LETTERS: Yes, we should worry about Labour’s Brexit stance

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Photo credit: The D34n, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Have something to say? Please email us at: letters@sussexbylines.co.uk

Yes, we should worry about Labour’s Brexit stance

20 June 2022

Dear Editor,

I believe Nick Tyrone is wrong in his recent article Why we shouldnt worry about Labours embrace of Brexit (Sussex Bylines, 11 June).

If Labour continue to embrace the lie of Brexit, then they endorse the lie and, in turn, forgive the liar (Boris Johnson) and share the blame. They are giving the concept of Brexit legitimacy.

Labour could call him out. They could say he lied about parties, he lied to the Queen, he lied to us all when he said he was dying; while our relatives actually did. He lied when he said that Brexit was done because he lied when he said it was worth doing.

I understand Labour are trying to not scare either side of the electorate away but Johnson wins from positions of weakness because he sells a vision; even if it is a bullshit one. But nobody wants a leader that tweaks at the edges or gives a watered down version of the other guy’s message. Labour will not rally the support they need by trying to out-lie the prince of lies.

It is a long road to rejoining, but it begins with admitting the mistake. You don’t want another referendum? Then be honest and gain a mandate for repair in a general election. Build a manifesto on trust. Be bold enough to forge a new path and not follow in the footsteps of clown shoes.

Win the trust of the people for the good of the people; isn’t that what elections are supposed to be about?

Ian Gilson, Bristol

A reader responds to Rick Dillon’s article

19 June 2022

Dear Editor

WTF Prime Minister! Working From Home works

I used to work for a major blue chip company. Over the years we moved from office working to allocated open-plan working, to hot-desking. It reached the point where it seemed to me utterly pointless to fight the traffic every day just to sit at a random desk when I could do exactly the same from home but without the commute. 

The company wanted to be seen to support flexible working so I asked if I could work at home on Fridays. After some weeks of tedious discussions, my manager at the time agreed, albeit grudgingly, I always felt. One of her arguments was “If we let you do it, everyone will want to do it.” My answer was simply, “So let them.” Her view was that it was a perk, which I believed to be fundamentally wrong. 

It made sense to me from a work/life balance; it made absolutely no difference to the company itself; I was saving on petrol and I worked longer days because you just do when you work at home. But I didn’t resent that because I was delighted not to have to commute, at least for that one day of the week. Johnson’s comment about walking slowly to and from the fridge is moronic, like a lot of what he says. And as for Jacob Rees-Mogg, don’t get me started. 

Bruce Smeath, Windsor

Following the Sue Gray report, ‘Moving on’ is not an option

29 May 2022

Dear Editor,

As a follow-up to Alison Rees’ excellent article published in Sussex Bylines on the 19th April – ‘Moral Compass, Pointing South’, I have sent the following letter to our local Sussex paper the day after the publication of the Sue Gray report, on the same theme:

The day after the Sue Gray report was [finally] published, social media was awash with posts from Conservative ministers and MPs urging the public to ‘move on’ – adding an utterly insensitive insult to the injury already caused to those who lost loved ones during the time of Covid lockdown. 

The thousands who were unable to be at the bedside of a dying relative, or attend the funeral of a close friend – the doctors and nurses working to the point of exhaustion and beyond, struggling to care for critically ill patients – will they be able to ‘move on’ from those memories?  Now made more bitter by the knowledge that at the time they were dealing with their own personal tragedies, those at the heart of government were boozing and partying late into the night, and celebrating the fact that they had got away with it.  This is a government and a Prime Minister utterly lacking any moral compass, without shame, without compassion, without any care for their country – their only interest being to cling on to power.

Every Minister who chooses to remain in post (and that includes our own Lewes MP Maria Caulfield], every member of the Conservative Party who continues to support the present Prime Minister, is complicit in the degradation of public standards and the trashing of our country’s reputation abroad – just read the shaming headlines in the US and European press.

So no, we are not ‘moving on’.  The majority in the country will not forgive or forget.  And I profoundly hope that it will be you – the whole fish barrel of the present rotten government – that will be moving on and out at the next General Election. 

V. Smith, Newhaven

Ian Cairns raises some objections to local green power production systems, in response to Jeremy Tucker-Wall’s article on rethinking electricity

22 March 2022

Dear Editor

Many people in Sussex have experienced long delays to get power restored after the recent storms. I wonder though whether that is more to do with lack of engineering resources and pursuit of profit, rather than the system design itself? 

Yes, overhead cables are vulnerable to bad weather, especially wind and ice, but getting up on a ladder and joining a broken cable is a very low-tech fix and, once the cable is joined, you’re back on. By contrast, if a local green production system is damaged it could be much more complicated to resolve. Imagine thousands of different systems all over the country, with incompatible engineering and parts – at worst, it could be weeks before you can get that new turbine gearbox from Germany! 

