The Labour leadership contest is taking place in an atmosphere of gloom, doom, despair and despondency, and I ask myself why. The conventional wisdom is Labour suffered a catastrophic defeat and is facing a decade in the wilderness. That is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Conservatives won a majority on under 37 per cent of the vote. Labour got just under 31 per cent and apparently went down in flames. But our voting system throws up disproportionate impacts for minor changes in voting. No huge change is required to return Labour to power.
David Cameron faces problems over the next five years. He has a tiny majority which leaves him at the mercy of his party’s lunatic fringe. He is likely to lose parliamentary votes regularly, which will erode his authority in a way we last saw when John Major was Prime Minister. He has put himself in a straitjacket with his guarantees on taxation, immigration and welfare spending. He is in danger of leading his country into a vote on the EU with a recommendation to vote one way only to find that the UK votes the other way.
The Labour leader at the 2020 general election may well find himself or herself (my money is on the latter) facing a battered, bruised and exhausted Conservative Party. So Labour does not need to feel so low.
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Mike Jenkins (letters 24 June) fears that we face “10 more years of Tory partisan government” and Stephen Wagg bemoans the “vacuous candidatures” of Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper. But these pessimistic views, both probably right, are the entirely predictable result of the Labour Party burdening itself with an absurd process for electing its leader.
Labour has failed to realise that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 has rendered the rush to find a new leader an unnecessary folly. For there is now no real prospect of Labour defeating the Government in the Commons: nor can Cameron spring a snap election on the country. So the sole job description of the new Labour leader is that they should bring victory in the 2020 general election.
The likelihood is now that, as in 2010, Labour will vote for another loser this summer. But had Ed Miliband stayed as Leader in May, he could have declared, as did the loyal Harriet Harman, that he would not lead the party in the next election, but would stand aside in good time to make way for the next leader. The next three years could then have been used for a leader with a real prospect of success to emerge, tried and tested in the battleground of the Commons. A leadership election in May 2018 would have brought urgency and would, most likely, have been fought against a background of mounting government unpopularity.
As it is, Labour has four untried candidates who have no prospect of establishing their credentials in the few weeks before one of them is chosen. The unlucky winner may well prove to be the Labour Iain Duncan Smith. Labour should make sure now that this cannot happen again.
More hardship for Greece
If proof was still needed that orthodox market economics, far from remaining just a “dismal science”, has now morphed into a fully fledged fundamentalist religious dogma, it was provided by your article on 25 June on the Grexit crisis.
In rejection of the facts which prove austerity has been a total failure in Greece, Christine Lagarde is calling for less tax rises and more hardship. In other words, no agreement unless the Greek government leaves the rich alone. Hardly believable, given that the tens of billions sent abroad in the past few months is hardly likely to be poor peoples’ money.
What is needed is not a Grexit but a Lagardexit.
War marketed as family entertainment
Towns and cities across the UK will today (27 June) be “celebrating” Armed Forces Day. Many councils hold these events as signatories to the Armed Forces Community Covenant; almost every local authority has pledged support to the armed forces in perpetuity, and hundreds of businesses, charities and schools have signed the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant.
Many of today’s events are packaged as “family fun”, with military vehicles and weaponry to entice young people, and cadet and armed forces careers marketing to recruit them. War is not family entertainment.
The school assembly packs on offer from the Ministry of Defence display a breath-taking economy with the truth about the purpose and consequences of military action.
Rather than institutionalising public support for the armed forces we should stop selling war to children through sanitised celebration of the military and the promotion of “military ethos” in schools. It is unacceptable for the UK to be the only country in the EU to still recruit 16-year-olds into the armed forces, defying the growing international consensus against child recruitment.
As one of the thousands of signatories of our petition to change the law said: “Children should be protected from conflict, not incorporated in it.”
Pax Christi UK
Veterans for Peace UK
Abolition of War
Peace Education Network
Network for Peace
Northern Friends Peace Board
Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre
Clash of science and religion
Of course John Dorken is right to point out that the advance of science has taken place over many centuries and cultures, often in fits and starts (letter, 22 June): how could it be otherwise? But the essential point is that at the heart of this enterprise is the refinement of critical reflection and the meticulous observation of natural phenomena that leads to new understanding.
For a number of unique reasons this advancement took place in Europe, often in a conflict with the Church, and eventually became a defining characteristic of modernity.
What makes Islam distinctive, as the case of Raif Badawi indicates, is its intolerance of any thinking that might challenge the fatalistic submission to an arbitrary divine will. It is this mentality, as with all religious fundamentalisms, that is at odds with modernity and feeds fanaticism.
For Peter Cave (letter, 20 June) the Prime Minister’s criticism of Islamic extremism is too limited: “Religion is the danger, not just its radicalisation”. But one may ask, “If there were no religions, how different would the world be?”
Admittedly some people look to religious writings as a justification for aggression, cruelty and intolerance, but others find their justification in non-religious philosophies, including ideologies that are explicitly atheistic. Whatever the context, it is better to promote the arguments for kindness, love, respect and peace that are to be found in many religions than to attack all religions as “the danger”.
In praise of U-turns
Your excellent editorial (25 June) urges the Government to abandon the “bedroom tax”. But one of the reasons this may not happen is that the media will accuse the Tories of the dreaded U-turn.
If a government of any hue reviews and changes a policy it should be congratulated on listening and acting. It really is time for certain sections of the media to grow up.
Windpower with no subsidies?
The Government has announced an end to onshore windpower subsides. No one has banned onshore wind farms. Companies are free to apply to build them and sell the electricity. The market gives priority to renewable energy. RenewableUK boasts that onshore wind is relatively cheap to develop.
So let’s see how many of these companies put their money where their mouth is and develop subsidy-free windfarms.
Creature of myth and legend
I was entranced to see the image of the extinct Hallucigenia (25 June.) There can be no doubt that it is in fact the ancestor of the Jabberwock, depicted in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass – its “fearsome ring of sharp teeth” correspond directly to the Jabberwock’s “jaws that bite”.
In addition, we have the name, which refers to the Hallucigenia’s mystical qualities. All the evidence points to the Jabberwock being a direct descendant of the 500-million-year-old creature.