This article is taken from the June 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
I read Gawain Towler’s article on Pick for Britain and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) with great interest (The Critic online, 9 May). He makes some fair arguments regarding the programmes, but he misses some key points on seasonal agricultural work itself. I have learned seasonal agricultural work is much more skilled and difficult than many commentators, and indeed those who sign up to the work, often realise.
While I was a Brexit Minister, I was often asked about SAWS. In the course of things, I was surprised to discover, for example, that when picking apples, you must not use your fingertips but rather the palm of your hand or you bruise the apple. It’s not trivial.
An experienced seasonal agriculture worker will successfully pick fruit at a much greater rate than a new starter and so have far more economic value to the farm. Farms focus on retention for this reason with many having the same overseas workers return every year. Most farms do use a mix of overseas and domestic workers, but retention levels are often much lower for domestic workers.
As a free marketeer, I understand why farms would prioritise experienced fruit pickers who are more likely to return each year from overseas, while implementing important training regimes for new domestic recruits.
It is vital we recognise difficult work, even if it contradicts our previously held assumptions. Maybe more would have signed up for Pick for Britain if we were clear it was not easy work that anyone could do, but rather a worthwhile skill for those who want it.
Steve Baker MP
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Regarding the article by Ella Whelan on the problems of feminists (usually white middle class) taking on the issue of FGM, I was filled with gratitude and relief that someone had written about this issue.
Relief that someone, somewhere has said the obvious, that this is not an issue for virtue signalling, western idealists who think they know better than the communities they feel it necessary to represent. A few years ago while lecturing at a university, a professor of International Development Studies (white, middle class) who was an “expert” on FGM was overheard by several people saying that “the FGM bandwagon was a very good one to be on.” It is not without irony that the same professor is now decolonising her curriculum and expostulates loudly and vociferously against white privilege whilst she tells African women and families how to live their lives.
At the same time she tells her students how they have to give ethnic minorities a voice and show respect. Eurocentric feminist women’s ideologies reject the cultural practices of others which are outside their own world and at the same time continue to demand consideration of their otherness.
The aforementioned professor, at a conference I attended, told a male African PhD student who had nine sisters all of whom had been the recipients of a form of FGM, that he was wrong about his approach (community education and guidance) and that “we” should just ban it. Simple as that. His anger was visible but he did not retaliate as his PhD was going to be examined by the academic concerned.
Thank you for giving me a chance to purge myself of this unhappy memory, coming from a non academic background I was truly shocked at the event I mentioned — my first experience of an academic conference. I stayed in academia for five years before leaving to go back into the real world. The hypocrisy was utterly repulsive in every way.
Losing the plot
It was in the late fifties that Julian Symons came up with the epithet “humdrum” to describe the detective novels of Freeman Wills Crofts. It seems from his review of The Hog’s Back Mystery (The Critic online, May) that Jeremy Black thinks along the same lines. Why else quote at length some of the book’s most mundane sentences? Yet some of the best writers of the thirties, including Dorothy L. Sayers and J. B. Priestley, regarded Crofts as the bee’s knees of the genre.
Crofts is a born story-teller whose plots are discursive, but remorseless, and slow-burning. Yet the teashop explosion in The Cheyney Mystery, the onboard arrest in Mystery in the English Channel, and the Mills bomb denouement of The Starvel Tragedy are as violent as they are shocking. And totally unforgettable.
Pleasingly The Hog’s Back Mystery is one of the best. As well as some ingenious and devastatingly cruel murders, Crofts also provides contemporary readers with something he probably never intended and was quite unaware of: the essence and spirit of British life in the 1930s.
A note from Peter Hitchens
I should apologise for the shade of the late Eric James, Lord James of Rusholme, for saying he was “a Labour Peer” in my article on Shirley Williams and the comprehensive revolution in the May issue of The Critic. James, though a Fabian socialist, did not take the Labour whip and was a crossbencher.
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