I was a colleague of Philip Larkin for thirty years, from the day he arrived in Hull until he died in 1985. We were friends, although not very close. We never, for instance, ate in each other’s house, partly because my wife did not particularly like him, but more because outside our professional interests in library matters, and excluding traditional jazz and poetry, we had little in common. Until 1956 I was an active member of the Communist Party and since that date I have remained an open and committed socialist within the Marxist tradition. My especial concern for library affairs pre-dated Larkin’s arrival, and it continued throughout the Sixties and Seventies when I was among his most consistent supporters: on the campus in general, and for many years on the University Library Committee.
My closest link with him was through the development of the labour Archive. In the early Sixties, I had taken on the job of editor of a projected Dictionary of Labour Biography, and it was in the course of work on the Dictionary that I began to come across collections of papers of labour and socialist activists, and of their organisations, that needed a home and proper archival attention. At the time the University Library had only a few manuscript collections, and Larkin – whose politics were well-known – was from the beginning warmly supportive of what later, on one occasion when we were lunching together, he described as my ‘subversive’ archive. He was consistently helpful and encouraging. He financed from Library funds visits to view possible acquisitions; he never disputed the fees which sometimes were required, the negotiations for which he left to me; and it was mainly for the Labour Archive that he first engaged Norman Higson on a part-time basis.
One of my main objections to Andrew Motion’s biography (LRB, 25 March) – I have a quite large number of less important criticisms of fact and interpretation – is the misshapen and unbalanced structure of his volume. Larkin was a professional librarian. He spent more of his waking hours for thirty years on Library affairs than on any other work. He took his duties seriously, as Motion shows in the discussion of Larkin’s role in the plans for the extension of the Library; but while Motion can point to this page or that on Larkin’s professional career, the effect is disjointed and incomplete, and he fails to do justice to Larkin’s deep commitment to his professional duties. Over the years Larkin assembled a highly competent staff who almost without exception both liked him and respected him. As did his academic colleagues outside the Library. The record of libraries in British universities in the post-war decades is by no means a story of successful endeavour or of strenuous academic pressure to improve facilities. At the University of Hull Larkin developed a much superior library than was to be found in most institutions of comparable size, and it was a considerable achievement.
‘He was a selfish man much given to showing love and kindness.’ So Motion writes in the Introduction, but apart from the extraordinary efforts Larkin made on behalf of Barbara Pym, there is little evidence of Larkin’s kindness in this biography. Yet there are many examples that could, and should, have been recorded. Motion has allowed himself to be overwhelmed by his discoveries of Larkin’s private life; and much else has been missed. I suppose this is how Eng. Lit. approach their subject these days.
I find the sentiments expressed in the published letters which Thwaite selected deplorable, and I regret the attitude they represented. This is a Larkin I did not know but I cannot say that I was very surprised at what was revealed. The 20th century has been full of revelations of the contradictions and the paradoxes of the public and the private. I never thought Larkin was more than a very interesting minor poet whose work I much enjoyed. The Larkin I knew for thirty years was always polite and courteous, well-informed about the University, sometimes very funny, and consistently committed to the Library. He made a major intellectual contribution to the University of Hull, and I had great respect for him. For the Larkin I knew I do not propose to withdraw that respect.
The University, Hull
Pat Rogers’s reference to the train to Hull (Letters, 22 April) reminds me of an academic colleague who, while a lecturer at Leeds, applied for and was appointed to a post at Aberdeen University. On hearing this, a friend and lecturer at Hull University expressed astonishment. ‘Aberdeen! But it’s so far away from everywhere.’ The reply might have even occurred to Alan Bennett. ‘But it’s not far from Aberdeen.’ Strachur, by the way, is only 55 miles from Glasgow.
And if in a year’s time...
In his analysis of the Budget, with much of which I agree, my friend Professor Godley (LRB, 8 April) says that when private savings and private investment return to normal it will be absolutely essential to increase taxation by whatever amount is necessary to get personal disposable income and consumption back to their normal relationship to GDP; and he goes on to say that the tax increase required to do this ‘is fairly conveyed by the extent to which the share of personal consumption is abnormally high: that is, a sum in the region of £30-40 billion, two or three times as large as what the Chancellor is proposing for the year after next’.
This estimate is most startling. It implies that taxation must be increased by about £1500-£2000 per household. I wonder if in arriving at it he has taken into account the following points: 1. In a recession, retained company profits, and the company investment they finance, are squeezed much more severely than personal income, with the result that the share of personal income in GDP rises in a manner that is reversed automatically in a recovery. 2. In a recession, personal disposable income rises relative to pre-tax personal income as payments of benefits are swollen by the increase in numbers unemployed. This, too, will reverse itself in a recovery. In so far as these two factors have been at work, a tax increase will be needed only to the extent that a return of savings and investment towards normal causes aggregate demand to rise faster than can be met by our capacity to increase output and pay for increased imports – a point which Professor Godley recognises in the first part of his article but seems to forget when, in the second half, he estimates the needed tax increase directly from the increase in the share of personal disposable income and consumption in GDP. After these cyclical effects have been allowed for, there may of course still remain a ‘structural’ budget deficit of some size that will need to be corrected once recovery has reached the feasible limits.
Trinity College, Cambridge
Wynne Godley writes: The effect of the business cycle should have been taken care of by making comparisons between 1992 and 1980-82, two periods of roughly equally severe recession. Between these two periods, personal disposable income (after deduction of direct, indirect and poll taxes to allow for the effects of switches between them) rose by a remarkable six percentage points of GDP – an increase which creates a strong presumption that a substantial rise in taxation or cut in public expenditure will be required at some stage. Having said that, I now think that I may have exaggerated the scale of the fiscal restriction which will be needed and was probably, in any case, wrong to put a figure on it without presenting a great many figures to support the argument.
