Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Your letters...

Finally, MP responds...

Sir, — Like many local constituents, I wrote to John Howell in April to tell him how shocked and appalled I was by the behaviour of our Prime Minister.

I received a prompt response from his office which was word for word the same as the statement from him that you carried in your paper’s letters page towards the end of that month.

Since then, as more horrific details have been revealed and more dubious excuses have been forthcoming, I have written to Mr Howell on three separate occasions to ask him if this new information has caused him to reconsider his previously stated position with regard to the Prime Minister.

Now he has finally responded as follows. — Yours faithfully,

David Morris


“Dear David,

Thank you for your email. I have over the last few weeks been occupied with work on behalf of the UK overseas. As the leader of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe and one of its senior vice-presidents, I have been engaged with work (which I was asked to do by Parliament), which I regard as important for maintaining a way of life across Europe which we all want to see.

Now that I have returned, and had time to reflect, I am responding to the emails I have received about the Prime Minister.

But, as someone involved on a daily basis with international affairs, I do not see any evidence that other countries regard this as other than a UK issue in which they are not very interested.

In the first place, the decision on the fate of the future of the Prime Minister rests with me and my colleagues. I do not believe that it is a straightforward decision to make. I have tried to unpick the criticisms below.

Many of the emails I have received clearly come from those who have all along opposed the Prime Minister, what he is trying to achieve and his policies. In fact, very few of the emails specifically mentioned the Sue Gray report or associated Metropolitan Police report.

Many are from people who have been historically anti-Conservative. For those who do not consider his approach to running the country the best direction for us, the general election is the place to express this.

One email said: “I have no confidence in his ability to run this country and I am fearful of the direction we have been heading in for some time.”

That is not for a vote of no confidence. Similarly, many refer back to the EU referendum campaign. Again, this is no reason for a vote of no confidence. We have had a general election since then which the Prime Minister won with a good majority.

A further group have highlighted his personal characteristics. Typical are those who claim to be ashamed that he is apparently so transparently self-serving. This is not a reason for a no confidence vote either. The question is much simpler than this. It is this: whether the Prime Minister should accept responsibility by resigning for the activities described by Sue Gray and should he have resigned when fined by the police?

I think the political games being played over these issues are unhelpful, for example, whether the leader of the Opposition should resign over drinking beer and eating curry in Durham.

The Prime Minister has apologised and clearly set out his side of things but is this enough?

He has also made significant changes in No10, including a new permanent secretary charged with applying standards of governance as well as easier ways for staff to voice concerns. Is this enough too?

And what does Sue Gray say about this? She has written, for example, that she is “reassured” by the reforms undertaken.

It is essential to look at the whole report in detail if we are to avoid the overwhelming emotional response that has characterised much of our media and newspapers.

I have to decide whether the current campaign against the Prime Minister has any substance or is simply a media campaign.

There is also the question of whether Boris Johnson misled Parliament and this is the subject of a separate inquiry in Parliament.

I am not going to prejudge the outcome of this but will comment on aspects of the changes to the ministerial code which, contrary to some rumour, has not been changed “to save his skin”.

So, in conclusion, there have undoubtedly been things that have not been helpful but they have been magnified by a media campaign to destroy the Prime Minister’s premiership.

The bottom line for me in this is that, having examined all the evidence so far, I can see no reason to put in a letter now to the 1922 committee asking for a vote on whether we, as a group of MPs, have confidence in him.

I do have some sympathy for the Prime Minister. Having won the general election with a big majority, he was assailed by covid and an unprecedented series of circumstances to which no one has the answer. As a result, he was not able to implement what we both stood on in the manifesto.

I want to see us move faster in implementing the changes we voted for. There is certainly a responsibility to deliver on the rising cost of living, on the aftershocks of covid, against Putin’s aggression and on levelling up across the UK.

He, of course, has my support for these and my sense of urgency in needing them to happen.

Finally, I said I would comment on the ministerial code, which has become lumped in with this issue.

Firstly, the code does not take away words such as honesty, transparency and integrity. They are included in appendix A, which is an integral part of the code, rather than just in the foreword.

Secondly, the code says that its purpose is to include integrity in public life. Thirdly, paragraph 3.1.c states clearly that ministers who lie to Parliament must resign.

Lastly, the power it gives to the Prime Minister to punish minor breaches with a range of punishments rather than lose their job merely confirms what was already the case.


John Howell”

Ode to MP’s silence

Sir, — I think we can surmise why Henley’s honourable member feels too put-upon to reply to your correspondent, Ian Reynolds.

John Howell
May very well scowl
Despite slavish loyalty to “Boris”
He’s still outranked by Priti Patel and Nadine Dorries — Yours faithfully,

E C Bentley

Folly Green, Woodcote

Let’s scrap metrication

Sir, — It is indeed appropriate that at Her Majesty’s 70th jubilee we consider the matter of leaving this silly metrication behind us, as is at last being considered.

