Left vs left
Sir: Your leading article (‘Comfort spending’, 28 November) makes the classic mistake about modern politics which prevents so many from grasping what is going on. You refer to Sir Keir Starmer as the leader of a battle against Labour’s left by its ‘centre’. Since Neil Kinnock’s pantomime battle with Militant in 1985, political journalists have been beguiled by a fantasy. They think that Labour leaders who attack villainous leftist factions do so in the cause of moderation. But this is in fact a battle by the sophisticated left — of post-1968 cultural revolutionaries — against the crude and embarrassing steam-powered left of Militant or Jeremy Corbyn. Each thinks the other is the wrong kind of socialist. Keir Starmer, like Anthony Blair himself, is a former Trotskyist who may not be that former. He recently told an interviewer who explored his dalliance with the fascinating tendency known as ‘Socialist Alternatives’: ‘I don’t think there are big issues on which I’ve changed my mind.’ And why should he? The group’s preoccupation with sexual politics and green issues has since then become the ideology of all the major parties. But the old Labour right of anti-Communist trade union patriots and Christians was hunted down and wiped out almost 40 years ago, and can barely be found any more. Labour’s struggle, like so much British politics, is a left vs left combat. If you want anything else, good luck. But you won’t get it from Sir Keir.
The same problem
Sir: Paul Embery describes forensically what has gone wrong with the Labour party and how it has ended up in such a sorry state (‘Left behind’, 28 November). I say this as a Conservative voter who has always seen the value of a ‘proper’ Labour party both in and of itself and as a serious opposition party.
He could well have gone on to apply his analysis to the current Conservative party. Aside from the Covid problems, the party seems to be getting itself into the same mess as Labour have by trying to be all things to all men. The confected virtue-signalling over all things green is not something that a Conservative party should be pursuing at eye-watering costs and to the detriment of other, better policies. Nor is its slant towards urban attitudes regarding the management of the countryside, where many of its members live. The Housing White Paper is poorly thought out and, apart from being a bad policy per se, will win no votes in the rural constituencies. These are issues where the party is losing its core ethos in the hunt for new voters, rather like the BBC. I do hope that Boris sees the light before it is too late — and before the Labour party gets its house in order.
Helping Hong Kong
Sir: Charles Parton (‘One country, one system’, 21 November) suggests that the UK should try to help Hong Kong by ‘challeng[ing] China’s reputation and thereby undermin[ing] its soft power’. But as he also notes, Beijing ‘puts controlling Hong Kong above any damage to its international reputation’, meaning that this policy prescription is not going to work.
Diplomats, like chess players, need to calculate several moves ahead. Given the view in Beijing that the UK is interfering in China’s affairs through its support for the opposition in Hong Kong, measures suggested by Parton, such as taking the issue to the UN, will only reinforce Beijing in its current approach. The most likely outcome is a further hardening of its policy in Hong Kong. That is presumably not the sort of ‘help’ for Hong Kong that Parton had in mind.
Centre for China Studies
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Branch of religion
Sir: I particularly enjoyed Laurie Graham’s excellent article about the commercialisation of Advent calendars (‘Open season’, 28 November). A good and still religious alternative is the Jesse Tree. It consists of a small tree branch festooned with little pictures of the ancestors of Jesus or the major Old Testament figures (David, Abraham, Moses, Noah, etc) drawn by children. It is a great family activity and a wonderful opportunity for children to learn just who these important personages were.
Sir: Stuart Ritchie (‘Give it a shot’, 28 November) makes an assumption when he declares the Covid vaccines to be ‘super-safe’. We simply cannot know what the long-term side effects of the vaccines are when the trials have taken place over a matter of months instead of the usual periods of years. The vast majority of the population aren’t mortally at risk from Covid-19 — what rationale is there for them to take any risk with these accelerated vaccines, especially when those who are vulnerable are already safely vaccinated?
St Albans, Herts
Sir: It is as well, as Christopher Howse reports, that the Church of England has decided that there is no general prohibition on inscriptions not in English appearing on graves and memorials under its jurisdiction (‘Notes On…’, 21 November). Otherwise it is going to have its retrospective work cut out expunging centuries of Latin epitaphs from its monumental archive.
If the fear is that some unscrupulous mason will use the cover of an unfamiliar lingo to sneak in a political slogan, at least here the consistory court can relax. Anyone who has seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian will know only too well the hazards that confront the hapless activist trying to make his insurgent sentiments conform to the rules of Latin grammar.
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