Magazine article The Spectator

Letters

Magazine article The Spectator

Letters

Article excerpt

Loyal, but to whom?

From Mr Martin Huggins

Sir: One of the unspoken advantages of the old House of Lords was that it provided a cheap and harmless grazing ground for politicians rejected by the electorate, their party or their party leader. Sadly, that grazing ground, now expensive and far from harmless, seems to be provided at the EU Commission.

Chris Patten's solution ('Let's get emotional', 18 May) to the democratic deficit is that the separate peoples of Europe must find an emotional commitment' to Europe. Many of us have an emotional commitment to Europe, but certainly not to the EU. Such a response is unsatisfactory to the political elite, so we are expected to work at it to produce the response required - rather like the voters of Denmark and Ireland.

Mr Patten also assumes that loyalties are equal, but they are not: they diminish the more remote they become. Surely even he feels more loyalty to his family than to Europe. It is perhaps characteristic, and certainly significant, that neither Britain nor the UK is included in Mr Patten's list of loyalties.

Martin Huggins

Edinburgh

From Mr Peter Hancock

Sir: Despite a natural reluctance to criticise a fellow Spectator reader, I do feel that Chris Patten entirely misses the point in his recipe for bringing democracy into the workings of the EU.

Why should English citizens ever feel an emotional commitment to a supranational body which was formed without their consent? The 1973 referendum offered us the chance to join a partnership of trading nations, not to allow a European government wide-ranging powers over our own.

Far from sharing indignation at US steel protectionism, I rather admire it. Putting one's own country first should be a priority for any politician with a sense of loyalty towards those who elected him. But, of course, the multitude of rule-makers in the European Commission have no such considerations to trouble them.

Peter Hancock

Neston, Wiltshire

Conservative legacy

From Mr Chris Bertram

Sir: While sympathising with much of Simon Heffer's fulmination about the erosion of Britain's democratic institutions ('The case for anarchy', 18 May), those of us with our long-term memories intact are less disposed than he is to blame the current Labour government alone. The abolition of the GLC, rate-capping, Michael Heseltine's declaration apropos the Newspeakly named 'community charge' that the only majority that mattered was the one in the House of Commons, and the transfer of powers from elected councils to unelected development corporations were all highlights of the Conservative administration.

Chris Bertram

Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol

Democracy in NY

From Mr Guy Stair Sainty

Sir: While there is much truth in Mark Steyn's passionate endorsement of American democracy ('Sweet land of liberty', 18 May), its extent may be limited by the different state constitutions. Mr Steyn lives in New Hampshire, small in both area and in its population, which is relatively homogenous. I live in New York, with 18 million inhabitants spread over a vast area and huge differences in the ethnic background, wealth and educational achievements of its citizens.

The US Federal Constitution is without equal in preserving stability and guaranteeing liberty. Nonetheless, only 50 per cent of the national electorate bothers to vote, with much lower numbers at local elections. A survey of state constitutions demonstrates that it is protections against entrenched political interests that are most important in ensuring that minority interests are not trampled upon.

New York's constitution is very different from that of New Hampshire. The latter directly encourages the participation of a non-political class in the state legislature, while that of New York is dominated by party machines and powerful interest groups. NY State Assembly and Senate districts are manipulated to ensure that the Republicans always have a majority in the Senate, and that Democrats have an even more disproportionate majority in the Assembly. …

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