Letters, November 2019

Standpoint Magazine

Home thoughts

It is heartening that there are still leading UK political figures (Tom Tugendhat MP, “Honour our Hong Kong ties”) who support our fight for freedom.

Police shot a high-school student point blank in the chest with a live bullet on October 1, a long-dreaded outcome of the prolonged tension between police and protestors. Arbitrary arrests and excessive force are targeted not only at protestors but also at journalists and humanitarian workers. Over the past two weeks, an Indonesian reporter working for a local news outlet was shot in the eye while covering the protest in Wan Chai; voluntary paramedics were arrested; pro-democracy figures who have never advocated violence were attacked by thugs; and journalists’ personal data were posted on a Russian website inciting harassment. Amnesty International published a second report on Hong Kong police’s excessive use of force and abuses to persons in detention in relation to recent protests.

Carrie Lam, our Chief Executive, held a “community dialogue” with 150 citizens last week in a stadium. But there is little substance to this. While claiming to want to connect with protesting citizens, she continues to condone police brutality with impunity, resulting in its escalation. While not saying a word about police wrongdoings, Lam vows to arrest and prosecute all protestors who have violated the law in the name of “upholding the rule of law”. Enforcing the law only against dissidents is the textbook definition of rule by law. As the main tool of control, the  police will become only more relentless.

The threat to democracy does not stop at suppression of protests. The pro-government and Beijing political parties have proposed to the government to postpone the District Council election, the first scheduled election since the outbreak of the movement.

Protestors or non-protestors, Hong Kong people feel suffocated by the rapid crushing down of our civic and democratic space. When China is determined to exercise complete control over Hong Kong and eradicate all voices of dissidence, disregarding our aspiration for democracy, cherished rule of law and protection for rights, Hong Kong stands no chance alone.

I believe it was not the UK’s intention to leave Hong Kong people to fend for our freedoms when it negotiated with China the return of Hong Kong in 1984, especially when our consent was not sought. The One Country Two Systems guarantee in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, therefore, encompasses a moral obligation by UK to Hong Kong, where for generations people have lived free and aspired to progressive rights and prosperity.

Since a sustainable solution to Hong Kong’s problem will not come easily, especially when the government is not showing any commitment to finding one, international pressure continues to be needed. Also, the right to go to the UK would reassure Hong Kongers.

I believe many in Hong Kong appreciate Tugendhat’s suggestion to entrench the rights of Hong Kongers who are BN(O) passport holders to come to the UK. While some argue that UK is bound by the Joint Declaration not to confer the right of abode to BN(O) passport holders from Hong Kong, I submit that such duty is released by China’s infringements of the One Country Two Systems principle. An extension of the period of stay would be a significant start.

The introduction of a UK Magnitsky Act, and using it against Hong Kong government officials and police officers responsible for human rights abuses, including those who execute, order, and acquiesce the acts, would also be much needed. Justice cannot be served in Hong Kong when the violators are in power.

The Honourable Dennis Kwok,
Legislative Council, Hong Kong


Academic virtue

Nigel Biggar presents himself (“The Naked Emperors of British Academia”) as the balanced advocate of reasoned debate about the history of the British empire against a zealous band of critics, including me. He accuses us of thinking he thinks the British empire was a good thing, a claim he denies ever making. His writings suggest otherwise. Biggar’s argumentative strategy is to briefly accept elements of the position he is criticising (“Yes, Rhodes thought that black Africans were generally inferior . . .”). But most of his words are used to make a positive account of empire’s benefits. He thinks those benefits range from “its provision of the goods of security and the rule of law” to “the suppression of the slave trade”.

He is right to suggest we have a duty to interpret what other people write “charitably in the direction of the strongest possible construction”. But he doesn’t apply those principles to his critics. The hundreds of scholars who’ve expressed concern about his “Ethics and Empire” project have many different views of imperial history. Most historians writing on empire now emphasise the complex, dispersed and ambiguous, albeit often violent character of imperial power. My own scholarship is fiercely critical of the idea of empire as a unified and systematic structure of exploitation. Many of us are sceptical that the history of empire can be subject to moral debate framed in terms of “pride” or “guilt” at all. But Biggar ignores what I and others actually say, to mount his tirade against a fictional enemy.

