The Spectator

Letters: the joy of a male book club


The state of our defence

Sir: Your article on the etiolated state of European, including Britain’s, defence, is spot on (‘The price of peace’, 27 April). Rishi Sunak’s belated conversion to increasing defence expenditure is welcome but is, frankly, too little, too late. What it most definitively does not do is place the UK on a ‘war-footing’.

By contrast, Russia is already in that state. It spends between 6 and 8 per cent of its GDP on defence. It has established strategic alliances with China, Iran and North Korea, and now much of West Africa too. We need a severe dose of realism.

To begin, we must stop pretending that Ukraine has any hope of pushing Russia back to the 2014 borders. By all means, give the Ukrainians the means to defend themselves, but our focus must now be on our defence.

The list of what is missing is almost endless but let us start with ‘stopping the rot’: sort out pay, terms of service, and accommodation, so that personnel want to serve and recruits want to join. We can then progress to improving our air- and missile-defence systems; establishing a demonstrably credible nuclear deterrent; an armoured division that has more tanks and armoured vehicles than smoke and mirrors, and a defence industry that works for the country, not its shareholders.

Beyond defence, national resilience needs a civilian infrastructure that can withstand the shocks of war, and a populace who are prepared to shoulder the burden.

But where are we as a people? Consumed by identity wars that divide us; self-flagellating ourselves over alleged ‘wrongs’, from climate change to slavery. Some are not even sure that ‘defending our national interest’ is ethical. A marginal increase in a defence budget from 2.3 to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2030 will make not one iota of difference: it doesn’t even touch the sides.

Simon Diggins OBE, Colonel (Retired)

Rickmansworth, Herts

Give them time

Sir: Again Rod Liddle gets to the truth of the matter (‘Are Stonewall and Mermaids charitable?’, 20 April). Many industrialised charities contribute more to the ills of society than to solutions – what they do provide is an easy and convenient way to assuage the guilt associated with our relatively comfortable existence.

However, if you really want to make a difference, you don’t have to look far. As the old adage goes, ‘charity begins at home’. Surely our first priority must be to support our families and local communities. Thereafter, if you have disposable cash then go ahead – but give carefully. Alternatively, give of your time. Why not offer to decorate a room in an elderly neighbour’s home or tidy their garden and, while you’re at it, have a chat and share a pot of tea?

My wife is principal carer to her elderly mother, which involves personal sacrifice and, at the same time, great reward. As for myself, I’ve rejoined the Scout Movement, where I get to share precious time and great adventures with my eldest grandson and a whole host of wonderful like-minded individuals. Leaders and Scouts alike, we get to experience the rewards only real charitable giving can deliver.

Neil Baker

Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham

False profits

Sir: I read Rupert Shortt’s review of Slavoj Zizek’s Christian Atheism (Books, 27 April) with wry amusement. Earlier in the week I and some other passengers had been waiting patiently for our usual commuter train. The train arrived, the doors opened. A man appeared from nowhere and barged ahead into the carriage, pushing all out of his way as he fought to gain a seat. Having seated himself, he pulled an already well-thumbed book out of his bag and continued reading: Christian Atheism: How to Be a Real Materialist. As Jesus said when warning of the ‘false prophets’ of His day ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ (Matthew 7:20).

Simon Skerratt-Williams

Blackheath, London

Reading the room

Sir: I was sorry to hear of Flora Watkins’s negative book group experience (‘Rivals’, 27 April). I lead a local men’s book group which has been very enjoyable for us all. Some ladies have said, ‘Well done for getting men reading’ (as if we don’t, or can’t?). There are eight of us, with an age range of 30ish to 70ish. We read a range of books, have good discussion and the WhatsApp group is mostly practical. I think some just enjoy the chance to talk. I’d highly recommend joining one.

Lewis Campbell

Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire

Awful impediment

Sir: Melissa Kite’s experiences of trying to get married in Cork reminded me of my own experiences back in 1980 (Real life, 27 April). My wife-to-be and I were living together in Coventry, but were planning to get married in Cork. Our local church agreed to facilitate her getting her ‘letter of freedom’, but time went on, the date was rapidly approaching, and there was still no show. The local priest was sympathetic, and explained that the Catholic archbishop in Birmingham was refusing to sign the letter, as he ‘wanted the girl to come to her senses and marry a good Irish Catholic’ – rather than me, a good English Protestant.

A quick letter from me to the archbishop threatening him with plenty of adverse publicity soon produced the letter.

Keith Appleyard

West Wickham

St Helena, 1970

Sir: I concur with Douglas Murray that St Helena is a good place to go for a bit of peace and quiet (‘In exile on St Helena’, 27 April), and am glad that some improvements seem to have been made since I was there in 1970. In those days, there was no airport, and if you fielded at long leg you couldn’t see the batsmen, so I still bear the scar of a bodged catch after a random shout from the bowler.

The relationship with France also seems to have improved since its temporary absence from Nato thanks to General de Gaulle. On my final day, approaching Longwood House hoping for a bit of culture, I spotted a man mowing the lawn who turned out to be the resident French consul, so I asked if I could look around as I was due to leave the next morning. ‘Non,’ was the curt reply, ‘C’est dimanche’, and he continued to mow, while possibly contemplating his own exile or – more likely – nursing a hangover.

John Corbet-Milward

Upton-on-Severn, Worcs

Further twist

Sir: I write to further the discussion on Olivia Potts’s pretzel recipe (The Vintage Chef, 6 April) and subsequent comments on its religious origins by Kay Bagon (Letters, 20 April). As someone now living deep below the ‘pretzel belt’ in Swabia, I have been reliably informed by the locals that the three holes in the pretzel represent the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Laurence Whitfield

Starzach-Sulzau, Baden-Württemberg

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