Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

They do listen

From William Little

Sir: Opinionated pieces like Melanie Phillips's ('Why do politicians lie? Because they have to', 18 October) play a large part in the creation of cynicism and apathy in the voting public. Politicians and civil servants by and large are decent people trying to do a very difficult and complex job. It is a lot harder, for instance, to develop and implement policy to give people with learning disabilities rights and support to make their own decisions than it is to write a polemical piece. The first takes years of consultation with the public that Melanie Phillips feels is so disengaged. The second takes a couple of hours.

I recently attended a consultative forum with Lord Filkin, junior minister at the Home Office with responsibility for the Mental Incapacity Bill. He revealed that he has spent much time recently meeting with the 'public' all over the country, at sessions like the one I attended. At these he listens and takes on hoard ideas that lead to changes in legislation, policy and the implementation of policy. Rather than assuming that the 'public' thinks as Melanie Phillips does, Lord Filkin went to find out. If Melanie Phillips thinks that this government is a bunch of liars who aren't trying to make a difference, then I think she should make more effort to find out what politicians are really doing. She might be surprised. I'm a member of the public who isn't apathetic and cynical, but I think that maybe Melanie Phillips is.

William Little

London NW3

From Mark Taha

As a social libertarian, I disagree with many of Melanie Phillips's attitudes. Her call for small shops in towns to be preserved at the expense of supermarkets is what the American libertarian philosopher Dr Nathaniel Branden called 'the divine right of stagnation'. The butcher, baker, candlestick-maker et al must take their chance in the free market - they do not have a divine right to customers. Does Miss Phillips really want to return to the days of compulsory early closing, Resale Price Maintenance and no Sunday shopping?

Furthermore, Sir Peregrine Worsthorne is wrong (Books, 18 October). Mrs Thatcher's government's legislation was responsible for the mass closure of sex shops. She introduced censorship of videos and, I believe, supported the draconian Howarth Bill. My opinion of censorship is like Abraham Lincoln's of slavery - when I hear a man argue in its favour, I feel a strong desire to see it tried out on him personally. My attitude towards Mrs Thatcher was one of critical support - critical, basically, of the above, her 'wet' policies regarding Rhodesia, Europe, Northern Ireland and the race relations industry, and her 'dry' policies of forcing through the poll tax and being too hard on the poor.

Mark Taha

London SE26

From Michael Grenfell

Sir: Sir Peregrine Worsthorne's extraordinary attack on Margaret Thatcher in his review of the new John Campbell biography stands reality on its head. Sir Peregrine sees the 'paradox of Thatcherism' as being that, in creating a 'cut-throat economy', she promoted 'improvidence . . . social fragmentation . . . a tide of pornographic and sexual blatancy' - in short, a world repugnant to the values of thrift, providence and moral decency which she claimed to have inherited from her father.

But this supposed 'paradox' has no basis in either logic or historical fact. The insight Margaret Thatcher grasped (perhaps from her father) is that moral responsibility cannot thrive in a controlled society or economy. Only by unshackling the economy - allowing people greater scope to make their own choices about how to spend what they have earned - is there any prospect that people can act in a morally responsible way.

There is a prospect that moral responsibility will flow from individual freedom; but it is only a prospect, not a guarantee. It is, however, guaranteed that without individual freedom moral responsibility will atrophy. …

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