Mary the Same

February 13, 2015

13 Febuary 2015 Mary the same

Mary still in hospital not much change.

Obituary:

Zhelyu Zhelev, president of Bulgaria from 1990 to 1997

Zhelyu Zhelev, president of Bulgaria from 1990 to 1997 Photo: PHOTOSHOT

Zhelyu Zhelev, who has died aged 79, was a former anti-communist dissident who became the first democratically elected president of Bulgaria and led his country from 1990 to 1997.

Zhelev’s legitimacy stemmed from the fact that he was one of a tiny handful of Bulgarian intellectuals who had struggled for the democratisation of Bulgarian politics since the 1970s. Described by a colleague as “a good-natured man with good intentions”, during his time as president he pushed forward brave but extremely painful economic reforms and helped lay the groundwork for Bulgaria’s entry into Nato (in 2004) and the EU (in 2007).

However, his efforts to influence the policy agendas of various governments in the 1990s led him into conflict with ministers, and in 1996 he was ousted as his party’s candidate for the presidential elections of the following year.

Zhelyu Mitev Zhelev was born on March 3 1935 at Veselinovo, a small village in north-east Bulgaria. He studied Philosophy at Sofia University and later took a PhD. But he dared to criticise Lenin in his doctoral dissertation, and although he got his degree he was expelled from the Communist Party. His confrontation with the state came to a head in 1982 when he wrote a celebrated book called Fascism, which equated communism with Nazism. The book was first published, then withdrawn and banned, though it became an underground bestseller. Zhelev was banished to his wife’s village in the provinces, where he worked as a farmer and a teacher.

His uncompromising stand made him the undisputed leader of the small Bulgarian dissident movement in the 1980s; and in 1989, after the fall of Bulgaria’s dictator Todor Zhivkov, he became head of the newly formed Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), a union of 16 different organisations opposed to the communist government. In the first democratic general election, in June 1990, he won a seat in a Grand National Assembly to draft a new constitution, and in August the Assembly elected him president of Bulgaria by a two-thirds majority.

In the early 1990s Zhelev was widely seen as the man behind shock-therapy market reforms which caused a fall in production of 36 per cent, price rises of 500 per cent and an increase in unemployment from 27,000 to 420,000 – in just two years. Yet in January 1992 he became the first Bulgarian head of state to be elected directly by the Bulgarian people.

Ironically, Zhelev seemed to get on much better with politicians of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP, the former communists) than with his colleagues in the UDF. A UDF administration led by Phjilip Dmitrov was elected in 1991, but collapsed the following year after a series of events culminating in an attack by Zhelev on the government for its insensitive handling of reforms. The attack contributed to a loss in support which led to the government’s defeat in a confidence vote, in which representatives of the country’s Turkish minority and a number of UDF defectors voted with the BSP.

The UDF was replaced with an administration of Zhelev’s nominees, led by his economic adviser Lyuben Berov, including many members of the BSP, which returned to office following a general election in 1994. For many in the UDF, Zhelev’s role in the demise of their administration represented a betrayal of the popular will. Party activists picketed his offices in Sofia’s central square and, in a bizarre reversal, his book Fascism was ritually burned by his former supporters.

Zhelev’s later years in office were marked by attempts by Russia to wean Bulgaria, a country which for years counted as Moscow’s most loyal ally in communist Eastern Europe, away from the EU and Nato and back into the Russian fold.

In 1996 Zhelev rebuffed an offer from the Russian President Boris Yeltsin to include Bulgaria in an economic integration agreement signed by four ex-Soviet republics and attacked the BSP prime minister, Zhan Videnov, who was suspected of having invited the offer during a visit to Moscow.

During his time as president, Zhelev refused to move into the presidential palace and donated a third of his salary to charity. He had hoped to win a second mandate, but lost internal UDF elections for the presidential nomination to his eventual successor, Petar Stoyanov.

After he left the presidency, Zhelev founded the Balkan Political Club, an informal grouping of former heads of state who discuss strategies for the development of the region.

Zhelev and his wife, Maria, had a daughter.

Zhelyu Zhelev, born March 3 1935, died January 30 2015

Guardian:

Writer Anthony Trollope
Anthony Trollope wrote: ‘If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful.’ Photograph: Hulton-Deutsc

Will Hutton’s brave and visionary ideas for reforming British capitalism should be condensed into a terse popular narrative and incorporated into a widely disseminated pre-election “manifesto” (British capitalism is broken. Here’s how to fix it, 11 February). As he says: “The current national conversation is hardly conducive to these ideas”. What about crowd-funded one-page presentations in the national press and social media? It would surely be signed by a long list of respected national figures – not only economists.

The distorted economic imperative of short-term public-sector deficit reduction, bought into by the three main parties, has imposed such a straitjacket of negativity around the national conversation that ideas such as raising research and development investment to £16bn and a new Companies Act to turn companies into long-term value creators, rather than rent extractors, now sound like seditious thought crimes. People need to understand there is an alternative to the downward spiral of short-term public spending cuts and the “balancing the books” mantra. Once they realise that an investment-led strategy, implementing some of Will’s ideas using low-interest public-borrowing and fair tax-raising, could work – as advocated even by some in the IMF – then they may begin to lift their eyes to the hills.
Andrew Broadbent
London

What has been missing in the many analyses of the current economic, social and political mess is any real attempt at a comprehensive solution. Will Hutton has produced a comprehensive and believable attempt to pull all the threads together. But there are gaps.

He talks about the future of businesses based on a new Companies Act, but it’s not clear how this would address the problems presented by 40% of shares in major UK companies (including utilities) being foreign owned. His picture of innovative, creative research-based companies of the future says nothing about where we are to find the people to lead and manage them; the mediocre, short-termist, self-enriching people at the top now hardly seem likely to metamorphose into such leaders. In what is becoming a low-skills, low-wage economy, where are the people who will work in the engine rooms of these new enterprises?

None of this is to pour cold water on the vision; it is simply to point out that the transition will take time to bring about. But it seems to me that Will’s approach, if taken up by our politicians (who but the Labour party in present circumstances?) and sold effectively, could get the voters out of their seats and into the polling stations.But does Labour, or any other party, have the guts to take on the vested interests that will be ranged against them? Let’s hope so for all our sakes.
Alan Healey
Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire

A total revolution in company legislation is seriously overdue and Will Hutton seemed to cover most of what is needed. But the audit process also needs a revolution. Auditors have failed to identify boardroom wrongdoing from the time of Robert Maxwell through to the banking scandals, and seem to aid tax evasion rather than ensuring companies pay what they should. Auditors should be appointed by and report to a financial regulation authority and be accountable for a company’s legal and fiscal rectitude.
Anna Hodgetts
Burgess Hill, West Sussex

Will Hutton’s assertion that the state has initiated most significant technological developments during the past 500 years undermines his otherwise excellent manifesto. Only in wartime has the British state indulged the ill-disciplined mavericks ultimately responsible for innovation. As for the role of the guilds in medieval life, the modern wealth-creating economy didn’t emerge until the guilds’ collapse. I also suspect that the production line at Jaguar Land Rover welcomes the company’s foreign ownership, as do the owners of their cars.
Michael Heaton
Warminster, Wiltshire

If only we could get Labour or the Lib Dems to at least read Will Hutton’s article. But they both seem frightened to abandon the failed neoliberal ways that have held sway since the mid-1970s. For example, both support the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between Europe and the US. If signed, this agreement would enshrine in law the worst excesses of neoliberalism and potentially hand over control of our services, private and public, to multinational companies. Thank goodness people in Germany and Holland are sufficiently aware to be campaigning against it and so it is unlikely to be signed this year.
Michael McLoughlin
London

In the 1870s, Anthony Trollope commented on his novel The Way We Live Now, which concerned a banking scandal: “… there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel.”

I’ve lived through a time when that risk seemed to have receded, and it is tragic to see it returning so egregiously in these days of unfettered capitalism. Are any of our politicians capable of tackling the nexus of money, corruption and influence that is so carefully wrecking our environment and debasing our civilisation?
Bob Langton
Bristol

It is shameful that cross-party thinktank Demos supports the idea of food banks converting themselves into community shop-type operations (Could supermarkets for poor people tackle the UK’s chronic food poverty? 11 February). What an indictment of our society, where in the sixth richest country in the world, giving poor people “the chance to be consumers” by selling them food otherwise destined “to go to landfill” is viewed as worthy. Presumably “low income customers” only deserve the surplus no-one else wants?

It is to be expected that the right-wing, would-be Tory leader, and Churchill sychophant, Boris Johnson, and his “food policy adviser”, Rosie Boycott, “are understood to be fans” of the idea, but far more sensible “practical solutions” would be to increase the minimum wage so low-paid workers could survive without relying on benefits, for exorbitant rents to be reduced, and for the survival of the welfare state to be given top priority above tax reductions for the rich and such things as Trident renewal. At least Jack Monroe (These stores are no good if you don`t have any money), in the same edition, is not fooled, and sees that campaigns for all to be paid the living wage are much worthier of our support.
Bernie Evans
Liverpool

Ian Birrell lumps together capitalists, risk-takers and wealth creators (I warned the Tories to shun tax dodgers. They wouldn’t listen, 10 February), which I would question. Certainly some capitalism involves risk, but it’s the equation with wealth creation that is most pervasive and never seems to be questioned. The Dysons of this world do create, but they are the exceptions. Most capitalism is involved in the provision of services – in effect, taking in each other’s washing. I doubt, for example, that HSBC ever created much, although in its proper function it might have provided a facilitating support service. Nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t wealth creation, which has to mean much more than simply appropriating money.
David Martin
Glasgow

Police using Taser
Police officer using a Taser. Offering all frontline uniformed officers Tasers ‘would give up our civil liberties in exchange for the idea of temporary safety,’ writes Jenny Jones. Photograph: Jason Bye/Rex Features

The Police Federation’s vote for all frontline uniformed officers to be offered Tasers in response to the threat of terrorism is understandable but wrong (Report, 10 February). It seems that Taser is often the answer regardless of the question. First we were told it would be used as an alternative to firearms, then that Tasers would only be used by specialist units, then it was rolled out to response units, and for the past few years there have been calls to arm all officers. Before its abolition, the Metropolitan police authority, of which I was a member, put real restraints on the use of Tasers because it recognised the danger of every officer being armed in that way.

I do not underestimate the threat posed by terrorism, or the anxiety felt by police officers. However, we should not throw away our unarmed police service – which is the envy of the world – because of the threat of terrorism. To do so would give up our civil liberties in exchange for the idea of temporary safety – and once the threat level is reduced I am not convinced the police would return their weapons. I hope the mayor of London recognises that the call to arm all frontline officers with Tasers is wrong.
Jenny Jones AM
Green party group, London assembly

David Oyelowo
David Oyelowo has called for black history to be taught in UK schools. Photograph: Richard Saker

As a young man in the 1960s, I lived for a few years in Trinidad (UK children should be taught black history, says Oyelowo, 10 February), finding a country almost split in two on racial lines: the descendants of slaves the British had brought from Africa, and the indentured labourers we forcibly brought out of India after slavery was abolished. This first-hand experience of what we British had done told me more than I had ever learned in any history lessons. This has stayed with me ever since, and I recall coming back to the UK to Enoch Powell’s racist bilge, which made me hate him even more, especially after seeing full-page advertisements in local papers in Trinidad, placed by the NHS and recruiting staff while he was health minister.

I don’t know what kids have been taught in the decades since then, but ignorance of how most immigrants came to be here is rife, suggesting that the topic has barely been addressed by the educational establishment. Our children should be told that most of the “greatness” of Britain came by exploitation of other people, directly as in slavery, indirectly by indentured labour and, of course, through our strong colonial presence in much of the world from Africa to Burma and beyond. We should be teaching our children this, if only to stop the sub-racist bilge that passes for policy in many parts of the political world, and not just Ukip.
David Reed
London

I remember as an inspector sitting in a classroom in a comprehensive, when the history teacher introduced the GCSE syllabus to a class of 13-year-olds. He had thoughtfully given each pupil a copy of what to expect if they were to choose history as one of their subjects in year 10. A black girl got up and asked: “Will there be outs?” The teacher was momentarily puzzled. “You know, sir, will we be going out? You can’t do history unless we go out.” The teacher confirmed her point to which she said: “Then I will do history.”

Then he asked them to look at the list of optional topics and explained how they could choose one for their coursework. Again the black girl got up and said: “My ancestors were slaves. I want to do a study of slavery, but it is not on the list.” The history teacher had to admit that she could not introduce a topic of her own choice. “Then I won’t do history,” she said, and sat down allowing the piece of paper to flutter across the classroom. I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I reflected that if we could not accommodate an interested pupil’s request, at least as part of coursework, then there would not be much hope for achieving the commitment and integration of black communities; nor extending the teaching of black history.
Simon Clements
Sheffield

L'Ormindo at London's Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Real candles created real problems for audiences at London’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Above, L’Ormindo, February 2015. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Groundlings at the mercy of hot wax and bad backs (Authentic Globe experience, 7 February)? Audiences at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse should be grateful for relatively limited authenticity. Back in the day, they had to brave more than warm liquid running down their legs. The preamble to an act of 1574 warned that “sundry slaughters and mayhemings of the Queen’s subjects have happened by ruins of scaffolds, frames and stages and by engines, weapons and gunpowder used in plays”. One of the Admiral’s Men discharged a musket on stage [in 1587], killing a child and a pregnant woman, and inflicting a head wound on another playgoer. Not to mention the magistrate’s son stabbed to death at the Fortune theatre [1613], or the collapse of the puppet theatre in St John’s Street, which left 30-40 injured, with five dead, including two reputably “good handsome whores”. Not the sort of experiences ameliorated by a dry-cleaning voucher.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

Independent:

 

Times:

Sir, I completely agree with Alice Thomson that our political parties should be publicly funded to free them from the distraction of constant fundraising and the perception that they are dangerously indebted to generous donors, be they unions or big business (“Clean politics costs less than a packet of crisps”, Opinion, Feb 11).

An election tax on the 30 million UK taxpayers would cost about £1 each every five years, which would hardly be onerous. It would be better, though, to have an election tax on a sliding scale, whereby top-rate tax payers contribute the most. As such an election tax would be compulsory, there could be no suggestion of political influence attached to it.
Martin Goodhew

Taverham, Norfolk

Sir, Most voters are hostile to public funding of political parties and many suggested schemes typically link funding to seats held, favouring the major parties and the status quo.

We need a simple solution that is fair to all, does not favour the powerful or the rich and doesn’t marginalise small and new political parties. The answer is to make donations, gifts, loans, contributions in kind and all other ruses illegal, whatever the source and whatever their nature. No more political levies or big business donations, no more personal donations, no benefits in kind. Instead we should make membership subscriptions the only legal source of income.

To achieve a level playing field membership contributions should be limited to, say, £50 a year. In addition, we could link the number of party political broadcasts to the level of the validated membership.
Martin Hughes

Shudy Camps, Cambs

Sir, I understand the logic of Alice Thomson’s argument that political parties should be publicly funded but, notwithstanding the relatively small amount of money involved, it would nevertheless stick in my craw were I to be forced to financially support a party whose policies I abhor and which I consider would do great damage to this country if they were put into effect.
Anthony Hawkins

Hook, Hants

Sir, I am prepared to commit my vote to whichever party will repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. If ever anything was designed to switch people of all ages off politics, it is the ridiculously extended election campaign that we are currently being subjected to.

The alternative would be a fixed election in September, thus shortening the length of the campaign (as August will remain a barren political time) — and hopefully abolishing the nonsense of the modern party conference.
Richard Bailey

Ryde, Isle of Wight

Sir, We fail to understand why the health secretary has said nothing about the role of medical examiners in his statement on implementing the recommendations of the Francis report (“Hunt to protect NHS whistleblowers”, Feb 12).

The report backed the introduction of independent medical examiners to scrutinise all deaths not referred to a coroner. Medical examiners would work closely with families to answer questions and address their concerns about the death of a loved one. The report also suggested that guidance should be provided for hospital staff encouraging them to raise their concerns with the medical examiner.

If an independent medical examiner had been in post, we think that cases of poor care and neglect at Mid Staffordshire would have been spotted earlier, avoiding the needless suffering of hundreds of patients.

Medical examiners were proposed in the 2009 Coroner and Justice Act, and pilot schemes have demonstrated improved patient care, reduced harm and financial savings, particularly by reducing the number of litigation cases. If we really want to improve patient safety, this valuable medical role should be introduced without delay.
Dr Suzy Lishman

President, Royal College of Pathologists

Sir, Teacher absence due to illness (Thunderer, Feb 10, and letter, Feb 11) is made much worse by parents who send their children to school with coughs, colds and tummy bugs. Even adults with a robust constitution would find it difficult to cope with the constant bombardment of germs and viruses teachers face in teaching the early years and primary phase.

The government, with its focus on targets for attendance, and parents and employers, with their focus on monetary gain, all share the blame for poorly children spreading illness far and wide in our schools.
Sandra Noakes

Handbridge, Chester

Sir, I note that Prince Andrew has been appointed vice-admiral, “the rank the duke would have reached had he stayed in the Royal Navy” — a service that he left in 2001 (report, Feb 12).

I left the Army in 1957 with the rank of bombardier. It seems that the letter informing me that I am now a field marshal has been lost in the post.

Trevor Osbourn

Saffron Walden, Essex

Sir, When three cars arrive simultaneously at a mini roundabout their drivers are supposed to wait for the car on their right to move first. This circular deadlock is only broken when one driver takes the initiative and drives on. Which of three driverless cars (letters, Feb 10 & 11) will be programmed to take the initiative? Will they all just sit there for ever? Or, after some shared electronic signal, perhaps they will all move together — in which case who will be responsible for the multiple collision?

Richard Clayton

Salisbury

Sir, You report (Feb 10) that the Rev James Stevenson evicted a yoga class from his church without even bothering to observe a session. As church attendance declines, parochial church councils all over Britain are working flat out to install modern facilities in their churches to enable greater use by local communities. For example, All Saints in Darsham, Suffolk, has hugely increased its footfall and its outreach by holding weekly teas for the elderly, and by allowing the church to be used for meetings, concerts and exhibitions.

Unless our churches are more widely used, they will close, and this extraordinary heritage will be lost.

Dr Ruth Whittaker

Westleton, Suffolk

Sir, David Chater’s claim (Viewing Guide, Feb 11) that “there is plenty of evidence” that [Thomas] More’s treatment of Protestants was “a betrayal of his humanist principles” depends who is reading the evidence.

In the royal campaign against heresy in England, More worked closely with other humanists, notably Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of London. Rumours that he tortured suspects are dramatised in Wolf Hall. But More, who died rather than swear a false oath, indignantly insisted that no one in his custody had suffered “so much as a flip on the forehead”. By contrast, Cromwell’s role in the starvation and disembowelling of blameless Carthusian monks for refusing to recognise Henry as head of the Church is undeniable.

More’s humanist writings deployed humour and rational debate to reform Christendom, and promote its peace. He never abandoned those ideals, but saw Luther’s new gospel as an irrational force plunging Europe into religious war and wrecking the humanist project. There was less room for laughter or debate once the divorce issue reversed Henry’s religious allegiances. But it was More’s world, not his mind, that had changed.

Eamon Duffy

Emeritus professor of the history of Christianity, Magdalene College, Cambridge

Sir, You report that “Britain leads Europe on sending rapists to jail” (Feb 12), with 5,408 prisoners serving sentences for rape in England and Wales in 2013. What is truly startling is that this number, despite appearing large in comparison to our neighbours, is only a tiny fraction of the number of rapists in our midst. There were 24,043 rapes recorded by the police in the year to September 2014, and the Office for National Statistics estimated that 85,000 women were victims of rape or sexual assault by penetration in 2012.

