The Observer - - Comment & Analysis -

This week’s is­sue New party? New pol­i­tics, more like

Your front-page story tells us that there is “£50m back­ing for new party to ‘break mould’ of UK pol­i­tics”, (News, last week). Once again we are in the realms of the short-term “fix” for a deep po­lit­i­cal malaise. The be­set­ting sin of Bri­tish pol­i­tics has al­ways been its fo­cus on im­me­di­ate poli­cies and its in­abil­ity to grap­ple with the po­lit­i­cal philoso­phies nec­es­sary to un­der­pin any set of poli­cies. Cob­bling to­gether a man­i­festo de­signed to fill what is de­fined ev­ery few years or so as a vac­uum in the cen­tre is cer­tainly fea­si­ble but it can­not be re­lied on to deal with the cru­cial ques­tions of what kind of so­ci­ety we want and need and how we in­spire the elec­torate – par­tic­u­larly younger vot­ers – to be ac­tive in pol­i­tics.

I have spent much of the past 25 years work­ing with new and emerg­ing democ­ra­cies around the world, try­ing to en­cour­age and es­tab­lish struc­tures for en­dur­ing demo­cratic gov­ern­ments. All that I and other equally com­mit­ted col­leagues could do in in­stalling healthy elec­toral sys­tems or de­vis­ing par­lia­men­tary rules was ephemeral un­less the par­ties had a firm ba­sis in po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy. Par­ties based on tribe, re­li­gion, re­gion, charis­matic leader or lib­er­a­tion move­ment were all in­ca­pable of de­vel­op­ing co­her­ent and sta­ble long-term gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion. We have an ex­am­ple close at hand in North­ern Ire­land, where the in­her­ent weak­ness of the power-shar­ing agree­ment is that, apart from Al­liance, the po­lit­i­cal par­ties are pred­i­cated on their at­ti­tude to the bor­der and not on po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy.

Michael Mead­owcroft Leeds

An­drew Rawns­ley says that “a new party would have to have a pol­icy plat­form broader than just op­pos­ing Brexit” (Op­por­tu­nity knocks for a new party. But will any­body dare open the door?”, Com­ment, last week). He also says: “What is ex­tremely hard is… to break through an elec­toral sys­tem that is highly hos­tile to new con­tenders.”

What we need is some­thing like the war­time coali­tion. I sug­gest that the new party should have just two poli­cies at the elec­tion: first, to can­cel Brexit, then to en­act a new vot­ing sys­tem and call an­other gen­eral elec­tion. That would al­low ex­ist­ing MPs to run on the new ticket if they chose, then re­vert to their “home” party af­ter­wards if they pre­ferred. Af­ter all, both main par­ties have many vot­ers who are cur­rently dis­en­fran­chised by the first-past-the-post sys­tem.

The new party should be called the Demo­cratic party and should be led by one or more el­der states­men who would serve for one term only. I’m sure we can all think of their names. Let’s just do it.

Judy Ma­son Ad­ming­ton, War­wick­shire

The way to beat malaria

I was in­ter­ested to read Robin McKie’s ar­ti­cle about the re­sis­tant strain of malaria in Pailin, Cam­bo­dia (“Could a re­mote town in Cam­bo­dia spark the next great malaria epi­demic?”, Fo­cus, last week).

I was born and grew up in Cam­bo­dia and have been liv­ing in the UK for the past 12 years. In the mid 1980s, my two un­cles trav­elled from my vil­lage in Kam­pong Cham prov­ince to Pailin, a dis­tance of 250 miles, to dig for pre­cious stones to help their poor fam­i­lies. A year later, they came back with a lit­tle gold dust, a few pre­cious stones and... malaria. One sur­vived but the other died. They knew they had malaria but did not know the source was the mos­quito. They thought they had caught it from drink­ing dirty mine wa­ter.

Due to the de­struc­tion of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem dur­ing the reign of the Kh­mer Rouge, most peo­ple did not know how malaria was spread or of the need to sleep un­der nets. From 1979 to 1993, Cam­bo­dia was racked by civil war and poverty. Many ru­ral peo­ple could only af­ford to visit the lo­cal witch-doc­tor. When they did re­ceive medicine, pa­tients of­ten did not un­der­stand they had to com­plete the full dose and could not read the in­struc­tions only printed in a for­eign lan­guage. This con­tin­ues to­day and is per­haps one of the rea­sons why drug-re­sis­tant strains of malaria are in­creas­ing. Ed­u­ca­tion is the key to com­bat­ing malaria. Laysrin Bo Llan­goed, Beau­maris, An­gle­sey

Give chil­dren a Sure Start

The short-sight­ed­ness of the clo­sure of so many Sure Start cen­tres was mem­o­rably ren­dered by Frank Cot­trell Boyce (“By ax­ing early years help, we give our chil­dren a moun­tain to climb”, Com­ment, last week). Two-, three- and four-yearolds are owed a good qual­ity of life ir­re­spec­tive of the in­ad­e­quate met­rics that gov­ern­ment seeks to use to judge early years set­tings. Sure Start cen­tres play an im­por­tant part in se­cur­ing that qual­ity of liv­ing and learn­ing. They need to be re­stored; our chil­dren de­serve the very best we can give them.

