The New European
Meals row shows MPS need lessons in real life
As many politicians once again demonstrate that they are out of touch with ordinary people by voting against providing free school meals in holidays, is now the time to suggest that all politicians should undertake a series of ‘internships’ to build their knowledge and experience before they vote on matters that affect the public?
My proposal would be for each and every politician to undertake one week of ‘work experience’ each year during one of their recesses, where they would step outside of the Westminster bubble and back into real life. There would be a wide range of experiences across all sectors – working in a primary school, following a GP, living on benefits, working on a farm or in a small business, preferably alongside their constituents in their local community.
Further, by the time they get to be ministers one might hope that they have built a portfolio of experience relevant to their ministerial responsibilities, so that an education minister, might have worked in a school, shadowed a head teacher or studied with a 16- or 17-yearold; or a health minister might have worked in A&E, shadowed a nurse or seen how a person copes with chronic illness or disability.
I think people would welcome the opportunity to show politicians what ‘real life’ is like and I don’t think it would be difficult or costly to organise. In subsequent elections, voters would be able to judge the candidates on their willingness to understand their own lives.
Nick Roberts Selly Oak
We hear a lot about children going hungry, but why is this happening when the government says that most state benefit claimants are already working?
The problem is simply that for years, the wages of retail employees, adult care workers and catering staff etc have increasingly fallen below the increases of others. Employees in the big retail stores are often forced to work most Saturdays, Sundays, bank holidays and many evenings, yet often for the national minimum wage for weekdays.
Creating a graded percentage increase for all Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday work with the going rate being +50% for Saturdays and double time for Sundays and bank holidays would lift thousands of the poorest workers out of poverty and above the benefits limit.
This would save the state indirectly subsidising multi-millionaire bosses.
That makes common sense but that is lacking in modern Britain.
Rev. Geoffrey Squire. Youthlink (England & Wales)
One of Marcus Rashford’s skills, shared by most top sports stars, is an ability to anticipate. He knows, instinctively but also through experience, when to make a run, when to get on the blind side of his marker, where the ball is most likely to end up. These are spur-of-the-moment decisions. Good anticipation is a key indicator of sporting intelligence.
If only the same level of skill and intelligence in anticipation of the results of certain actions were discernible in our government. Schools reopening, students going back to universities, lots of people moving around the country on staycations, eat out to help out – but apparently, to quote Dido Harding, nobody could have foreseen the resulting sudden increase in coronavirus cases.
Provide business and income support to areas in tier three, but only think about doing something for tier two when it becomes obvious that business and employees have already suffered. Underestimate the importance of the integrity of the single market to the EU, and fail to anticipate its red lines for a trade deal. Fail to acknowledge, let alone anticipate, the economic impact of Brexit alongside that of Covid. Fail to anticipate the impact of supporting Dominic Cummings on people’s willingness to follow the rules.
Quite apart from their disgraceful rejection of Rashford’s pleas for free school meal vouchers to continue during school holidays, their inability to match another of his key skill sets indicates a government flying by the seat of its pants and being forced into drastic, spur-of-themoment, divide-and-rule crisis management. So much for the super-forecasters.
Michael White misses the point by mocking no-deal as a “Narnia Deal” (“Wardrobe malfunction”, TNE #216).
Yes, Brexit always was a fantasy Ponzi scheme, but the Tory party have bet their family fortune on it, and turning back now would not be easy for Johnson, even if he tried.
For five years he has been making contradictory promises, hoping something would turn up ‘on the night’. He now faces an awkward dilemma and has to jump one way or the other.
To get a deal now, Johnson would have to backtrack on the Internal Market Bill, and make humbling compromises on fish, state aid and judicial arbitration. In return the UK gets a deal in which we pay tariffs on WTO terms, and co-operate with the EU on the multitude of specialist regulations that have been negotiated in the last nine months.
This deal would trigger a revolt of Tory backbenchers, or else raise the spectre of Farage returning with a resurrected Brexit Party, shouting betrayal.
On the other path, no-deal means the UK effectively declares UDI, rejects the Withdrawal Agreement and Irish protocol, and enters into a legal, trade and diplomatic dispute with our neighbours, all the minor agreements are suspended, no-one knows what the rules are, trade grinds to a halt, and we face a fishing stand-off in the Channel. All this will be blamed on the foreigners; the Express will be rousing the masses to resist the invading hordes, and Johnson will get his chance to be the great ‘war leader’. Never mind that we cannot win, it will be another heroic British failure! Knowing Johnson, which way will he turn?
