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Cross words, Nat Cs and a tax attack: the best of your letters

For our final letters pages of 2023, a selection of our favourite missives of the year. Thank you to all who wrote in

“Former UK prime minister (3,5)” Photo: Carl Court/Getty

Short cuts pt1
My local newspaper recently had a crossword clue, “Former UK prime minister (3,5)”. Very satisfying.
Colin Price
Ilford, Greater London
(from TNE #331)

Ironic that the “evangelical Christians” at the National Conservatism conference seem to have forgotten that they worship a homeless Jewish rabbi, a refugee, who spoke Aramaic, was frequently homeless, lived his life in poverty, and preached forgiveness, tolerance, and loving one’s neighbour.
Carol Hedges
Harpenden, Herts
(from TNE #343)

Correspondents have noted how Boris Johnson has named his latest child Frank (which he isn’t) Odysseus, after the mythical hero who was tempted by sirens. Although Odysseus is marooned for years on the island of the nymph Calypso, who makes love to him constantly, his heart remains steadfastly loyal to his wife back home. In some ways, Johnson understands himself better than we give him credit for…
Charles Baily
Bedford, Beds
(from TNE #350)

As Charlie Connelly reports, Maria Schneider was scarred by Last Tango in Paris. So, to a lesser extent, were the two old ladies who sat in front of us at the BFI, thinking it was a Fred and Ginger dance film.
Ian Miles
Via Facebook
(from TNE #329)

As an Irish speaker, I liked Peter Trudgill’s piece on Irish Gaelic. Peter missed a trick in his list of Irish words used in English by not including “Tory”, from the Gaelic “toruidhe” – an outlaw or bandit.
Joe McLaughlin
Bonnyrigg, Scotland
(from TNE #348)

Brexit blues
The best response to Keir Starmer’s “clever” stance on Brexit was offered by the leader of the Rejoin EU Party that appeared on TNE’s website recently: “That leaves us in a state where, as a society, we’re asked to vote for someone saying the opposite of what we believe based on the assumption they are lying. That’s a horrific state for politics to be in.”
Mark Hawley (from TNE #350)

The latest polls put rejoining the EU at 63% – surely the tipping point. The crucial cohort of supporters are the Leave voters who have changed their minds, despite cross-party, coercive controlling Brexit politicians telling them they don’t have that right. 

It’s politically immoral to force the insufferable consequences of Brexit on voters who were lied to. It’s why a second referendum is imperative.
Jennifer Godschall Johnson (from TNE #359)

Brexit has indeed turned out to be an act of self-harm (to quote Michael Heseltine). But for Labour to propose to rejoin now would be disastrous.

There is a massive difference between a clear majority thinking that Brexit was a big mistake and a campaign promise in 2024 to rejoin, which the Tories would depict as yet more years of wrangling. The Tories’ attempts to stoke culture wars over climate change measures and immigration are failing. But a pledge to rejoin would reopen the argument that the “patronising elite” has still not accepted the referendum result.

We need a long period (say, two or three parliaments after the next election) of emerging consensus before rejoining is a live issue. Starmer should do what he can to count us into agreements for now. Any more would be an act of self-harm by Labour.
Calum Paton
Emeritus professor of public policy, Keele University
(from TNE #359)

Good ideas
“Only the rich paying more tax will save the NHS”, writes Paul Mason. But defining the riches to be taxed and how to tax them is more interesting.

If we are not to increase income tax, we should look to land and the unoccupied buildings on it, much of it owned by offshore anonymous trusts. Land value taxation (LVT) would tap that huge untaxed pot of money. It would not add to the general population’s tax burden, and would provide huge revenues for the treasury.
Alan Craw (from TNE #349)

Re: Nigel Warburton’s column on bystanding. If you see a rough sleeper, use StreetLink to register their presence with local authorities, who will send the proper assistance. The URL is
Owen Southwood
Via Facebook
(from TNE #353)

Reading your extract from Rory Carroll’s Killing Thatcher brought back the sheer horror of Brighton, October 12, 1984. But there is another Brighton bomb story that needs to be told – the story of Jo Berry, the daughter of Sir Anthony Berry MP (one the five people killed in the Brighton bomb).

As founder of the charity Building Bridges for Peace, Berry has worked tirelessly and quietly for over 20 years with Patrick Magee, the man who planted the bomb that killed her father (and who was released under the Good Friday Agreement in 1999).

Together, Berry and Magee have shared their unique experience of building bridges for peace, understanding, and reconciliation.

Berry’s personal journey of selfless transformation and outreach is a truly remarkable one, and needs to be acknowledged in King Charles’s next honours list.
Chris Fitzpatrick
(from TNE #340)

I enjoyed Jonty Bloom’s excellent piece about childcare in Denmark compared with Jeremy Hunt’s botched plans for the UK. I witnessed very similar arrangements in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Guess who funded it? The EU wanted to identify good practice and disseminate it.

