral pacts in 2019, coalition government alongside the SNP in Scotland and, recently, stepping aside to reduce the chances of a split in the progressive vote in the contest for the Tees Valley mayoralty. There is, however, a danger that appearing too willing to work with others becomes a signal to voters of electoral weakness.

In a future parliament, the Greens may find their options more limited than supposed. Uniting disparate groups by campaigning differently in different areas is much harder in national elections. It is possible the most salient issues in the 2024 parliament will be those where the Greens have strength. But they will be facing a government more sympathetic to these concerns, and—in the absence of a desperately unpopular government to campaign against—their key struggle may be to find relevance at all.

Paula Surridge, University of Bristol


Forsaken by hope

Ruth Deech writes of 2,000 years of persecution of the Jews by non-Jews. I, as the child of Holocaust survivors, repudiate this invocation of our history to justify Israel’s ongoing oppression of the Palestinians.  The Nakba, or “catastrophe”—the expulsion of around 750,000 Palestinians from their homes—took place in 1948, during the Arab-Israeli war. But it continues today when Gazans, with limited access to food, energy, water and roads, are dying in their thousands. 

Elsewhere, Palestinians in the West Bank are brutally policed and regularly subjected to house demolitions. Children are killed. Illegal Jewish settlements, which encroach on the Palestinians’ meagre territory, continue to be built; privileged settlers terrorise their Palestinian neighbours with impunity. Israel is an apartheid state, in some ways worse than the South African model.

But then, Deech’s letter is premised on the assumption that Israel is “a sliver of land—Jewish since biblical times…” Setting aside my doubt that land can be labelled in this exclusionary way, Palestine was not, as Zionists claim, “a land without people”—far from it. It now risks becoming a land without hope.

Vera Lustig, Surrey



Gavin Esler’s patronising, sometimes rather infantile, and sometimes distinctly misleading hatchet job on GB News seemed to reveal more about him than the channel. He gives the impression the whole idea of the broadcaster made him uncomfortable before he’d even watched it. He probably thinks that only views that chime with his own deserve any serious airtime.

His focus on the pro-Brexit background of some presenters—as if that ipso facto meant they were suspect—also shows he is still fighting the last war and out of touch with half of Britain. 

Open your mind, Gavin, and at least respect the fact that GB News is trying to add to the diversity of points of view—ones which often resonate with millions of British citizens and do not usually get much of a hearing. Some of them might just be worth listening to.

Michael Berrisford, New Malden


An excellent polemic, Gavin, but I am disappointed at your boredom threshold. As a former journalist I watch GB News with fascination for the same reason I read the Guardian—I am interested in what people who disagree with me think.

I would have thought your excellent BBC World News interviews started from the same premise. Surely we should be asking why GB News has the audiences it does have (no mean achievement for a startup, I know, having been part of LBC in its earliest days). 

Presumably these viewers are largely ex-Sky and BBC. 

Douglas Moffitt, financial editor of LBC, 1974 to 1990


Laurence Fox is a man who is desperate to remain relevant but is becoming more irrelevant each time he opens his mouth. His views are extreme and abhorrent. I sincerely hope he is never allowed on ­mainstream media again. For him and Dan Wootton to be beyond the pale for GB News just shows how extreme they are, considering the low life that are on there most of the time.

Norman Ball, via the website


Good piece. The financier Jeremy Hosking appears to have been a major donor to Laurence Fox’s political career to date. It’s worth following the money trail.

Inayat Bunglawala, via the website


I’d never heard of Paul Marshall before. But whatever the basis of his huge wealth and his connections to the political right, the idea that a Christian should believe there is a relationship between God and their deeds is hardly shocking. That Marshall’s philanthropy appears to spring from his faith is just what you would expect. 

The implication in your article that evangelicals are at odds with the rest of Christian history and practice—because they actually believe in the good news of the kingdom and want it to be spread—raises the question of what the writer himself believes. As a member of the Church of England minded towards evangelicalism, and who sees the urgent need to re-evangelise our nation, I should have hoped for a more nuanced analysis than what was on offer here.

Mike McCabe, High Peak, Derbyshire


The shantyman can

It’s strange that the crime writer Lynda La Plante waxes lyrically about the great Stan Hugill, the ancestor of which she is most proud, without mentioning his invaluable contribution to the history of the sea shanty. A wonderful shantyman himself, his collection Shanties from the Seven Seas—originally published in 1961—has always been the bible singers turn to.

Rod Harrington, Taunton


Willing the worst

Phil Tinline’s piece on Team Trump’s preparations for power is harrowing enough without the reference—indeed, twice in one article—to events in Trump’s “first administration”. They didn’t call Queen Elizabeth “the First” until there was a Second.

