Letters: jokes missed; sustainable seas; a Senate for the UK

Andrew Doyle explains why Nick Cohen just doesn't get his jokes; Rowan Williams and Irene Lancaster on antisemitism; sustainable sea farming; and Frank Field on why the UK needs a Senate

Standpoint Magazine

How to miss a joke

Nick Cohen attempting to write knowledgeably about satire (“Extremism gives us little reason to laugh”, March, 2020) is like Kim Kardashian having a crack at particle physics. He finds fault in my character Titania McGrath for talking down to her readers and littering her book with “laborious explanations”. Can it really be that Cohen is so surprised to find a satirical character emulating the qualities of those being satirised? Is his understanding of the genre truly that rudimentary?

Cohen embodies the kind of po-faced, intolerant and slightly deranged commentator that Titania is partly designed to lampoon. He refers to me as “right-wing”, which shows that he is similarly ill-informed about my politics. Predictably, his conspiratorial obsession with the Revolutionary Communist Party does not fail to re-emerge in his criticism. Attempting to connect me with the organisation is highly tenuous, not least because it disbanded while I was still at school. Someone really should let him know.

I would be doing something very wrong if the likes of Cohen found Titania McGrath funny. The dogmatic and the narrow-minded are not the target audience. They are the target.

Andrew Doyle, Hitchin, Herts


Robust responses

We are rather perplexed by Frederic Raphael’s response to our article on antisemitism (Letters, March 2020). Our piece was written quite deliberately as a collaborative intervention from a Jew and a Christian working together, both of us historians, both of us with some experience of Christian-Jewish dialogue at its most demanding. Neither of us had any intention of softening, let alone denying, the guilt and complicity of Christians in anti-Semitism over the centuries. Neither of us would dispute the history of atrocities perpetrated by Christians or the failure of so many modern Christians to be honest about that history and to work at changing the still widespread ignorance and prejudice against Jewish people. Both of us deplore superficial and cosmetic gestures—which is why we raised the question of whether the resources that would be needed for the proposed Victoria Tower Gardens memorial might be better spent on more positive educational work along lines of proven effectiveness. What exactly is Raphael disagreeing about? Has he an alternative programme?

His argument would also have been stronger if his historical examples had been more accurate. The 1066 Granada massacre was perpetrated by a Muslim ruler, not a Christian; plenty of instances of Christian pogroms would make the point better. And as regards the Church of England, the “General Synod” did not exist at the date mentioned. There was a discussion of related issues by the Church Assembly in 1935 (in which the Bishop of Durham made a powerful intervention in support of Jews in Germany); Raphael’s account of this is misleading, to say the least. To state the obvious: this does not mean that there is any shortage of egregious instances of anti-Jewish or pro-Nazi utterances from some in the Church of England in that period, or before and after. But the importance of the subject is such that it is essential to argue on the basis of absolutely undisputed fact, giving no ground to any objector looking for an excuse to dismiss or belittle the question.

What we hoped, in writing our article, was to underline as strongly as we could the need for a more robust and intelligent response to resurgent anti-Jewish speech and action. That remains our priority; we might have expected a less hostile reaction from someone who evidently shares our deep anxiety and sense of urgency.

Irene Lancaster, Manchester
Rowan Williams, Cambridge


Sustainable seas

Lisbet Rausing (Bright Green, March 2020) writes out of despair for our oceans and their depleted resources. I could despair too. But with decades of experience in fish-farming, I regard it as a great privilege to be part of a growing counterrevolution. Very powerful forces are moving the global diet away from total destruction. Indeed they are having a Genesis effect on the oceans. For wild fisheries, the Marine Stewardship Council certification scheme already covers a fifth of the world’s oceans. In parallel to this we have seen the launch of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, whose audits require zero negative impact on the environment. At one of my co-owned enterprises, Kampachi Farms Mexico, we rear Seriola riviolana (Longfin Yellowtail), a sustainable alternative to tuna. I would challenge anyone to read the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s audit of our work and say we are not sustainable. Near us Earth Ocean Farms, owned by an American billionaire, Chrissy Walton, is not only sustainable but is also breeding totoaba, a near-extinct fish from the croaker family, and carrying out releases into the wild. I could name other projects.

If we do our job right, in our lifetimes we will make the wild fish an occasional luxury item, like game is today, with the oceans providing the farmed sustainable protein. We will turn back the dial on land-based farming, living and farming in harmony with nature and breathing more life into the oceans.

Toby Baxendale, Welwyn Garden City, Herts


The UK needs a Senate

Colin Kidd has the right direction of travel (“UK should wrongfoot Scottish ultras”, March 2020), but will what he offers work? I doubt it. We need to move away from a position where the Scottish tail wags the UK dog. The next independence referendum must not be confined to Scotland. It must involve the whole of the UK.

Our present constitutional settlement is not fit for purpose, to use a well-known phrase. We need to have an English parliament that will sit in Westminster. And a Senate, binding the constituent countries together.

A Senate would have four-country representation to deal with defence, security, and UK-wide taxation. Each national parliament could add to the tax burden, if it wished to do so. On population-size only, the English would dominate the Senate, so representation would have to be weighted to give the other countries a larger say. Any decision would need more than just English votes.

Proposals like this need to be worked up for approval by all parts of our country. When Scotland next votes it should be on proposals for a new constitutional settlement for all four UK countries and not simply one.

Frank Field, London SW1

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