If all rapists were actually caught and convicted, our prison population would mushroom overnight.

John Slinger

Rugby, Warks

Telegraph:

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, right, is greeted by George Osborne in London

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, right, is greeted by George Osborne in London Photo: Andy Rain/EPA

SIR – In his article about preparing for the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone and the turmoil that would ensue, Matthew Lynn writes that Britain should be ready to help by providing Greece with hard currency to pay for oil and medicines (“What we should do in the event of a Grexit”).

At a time when our foreign aid budget is criticised for helping to prop up corrupt and repressive Third-World regimes, and British civil servants appear eager to disburse the cash without due scrutiny of the recipients, why not resolve two pressing problems simultaneously by using part of our foreign aid to alleviate Greece’s current appalling economic and social misery without waiting for the final collapse?

Treasury officials will haver; the British Government should not. Let us help our Greek friends now, before, in human terms it is too late.

Peter Rodford
Pershore, Worcestershire

SIR – I think I am beginning to understand game theory. Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, was not really interested in gaining British support.

I know this because he did not mention the Elgin marbles.

Oscar Ackerman
Cowbridge, Glamorgan

SIR – Given Germany’s intransigence over Greek debt, Vladimir Putin’s attempt to rebuild – at least in part – the former Soviet Union, and the new Greek government’s pro-Russian attitude, is it not likely that we could see Russia bailing out Greece in return for Athens leaving Nato and providing bases in the Mediterranean for the Russian navy?

James Dunbar
Isle of Portland, Dorset

SIR – The European Union is showing its true colours. Germany is doing what it knows best: unilateral control.

Greece, too, is acting in its traditional way (“Greece seeks war reparations from Germany”).

The EU’s problem is fundamental. All nations in it are culturally different and, although they share a humanitarian outlook, they go about achieving their objectives differently.

When we get to a position where fundamental disparity exists and cultures inherently polarise, the EU generates major problems. In the past, similar problems have created conflict, the likelihood of which the EU is supposed to have diminished.

Peter Ferguson
Poole, Dorset

SIR – Cleaning my shoes on an old copy of the Telegraph – dated Tuesday January 1 2002 – I see that a front-page headline reads: “Few regrets as Athenians ditch

age-old drachma.”

What thoughts now?

Keith Young
Woking, Surrey

Cancer in the young

SIR – You report that two in three people will develop cancer in their lifetime. Professor Peter Sasieni, the author of the study that the report is based on, explained that: “Cancer is primarily a disease of old age, with more than 60 per cent of all cases diagnosed in people aged over 65. If people live long enough then most will get cancer at some point.”

While this is true for the majority of cancers, we have continually found in our analysis that it is not the case for brain tumours. I worry that reports like this one help people forget the urgent need for more research into new treatments for cancers that disproportionately affect children. Fifty-two per cent of brain tumour patients are under 65. Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet just 1 per cent of the national budget for cancer research is allocated to this disease.

Our understanding of the biology of the tumour has to be advanced soon if we are to make a meaningful attempt at reaching the survival rates of other cancers – rates that have doubled in the past 40 years.

Sue Farrington Smith
Chief Executive, Brain Tumour Research
Padbury, Buckinghamshire

Taxing times

SIR – As anyone who has ever been involved in the banking industry knows, there is a legal difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance.

Every private bank competes for clients’ funds with each tool in the box; they’re all doing the same as HSBC.

The issue of taxation has become an electoral ploy, designed to attract voters who feel somehow hard done by. Perhaps these voters, now rubbing their hands with glee at the HSBC exposure, might pause to consider that private bank clients who avoided tax spent their ill-gotten gains at the voters’ shops, invested in businesses that employ the voters, and purchased services that paid the voters’ wages.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Denston, Suffolk

SIR – My husband and I have banked with HSBC for more than 20 years, 10 of which were spent living and working in Asia, when we had a legitimate overseas bank account.

Not once were we offered personal tax-avoidance advice. I feel unloved.

Jessica Jennings-Mares
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Driverless car technology can improve safety now

SIR – Some of the technology used in driverless cars is now being fitted in more expensive models produced by Volkswagen, Volvo and others.

These devices prevent low-speed collisions and inform the driver of obstacles during low-speed manoeuvres. This technology will improve road safety, so the Government should be encouraging car manufacturers to introduce more of these features and also spread their introduction to cars at the cheaper end of their ranges. Insurance companies should reflect the accident-prevention advantages in their premiums.

Driverless cars may still be 10 years away but there is good reason to encourage the introduction of the road safety aspects of the technology at a much earlier date.

Peter Amey
Hoveton, Norfolk

SIR – When driverless cars are introduced, both motor and personal insurance products will have to evolve dramatically. An improvement in road safety will affect third-party insurance premiums.

However, it is estimated that the starting price for the driverless car could be as much as £170,000 and replacing parts or making repairs will be extremely expensive. Specifically designed software will be required to analyse the causes of any crashes that occur. This expensive technology will inflate premiums and increase the demand for comprehensive policies.

Now is the time for the insurance industry to think about the impact of the introduction of driverless cars.

Tim Ryan
Executive Chairman, UNA Alliance Ltd
Ipswich, Suffolk

Dutch turn to national flower in desperate times

Dig for victory: picking free tulips in front of the Royal Palace on Dutch National Tulip Day (Getty)

SIR – As a group of 16-year-old schoolboys visiting Delft in the Netherlands in 1947, we were informed, with much regret, by our Dutch hosts that they could not take us to visit the extensive bulb fields surrounding that area, since there were no flowers to be seen there.

An original book in my possession, Rotterdam 1940-1946, devotes six pages to photographs showing the lengths these people had to go to in order to survive Nazi occupation. At the end of the Second World War, food was so scarce that the Dutch were making soup from any available material.

This included almost all their stocks of dormant tulip bulbs, which were peeled, chopped and placed in the vast vats at the Heineken brewery in order to produce tulip soup. It was reported that the tulip bulbs caused sickness and even death in some who ate them.

In 1945, Allied aircraft dropped thousands of tons of supplies across the western Netherlands. It was too late for some.

Peter Collett
Tangmere, West Sussex

Lessons out of doors

SIR – As a retired teacher, I share your concern over the teacher drawing the blinds to prevent children seeing snow.

As part of careers and geography lessons I used to organise trips to local businesses and the coast, to give children first-hand experience of the workplace, commerce, and physical geography.

However, in my final years of teaching I encountered an increasing reluctance to allow children out of school, on the grounds that it took them away from the “educational environment” of the classroom.

Schools need to recognise that they are preparing children for the world beyond the school gate. This obsession with classroom learning promotes mere schooling at the expense of real education.

Martin Offer
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Pink stinks

SIR – On seeing the Labour women’s bus on BBC Breakfast yesterday morning, my wife said that she did find the pink colour a little patronising.

But what she really objected to was the fact that they could only muster a 16-seat minibus in order to appeal to half of the electorate.

Stuart Wilcox
Stanstead Abbotts, Hertfordshire

Tactical idiocy

SIR – I once worked for a large corporation with six divisions, each with its own chief executive. One of my tasks was to prepare and order the printing of booklets which went out to each retail outlet. Before printing, the booklets had to be proof-read by each chief executive, who all invariably made changes. The booklet had to be re-typeset to incorporate the changes and proof-read again, and so on.

I quickly worked out that if I made a couple of spelling errors and put in some bad punctuation, the chief executives would correct my “silly” mistakes and leave the substance of the booklet alone. This ruse shortened approval times, though I hate to think what was said in the executive dining room about “that idiot in purchasing”.

Justin Smith
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Musical intrusion

(BBC/Company Productions)

SIR – Why go to the trouble of shooting Wolf Hall using tallow candles for the sake of authenticity only to have Thomas Cromwell walk out of Cardinal Wolsey’s bedroom accompanied by a haunting solo flute? This is just one example of background music that adds nothing to the viewers’ appreciation of the drama. This excellent series has absolutely no need of such intrusions to create mood – the actions speak for themselves.

John Richardson
Liverpool

SIR – In the episode of Wolf Hall that I watched it was James Bainham who was imprisoned in the Tower of London then burnt at the stake, not William Tyndale.

Jacqueline Marshall
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Lonely hearts

SIR – Every time Valentine’s Day comes round, I am reminded of a letter sent to me many years ago by my French pen friend.

She told me that her sister had got engaged, and that the engagement ring was “a lonely diamond”.

Catriona Picken
London SE17

 

 

Globe and Mail:

Rich Country, Poor Nations

Bob Rae: Self-government will require real leadership on all sides

Bob Rae is former premier of Ontario and a former Member of Parliament. Mr Rae is a partner at Olthuis Kleer Townshend, a law firm that acts for First Nations across Canada, and teaches at the University of Toronto School of Public Policy and Governance.

The famous American commentator Walter Lippmann once summed up public opinion as “the pictures in our heads.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave us all some insight into the picture in his head when he made his famous comment that “Canada has no history of colonialism”. What he might have been thinking was that Canadian troops didn’t fight overseas in various wars to conquer foreign territory. But what he was forgetting is that Canada itself is the product of colonialism. That is what an important part of our history is, remnants of empire fighting over land that had been occupied for thousands of years by indigenous people. For many Canadians that is what our present is as well.

A year from now there will be a march from Paris to Rome. The marchers will be indigenous people from the Americas. They will be going to Rome to ask the Pope to repudiate the Papal Bulls that blessed the “civilizing missions” that justified the extermination of indigenous people, their civilizations, cultures, and governments. Let’s hope the Holy Father is listening.

This is the nightmare of violence and repression from which all First Nations are seeking to awaken. The remnants of this colonialism are more than just memories. They are memorialized in the Indian Act, the residential schools, the provincial legislation that assumes aboriginal people, their governments, and their jurisdiction don’t exist, that denies to this very day concepts of shared sovereignty and aboriginal self-government.

In words that haunt today, Ian Scott, then Ontario’s Attorney General, spoke these words in 1986. He was asking how Ontarians in a quarter century might look back on a period of accomplishment and reconciliation:

“The important thing, and one of the ways we will be judged, is how we deal with the three critical issues on the agenda for native people.

The first is the entrenchment of aboriginal self-government in our Constitution, a matter that must be resolved next year.

The second is the introduction of self-government systems to the native people, in the bands on the reserve and off the reserve, in a way that meets their needs, a terribly difficult talk which has already begun under this government with the Nishnawbe-Aski nation negotiations.

The third thing is developing a way to bring the public services to which all Ontario people are entitled because they are Ontarians to the native people, wherever they may live, in a delivery method that is satisfactory to their needs and that responds to their concerns.”

Looking at ourselves in the mirror, none of these three things has happened. What has taken place is different – in the absence of political progress, First Nations have turned to the courts, who have responded by asserting aboriginal title and calling on governments to negotiate. Laboriously, painfully, and at the continuing price of “extinguishment” as Hayden King pointed out a few days ago, there have been some negotiations in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, B.C., and in the Territories producing negotiations that are the subject of current litigation. At the same time, from Ontario to Alberta, the old treaties have been used as a cover for inaction. First Nations lack the means, the land, the revenue, the capacity, to govern themselves. It is more than a sad commentary. It is a national disgrace.

We’re about to hear from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and that will shock Canadians with its description of the profound racism that is deeply imbedded in our past and, sad to say, our present. There will be a call to action. Who will respond? Provincial and federal leaders need to come to grips with this, our most compelling national issue. The lack of education, health, housing, are all symptoms of a deeper problem: powerlessness. We need to put power, responsibility and accountability in post-colonial governments. The federal and provincial institutions of modern colonialism have to be removed from the backs of people whose rights have never received the political recognition they need and deserve.

It will require real leadership on all sides to get there, a leadership that will take historical understanding, legal opinion, and moral outrage and turn them into a political agenda worthy of the name. We cheer Mandela and we weep while watching Selma. Cheers and tears are not enough. It’s past time we created a modern, workable agenda that admits what we’ve tried before has failed. The picture in the heads of most Canadians is a reflection in a rear view mirror. It’s time our leaders stopped counting heads, and started trying to turn them.

 

BURNEY AND HAMPSON

Ukraine ceasefire sends Putin a clear message of appeasement

Irish Times:

A chara, – Bruce Arnold, in arguing against the same-sex marriage referendum (“Should Irish voters pass the same-sex marriage referendum?”, Opinion & Analysis, February 12th) says that “marriage needs the procreative element to grow and enrich human beings within nature”. I assume then that Mr Arnold would disallow people who are infertile from marrying. And what about people who do not want to have children? Should they should not be allowed to marry either? – Yours, etc,

PADRAIG BROCK,

Ballinasloe,

Co Galway.

Sir, – Bruce Arnold confuses “marriage” with “fecundity”. That they are not the same thing is evident from the number of people born out of wedlock.– Yours, etc,

IAN DEVLIN,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – Your main editorial “The meaning of marriage” (February 9th) attempted to promote the Yes side of the same-sex marriage debate by severing the ties between marriage and the raising of children. However, in so doing you raise a much larger question as to why the State should regulate marriage at all.

You claim that marriage is no longer about the formation of families and has already been redefined, or reduced, to the point where “it is now about adults making a public statement of their commitment to each other”. If that is indeed so, then we must ask why such a commitment should need to be endorsed by, or regulated by, the State. After all, what business is it of the State when two consenting adults wish to go public with their romantic commitment to each other?

We can all make public statements about all kinds of things without governmental regulation or interference. So why should the State presume to legislate as to which adults are allowed, or are not allowed, to make public statements of commitment to each other?

True, the State has an interest in regulating matters of inheritance and taxation – but these could be more easily dealt with through implementing the existing mechanism of civil partnerships in a way that treats everyone equally irrespective of sexual orientation. If we are to accept your redefinition of marriage as simply a public statement of commitment, then the obvious conclusion is that marriage equality would be best served by the State getting out of the marriage business altogether. Then all sections of society, both religious community groups, and non-religious community groups (including the LGBT community), would be equally served by having have the freedom to make their public commitments in whatever ways they see fit. – Yours, etc,

NICK PARK,

Executive Director,

Evangelical Alliance Ireland,

22-24 Foley Street, Dublin 1.

Sir, – I was delighted to read Prof Sheila Green’s letter (February 7th) stating that the American Psychological Association had given its reassuring support for the suitability of lesbian and gay couples to become adoptive parents.

This would be the same organisation that supported the psychologists who took part in the CIA’s interrogation procedures (sleep deprivation, water boarding, etc) at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere.

As James Risen, a journalist with the New York Times has written in his book Pay Any Price, “the American Psychological Association worked assiduously to protect the psychologists who did get involved in the torture program”.

I would suggest that Prof Greene look elsewhere to find more credible support for the position that “parental sexual orientation does not influence parenting effectiveness”. – Yours, etc,

Dr CHRISTOPHER

GREENHALGH,

Bearsden,

Glasgow.

Sir, – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, speaking at a colloquium at the Vatican on the complementarity of man and woman, said: “Almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from responsibility for their care”. – Yours, etc,

SYLVIA KENNEDY,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – The State recognises traditional marriages (ie between heterosexuals) and values them because they contribute to the stability of society and produce the next generation of citizens. In the interests of equality, the Stage will, if the people consent, recognise same-sex marriages and value them for the first of these reasons, but the second reason doesn’t exist.

So, to approach equality even more closely, married homosexuals will be given the same right to adopt children as married heterosexuals.

At the same time, however, adoption rights are to be extended to unmarried couples. Doesn’t that devalue marriage? There will be perfect equality (in all but the reproductive capacity) between both kinds of marriage, but if you want kids you may as well stay single! – Yours, etc.,

MICHAEL DRURY,

Avenue Louise,

Brussels.

Sir, – Clearly, in the wider setting of the present debate on marriage equality irrespective of a person’s sex, there are two distinct cultures; one values traditional beliefs based on the heterosexual nature of marriage being ordained by God; the other culture advances secular ideals, much of which flow from humanism and modern atheism, which deny ethical and moral absolutes and desire all human society, either to recognise, or to follow their own arbitrary goals.

It is against this backdrop that we see a growing secularism pressing for a parity of esteem and social recognition of same-sex “marriage” as a right, when no such right exists and is therefore not ours to give. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL AUSTIN,

Gorey,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – Further to your recent article on homeless policy (February 12th), working at the coalface of homelessness since 1973, I have never met in that time a minister or politician who has given such commitment to addressing homelessness as Alan Kelly. Homelessness is a hugely complex issue and the impression should never have been given that it would be solved, first in 2010 with the goal posts shifting every few years since.

For those losing their homes for many reasons it is extremely difficult, but it is also much easier to quantify the problem and address it. However, understanding why is it people continue to sleep out rather than accept a bed when offered is much more difficult to understand.

Daily we meet people in this situation and knew the two people well who died on the streets in recent times. Their deaths lead to an outpouring of blame and generosity.

I attended the forum to address homelessness organised by Mr Kelly, my first time meeting him. I should also say that it was the first time in years for Trust to be invited to such an event, even though we work daily with people who are homeless. Neither Trust nor I are aligned to any political party however I found Mr Kelly’s concern, commitment and “can do” approach was not just a breath of fresh air but an injection of inspiration and encouragement to all attempting to care for some of our most vulnerable citizens. Mr Kelly is quite right to say that “I’d rather if people were more constructive”. Our nation at times seems to be drowning in negativity and a “can do” approach is required at all levels of Irish life, now more than ever. – Yours, etc,

ALICE LEAHY,

Director and co-founder,

Sir, – Given the large number of British retailers now trading everywhere in Ireland and, presumably, repatriating millions if not billions of euros in profits each year, I’d be far more concerned about “British Aisles”. – Yours, etc,

RAY CRAWFORD,

Portmarnock,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I prefer “The North Atlantic Archipelago”. – Yours, etc,

EOIN TIGHE,

Leixlip,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – I’m very pleased that Michael Stapleton raised that intriguing term, “the Anglo-Celtic Isles”.

It’s healthy and normal that the people of an archipelago should at key points in their history discuss what they call their shared environment. In an age when we can look forward to putting our difficult history behind us, this is a term that not only allows us to name our islands – but to name ourselves as well.

The idea isn’t new. Nineteenth-century anthropologists considered it superior to “Anglo-Saxon” (as in economics) or “British” as a name for the people of these islands for the same reasons it is a good name today.

So, from Shetland to the Channel Islands, from the Scarborough coast to the beaches of Kerry, British and Irish alike, why not call ourselves Anglo-Celts – and these, the Anglo-Celtic Isles? – Yours, etc,

OLIVER MORAN,

Montenotte,

Cork.

Sir, – We were previously called PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) in Europe, so maybe we could now be called WISE (Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England) on the periphery. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN SUGRUE,

Glenbeigh,

Co Kerry.

Sir, – Jonathan Blake (February 12th) comments that “Australia and New Zealand have much in common yet there is no suggestion to call both islands the Australian Isles”. At their closest points, Australia and New Zealand are over 2,000km apart, which is approximately the same as the distance from Ireland to Morocco, Ukraine or Greenland. Australia is significantly closer to South East Asia than to New Zealand.

Furthermore, the indigenous people of Australia and New Zealand are entirely distinct from each other, and even the European settlement of the two countries followed very different patterns.