Colin Richards Spark Bridge, Cum­bria

The po­ten­tial’s the thing

While the cost of au­di­tion­ing for drama schools is cer­tainly one bar­rier to more in­clu­sion, con­cen­trat­ing on this alone will not bring about the changes that both the schools and the in­dus­try clearly want (“Way too ‘priv­i­leged’: drama schools urged to cut their au­di­tion fees”, News, last week).

Can­di­dates from sup­port­ive, achiev­ing and cul­tur­ally ar­tic­u­late back­grounds are much eas­ier to se­lect, not least be­cause they are of­ten con­fi­dent, highly lit­er­ate and used to ex­press­ing them­selves. They may come to us af­ter at­tend­ing sum­mer schools, foun­da­tion cour­ses or well-re­sourced pri­vate schools. The big­ger chal­lenge is to take a risk on in­stinc­tive, in­tu­itive but less-pol­ished can­di­dates at au­di­tions – re­al­is­ing that there are three years of in­ten­sive train­ing ahead to re­alise their ob­vi­ous po­ten­tial. Ground­break­ing schemes such as Open Door are in­tro­duc­ing schools to many ter­rific can­di­dates who pre­vi­ously felt that a place in a good school was out of their grasp; there is a real de­sire to change the de­mo­graphic once and for all.

These are ex­cit­ing times if we are brave enough to truly rep­re­sent the dif­fer­ence and diver­sity of the lives around us by re­al­is­ing that Shake­speare is per­haps (not yet) part of their world when we first see them at au­di­tion – whereas mount­ing debt cer­tainly is.

Dave Bond, head of ac­tor train­ing Royal Welsh Col­lege of Mu­sic and Drama, Cardiff

Drugs, knives and cap­i­tal­ism

Even those “ex­perts” in your ar­ti­cle who called for a “pub­lic health” ap­proach to knife crime failed to ad­dress fully its sys­temic as­pect (“Lon­don’s knife crime cri­sis: meet the peo­ple with pos­si­ble so­lu­tions”, News, last week). The drug trade – and the vi­o­lence that is en­demic to it – is a prod­uct of so­cial fail­ures. It pro­vides a counter-econ­omy where no other func­tional econ­omy ex­ists. “Ev­ery belly has an un­der­belly”, as Ian Rankin once wrote. In the poor­est parts of the UK, it has be­come the only vi­able al­ter­na­tive to zero-hours ex­ploita­tion.

A pub­lic health model of type 2 di­a­betes wouldn’t ig­nore the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy and so­cial de­ter­mi­nants of health, so why should one re­lated to knife crime? If you make peo­ple poorer, their health and their ca­pac­ity to man­age their health both get worse. A pub­lic health model of knife crime will only work if it ad­dresses fun­da­men­tal in­come in­equal­ity and its link to the drug econ­omy.

Nick Moss Lon­don NW10

The clue is in the ques­tion

The clue in a re­cent cross­word was “ab­nor­mally fat”, with the an­swer “obese”. Un­for­tu­nately, be­ing obese is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly nor­mal. It’s time to stop do­ing the news­pa­per cross­word, get out of the chair and go for a walk.

Den­nis Fitzger­ald Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia

For the record

The laird of Al­ladale, north of In­ver­ness, en­vis­ages a fenced area of 50,000 acres, not square miles, for a wildlife re­serve (“One man’s plan to let wolves roam in the High­lands”, Fo­cus, last week, page 36).

Sun Stu­dio, where Elvis recorded, is in Mem­phis, not Nashville (“The Elvis we for­got: in­tense, driven and in search of a style”, News, last week, page 27).

We gave the Liver­pool sub­urb of Dove­cot an er­ro­neous fi­nal “e” (“By cut­ting early years help, we give our chil­dren a moun­tain to climb”, Com­ment, last week, page 43).

Write to the Read­ers’ Edi­tor, the Ob­server, York Way, Lon­don N1 9GU, email ob­­ers@ob­, tel 020 3353 4736

‘The first pol­icy of any new party should be to can­cel Brexit.’

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