Local power production has its advantages, but they need to be balanced against losing the resilience of being connected to a larger network. With a national grid, the power production itself is generally quite well insulated from weather events and, by virtue of the network, if one segment fails, power can often be routed from another segment.  

Economics and scale are other issues to be overcome with community energy systems. As a local energy consumer, you are tied to a single operator with no possibility of switching and, even if the operation is run by a co-operative of subscribers, the cost of your energy will include the borrowing cost of the capital installation over the lifetime of the system. At least one local green energy proposal in Sussex has collapsed recently because there were too many unknowns and, in the end, not enough residents willing to sign a long-term agreement with the operator on that basis.

Ian Cairns, Seaford

Tom Serpell asks whether Putin will stop at Ukraine

8 March 2022

Dear Editor

Can progressives consider the unthinkable? The two world wars were unthinkable and we are told (and probably agree) that a third is too. 

How can we stand by and watch people we avow to be friends being slaughtered when we have the means, invested in over decades, to stop this? Sudetenland, Syria, Crimea. We have watched them all. Do we think that Putin will stop at Ukraine? Yet he would probably be easier to stop now, bogged down there, than later. We are told that if one Russian boot enters Nato territory we will act, until when we watch. Is this right?

I merely ask.

Tom Serpell, East Hoathly

A letter sent to all the Bylines which has resonances with Michael Green’s article on how money circulates within the economy

Follow the money… it’s where our tax pounds go we should be worried about

7 February 2022

Dear Editor

Bylines are doing a superb job of shedding light in the darkness of the media wilderness and giving the progressive viewpoint a voice but what concerns me is that I have come across the term “taxpayers’money” in several of the Bylines publications.  This expression reinforces the view first promoted by Mrs Thatcher that there is no such thing as public money – a basic narrative of right-wing economics.

As Splinternews.com puts it “Although most of us pay taxes of some kind, every time we say ‘taxpayer money’ we prolong the illusion that society depends on certain kinds of people so we can have nice things.”  They go on to suggest that that if we picture a taxpayer, it would be unlikely to be someone on benefit or a homeless person.

Furthermore, this is not the way money works. We are currency users. Only the government is a currency creator. Money has to be spent in the economy by the government (or created by banks under government licence) and then taxed back in order to regulate that same economy. Exactly what form the spending should take and how the taxation system should be designed, so that the public purse brings most benefits to citizens, is obviously a subject for the public to debate, but not because it is their money.

Money circulating in the system oils the wheels of exchange and trade and if, due to uncertainty, for example, the private sector delays spending (i.e. saves) then there will be money not fulfilling its role and economic activity will shrink unless the government fills the gap. A public sector deficit thus utilises private sector savings to keep the economy moving. Is that so bad? Again, the proper discussion is being avoided – what do we want public spending to achieve should be the focus, rather than its total amount.  

So please could the expression ‘taxpayer’s money’ be dropped in favour of the ‘public purse’.

Keep up the good work for which many thanks.

Rosalind Wain

In response to Robert Ellson’s excellent article, Judgment of Johnson should not be a Gray area

4 February 2022

Dear Editor

Despite her report being truncated for the time being, I believe Sue Gray has, indeed, delivered the silver bullet that will penetrate Johnson’s hard heart. We now have to make sure that the gun firing the bullet is in competent hands.

I have always believed Keir Starmer to be a man of integrity and ability; but I listened to gossip and was not always sure he had the charisma necessary to topple this government and lead Labour to victory.

I have changed my mind. His speech in Parliament in response to the part publication of the Gray report was masterful. I felt he spoke for me and many millions of Britons. I urge everyone to watch it if they can. He has my whole-hearted backing now.

I hope those Labour members who are half hearted in their support of their leader will realise that it is selfish and divisive to make it possible for this government to continue into the future.

Well done, Starmer. Shame, Johnson.

Jill Stevens, Hove

Responding to Kate Springford on diabetes type 2

23 January 2022

Dear Editor

I read Kate Springford’s article with interest as, during lockdown, I too was diagnosed with pre-diabetes Type 2 and enrolled in an NHS group.  I was surprised as I did not feel myself to be in the danger zone weight wise.  However, Kate also mentioned that most of the women did not look overweight.  We too were clearly a cross section of society with a mix of attitudes towards our corporate condition.   Meeting on Microsoft Teams, rather than face to face, was a challenge especially as the technology was difficult for some members. Hysteria was just below the surface as we waited yet again for our digital companions or our coaches to unfreeze or rejoin.  We had to report our weight weekly over the phone which came with the terrible temptation to knock off the old half kilo. Often busy at meeting times, there were also days when I ended up listening only, with the video turned off, whilst doing other jobs. 

This article has made me reassess my attitude towards the course, making me feel a little ashamed of my careless, jokey approach to a worthwhile NHS initiative which seeks to prevent avoidable illness.  Thank you, dear NHS, and I will try to eat wisely and take more exercise.

