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Andrew Rawnsley states that the Lib Dems won the Chesham and Amersham byelection as the voters in the constituency considered them to be a refreshing change from the incompetence and lies of Johnson (“Tories repelled by Johnson can help the Lib Dems knock down the blue wall”, Comment). The reality is that the nimbys of Buckinghamshire voted Lib Dem in the belief that they would scupper the proposed changes to the planning rules proposed by the Tories. They couldn’t care less about the ethics of Johnson just so long as the value of their houses doesn’t go down. Bizarrely, the next general election will be won by the party promising to build the fewest houses.
Andrew Rawnsley presses the Liberal Democrats to win over soft Conservatives in the blue wall. Should they not also be trying to recruit some of the prominent liberal Tory politicians, such as Dominic Grieve, David Gauke and Justine Greening, who have been rejected by the current regime? There is a strong 19th-century precedent in the path of the Peelites, who inhabited a wilderness after the repeal of the corn laws, until 1859 when they joined forces with the Whigs and Radicals to become the Liberal party. Along with Gladstone, they formed a significant part of the Liberal government of 1868 and presumably appealed to a liberal Conservative-voting constituency.
Swim with care
Will Coldwell’s article on free swimming fails to discuss one crucial aspect – the impact on nature (“In at the Deep End: the activist plunging into the wild swimming campaign”, the Observer Magazine). Rivers, streams, lakes and, to a more limited extent, reservoirs are home to many animals and plants with very specific habitat needs, and many are endangered species.
The wild swimming campaign should think about this carefully, proactively and collectively – for example, selecting sites with due regard to vulnerable species and locations (that means learning about them and signposting them within the community), establishing a code of conduct for people in and around the water and monitoring the impact of wild swimming on ecology (assessing sites before plunging in, and studying the impact; maybe working with the county wildlife trusts). Otherwise it is just going to be rave culture in the water and nature, as usual, will pay the price for human self-indulgence.
Antisocial? No, overcrowded
I have been a community mediator for many years and have come to realise that the anger and frustration that often drives neighbours to behave in “antisocial ways” is a combination of overcrowding, poor quality social housing and streets that were never intended to be stuffed with cars, bikes and large wheelie bins (“Noisy neighbours spark 67% rise in police complaints”, News). Paper-thin walls and the fashion for laminate flooring is a toxic combination when a bit of sound-absorbing carpet would be more effective and cheaper than sending antisocial behaviour officers round to insist that harried parents try harder to keep their toddlers quiet in the middle of the night. Young adults still at home fight with neighbours for space to park their car outside a house on a street that was never intended for three- or four-car families.
Of course there is genuine antisocial behaviour, but so much of the anger and frustration that boils over when too many people and their belongings are crammed into spaces which are already full to overflowing is often more about poverty and social deprivation than about bad behaviour. Richer people in detached houses can avoid their neighbours behind high fences, install security cameras and park their cars off the road. “Levelling up” has many facets.
Blight didn’t cause famine
For an article in which the writer is clearly calling for more evidence-based nuance in regulation, it’s surprising that Nick Talbot promotes the myth that the 1840s famine in Ireland was caused by potato blight (“Science can rescue farming. Relaxing gene editing should be just the start”, Comment). No, it did not. The blight destroyed the staple food of poor people, but the famine was largely caused by land reform failures, absentee landlords and a disinterested British government that continued to export other foodstuffs out of the country, reflecting its commitment to laissez-faire economic policies.
Conor Niall O’Luby
Off the boil
I must take issue with Jay Rayner’s comments on bechamel and cauliflower cheese (“Bechamel is the classic recipe I can never get right”, Observer Food Monthly). Cauliflower, either whole or florets, should never of course be boiled, or even par-boiled. It makes it soggy. Five minutes in the top of a steamer will leave the florets cooked, crisp, full of flavour and ready for Jay’s – or his wife’s – bechamel sauce.
Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire
Going under cover
Your article states that as many as half the travellers are now ignoring the stipulation to wear masks on the tube (“To mask or not to mask? Opinion split underground”, News). If only half managed this. On my daily commute across London, boredom is relieved by counting those following the rules: the overground and Jubilee Line manage approximately 40% compliance, while Essex exceptionalism on the Shenfield-Liverpool Street trains sees a mere 20% take-up. Compliance falls at the weekend.
Know when to quit
What a spendid article by David Mitchell (“The small print says that you’ll never win”, the New Review). My partner and I, a same-sex couple, were bullied out of sheltered accommodation. We lost confidence, peace of mind and lots of money. A local group advised us to take the matter to court, and had promised financial help as well as providing legal advisers.
However, because our health was affected we decided to drop everything and just sell up and leave. Since then, many people have said that we should have pursued the case and tried to get some recompense. So it was great to read David Mitchell’s article. Please let him know how much it has helped.
Sylvia Daly and Maggie Redding
That’s what I call bad luck
BB King had a “childhood bout of the mumps, causing an attendant swelling of his testicles, which were also gored by a ram on a farm, while further damage was caused by a sexually transmitted disease” (“Father to 15 children… but were any of blues star BB King’s offspring his?”, News). No wonder he sang Everyday I Have the Blues.