Your front-page story tells us that there is “£50m backing for new party to ‘break mould’ of UK politics”, (News). Once again we are in the realms of the short-term “fix” for a deep political malaise. The besetting sin of British politics has always been its focus on immediate policies and its inability to grapple with the political philosophies necessary to underpin any set of policies. Cobbling together a manifesto designed to fill what is defined every few years or so as a vacuum in the centre is certainly feasible but it cannot be relied on to deal with the crucial questions of what kind of society we want and need and how we inspire the electorate – particularly younger voters – to be active in politics.
I have spent much of the past 25 years working with new and emerging democracies around the world, trying to encourage and establish structures for enduring democratic governments. All that I and other equally committed colleagues could do in installing healthy electoral systems or devising parliamentary rules was ephemeral unless the parties had a firm basis in political philosophy. Parties based on tribe, religion, region, charismatic leader or liberation movement were all incapable of developing coherent and stable long-term government and opposition. We have an example close at hand in Northern Ireland, where the inherent weakness of the power-sharing agreement is that, apart from Alliance, the political parties are predicated on their attitude to the border and not on political philosophy.
Andrew Rawnsley says that “a new party would have to have a policy platform broader than just opposing Brexit” (Opportunity knocks for a new party. But will anybody dare open the door?”, Comment). He also says: “What is extremely hard is… to break through an electoral system that is highly hostile to new contenders.”
What we need is something like the wartime coalition. I suggest that the new party should have just two policies at the election: first, to cancel Brexit, then to enact a new voting system and call another general election. That would allow existing MPs to run on the new ticket if they chose, then revert to their “home” party afterwards if they preferred. After all, both main parties have many voters who are currently disenfranchised by the first-past-the-post system.
The new party should be called the Democratic party and should be led by one or more elder statesmen who would serve for one term only. I’m sure we can all think of their names. Let’s just do it.
The way to beat malaria
I was interested to read Robin McKie’s article about the resistant strain of malaria in Pailin, Cambodia (“Could a remote town in Cambodia spark the next great malaria epidemic?”, Focus).
I was born and grew up in Cambodia and have been living in the UK for the past 12 years. In the mid 1980s, my two uncles travelled from my village in Kampong Cham province to Pailin, a distance of 250 miles, to dig for precious stones to help their poor families. A year later, they came back with a little gold dust, a few precious stones and… malaria. One survived but the other died. They knew they had malaria but did not know the source was the mosquito. They thought they had caught it from drinking dirty mine water.
Due to the destruction of the education system during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, most people did not know how malaria was spread or of the need to sleep under nets. From 1979 to 1993, Cambodia was racked by civil war and poverty. Many rural people could only afford to visit the local witch-doctor. When they did receive medicine, patients often did not understand they had to complete the full dose and could not read the instructions only printed in a foreign language. This continues today and is perhaps one of the reasons why drug-resistant strains of malaria are increasing. Education is the key to combating malaria.
Llangoed, Beaumaris, Anglesey
Give children a Sure Start
The short-sightedness of the closure of so many Sure Start centres was memorably rendered by Frank Cottrell Boyce (“By axing early years help, we give our children a mountain to climb”, Comment). Two-, three- and four-year-olds are owed a good quality of life irrespective of the inadequate metrics that government seeks to use to judge early years settings. Sure Start centres play an important part in securing that quality of living and learning. They need to be restored and enhanced; our children deserve the very best we can give them.
Spark Bridge, Cumbria
The potential’s the thing
While the cost of auditioning for drama schools is certainly one barrier to more inclusion, concentrating on this alone will not bring about the changes that both the schools and the industry clearly want (“Way too ‘privileged’: drama schools urged to cut their audition fees”, News).
Candidates from supportive, achieving and culturally articulate backgrounds are much easier to select, not least because they are often confident, highly literate and used to expressing themselves. They may come to us after attending summer schools, foundation courses or well-resourced private schools. The bigger challenge is to take a risk on instinctive, intuitive but less-polished candidates at auditions – realising that there are three years of intensive training ahead to realise their obvious potential. Groundbreaking schemes such as Open Door are introducing schools to many terrific candidates who previously felt that a place in a good school was out of their grasp; there is a real desire to change the demographic once and for all.
These are exciting times if we are brave enough to truly represent the difference and diversity of the lives around us by realising that Shakespeare is perhaps (not yet) part of their world when we first see them at audition – whereas mounting debt certainly is.
Dave Bond, head of actor training
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff
Drugs, knives and capitalism
Even those “experts” in your article who called for a “public health” approach to knife crime failed to address fully its systemic aspect (“London’s knife crime crisis: meet the people with possible solutions”, News). The drug trade – and the violence that is endemic to it – is a product of social failures. It provides a counter-economy where no other functional economy exists. “Every belly has an underbelly”, as Ian Rankin once wrote. In the poorest parts of the UK, it has become the only viable alternative to zero-hours exploitation.
A public health model of type 2 diabetes wouldn’t ignore the political economy and social determinants of health, so why should one related to knife crime? If you make people poorer, their health and their capacity to manage their health both get worse. A public health model of knife crime will only work if it addresses fundamental income inequality and its link to the drug economy.
The clue is in the question
The clue in a recent crossword was “abnormally fat”, with the answer “obese”. Unfortunately, being obese is becoming increasingly normal. It’s time to stop doing the newspaper crossword, get out of the chair and go for a walk.