Barbara Rodgers, Hastings

Resource starved environment agency can only investigate most serious incidents

11 January 2022

Dear Editor

I followed your series of articles on the pollution of our Sussex seas and rivers with increasing concern and now I see from the news today that the Environment Agency is in future only going to investigate the most serious incidents of pollution due to lack of resources.

This makes a farce of all the government’s assurances that the water companies will be more closely regulated in future.  If the regulating body doesn’t have enough resources to check on illegal discharges of sewage into rivers how is that going to be carried out?  And what about agricultural run-off which is one of the major factors in the increasing dire state of UK waterways?  Presumably farmers and businesses no longer have to worry about how they dispose of their waste.  If they allow it to run into a nearby river, who is to know?  And they can be pretty confident that they won’t be caught and prosecuted.    

This is a disgraceful situation, and it will result in the death of so many of our rivers and streams, which will just become reservoirs of filth, and the wildlife that they used to support will have vanished from our countryside.

Karen Forster, Newhaven

What hope for actors, musicians and young people if Brexit is done?

17 December 2021

Dear editor,

Dorothy Smith’s article ‘Is Brexit really done?’ (9 December) gives a clear explanation of why Brexit will never get done. She could have added the arts and education to her list of areas worst hit by Brexit. Barriers to actors and musicians touring in EU countries are still prohibitive. And the Turing scheme, the inferior replacement for Erasmus+, has just been given to C(r)apita to administer instead of the highly experienced British Council. What hope for young people’s futures in Europe? 

Viv Griffiths, Brighton

Boris Johnson’s blue, blue Christmas

9 December 2021

Dear editor

The rightly much maligned Donald Trump will no doubt enjoy a Merry Christmas. Despite being out of office, his ratings are still running high. Not so the man often described as ‘Britain’s Trump’, Boris Johnson. After his ‘one rule for us party revelations’, the message he’ll be getting from more and more of the public is less ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ than ‘Go, Go, Go!’

Rick Dillon, Hastings

Dr Toby Willison, Director of Environment & Corporate Affairs, Southern Water responds to Ginny Smith’s and Rick Dillon’s article on how private monopoly Southern Water is failing the public

24 September 2021

Dear editor

There is no denying that in recent months Southern Water has gone through a tough time as we faced up to our legacy issues in Canterbury Crown Court and apologised for our past failings. We are now working harder than ever to move on and rebuild the trust placed in us by our water and wastewater customers and the wider communities we serve. Simply put the way we operate has fundamentally changed.  We are committed to action that preserves and improves the environment of our region.

Ensuring we meet our customers’ expectations on environmental preservation and protection is a huge and important challenge.

The first thing to note when discussing the water industry is the sheer scale of the sector. We treat 750 million litres of wastewater a day in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, at over 367 treatment works, with 2,375 pumping stations and a network of almost 40,00 km of sewer pipes for 4.6 million customers.

Protecting the environment is at the heart of everything we do – we need resilient habitats retaining high quality water we can use to make drinking water. This makes our commitment to reduce pollution incidents to less than 80 by 2025, compared to 430 in 2019 an essential endeavour.

Our Pollution Incident Reduction Plan (PIRP) is helping us achieve this commitment and we will shortly be publishing our first annual review. We are proud to be one of the first water companies to publish a PIRP and are committed to continuing our work to improve our environmental performance.

We plan to invest around £800 million in our environment programme by 2025 as part of our over £2 billion investment to improve the capacity and efficiency of our wastewater and water network and reduce pollutions. Outside central government is there another organisation which invests as much in our regional  environment  – creating jobs and boosting the local economy of our region?

There is a difference between pollution incidents such as the broken sewer pipe outside Hastings earlier this summer and storm releases which are part of how the system is designed to operate to protect properties from flooding.

Storm releases, which generally go miles out to sea, are more than 99 per cent rain water. They happen because our Victorian-designed system combines surface water drains and sewers. In prolonged or intense rainfall, this is first stored in storm tanks but when these fill, the contents are screened and released to prevent flooding to homes, schools and businesses – an activity heavily regulated by the Environment Agency.

The issue of these storm overflows, or CSOs, is now subject of a wider public debate, something we welcome because it remains a priority for us and we want to go as far and as fast as we can to reduce their use because we know that’s what our customers expect. However, we must face up to the scale of the challenge and we need to be realistic.

Given the importance of making sure that the root causes of this problem are addressed, success in tackling CSOs will only be achieved through partnership working across a range of sectors. We must work together with local government, developers and agriculture and farming to fix this issue. Our commitment to this collaborative approach is evident in our work in the Sussex area, where we recently convened a summit with senior industry and community leaders with the aim of developing coordinated solutions to improve water quality and protect the environments of Chichester and Langstone harbours. Working together we can target investment more effectively and ensure we are joined up in the action we take to put the precious habitats of the harbours at the heart of our decision-making.

We have pledged a proportion of our £5 million environment fund this year to help boost natural capital solutions such as enhanced wetlands in Chichester and Langstone and other Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty so they continue to thrive as an attraction enjoyed by locals and visitors, with all the benefits to health, wellbeing and the economy of our region that brings.