Barbara Crowther, Leamington 


Law’s limited empire

Obviously, there is a lot to say on this subject (“Does international law really exist?”)… I believe that the core issue of injustice worldwide is when individuals find ways to bypass the law. Another concern is seeing courts taking the matter of some cases swiftly on only when the issue becomes public, or for political reasons. Many reforms will have to be made in order to prevent people from being deprived of their rights.

Finally, when the International Court of Justice doesn’t have jurisdiction over several countries, how can it still be called “international”?

Sarah A, via the website


Outclassed by Callaghan 

I remember 1979 and I think Andrew Adonis is wrongheaded and unfair on Jim Callaghan.

Callaghan was a giant figure compared to Rishi Sunak. He had fought in a war, been an MP since 1945 and knew both the Labour party and British politics very well. He notably had the respect of politicians on both sides of the House (except those on the left of his own party), which Sunak doesn’t.

He also had the job of trying to run a minority government, which, according to Denis Healey, was the main reason he didn’t go to the country in October 1978—he was, in Healey’s words, “sick to death” of it and was hoping that if he hung on long enough before calling an election, the party’s prospects would improve sufficiently for it to win a clear majority. As we now know, of course, this didn’t happen.

Graham Giles, via the website


Modern monarchies

I think it’s pretty clear where the British royal family is going: down the toilet. The only question is when. I personally have seen the Queen of Denmark out taking a stroll along the waterfront, and I’ve seen the Emperor of Japan hopping on a train at a central Tokyo station. These formerly remote, mystical figures have made the move to become symbols of national unity. 

Do you think the British royal family are symbols of unity? Or are they symbols of a disgusting class system that treats hereditary advantage as one of the pillars of society? If the royals can’t change, they will end up as the victims of simple economics, as the post-Brexit British economy continues to decline until there is not enough tax revenue to keep them going.

Ian Kemp, via the website


Good show

Imogen West-Knights’s column on One Day perfectly sums up my feelings about this wonderful series. Except, I’m 60 and could relate to it all so well because—guess what?—Dex and Em would be around my age today!

Holli Rox, via the website


Random reshuffle

You don’t need an elected chamber to be democratic. A profoundly democratic solution, rooted in an old and noble tradition, is to select members in the same way we select juries. This overcomes at a stroke concern about a second elected chamber that might compete with the Commons. A random selection of people on electoral registers—who would individually be free to turn down the offer—would deliver an impartial, representative and democratic House of Lords. The process of selection would not be prone to the corruption, cronyism and the stain of hereditary and religious privilege which characterise the current House. 

Members would be supported by a highly expert team of researchers backed up by a well-funded library, to ensure they were equipped with the best evidence and analysis on which to make decisions. The current House of Lords Library and researchers would serve as an excellent foundation for this enhanced service. Valued members of the current House could be employed as researchers: their experience and talent need not be lost.

Members would be paid well (say, £90,000 per annum) but would not be allowed to hold a second job, directorships or accept any form of additional income. They would serve for a fixed term—say, six years—but to retain their position they would have to meet engagement criteria such as attendance, voting, taking part in committees and so on. They would be entitled to ceremonial trappings such as robes, heraldic devices and titles.

Of course, this would mean abolishing the old Lords and eliminating all their privileges.

Ken Chad, via the website


The bicameral model exists in Canberra, Australia, but with both the upper and lower chambers being elected. The drawback is that the upper chamber differs little in its behaviour from the lower chamber in terms of braying and hooting. The concept of special expertise for the Senate, rather than popularity at the hustings, has gone, so the (theoretical) wise voice has been lost. 

On the other hand, the numbers have a more sensible balance, with 76 senators in the upper chamber and 151 members in the lower chamber. 

A big difference in Australia is that voting is compulsory… though voting for a candidate is not. One may write across the ballot paper, “They are all plonkers”—it is a perfectly valid option... 

David Cooke, via the website


I am in broad agreement with Bill Keller. Recently there has been a clear fall in standards of members of both the Commons and the Lords. The committee that accepts nominations to the latter must be strengthened to allow it to enforce minimum standards of “eminence”. No political hacks; cabinet-level posts as a minimum for former politicians (but no serving secretaries of state); and only top leaders of all major churches—although even that is arguable in these more secular times. 

The top people in all disciplines, who wish to give their time, should be considered. By all disciplines I include engineering, science and medicine as well as the law, finance and business. Applying the wisdom of truly successful people in multiple fields would ensure that laws sent from the Lower House would return better than they started out.

Logic says we should drop the titles of Lower and Upper House, in favour of First and Second Chamber. But the existing titles are quaint and British, so I, for one, am against changing them. 

Norman Harris, Croydon


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