In contrast, Ireland and Great Britain are separated by less than 20km in places. There has been continuous movement of people between the islands for thousands of years, and people from different parts of the archipelago have an enormous amount in common. Consequently, it makes perfect sense to have a simple name describing the archipelago. “Ireland and Britain” is inaccurate, as that would seem to exclude the poor old Isle of Man! – Yours, etc,

PAT DIGNAM,

Queensland,

Australia.

Sir, – Jonathan Blake (no relation) asserts that “no Pole would consent to the use of Pomerania” to refer to the area formerly in Germany. It is now actually restored to Poland. The name comes from “Pomorze” which is Polish for “Land on the Sea” and would be understood as such by speakers of any Slavic language. – Yours, etc,

TONY BLAKE,

Blanchardstown,

Dublin 15.

A chara, – On opening your sports section, I was thrilled to be able to read a full page with reports on England’s soccer games of the previous night including Chelsea and Everton; West Brom and Swansea; Southampton and West Ham; Crystal Palace and Newcastle and Manchester Utd and Burnley.

I then turned to your Letters Page and read the ongoing correspondence concerning calling these islands the “British Isles”. – Is mise,

EF FANNING,

Churchtown,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – IONA, “Islands of the North Atlantic”. – Yours, etc,

OWEN McGINTY,

Rush,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – While I was pleased to read of a possible cycle route to the city centre from my neighbourhood, I am once again perplexed by Dublin City Council’s plans to reconfigure the transport network which will incur significant financial cost and disrupt existing traffic flows (“Four options for Liffey cycle route revealed”, February 12th).

Why do we seek to reinvent the wheel (no pun intended) when existing public transport failures are ignored? The bus lanes beside my home are persistently blocked both by regular traffic and in particular by parked cars. Bizarrely these cars are parked by members of An Garda Síochána attending the nearby courts complex. I have reported these to the relevant authorities but it seems that a car parked on double yellow lines on a busy junction is ignored if it is an unmarked Garda vehicle. Reducing the lanes available has significant effects on traffic flow, but the Garda Traffic Corps is not willing to take colleagues to task, despite the consequences for safety or the ample negative publicity via social media. – Yours, etc,

PAUL KEAN,

Dublin 8.

 Sir, – If you go down to the courthouse on Washington Street in Cork today or any day that the courts are sitting, you are sure of a big surprise.

For every day that the court sits, you will see an abundance of cars parked, illegally and with impunity, all day long on the public footpaths, obstructing passersby, particularly those in wheelchairs. – Yours, etc,

JOHN HEALY,

Cork.

A chara, – Eamonn McCann writes that “many in positions of authority in the Catholic Church seem to have managed to forget that it was taught within living memory that it was literally true – no question of metaphor – that ‘the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ’ was contained in the Communion wafer” (“Stephen Fry’s ‘God’ comments raise questions about atheism”, Opinion & Analysis, February 12th).

He may wish to consult the current edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (on sale at many fine bookshops as well being available online free at the Vatican website) which states “in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained”.

It would seem Mr McCann was wrong to imply that this particular teaching may have gone away. But then, I suppose still being taught qualifies as being within living memory. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Castlecomer,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Eamonn McCann demolishes the once-respected thinker St Thomas Aquinas with the single sentence: “The circular banality of Aquinas’s ‘proofs’ also deserves mention.” Gosh, is it that easy? In that case, let me advert to John Stuart Mill’s painfully inadequate theory of liberalism; or call attention to Jean Piaget’s patently self-contradictory theories of child development; or point out the insane incoherence of Milton Friedman’s quantity theory of money; or pause and reflect upon Sir Alex Ferguson’s embarrassingly inadequate theories on defensive formation. I am willing to expand upon all of these topics, as soon as Mr McCann explains why St Thomas’s proofs are circular and banal, for those (and I hear that they still exist) who don’t already know. – Yours, etc,

MAOLSHEACHLANN

Ó CEALLAIGH,

Ballymun, Dublin 11.

Sir, – Pope Francis is reported to have described as selfish the decision of some couples not to have children (“Pope Francis says choosing not to have children is ‘selfish’”, February 12th).

As he himself has long since chosen to remain childless, is this not somewhat a matter of pots and kettles on his part? – Yours, etc,

DAVID GRANT,

Waterford.

Sir, – When I was in UCD in the early 1970s, there were radicals among the student population who liked to protest by disrupting lectures, chanting down government ministers who attended student debates and, in some cases, getting themselves arrested.

It amuses me now to see some of the same individuals as prominent politicians, lawyers and members of the judiciary. It also gives me hope that Paul Murphy TD will, in time, grow up. – Yours, etc,

BRYAN ARMSTRONG,

Sligo.

Sir, – Michael F O’Neill (February 12th) calls for automated announcements to be delivered in a sweet Irish accent. Even if sung by the Sirens of Anthemoessa, “unexpected item in bagging area” would still be an unwelcome message. – Yours, etc,

RONAN McDERMOTT,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.

Irish Independent:

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, welcomes Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny ahead of a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels (REUTERS/Yves Herman)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, welcomes Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny ahead of a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

When you note how tough Greece are in dealing with their debt in comparison to Ireland, is it any wonder the Troika practically hugged Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan when bidding them adieu?

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Even prior to the Greek election, that country got a better deal than Ireland because it stood up to the European Union. Since new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took power he has wasted no time. He has tried to raise money to reduce that debt. His latest effort is to reclaim a Nazi war loan – reputed in Athens to be around €162bn, or more than half the level of debt Greece is struggling with. Unfortunately, Germany’s economics minister has rejected this on the grounds the issue was concluded 25 years ago.

Our own finance minister tells us Irish debt is affordable and repayable.

Independent TD Seamus Healy, speaking in support of a motion from Independent deputies calling for a European debt conference, certainly wouldn’t agree with Mr Noonan. He put it to Minister for State Simon Harris that in Ireland there are 350,000 unemployed people, 90,000 people on local authority housing lists, 40,000 families facing repossessions and 30pc of the population experiencing deprivation.

These are the people wanting debt write-downs – and surely wouldn’t be the ones to believe debt is either repayable or affordable. Minister Noonan, please retrieve your steps on ‘simple’ debt collection and face reality.

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary

 

Marriage is a cure for love

The report by Accord published in the Irish Independent (February 11) contained an interesting, though unsurprising, finding. The research found that “men are still more commitment-phobic than women when it comes to tying the knot…” Not only should men be “commitment-phobic” they should be totally ‘commitment-resistant’.

Marriage and cohabitation are governed, in my view, by misandrist laws designed to benefit women at men’s expense and which are contained in family legislation.

I do not feel that those entering marriage are made sufficiently aware of these laws by those who provide pre-marriage courses.

If the termination clause of the marriage contract were extrapolated from this legislation and presented in contract form, I believe it would read like this: “the female party may at any time and without having to provide any justification terminate this contract on terms which she can largely dictate.

“She may remove the male party from the family home purely on the grounds that he is male; she may choose to live off his earnings for the rest of her life; she may plunder his assets; she may dictate the terms of his fatherhood and his continuing relationship with his children or may terminate his relationship with his children entirely; she may move a new boyfriend in to the family home and instruct their children to call him ‘Daddy’ and the courts of the land will make orders to give effect to these dictates”.

Some may think that this is an exaggerated portrayal of the family law system but, sadly, many men have found to their cost that it is entirely accurate.

If more men were made aware of this fact then men would simply avoid marriage like the plague.

At this stage civil marriage is an institution that is only fit for male imbeciles and female gold diggers.

Name and address with Editor

 

The 1916 centenary programme

Eamon Delaney poses the question as to why 1916 relatives should have such a major say on commemorations. At this moment in time they don’t, but who has ever suggested that they should have?

Relatives have launched a centenary programme that we hope will open up a much needed debate and discussion as to how best we might celebrate this seminal event in our history.

The relatives programme includes official State ceremonies, a centenary preservation plan for the Moore Street battlefield site, a cultural programme including music, theatre, cinema, exhibitions, education and sporting events as well as proposed tribute events hosted by an tUachtarain and an Taoiseach.

It is, in fact, a blueprint for the “people’s celebration” that Mr Delaney himself is proposing. Since that launch, the ‘Reclaim the Vision of 1916’ group – chaired by Robert Ballagh and Sinn Féin – have drawn up their proposals for the centenary. Both have plans that are, in our view, worthy of consideration and support.

Mr Delaney rightly refers to the now infamous Ireland Inspires GPO launch as having little or nothing to do with a commemoration of The Rising. It neither remembered or paid tribute to the volunteers who fought for Irish freedom. In the very location where they made history they were airbrushed out of history.

In that light it would be strange, to put it mildly, if 1916 relatives were to make no comment or have no view and remain silent on the apparent lack of urgency in official circles in relation to 2016.

Like Mr Delaney, we view Sinn Féin’s proposed events as having “many impressive aspects” worthy of support. It is axiomatic that this does not imply support for Sinn Féin per se.

Having launched our initiative with the purpose of opening a commemoration debate it would be churlish to refuse to consider or support others efforts in view of the regrettable failure of the relevant Department to engage in meaningful dialogue and discussion with all interested parties.

Michael Barry, chairman

James Connolly Heron

Proinsias Ó Rathaille

David Ceannt

 

The 1916 Relatives Centenary Initiative

We need to work to end conflict

The shooting of three Muslims in North Carolina by a militant atheist sent a shiver down my spine.

The US was built on the great foundational principles of toleration, religious and political freedoms, social justice and the respect of the law. Unfortunately, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to a drastic surge of contention, defamation, rivalry and racism towards Muslims.

World leaders, decision-makers and other stakeholders need to speak the vocabulary of tolerance, mutual respect and understanding, build bridges of hope that transcend religious, ethnic, racial and cultural boundaries, and transform us from an era of conflict towards cooperation.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London, England

 

A bit too much of Fry

Who’s evil: God, the archbishop or Stephen Fry?

1. We may leave God to his or her inscrutable wisdom, but an apology for the creation of so rude and self-indulgent a person as Stephen Fry might be in order.

2. Stephen Fry is as entitled to his atheism as the Irish in the Republic of Ireland are entitled to their Roman Catholicism. But he must have caused unnecessary offence to many Christians, not only Roman Catholics, in Ireland by the insensitivity of his presentation of his arguments. I doubt whether he would speak of the Muslim God in these terms. I dare say Mr Fry would know something of the hurt that homophobia can cause.

3. As for the Archbishop of Canterbury (yet another Old Etonian) that is another matter, for he purports to speak on behalf of the Anglican Communion. Hence I called for his resignation when he supported the renewed bombing of Iraq in the unelected House of Lords.

If he does not resign I call for him to be sacked for this unchristian attitude. Paul Lambert has just been sacked as the manager of Aston Villa. In my view, a lesser offence.

Dr Gerald Morgan

The Chaucer Hub

Trinity College, Dublin

Hospital

February 12, 2015

12 Febuary 2015 Hospital

Mary goes into hospital.

Obituary:

Sandra Chalmers

Sandra Chalmers Photo: MANCHESTER DAILY NEWS

Sandra Chalmers, who has died aged 74, spent much of her career working for the BBC; the sister of the broadcaster Judith Chalmers, she had a natural flair for radio broadcasting, and moved seamlessly from the microphone into management, notably as editor of Woman’s Hour during its heyday in the 1980s.

Sandra Locke Chalmers was born on February 29 1940 at Gatley, Cheshire. Her father was an architect, her mother a medical secretary. She attended Withington Girls’ School and Manchester University, where she read English and was president of the Women’s Students’ Union. After graduating she had a spell with J Walter Thompson in London before joining the BBC in Manchester as a radio announcer; her role involved everything from reading the news to introducing brass bands. From there she became head of radio presentation for the corporation in Manchester.

Sandra Chalmers had had her first experience of radio broadcasting as a schoolgirl, with Children’s Hour in Manchester in the 1950s, successfully establishing herself alongside Judith (later well-known as a presenter of travel shows) as a talented performer.

In the era before television sets were widespread, Children’s Hour was a popular mixture of quizzes, plays, stories, competitions and natural history. The programme had a regular nature slot called “Wandering with Nomad” (in which Sandra also featured). The microphone responded well to the clarity and richness of her voice as well as her warm and lively personality.

It was the infant BBC Radio Manchester that gave Sandy (as she was known) the niche in which she excelled – talking with callers on live phone-ins and sharing their concerns and aspirations.

She was full of ideas for this new form of community radio and soon became the first woman in Britain to run a local radio station – at Stoke-on-Trent . Her success in the Potteries was soon spotted by the senior management at the BBC and she was appointed editor of Woman’s Hour .

There was to be no avoiding of delicate issues under Sandra Chalmers – as she said: “In the North we call a spade a spade.” Health awareness became an important theme, including the hitherto taboo subject of testicular cancer.

She also created It’s Your World, a live “phone-in” which was transmitted to both Radio 4 and World Service audiences. Guests included King Hussein of Jordan, Margaret Thatcher, Kenneth Kaunda and Pik Botha. Radio 4 phone-in regulars had to compete for air time with articulate teachers from Kuala Lumpur and passionate farmers in the Australian outback. It made for refreshing listening.

Sandra Chalmers

During this period BBC radio had to respond to aggressive competition from daytime television and commercial radio. Sandy Chalmers was taken on as BBC head of press and publicity, to lead a tougher promotional stance.

This prompted her next brainchild – a national touring radio festival, complete with “big top” and live programmes from all the networks, many not having been heard outside the capital. The radio circus went to almost 40 towns and cities across Britain. She persuaded the director-general to allow the basement of Broadcasting House in London to be used as a visitor centre for three years.

Sandy Chalmers was generous and concerned for the welfare of the less fortunate. It was a natural transition when, in later life, she became director of communications for Help the Aged . She also ran courses in communication for Ofcom and the BBC, and advised numerous charities.

In spite of her active life, Sandra Chalmers’s family was more important to her than her career. Only a few weeks before she died she took her children and their families for a last holiday to Lapland.

Her marriage to John Lynton-Evans was dissolved, and she is survived by a son and a daughter.

Sandra Chalmers, born February 29 1940, died February 2 2015

Guardian:

Trawler fishing
Trawler fishing. Pulse fishing trials use ‘small, lightweight electrodes to stimulate fish off the seabed and into nets,’ writes Dr Fiona Murray. Photograph: Maurice Mcdonald/PA

While George Monbiot (We should be outraged by Europe slaughtering sea life in the name of ‘science’, 9 February, guardian.com) is entitled to his views on the scientific validity of the Japanese scientific whaling (with which I agree), he is wrong to conflate this issue with the European pulse fishing trials.

Traditional trawling and dredging fishing methods have been proven to cause huge environmental damage to the sea bed, have massive by-catch issues and use vast amounts of fuel dragging the heavy gear across the sea bed.

Initial trials of pulse fishing, where small, lightweight electrodes stimulate fish off the seabed and into nets, such that gear does not need to drag along the bottom, and which leaves other species behind on the sea bed, would appear to demonstrate a potential answer to all of these challenges. Indeed, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) awarded one pulse fishing trawl a Smart Gear award in 2009 for developing a “fishing device that improves commercial catch quality and lessens seabed damage”.

Given these potential benefits, and the fact that the current trials are just that, scientific trials, I fail to understand Mr Monbiot’s outrage as fishermen, governments and scientists work together to improve the sustainability of our fishing fleets.
Dr Fiona Murray
Research associate, centre for marine biodiversity and biotechnology, Heriot-Watt University

Lords at the state opening of parliament
Lords at the state opening of parliament. ‘Labour refused to support a programme motion [on Lords reform], choosing instead to play party games to embarrass the government,’ writes Paul Tyler. Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty

Your editorial comment (Too many peerages. First cap the total, then change the system, 10 February) reignites the case for reform of the House of Lords. On 10 July 2012 the House of Commons gave an unprecedented 338 majority to the second reading of the coalition government’s Lords reform bill, squarely based on Jack Straw’s 2008 white paper. Conservative MPs voted 193 to 89 in support, Labour 202 to 26, and Liberal Democrats were unanimous.

Only then did the Labour leadership refuse to support a programme motion – any programme motion, no matter how many days’ debate it allowed – choosing instead to play party games to embarrass the government.

Had Labour stuck to its principles, we would by now be within weeks of the first elections to the Lords, with the resultant end of political appointments and a consequent reduction in the size of the house. Will the UCL Constitution Unit recommend the reintroduction of the bill immediately after the general election?
Paul Tyler
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords

First Edition Of Charlie Hebdo Published Since Paris Terror Attacks Arrives In The UK
A man holds up a copy of Charlie Hebdo magazine. ‘I read with concern your article suggesting that police had tried to monitor sales of the magazine. This was never our intention,’ writes Chief Constable Peter Fahy. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty

As national policing lead for preventing extremism, I read with concern your article (More police forces ask who bought Charlie Hebdo, 11 February) suggesting that police had tried to monitor sales of the magazine. This was never our intention.

Following the attacks in Paris, there has been an increase in incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia. Officers have been actively monitoring possible sources of tension and investigating reports of hate crimes.

Forces were aware of the potential for heightened tension with the release of Charlie Hebdo and many neighbourhood police officers, who are well known in their communities, may have opted to visit sellers to establish any concerns and provide reassurance. It is through work such as this that we learn more about people’s worries and can help to solve problems.

Unfortunately, there will always be groups and individuals who try to exploit situations to spread hatred and division. There were people who posted copies of this magazine to mosques just to cause offence.

However, it is important that we do not erode the very freedoms that we are trying to protect. I understand why asking for the names of those who might have bought this magazine will appear overzealous and unnecessary. There was no national guidance to this effect and it is not to be supported unless there is clear evidence that a crime has been committed.
Chief Constable Peter Fahy
National policing lead for Prevent, Association of Chief Police Officers 

I have bought the Guardian almost every day for 50 years, but would leave you over your Charlie Hebdo badge offer (7 February) if I had anywhere else to go. The free speech I value is the freedom enjoyed by my Muslim neighbour and my atheist self to express our own beliefs, and our considered responses to each other’s beliefs, without being murdered, arrested or spat on. Publication of mocking or obscene images of others’ sacred objects appears to me to be a form of graphic spitting, less about free speech – there are other ways to advance a legitimate argument – than about exhibiting contempt, advertising one’s cleverness, and selling magazines. To be murdered for such behaviour is tragic and undeserved, but does not make one a martyr in a sacred cause. Je ne suis pas Charlie.
Ruth Brown
Plymouth

TRUDIE GOODWIN - 2002
Trudie Goodwin: ‘I had to struggle on, constantly saying pardon, often not being able to hear cues, and missing out on a lot of the banter and fun that is one of the perks of my job.’ Photograph: Woman’s Own/Rex

I passionately agree with Jackie Ashley that the funding for hearing aids cannot be cut (The short-termism of our NHS is spelt out in this scandal over hearing aids, 10 February). My hearing has been poor from childhood, but has deteriorated in the last few years. I was given a hearing aid on the NHS a long time ago but it was bulky and not very good so rarely got used. I’m an actor, working mainly on TV, where it was impossible to wear this aid without it being obvious, so I had to struggle on, constantly saying pardon, often not being able to hear cues (the bane of my working life was the mumbling actor!), and missing out on a lot of the banter and fun that is one of the perks of my job.

