In 2003 Polly Toynbee published the informative and highly moving book Hard Work. Her research was undertaken during a sabbatical from the Guardian on behalf of Church Action on Poverty, during the heady days of the first New Labour government with a massive majority, when they could have accomplished anything but instead continued much Tory policy. She lived in a council flat and worked at menial, low-wage jobs, much as Barbara Ehrenreich had done before in the US for Nickel and Dimed, which Toynbee says inspired her. I can’t imagine Toynbee’s book had anything other than glowing reviews from the Guardian.
So how it is that when Rory Stewart, clearly an oddball but the most human by a long way of the shower of Tory candidates to replace Theresa May, says he would like to spend a year living on a council estate to see how others live, this is dismissed as evidence of a “colonialist mindset” (Is Stewart just another old Etonian or the man to take No 10?, 1 June)? Not by the Guardian, admittedly – by nameless “others” who may have their own campaign to promote. But the Guardian reports it without comment, and without apparently asking different “others” for their view on the matter.
In fact, it should probably be a requirement for anyone wanting to lead a political party, or at least one that has cut benefits and increased despair, to spend a year seeing how poor people live. The only current drawback is that there are so many Tory leadership candidates that it would contribute even further to the social housing shortage.
• The suggestion in Martin Kettle’s article that Penny Mordaunt could be our next prime minister (Forget Johnson. The Tory leader will come from the centre, 30 May) is a good moment to recall that, along with Boris Johnson, she was one of the most flagrant leave liars in the 2016 plebiscite.
She insisted on the Andrew Marr show that Turkey, with its 79 million population, was about to enter the EU, and under freedom of movement millions of Turks would soon be living and working here (Don’t muzzle immigration debate, minister warns, 23 May 2016).
This is simply untrue, as any number of EU member states have queued up in recent years to say they would veto Turkish EU entry. Andrew Marr pointed out that the UK had a veto on Turkish EU entry. She vehemently denied that this was the case. Later Downing Street put out a statement saying that both her claim of Turkish entry and that the UK had no veto were untrue. But the lie had already gone round the nation.
Most attention has focused on Boris Johnson’s lie that leaving Europe meant £350m a week for the NHS (Johnson summoned to court over allegations of Brexit misconduct, 30 May). But Ms Mordaunt, who was a defence minister at the time, chose to tell a cynical double lie – Turkey entering the EU and no UK veto – to stir up fear and win votes.
As she tours radio and TV studios, maybe some of her interviewers can ask her to apologise for lying to the British people and stoking up xenophobic fears.
Dr Denis MacShane
Former Europe minister
• Why stop at Boris Johnson? Another crowdfunding appeal would surely raise the cash to pursue Michael Gove, who claimed the EU was responsible for the demise of his adoptive father’s fishing business – only for said gentleman to contradict him (A fishy story? Gove’s family firm claims contradicted by his father, 16 June 2016). Or Penny Mordaunt, for her lie about a UK veto on Turkish admission to the EU. So many targets, so little time.
Thornton le Dale, North Yorkshire
• When is the No 10 cat going to declare that it is running for the Conservative party leadership (Race to be PM: Tories ‘need new rules to cut numbers’, 3 June)?
• More to the point, will Michael Gove pledge free EU citizenship for the 16 million remain voters (Citizenship promise, 28 May)?
Lewes, East Sussex