I agree with him that we need to cultivate the virtues of fairness and courage in universities, to interpret the views of one’s opponents with charity and respect. Those virtues do not thrive in arguments conducted in accusatory articles or comment pieces. They require face-to-face conversation. Dialogue allows us to respond to misunderstanding, forcing us to see our interlocutors as complex moral beings not stereotypes.

I have repeatedly asked to meet Professor Biggar to understand his position better; he refuses. I relish public debate; he cancelled the event where we were going to discuss the morality of empire. He has blocked me on Twitter. Unless he is willing to listen and debate, his claims about defending free speech and reasoned argument are hollow.

Jon Wilson, Professor of Modern History,
King’s College, London WC2

No choice

Rather than celebrating the successes of the sports people she identified, Helen Joyce (“Trans trailblazers leave women bruised”). used their achievements as a stick to beat them. The majority of transgender people have a negative experience when engaging in sports. If anyone is considering identifying as female solely in the hope of winning glory in a sporting event, I urge them to think again. Even trans people who try to keep a low profile are subjected to appalling abuse just for being trans, so it must be far worse for those who wish to compete in sporting events because if they do well, they are branded as cheats.

It is absurd to claim from a few examples among the millions who participate in sport that “Trans women are relegating female competitors to also-rans.” When Rachel McKinnon became the first trans woman to win the cycling track world title, one of the other competitors, Jennifer Wagner, complained that it was unfair. However, as McKinnon pointed out, Wagner had beaten her in 11 out of the 13 times they had raced against each other.

Confidence in clear rules, accurate measurements, conscientious judges, umpires and referees etc is crucial. It is up to the officials in each sport to ensure that their arrangements are clear, fair and non-discriminatory.

(Dr) Jane Hamlin, President,
Beaumont Society, London WC1


Create wealth first

Grace Blakeley (Marketplace) refers to the period 1990 to 2007 when there was high growth, low inflation and buoyant employment. Therein lies the problem.  Indeed one may go back further to, say, the late 1970s and look at the subsequent 30-year period when the western world generally spent more than it earned and was encouraged by governments both left and right to borrow and speculate. The majority of people lived beyond their means and were encouraged so to do.

So-called austerity since 2010 was a period of growth in government expenditure but at a lower rate than had earlier been assumed.  Inevitably and unfortunately there will be winners and losers in any such adjustment.  Hopefully, the recent growth in wages much above the rate of inflation and continuing low unemployment mark the beginning of a reasonable upturn for most working people. 

Experience tells us that structures such as a “People’s Asset Manager” to manage and reinvest collective wealth only creates a downturn.  Wealth should as far as practicable, be spread through progressive taxation; but the evidence is overwhelming that the creation of such wealth within a capitalist system, with realistic check and balances, is the best way to increase the standard of living for all across the economic cycles.

David Lewis, London W1


Missing the bus

Ross Babbage (“The West slumbers as its enemies run amok” ) fails to see the wood for the trees.

Russia’s engineers have developed hypersonic missiles and underwater nuclear drones, which mean that China, ranking tenth in the world in terms of coastline, stands to lose most from a potential conflict with us.

Global warming has made it possible to ship goods from South East Asia to Europe cheaper and more quickly by Russia’s northern border; China, the number one manufacturing economy, thus gains most from potential cooperation with us. Our gas to China will be transported directly via the Power of Siberia pipeline, strategically bypassing Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

Things were quite different when Vladimir Putin, cap in hand, was canvassing Western leaders on scrapping visas—only to be repeatedly spurned. They missed the bus and now it’s too late.

Mergen Mongush, Moscow, Russia


Yours faithfully

A.N. Wilson (“Routed by Liberalism”) observes that there are now fewer than 100 French ordinations per year, and that Christians of 50 years ago would scarcely recognise 95 per cent of them as Christian at all.