Last year I went for a long-overdue hearing test and was given, with no problem at all, fantastic, tiny new hearing aids free of charge. I’ve been banging on about them ever since. I had no idea how much the technology had improved and how inconspicuous hearing aids can be. I’m a fairly confident person and very open about my bad hearing, but have nevertheless found the condition isolating and extremely frustrating. These new aids have definitely improved my life, and I can now mumble along with the best of them.
Trudie Goodwin
London

If North Staffordshire clinical commissioning group is given insufficient funds to meet the needs of its population, why pick on hearing aids? Instead, it could close a couple of paediatric wards, stop wasting money treating cancer, or sack a bunch of psychiatric nurses. Next!
Dr Howard Stoate
GP, Bexley; former member, House of Commons health select committee

Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Say that again, Jackie. Ah, not regarding moderate hearing loss as serious would be a false economy – I agree. Already too many people are reluctant to use aids, worsening their distress and relationships with those closest to them. Once used to wearing them, we still need others to project and not speak behind hands, and to recognise that numbers, letters, names and other context-free sounds can be very hard to distinguish. Lack of deaf-awareness is sadly as common among health professionals as it is with ordinary Joes (or was that Joans?). These proposed cuts suggest that this extends right to the top of the emerging medical/political establishment.

The only ones excused are comedians – even though one of the worst aspects of deafness is missing jokes. Punchlines, by definition, defy logic, what’s expected, common sense and all the other cues on which deaf people depend. Asking for the joke to be repeated just isn’t cool; but we get used to enjoying just joining in with the laughter.
Richard Stainton (@everynowhere42)
Whitstable, Kent

Victims of the black death … woodcut. Image: Alamy
Victims of the black death … woodcut. Image: Alamy

I have heard it suggested that the black death, which devastated European populations in the 14th century, was Ebola fever rather than bubonic plague, as generally believed. Is there any evidence for this theory?

Tony Dennis, Leighton Buzzard, Beds

 

Independent:

Times:

Readers give many and varied reasons for the Conservative party’s poor current showing

Sir, It is hard to imagine a greater public relations disaster than the Conservatives’ black and white ball (“Tax scandal tycoon gives top prize at Tory gala”, Feb 11). Vast sums were paid by the winning bidders for star prizes such as a night at a London nightclub, “with a £20,000 tab thrown into the offer” supplied by a businessman “at the centre of an HSBC tax avoidance scandal”, and a five-night stay in a hotel suite on Santorini donated by a Greek businessman whose Bermuda-based company apparently pays very little in tax. After five years of austerity, with more to come, many people will find this display of ostentatious wealth in support of the Conservative party highly distasteful and a world away from their own lives.

The image that emerges from the gala at the Grosvenor House hotel is that the Conservatives are the party protecting the lifestyles of the very wealthy, and that austerity and taxes are for ordinary people, not for the super-rich. The real meaning of the slogan “We’re all in this together” is revealed as “You’re all in this together”. No wonder the Tories have given up hope of retaining a number of seats they won at the last general election, including Boston and Skegness, where they had a majority of 12,426 (“Tories ‘have given up on Ukip seat’ ”, Feb 11).

Michael Patterson
Swineshead, Lincs

Sir, Some years ago my father, a lifelong Tory, informed me that I should be happy to pay my taxes because the more I paid meant the more I was earning. After reading your reports on how the wealthy, including royalty, use Swiss bank accounts to keep funds away from tax authorities, I have to say that my father was wrong. The real test of wealth is, have I amassed sufficient funds to enter these schemes?

Ray Bright
Nailsea, Somerset

Sir, You ask why the Conservative party is not making a stronger showing in the polls (“Why the Tories are not Ahead”, leader, Feb 7). I suspect one reason is that an increasing number of people are attuned to being in debt, and that the Tory emphasis on tackling the national debt does not appeal to them if it involves making cuts to public spending. People of earlier generations were much more averse to incurring debt. My father never bought anything that he could not afford to buy in cash, including my childhood home, which was rented.

The financial burden on government represented by the state sector is one to which I now contribute. I retired from my public sector job 20 years ago. Last year, the combined income from my occupational and state pensions after tax exceeded my salary when I took early retirement in 1995. The most public-spirited contribution I could make to the national economy would be to die, but our state-funded NHS recently decreed that I should start taking statins at further public expense to reduce the likelihood of this happening any time soon.

Martin Litchfield
Wimborne, Dorset

Sir, Matthew Parris (“A warning to Cameron from down under”, Feb 7) is wrong that gay marriage is no longer an issue. I know of many people for whom this is a constant source of deep sorrow, including a large number of Conservative supporters who regard it as a betrayal so profound that they can never vote Tory again. Some have moved to Ukip; many have not and seek in vain for a party which supports the values that they hold most dear.

Mrs Mary Douglas
Salisbury

Sir, Your leader (Feb 7) omits an important point about politicians. It is that they simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth — particularly in manifesto pledges. The Tory promise not to reorganise the NHS was a clearly calculated mockery, with disastrous consequences for patients. The Lib Dems (2010) and Labour (2005) similarly made manifesto pledges that were broken.

I will find it difficult to vote in the next election — not because I can’t be bothered, but because I will not give my support to people who do not keep their word.

Alastair Lack
Coombe Bissett, Salisbury

Peter Tann learnt the Wales-England rugby score by mistake. But what about the football results?

Sir, Peter Tann’s letter (Feb 11) reminded me of an overriding desire in the 1970s, as a family, to avoid seeing football results on Saturday afternoon before the evening highlights. Watching a Five Nations rugby match, a “latest” football score was displayed. The only course of action was to stick black tape across the bottom of the screen. Later in the match, a result scrolled across the top of the screen. I watched the last few minutes of the match through an ever-smaller space surrounded by a black tape border.

Paul Obey
Sevenoaks, Kent

Bovril asks that customers kindly do not deface its meaty message – or face prosecution if they do…

Sir, When I was a young executive in the food industry I was told about a prewar Bovril advert (letter, Feb 11) which read: “Bovril represents the goodness of bullocks.” It was followed in smaller type by: “Anyone defacing this message will be prosecuted.”

Frederick Marsh

London SW6

There’s one tip that diplomats sent to the Foreign Office’s academy would do well to remember

Sir, One hopes the new Foreign Office academy (Feb 11) will also include among its do’s and don’ts for future ambassadors Talleyrand’s advice: Le meilleur auxiliaire d’un diplomate c’est bien son cuisinier (the diplomat’s best assistant is certainly his cook).

Terence Hughes

London SW15

Why urge caution on pay rises for employees when senior management have awarded themselves inflation-busting increase?

Sir, Stephen Ibbotson’s letter (Feb 11) defies belief. Despite an upturn in confidence he says that business leaders are right to be cautious about making long-term commitments on employee pay due to a variety of future uncertainties. I would ask why the same logic does not seem to apply to the stratospheric awards that the business leaders give themselves.

This has all happened on the back of harsh austerity measures and wage cuts for the majority. There will always be an excuse for not sharing growth, despite pleas from the PM.

John Walton

Shepperton, Surrey

We are seeing a marked increase in suicidality, self-harm and general psychiatric deterioration in victims whose abusers are pressuring them not to speak out

Sir, Dr Peter Green’s concern (letter, Feb 7) about the lack of suitable therapeutic provision for maltreated children in the light of the Rotherham report is timely. The long-term psychological consequences for adults whose plight was not realised earlier are severe. The Survivors’ Alliance has worked tirelessly to ensure an adequate inquiry into organised abuse and has been emphasising the need for adequate therapeutic support during and after disclosure. No single therapy is right for everyone.

While waiting for the inquiry and its investigative arm we are seeing a current and marked increase in suicidality, self-harm and general psychiatric deterioration in victims whose abusers are pressuring them not to speak out, in some cases with direct threats or by causing them harm.

For a successful outcome with reduced risk to survivors from disclosure, the media, forensic services, clinicians and politicians all need to work together.

Dr Valerie Sinason Consultant psychotherapist
Dr Rachel Thomas Consultant clinical psychologist
London NW11

If pupils do properly what they are asked to do at school, there will be no need for any additional — and expensive — assistance

Sir, Leading independent schools, including Eton, have repeatedly voiced their opposition to tutoring (report, Feb 11). Academically, it often leads to pupils failing to cope with the standards expected once they are at senior school and have to work independently. It can ruin what are meant to be holidays, as parents fill their children’s time with extra work, creating resentment towards what should be the excitement of learning.

If pupils do properly what they are asked to do in the ordinary course of their school term, there will be no need for such additional — and expensive — assistance.

Paul Dean
Oxford

 

Telegraph:

Some argue pensioner bonds will help the elderly to boost their incomes Photo: Alamy

SIR – The recovery of the economy depends upon our ability to persuade those who have money to spend it on British goods and services (report, February 9).

Encouraging pensioners to lock away their cash for three years, with zero interest receivable until the end of the term, is not helpful. We need to return to the Guaranteed Income Bonds to provide a regular monthly income.

Tony Mann
Kidderminster, Worcestershire

SIR – Who formulated the structure of these one-year and three-year instruments in such a way that interest would be paid only upon maturity?

Most pensioners are looking for a regular monthly income stream, so clearly these are not designed for them.

Nor do they seem to be designed for the wealthier pensioner, who can wait for maturity to claim the income, as the maximum amount that can be placed is set relatively low.

Despite this, the bonds have attracted quite a number of investors; I suspect mainly the better-heeled who consider lobbing £10,000 into each of them possibly worth the punt.

James T M McNie
Rafford, Morayshire

SIR – It is intriguing that George Osborne has issued Pensioner Bonds through National Savings and Investments (NS&I). Government services are often criticised for being inefficient and anti-competitive. These bonds are in direct competition with private businesses who can’t compete against this taxpayer subsidy.

The main way governments borrow is by issuing treasury stocks, often called gilts. Surely it would have been better if the Government had issued a new type of treasury stock, essentially identical to others except that they pay a bonus interest rate where they were owned by funds that only serve pensioners – such as pension funds, annuity funds, and products to help pay for residential homes on the proceeds of selling the family home.

That way private savings products are able to innovate and compete against each other, to provide pensioners with better products.

Jonathan Morse
London SE25

SIR – Savers have been hit hard by deliberately low interest rates (Leading article, February 9), but plenty of these savers are young and desperately trying to save for a deposit for their first flat or house.

If Mr Osborne is interested in “fairness”, and not cynical bribery why are these bonds not open to all?

David Brewis
Windsor, Berkshire

SIR – I don’t think that pensioner bonds are any good to us. We’re too busy spending the kids’ inheritance.

Jackie McCrindle
Prestwick, Ayrshire

Labour and the NHS

SIR – Today Sir Robert Francis will publish his report on the bullying of whistle-blowers in the NHS. This is a deep-seated cultural problem in our health service which has its roots in the last Labour government’s obsessive pursuit of national targets and favourable headlines.

As patient safety campaigners, we have first-hand experience of the stonewalling, slander and silencing that whistle-blowers faced from managers and politicians determined to hit targets and suppress bad news in that era.

Many problems remain, but the current Government is confronting them and attempting to deal with the rotten culture it inherited, making real progress on patient safety.

We have seen no evidence that Labour has learnt the lessons from presiding over this toxic bullying culture. The party can not be trusted to run the NHS again. Labour would take the NHS back to the days of cover-up and denial about poor care, putting patients’ lives at risk.

Julie Bailey
Founder, Cure the NHS

Deb Hazeldine

Carl Hendrickson

Liza Brady

The dependence of charities on public funding

(EYEVINE)

SIR – When the Big Society was launched five years ago, it envisaged a partnership between public services and the voluntary sector. Statutory agencies and those charitable organisations that existed to provide support for people who fell through the safety net of state provision would work together to meet the needs of vulnerable people. This was a concept few could quarrel with.

However, since then many charities have become heavily dependent on public funding. Far from providing help to those beyond the reach of statutory agencies, they are increasingly involved in providing services that local authorities are statutorily obliged to provide.

Many charities at first welcomed local authority funding, but it often came at the cost of deviating from their charitable objectives, and in many areas there is no longer a safety net for those ineligible for public provision.

Thus a well-intentioned public policy initiative has had serious unintended consequences.

Prof Derek Pheby
Harnham, Wiltshire

Nurses’ pay

SIR – Nothing has changed. I was travelling back from Warsaw Chopin Airport in late 2003 to Manchester with Lot, the Polish national airline. The aircraft was an Embraer 145 with 47 seats. There were about 15 passengers, one travelling first class. Printed on the back of her fleece were the words: “Working for the NHS”.

First class then cost more than £700, and economy around £350. I was in disbelief at this blatant misuse of public money.

Howard Marshall
Altrincham, Cheshire

SIR – David Cameron says it is time to give the private sector pay rises to reflect the reduced cost of doing business (report, February 10). Is this the same David Cameron who, despite independent review, said we could not afford the recommended pay rise for nurses?

Presumably this is because hospitals make no profit, even when privately run, as shown by Circle’s withdrawal from their contract at Hinchingbrooke hospital (Comment, January 10).

Susan Waller
Woodsetts, South Yorkshire

Legal defence costs

SIR – In the uproar over general cost-cutting in legal aid in the past two years, it has largely gone unnoticed that as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, defendants who are found innocent no longer have any realistic hope of recovering their legal costs – even in cases that are thrown out at “half time” because the prosecution evidence is insufficient to allow a safe guilty verdict.

Under the new rules, introduced by Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, defendants must prove that the decision to prosecute them was “perverse”, which is virtually impossible in any practical, legal sense.

Thus a key financial deterrent to pursuing politically motivated cases has been removed from the Crown Prosecution Service. It explains why the CPS feels able to continue prosecuting tabloid journalists on trumped-up conspiracy charges. But the public is probably unaware of the other effects: that, for instance, people who are found innocent are being driven into bankruptcy by a state which will not pay the price of its own follies.

Defendants who attempt to prove theirs was a “perverse” prosecution are told that the CPS will fight them in court and hold them liable for the state’s costs (as well as their own, of course). Only the wealthiest and most determined defendants can consider proceeding in the face of such bullying and legal manipulation.

Damien McCrystal
London W14

SIR – When I was a teacher I set up a weather station at my primary school. The children recorded daily weather readings on a special chart shaped like a big cloud.

One wintry day we not only enjoyed playing in the snow, but we also did a science experiment with it. We put some snow into a beaker and each pupil guessed how much liquid would be left when it melted. They were surprised it was lower than their estimates, and less than the amount of liquid left from a thick piece of ice from the school pond. It is exciting to educate using natural happenings.

Leslie V Snow
Newport, Isle of Wight

Big Brother

SIR – The news that televisions may be recording our conversations (report, February 10) at last brings some verification to the frequent, irritating parting comments of some television announcers who say: “See you later.”

Christo Scaramanga
Matfield, Kent

A father, nesting

SIR – On the birth of my second child 16 years ago, my husband took a week’s annual leave since there was no provision for paternity leave. He spent the week building a shed.

I can only dream of how much nicer our shed might have been had Mr Miliband been in power then.

Jane Jacklin
Nottingham

A little distraction can pay off for schoolchildren

The 230 ft wingspan Bristol Brabazon (top) and the Saunders-Roe Princess in flight (www.bridgemanart.com)

SIR – What a pity the schoolchildren in Norfolk (report, February 9) were not allowed to enjoy the sight of snow.

When I was at junior school in Gloucestershire in the early Fifties, the daily timetable was rigid. Afternoon lessons began with handwriting. Once, while we were silently copying from the board, a loud rumbling noise started outside. Our teacher looked out of the window and shouted: “It’s the Brabazon. Everybody outside!”

We rushed into the playground and watched the massive aeroplane passing slowly overhead, on a circuit from its Bristol home.

As we filed back to our lesson I looked at the windows of the other wartime, prefab classrooms. Every head was down, concentrating on handwriting. What a treat they had missed. The Brabazon did not fly over the area again, and within a couple of years it was scrapped.

Diana Holl
Clevedon, Somerset

SIR – When I was a teacher I set up a weather station at my primary school. The children recorded daily weather readings on a special chart shaped like a big cloud.

One wintry day we not only enjoyed playing in the snow, but we also did a science experiment with it. We put some snow into a beaker and each pupil guessed how much liquid would be left when it melted. They were surprised that it was lower than their estimates, and less than the amount of liquid left from a thick piece of ice from the school pond. It is exciting to educate using natural events.

Leslie V Snow
Newport, Isle of Wight

No news is bad news

SIR – I buy the Telegraph when I can, and read articles on the website when I cannot. I also like to watch the news on television. BBC World News is the usual British source in hotels abroad. How very poor it is for news. Most of the content is promotion of itself and future items; the news content is minimal. The BBC – so respected worldwide – lets itself down with World.

I find I have to watch France 24 in English, or even Russia TV to keep up with the news. Euronews is also good.

BBC, why not broadcast BBC 24 abroad?

G G Garner
Ravensden, Bedfordshire

Early climbing vine

SIR – All those worrying about historical inaccuracies in Wolf Hall (“Swearing by the historical veracity of ‘Wolf Hall’ ”, Letters, February 10) need to get out more.

There’s plenty to entertain them outside. The best example was in last week’s episode, when Anne Boleyn went gliding past a mature specimen of Wisteria sinensis, a plant that only arrived from China in 1816.

Margaret Higgins
Askett, Buckinghamshire

 

 

Globe and Mail:

RICH COUNTRY, POOR NATIONS

Janet Smylie: Put an end to racism in the ER

What actions could end the shocking disparity between the prosperity of Canada and the deprivation of First Nations? In our series Rich Country, Poor Nations, a range of contributors argue for one idea that could make a difference.

Janet Smylie is a family physician and research scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, an associate professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a CIHR applied public health research chair.

Universal access to medical care and the right to live free from racial discrimination are two underlying principles that are highly integrated into the fabric of Canadian society. A challenge to either is bound to incite heated debate. Calling an individual or group “racist” is highly insulting and predictably rejected by those on the receiving end. The recent response to accusations of racism in Winnipeg is a good example.

Most readers will be aware of the striking, persistent health inequities faced by aboriginal people in Canada. For example, infant mortality rates two to four times higher than those of non-aboriginal Canadians, and the fact that as many as 36 per cent of aboriginal households are food insecure. It may be news to some that these particular inequities do not improve with urban residence, which is where most aboriginal people now live.

Clearly, there is tension between these highly regarded social values and the existence of such inequities. How is it that First Peoples continue to experience such striking inequities in accessing Canada’s relative wealth of health and social resources?

The evidence points toward an epidemic of faulty logic. Let me explain.

There is a universal and deeply rooted tendency for humans to discriminate by sorting people they meet into “in groups” and “out groups” based on appearance. Our automatic responses tend to favour in groups over out groups. Our automatic associations about new information are based on what we have previously learned.

If we take the case of non-aboriginal people’s views of aboriginal people, the starting point will be a tendency toward discrimination as a result of “out group” sorting. Add to that the constant barrage of negative images and stories about aboriginal people generated by the news media and our public education systems and we have perfect-storm conditions. It is almost impossible to live in Canada and not have underlying automatic negative associations about aboriginal people.

Not buying it? Try listing the first three social problems that you associate with aboriginal people and then three social strengths or assets. Which list takes you longer? One set of assets built into many aboriginal societies is the highly valued concept of respect and protocols that guide interactions with “out groups.” If followed, these teachings and protocols can effectively mitigate the problematic human tendency to discriminate and preferentially share resources with those who we perceive as most like us.

The problem with underlying and unacknowledged negative associations is that they lead to unfair treatment. For example, one of the most common negative associations made about aboriginal people in Canada is links with alcohol abuse. In fact, studies have shown that rates of both abstinence and problem drinking are higher in aboriginal populations than in the general population. Unfortunately, in health-care settings, the misdiagnosis of aboriginal people as suffering from alcohol intoxication is far too common. For Brian Sinclair, who died of a treatable bladder infection after a 34-hour wait in a Winnipeg emergency room in 2008, this misdiagnosis proved fatal.

