Luke Harding and Mark Townsend report that “from Moscow, Brexit is seen as a wild success, diminishing the UK and estranging London from its European partners… And MI6 failed to ask its secret agents what exactly the Kremlin was up to” (“Timid, incompetent… how our spies missed Russia’s bid to sway Brexit”, News). You do not require a degree in geopolitics to understand why a weakened Russia, believing itself threatened by Nato and the west generally, needs, and works for, a weakened west.
Carole Cadwalladr (“The Russia report shows we have a national security problem. He lives in No 10”, Comment) observes: “The Russians stand accused of exploiting with disinformation and lies the same platform that Johnson’s chief aide, Dominic Cummings, exploited with disinformation and lies.” Is anyone asking what Cummings was up to in his three years in Russia? Given that your opinion poll (News) indicates that almost half of the people interviewed believe the Russian government interfered with the referendum, is it out of the question to challenge, even at this late date, the validity of the 2016 result? This is not to challenge democracy. It could be to challenge possible treason.
MI5’s failure to investigate Russian interference in the EU referendum was either because the government ordered it or MI5 itself chose not to do so for fear of becoming involved in politics. Also, its report was completed in March 2019 but did not reach Boris Johnson until the following October, plenty of time for government to tamper with the report. This as published contains nothing to justify withholding it before the general election. The entire episode reeks to high heaven, just like our politics in general.
Pembury, Tunbridge Wells
Shane Hickey discusses the issues facing employees and employers as home working seems likely to continue (“As home working becomes the new normal, know your rights”, Cash). A major advantage for the individual is avoidance of the time and cost of commuting.
But, while some relish the daytime involvement of other members of the household, this can also be distracting. Conversely, solitary workers may feel isolated and lonely. The lack of structured hours, while sometimes providing valuable flexibility (for example for the school run), may erode what otherwise would be free time.
There is another possibility. Local office hubs might develop, perhaps replacing vacant shops. Individuals from various firms could rent a workplace with suitable desk and chair and internet access. The journey to work might be only a 10-minute walk, there would be chats around the water cooler and scope for meeting over lunch. The whole package would replace the missing social features of the office and might best suit some workers.
In her excellent article, Jemma Kennedy writes movingly about her symptoms following coronavirus and makes connections with the experience of “our first cousins” whose lives have been devastated by the much misunderstood illness ME/CFS (“I’m a Covid-19 ‘long hauler’. For us, there is no end in sight”, Comment). Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome profoundly affects the health and lives of sufferers for many months, years or decades.
Kennedy identifies the profound challenges of people living with ME/CFS, for example, in gaining a diagnosis, the lack of an evidence-based treatment and, most significantly, the disbelief – even within families and sometimes the medical profession. This latter can lead to isolation and despair.
Covid-19 has been an unrelenting nightmare for too many people but if we emerge from the experience with a greater openness, compassion and understanding for people living with related “hidden” illnesses such as ME/CFS, that would be a silver lining, a glimmer of hope for the 250,000 people who live with the condition in the UK.
David Oddie, Hilary Doe
Stoke Climsland, Callington
Andrew Rawnsley’s interim report on Keir Starmer’s leadership shows an encouraging start (“The Tories are struggling to find a way to make Keir Starmer look bad”, Comment). Many people I spoke to last December saw the general election as a Morton’s fork: Boris Johnson was simply less undesirable than Jeremy Corbyn, both in personality and manifesto.
What seems surprising is that so many of the electorate still fail to recognise Johnson as a self-centred and shallow bully. Starmer may be accused of being dull and wooden but that seems misplaced – we’re looking to a potential prime minister. The irony is that Johnson could become a leading Labour sponsor in the popularity stakes as the flip-flops that Rawnsley refers to are increasingly perceived as flop-flops.
Hove, East Sussex
The problem that needs to be solved by car manufacturers is not so much the 1,800 deaths that occur on our roads each year, but the 64,000 premature deaths that occur annually from air pollution (“Driving may never be the same again. But what a ride it’s been!”, Focus).
This has been given renewed urgency by the realisation that Covid-19 mortality is closely linked to levels of air pollution. Thus city dwellers are between 40% and 80% more likely to die from Covid-19 than their rural counterparts, an observation that would go a long way to explain the higher mortality among members of the BAME community.
Robin Russell-Jones, scientific adviser, all-party parliamentary group on air pollution