Steve Richards is right in “Stress of our own making” (TNE #216). The Vote
Leave kamikaze generals have fashioned this trade deal brinkmanship in their own false image of this country’s exceptionalism and how we as a nation show all the other countries how it is done. There was no pragmatism or even sanity displayed when this government refused to extend the transition arrangement in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
I expect there will be some kind of deal cobbled together because the EU does need one as well, but at what price to our reputation as a sensible country which led by good faith, fairness and a self-knowledge that we make mistakes, but more importantly learn from them.
Although if the grand finale is a dire no-deal, what’s the betting this will be dressed up in the emperor’s new clothes of a stupendous achievement?
Judith A. Daniels
Steve Richards’ depiction of Boris Johnson’s delusional world, where imperial Britain still stands at the centre of some surreal world, can be the only rational explanation for the bouts of increasing policy insanity that has gripped his government as the final phase of our Brexit transition rapidly approaches.
Treating our closest European partners with a level of scorn and contempt more reminiscent of the diplomatic bullying of 19th century Raj governors than 21st century diplomacy is only matched by the indifference shown to the other leaders of our home nations and the mayors of our great northern cities over Covid restrictions, financial support and food aid to our poorest children.
Yet the remarkable restraint shown by the EU27 member states in the face of broken treaty promises and open hostility is now being exhausted to breaking point, as are relations between the UK home nations and Downing Street. Will humility eventually prevail? Unlikely. Paul Dolan Northwich
The EU demands a formal deal with the UK not just because “the British government is not trusted”, as Steve Richards puts it, but because the EU is based on a rule of law. Everything the EU does must have a legal basis.
For example, Chapter 14 of the 2014 Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU and its member countries sets
down a procedure for settling disputes. There is no suggestion that the Ukrainian government is not trusted.
Phil Jones High Wycombe
John Cornell asked if readers would welcome a Leave voter into the family (Letters, TNE #216). My short answer is “no”. However, my longer answer would be that the anger, chaos and division which have scarred our country since the referendum were not inevitable.
The dereliction of duty by David Cameron in not having any plan for a potential Leave win has led to the rise to power of the right wing of his party and the malign and vindictive government we are burdened with now.
I would never have been happy to leave the EU, but a less damaging ‘soft Brexit’ was once possible. At this remove from the vote, the prospective new family member’s attitude to the last four years and the current government would actually be more critical.
In “How Covid catalysed Wales”, (TNE #216) we have yet another example of you printing a friendly article about rising nationalist parties within the UK. Why is a paper which ostensibly supports internationalism printing supportive pieces about nationalism? Nationalism is basically predicated on the notion of superiority to the ‘other’, always a dangerous attitude
Robert Llewellyn Milton Keynes
Reading Felia Allum’s article “Why Covid is like the Mafia” (TNE #216), I was struck by the similarity to Johnson’s government too. “Mafias are also interested in political power because that’s where the big money lies.”
Andrew Smith Southampton
Reading Alastair Campbell’s account of his trip to Freiburg (“Decency now in the ascendancy”, TNE # 216) to check its green credentials reminded me of when I was there as a foreign language assistant in 1986/87. Even then the town seemed at the forefront of embracing its environmental concerns.
The monthly bus ticket was called an Umweltschutz Monatskarte, which translates as an ‘environmental protection monthly card’. A clunky translation perhaps, however, the intention was clear that 20 people travelling on one bus was preferable to 20 cars travelling into town.
David Lippiatt Doune
Steve Anglesey, while mentioning Steve Baker (TNE # 216), says “Could this be a ruse so Jacob Rees-mogg can say ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ in the Commons, and then grin like he’s nanny’s special boy?”
Mr Mogg, being an old fogey pedant, much like myself, would say “antidisestablishmentarialism”, if only in an effort to (Canutely) turn back the tsunami of Americanisms polluting the English language! Maybe your Mr Trudgill could mediate the matter…
Joe Henderson Bere Regis
My knowledge of the geography of Caledonia is not quite as bad as Donald Nichol from Galashiels suggests (Letters TNE #216). Hadrian’s Wall really did, as I wrote, mark the northern limit of the Roman Empire – for something like 300 years.
The later more northerly and soon abandoned Antonine Wall which, I would like to assure him, I have actually visited, marked the northern limit for less than 20 years.
Peter Trudgill Norwich
Can Peter Trudgill shed any light on moves to preserve the Swabian language (as opposed to the Swabian dialect spoken in Baden-wuerttemberg and other parts of south-west Germany)?
Swabia was an important political entity in the middle ages, and extended from what is now Baden-wuerttemberg into western Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland. It had its own political and administrative system and a distinct language.
According to Helmut, a friend who is a Swabian speaker, the language is close to extinction with maybe just a few hundred speakers left, mostly of a very advanced age.