In all our environmental work and future planning, we are mindful we must face the dual threat of a growing population and the constant challenge of climate change, in a region that is already one of the most water-stressed in Europe.

This has been at the front of our thinking and planning which is why we have a Net Zero Plan, accelerating investment in projects that will increase carbon storage and improve biodiversity in partnership with bodies like the Wildlife Trusts and Rivers Trusts. I’ve already noted the scale of the water industry and its impact on the UK’s climate ambitions is no less important, with the industry accounting for 1% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – we are under no illusion of the importance of our actions in ensuring the UK meets its climate commitments.

Nature-based solutions and carbon reduction efforts are only part of the story, we must also work to ensure that every drop of water is being used as efficiently as possible. I am proud that we are a leader in the sector for our Target 100 water demand reduction programme.

Supporting and incentivising our customers to reduce their personal average daily water use to 100 litres by 2040 will help to build on our own work to reduce leaks and ensure that our collective efforts contribute towards the resilient water future we must build for our beautiful region.

For any effort in our industry to succeed – whether it is climate change mitigation or protecting the health of our rivers and seas – a collective approach is crucial. We must work together across the sector and with other industries to tackle the issue of pollution and ensure we are all protecting the environment. We must also work with Government and our regulators to ensure we are properly held to account for our actions and recognised for our progress to tackle these challenges.

The environment, and our role in protecting and enhancing it, is central to every decision we make, and I welcome further collaboration with local groups in and around Sussex in how we can continue to progress our environmental ambition, together.

We always welcome invitations from customers and the communities we serve to meet with us, hear about our work, our investment and our commitment to improve service to our customers and discuss ways to work together to achieve the goal we share, to protect the environment.

Dr Toby Willison

22 September 2021

Dear editor

I have just come across your article Beautiful but deadly: the pollution of Sussex rivers. I found it particularly interesting because I have been researching water shortages, flooding and pollution with respect to the campaign to stop 3,000 houses being built at North Barns Farm, East Chiltington. 

I was shocked to discover that Southern Water (SW) is partly owned by the Australian investment bank Macquarie, and that South East Water is also partly owned by Australian and Canadian companies. I have also been told that SW finds it cheaper to pay fines than to update its infrastructure. I am currently awaiting replies from SW with respect to my Freedom of Information requests.

 Mary Parker, Don’t Urbanise The Downs campaign group, East Sussex

TOXIC SHOCK series, the second being: Beautiful but deadly: the pollution of Sussex rivers

5 September 2021

Dear editor

I am writing regarding your article entitled Beautiful but deadly: the pollution of Sussex Rivers.

We are a little shocked by the publication of this article and its reference to Ouze & Adur Rivers Trust (OARTS), based on an off the record conversation with a member. Whilst you have protected your source, we are concerned as to why these comments are being attached to us organisationally, without discussion with our Board of Trustees or Management Team.

The article is clearly a direct prod at Southern Water and does not provide a balanced overview of water quality problems in the catchment (of which Sewage Treatment Works and Combined Sewer Overflows are one but by no means the biggest one). Being misrepresented in our organisational view will do nothing to maintain ‘our seat at the table’ and alienate us from the process of sorting the problems out. We certainly have no evidence to corroborate the claim that a dog died as a direct result of a Sewage Treatment Work (STW) on the Bevern.  On the Herring Stream pollution there is still clarity being sought on whether this was a result of Southern Water or a mechanical failure. In a similar vein, the reasons for rivers not achieving the desired Good Ecological Status are not, as is implied, solely those of water quality but a result of 30 monitored parameters with many of our rivers and streams failing to reach this status for other reasons than water quality.  

Of course, we are highly supportive of highlighting the issues facing our rivers and streams and we certainly do not defend, nor justify the actions of Southern Water.  We can also assure you we are committed to ensuring that water quality is improved and there are step-changes in approaches to the management of private and public sewage treatment and agricultural land management. We want to be included in pieces such as this but it would be more advantageous to all if we could structure these in a way which reflects the situation on the ground from the evidence we have. As such, in future, any article which may wish to reference OARTS must give due regard to those best placed in the organisation to make comment with any enquiries sent via info@oart.org.uk or directly to myself at this email. 

Kind regards

Peter King

Ginny Smith and Rick Dillon respond to Peter King:

Peter King has made a number of valid points in his letter – OARTS obviously have to be careful to maintain a positive dialogue with Southern Water, and we would not wish to compromise this relationship.  We would hope it was sufficiently clear that the member quoted was not speaking on behalf of the organisation nor in any sort of official capacity, but we are certainly happy to confirm this. 