According to La Croix magazine, there were 125 French ordinations in 2019, up on 114 in 2018. While the number of new diocesan priests has stayed level at 82, including four from the Neocatechumenal Way and three from the Emmanuel Community, the number coming from non-diocesan societies and communities has risen from 32 to 43. The Fraternity of St Peter, the Institute of the Good Shepherd, and the Institute of Christ the King, all of which use the Latin Mass, provided a total of six; the Community of St Martin nine (with 11 preparing for ordination next year), the Jesuits and Dominicans four each, the Carmelites three, the Community of St John two, the Canons Regular of the Lateran and the Sons of Charity one each.

These new priests will be quite capable of holding their own against Humanism. They will inspire us to look beyond the superficial triumphs of modern civilisation.

David J. Critchley, Winslow, Buckingham


Down with tribalism

Edward Lucas (Manchester Square) describes Standpoint as not only for “small-c conservatives and small-l liberals”, but for “small-s socialists” and “small-g greens” too. This approach is most welcome, not least because it makes the magazine a captivating and unpredictable read. But it also hints at a deeper philosophical point: that none of the positions Lucas mentions actually needs to be, in and of itself, exclusive of the others.

This argument was made by Leszek Kolakowski in his 1978 essay “How To Be A Conservative-Liberal-Socialist”, which demonstrated quite coherently how one can hold three divergent positions at once. There is nothing contradictory, for example, in believing: a) that all societal improvements necessarily come at a cost; b) that the primary function of the state is not to provide happiness, but security; and c) that an entirely unregulated economy inevitably leads to social malaise.

Indeed, if we return to the philosophical principles behind each word, rather than associate them with today’s political tribes, it becomes clear that the vast majority of us believe in some complex amalgam of all three (or four, if we add “Green” to Kolakowski’s formulation). The question, more often than not, comes down to which we deem to be the most pressing. Acknowledging this, and accepting the inevitable restraint that each one places on the others, signals political and intellectual maturity.

My point applies equally across the political spectrum and to almost all cultural issues. Can techno-libertarians acknowledge that really there are levels of data surveillance so great that they would accept state intervention? Can Brexiteers acknowledge that there really are levels of economic destitution so grave that our leaving the EU would be foolish? Can environmentalists acknowledge that certain green legislation really would cause such radical changes to our way of life that the social consequences would be catastrophic?

A much deeper problem is that some deny the possibility of mutually agreed “arenas”: those, for example, who believe that certain individuals are disqualified from public discourse because of their background, or those who claim that objective truth does not exist. I can only hope that they can be shown the logical inconsistency of their positions—that the language in which they try to reframe and rearrange our view of the world is the same language we all use, that it is comprehensible by all, and, therefore, open to being challenged by all. But if not, then it is incumbent upon us to lead by example and to hope that, when the public looks at the howls and threats on the one side, and the slow, gentle reflection on the other, it knows which side it trusts to locate the truth.

Kit Wilson, Peckham, London SE15


Here to stay

Politics is broken in this country and Brexit has shown that the old political class serve themselves and not the people. One could argue that our current PM is the perfect example of a career politician opportunist.

Prospective parliamentary candidates for the Brexit Party on the whole have no political background or local involvement. What we do have, as your article (“Nemesis in Uxbridge”) picked up on, is oodles of energy, passion and desire to see justice. We are all deeply patriotic and love this country.

Those who voted Leave are the silent majority who have witnessed the political class and mainstream media try their utmost to thwart the 2016 referendum. The public are not fooled by the procrastination and delaying tactics. With every day that passes that we remain in the EU, our anger and frustration grows.

The Brexit Party was born out of this frustration and from a need to see real change in political discourse. We want to see politicians who are not from policy thinktanks or privileged Etonian backgrounds, but real successful people who will put the country first and can relate to the everyday man and woman. Even if we get a clean break Brexit, which is looking less likely as the days go by, we aren’t simply going to disappear. We recognise that we are a real force for good and are here to stay.

Boris isn’t the only one to be worried. Every member in the House of Commons and every mainstream political party should be. The Brexit Party is ready for the challenges ahead. Are they ready for us?

Ahmad Malik, Brexit Party prospective parliamentary candidate for Chesham & Amersham

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