There is a song – Auf der Schwaebischen Eisenbahn, to give it its mainstream German title – which gives an insight into the dialect. Google “Willi Reichert” to find the lyrics.
Does Peter know of any efforts to record and preserve Swabian? If you have come across the dialect, you will know some of the difficulties of understanding it.
My experience of listening to Helmut speaking the language is that it takes that degree of difficulty to a whole new level. However, that should not mean it is simply allowed to die out.
It’s hard to get the combined plodding momentum of the British media out of the middle lane – especially when that lane is so worn it has become a deep trench, but now is the time.
In a week Trump will be ousted and the US clear-up begins. At that point both the UK’S Covid mess-ups and Brexit nonsense slip to ‘has beens’ on the list of Britain’s celebrity problems.
When the US goes back to the real world we’re out here on our own... Amanda Baker
If this really is the end for you know who – and at time of writing the polls suggest it is – then there is one thing I’ll be glad to see the back of: Lee Greenwood’s catchy but awful song God Bless the USA, aka ‘I’m Proud to Be an American’, which has become Trump’s signature song.
A ballad that best captures the United States most of us want to believe in is The House I Live In aka ‘That’s America to me’. It is most readily associated with Frank Sinatra and is featured in an eponymous Sinatra short film warning about the dangers of anti-semitism that won a special Oscar in 1946.
Sinatra appears to have been a lifelong anti-racist. In 1958 he wrote in Ebony Magazine: “A friend to me has no race, no class and belongs to no minority. My friendships are formed out of affection, mutual respect and a feeling of having something in common. These are eternal values that cannot be classified.”
Another top tune about the so-called ‘American Dream’ is One Time, One Night by one of the USA’S greatest rock bands – East LA’S Los Lobos. Perhaps Biden and Harris could adopt it as their anthem of a post-trump USA.
Will Goble Rayleigh
Shakespeare did not write to be misunderstood (“Unmasking the Bard’s greatest villain”, TNE #216). If he had wished Hamlet to be seen as a villain, he would have made this as clear as he does with his well-known villains, even when their degree of villainy may be disputed.
What he does make clear is that Hamlet, in common with European culture of his time, is in a dilemma, with his options split between two codes; the code of honour or Christian teaching.
The former would dictate that Hamlet must avenge his father, the latter that revenge can never be right. By various means, the play explores this dilemma, reaching the conclusion that deliberate, cold-blooded revenge can never be justified from a Christian standpoint.
Hamlet’s father is avenged but not by Hamlet; his murderer is “hoist with his own petard”, dying as a result of his own plotting. Hamlet’s delay is the result of his not wishing to imperil his own soul, at the same time bitterly criticising himself for cowardice.
He will kill Polonius by accident, and see Ophelia driven to madness and death because her lover has killed her father. The code of honour would then oblige her to see her father avenged.
Hamlet does send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths, but only in self-defence and as he says, they “made love to this employment”. By Act 5, Hamlet awaits the judgement of God in a state of Christian resignation; “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow”.
Ann Dowling Stretford
The Covid-19 tier rules remind me of Boris Johnson’s hair. It flip-flops all over the place, looks messy and keeps being adjusted as the wind changes.
Tony Howarth London SW3
The collapse of Boris Johnson’s political and personal credibility is creating a vacuum on the right of politics, where a large portion of the electorate settled after the last election.
Clearly, new leadership on the right will not come from Farage, himself too shallowly self-indulgent like Johnson. And Starmer’s too narrowly legalistic approach, demonstrated by his avoidance of grasping the nettle of Brexit, will not win over the masses.
Economists are predicting more than four million unemployed or more into the new year, a betrayal of the nationalist beast that Johnson and Gove unleashed with their cheery ‘Get Brexit Done’ optimism only 10 months ago.
Has that created room further to the right for the anger of the betrayed to pour into?
If not a louche Farage to lead them on the streets, who? Yaxley-lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, has had miniscule impact and, significantly, he is from the south.
It is the north where unemployment, betrayal and anger are likely to build up most. Look perhaps, for a charismatic figure from the north of the River Trent, focussed on campaigns on the street, as well as working the political machine, anti-european, protecting “our waters”, anti-foreigner of all sorts, anti-rich privilege, yet covertly funded by the wealthy from home and abroad.
He (probably male and white) is not visible yet, but the climate may be changing in his favour, unless as powerful an antidote comes from the left of centre. Some of us looked briefly to Corbyn to fill this space, but his indecisiveness and inability to build a coalition against the Johnson-gove Project, betrayed that too.
There is not time to wait for reform of the electoral voting system or other technicalities; the time for confrontation of the failure of the Tories’ Brexit/covid mismanagement is on us now.