Such faulty logic allows Canadians to pretend that the principles of equitable access to health care and freedom from racial discrimination are being upheld despite striking evidence to the contrary. Aboriginal people can be blamed for their own health and social conditions, rather than blaming the failure to uphold these principles. It is reminiscent of the “civilizing” rationale used by European colonists to justify the appropriation of aboriginal lands and the abduction of aboriginal children to residential schools.

It is a good thing that racism carries a strong social stigma in Canada. The energy of this rejection needs to be put toward weeding out false assumptions, rather than burying them. We must sharpen our minds and actively challenge our assumptions. In order to move forward, aboriginal people must been seen as holding the solutions, not the problems.

JONATHAN SCOTT

How to keep Ontario’s schoolyards in community hands

Irish Times:

Sir, – I would like to thank Wicklow TDs Anne Ferris (Labour) and Stephen Donnelly (Independent) for representing the majority of their constituents by supporting Clare Daly’s Bill to legislate for a termination of pregnancy where there is a fatal foetal abnormality.

The Government voted against this legislation because it believed it to be unconstitutional. However unconstitutional it may or may not be, it is utterly wrong that it would vote against it while refusing to hold a referendum on the issue. – Yours, etc,

ABIGAIL ROONEY,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I commend Clare Daly for trying to bring some clarity to this awful situation which women are faced with. What was reprehensible was the attitude of Sinn Féin, which didn’t vote, a cowardly act by that so-called republican party. – Yours, etc,

PAUL DORAN,

Clondalkin,

Dublin 22.

Sir, – The Government and the Labour Party in particular have brought politics to a new low in opposing Clare Daly’s Bill to give a choice to parents of foetuses with fatal foetal abnormalities to terminate their pregnancies in this country.

So now we are faced with a situation where 83 per cent of our political representatives in the Dáil have said no to a proposal supported by the vast majority of the population, according to many opinion polls since 2011.

The Labour Party has “copped out” of its responsibility to the electorate, claiming that the issue of fatal foetal abnormality did not form part of its political manifesto at the last election.

This is crass hypocrisy and particularly so as the party actually promised in its manifesto not to introduce property tax and water rates.

I have never felt more sickened and nauseated at the cowardice and narrow self-interest of the majority of our elected representatives.

Political expediency has clearly ruled the day.

Anne Ferris has shown courage and sensitivity to the plight of many families affected by this tragedy and she should be applauded and not ostracised by the Labour Party.

The Labour TDs who didn’t turn up to vote in the Dáil are the sorriest group in this sorry saga; the fence they straddle will seem very precarious when they face the electorate in the next election.

Clare Daly may have lost an important vote today, but she stands for human rights and has won the hearts of the electorate. – Yours, etc,

ANNE O’REILLY,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – How long until there is a Bill to terminate the lives of the elderly with terminal illnesses? – Yours, etc,

ROSALYN TAMMING,

Sallins,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – The Government said it could not, for constitutional reasons, support Clare Daly’s Bill to allow for terminations in circumstances where an unborn child has no prospect of life outside the womb. One can understand and fully appreciate that position, based on a clearly stated legal concern. But what I found deeply disturbing is that the Government, and indeed some Opposition parties, were loathe to allow a free vote on this Bill. – Yours, etc,

JOHN FITZGERALD,

Callan,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – So Labour had to oppose Clare Daly’s bill because it was “unconstitutional”. Apparently after the next election it will have become “constitutional”. I believe Dev stated in 1918 that “Labour must wait”. In his wildest dreams the Chief could hardly have imagined that in 2015 his Constitution has kept Labour still “waiting”. – Yours, etc,

Fr IGGY O’DONOVAN,

Limerick.

Sir, – Well done to Miriam Lord on her withering summary of the defeat of Clare Daly’s Bill (“Dáil Sketch”, February 11th). It highlighted the difference between politicians who try and change society and those whose only consideration is not associating themselves with anything that might jeopardise their chances of re-election. Enda Kenny’s cynical approach was to take the opt-out opportunity afforded by the attorney general’s advice and kick this issue to beyond the next election. His statements carried his usual patronising tone. It is a tone one associates with somebody who thinks the position he occupies suddenly provides him with a wisdom superior to those on the fringes, but actually reflects a shallowness associated with somebody out of touch with his electorate. – Yours, etc,

BARRY WALSH,

Blackrock,

Cork.

Sir, – The word “British”, as used for example in the term British Isles, must have, for many people, an association with colonial possession, otherwise why was the British Commonwealth renamed the Commonwealth of Nations? – Yours, etc,

ERNEST CROSSEN,

Chapelizod,

Dublin 20.

Sir, – I would like to ask those readers who object to the use of the British Isles when it refers to Ireland if they feel Lancastrians should , in a similar way, object to swimming in the Irish Sea when they go for their summer dip in Blackpool. Similarly, should Brazilians object to being labelled South Americans, or Canadians North Americans? I would ask these readers to not get too hung up on geographical descriptions. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN McKENNA,

Raheny,

Dublin 5.

Sir, – When your correspondents have agreed a suitable replacement for “British Isles” to designate the western European islands, I invite them to turn their minds to the equally vexing issue of how to rebrand the country sometimes misleadingly referred to as “America”, but which in fact occupies less than 25 per cent of the land mass of the Americas. One of your correspondents usefully suggested a recipe for resolution of the “British Isles” conundrum inspired by Macedonia and the idea commends itself here too – “The Former American Colonies of the British Crown”, perhaps? – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL H RYAN,

London.

Sir, – The “Scots-Irish-Anglo-Welsh-Manx Sea” anyone? – Yours, etc,

STEPHEN LANE,

Dunboyne,

Co Meath.

Sir, – John A Murphy (February 7th) suggests that the “only objection” to the extension of the term “the British Isles” to this island comes from those with “a postcolonial chip on their shoulder”. Not so. What about those who simply prefer accuracy?

If your correspondent’s assertion is valid, however, is it not equally arguable that those with no objection to the contested title are afflicted with a postcolonial mentality? – Yours, etc,

JA BARNWELL,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – The ongoing discussion regarding the usage of the term British Isles shows the extent to which we still are in a postcolonial mindset. We have now gone beyond the inferiority complex and, in our efforts to show how relaxed we are now with our erstwhile overlords, we embrace all things British, including a term which is simply inaccurate.

Since when is it okay to use a term which is politically inaccurate and justify it by claiming that is is a geographical descriptor? Parts of northeastern Germany and northwestern Poland share very similar characteristics; however no Pole would consent to the use of Pomerania to describe it, and no German would dare to use it either as it dates from a time when this part of modern Poland was in Germany. Why would we accept a similar situation in Ireland? Europe’s borders have moved considerably over the last few hundred years and old terms fall out of usage when they lose their political validity; the same must apply to the British Isles.

Australia and New Zealand have much in common yet there is no suggestion to call both islands the Australian Isles.

Let’s not get so caught up in postcolonial “maturity” that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. The term to describe these two islands is quite simply Ireland and Britain (or, but not automatically so, Britain and Ireland). Apologies to the weather forecasters! – Yours, etc,

JONATHAN BLAKE,

Frankfurt-am-Main,

Germany.

A chara, – You report that researchers from the Dublin Institute of Technology have found that 43 per cent of those aged 9 to 16 do not know how to use the “report abuse” button on social media (“Online usage patterns of children suggest they are not equipped with adequate internet safety skills”, February 10th). While I am sure that this statistic may be fairly accurate, I suggest that parents, teachers and other responsible adults would wish for more detailed information.

In my view, the age spread is too wide, as those aged 16 can be expected to know far more about these things than almost any child aged nine. The extent of this greater knowledge can only be determined if we are given separate statistics for, at a minimum, two age groups within this spread: 9-12 and 13-16, as 12 years of age is an important milestone in many young people’s development. Better still would be figures for four age groups: 9-10, 11-12, 13-14 and 15-16. – Is mise,

R SEATHRÚN Mac ÉIN,

Baile Átha Cliath 4.

A chara, – It was good to read that Anthony J Jordan (“Church aside, of course all babies go to heaven”, Rite & Reason, February 10th) was able to trace the burial and baptism of his infant child Antonia who died in 1970. It seems to be a universal human trait in all human cultures, including those of no religious faith, to have practices to mark the life and death of one of the community.

Following the Second Vatican Council, the renewal of various Catholic rites, including that of funerals, took place. The revised funeral rite was published in 1969, and an English translation in 1970. These had sections to include children who died before baptism. The revised edition of this in 1989 includes provision for the naming of the child where this has not already been done. Other Christian churches have their own rites. Dealing with such events in hospitals where the child is born has also developed greatly.

It is difficult for us today to imagine what was normal practice 50 and more years ago. In the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, it is particularly welcome that Judge Yvonne Murphy will be joined by Prof Mary Daly, a social historian. “The methodology . . . shall include a literature-based academic social history module to establish an objective and comprehensive historical analysis of significant matters.” This is essential in any good investigation of years gone by. – Is mise,

PÁDRAIG McCARTHY,

Sandyford

Dublin 16.

Sir, – What would we think of any parent who put their children out the door at the age of 18 and told them that they could no longer have any contact with the family, would have to find their own accommodation, would have €188 deposited in their bank every week to fund themselves and would be able to meet a support worker (if one was available) once a week for an hour?

What outcomes would we expect for those young people? How many of our 18-year-old offspring would cope?

It is time that the State, in loco parentis for these young care-leavers, realised that children (and especially children who have suffered the loss of their birth home and family and perhaps other trauma) do not suddenly grow up on their 18th birthday. They need substantial ongoing support into adulthood.

The State’s failure to address this injustice creates many victims and hidden costs that are never attributed to this source. – Yours, etc,

ITA O’DRISCOLL,

Clontarf,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – I think it is sad and disappointing to see that so many people take up incorrectly what Pope Francis was endeavouring to say in relation to the proper disciplining of a child. I believe he was stressing the importance of rebuking children when they are in the wrong, and to rebuke them in a calm and rational way, and then to move on.

If we are to live in a civilised society, it is vital that both children and adults alike understand the importance of “discipline” in the broad sense. – Yours, etc,

MARY REDMOND,

Drumree, Co Meath.

Sir, – Anyone in high public office has to be aware that anything they say in public will be subject to the most meticulous scrutiny, especially in this age of instant communication.

The papacy is now a victim of its own success as an expected source of “good” media stories. Pope Francis’s off-the-cuff remark “Who am I to judge?” in relation to gay people had a world-wide impact in changing the condemnatory attitudes of previous popes towards gay people .

However, last Wednesday’s off-the-cuff remark in which he approved of slapping, once it didn’t humiliate the child, has shown another side of Pope Francis .

I’m sure, as Fr Federico Lombardi of the Vatican press office has stated, that the “Pope was not encouraging parents to hit their children” but that’s how it comes across if you read the full transcript of the pope’s remarks (“Pope not encouraging smacking of children, says Vatican”, February 10th).

Surely in this instance, if that is the pope’s position as stated by Father Lombardi, then the proper procedure should be for the pope to withdraw his remarks and state without any ambivalence or conditionality that all violence against children is wrong and demeans them. – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN BUTLER,

Malahide,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Cans and bottles, both glass and plastic, litter public beaches, parks and roadsides. If money were available for the return of these bottles and cans, surely this would bring a greener, cleaner Ireland, with more jobs in the recycling sector and money in our pockets?

In the Canadian province of British Columbia, millions of beverage containers have been recycled and diverted from landfill owing to the recycling regulation known as the “Bottle Bill”. All beer, wine and soft drinks sold in recyclable containers are subject to a refundable deposit. The deposit is collected at the point of sale and refunded for redeemed containers of the same type and brand.

Why not bring in a similar law for Ireland to ensure a higher rate of recycling? – Yours, etc,

FIONA McMAHON,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I note that an official from Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council has warned against investing in Glenalbyn swimming pool as over half the population of Stillorgan is over 40 (“Stillorgan’s ‘ageing population’ could scupper pool plans”, February 9th).

I am in my early seventies. Until the Glenalbyn pool closed two years ago, I swam 2,000m every morning with the Glenalbyn Masters Swimming Club. I still swim in the sea every weekend during the winter and I am looking forward to swimming this summer in the Leinster open sea races, the Liffey swim and the Dún Laoghaire harbour race.

Swimming is a sport for life. As swimming is gentle on the body, many senior citizens can keep swimming long after they retire from other sports. An investment in Glenalbyn swimming pool is an investment in the health and welfare of all the local population. – Yours, etc,

COLM KINSELLA,

Stillorgan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – “Unexpected item in bagging area.” “Lift doors closing.” “Lift going up.” “Lift doors opening.”

I think it would be nice if we began to hear Irish accents in these and other announcements. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL F O’NEILL,

Dundalk,

Co Louth.

Sir, – For at least six months now the website of Irish Genealogy, operated by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, has had a notice which says that civil records are temporarily unavailable. This temporarily unavailability has gone on for far too long. Perhaps someone should whisper the meaning of temporarily in the Minister’s ear. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN P Ó CINNEIDE,

Durban,

South Africa.

Irish Independent:

Clare Daly's abortion bill was not passed by the Dáil
Clare Daly’s abortion bill was not passed by the Dáil

The failed attempt by Clare Daly to get a bill authorising termination in case of fatal foetal abnormality passed by the Dáil is surely disappointing for the families who have to deal with such tragedies.

  • Go To

Anything to ease the sadness and pressure on these families would be welcome. Unfortunately, some people in Fine Gael don’t seem to agree. Perhaps Catholic conservatism is too deeply ingrained in their prominent supporters to go along with the bill or perhaps they don’t want Clare Daly, a socialist of the first stripe, to get the political credit for such a worthwhile step. Whatever the reason, a chance to make some social progress was missed.

In 2016, this country will be celebrating the centenary of the 1916 Rising, perhaps the most famous and far-reaching event in our country’s recent history. The 1916 Proclamation, among many fine idealistic statements, stated, “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”.

I wonder did the authors of the proclamation ever envisage that pregnant Irish women would have to go to England to get relief from such terrible afflictions as fatal foetal abnormality?

Somehow I feel they would not be best pleased to see the present situation. Ireland, a sovereign country, effectively forces its female citizens to go to England in such situations, and then denies it ever happened.

These unfortunate women are deprived of such human comforts as the consolation of family at termination and the burial of the foetus in family graves.

With 80pc approval rating in the country for such a step as Clare Daly’s bill, the Government is walking a very thin line.

It should remember the coming General Election.

The parties in the current Coalition might emerge from that election suffering from a few political ailments which may prove terminal.

Liam Cooke

Coolock, Dublin 17

Hold a poll on abortion law

The Government, and Labour in particular, are getting a lot of bad press for their decision to vote against Clare Daly’s proposal on the right to terminate a pregnancy in the case of fatal foetal abnormality. First off, the current situation is ridiculous and the right to terminate in such circumstances should exist. That said, I support the decision to vote against the bill.

It would be irresponsible for a government to vote to approve a bill that is expected to be unconstitutional, according to advice of the Attorney General. This is not advice that should be dismissed lightly. If the bill was passed, then it would be reasonable to assume that the first woman who exercises her right under this new law would be challenged in court. This would cause undue stress to both her and every other woman waiting on similar procedures that would now be delayed until the case is decided. Furthermore the State will have to defend the law, probably all the way to the Supreme Court, at the cost of millions to the taxpayer. If the AG is correct, the Government would lose and a referendum would have to be held, at the cost of even more millions.

If there is a real will to pass such a law then millions should not be wasted on useless lawsuits and causing unnecessary stress. I would prefer that politicians and parties campaign during the next General Election on holding a referendum to alter the problematic clause. If they get their mandate, hold the referendum, update the Constitution and then pass legislation that will not be challenged in court.

Mel Gorman

Address with Editor

Prophets weep, profits stack up

President Michael D Higgins’s latest poem ‘The Prophets are Weeping’ (Irish Independent, February 2) surely does not apply to Ireland. For the privileged, profits are in fact booming.

Regarding the poem’s observation about the abuse of “words”, compare what Labour is doing in Government with the words contained in its ‘Core Party Principles’ document and many will weep “At their texts distorted” and the suffering and injustice being “imposed in their name”.

Jim O’Sullivan

Rathedmond, Co Sligo

Greece’s brass neck

J Woods praises Greek “guts” in the ongoing argument about Greek debt (Letters, Irish Independent, February 11).

It does not take much guts to bankrupt a country. It just takes recklessness and irresponsibility.

It does not take much guts to demand that everyone else should pay for the bankrupting of that country. It just takes hypocrisy and a brass neck.

A Leavy

Sutton, Dublin 13

Look up, it’s … who?

Sacramento is the state capital of California, the most populous state in the USA.

Recently, I checked in at Sac International Airport for a flight: United Airlines to Chicago, and then Aer Lingus from there to Dublin. As the check-in clerk scanned the ticket, she turned to her companion.

“Who the heck’s Aer Lingus?”

The companion screwed up her face. “Who?”

The clerk addressed me. “Sir…Aer Lingus?”

“It’s the Irish national airline,” I replied.

The clerk shrugged. “I guess you live and learn?”

I cite the above as an example of how well known Aer Lingus is. Yet given the furore over the attempt by IAG to acquire the company, you’d think it is a major international airline flying worldwide.

In a recent edition, the Irish Independent printed a comparison table. IAG subsidiary Vueling is shown as having revenue of €1.39bn, operating profit of €136.8m, a fleet of 64 and 1,937 employees. Meanwhile, Aer Lingus had revenue of €1.42bn, an operating profit of €61.1m, a fleet of 50, and 3,616 employees. The comparison does not make for encouraging reading.

When Kraft Foods made a takeover bid for Cadbury, did the UK government try to scupper the deal? When Volkswagen made a takeover bid for Scania, did the Swedish government try to scupper it?

The IAG bid for Aer Lingus is purely a commercial venture that fits into its forward business strategy and, apart from the fact that a proposed takeover cannot favour one shareholder over another (regarding slots, connections, employment, etc), this whole exercise must be viewed within the context of what’s best for the Aer Lingus shareholders, and Ireland generally, and not clouded by sentimentality, in which our myopic TDs and Taoiseach and the public at large, appear to revel.

We’re given to understand that the route between Dublin and Heathrow is the third busiest in the world. Is IAG really going to give-up this cash cow? Wise up.

Michael Dryhurst

Four Mile House, Co Roscommon

EU-wide solution to euro crisis

In Ireland, we have a joke where if a stranger asks for directions and the route is very complicated you might answer by saying, “Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here”.

It’s the same with the current euro crisis: A currency still not fit for purpose. A Europe where trust between Member States is fast eroding and where politicians in all Member States make promises they can’t keep or tell their edited version of the truth to their citizens. Yes, there were reckless borrowers and some lived beyond their means but equally there were reckless lenders and tons of cash fuelled by low interest rates to suit certain Member States flowed across European borders in a torrent.

Those who were lucky enough to grab a lifeboat should now help the other survivors to clamber aboard or at least throw a life buoy. The solution will not be just between Greece and Germany; we need a European solution, one that does not reward or promote moral hazard but one that is sustainable for all Member States.

Yes, we would prefer not to start from here – but we are here and we must start.

Marian Harkin MEP (Independent)

European Parliament, Brussels

Fall

February 11, 2015

11 Febuary 2015 Fall

Mary had a fall,

Obituary:

Lady Villiers during the war

Lady Villiers during the war

Lady Villiers, who has died aged 98, joined the Belgian Resistance in 1940 and was high up on the Gestapo’s list of people they were determined to arrest.