We do feel that the article gives an accurate picture of the pollution threat to our rivers and streams, but although agricultural pollutants are mentioned we could perhaps be accused of not giving enough weight to their role in degrading river water quality.  In particular South East Water cite levels of metaldehyde that tend to peak in the autumn as farmers use slug pellets on their land.  Contamination by livestock and slurry run-off is a further element contributing to the degradation of quality.  The Sussex Flow Initiative sum up the main pollutants in their report: “Nutrient enrichment, particularly phosphates in freshwaters from agricultural diffuse pollution, Sewage Treatment Works and rural septic tanks are the primary reasons for poor water quality”. 

OARTS have a laboratory that monitors for levels of particular pollutants in river water, and anyone interested in researching the issue further and gaining evidence from the situation on the ground can contact OARTS at info@oart.org.uk 

Finally, we are pleased that OARTS want to be included in any future pieces that we may write on this topic, and we would be happy to quote their official view.  However we also hold it as a basic principle of citizen journalism and the values that Sussex Bylines stands for that we should always provide a voice for those who have credible experience and knowledge and wish to provide us with evidence that may deviate from officially sanctioned versions.  We would never wish to either silence or censor those voices.

Ginny Smith and Rick Dillon    

TOXIC SHOCK series of articles, the first being: Warning: Sussex seas may damage your health

3 September, 2021

Dear editor

I have just read your TOXIC SHOCK series – excellent coverage by Ginny Smith and Rick Dillon. Southern Water are in my opinion not fit for purpose. To make you aware of my own situation – I have had a case running with them for over two years: it’s a classic SW ploy of “keep them hanging on long enough and the problem will go away!” But this has been going on since the early 2000s. Had a member of the public committed these intentional acts of pollution for profit, they would have been locked up – yet Southern Water get away with it time and time again! Profit before People.

Southern Water Services Ltd (SWSL) have had a history of: overcharging customers (fined £126m in 2019 but most of it never paid); falsifying billing figures and information presented to the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) in order to obtain a greater financial allowance; tankering raw sewage and illegally offloading it; and finally causing unfettered pollution in harbours, rivers, the sea, as well as high streets and private homes. This has been going on since the early 2000s and all the above are recorded in the public domain. This matter can no longer be tolerated by the Government as it has been swept under the carpet for far too many years by Ofwat, a regulator set up to ‘protect the public’ in a captive monopoly situation.

Ofwat, when challenged about the savings Southern Water made on the fine amount using a variety of accounting methods, including a Rebate Repayment Scheme based on water consumed or processed at current prices rather than the falsified prices in the period of overcharging, had no answers.  They are still struggling with my Freedom Of Information Act questions including about a lost £6.5m of tax payers’ money which was never recovered.  It seems that Ofwat, funded by the taxpayer, answers only to Southern Water Services Ltd. and the Water Utilities. People who had moved out of the area were never given a refund and the agreement with Ofwat (that SWSL would hold charges at the proper current rate at the time) was never implemented.

My experience with SWSL is that they avoid straight answers and I am still waiting for replies to my detailed emails. The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) have proven ineffectual and it transpired that the Water Redress Scheme (WATRS), also unable to help, is funded by The Water Utilities! Ofwat are financed by licensing fees levied on the water, and it is clear they do not follow up on fines repayment to customers, or check to ensure that their auditors (KPMG) do so. Checking for myself directly with KPMG, I have still not received a reply to my email request of three months ago. As for the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PSHO), I have thus far had to resend nine emails relating to the case and, months later, nothing has been resolved. I even sent a letter to the Chair of PSHO to which, nearly 10 months later, I have not had a reply.  “Dysfunctional” would be a polite way of describing them and a visit to the site PSHOthetruestory illustrates their incompetence.

I therefore submit that none of the above are ‘fit for purpose’ as regulators.  Unless the law toughens up and prosecutes SWSL, a company with another £90 million record fine recently levied and another High Court case proceeding, then it will no doubt continue to flout the law and overcharge its customers.  Water is essential for life and the water utilities in the UK need to be in UK hands and under government control.


Trevor D. Peckham-Cooper

Refugees work: so why not let them?

31 July 2021

Dear editor, 

I am writing in relation to Tom Serpell’s article on 27 July, titled “Refugees Work: so why not let them?”. I understand that the article was written to encourage government to let in more refugees, but I do not approve of the way Mr Serpell made the argument. 

My grandparents moved to England in the 50s, and, like many who were encouraged to come, did the work which white people did not want to do. Thanks to them, I am now a teacher in South London, and I am incredibly grateful to them. But surely now we are past an era where the only reason for immigration is so that immigrants can “contribute” to our society, or to be exploited by white bosses? 

A person of colour should not be valued on how much cheap labour they can provide, but on their humanity. If employers want to solve their labour shortage, they should raise wages and improve working conditions, even if that cost is passed on to their customers. 

I can only assume from the rest of his work that Mr Serpell wants an open and inclusive Britain. But his argument undermines this inclusivity, by confining people of colour to an underclass. Maybe not an argument which will win over your red wall voter, but one which I would hope a progressive publication like yours to champion. 

