Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove wants us all to rewrite the history of the First World War. It was a great patriotic war where noble Englishmen fought for the liberal ideals of Britain against the rapacious and evil German expansionist regime.
Of course, these were the liberal ideals where women didn’t get the vote until 1918 (and then only if they were over 30), Irish people were considered as subhuman and black people even worse.
No, it was a war that threw multitudes of misled and desperate young men from all over the world into a mechanised hell of death-machines and mutilation. A politician or historian who tries to rewrite this horror as a victory for anyone is at best misguided, and at worst a psychopath with no empathy for human suffering.
Michael Gove has suggested the centenary of 1914 should be an occasion for recognising the necessary and honourable part Britain played in resisting German militarism. He has been immediately assailed by the Labour Party and the British left in general, as well as the SNP, who are determined to make an ideological argument out of the First World War.
But in spite of the carnage it is difficult to see how we could responsibly or safely have stayed neutral while Germany secured hegemony over the Continent. Britain may have had little sympathy for Serbia or Russia, but the Germans’ decision to implement their vast war plan by invading neutral Belgium was a game-changer.
The idea that Hitler was very bad but the Kaiser a cuddly old duffer is undermined by the harsh terms imposed on a defeated Russia; similar terms were planned for the West. It is argued that German victory would have resulted in a proto-EU, but their 1914 plans show that, save for the Jewish genocide, it would have resembled the Second World War occupation.
Dr John Cameron
While according the greatest respect to everyone who fought in the First World War, in whatever service and for whatever nation, I cannot help feeling that Nigel Farage’s statistic of 47 British divisional generals killed in action during that conflict tends to reinforce rather than mitigate the popular conception of the incompetence of the British leadership.
Surely it is the job of divisional generals to lead their divisions by planning, disposing and commanding. This is not served by placing themselves in situations where they are likely to be killed.
Michael Gove writes an article suggesting that the First World War tactics of blundering ever forwards into the mire, while sustaining massive damage and needless casualties, weren’t all that bad, really. Two days later, George Osborne announces his intention of continuing his economic tactics of blundering ever forwards into the mire, while sustaining massive damage and needless casualties. Are these facts related?
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Power failures after the floods
I have just come back from St Lucia where, on Christmas Eve, severe floods took several lives, washed away bridges and destroyed the homes of people who possess very little. It was therefore interesting to see people’s reaction here to a rather lesser flooding crisis.
Following extensive storm damage it is surely unreasonable to expect power supplies to be restored in one or two days. The power companies should be honest about the likely timetable, and in the meantime pay more generous compensation of perhaps £50 to £100 a day.
The record levels of profit and the ownership structure of UK Power Networks and similar transnational companies expose the utter futility of the free-marketeers’ insistence that an unregulated economy is the answer to all ills.
The Government continues blindly to sanction the decades-long policy of creating cash cows for the elite out of once-public assets, with no discernible benefit accruing to the nation, its wealth or its workers.
You don’t have to be an ardent leftie to recognise that for a party self-described as conservative this lot conserve very little indeed.
There is now ample reason for a return to a degree of statutory oversight and regulation, particularly in regard to the mix of shell companies, artificially induced debt, profit extraction and asset-stripping that masquerades as modern management.
Tories prefer cuts to fair taxes
Given that Mr Osborne has declared the need to save £25bn, why is he making so little effort to increase the tax-take from Google, Apple, Starbucks and the rest? The tax not paid by these transnational companies could go a long way to sorting out our problems. I suspect there is a so far undiscussed reason why he won’t initiate the necessary reforms.
A fair tax-take from these and others like them could be achieved by a concerted effort across the whole EU and enforced by the EU. The EU is big enough to scare the pants off these avoiders with threats of punitive damages for non-compliance. Thus they could be brought to the table and made to pay fair taxes. The supposed threat that they could “go elsewhere” is a bit thin, since these companies need Europe just as much as Europe needs them.
Tragically, Mr Osborne’s prejudice, which can’t accept just how useful the EU could be, doesn’t allow such a plan to be considered. Or maybe he just loves these avoiders too much.
When discussing benefit reforms, we need to remember that the £24bn we pay out in housing benefit doesn’t help tenants at all – the money goes straight from their bank accounts to those of their landlords. Maybe we should stop calling it housing benefit and rename it landlord subsidy.
In the 1980s there were very few private landlords, not because rents were low (though they were) but because landlords stood little chance of ever regaining possession of their properties if they let them. The much-needed Assured Shorthold Tenancy legislation changed that, and we now have many small private landlords renting houses out. Tenants can’t afford the high rents demanded, but instead of letting the market set the rents, we give them housing benefit.
But we don’t have to keep rents artificially high with housing benefit. We could agree it is not right for landlords to receive a sum equivalent to a fifth of the total cost of the NHS, and start to think hard about rent controls. Or at least withdraw housing benefit and make the rental market a free market.
Of course estate agents and landlords will protest at the idea – they’d lose money – but there must be a better way to make sure people have a roof over their heads.
Where Harris tweed comes from
Professor Guy Woolley chastised Andy McSmith (letter, 28 December) for missing out Hawick as a centre for Harris Tweed production. However, with the Harris Tweed Act 1993, establishing the Harris Tweed Authority as the successor to the Harris Tweed Association, the following definition of genuine Harris Tweed became statutory:
“Harris Tweed means a tweed which has been hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra and their several purtenances (The Outer Hebrides) and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”
Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
Martin Amis’s stepmother dies
I wish to add my protest to that of Louisa Young (Letter, 6 January) concerning your headline at the news of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s death: “Writer who inspired Martin Amis dies.”
It is astounding that someone of Howard’s stature should be described in a modern liberal newspaper largely in terms of what men she was married to, slept with or was related to, and by her looks rather than her considerable achievements as a novelist. Perhaps your staff is too preoccupied with the events of 1914?
A cut above the rest
I am glad to see that appropriate recognition has at last been given to the contribution of the noble hairdressing profession by way of the New Year Honours list (“Cameron’s hairdresser is appointed MBE”, 7 January). Can I, through your good offices, make an early plea for the inclusion of my own barber – George, of George’s Barber Shop, Sydenham – in the list for next year? Thanking you in anticipation.
Forest Hill, London