After Belgium capitulated in May that year, Italian air force officers occupied her family’s chateau at Jurbise, near Mons. José de la Barre d’Erquelinnes, as she then was, joined the newly formed Resistance and gathered information on German aircraft at Chièvres, a nearby airfield used as a base for bombing raids on London.

Her work was of great value to British intelligence, which needed to know the proportion of bombers to fighter planes at any given time. She extended her intelligence activity to cover several German airfields in Belgium and northern France, and recruited agents to help her – one of them would push a pram through the checkpoints with a box of TNT hidden underneath the baby.

José established communication lines so that important information, usually written on cigarette paper and concealed in the handlebars of her bicycle, could be passed to London. Sometimes, while observing aircraft, to avoid suspicion she and a comrade would pretend to be lovers lying in a field.

When the Germans occupied the chateau in Flanders that belonged to her grandfather, the Marquis du Parc, she stayed on in one of the few rooms left to the family. Arrest was a constant threat, and the firing squad was regarded as a better outcome than death in a dozen other ways.

Early one morning in August 1942 she was covertly searching the offices used by the Germans in the chateau when a great commotion erupted. Reports were coming in of the raid by Allied troops at Dieppe and she barely had time to slip back to her room.

In October she learnt that she was on the Gestapo’s list for arrest the following day. With her fair hair dyed black, and furnished with a new identity, she continued her work with the Resistance, but in December that year she had no alternative but to flee the country. After travelling across France, she made the hazardous journey over the Pyrenees with one companion, and three smugglers who acted as guides.

As they crossed a railway line, the straps on her rucksack became entangled in some signal wires. A light came on in the control post, but they were not discovered. After two years of food rationing, the task of dodging the Andorran patrols while climbing peaks more than 7,000 ft in height was draining. Their hands and feet were covered in cuts, their faces swollen by the intense cold.

Lady Villiers wartime identity card

On the Spanish side, José’s party hired two guides who had been condemned to death in absentia by the Franco regime and who tried to rob them at gunpoint. On reaching Barcelona, José was issued with a British passport. She reached Lisbon in March 1943 and embarked on a vessel which took her to Southampton.

Marie José de la Barre d’Erquelinnes, the daughter of Comte Henri de la Barre d’Erquelinnes, was born on April 30 1916 at Cuckfield, Sussex, where her mother took refuge during the Great War. She subsequently returned with her parents to the family home at Jurbise. She was educated at home before attending the Convent of the Assumption at Mons. There she upset several of the nuns by putting a frog in the lavatory bowl.

In 1938 José and her elder sister joined the newly formed Motor Corps of the Red Cross. She was trained as an ambulance driver and mechanic and, after the German forces invaded Belgium, she accompanied the Corps on missions throughout the country. While helping to evacuate patients from hospitals, her vehicle was strafed by enemy fighters and two of her charges died.

Having escaped to England in 1943, she worked for Belgian Emergency Relief and, in autumn 1944, she went to the American Delta Base in Marseille as a liaison officer. Much of her work was involved in resettling refugees from Russia who arrived on ships from Odessa.

In August 1945, José was demobilised and returned to Belgium, where she met Charles Hyde Villiers, a young and recently widowed British colonel. A great-grandson of the 4th Earl of Clarendon, the Victorian statesman, he had a distinguished war record with the Grenadier Guards and SOE. They married the following year and undertook a four-month journey through Africa to research investment opportunities in the continent. Their friend, Colonel (later Sir) David Stirling, accompanied them .

On returning to London, Villiers joined the investment bank that subsequently became Schroder Wagg. He was chairman of the British Steel Corporation from 1976 to 1980 and was knighted in 1975.

José Villiers trained in the East End of London as a school care worker, and for 20 years spent several days each week working with the Inner London Education Authority, the local schools and their doctors. She became closely involved in the problems of families in working-class neighbourhoods as they struggled to do the best for their children on inadequate wages and living in damp, high-rise flats. She made many friends among the East Enders as well as among the immigrants who arrived in Britain during the 1970s.

Receiving the Bronze Star from the American government

José Villiers and her husband settled in a house that they had built on the edge of Windsor Great Park. In December 1978 an IRA letter bomb was delivered to the house while José was alone with two young grandchildren. Mindful of her training in the Resistance, she gingerly carried the suspect package into the garden and called the bomb squad. Had it exploded, it could have killed the three of them.

For her wartime work, the Belgian government awarded her the Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Couronne with Palme, Croix de Guerre with Palme, Médaille de la Resistance, Médaille Commemorative de la Guerre 1940-45 and the Croix des Evades. The French government awarded her a Croix de Guerre. From the American government, she received the Bronze Star. In 1988 she published Granny was a Spy, an account of her wartime exploits.

Lady Villiers’s husband died in 1992. Her stepson, Nicholas Hyde Villiers, died in 1998, and she is survived by her two daughters, Diana Villiers Negroponte and Anne Martin.

Lady Villiers, born April 30 1916, died February 1 2015

Guardian:

HSBC Holdings Plc Bank Branches And Logos
A pedestrian passes the entrance to an HSBC bank in London. ‘Our country is fit to live in because of its essential infrastructure of transport, fire services, the police, education, the health service, the military and so on, all paid for with our taxes,’ writes Neil Holmes. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

In response to yet more revelations (HSBC files show how Swiss bank helped clients dodge taxes and hide millions, 9 February), politicians are talking tough on tax avoidance, tax evasion and unjustified tax breaks. However, they have not yet convinced the public that they are serious. Tax dodging is costing governments – both in the UK and in developing countries – billions. This is money which is vital for tackling poverty. But despite the positive rhetoric from politicians, our polling shows that only one in five people believe political parties have gone far enough in their promises to tackle tax avoidance by large companies. All parties are going to have to work hard to win back public confidence.

The problems are multi-faceted and complex. A critical part of the solution is dealing with the secrecy of UK tax havens – as David Cameron promised to do as G8 chair in 2013, a pledge Ed Miliband attempted to trump on Saturday – but more is needed. Only a commitment to a full package of reforms will send the message that the problem is being taken seriously. This is why we, along with over 60 economists and academics, a range of faith leaders, responsible companies and more than 40,000 members of the public, have called for a commitment from all parties to bringing forward a tax-dodging bill in the first 100 days of the new government. Only this can convince the public that rhetoric will be turned into effective action.
Jenny Ricks Head of campaigns, ActionAid, Christine Allen Director of policy and public affairs, Christian Aid, Duncan Exley Director, Equality Trust, Martin Drewry Director, Health Poverty Action, Toni Pearce President, NUS, Nick Bryer Head of UK policy and campaigns, Oxfam, Stephen Brown Director of Europe, The Global Poverty Project

Yet again a big company has been shown to be behaving improperly in relation to taxes. Recently it was suggested that Boots should be stopped from handling NHS prescriptions because of its abysmal record on paying its UK taxes. This excellent proposal should be extended to many other companies that similarly fall short.

Our country is fit to live in because of its essential infrastructure of transport, fire services, the police, education, the health service, the military and so on, all paid for with our taxes. So the next time a branch of Starbucks is burgled, let them sort it out themselves. When Amazon sends books to customers, using the public roads, it should pay a surcharge for every mile travelled. British American Tobacco pays no tax here, so how about doubling the duty on its cigarettes? I could go on. Only when direct action is taken against these immoral tax dodgers will they face up to their moral responsibilities.
Neil Holmes
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Clearly the UK authorities are treating tax evaders with kid gloves (Catalogue of malpractice endorsed by bankers, 9 February). In addition to criminal prosecutions, people caught fiddling more than the living wage should have their tax returns published in full, with only their most personal details redacted. Further sanctions as part of restorative justice could include having to sign on every fortnight to visit hard-pressed public services and explain to their staff and users how their fines and future taxes would benefit them.

As with MPs’ expenses, for far too long secrecy has allowed top-rate income tax payers to claim tax reliefs that they would be hard pressed to justify in public. Non-domiciled tax status must be abolished: it is farcical that Boris Johnson, with dual citizenship, has to pay US taxes, and yet British citizens can opt out altogether. As for those tax exiles and their families living in place like Monaco who have accepted public honours, there should be no hiding place: either they pay back the taxes they should have been paying like everybody else, or, like Fred Goodwin, their honours can be publicly withdrawn in a special issue of the London Gazette.
David Nowell
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Your front-page article (HMRC knew of wrongdoing, but did not prosecute bank, 10 February) highlights the most shocking aspect of this whole sorry affair. We all accept some companies will commit fraud and that the economic system has been absurdly weighted in favour of the extremely rich. (If we don’t then why aren’t the streets full of angry protests?) But for the very people whom we employ and task with prosecuting such behaviour to collude in “sweetheart” deals that let perpetrators walk away with a 10% bill and guaranteed anonymity, while neatly paving their way for a post-HMRC career with the facilitators of the crime, is a sign that the system is no longer fit for purpose. Will any party offer a genuine alternative?
Colin Reed
Glasgow

It’s all fine and well to investigate HSBC and its former CEO Stephen Green for tax fraud at its Swiss arm, but the pursuit of truth and justice must not end there. This is a huge story. It implicates HMRC, the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority, who have clearly failed to act against HSBC. It involves the Treasury, which must explain what it knew and whether it approved the action (not) taken. Then there are the thousands of individuals, whose unethical – and perhaps criminal – behaviour has lost us huge sums in tax revenue. A key target for investigation must be HMRC’s former head of tax Dave Hartnett (a familiar name to readers of Private Eye), who negotiated not only the infamous tax deals with Vodafone and Goldman Sachs but also the coalition government’s tax amnesty for HSBC account holders. Following retirement, he went on to advise HSBC on financial crime governance – along with the former DG of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Bill Hughes. Who can we trust to get to the bottom of this monumental scandal?
Mary Braithwaite
Wye, Kent

HSBC needs to get its priorities right in questioning whether large cash transfers are for money laundering or tax evasion. Last year they queried whether my debit card payment of about £450 income tax to HMRC was above board. At the time I wondered how one could launder money by sending it to HMRC. In view of the latest revelations, perhaps they had never come across someone paying their tax before.
Ros Campbell
Leeds

I note that HSBC says “Major regulatory reform is under way” (to reduce tax evasion) and that “HSBC fully welcomes and supports these reforms” (9 February). It must be such a relief to the bank, which was presumably forbidden by law from reforming its own procedures in the past.
Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

A worker on the assembly line at Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull. Photograph: John Robertson
A worker on the assembly line at Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull. Photograph: John Robertson

Ian Birrell (I warned the Tories to shun tax dodgers. They wouldn’t listen, 10 February) fails to grasp that the real wealth creators are factory workers, miners, farm labourers and so on. The so-called “captains of industry” need to be challenged to be just that – captains of a team – and should ensure that all members of the team benefit from their joint corporate activity. He is wrong to conclude that “the Conservatives should attack Labour for its antipathy to wealth creation”. Since its inception, Labour has championed the cause of “blue-collar” wealth creators, and long may it do so. Bring on the living wage, progressive taxation and heavy penalties for the shirkers – those who evade paying their fair share of tax.
Robert Twycross
Oxford

Stephen Green as trade minister, 2011: one of a growing number of ordained Church of England clergy
Stephen Green as trade minister, 2011: one of a growing number of ordained Church of England clergy who earn their livings in secular employment. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Since the late 1960s, a growing number of ordained Church of England clergy have earned their livings in secular employment. The Rev Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint was one (The boss: banker, peer, minister, priest, 10 February). Some of us provide a free service to the parishes in which we live; others engage with the fairness or unfairness of the secular structures in which we are employed. The Rev Stephen Green’s chairmanship of HSBC while legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion were taking place raises important questions for the Church of England about the role of all clergy in secular employment.

Our faith, and any normal respect for humanity, requires us to work with and for the poorest and weakest, the sick and disabled, both personally and politically. That means engaging the financial and political structures that put them a long way second to the pursuit of personal financial gain. Should any member of the clergy have continued to preside over a billion-pound institution that flagrantly diminishes the capacity of a nation to pursue economic justice?
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

Perhaps the first question Jackie Ashley (The short-termism of our NHS is spelt out in the scandal over hearing aids, 10 February) and the rest of us should be asking is just how many hearing aids and how many cochlear implants could have been paid for if the tax evaders and avoiders banking at HSBC had paid their taxes. The second question should be how many of our politicians and tax officials are in need of cochlear implants and cataract operations, considering the deaf ears and blind eyes they have turned towards tax evaders over the years. Of course, Lord Green may well require more radical surgery to cure his sudden inability to speak about HSBC.
Richard Stainer
Bradfield St George, Suffolk

Is Lord Green aware that the first peer to style himself “of Hurstpierpoint” was Lord Goring, whose family’s fortunes were founded on funds embezzled from the Queen’s revenue in the reign of Elizabeth I?
Jeremy Goring
St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex

Is the Rev Stephen Green the same Rev Green discovered with a piece of lead piping in the conservatory?
Stuart Garside
New Mills, Derbyshire


We only terrorise ourselves

Jonathan Freedland (23 January) seems concerned about not knowing whom to bomb, and claims that the solution does not lie in our own hands. But why bomb anybody? It’s just a dangerous racket anyway.

Why not consider following China’s foreign policy, which seems to be “Aid and trade, but never invade”? (You’ll sleep at night and you won’t be afraid). Think of the billions of dollars we’ve wasted creating endless enmity. Vast sums that could have been used to build up our own infrastructure. Make our social services second to none. Create full employment, pay everyone a decent wage, provide decent housing, etc.

Who would have reason to invade us then? When will we understand that by terrorising others we only end up terrorising ourselves?
Ron Date
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Jonathan Freedland writes that, in the aftermath of the Paris killings, “fear is to become the background of our lives”. Is it? Because 17 very unlucky people were tragically shot by a few misguided psychopaths? Given that France has 60 million inhabitants, the likelihood of being killed by terrorism is less than 1 in 3 million. A French person is about 10,000 times more likely to be killed in an automobile accident. There is no rational cause to live in fear of terrorism; it is a negligible risk.

Yet, the purpose of terrorism is to cause fear, which divides and polarises people. The hysteria typified by Freedland’s article is chilling evidence of how effective this can be. To fight terrorism, we must remain rational, and fight fear itself.
Eric Galbraith
Montreal, Canada

Doomsday clock ticks on

Slowing the doomsday clock (30 January) requires nothing less than a new industrial revolution, with more modest consumption lifestyles and the reduction of obscene individual and international inequalities whereby 1% of the world’s population own 50% of its wealth.

The main obstacles to constructing a clean, low-carbon sustainable energy future come from the monstrous regiment of climate change deniers and fossil-fuelled tycoons. The brain of Homo sapiens is said to be the most complex structure in the known universe. The forthcoming Paris climate conference should surely summon our collective wit to speed away from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Bryan Furnass
Canberra, Australia

In an area of northern British Columbia, there is a certain species of wild rabbit. These particular rabbits function on a seven-year cycle. In the first year you can hardly find one but by year seven they have overpopulated to the extent that they are short of food and dying of disease. There are so many rabbits that local people joke about the Alaska highway being the only highway on earth paved with fur.

I calculate the human race to be at about year six in rabbit years. If we are truly smarter than these rabbits, we will start immediately to limit our numbers and protect our fragile ecosphere. If, as I suspect, our IQ is no better than the rabbits, then we will continue hopping down the same old trail, proudly waving the flag of shareholder value until we too are roadkill on the highway of history.
Jacques Samuel
Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada

Healthcare in Thailand

Amartya Sen is undoubtedly well-renowned in his field of economics but he seems misinformed in some areas of healthcare. In the 23 January article (Why universal healthcare [UHC] is the key to a better world), Sen notes that “Thailand’s experience in universal healthcare is exemplary” as affordable health care was available for “all the population”. This is not the case. There are millions who do not qualify for UHC or cannot access care: for example, the 30-baht scheme is only available in one’s home district, meaning rural poor who have moved to seek jobs in the cities cannot easily access care. Similarly, the large non-Thai migrant population have issues accessing care. Some have problems because they are not recognised as legal migrants and some because services are not available or restricted.
Adam Childs
Queenstown, New Zealand

The value of a constitution

I was interested to read Guy Standing’s article on the need for a new charter – in effect a written constitution for the UK (30 January). Germany has its written constitution since 1949 and it is readily available.

Many years ago, at a time when telephones were devices attached to wires within the house, my work took me to Bonn, then the capital of West Germany. Our rented apartment was fine, except that it had no phone. I called in at the post office only to be told that due to the heavy demand for phones, foreigners like myself would have to wait several months for one to be fitted, as German nationals had priority.

I protested that this was contrary to the German constitution. Article three, paragraph three, states clearly, among other things, that no one may be discriminated against due to their origin, sex, race or religion – and I was being discriminated against. The post office employee looked at me for a few moments and then said: “You’re right.” Our phone was installed the following week.
Derek Malpass
Hohenthann, Germany

Putin was right on Crimea

Regarding Julian Borger’s 9 January article on tensions between the US and Russia: it was a stroke of genius for Vladimir Putin to take back Russia’s historic Crimea, and thus prevent the US from establishing a base at this extremely strategic location. As it is, the US has bases all over the world and has several times more weapons than any of the other leading countries in the world. Also, it has already begun to meddle in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

It’s naive to be blind to US policy in the region. When Kennedy stopped Khrushchev from establishing a missile base in Cuba, he was hailed as a hero. When Putin does the same at his doorstep, he is seen as a scoundrel. What hypocrisy!
Jan Lockert
Oslo, Norway

The church-state conflict

Congratulations to Giles Fraser (6 February) for nailing the problem with being an established church. The issue of going along with what the government wants is not just a problem for the Church of England. Even though Anglicans in Australia have never been established, they often still carry in their heads an expectation of place and privileges.

But the problem does not stop there. We are approaching the celebration of the landing at Gallipoli and the grief brought about by catastrophic military bungling. Australia is already indulging in an orgy of remembering these events that is tailored to nationalistic aims that distorts our memory of them.

Churches are not meant to be interested in power, because they are ultimately responsible to a sovereignty that stands above empires. The first world war commemorations are an opportunity for churches to enshrine peace as a way of life rather than embrace the dubious glories of a militaristic past.
Rev Dr John Smith
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Briefly

The book Flickers: Your Brain on Movies (30 January) is vital food for thought, besides confirming that screened violence in the movies or acted out on TV and in video games encourages the same in the young and impressionable who watch them. As David Shariatmadari says, in the realm of neuroscience one “fundamental principle” is “that when we observe a behaviour, we tend to mimic it”, a “mirror effect” any parent can corroborate.

A famous movie buff (Robert Osborne) follows this notion further by suggesting that the plethora of violence in fast-moving and noisy movies is the result of their creators having been fed these aspects of storytelling in the video games they spent their formative years playing.
Richard Orlando
Westmount, Quebec, Canada

The United States of America: technologically advanced, militarily powerful, socially primitive, diplomatically inept, morally bankrupt. What more is there to say? I find I agree with nearly everything Gary Younge writes (American Sniper, 30 January).
Mike Gibson
Swadlincote, UK

My initial reaction to your story about declining oil prices (23 January) was the same as that of Rachel Cowling (Reply, 6 February): its environmental cost. But on reflection I hope that it will make energy companies less likely to invest in the development of oil reserves. That would be a very positive outcome.
Margaret Wilkes
Cottesloe, Western Australia

Regarding your story on the air pressure in footballs, Scandal pumps up Super Bowl debate (30 January): I am sure I am not the first to point out that “roughly, one kilo per 6.5 sq mm” is far too rough. It should be one kilo per 6.5 sq cm.
Bruce Munday
Mt Torrens, South Australia

Independent:

A brilliant article by Paddy Ashdown (9 February), who rightly sees autonomy for south-eastern Ukraine as a key element in a ceasefire.  The people in this region, more than half of whom are Russian, will never accept rule from Kiev again after the brutality of Ukrainian efforts to regain control.