Sincerely yours 

Simon Thompson 

Tom Serpell responds

“I am grateful to Simon for his comments and wholly agree with his point concerning decent pay [cf my article: https://sussexbylines.co.uk/value-and-values.] I feel entitled to point out though that my article made no reference to colour as he suggests. I was at pains to illustrate the scope and level of capabilities represented even just locally by a group of people expressly debarred from paid work.

I would like the government to welcome more people in need into this country for humanitarian reasons and have campaigned for this for some time. It seems anti-humanitarian to prevent asylum seekers, whether here already or in future, from earning both money and self-respect for themselves from their own endeavours. Where my article goes beyond this is to point to a topical, pragmatic argument in favour of freeing enforcedly idle workers from a doctrinaire constraint, to contribute towards filling in gaps in the country’s labour needs using their skills and energy, if they so wish”

Tom Serpell

Chair, http://villageofsanctuary.net

Engels in Eastbourne

11 July 2021

Dear editor

I hope to be moving to Eastbourne in the next couple of months so I was particularly interested in the ‘Engels in Eastbourne’ article by Carol Mills. I look forward to learning more about this great social reformer when I arrive, and to reading more articles by this author.

Dave Appleby

Brighton style – planners give it a chance!

1 July 2021

Dear editor

Excellent article by Rod Watson. It raises many questions that demand considered responses.

M Fieldhouse, Hove

Brighton Fringe: Performers raring to go, by Alivia Arief

16 June 2021

Dear editor,

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Alivia’s article in the run up to Brighton Fringe and the way she perfectly captures the palpable excitement at the return of live events to our city. As the Artistic Director of Actors of Dionysus (a Brighton based theatre charity) and freelance theatre maker I have been keeping an ear to the ground across our community through fantastic initiatives such as ‘What Next: Brighton & Hove’. I have been struck by the resilience and tenacity of our artistic community and how we have kept our chins up through this challenging time. 

Writing this letter at this moment in time, I am stepping momentarily away from not one but three shows we are performing this fringe! Someone once said to me “Put the date in the diary, and you’ll have to do it”.

We are performing 13 shows over 3 days from 25-27th June. Nothing if not ambitious. Our venue is a generously sized (for Brighton) garden in an end of terrace house in Queen’s Park. We’ll also be running a bar. It felt so important to put something out there, in the open air and sharing little bit of paradise – at least that’s how our garden seemed to me, especially during lockdown, avid gardener that I am.

Currently in writing, The 3 Graces is a tongue in cheek exploration of ancient Greek myth with particular reference to the Pandora and Prometheus stories. This premiere coincides with the release of Juliet Russell’s new album Vox Salva and the audience will be able to sample a few tracks on offer.

Also featuring award winning Bee in my Beanie with Stories in the Garden for children ages 4-7 and finally a comedy cabaret, Lionhouse Cabaret, featuring a host of local performers including Dyball & Kerr, Graham (Fingers) Lipscomb, Lou Macari, Mark Katz, Tina Warnock, Dandelion Charm, Anthony Ayton, Kate McCann and Hit the Silk.

Now that the date’s in the diary I had better finish this letter and that play……see you in the garden hopefully!

Tamsin Shasha, Artistic Director of Actors of Dionysus.

Book tickets here: https://www.brightonfringe.org/whats-on/

Flyer for Brighton Fringe performances
Flyer for Tamsin Shasha Performances

Engels’ plaque campaign

2 June 2021

Dear editor

Carol Mills’ Engels in Eastbourne article, mentioning the original plaque to Engels, aroused memories for me too, as I helped to organise the unveiling event. I was Secretary of the Britain-GDR Society at the time and was invited by the local organisers to give the commemorative speech at Beachy Head. A dramatic location for a public speech! On the clifftops above the sea clutching my typed script, I read out the history of Engels in Eastbourne, glancing up from time to time at Heinz Birch’s encouraging smile in the front row. A Guardian journalist had spotted this highly unusual event and wrote it up as a feature article, gleefully mocking our little gathering of naïve idealists. The East Germans and I were all very sad when right-wing vandals forced the plaque to be removed. I’d be delighted if it could be reinstated!  It would be fun to be in touch.

Sheila Taylor

Secretary, The Britain-GDR Society (1976-80)

What Europe means to me

12 May 2021

Dear editor,

Thank you for the moving and thought-provoking publications on Europe Day. The article ‘What does Europe mean to you?’ sparked off my own thoughts. 

Like Ginny Foster, I fell in love with France as a teenager when I started holiday exchanges with a French penfriend at the age of 13. We spent two weeks every summer at a sailing school in Brittany, where I learnt how to sail and swear in French, smoked Gauloises and fell for handsome French boys. It was only when I spent a year in the USA as a student that I realised how European I felt, in terms of history and culture. I don’t have direct family links to Europe, though I’m very proud that my mother worked for the Republican cause against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Since retirement, I’ve spent six months living in Berlin and two months in Spain and am devastated that plans for a longer term relocation to France have been dashed by Brexit. But links with my penfriend Marie’s family and friends remain strong to this day and I will always be European. 

