The Spectator

Letters: how to get the uni protestors out

Soft left

Sir: I read with a certain wry amusement in Yascha Mounk’s piece that ‘activists’ occupying Columbia were demanding the university administrators should supply them with food and water (‘Preach first’, 11 May). How times have changed.

In winter 1976 I was the president of the student body at Edinburgh University. A group of ultra-left activists occupied a building of the social science faculty. The administration sent two members of staff to speak to me in the hope that I might be able to dislodge them.

I explained very patiently to them that given my own unashamed Conservatism, there was unlikely to be any meeting of minds on this matter. However I also pointed out that it was in the middle of a Scottish winter and that perhaps simply turning off the heating would be a rather more effective deterrent. It was: the protestors departed less than three days later.

Tim Davies

Winchfield, Hampshire

Fear eats the soul

Sir: Your article by Yascha Mounk makes interesting reading. I am however confused as to why this particular war should draw such a large and vociferous audience. Where were the tents on campuses during the height of the wars in Syria and Yemen? In both countries hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, but no one went on the barricades for them. Could it be because in Yemen the supporting force is Iran and in Syria it is Russia and students don’t want to risk their cosy lives and future careers by protesting against regimes that would have no compunction in silencing their critics by any foul means?

Jacky Hayward

Maidenhead, Berkshire

Plastic unfantastic

Sir: Matthew Parris is correct in thinking that disposing of plastic tree guards may pose a problem (‘Save us from this plastic plague’, 11 May). A local environmental group very kindly offered to bring some volunteers to our woods to help remove hundreds of plastic tubes from young trees which had outgrown their need for them. The tubes were cut off with Stanley knives, flattened out and stuffed into recycled dumpy bags, the intention being to take them to the local recycling centre.

We were, however, turned away, in spite of the fact that the centre had skips the size of supertankers and we arrived in a family estate car, because they suspected we were bringing commercial waste.

I tried to contact the Woodland Trust who had given us a grant to plant the trees in the first place to see if they had a solution but received no help from that quarter. Neither was there any useful advice coming from the Forestry Commision. So dumpy bags full of trashed plastic tree guards are still sitting by the gate in our wood, waiting for someone to tell us where to take them.

Mary Stastny

Barnard Castle, Co Durham

Naked ambition

Sir: I heartily agree with Julian Spalding on the art establishment’s disdain for Beryl Cook’s work (Arts, 11 May). Surely one major aspect of good art is that it brings joy to people’s lives. Her paintings do that in spades. To paraphrase a 1960s Liverpool poet: ‘When I am sad and weary,/ When I think all hope has gone/ I think of Beryl Cook’s ladies/ with next to nothing on.’

Martin Brown


Down – and out

Sir: I share Bob Calver’s conclusion that a spell in opposition will allow the Tory party to change its mindset (Letters, 11 May), but he mischaracterises the problem when he says that with Brexit the Conservative leadership shared ‘populist right-wing views … convinced that the country supported them in all their beliefs’.

In fact, as of the referendum in 2016 and even now, the majority of the parliamentary Conservatives and the civil service were against Brexit. It was only those pesky voters who were in favour, and the people wanted their will executed.

What has done for the Tories is a succession of the worst leaders we have ever had. Rishi Sunak isn’t too bad, but it’s too late. They need a good electoral kicking.

Tim Hedges

Panicale, Italy

Forked tongue

Sir: The leading article ‘Tories for Starmer’ (11 May) states that Zac Goldsmith, given a peerage by the Tories after losing his seat, says he may vote for Keir Starmer. A cursory glance at Erskine May shows that peers with seats in the House of Lords are disqualified from voting at a parliamentary election. Another example of a politician promising something that they have no hope of delivering?

Darren Stevens

Howden, East Riding of Yorkshire

Ghouls galore

Sir: Your review of Judith Flanders’s Rights of Passage (Books, 4 May) is very relevant if you live in Haworth, a grave from whose churchyard you use as an illustration.

I’m a guide in Haworth church and when we established the service we carefully crafted tours to cover the entire church. But a few weeks in, it was obvious what the demand was for and, generally, the more macabre the better. Where people know of the Brontës the demand is to see their ‘vault’, which we have to disappoint; there isn’t one, just a two-shafted high-capacity grave. Many ask if they can see inside and money is sometimes offered for such an opportunity (you can’t, because there’s no vault). People are fascinated and often repulsed at the thought of bodies being buried in the church – but if we really want to rivet them, a few stories of the occasional bones that emerge in the graveyard does the trick.

David Pearson


Stresses and strains

Sir: I share Dot Wordsworth’s concern over the mispronunciation of certain words (Mind your Language, 11 May). Particularly noticeable in some circles today is the use of past-oral instead of past-oral – although thankfully I have not yet heard of Beethoven’s symphony referred to in the wrong way.

Peter Bannister

Bridgwater, Somerset

Leases of life

Sir I have to take issue with Charles Moore’s criticism of Michael Gove’s forthcoming legislation concerning the cost of extending leases of flats (Notes, 4 May). Eighty or maybe 100 years ago the owner of the hypothetical Eaton Square flat sold a 90- or 120-year lease of the flat. The owner received the same price as they would have received had they sold a virtual freehold. Don’t take my word for it, ask a valuer! Since then, the service charges have maintained the fabric of the building in which the hypothetical flat is situated so the freehold owner has not spent anything so cannot say that owning the block of flats has cost him anything. All those years ago the owner got paid for what he had. Why would the law help him sell it once again?

Jon Redding

Wandsworth SW18