What is needed is a ceasefire, supervised by an international force, followed by reconstruction and, after an interval of peace, an internationally supervised referendum on the region’s future.

Any recent visitor to Russia or follower of the Russian media will have experienced the extreme nationalist mood created by sanctions and the refusal to understand the justice of Russia’s position on both the Crimea and on the region of Ukraine known, since Potemkin drove out the Turks 250 years ago, as “new Russia”. There isn’t a shred of evidence that Russia poses any threat to the status quo, except in those places where there’s a Russian majority whose rights are being ignored.

Once peace has been restored there needs to be a recognition that Russia, if treated with respect, can play a key role in solving many major problems including Syria, Iran, Palestine and climate change. Paddy is right about the damage done by American triumphalism (and American management consultants) post-1991.

John Landell Mills
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

 

The process of demonising the “psychopathic” Putin is in full swing. Much like Saddam, except that Russia actually has weapons of mass destruction. This is all in aid of the West arming the Ukraine government, which will, of course, be countered by the Russians openly arming the east.

The reason for this act of stupidity is that we want all of Ukraine to become part of the western alliance, thus giving us a veto on Russia accessing its Crimean port. No Russian leader could possibly accept this.

Someone, other than me, should tell the Cold War warriors to pack it in before things get out of hand.

Lyn Brooks
Ongar,  Essex

 

Mohamed cartoons are a test of freedom

The thousands of Muslims who went to Downing Street to protest over the cartoons of Mohamed suggest that they think satirising their religion is on a par with the senseless slaughter of the French cartoonists, and that the cartoons are an affront to the norms of civilised society (report, 9 February).

On the contrary, in this country, having the freedom to send up and ridicule religion is the definition of a free society. You only have to look at the countries which don’t allow this to see this is so. The protesters have missed the point.

Steve Lustig
London NW2

 

Labour threat to rich people, not business

The furore over Labour’s so-called “anti-business” policies needs to be exposed for what it is: namely, vested interests looking out for the themselves.

Many of the cheerleaders being wheeled out to finger-wag at Labour for business-bashing are publicly supporters of the Conservatives. To claim that they are speaking on behalf of “business” is disingenuous. They are speaking on behalf of themselves – which would be fair enough if they owned up to it.

A hike in employers’ National Insurance contributions or an increase in corporation tax can legitimately be claimed to have adverse effects on businesses, but this is a political argument. However, the restoration of the 50p tax rate and the proposed mansion tax are taxes on people, not businesses.

Would we be hearing the same hot air if the proposal was to increase the basic rate of income tax by 2p in the pound I wonder? Would this be presented as anti-business? I suspect not.

It is perfectly fair for individuals affected by the mansion tax and the 50p tax rate to argue why it is wrong or unfair, but to veil their own vested interest under the cloak of “what is best for business” is an example of self interested electioneering.

Peter Morris
Liverpool

 

Rose-tinted picture of schools in the past

I am afraid that the rosy picture of education in the 1940s painted by Dr David Moulson is not one I recognise (letter, 4 February).

I was born in the 1940s and I was acutely aware of the widely differing academic abilities and school achievements of my working-class peers. The great majority of these children went on to “fail” their 11-plus at 11 years old.

The reorganisations brought about by the 1944 Education Act were deemed necessary partly because of the low levels of literacy and numeracy of so many recruits into the armed forces during the First and Second World Wars.

People with starry-eyed visions of past education idylls should step into their local primary and secondary schools, where they would see that most of them (not all) are doing a superb job at preparing and educating today’s children for their lives in the 21st century.

Alan Bailey
Sandy, Bedfordshire

 

Anybody can teach – even nuns

Cristina Odone on Question Time and others pillory Tristram Hunt for doubting the ability of nuns to teach. How foolish of him.

Anybody can teach, just as anybody could be a legal aid lawyer or a nurse or a cancer surgeon. You don’t need training for jobs like that.

Let’s save money and have nuns doing all that type of stuff.

Just have specialists trained for the things that really matter –tax avoidance accountancy, private equity, asset stripping, arms selling to Saudi Arabia.

As for the rest, let the Christians take over the asylum.

Ian Craine
London N15

 

Disney embraces feminism? Not yet

Disney has triumphed and Jane Merrick (4 February) has been duped if she thinks that Frozen has anything to offer the next generation of feminists.

Elsa has powers that she can’t control or understand. Unlike the powers of Superman or Spiderman, hers don’t inspire admiration and aren’t used for the benefit of others or to help good triumph over evil, but are overwhelming for her and lead to her damaging her “kingdom” and being alienated and separated from society.

Elsa’s predicament will resonate with many young women, who feel they can’t identify what is wrong with them and feel isolated and marginalised from the mainstream.

The two size-zero sisters with their minuscule waists, pert breasts and unfeasibly large eyes conform miserably to tired images of what women should look like whatever their talents or character.

We don’t want our children to aspire to these Princesses who don’t even get to wear a pair of trousers in the freezing snow.

Rebecca Evanson
London SE15

 

The hard rewrite

Your columnist Terence Blacker (9 February) has been misinformed when he asserts that a scene in my play The Hard Problem “had to be re-written no less than three times because preview audiences simply didn’t get it”.

In a Q-and-A with the director, Nick Hytner, I remarked that there was one sentence in my play which I had changed twice because it was too oblique as a feed for an event in the next scene, standard stuff in the life of a playwright in preview.

Hytner had seen it coming; I thought he was wrong but, I said, he turned out to be right and I “resented” this. We need a typeface for banter.

Tom Stoppard
Tarrant Gunville, Dorset

 

The union is already dead

I take grave exception to the tone and content of your editorial of 2 February (“The party’s over”). To see The Independent used as some sort of unionist rag is contemptible.

You end the piece by encouraging the people of Scotland to smell the coffee. I suggest you do likewise! You are clearly struggling to keep up with the realities on the ground here north of the border.

The Union is already de facto dead. A bright new dawn awaits a soon to be liberated people. Liberated from the xenophobic, anti-European, little Englander mentality of the English. A proud nation will be finally able to forge its own destiny.

And all of this comes from a Dutchman who has lived in Scotland for 40 years.

Peter Kampman
Burntisland, Fife

 

Daffodils and raspberries

Further to your correspondence about daffodils and spring onions: I was assured at a farmers’ market by a big Perthshire soft fruit farmer that he had been asked by the chief buyer of a major supermarket chain “And what crop are we looking at here?” while standing overlooking a field of raspberry canes.

What hope can there be for the staff when senior management are so ignorant?

Marina Donald
Edinburgh

Times:

Is the call for more pay a ploy to increase the taxes collected by HM Revenue from those mistakenly celebrating a bigger pay packet?

Sir, We echo the prime minister’s words to business leaders across Britain: it is indeed time for workers to get a pay rise (report, Feb 10) given that the UK’s bank balance is looking healthier for 2015. Hard-working employees should be the ones feeling the financial benefits of the upturn after several years with little or no pay rises, something that can lead to demotivated and disgruntled staff. But there’s more to being a good boss than giving pay rises alone. Some sectors still struggling with the economic recovery may not be in a position to grant a boost in pay packets this year. If Cameron looks back to the “happiness index” that his government commissioned, staff satisfaction is not driven so much by wealth but by health and wellbeing. If employers invested more in the wellbeing of their workforce, they would reap far greater rewards in terms of longer-term employee engagement and productivity.

Petra Wilton
Director of policy, Chartered Management Institute
Sir, It is difficult to reconcile the suggestion that the time is ripe for wages to be increased with what is really in the best interests of us all. It is spending power that is important, and if the current trend for lower prices continues, surely that will be of most benefit to both those in work and to those who have retired. Inevitably, higher wages will slow down deflation and generally make the pound in our pocket less valuable. Or is the call for more pay a ploy to increase the taxes collected by HM Revenue from those mistakenly celebrating a bigger pay packet?

Jack Lynes
Pinner, Middx
Sir, Giving staff a pay rise adds to the fixed cost base of a business — and once awarded, can’t be taken away. So businesses will be understandably wary of taking such a step unless they have greater certainty about the UK’s economic future. Our latest survey reveals that businesses continue to be confident about their immediate prospects. Yet they are still cautious about making long-term commitments given the uncertainty around the outcome of a very open general election, continuing problems in the eurozone and the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU.

It’s important that the proceeds of growth are shared fairly, but until business receives long-term assurances about the UK’s economic direction, Mr Cameron’s pleas are likely to fall upon deaf ears.

Stephen Ibbotson
Director of business, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

Sir, On the front page of yesterday’s Times, you report that the corporate sector increased its cash balances by more than £100 billion between 2007 and 2013, and paid out £79 billion in regular dividends last year.

On Monday, in the Opinion pages, Libby Purves wrote that “household debt continues to soar unchecked . . . to bridge the gap between what (people) earn and what keeps normal life going”.

The connection is clear.

Adrian Perry
Sheffield
Sir, The prime minister’s plea to business to increase wages will be of little comfort to those in the public sector, whose pay has been frozen for the length of this parliament, or capped at 1 per cent. Will there be a similar pledge to raise public sector pay? If there is, I suspect it will coincide with heavy job losses.

Colin Sherwood
Croydon
Sir, David Cameron is disingenuous in calling on employers to pay higher wages. Employers are enabled to pay low wages by the constant supply of cheap migrant labour, which Mr Cameron has repeatedly said that he will curb, but about which he has done nothing effective.

Duncan Heenan
Niton, Isle of Wight

Please send your letters to the Editor to: The Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF, or e-mail them to letters@thetimes.co.uk

More from Letters to the Editor

Mosaic to my ears

Published at 12:01AM, February 11 2015 No doubt contemporaries of Michelangelo disparaged his newly finished Sistine Chapel ceiling too…

Sir, Is the visit of Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande to see President Putin going to be a re-run of Chamberlain’s visit to Munich in 1938? In both cases the separate affinity, in language and political orientation, of a part of an independent country which a nationalist leader wanted to occupy or control, if necessary by force, has given rise to contention. Both leaders would claim some justification because of the vulnerability of their border areas under the status quo. In one case as a result of the excessively harsh Treaty of Versailles, and in the other by the steady encroachment of Nato eastwards.

In a natural desire to solve the problem by diplomatic means, as the alternative would be too horrendous to contemplate, the European leaders might accept a de facto separation or even observation of the disputed area in return for, as Chamberlain did, a promise of no further territorial acquisitions; but can Putin be trusted? We can only hope that any appeasement this time does not end up like the last one did.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall
House of Lords
Sir, Putin’s end game is obvious. He will achieve his objectives within Ukraine, and when/if the economic sanctions imposed reach the point at which he considers his survival is in question the West will be given the option of lifting them or facing military conflict. The West will blink first because it has no other choice.

Preserving peace costs money, effort and strategic thought and, just as importantly, adequate size of military forces to achieve the aim, which is to avoid conflict. Nato has to be conventionally capable and credible. Given the underfunding throughout the alliance over the past 30 years, that is not the reputation that Nato now enjoys.
PP Gilroy (Sqn Ldr, RAF, ret’d)
Bishopsteignton, Devon
Sir, General Sir Richard Shirreff’s comments lamenting David Cameron’s absence from the shuttle diplomacy were inappropriate (report, Feb 6). Ukraine is not a member of Nato, and Nato countries have no obligation to involve themselves. Sabre-rattling can only inflame the situation.
Christopher Ellis
Farnham, Surrey
Sir, It seems obvious that the United States has reservations about the Hollande/Merkel initiative and is holding back. It would not be surprising therefore, if this is the case, that the British government should be taking a lower profile than some would wish.
Brigadier Nicholas Cocking
Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Sir, Putin is not alone in dubious moves (leader, Feb 6). It is clear that the window of opportunity was opened early last year by the EU’s ham-fisted moves on the EU-Ukraine association agreement, which, though scarcely mentioned now or then, contained a raft of military as well as economic proposals that precipitated the origins of the present situation. The naive ambitions of the EU are significantly to blame for the current situation, and even now Ukraine is not engaged in sufficient reform.
Sir William Cash, MP
House of Commons
Sir, Perhaps those advocating leaving the EU would explain how Britain’s exit from the EU, or the prospect of it, would help to deal with the situation in Ukraine, and our vital interest in finding a satisfactory outcome to it.
Sir Peter Marshall
London W8
Sir, Russia’s peace offer is, as you state, an attempt to secure military gains, but it is hardly “cynical” (leader, Feb 6). If the army representing the Russian population of eastern Ukraine is to maintain its foothold, it is surely preferable for this to be managed via diplomacy than through further bloodshed.

Putin’s overture to Hollande and Merkel is far less cynical than his sponsorship of violence to date.
Dr Richard Braithwaite
Pondwell, Isle of Wight
Sir, In reply to Roger Boyes’s article (“Arming Ukraine will stop Putin in his tracks”, Feb 4), we in Russia have a saying: “Gamble but don’t try to win back what you have lost.” OK, the West bet on Ukraine and lost, with a civil war now raging there. Under the circumstances, would arming Ukraine not look like throwing good money after bad?

Besides, Putin knows how to stop Nato encirclement in its tracks: a buffer state with a territorial dispute.
Mergen Mongush
Moscow

No doubt contemporaries of Michelangelo disparaged his newly finished Sistine Chapel ceiling too…

Sir, I suspect that what Michael Robinson (letter, Feb 9) said about the “suffocating” Paolozzi murals in Tottenham Court Road station was once said by contemporaries of the decorators of the Parthenon, as well as of Michelangelo when he finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling: too bright, badly drawn, overpowering, gaudy and out of place are the usual stones thrown.

It seems to me that a longer passage of time needs to be allowed before destruction or removal is undertaken of any artwork of this nature.

Alf Menzies

Southport

Sir, The upgrade of Tottenham Court Road Tube station is vital to help London’s transport network to keep pace with the population (Times2, Feb 6). Around 150,000 people use this station every day; this is expected to rise to more than 200,000 when Crossrail serves the station in 2018.

The Paolozzi mosaics are an important part of our heritage. We have worked closely with the Paolozzi Foundation and others, and are retaining and restoring 95 per cent of the mosaics in their original locations.

The signature piece by the Oxford Street station entrance will be removed and preserved for redisplay. We can’t keep the arches as they are part of the roof structure that needs to come off to allow the station to be enlarged. The decision to remove the arches was agreed with the Paolozzi Foundation.

Gareth Powell

Director for strategy and service development, London Underground

Anything designed, built, maintained or operated by human beings is open to human error — as Nasa learnt to its cost

Sir, Anything designed, built, maintained or operated by human beings is open to human error (letter, Feb 10). Nasa’s loss of a multimillion-dollar Mars orbiter a few years ago was due to one part of the team working in metric while the others used feet and inches.

Michael Bird

London SW13

One famous Bovril label was that of the Pope, mug in hand, under the superscription “The Two Infallible Powers. The Pope & Bovril”

Sir, What a pity that the selection of old advertisements on the new Bovril labels doesn’t include the splendid one of the Pope, mug in hand, under the superscription “The Two Infallible Powers. The Pope & Bovril” (picture story, Feb 6). It appeared in 1890, 20 years after the First Vatican Council defined papal infallibility. It is reproduced in Leonard de Vries’s Victorian Advertisements (1968); we are fortunate to have been spared “Bovril by Electrocution” on the next page, which shows two unfortunate oxen strapped into an electric chair.

Richard Lawrence

London SW1

You will never guess where this reader learnt the result of last Friday’s Wales-England rugby match…

Sir, I missed the Wales-England rugby match last Friday as I was abroad. I had recorded it on TV, and went to some lengths to avoid finding out the result, even to the extent of not opening the sports section of The Times website on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. But I continued to read the obituaries as usual. On Monday I found the long and interesting obituary of Lord Gavron, who died on February 7. Imagine my dismay when I reached the sentence: “In the evening, he watched England’s victory over Wales in the Six Nations . . . ”

Peter Tann

London SW1

The Deregulation Bill could threaten the provision of housing suitable for disabled and older people with mobility problems

Sir, Ric Cheadle (letter, Feb 10) is correct in saying that older people cannot find suitable smaller houses. The problem is that “smaller” means small rooms, not just fewer. Most older people need fewer rooms but still want the space: people who have lived for many years in substantial family homes simply don’t want poky rooms with little windows, and the sooner developers realise it the better.

And why are so few flats for the retired built with a balcony?

Angela Hammond
Guiseley, Leeds

Sir, Today is the last chance for the government to remove obstacles in the Deregulation Bill that will make it harder to build homes in which disabled and older people with reduced mobility can move around freely. Accessible homes are desperately needed by those who face the daily nightmare of washing in the kitchen sink, sleeping in the living room or trying to get out of the front door. Such homes significantly reduce the health and social care cost to society by helping people to remain independent and by reducing the risk of injury.

This bill could have a truly progressive impact on accessible housing, but it risks being a retrograde step unless the details are improved.

Andy Cole, Leonard Cheshire Disability; Caroline Abrahams, Age UK; Dan Scorer, Royal Mencap Society; Alastair Graham, Golden Lane Housing; David Sinclair, International Longevity Centre

Sir, I was taught that when a surgical or medical error occurred (letter, Feb 10) it was correct to apologise; this did not imply guilt. Such action may lead to a more amicable discussion.

Professor Stuart Stanton (Gynaecologist) London SW19

Chicory, little known in England in 1915? Not so – just ask the Army, when on campaign…

Sir, “Until recently the national vegetable of Belgium, chicory . . . has been little known in England” (On this day, Feb 7, 1915). Chicory essence, at least, had been in use for about 40 years by then, as a flavouring for Camp Coffee, produced for the Army.

FW Nunneley

Beckley, E Susse

Telegraph:

Syria: Putin warns West not to arm rebels who 'eat the organs' of their enemies

Vladimir Putin, right, with David Cameron during a press conference at 10 Downing Street Photo: PA

SIR – Britain’s last defence review based on interests rather than just saving money was in 1998, when 3 per cent of our GDP went on defence. Among other things it maintained 36 ocean-going escorts at sea and 150,000 soldiers on land.

As the world’s fifth-largest economy, we now spend 2 per cent of GDP, with 19 escorts and the Army on its way down to 85,000. Yet total government spending is up from 35 to 42 per cent of GDP.

Defence budgets should be governed by interests and threats, not arbitrary figures. Since 1998 the threats have multiplied: Vladimir Putin has restarted the Cold War by land-grabbing. Middle Eastern irreligious maniacs are terrorising cities, Africa has war, famine and pestilence, and America, with Pacific problems, is tiring of being the guarantor of a fractious Europe.

David Cameron has said that we are a small island with a big footprint. If he means it he can find money to make it true.

John Parfitt
Painswick, Gloucestershire

SIR – In a letter to The Daily Telegraph a year ago I argued that the West should negotiate over Ukraine with a plan that was “both realistic and positive”.

Times have changed. Russia has taken the military initiative. In order to negotiate now, the West must show its willingness to strengthen its own military forces.

Lord Spicer
London SW1

SIR – American officials have “mocked Europe’s efforts to broker peace in Ukraine with Vladimir Putin” and “likened the talks to the appeasement of Hitler before the Second World War”.

Hitler was looking east, and did not want to go to war with Britain. Going to war with him put us in debt to the United States. Under the terms of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Americans used that debt to dismantle imperial preference and so dissolve the British Empire.