Viv Griffiths, Brighton

Fascists in Sussex and Devon

21 April 2021

Dear editor

Carol Mills’ ‘Engels in Eastbourne’ is a terrific piece, just where Sussex Bylines can find a niche. I would also be interested in right-wing history. Where did the old-school fascists come from in Sussex and where does the virus lurk in ‘quieter’ times? The families, the villages, the traditions.

See this book for similar kind of enquiry in Devon.

It was the thought of NF people spraying the Engels monument that got me started. What are those head cases doing now?

James Joughin, Brighton

Churchill: democrat or fascist?

17 April 2021

Dear editor

Tom Serpell’s article was very good and a timely warning but claiming that Churchill was against Fascism is a bit of a stretch. He showed many Fascistic characteristics in his beliefs and actions and his real reason for fighting Germany wasn’t against their regime but their worrying progress in rivalling Britain’s imperialism.

Dave Poole, Eastbourne

Tom Serpell responds:

Dear Mr Poole

I am no unqualified fan of Winston Churchill, being all too aware of some of his more egregious behaviour in South Africa and as Home Secretary in particular. I do not think that I would characterise him as fascistic, though, not least because he appears to have been a strong advocate of democracy, unlike our current Prime Minister. My reference to him was solely to contrast his undoubted anti-appeasement, anti-fascism with hero worship by his fascistic groupie, Johnson. What his motives for standing up to Hitler and Mussolini were I am not qualified to say; but I am sure that he did.

Tom Serpell, East Hoathly

Firewall on fire

13 April 2021

Dear editor

The other day I heard the estimable Paul Mason say that traditionally, and for many years, the right of the Tory party had effectively operated as a firewall against fascism but now, look around, the firewall is on fire. Well done Tom Serpell for calling this out. We need to wake up and pay attention.

James Joughin, Brighton

Educational inequalities in Brighton

29 March 2021

Dear editor

Great piece by James Joughin on educational inequalities.

Until we have an Opposition which just tells the truth – on education, health & wealth inequalities – as well as on the two big ones – management of the pandemic & Brexit – we cannot expect people to understand the realities of Britain in 2021.

Opposition ultra-caution & focus-grouping every utterance to within an inch of its life is simply re-cycling Murdoch, the Barclay Brothers and the Mail.

If appealing to the Brexity right was giving the opposition a stable lead, ok.  But look at the polls.

In the meantime we have to rely on astute observers like Mr. Joughin to tell us the truth.

Andy Batkin, Brighton  

Second-class citizens?

17 March 2021

Dear editor,

Marianna Ebel’s article on EU citizens struck a chord with me. I have lived in the UK since 1983. I studied here; got married; have two wonderful daughters; have worked, paid taxes and done a lot of voluntary work over the past 35+ years.

And yet, after the 2016 Brexit referendum, I had to prove that I was permanently resident in the UK (this was before the EU Settled Status scheme was introduced). It took several months, and it was a painful, time-consuming and emotional process. Eventually I was ‘granted’ permanent residency status – was I meant to be grateful? 

Then I applied for UK citizenship. Not only did I have to find nearly £1,500; I also had to study for a ‘Life in the UK’ test, which I’m sure most native Brits wouldn’t pass. The next hurdle was applying for a UK passport. I had put this off because I couldn’t face more bureaucracy… Actually, the application process turned out to be quite smooth and well-organised – but I had to have an online ‘identity interview’, and I’m still reeling from the experience.

The interviewer was friendly and chatty, putting me at ease. I answered questions about my name, my place of birth, standard stuff. Then he started asking me about my flat: which floor is it on, how far is it from the sea, can I see the sea from my window? Could I show him the view? This seemed totally out of order, and I suddenly felt that he was trying to ‘catch me out’ in some way. I said no to showing him the view – and then fretted for several hours that my application might be turned down because of it. It wasn’t, and my passport arrived a few days later. But why was I subjected to such intrusive questions? Surely I had already proved my entitlement several times over!

EU citizens like me should not be subjected to this kind of treatment. We have made this country our home, we have contributed, we belong. 

Renate Alwart, Bognor Regis

Defenders of democracy

14 March 2021

Dear editor

I am inspired by the feature on Terry Reintke (MEP) to continue, for as long as it takes, the struggle to regain democratic government in the UK. It is not only Terry Reintke and her fellow nationals who must question the actions of parents and grandparents in speaking out to defend the rule of law and threatened minorities. We all now as individuals,  parents and grandparents, have a duty to speak up now for democracy, the rule of law and civil liberties in the UK or have our children and grandchildren question our inaction.

Ben Taylor (European Union Citizen in exile)

My remarkable aunts

8 March 2021

Dear editor

Re Viv Griffiths’ article on the two women who have been an inspiration in her life: It has made me reflect on the women in my life who were always “in the background, invisible and given little credit for all they did” – my mother and several teachers come to mind. Sussex Bylines: Great work.

