With regard to your article on council housing (“Pandemic ‘will double demand’ for council homes”, News): the Conservatives just don’t seem to get it. There are millions of people who can’t afford “affordable housing”. Two people are needed working full time for a family to be able to buy a house.
“Work” now is a very unreliable prospect. There are no jobs for life, there is no security in work. The private rental sector is also insecure – people living on yearly leases, with rents increasing on a whim of the owners. Council housing at reasonable rents allows for greater piece of mind and a happier workforce. In the 1950s and 60s, millions lived in council houses, people of all walks of life; they were not referred to as “social housing”, with all its derogatory connotations. Anyone can lose their job today, anyone can lose their home, through no fault of their own. The private sector is not the answer to everything.
The government must open its eyes and set aside prejudices and realise the positive help that council housing will give all those low-paid workers they so admired through the pandemic.
Trust us – we do care
Kenan Malik argues that people distrust large pharmaceutical companies and therefore the vaccines that they produce (“Resistance to vaccines is about lack of trust. Compulsion is not the answer”, Comment). He ends by quoting Heidi Larson: “People don’t care about what you know, unless they know that you care.” Do people really believe that medical and scientific experts don’t care?
As a consultant paediatrician, I have seen children struggling for every breath as the swelling caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) epiglottitis threatened to obstruct their airway completely. Anxious parents looked on helplessly as experts – yes, experts – saved their child’s life. Thankfully, immunisation brought in against this bacterium in 1992 has reduced its incidence dramatically.
But I have also seen children suffering from Hib and other infectious diseases, from which they could have been protected had their parents not elected to forgo their immunisation. Of course, they all regretted their decision, but too late to save their cherished offspring.
It is time for the population to accept that experts are not invincible, but more expert than themselves, and that they do care. When the experts say that they have a safe, effective vaccine against Sars-Cov-2 or any other serious infectious disease, use it. People need to care enough to protect themselves, their families, friends and neighbours.
Dr Jennifer Holman
A sculpture of our time?
Maggi Hambling is used to controversy with regard to all her public work and the statue commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft is no exception (“‘I need complete freedom’: Maggi Hambling hits back at sculpture critics”, News and Notebook, Comment). The content is self-exploratory and expressive. The previous examples of her public work reveal the same interest in ideas that are private and personal, so any commission is a licence to indulge.
How can public sculpture commemorating the life of an individual be reconciled with the nature of contemporary art? There are some wonderful examples of ideas and events being commemorated by contemporary art, in particular the Holocaust Memorial by Rachel Whiteread in Vienna, which serves to remind all of the ever present danger of fascism. Other than the traditional blue plaque, a plain, figurative representation of a historical figure can suffice, but is it really a work of our time?
North Walsham, Norfolk
The lion roared for me
Jonathan Maitland’s reflections on the 30th anniversary of Geoffrey Howe’s game-changing speech in the House of Commons taking his revenge on Margaret Thatcher brought back memories (“The day a ‘dead sheep’ turned himself into a roaring lion”, Focus). In the photograph accompanying the piece, there is a red-haired MP just behind him. That was me, then the Tory MP for Bury South.
I remember at the time I was preoccupied with thoughts about my bleak prospects of success at the next election. As I left the stunned chamber after Howe had spoken, I passed a friend of mine, the late Sir Michael Latham, a fellow Tory MP who knew of my re-election fears. He whispered in my ear: “Now you have a chance.”
His comment was prescient. Subsequently, John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher, he won the 1992 election for the Conservatives by a whisker and I held my seat by 788 votes. Geoffrey Howe’s speech changed my life too.
Bring back the truth
Does the departure of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain indicate a new era or the beginning of a disaster (“If only we could find a vaccine to cure Britain of Brexit”, William Keegan, Business, and “Is Britain really about to embrace chaos and misery for the sake of Brexit dogma?”, Will Hutton, Comment)? Barack Obama talks of “truth decay” and this is a more profound plague than Covid-19. Through Cummings, Cain and Boris Johnson, spin has escalated into truth-avoidance and now truth-evasion. It has to be confronted.
The lessons of art
In his Insights column on the devastating Spanish flu of 1918, Torsten Bell notes the “lack of commemoration of the pandemic’s victims”, in contrast with the remembrance of those who died in the preceding world war (“The flu pandemic of 1918 can teach us to remember our dead”, Comment). He also quotes research contending that our failure to remember left us unprepared for the current pandemic.
This failure to remember does not appear to apply to the world of art. The great Austrian artist Egon Schiele lovingly sketched his pregnant wife, Edith, as she lay dying of the Spanish flu in October 1918. The depiction is all the more poignant in that Schiele, who was only 28, must have been infected as he drew.
He followed Edith to an early grave by succumbing to the same disease three days later.
A kickabout with Keir
As “Wilson” has already been taken as the name of a castaway ball, can we assume that Keir Starmer will be calling his Desert Island luxury item after a more recent Labour leader he’d like to kick about on the beach (“Starmer’s desert discs have Stormzy and soul”, News)?