Her Majesty and I retain a clear grasp of imperial measures. Note the adjective “imperial”, which is both appropriate and definitive.

The metre was invented by the French based on the distance from the equator to the North Pole divided by a million to get to a length of 39.37 and a bit inches.

But only in France because the earth is not perfectly spherical. How daft can you get? If your height is 6ft (with 12 inches to the foot) it’s 182.88 centimetres in France. Which is the easier to visualise?

Imperial measures did not come into use by chance. They have a noble history dating back to the Phoenicians, the Romans and many others, designed to ease all manner of calculations.

Twelve is exactly divisible by 2, 3 and 4. What’s a third of 10?

Originally a Roman imperial mile was 5,000ft but the British improved this in 1593 to accommodate eight furlongs of 220 yards at three feet to the yard. In the 12th century, Henry I fixed the yard as the distance from his nose to the thumb of his outstretched arm. These royals have their uses. Very regal and easy to visualise.

The furlong (furrow long) is the distance an ox plough could be driven before stopping for a little breather.

This is called animal care and is something for which Brits are famous so the furlong remains in use in horse racing which the Queen has a liking for and, to maintain a valued tradition, thoroughbreds are bought and sold in guineas (21 old shillings) as the value of a 0.25oz of gold fixed in 1717. Or £1.05 apparently.

We now come to the acre, the amount of land which an ox could plough in a day with suitable breathers. What’s a hectare? 2.4710538147 acres.

Your ox would have to give up after about 3/8ths of that and wend its weary way home. Makes no sense.

We were mucked about on February 15, 1971 with decimal currency. The shilling, dating back to Norman times, with its 12 pence, also accommodated the sixpence, the threepence, the halfpenny and the farthing.

We’re coming full circle here. I’m sure that Her Majesty is well aware that we will still go miles for a decent pint and readily understands proper measurements. — Yours faithfully,

Richard Jones

Reading Road, Henley

Far too much make-believe

Sir, — The Queen’s platinum jubilee is a timescale arising purely from the early death of George VI and the longevity of Her Majesty. However, it is good that the nation, particularly after covid, is happy to mark the occasion with displays and parties. Having the occasional good time is always welcome, whatever the reason.

The jubilee celebrations are one thing but the ridiculous language used about the Queen is something else. The media exalts her as “the mother of the nation”. This is arguably a slight on actual mothers who successfully bring up their children through years of hard work.

In terms of real motherhood the Queen hardly shines. She, together with her late husband, is responsible for the miserable childhood of Charles, his “enforced” marriage to Diana and for the appalling development of Andrew.

Frequent references are made to her “lifetime of selfless service”, as if it is a burden stoically endured.

It is clear that the Queen much enjoys being the monarch, even when she can no longer do the job, and will hold on to the role until the last. Seventy years of being appropriately professional and dutiful is commendable but “a glorious reign”?

It is astonishing to hear people say that they “love” the Queen but have never had any contact with her? They misuse and degrade the word “love” and this is sad.

Much has been written and said about the Queen’s holding the Commonwealth together, contradicting the current situation where Australia and a number of other members are on the edge of becoming republics.

Perhaps it is the case that many people need colourful fantasy and fairy tales as a counterbalance to the rigours and banalities of life and this is understandable, even necessary.

However, it is important that make-believe does not become a national “my truth”. It is in danger of doing so. — Yours faithfully,

Douglas Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

Well done on celebrations

Sir, — It was heartwarming to see the time, effort and imagination invested by so many people in Henley to say a sincere thank you for the 70 years of service that Her Majesty the Queen has given to this country.

St Mark’s Road, Queen Street and Marmion Road, to name just a few, really did Henley proud and were almost competing with London with all the bunting, entertainment and food.

Huge congratulations to all involved.

It was a huge disappointment that Henley Town Council couldn’t show the same respect and gratitude — asking retailers to decorate their shop windows was a paltry effort at best. — Yours faithfully,

Samantha Evans

Founder, Humphreys of Henley

Who’s caring for trees?

Sir, — I was delighted to read that so many, not inexpensive, trees are being planted across the country to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee and also help offset climate change.

However, can anyone assure us that these trees will be cared for by being watered regularly for the next year/18 months or perhaps have had water-retaining granules planted with them?

If these actions have not been/are not taken, nearly all the trees will simply die, making the whole exercise pointless and truly disappointing for everyone concerned. — Yours faithfully,

Clare Talbot

Green Lane, Sonning Common

When I hid from storms

Editor, — Wow, what a picture of the fork lightning by Amanda Stewart (Standard, May 27),

When I was a boy my mother would encourage me to hide under the stairs during storms because of my nervousness. I was released when things had calmed down.

Mother Nature does have her moments to put on a display. — Yours faithfully,

Peter M Adams

Ramscote, Petersfield, Hants

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