Iceland found that austerity isn’t the only answer | Letters

Riot police guard the Icelandic Parliament house in October 2010 after thousands protested over economic policies. Photograph: NordicPhotos/Getty Images

William Keegan reminds us that austerity was, and is, a policy choice (“We all need a stiff drink to swallow Hammond’s austerity”, Business, last week). It is based on “the Conservative party’s obsession with shrinking the size of the state and minimising the so-called ‘tax burden’ ”, a “burden” that Keegan also wisely reminds us “helps to ensure we have decent hospitals, schools and infrastructure generally”.

This is a deadly obsession that has long passed its sell-by date. Ask a Conservative to defend it and they will reply by asking you if you want to end up like Greece, “a failing state”. The answer to that can be found in Raoul Martinez’s superb new book, Creating Freedom: Power, Control and the Fight for Our Future. He retells the story of Iceland, whose banking collapse was worse than any, but whose people refused to allow its government to accede to the IMF’s austerity demands.

As a result, “by 2015, even the IMF had to admit … [Iceland] had achieved economic recovery ‘without compromising its welfare model’. In fact, it became the first crisis-struck European nation to top its pre-crisis peak of economic output and is close to repaying many of the debts it owed to other nations.” The Icelanders rioted to achieve this. We could do it by electing a party that opposes austerity.
John Airs
Liverpool

The royals’ prerogative?

Will Hutton is probably right in his overall assessment of Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists (“Money for nothing and more days off? Well, a man can dream … ”, The New Review, last week). However, his reasoning against a universal basic income – that it would be impossible to “reconfigure our core hard wiring so we don’t object to anyone anywhere getting a guaranteed income for no better reason than they are alive” – hardly holds water. Has he never heard of royalty?
Steve Edwards
Haywards Heath

Don’t blame the workers

Tom Kibasi is wrong (“Article 50 is upon us, but neither Brexiters nor Remainers grasp the vital changes that Britain needs”, Comment, last week) to blame free movement for Britain’s “low skill, low wage, low productivity economic model”. This is the result of the long arc of neoliberal politics, from Thatcher, Blair and Osborne to Hammond: deregulation, austerity, pay freezes, extreme labour flexibility, poor minimum wage, zero-hours contracts, shackled trade unions, uninhibited corporate greed and lack of state investment in industry and skills.

These are not the necessary consequence of free movement: Germany invests in skills and industry, France regulates its labour market. EU workers account for only a small portion of UK wage-cutting and fill a vital range of skills in health, social care, academia, high tech, agriculture, food processing, transport and hospitality.

Kibasi’s analysis confirms the scapegoating of immigration that led to the Brexit vote, with Labour now sadly joining the Conservatives in opposing free movement. Yet a robust defence of the economic and social benefits of immigration is the only way to stop the looming hard Brexit.
Gideon Ben-Tovim
University of Liverpool

Homeless rough justice

The proposal to house people living on the streets (“MPs consider radical plan for troubled rough sleepers”, News, last week) is commendable. However, prominence is given to Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary, who introduced universal credit – with a punitive sanctioning policy that withholds benefits, even for minor infringements, plus the scrapping of the direct payment of housing benefits. Is he not aware that his policies have created an ongoing, and increasing, problem of homelessness among those who find themselves unable to pay their rent?
Danny Krumbein
Liverpool

Respect for trees and the dead

The Church of England and the mayor of London have given boroughs the go-ahead to cut down woods and trees for inner-city burial. Our cemeteries contain hundreds of hectares of trees. Many are nature reserves. Camberwell Old Cemetery, in East Dulwich, has been dubbed “London’s forgotten Valhallah” and is a Grade I site of borough importance for nature conservation – home to bats, owls and other wildlife. But approval has been granted to clear two acres of woods for burial.

Southwark is felling dozens of trees, including 10 oaks, on historic One Tree Hill in Camberwell New Cemetery. If they can be chainsawed for burial plots, then no tree is safe – in London or elsewhere. Sadiq Khan has pledged to make London a “national park city” and we call on him to protect London’s cemeteries as nature reserves – with respect for the dead and leaving trees and nature for the living.
Blanche Cameron
Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries

A vote for common sense

I’m sick of the squabbling as to whether Scots want another independence referendum. Politicians have vested interests and pollsters are frequently wrong. Let’s settle it once and for all, by holding a referendum to see if Scots want another independence referendum.
John Eoin Douglas
Edinburgh