The childcare provision was local and of such good quality that private provision was not necessary; it was staffed by people who as a minimum had a first degree in early-years education. It operated from very early in the day until around 6pm.

The provision was often located alongside other facilities such as a GP surgery, a pharmacy, the local library and a retirement home, so that young children and older people could interact with each other on a regular basis, to mutual benefit.

Of course, people in Scandinavian countries pay more tax than us. That’s the price of a decent society. As one council leader in Sweden put it, “childcare is an investment, not a cost”.
Phil Green (from TNE #334)

I work as a freelancer in the creative industries. Artificial intelligence may well deliver the efficiency benefits that Henry Shevlin claims in “What if artificial intelligence saves the planet?”, but the cost will be in human jobs.

I am already experiencing this in what I do; some of the painstaking graphic work it takes me hours to produce with clients (and this after decades of training and experience) can be generated by the clients themselves in seconds by using AI.

What is necessary now is for governments to think about how they can deliver a universal basic income (UBI) that sees us through this period in which technology replaces traditional jobs. You do not have to ask AI to come up with the answer; it is that the platforms should fund it through their obscene profits.
‘Ned Ludd’
(from TNE #344)

PR wars
Westminster is like a dear relative with a drug problem; immune to familial “interventions”, and we know it won’t mend its ways until it hits rock-bottom. If a hung parliament won’t give us the change we need, then the alternative is rock-bottom – breakdown: the collapse of core state functions. The NHS isn’t far off this.

So, if a hung parliament is out of the question, perhaps another Tory victory would be best for our long-term interests. Why? Because at that point not even Labour could continue to prioritise its own interests above those of the nation and would have to commit to supporting PR.
Robin Prior
Wargrave, Berks
(from TNE #345)

Imagine if we’d had PR in place back in the 1990s, when Sir James Goldsmith launched his anti-EU party. Then Ukip would have won its place in Westminster and the Conservative Party would not have found it necessary to lurch to the right to attract those votes to win power.

We would not have had Brexit – but nor would we have had the New European.
Kate Burge
London NW3
(from TNE #352)

The percentages achieved by far right parties in recent European legislative elections (Italy 26%, Sweden 20.5%, France 18.7%, Britain 2%) serve as a good illustration of why we should not introduce proportional representation.
David Murray
Witton, West Midlands
(from TNE #350)

Sour notes
I understand Alastair Campbell’s trouble with cold bagpipes at Hogmanay. I had a similar experience after taking the pipes at the last minute from their hiding place in a freezing car into a warm hall to play. They fell apart, the reeds all fell out, and I had two minutes to reassemble and re-tune the entire animal. But, as ever at New Year, everyone was so drunk that they didn’t even notice.
Peter D Brown
Morecambe, Lancs
(from TNE #325)

The future?
It is inevitable that Boris Johnson will return as leader of the Conservative Party. Current projections see them winning around 160 seats whenever Rishi Sunak dares to hold the general election. Will the membership (around 170,000) really trust MPs – ie those 160 people who account for less than 0.1% of the membership – to elect the next leader? Of course not.
Jeremy Flynn
(from TNE #344)

The Tories will lose the next election. Then Keir Starmer’s efforts to “make Brexit work” will fail, Labour will be blamed for the continued disaster and the Tories will be back in office sooner than you would have thought possible. If this sounds gloomy, remember that the Republicans should have been out of office for a long time after Watergate. Instead, Jimmy Carter was a one-term president.
Don Adamson
Bradford, West Yorkshire
(from TNE #334)

Short cuts pt2
Jonty Bloom wonders if Rishi Sunak’s “light at the end of the tunnel” is in fact the light of an oncoming train. In this country, it is most likely to be the light of a replacement bus service…
Tim Peacock (from TNE #353)

The Conservatives are considering a rebrand. Why don’t they merely shave the last 10 letters from their name and split into male and female sections? They could then stand, truthfully, as the Con Men and Con Women.
Emma P (from TNE #337)

As mixed up as the DUP and the ERG are, the best thing would be for them to join together as a new party – The PURGED.
Richard Dennery
Buckingham, Bucks
(from TNE #332)

Henry Shevlin’s feature asks if artificial intelligence can save the planet. It will – by destroying humans. A bit ironic, but there you go.
Chris Purcell
Via Facebook
(from TNE #344)

Rishi Sunak is planning a new exam that will only be used in England – the Advanced “British” Standard. Can I suggest renaming it Advancing Raising Standards in England?
David Pollard
Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire
(from TNE #360)

Your venison wellington recipe in Taste of Europe was lovely, but wasn’t it a little dear?
John Dulieu
Via Facebook
(from TNE #324)

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See inside the Merry Crisis edition

Suella Braverman makes her keynote speech at the National Conservatism Conference (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

2023: The giant Xmas quiz

Gather the family around the tree and test your knowledge of the last 12 months

Credit: Tim Bradford

Cartoon: The Night Before Christmas