Mary Lewis, Sussex

A journey through time

14 February 2021

Dear editor,

I’ve just read your fabulous article about the Newhaven RNLI Lifeboat and can confirm, as a Newhaven resident, that the lifeboat crew are some of our town’s true heroes! And following on from that, I wondered if you may be interested in a couple of items from ‘900 Years – A Journey Through Time’, a project created in conjunction with the 900th anniversary of St Michael’s Church (it is the oldest building in the town).

The project is a collection of new music and song, telling cherry-picked stories from Newhaven’s history. I mention this particularly, because two tracks on the album Brazen Souls and RNLI are about the loss of HMS Brazen and the lifeboat respectively. The first tells the story of the wreck as seen through the eyes of Louisa Hanson, the Captain’s young wife. The second empathises with the loved ones of those in the lifeboat’s crew, and how they feel when a ‘shout’ comes. We do plan on producing a live performance ‘musical’ of the project, initially planned for 2020, the actually 900th anniversary year, but that has been delayed of course, due to the pandemic. However, we did make an extremely well-received short film (funded by the Arts Council) based on Brazen Souls. I’ve set out some links below, in case you’d like to take a look.

Brazen Souls Short Film: https://youtu.be/Cjgq8JFt70o RNLI Lyric Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv3_7qAoYFA 900 Years – A Journey Through Time Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Newhaven900Years

Mike Flood, Newhaven

Covid-19 inquiry

24 January 2021

Dear editor,

I am not impressed by the government saying there will be a Covid-19 inquiry but now is not the time. They seem to expect praise for saying that but it is crazy to think they ignore the findings of the all-party group that shows what a scandalous mess the government has made.

In my opinion, that’s down to ideology of a decade of defunding the NHS, pushing EU people out, raiding taxes to give contracts to chums and blatant disregard of scientific evidence. And now – yet again – they’re being less than honest about vaccine supply and timing of 2nd jabs.

Daisy Cooke, Chichester

The ‘dead good deal’ that’s killing business

Dear editor,

Helen Gibbons’ experience of the effects of Brexit (Selling to Europe from Sussex, 22 January) is a taste of things to ceome.

The Centre for Economic Performance predicts exports to the EU will drop by more than a third over the next decade and total UK trade by 13%. At present, EU countries account for over half of our trade with the world.

Boris Johnson claims his trade deal opens up Britain to more opportunities on the world stage. However, the reality on the ground is lost jobs and lost opportunities that no amount trade deals with distant countries is going to make up for.

Rick Dillon, Hastings

Democracy or populism?

24 January 2021

Dear editor,

The constitution and the institutions of American democracy have held in the face of repeated attacks by Trump and his deluded supporters who remain convinced that the election was stolen. All who care for freedom celebrated with Joe Biden on Wednesday as he affirmed that democracy and prevailed in the United States and that if enough of us agree then that would be enough to carry us all forward to combat the rising tide of populism. But these events have shown us that democracy is fragile and in his words ‘the battle to save it is perennial and victory is never assured’.

So I suggest that we take this seriously with regard to the attacks on our own democratic institutions made by our own government. These include the attempt to prorogue parliament, the imposition of Covid restrictions and the postponing of elections without a vote, Ministers and special advisers above the law, PPE contracts given without competitive tender to supporters and cronies, or threatening to break International Law. Add to this the attacks on the BBC, the judiciary and the Civil Service, the pitiful amount of parliamentary time given to scrutinise the Brexit Deal and the proposals to remove power from local councils to decide on planning applications.

I could cite many more examples but urge all who value consensus and parliamentary government to stand up for our institutions and preserve what is left of our democracy.

Sophie Holman, Lewes

The truth about Covid-19?

23 January 2021

Dear editor,

I get the feeling we’re not getting the truth on Covid-19. Why is it that the Germans now insist everyone wears FFP2 masks outside and in public spaces to try and combat the infectious spread of the new variants?

The UK government is asleep on the job. German press conferences aren’t government-controlled, and the ministers and virologists get hard questions which they actually answer.

Test–trace–vaccinate and mask up as a public duty seems reasonable. 

Matt Bennett, Arundel

Curbing the spread of Covid-19 in Sussex

21 January 2021

Dear editor,

Are councillors across Sussex doing anything to try and curb the spread of Covid-19 in public and communal buildings where only limited airflow ventilation can be achieved? Stagnant and unvented conditions are known to allow the virus establish and spread. 

At the same time, the promenade in Brighton and Hove is understandably crowded with people wanting to walk or exercise. Shouldn’t runners be required to wear masks? Sage and the Zoe research shows that air is expelled at a rate similar to coughing  and sneezing when someone runs. Droplets and aerosols can float onto others a far greater distance than the accepted two metre passive transmission norm, especially wind assisted. 

These are two small steps where we should take the lead.

David Holden, Hove

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