April 2020: Letters to the Editor

Sinn Fein’s stock has risen on the back of a housing crisis, not identity politics


Supersized footprint

Ella Whelan’s article on Woke eugenics (March) was very misleading. Malthus never mentioned carbon footprints and yet that is what is at the heart of this issue. In the West, but also increasingly in China and other countries in the Far East, we can boast, if we are so inclined, that the size of our carbon footprints is second to none.

Our cars, our showers and our flights abroad, etc, put us head and shoulders above the remaining six billion inhabitants in terms of the environmental impact we have on our fragile planet. It is unfair to condemn the remaining six billion to unremitting poverty at the bottom of the consumption ladder while we enjoy our high-end lifestyles, and our carbon boots get bigger and bigger.

China is doing a fair job of expanding the standard of living of an increasing number of its inhabitants but without necessarily considering the impact of their carbon footwear as pollution and deforestation adjust to keep pace with the demand.

Simply advocating population control is not the answer, but neither is delivering the six billion into the lifestyles of the “lucky” 1.7 billion without a way of managing the impact on our environment. As Ella Whelan suggests, human ingenuity emerging from the economically liberated six billion may solve the problem, but if a fingers-crossed conundrum doesn’t work, what then? That is the dilemma we have to deal with and the lifestyles and carbon footprints of the 1.7 billion have to be part of the solution.

Iain Skelly

Ness, Cheshire

Running into trouble

As the wife of a veteran triathlete, I enjoy “Running Repairs”. I felt a slight tinge of pride as I reflected on my husband’s most recent half-marathon performance, knocking over a minute off Nick Cohen’s target. Every split-second counts. As each finishing line is crossed, performances are immediately uploaded on Strava, seeking recognition and approval from the online sporting community. A visibly warm and fuzzy feeling washes over my husband as the accolades stream in.

Our teenage children (when they can be bothered to get out of bed to watch) look on perplexed as their father devotes all his free time and much of their inheritance to training programmes, physio sessions, the lightest titanium bikes, optimum diets and trotting the globe for triathlons. We may well have someone with a compulsive running disorder in our midst. It’s relatively benign and has obvious benefits. The same cannot be said of an eating disorder. 

Nick Cohen makes the usual mistake of assuming that eating disorders are a female problem. His suggestion that the root of such troubles is linked to unhealthy aspects of the fashion industry is simplistic. Eating disorders are complex, can affect men and women of any age and are often based on a need to regain control following a period of significant psychological trauma. They are potentially life-threatening, and the perpetuation of stereotypical myths is not helpful.

Deborah Galbraith

Dunscore, Dumfries and Galloway

Christian Music

Norman Lebrecht claimed in his article on the music of Jewish prayer (March) that “Pope after pope banned anything livelier than Gregorian chant.” Eugenius IV certainly did not. An unusually grand five-part motet, Eccelesiae Militantis, by Guillaume Dufay (c1397-1474), was written especially for his enthronement in 1431.

Granted, the sixteenth-century Council of Trent was concerned about the complexity of church music, which made it impossible to hear the words and some cardinals may have wished to return to using exclusively Gregorian chant. However, polyphony survived, possibly thanks to Palestrina (1525-1594) whose Missa Papae Marcelli may well have been written to show the Council that, to quote the music historian Donald Jay Grout, polyphony did not “necessarily interfere with an understanding of the text”.

Significantly, none of the Roman Catholic composers mentioned by Mr Lebrecht worked in Rome, where Palestrina’s style was henceforth regarded as the ideal for such non-Gregorian music as the Vatican was prepared to countenance. Monteverdi and Vivaldi, for instance, both worked in Venice, where the tradition of elaborate — and at times, lively — music in worship was unaffected by the considerations of the Council of Trent.

Furthermore, the strict line on worship taken by the Calvinistic and Presbyterian churches which emerged from the Reformation can hardly be regarded as a musical renaissance. Many of them sang only metrical versions of the psalms, often unaccompanied and in unison. Indeed, some Free Presbyterian churches in Scotland still sing only unaccompanied metrical psalms to this day.

Finally, in England, Taverner, whom Mr Lebrecht mentions, wrote his greatest music before Henry VIII’s breach with Rome. Much pre-Reformation music was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries but from what has survived it is apparent that Tallis and Taverner, far from sparking a musical renaissance, were following in the footsteps of able but largely forgotten men such as John Browne, Robert Fayrfax and William Cornysh.

John Petley

Heathfield, East Sussex

The Rise of Parliament

David Starkey’s version of the evolution of Parliament (March) leaps from de Montfort’s 1265 assembly to Henry VIII’s address to the Lords in 1515. Much of immense significance occurred in between. Parliament approved the deposition of Edward II and Richard II for wayward and infirm kingship, and validated the accession of Henry IV who promised to make a better use of his powers.

In 1376 “a knight of the south country” denounced the extravagance and policies of Edward III’s ministers. Parliament unseated and sometimes sent to the scaffold grasping favourites who plied kings with bad advice — take heed, Dominic Cummings.

MPs and peers also castigated spendthrift monarchs and tightened their purse strings. The first budget was presented in 1433. They passed laws which defined treason and forbade esquires and their wives to dress as earls and their countesses.

In just over 200 years, Parliament had secured considerable powers which in time would enable it to outface the Crown, as Charles I discovered.

Lawrence James

Lechlade, Gloucs

Sinn Fein’s rise

With regard to your leading article, “The Real Rogue State” (March), it is true that Sinn Fein had a spectacularly good election in Ireland, garnering almost a third of the vote, but that ignores the fact that two-thirds of the Irish electorate continue to reject them. Their gains were largely driven by people’s frustration with the two main centre-right parties’ inability to deal with the lack of affordable housing and the grim spectre of homelessness.

People have grown fed-up with the status quo and as a party of protest Sinn Fein were best primed to capitalise. You highlight their connection to the IRA, but without mentioning that the great majority of Irish people despise the gunmen of all shades and blighted loyalties.

We’ve been doing our best to get along peacefully for the past 20 years, co-existing without rancour for the most part, with little thought to the British border in Ireland, at least until the Tory Brexit hoisted dusty flags and gifted our people another unwanted conundrum.

Nevertheless, there will be no return to the bad old days; the people, in particular the young, will not abide it. Sinn Fein’s stock has risen on the back of a housing crisis, not identity politics.

Gerard Mallen

Whitechurch, Cork

When Leavis Left

In his tribute to George Steiner (March), Daniel Johnson describes the fierce intellectual debate aroused by C.P. Snow’s lecture on the Two Cultures and the withering scorn poured on Snow’s novels by his opponent, the literary critic F.R. Leavis. This took me back 60 years to a remarkable lecture I attended in Cambridge at the height of the storm. 

At one point Leavis said dramatically: “I defy anyone in this room to lay his hand on his heart and say that he has read a C.P. Snow novel right through from the beginning to the end.” Some of us in the audience, perhaps a dozen or so, took up the challenge and raised our hands. At this Leavis spluttered with rage, scattering his papers all over the floor, and declared: “I can’t be expected to lecture to people who think C.P. Snow should be taken seriously as a novelist,” and stormed out of the room. He was later seen wobbling away on his bicycle, papers still cascading from the basket
on the front.

However, having reread Snow’s Strangers and Brothers series after a gap of six decades, I feel bound to say that I think Leavis was right — about the novels at least, if not about the thrust of Snow’s lecture.

Donald Trelford

PollenÇa, Majorca

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