Tories and Italians
Sir: Roger Scruton must be laughing, or more likely crying, to hear his Meaning of Conservatism described as the ‘Bible of the Tories’ (‘Italians for Maggie’, 7 September). Nothing could be further from the truth. According to Farrell, ‘Italians believe that only the state can bring freedom.’ But that’s closer to Scruton’s position than the ‘freedom’ Farrell imagines him to be defending. According to Scruton, ‘conservatism is not about freedom, but about authority, and freedom divorced from authority is of no use to anyone — not even to the one who possesses it’. He wrote the book, he tells us in the preface to the third edition, because: ‘I sought to distinguish conservatism from economic liberalism and also to counter the Conservative party’s emphasis on free markets and economic growth.’
Of course all societies are bound by the laws of supply and demand. But what makes a society worth conserving is precisely what is impenetrable to the theoretical understanding. Scruton’s point, though there’s far more to his book than that, was that this political mode of understanding was being subverted by the language of economic theory, leading to a narrow utilitarian understanding of politics inimical to the more expansive organic conception of politics and society his work seeks to explain and defend.
Thinking outside the box
Sir: The article by Ross Clark comparing Hammersmith & Fulham Council to Ryanair (‘Welcome to Ryanair Britain’, 31 August) was far from the mark. Yes, council tax has been reduced by 3 per cent or more for six years out of the past seven, but there has also been a focus on providing excellent services to our residents. Not only has the level of council tax been reduced to the third lowest in England over the past seven years but debt has also been halved, reserves more than doubled and parking charges frozen for the past three years.
Surveys record that tackling traffic congestion is seen as one of residents’ most important concerns. Addressing this is not easy given the competing demands for road space and the network of generally narrow roads in a small, densely packed borough. Traffic blocking box junctions between light phases is a cause of unnecessary delays and congestion. Active enforcement of the box junction quoted by Ross Clark has led to a reduction in congestion there and the number of fines issued has reduced by a quarter over the last 12 months as drivers’ behaviour adapts. It is a complex junction, but 499 out of every 500 motorists still manage to pass through it without straddling the yellow box.
Councillor Nicholas Botterill
Leader, Hammersmith & Fulham Council
Sir: Matthew Parris is probably right to ‘expect friction in the Balkans’ (24 August). A Belgrade taxi driver said to me last week that there is a war in the Balkans about every 50 years. The politics behind the Milosevic years, and Nato’s intervention in Serbia, is complicated and partisan, and both are much resented by many Serbs. They are also deeply offended by the negative perception of Serbians in England after the late 1990s. However, the remark that ‘we hate the English’ shouldn’t be taken at face value. It is certainly not typical. The warmth and great kindness which I found this month travelling alone by bicycle in the heart of central Serbia was quite extraordinary and moving, given recent history. It seems to flow from a society which has a strong sense of family, a tradition of hospitality, innate curiosity, and a resilient Orthodox Christianity.
Horsted Keynes, West Sussex
Mistaken for Belgians
Sir: Allow me to assure Charles Moore (Notes, 7 Sept) that the blue and white EUR number plates do not represent any motoring exemptions. Eurocrats must obey the laws of the road. But all EU staff, even at a humble level, can choose between normal Belgian number plates or EUR ones. Many formerly chose EUR because they were proud to be working for the EU; many because they were eager not to be mistaken for Belgians. The EUR plates are much less popular nowadays as they often cause resentment among the locals — and even among the police.
It’s how you say it
Sir: Alexander Chancellor’s article about the changing use of language (Long life, 7 September) reminds me that Prince William said to reporters after the birth of his son: ‘I know how long you’ve all been sat out here.’ This expression has now ceased to irritate me and I even use it myself, albeit somewhat self-consciously.
Sir: Robert Gore-Langton (‘Are you sitting comfortably…’, 24 August) reminds us of the unforgettable effect of a good story well told. This might be my only opportunity to propose a small contest between Google and The Spectator. Perhaps 70 years ago a schoolmaster read to us a ghost story entitled ‘The Number 13 Bus’. This spine-chilling tale induced an almost pleasant horror, such that I would like to hear and read to others the tale again. Alas, I cannot find it on Google: can Spectator readers do better?
Prof John Stephenson
Bowmore, Isle of Islay
Sir: I hope I’m not too late to offer your readers this choice morsel from a Provençal restaurant menu many years ago: a goat’s cheese dish, all too literally translated as ‘turd of goat’.
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