The Spectator

Letters: why the Tories need to lose

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Back to blue

Sir: What a pity your leading article (‘The valley of death’, 25 May) did not reach Downing Street in time. It might have dissuaded the Prime Minister from ruining a good suit, rushing off to Belfast to associate himself with Titanic and allowing himself to be photographed on an aeroplane under a sign proclaiming ‘Exit’.

The coming Labour landslide does, however, present an opportunity for the Conservatives, if they are willing to use the wilderness years wisely. The years in opposition before 1979 enabled Margaret Thatcher to devise and refine a programme of radical right-wing policies. If a new leader can be found of her iron determination and ideological clarity, a similar process could result in a party that has rediscovered its core values and is again capable of winning four consecutive elections.

Francis Bown

London E3

Spoilt for choice

Sir: In his review of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s new book about the Tory party (Books, 25 May), Philip Hensher refers to ‘the disastrous revision of the leadership election procedure to hand the final choice to a small and unrepresentative party membership’.

Quite so, and there is an important constitutional point here which applies to all political parties. Namely, that MPs aren’t delegates – they are representatives for all their constituents. Handing the choice of leader to party members or Conference or trade unions or a national executive is simply an updated ‘Bennite’ solution that treats MPs as lobby fodder, to do as they are told. This is unacceptable and dangerous.

Party leaders in parliament must have the support of their MPs. Whatever you think of him, Rishi Sunak has this. Liz Truss didn’t, and look what happened there.

Tim Holman

St Albans

Give thanks

Sir: I was heartened to read about Douglas Murray’s decision to talk to students at Columbia University (of all places) about ‘four unpopular virtues’ – respect for tradition and wisdom, courageousness, being curious and, particularly, being grateful (‘The message Columbia’s students need to hear’, 25 May).

Over the past few tumultuous years we have witnessed dreadful wars, killings, massive unrest, hate, antagonism, anger and a growing sense that whatever we have ourselves is not enough.

Personally, I have found that, after four years of weekly visits to hospital because of a serious condition and as someone in their late eighties, I have appreciated how lucky I am compared with others like me: some much younger, and some much worse.

I have a growing sense that many of us simply do not look at ourselves and our situation and feel grateful for what we have, as opposed to what we don’t have. Feeling grateful costs nothing and can be a very uplifting experience.

John C. Batey


Elastic limit

Sir: Reading Bruce Anderson’s ruminations on alcohol units (Drink, 11 May) reminded me of a conversation more than 30 years ago with one of the doctors who came up with an original idea. At that time, the ‘official’ safe level of alcohol was considered to be around 40 units. Over a very good lunch (ironically at the Portman Group, the alcohol lobby advisory group), he chuckled as he explained that the actual safe level was nearer 80 units but, given the British relationship with booze, they decided to halve the number on the basis that most Brits would drink double whatever guidance was given. To paraphrase the saying, no good anecdote started over a glass of water. And neither did we.

Steve Langan

Kibworth, Leicestershire

Priceless patronage

Sir: Charles Moore mentions the list of mostly foreign students who will enter Eton as King’s Scholars (Notes, 25 May). Most public schools provide scholarships to students who would not otherwise have the chance to attend such schools and have a first-class education that is usually life-changing. They should feel very lucky and they may well be the last. If Labour does, as promised, add VAT to public school fees, such scholarships will cease – a move that will ironically make these schools more elitist, not less.

Christopher D. Forrest

Yealmpton, Devon

Dog days

Sir: I read, with great sympathy, Quentin Letts’s charming paragraph about his late dog Bonnie (Diary, 25 May). Alas our own Patterdale terrier, Nora, who has been a part of our lives for 16 years, is now showing signs of deterioration. The whole process is heartbreaking. Living in a small village in the Cotswolds, Lib Dems are not something Nora encounters too frequently – unlike Bonnie. She does however adore the heat-retaining tarmac outside the house and thus has proved to be a useful and aesthetic natural roundabout as she lies, oblivious, enjoying a dog nap.

Matt Ramsden

Badminton, Gloucestershire

More food for thought

Sir: Matthew Parris is to be commended for taking the trouble to read the BMJ paper giving rise to sensationalist articles condemning ultra-processed foods (‘Are ultra-processed foods really so bad?’, 25 May). I hope he has also read the responses to the BMJ piece. These demonstrate that there are many potential factors which diminish the value of the study’s conclusions – reflecting the fact that nutritional science is crammed with methodological difficulties.

It is a misconception to infer that ‘processed’ food is axiomatically bad and ‘natural’ food good. Some food additives are definitely of value. On the other hand, my garden is full of natural things, some of which are lethal if ingested. Further, as Matthew suggests, there is a host of nutritionists, dieticians and others – many self-appointed as experts – whose livelihood depends on the constant harrying of the public about their diet. He is right to be sceptical. All the dietary advice needed is nowhere better put than in Michael Pollan’s 2009 book In Defense of Food: ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ Just what your grandmother would have said, I suspect.

James Bristol MD

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Tip of the iceberg

Sir: I was pleased to see that others are also frustrated with the tipping culture in the US (‘Slippery slope’, 18 May). Sean Thomas is absolutely right – it has got out of control. My own tipping point came in 2017 when I visited a bar called Tipsy Robot in Las Vegas. I sat down and ordered my drink via an iPad, watching as a robot arm sprang to life to mix my drink. After paying extra for a lime (which bounced out of the glass), the robot slid the drink over for me to collect. And, you guessed right, it asked for a tip.

John Watson

Sydney, Australia

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