Sir: James Allan’s rhetorical assault on Jacinda Ardern suffers from a plethora of boringly familiar trans-Tasman prejudices.
To take one example, Allan ascribes New Zealand’s low defence spending to benign circumstances which allow it to avoid hard decisions. But the opposite is true, as, unlike Australia, it does not have the unearned serendipity of mineral wealth which would make expensive weapons systems possible. Nor does life in the geopolitical shadow of both Trump’s America and a resurgent, authoritarian China suggest itself as a benign circumstance. So we try to live within our means, whilst investing in high calibre special forces, infinite foreign policy triangulation and ‘soft power’, a field in which we seem to do rather well for such an under-resourced little place.
Allan is also wholly mistaken in thinking of Ms Ardern as a left-wing socialist. She’s an adroit centrist with a government wedded, like all other New Zealand administrations of the last three decades, to fiscal prudence. Polling suggests that she’s also extremely popular and would be returned with a respectable majority if an election was held tomorrow. Meanwhile what is one to make of Allan’s dramatically oxymoronic phrase; ‘one of the world’s most virulently proportional voting systems’? Is it less virulent when your vote only counts if you agree with a plurality of your neighbours or if, as in Australia, voting is made compulsory?
Tauranga, New Zealand
Turn it off and on again
Sir: The conclusion of your leading article of 9 March (‘Close the deal’) that MPs should ‘hold their noses and vote for May’s deal’ is understandable, but deeply disappointing that this seems to be the best choice left. It occurs to me, however, that there is another solution which might remove many of the obstacles we are currently facing. Could we not revoke Article 50 (as we are unilaterally permitted to do), but then immediately trigger it again? This would wipe the slate clean and give us two years to negotiate in the way you think it should have been done in the first place — hopefully under a new prime minister with a modicum of negotiating nous. I can see problems in getting such a proposal through parliament, but it could have many attractions to all sides and might put us on the front foot
for the first time with the EU.
I blame us
Sir: Nigel Lawson points out that Article 50 was designed to make it difficult for countries to leave the EU (Letters, 9 March). The tone of his letter implies that this is another case of EU rules being imposed on the poor downtrodden UK. What he doesn’t make clear is that as a member of the EU, the UK must have approved the text of Article 50. Surely a case of being hoist by our own petard?
Sir: Charles Moore asks by what right the Commons can interfere in the crown dependencies, all of which have independent and respected legislatures of their own (The Spectator’s Notes, 9 March).
The answer, set down clearly in the Kilbrandon Report (1973) and reconfirmed by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee as recently as May 2018, is that the UK parliament has responsibility for the ‘foreign affairs’ of the crown dependencies and for matters of national interest. That, succinctly, is the answer to his enquiry.
House of Commons, London SW1
A daughter writes…
Sir: Last week, Rod Liddle wrote about my father’s choice to home-school me and the fact that he had been sceptical of it, but now agreed (‘Save your children — take them out of school’, 9 March). It made me think back to being nine (I’m now 21) and the two years I spent being taught by my father.
I agree with Mr Liddle that ‘no matter how bloody clever and well-read middle-class people might think they are’ it doesn’t mean they can teach. My father is not a great teacher. He is impatient, stubborn and not particularly adaptable. But what he offered me compensated for these drawbacks. In the two years he taught me, my dad opened my eyes to different cultures and to different views of life. I bathed with local ladies in rural Japan, bargained with stall owners in Chinese markets, and played with Italian children in Naples. I was taught about such non-conventional topics as the black market of prostitutes and I learned to listen to two sides of a story. Often, my father and I learned together — to speak Italian, for instance, and to paint. Learning with someone, rather than being dictated to, makes a subject feel limitless.
Needless to say, it was a shock to arrive back in a (private) school in year seven, and there were definitely parts of the curriculum I’d missed out on. My geography knowledge was particularly patchy. But the biggest adjustment to secondary school was that it was no longer ‘cool’ to be excited and inspired by learning, as I had been during the two previous years.
Rod might like to know that we did go to Aix and paint Mont Sainte-Victoire from the same viewpoint as Cézanne, just as my father had said we would. The idea of this trip may have given him acid reflux, but I wonder if he was gagging with envy rather than anger.
School of thought
Sir: Rod Liddle’s defence of the right to home-school a child is a cogent one, and his criticism of our state education system should concern everybody. Schools ought to be given the freedom to inculcate skills in debate and enable argument on a host of subjects; yet the stipulation that the curriculum should be taught impartially and uphold diversity as sacrosanct has resulted in the exclusion of certain views and subjects from the classroom. This may please liberal ideologues, but if education is tapering opinion and truncating areas for discussion, it has become contrary to its core purpose.