I cannot here do full justice to the complexity of the issues involved. But there are two relatively simple and important things to be pointed out. First, at the trough of the last recession, the Government was receiving sums in the form of oil taxation and royalties equal to just over 3 percent of GDP. These receipts have dwindled to almost nothing and, other things being equal, will have to be replaced with something else. (Three per cent of GDP is about £15 billion.) Second, there was a rise in social security payments (net of receipts) of about 1 percent of GDP between 1980-82 and 1992 and by a larger amount if comparison is made with years in which unemployment was at more acceptable levels. The extent to which the rise in net social security payments must be considered ‘structural’ depends mainly on the extent to which Britain’s foreign trade performance permits unemployment to fall below current levels. If unemployment has to stay for several years in the region of three million, the social security benefits received by the unemployed will become a ‘structural’ burden that has to be met out of general taxation and this will be magnified because the unemployed do not pay taxes.
The response in your 8 April issue from David Townsend to Andrew O’Hagan’s now rather famous Diary rang bells, as they say, when I noticed that he is Director of Social Services for Croydon. Back in 1960 when, unbelievably, it was possible to move directly from sixth-form studies into supply teaching en route to one’s university course, I was taken on by Croydon Education Authority as a callow 18-year-old and sent to teach the bottom two streams in the first year of Davidson Secondary Modern. D.H. Lawrence had worked at this school: the grim buildings were probably much as he knew them. The experience gave me a very deep conviction that the 11-plus, and streaming in general, were very evil things, since I found bright, interesting children condemned at 11 to the social scrap-heap, often as a result of untimely illnesses or sad home backgrounds. But it also cured me of any disposition to believe that children are essentially innocent creatures whose badnesses can easily be cured by what David Townsend would call ‘constructive’ approaches.
As a child in genteel, prosperous London suburbia I had myself been bullied, and had bullied. Books I read with the full approval of parents and teachers – Richmal Crompton and R.L. Stevenson, for instance – made transgressive behaviour and violent persons seem attractive. ‘O’Hagan’, Mr Townsend complains, ‘offers no explanation’ of similar antisocial behaviour in Scotland. For many thinkers in past times the Christian conception of Original Sin was sufficient explanation for the badness of children in virtually all known social environments. Can we not still agree that children are ‘naturally bad’?
My own Modest Proposal would not, I fear, seem ‘constructive’ to Mr Townsend. I suggest that the foolish legislation of the 1870s which made education compulsory and created Bastilles like Davidson Secondary should now be expunged. The community should provide free schools, as it provides libraries, for citizens who want them, and they should be very generously funded. But it should relieve the unfortunate caste of school-teachers of responsibility for the behaviour of children and their moral and intellectual progress, and face up squarely to the inherent badness of its own young.
Reader in Cultural Studies, Open University, Edinburgh
Fouling the nest
I cannot imagine how Anthony Julius, in his review of my book Modern British Jewry (LRB, 8 April), arrived at his analysis of me as ‘politically conservative’ or as ‘philistine’. Whilst my politics are my own business, I should point out that I am a former trade-union officer and have publicly identified myself with a host of progressive causes, including very active support for the Anti-Nazi League and the Council for Academic Freedom. Nor is Mr Julius any more justified in his suspicion that Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks harbours a doctrine which is ‘exclusionary in its applications’: indeed, Dr Sacks’s latest volume, One People?, is a bold plea for an orthodoxy which is inclusive in both theory and practice. Mr Julius’s assertion that my book ‘has little to say about anti-semitism’ is astonishing: it is a theme that runs through every chapter. I do not scorn the engagement of Jews with socialism, but merely describe it. Mr Julius is entitled to his infatuation with the belief that Anglo-Jewry is safer as a result of the ‘vigilance’ of the Board of Deputies: but he might care to explain why the Board feels it necessary to maintain a surveillance of the activities of fellow Jews.
It is not my fault that Anglo-Jewry does not afford to its artistic achievers and intellectual dissidents (amongst whom I am proud to number myself) the attention and honour that Mr Julius feels appropriate. But he cannot have it both ways: if the Anglo-Jewish community is ‘as the book describes it’, what exactly is the substance of his complaint against me?
Royal Holloway College, Egham, Surrey
Save Clayoquot Sound
The temperate rainforests of the west coast of North America consist of trees that are over two hundred years old. These forests hold the greatest mass of living matter per acre in the world, with numerous species of plants and animals. Because one tree can be worth several thousand dollars as lumber, the entire old-growth forest of this area is being rapidly destroyed by clear-cutting, except where protected by governments. Replanted forest has a much smaller number of species, and supports much less wildlife.
Clayoquot Sound is an area of great natural beauty, about the size of Dorset, adjacent to the Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The provincial NDP Government – nominally social-democratic – has recently given permission for nearly two-thirds of the Sound to be logged. There is strong local opposition to this act of ecological vandalism, but international help is needed; especially from countries like Britain that are large consumers of BC forest products. LRB readers could help in the following ways: 1. Support local defenders of Clayoquot: one non-violent, internationally oriented group is the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, 20 Water St, Vancouver BC, V6B 1A4. Fax 604 683 8229. 2. Send protests to Premier Michael Harcourt, Legislative Buildings, Victoria BC, V8V 1X4; or to the British Columbia Government office in London. 3. Boycott British Columbia lumber until the Clayoquot decision is reversed.