Magazine article The Spectator

Letters

Magazine article The Spectator

Letters

Article excerpt

Party discipline

Sir: Frederick Forsyth is mistaken (`Mr Blair is not nice', 16 August) if he thinks attempts totally to control its members are the prerogative of the present government.

The Conservatives have long had their own, possibly more subtle and less publicised, methods of trying to keep all their lobby-fodder facing in the same direction. Probably as a last resort there would be a summons to the Whips' Office where, I understand on excellent authority, the erring elected representative would be invited to sit on a particular chair. Too late would he realise it was unbalanced as one of its legs was a different length from the rest. Straight from 'fags' and 'prefects', one imagines, but nevertheless a remarkably effective way of concentrating the mind.

The principal disciplinarians, however, were the constituency officers who always had hanging before them the possibility of reward through the honours list. Some 35 years ago my late husband, who fought through the war, and I were chilled to hear his constituency chairman say in total seriousness, `The party knows best.' I might have been naive at the time, but the memory still horrifies me. A wise MP had to become adept at playing one constituency interest off against another, letting things pass which were not worth any bloodshed, but arguing with all the fluency at his command for matters he considered crucial.

In 1997 Welsh voters clearly decided that that particular party did not know best for them. Interestingly, some years ago Plaid Cymru had some encouraging results in byelections in not particularly Welsh Labour heartland constituencies. It was reckoned at the time that the local Labour stranglehold had become unacceptable. The voters made clear their opinions accordingly.

Jill Morgan

Brackenhill,

Newland,

Ulverston, Cumbria

Quality counts

Sir: My friend Tom Stacey's first publishing house (he has more loving friends than most, as Taki can no doubt substantiate) was vilely treated by Private Eye, just for the sake of a column or two of malicious and inaccurate gossip (Letters, 9 August). But Tom's wounds were not mortal; he has gone on to achieve mild wealth as a publisher and considerable respect as a novelist.

Why then do I and many thousands of others go on reading Private Eye with some pleasure? For voyeuristic reasons, I fear, not dissimilar to my motives for enjoying Taki in `High life' and 'Atticus', though often disagreeing with him (as I usually do with Tom). For when Auden wrote of Yates that time which '.. . will pardon Paul Claudel,/Pardons him for writing well', this is equally applicable to Taki or even to the scribes of Private Eye!

Graham Tayar

25 Fortess Road,

London NW5

No gongs for hacks

Sir: Stephen Glover (Media studies, 16 August) shows a kindly spirit in lamenting the omission of Mr Stewart Steven from the Major honours list. Even so, he is misguided. If we must have honours, they should surely be awarded for services to the country, not - to adopt Mr Glover's phrase for holding the Prime Minister's `trembling hand'. Mr Steven did no service to Britain by attempting to sustain a witless, feeble politician who misgoverned the country, wrecked his party and was overwhelmingly rejected by the nation when it had the chance to speak.

Besides, journalists should never accept baubles from the government of the day. They tarnish their independence by giving the impression they can be bought. For all his faults, it is to Mr Major's credit that he made clear in advance he would toss no knighthoods to editors. Here he showed more respect for the profession than Lady Thatcher.

Ronald Spark

19 The Rotyngs,

Rottingdean,

East Sussex

On the wrong side

Sir: As my uncle was one of the South Africans killed at Delville Wood in 1916, I would like to answer Mr Lubbock's question (Letters, 2 August) as to why South African veterans were not invited to a `recent' Somme veterans reunion. …

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