Young people, especially today, need to leave school with the ability to think for themselves, and to express arguments. Likewise, a curiosity about the world surrounding them ought to be imbued. This will cease to be achievable if the focus of education becomes about the avoidance of causing upset, rather than its ability to open doors.
Sir: Rachel Johnson in her article ‘Publish and be damned’ (9 March) rightly states that it is unlikely Lolita would be published today. She quotes the Cape publisher Dan Franklin saying he would ‘never be able to get it past the acquisition team, a committee of 30-year-olds, who’d say, “If you publish this book we will all resign.”’ Franklin then admits that he turned down Putney by Sofka Zinovieff, one of his own authors. ‘A haunting novel published by Bloomsbury last year about a 12-year-old girl groomed for sex by a 40-year-old man,’ writes Johnson. (Actually, the girl is nine and the abuser is in his late twenties.) ‘I was uncomfortable with it,’ Franklin says.
I reviewed Putney and admire it. I found it to be a deeply moral book, as it shows both the self-deception of the abuser and the ambivalence of the abused child, her confusion about love, and how what happened to her damages her future and the futures of those closest to her.
Sir: There was some British understatement in the article by David Cairns, not least about the role he himself has played in championing the music of Berlioz at home and, notably, in France (‘They’re finally going to play my music’, 2 March). Not only did he write a magisterial biography, but he has supervised or assisted with countless recordings and performances by Sir Colin Davis and others.
From co-founder of the Chelsea Opera Group 70 years ago to recipient of a prestigious Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres award from the French government for services to one of their own composers, Cairns’s long and distinguished career deserves more recognition from our own government, whose interest in the arts is one of the many things lost in its preoccupation with European affairs.
No funeral in Berlin
Sir: Andrew Roberts raises the interesting idea of erecting memorials to events that did not happen (Diary, 9 March). I have always thought that such a memorial should be erected outside the Berlin flat of Lieutenant-General Noel Mason-MacFarlane, who in 1939 as military attaché to Germany offered to shoot Hitler during his 50th birthday parade, of which he had a direct view: ‘I could shoot the bastard off from here as easy as winking.’ The plan was met with ‘distaste’ in Whitehall.
30 years of hurt
Sir: My wife and I were walking along the Rambla in Montevideo a year ago and watched a group of Indian men playing cricket against the backdrop of the river Plate. I wondered then what had happened to the game in Uruguay since I had lived there 30 years ago (‘Notes on cricket in Buenos Aires’, 2 March). Perhaps the scouts from the Montevideo Cricket Club should take a walk along the Rambla to recruit some new players? We might beat Argentina next time.
Sir: Charles Moore writes of the reluctance of the authorities to pursue the terrorists who murdered Airey Neave (The Spectator’s Notes, 9 March). Here in Deal, where a bombing claimed by the Provisional IRA killed 11 Royal Marine bandsmen and injured a further 21 in 1989, we are equally nonplussed at the apparent lack of interest or progress in finding these murderers and bringing them to justice.
While investigations continue into the behaviour of British soldiers in Ulster during the ‘Troubles’, one can only presume that other investigations have been sacrificed to the Good Friday Agreement, an agreement of such substance that we are warned it will collapse in the event of different rates of VAT being charged
on either side of the border.
Sir: As the parent of a 23-year-old autistic ‘child’, I carry scars — literally — acquired as a result of videogame-induced meltdowns that you’d need to witness to believe. Of course this isn’t an invalidation of Sam Leith’s general thesis that gaming is escapist fun (‘Why I game’, 2 March). I just thought I’d wave a flag for the people out there who have to wage this war with their addicted offspring. I used to be able to help my son with Lego etc, but I’m powerless where gaming is concerned. He has to suffer the glitches on his own, the poor internet speed, and so on. And once the meltdowns are over, the smashed keyboards and monitors must be cleared away and replaced. So for me, gaming is a curse.
Iden Green, Kent
Sir: In Toby Young’s otherwise excellent article, he refers to the Law Society of Ontario’s requirement that anyone practising law in the state adheres to a statement of principles regarding equity, diversity and inclusion (‘The rise of the woke corporation’, 9 March).
The society, which until last year was known as the Law Society of Upper Canada in deference to its colonial roots, actually regulates barristers and solicitors in one of the oldest continuing jurisdictions of the crown in North America. Whatever else may be said about the statement of principles, it is probably not that ‘woke’ in a province that welcomed loyalist refugees from the American Revolution, indigenous tribes displaced by US expansion, fugitive slaves by the thousands and starving Irish people, long before the 21st-century’s cant.
An insult too far
Sir: Bruce Anderson (Drink, 2 March) may think me and other Welshmen repulsive, but never compare me to Neil Kinnock.
Efail Isaf, Pontypridd
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