February 2020: Letters to the Editor


Roy the professional

Roy Jenkins certainly enjoyed his lunches and the plenaries of power (“Pursued by Furies: Roy Jenkins, Enoch Powell and the contest of our age”, January), but it  is wrong to convey the impression, as Richard Cockett does, that he held himself aloof from campaigning on the ground. Practically his first action on leaving the presidency of the European Commission in Brussels and helping to found the SDP was to contest a by-election in Warrington, a far cry from the “clubbable” and aristocratic circles in which Cockett places him. He then went on to win and, for many years, hold a seat in Glasgow.

Jenkins may indeed have been “by conviction an aristocrat”, as Cockett says. But he was a professional politician to his fingertips and always sought to secure a firm constituency base to support him in the Commons. It is perhaps ironic that both he in Scotland and Powell in Ulster should, during the latter part of their parliamentary careers, have represented constituencies so far from their political origins in the English Midlands.

Christopher Tugendhat
London W2

Predicting Guilt

In discussing Richard Susskind’s new book Online Courts and the Future of Justice (December), Joshua Rozenberg raises the question of robot judges, only to quote Antoine Dusséaux’s dismissal of it (“If human experts cannot predict the outcome of a case, neither can a machine”). 

Neither appears to have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers, in which evidence is brought to show that police and judges predict guilt far less frequently than their experience would lead us to expect and them to claim, and far less successfully than computers fed with the same data. 

According to Gladwell, judges are easily baffled by faces and courtroom behaviour to which computers are impervious.

Stephen Games
London N10

I Brutalism

To paraphrase the end of his own first paragraph, it is hard to know quite where to begin with a response to Joseph Connolly’s hatred of Brutalist architecture (Letters, December). For someone living in London, he seems very irate about an “eyesore” hundreds of miles away that his eye need never see. Perhaps he feels that the people of Durham need assistance from him in hating it.

What is ludicrous is that those who want such structures levelled by the wrecking ball feel that their lives will somehow be improved by a building no longer being there, even if it is out of sight. They become obsessed with its annihilation, as a matter of empty principle, even if its demise makes little difference to their own existence.

For many years, a couple of councillors, driven to please a handful of locals with an architecture-loathing axe to grind, obsessed in this very same way about the Tricorn Centre and car park in Portsmouth, another example of 1960s Brutalism. They got their wish for demolition, despite much protest from preservation societies, and decades later the empty space is nothing more than just another car park. 

Like those who might come round to the ideas formulated and expressed in conceptual “art” simply if it wasn’t called art, those who will not take any time to appreciate Brutalist architecture might be won over a bit more if they were not asked to find any beauty in it, whether on the surface or underlying. I love Brutalism, and believe every example of it should be preserved, but I would never call it beautiful, any more than I would ever call it ugly. I just happen to find it unique and interesting, and I find it condescending to be told otherwise.

Stefan Badham

Really Implausible

In his review of Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind by Tom Holland (December), James Orr states that the phrase “despoil the Egyptians” is usually attributed to Clement of Alexandria. That may be so, but it is referenced in Exodus 3:22, so might well have been in existence before ol’ Clement.

Mr Orr implies that Christianity has “implausible … metaphysical assumptions”. Over my years of working in science and engineering, I have met a good many scientists who are Christians. That does not prove anything; suffice it to say that these men and women find the assumptions of Christian belief to be worthy of serious consideration. I suggest James Orr visits the website of Christians in Science or goes on an Alpha course.

Western civilisation was built on a Judeo-Christian framework. Now that we are being told things which are genuinely implausible, such as “some women have penises” and “some men give birth”, we are seeing the rapid erosion of the basic structures of our society, leaving a chilling void. Even the freedom to respectfully disagree with the possibility of gender change is now likely to be tarred as “hate speech” by the left and, sadly, our increasingly politicised police.

Matthew Gillman
Harlow, Essex

Illiberal Liberals

David Starkey is right to question the original values of liberalism (“Liberalism — A Bad Idea”, January). Early manifestations of liberalism had some questionable attitudes to democracy, frequently attempting to contain and even oppose it. The elitist salons of the original liberal doyenne Madame de Staël (1766-1817), while admirably advocating liberty, also discussed the merits of liberalism for suppressing nascent democracy; a true epistocrat, she called for rule by “une aristocratie des meilleurs” and “government by the best”. 

It is disheartening that the aftermath of the Brexit referendum has seen  rather too many “liberal democrats” regress back to these de haut en bas, anti-democratic roots.

Dr Sean McGlynn
Bradford-On-Avon, Wiltshire

David Starkey’s column on liberalism exhibits his easy readable writing style but is seriously misleading in the way he bends and ignores the facts to sustain his ideological position.

Most pertinently he fails to mention the three major triumphs of reform brought about by British liberals of the second half of the twentieth century, namely those concerning homosexuality, abortion and capital punishment. The struggle by which these were achieved involved the exercise of principled reason as well as a deep connection to popular opinion, and the bravery to put both to the test.

Adam Hart
London N16

Non-white Non-privilege

Toby Young makes interesting points in his piece on Peggy McIntosh (“No need to plead guilty”, December), but confuses “white privilege” with “non-white lack of privilege”. The exercise of so-called privilege in racist terms is not so much an assertion of rights as of superiority. It’s a truism that the most vitriolic white racists are those living cheek by jowl with non-whites and on the same economic level; they are daily shown the true nature of their equality and the concomitant (and irrational) need to rise above it with notions of supremacy.

Nigel Jarrett

Look North

In his opera column (January) Robert Thicknesse announced almost as a revelation: “Suddenly (and for the first time for ages) the British opera scene (in the north) looks almost wholly in competent hands.”

Northern opera is alive and very well thanks to Opera North. Their belief is that opera and music is for everyone, and diversity in artists, repertoire and audiences translates into glorious operatic performance. It is a long-established, outstanding success.

The only problem with accessibility to opera in the north is travelling to the venues. If I was Opera North, I would be seriously considering extending my remit. I feel that “Operail Northern” or “Operate Trains (Northern)” run with the same ethos as their current “operative operations” would be nothing sort of a resounding success too. 

David Greenwood

Quelle Horreur

Christopher Pincher’s wine column (January) on the Perrin family contained one howling error and one omission. 

The family do not own Châteauneuf-du-Pape (nobody does) as stated, but they do own the outstanding Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is obviously entirely different. They also produce the Miraval wines for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Provence, which was not mentioned.

I believe the Perrin Beaucastel whites are very underrated and not properly recognised. The Perrin family produce great wines and were rightly lauded by Mr Pincher.

Piers Pottinger
London SW17

Christopher Pincher writes: I am grateful for Mr Pottinger’s letter. A combination of general election campaigning, responsibilities at the Foreign Office and pressure of pre-Christmas printing deadlines conspired to force a syntactical solecism. The definite article crept in when describing Châteauneuf-du-Pape rather than the indefinite, which I did not spot on re-reading. A howler (definite) indeed, but not one intended. As to the omission of Mr Pitt and Ms Jolie — well, one does not like to name-drop . . . 

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