Sir Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Moscow, rightly tells us (Comment, February 7) that sanctions against Putin will not work, so we should be negotiating with him over Ukraine.

Lord Sudeley
London NW1

SIR – America’s scorn at Europe’s “appeasement” of Moscow is well deserved and, in the case of mainland Europe, is all that can be expected, as European nations refuse to meet their obligations to Nato, expecting the Americans always to step in to protect their interests.

As for Britain, with Labour’s policy of putting all our eggs in one basket of super aircraft carriers not available for a generation, and a Conservative government decimating our Armed Forces, we are unable to take the lead in facing down the dictatorial actions of Putin, who is secure in his belief that a weak EU will not hinder his territorial ambitions. Weakness leads to war, as history should teach us.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

Jewish safety fears

SIR – While driving past a synagogue recently, I noticed a member of the congregation acting as a security guard, complete with reflective vest. Concerned that an incident might have taken place, I stopped to inquire and offer my support.

Unfortunately, my friendly impulse was misinterpreted and by the time I reached the young man my vehicle’s registration number was being relayed via his walkie-talkie. As a more senior member approached I decided to leave, offering a peace greeting as I retreated.

Much shaken, I wrote to the rabbi to apologise for any alarm caused. Perhaps if more non-Jewish people showed concern, our Jewish friends would know they are valued members of the community.

Rob Mannion
Bournemouth, Dorset

Pensioner bonds compensate for low interest

Spending the inheritance: ‘The Last Day in the Old Home’ by Robert Martineau, 1862

SIR – Pensioner bonds have been heavily criticised by Mark Littlewood, the director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Phillip Lee, a Conservative MP, with the latter describing it as a form of “intergenerational theft”.

However, over the past few years better‑off pensioners have seen negative real returns on their savings, while younger generations with mortgages have seen unprecedented low levels of interest rates.

Effectively, there has been a massive transfer of income from the older to the younger generations, which should be taken into consideration when using emotive terms like intergenerational theft.

In fact, pensioner bonds go a small way to countering the imbalance that has emerged in recent years.

Dr John Humphries
Welland, Worcestershire

SIR – I am Jewish and I have lived in Britain all my life. I can categorically say that I have never experienced even one incident of anti-Semitism, either verbal or physical.

There has always been an element of anti-Semitism in Britain, but we need to get things in perspective. I for one have no intention of ever leaving this country.

Leslie Cohen
Manchester

FGM realities

SIR – As a newly qualified midwife in the early Seventies working at a major teaching hospital in London, I was present at the birth of a baby to a first-time mother from Sudan, who was married to a Sudanese doctor. Like Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, we were confronted with this “nightmarish scenario” of total female genital mutilation (FGM).

The birth was imminent and it was immediately obvious that, for the baby to be born, a large cut had to be made. Sadly, after the birth, it was also clear that the only possible repair that could be made was to reinstate the FGM.

Jane Badley
Hedge End, Hampshire

Prestidigitation

SIR – Before Ed Vaizey (or his successor) forces the digital radio switchover in 2016, perhaps he could be encouraged to ensure that everybody receives a signal. With a stated aim of 91 per cent digital coverage by 2016, who is going to decide which 9 per cent of the population can be written off?

H J Cranmer
Dartmouth, Devon

SIR – I bought a digital radio, which produces very distorted reception, despite my having fully extended the unsightly telescopic aerial, which it requires to function at all.

If I go within two feet of it to try to tune it, the reception becomes even worse. Only if I leave the room, does the sound quality improve.

I am thus saddled with a digital radio that can’t stand being in the same room as me. My old analogue set, which I got rid of, is a sadly missed old friend.

James L Shearer
Edinburgh

Rugby razzmatazz

SIR – Until Friday evening I considered Wales a great rugby nation with a proud history. The pre-match razzmatazz and attempt to intimidate England by subjecting them to a long wait on the pitch in the febrile atmosphere of the stadium was not rugby, it was stupidity.

It is nonsense to say that it was their stadium and they had the right to close the roof. Rugby is an outdoor sport and should always be played outdoors. Closing the roof before the game might protect the pitch from heavy rain or snow, but it should never be closed for a match.

What a relief it was the following day to see the two teams in Paris running out on to the pitch together without any preliminary razzmatazz whatsoever.

Francis White
Gifford, East Lothian

Swearing by the historical veracity of ‘Wolf Hall’

(BBC/Company Productions)

SIR – I couldn’t disagree more with Michael Leapman’s assessment of Wolf Hall.

One of the show’s many pleasures is the slow unfolding of a complex plot. The writer and director treat the audience as intelligent, rather than insulting us by explaining every minute action. Do we really need to be told that Henry VIII was suffering from gout?

Mr Leapman also complains of the use of “21st-century profanities”, which I assume refers to the liberal use of the F-word.

The first recorded use of this word was in a 1513 poem by William Dunbar. By 1528 it was commonly used in its adjectival form. Hardly surprising, then, to hear it uttered by the Duke of Norfolk in the 1530s.

Kate Campbell
London SW8

SIR – Scant mention was made of William Tyndale in the third episode of Wolf Hall. Tyndale made it his life’s work to translate the Bible into English, so that it could be read and understood by the common people. He was opposed vigorously by the clergy and persecuted throughout his life.

In Hilary Mantel’s books he is arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London and subsequently burnt alive for heresy. In real life he escaped from this country in his twenties and lived in Europe, where he continued his struggle to get his translation printed and to smuggle the books into England.

He was betrayed by a friend, Henry Phillips, who gave his name to the authorities. He was strangled and burnt at the stake near Brussels in 1536.

Gillian Gallannaugh
Waldron, East Sussex

Labour in love

SIR – Tristram Hunt said of Labour: “We are a furiously, passionately, aggressively pro-business party.” What utter tosh.

John Durtnell
Horsmonden, Kent

Louder than popcorn

SIR – Half the people who don’t go to the cinema dislike the eating that goes on there (Leading article, February 6). I wonder if the other half of the people who don’t go to the cinema don’t go because, like me, they fear for their hearing, as the volume can be excruciating.

Ann Minoprio
Mellor, Lancashire

Eff is for Fry

SIR – If Stephen Fry, as a National Treasure, is to continue hosting the Baftas, perhaps he should be asked not to sprinkle his remarks with unnecessary and gratuitous swear words and smutty innuendos.

Tim Bevan
Hungerford, Berkshire

Pedant trap

SIR – When I worked in a bookshop in Wimbledon, part of my job was to do the window display. After arranging the books, I installed a large banner with one spelling mistake and an error of punctuation.

Our customer numbers and takings increased enormously.

Margaret Bowman
Shrewsbury

Hotter water bottle

SIR – The warning against using boiling hot water in rubber hot water bottles is not new. It even used to be moulded in, as part of the pattern. I preferred the “stone” version. I could put my feet hard on it without fear of it leaking, and it seemed to stay hot longer.

Eric Hayman
Bournemouth, Dorset

 

Globe and Mail:

Jean Marmoreo

The Supreme Court has changed the way I talk to my patients about death

Irish Times:

Sir, – Marriage never was primarily about creating an environment for the rearing of children.

When marriage was ordained by God aeons ago (Genesis 2:24 ) it was about a man and a woman leaving their parents and cleaving to each other – becoming “one flesh”. There was no mention of rearing children in the mandate.

As the Evangelical Alliance Ireland stated in its submission to the Convention on the Constitution, “the present proposals for same-sex marriage, however, far from advancing an inclusive civil society, represent a mirror-image of an earlier religious hegemony, constitute an aeon-changing adjustment of human culture, and are not accompanied by evidence which shows that this is not a socially retrograde step”. – Yours, etc,

NOEL McCUNE,

Newry,

Co Down.

Sir, – I, for one, believe we should protect the traditional definition of marriage.

As per Deuteronomy 21 10:14, upon finding the ideal specimen of womankind after battle, all I should have to do is shave her, cut her nails, throw away her clothes and allow her a month to mourn her parents, who I have undoubtedly just killed, and then she will be my wife.

Anything else would be redefinition. – Yours, etc,

CILLIAN BRACKEN

Douglas,

Cork.

Sir,– I was pleased to see the heading of your main editorial “The meaning of marriage” (February 9th), having read so many conflicting letters on the subject recently.

I assumed that the article would be a serious and responsible summary of the arguments on this controversial subject. However I was shocked to read, in the very first paragraph, the extraordinary statement that “in modern western society marriage and the formation of families . . . are no longer the same thing”.

This was presented as fact without any discussion or evidence.

In the society that I have lived in for over 80 years, marriage is very much “the formation of families”.

A bit further on I read that “marriage is now . . . a public statement of personal commitment between two people who love each other”, again without any evidence or argument. But it is a fact that there are all sorts of rules that have been around for thousands of years, for very good reasons, that proclaim the opposite.

For example, one may not marry a sibling or close relative; one may not marry a person under a certain age; one may not marry a person that is already married; and one may not marry a person of the same sex.

These rules apply to all, so cannot be considered to be “discriminatory”.

Nowadays we may regret that many more young people are opting for “relationships” rather than marriage so we may be tempted to do drastic things about the rules, but please let us consider the facts as they are, and please do try to present these facts as they are before we do anything too drastic. – Yours, etc,

W J MURPHY,

Malahide,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – The Irish Times reports that the use by employers of zero-hour and low-hour work contracts is to be investigated (“University of Limerick appointed to investigate zero-hour contracts”, February 9th). This is to be welcomed.

We accept unnecessary trade-offs in our everyday lives, many of which have undesirable welfare outcomes.

Many business leaders believe that companies cannot pay good wages and yet be profitable. This is untrue.

Jobs on subsistence wages, with few benefits, no training, and chaotic schedules are bad jobs.

Bad jobs create problems. They do not provide enough money to make ends meet, nor do they provide security and stability for a sane family life.

Companies that provide bad jobs treat workers as expenses to be minimised rather than as assets to be developed. For workers in bad jobs, such as those to be investigated, dignity, personal satisfaction and the freedom to obtain a decent full-time income do not exist.

By encouraging a wage-cost focus, customers come to expect and tolerate poor service and low-quality goods. In addition, taxpayers subsidise these low-wage companies because their badly paid workers require assistance from the public purse.

A further consequence is that this unintended subsidy becomes an incentive for low wage, zero-hour contract employers to continue poor management practices that result in long-term damage to their companies. Subsistence wages thus make it more difficult, not easier, to compete.

Good jobs provide good pay, benefits and predictable work schedules and the chance to grow through continuous improvement and personal development.

There is nothing altruistic here. Good jobs provide superior benefits to the company and its investors in the longer term.

Many successful companies reject the trade-off between wages and profits but instead shift the productivity frontier outwards, thereby providing more value to all parties.

It is time to reject the conventional wisdom that there is a necessary trade-off between wages and profits.

To increase productivity, companies need to innovate on value and focus on the worker as an asset, not as a cost.

Successful companies are creative and invest in people to provide service for customers and high returns for investors. – Yours, etc,

Prof FRANK BRADLEY,

Emeritus Professor

of Marketing;

UCD Michael Smurfit

Graduate Business School,

University College Dublin,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Conor Lally’s report on and analysis of Dr Diarmuid Griffin’s research offers a timely opportunity for the Government to take appropriate action to improve the integrity of our criminal justice system (“Life-sentence prisoners serving longer terms in jail, study finds”; “Analysis – Informal system decides fate of ‘lifers’”; February 10th).

A body that performs functions as important as the Parole Board –advising as to whether to release convicted killers and rapists – should be clearly defined and organised in our statute law.

Legislation to put the Parole Board on a statutory basis would have to provide carefully for the membership of the board, the criteria that could be used for granting parole, the offences not covered by the parole process and the protections that would be afforded to the community should a decision be made to permit a prisoner back early into the community.

The Government’s failure to place the Parole Board on a statutory basis means that the important functions played by that board are denied the force of law and merely constitute a form of advice provided by it to the Minister.

This is particularly problematic since prisoners who believe they have an entitlement to parole can seek to avail of the courts to achieve that entitlement.

More fundamentally, there is something incoherent in having a member of the Cabinet and the Oireachtas making decisions in respect of matters that were initially decided upon by the judiciary. It is a practice that offends the principle of separation of powers that keeps politicians away from those functions which are the preserve of the courts.

The sentencing of convicted prisoners is an integral part of our criminal justice system. For victims of serious crime, it constitutes justice being done. The ad hoc basis upon which parole is granted in Ireland and the ultimate control of this system by a politician is an outdated way of operating this important aspect of our criminal justice system. – Yours, etc,

Cllr JIM O’CALLAGHAN,

City Hall,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Further to Paul Cullen’s article “Ireland’s ‘cancer boom’: what’s gone wrong?”, (February 8th), there is an enormous difference in the mortality rates from cancer depending on where you live in this country. The recent Atlas of Health Inequalities from the Centre for Health Geoinformatics, NUI Maynooth, described how people in the most disadvantaged areas have up to three times the mortality rate for cancer of those in the most affluent areas.

Social inequality is the biggest predictor of excess and early deaths from cancer. It is convenient to ascribe these deaths to lifestyle issues and that is undoubtedly an issue (although many are understandable, if unhelpful, coping mechanisms to deal with complex and stressful life and health problems), but even when correcting for these factors income inequality is itself a powerful cause of unequal cancer mortality.

John Crown describes the huge advances in treatment of cancer in this country and that is obvious to those of us at the coalface of the health system. This has not affected the inequality in outcomes unfortunately. Prevention and early detection remain a challenge. This depends on effective primary care and access to diagnostic tests, which are currently much less available in the areas with the worst mortality.

Northwest Dublin has the area with the highest death rate from cancer in the country, yet has one GP for 3,600 people compared with the national average of 1 for 1,800 – exactly half. Medical card patients in this area wait 11 months for an abdominal ultrasound (useful for picking up cancer) as against two months in southeast Dublin. If you have health insurance, the wait is less than a week.

This confluence of high sickness and death rates together with underprovision of care combine to form what is called the inverse care law, where those most in need of healthcare are least likely to get it. This is what results from distributing resources according to numbers without reference to the differing health needs in different areas.

While the ageing population will contribute to some rise in cancer incidence, if all parts of the country could have the same mortality as the most affluent, there would be a huge decrease in overall cancer mortality rates.

Cancer is not one single disease with a single solution, but addressing the profound inequality in access to the health service would be a start. – Yours, etc,

Dr EDEL McGINNITY,

Mulhuddart,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – Those arrested are now predictably and ridiculously labelled the “Jobstown Four”. In their wildest dreams they could not have wished for this spectacle. Not only were they arrested but they were flattered by the deployment of a large force of gardaí in a clichéd “dawn raid”. This carry-on has copper-fastened their celebrity in the competitive world of leaders of “the people”. – Yours, etc,

COLUM McCAFFERY,

Lucan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Maybe we should criminalise anger. – Yours, etc,

MIKE SCOTT,

Ballybough,

Dublin 3.

A chara, – I have recently referred one of our patients with a combined immunodeficiency to my colleagues in the UK for bone marrow transplant , since we do not have a paediatric transplant specialist here in Ireland to undertake this procedure.

Appointing a paediatric transplant specialist in Dublin would not only spare this family and other families the expense and trouble of travelling abroad for treatment, but would also spare the Irish taxpayer a considerable expense.

The cost to the exchequer through the treatment abroad scheme for paediatric immunodeficiency bone marrow transplant in 2013 was approximately €900,000.

An equivalent amount is likely to be spent this year, and a similar sum will be spent on transplantation of children with metabolic disorders, as was recently highlighted in these pages by my colleague Dr Ellen Crushell (January 9th).

Isn’t it time for common sense to prevail? – Is mise,

Dr RONAN LEAHY,

Consultant in Paediatric

Immunology and Infectious

Diseases,

Our Lady’s Children’s

Hospital,

Crumlin,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – “British and Craggy Isles”? – Yours, etc,

MIKE MORAN,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – Your correspondents moaning about the name of these isles in which we live are suffering from a massive inferiority complex. You don’t get our neighbours in the other part of the British Isles complaining about the Irish Sea. – Yours, etc,

STUART MURRAY,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – My first lectures as an undergraduate at Trinity College over 30 years ago, were delivered by Prof Gordon Herries Davies in a class an American might term Geography 101.

The professor was sufficiently alert to realise that traditional reference to these islands could represent a difficulty for the changing demographic at Trinity and had settled on “Anglo-Celtic Archipelago”. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL STAPLETON,

Clonskeagh, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Perhaps with the introduction of minimum alcohol prices, the Government should consider maximum pub prices for a range of non-alcohol beverages in pubs. I recently purchased a 113ml bottle of Slimline tonic for €2.20. This equates to €19.46 a litre or about 15 times the price of a litre of petrol! – Yours, etc,

DAMIEN BYRNE,

Dublin 12.

Irish Independent:

‘Drinking the juice of the barley in such pleasant company is 
priceless’.
‘Drinking the juice of the barley in such pleasant company is priceless’.

The Government’s latest attempt to curb the sale of cheap alcohol reminded me of one of the many stories my late father told me about the customers who patronised the family pub in Tralee. The stories were embellished with each telling, but were all the better for it.

  • Go To

Michael McCarthy – not his real name – arrived at the bar counter at 8pm every evening. He drank three pints of Guinness between his arrival and closing time. He enjoyed the company of his fellow drinkers discussing Austin Stacks football, greyhounds, horse racing and the news of the day. He then walked back to his home, where he lived alone.

The time came when the price of the pint was increased from 11 old pence to a shilling. When my father broke the bad news about the increase, the drinkers jocosely called down every misfortune on the powers that be above in Dublin, but the porter continued to flow regardless. Making his way to Michael, who was sitting contentedly on a stool, Dad asked: “Will you still follow the pint at the new price, Michael?”

“My dear man,” replied Michael, “I’ll follow it to Hell. Drinking the juice of the barley in such pleasant company is priceless.”

Michael has long since gone to his eternal rest. Despite his self-condemnation he is surely in Heaven, as he never did anything out of the way.

On the evening of Michael’s removal, Dad filled a pint glass with draught Guinness, funnelled it into a bottle, corked the bottle and wrapped it in a black and amber sock. He placed the “pint in a bottle” alongside Michael’s remains, to quench his thirst on the final journey.

If Guinness flows on tap in Heaven, on Sunday evening Michael will drink his customary three pints and raise a toast, in good company, to the victory of Austin Stacks over Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland Football Club Championship semi-final in Portlaoise.

Billy Ryle, Tralee, Co Kerry

 

Hope springs eternal

Billy Keane’s item on romance and encouraging women to make a “first move” reminded me of a quip from Bob Hope.

“I was still chasing women into my 70s… but only downhill.”

Tom Gilsenan, Beaumont, Dublin 9

 

Life after debt

I am disheartened once again, but not really shocked by our Taoiseach. He is a major disappointment to all small nations which are being bullied and tortured by unscrupulous money lenders.

Failing to support the oppressed people of Greece is a dereliction of one’s responsibilities. A few statistics to bring a bit of realism to the conversation. In Greece, interest per year is €24,538,778,740 – €778 per second – debt per citizen is €29,446 and there is a population of 11,062,508 million.

If Mr Kenny and his right-wing austerity cohorts had half the guts the Greeks have, we would be challenging the huge unpayable burden of debt that has been inflicted on us and our children’s children. What would be so wrong with attending a debt conference? Oh no, Enda would rather be seen playing teacher’s pet in the company of his peers at Davos in Switzerland.

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has proposed that Greece’s future debt repayments be tied to the country’s economic growth. Britain availed of this type of logical solution as far back as 1946. If you don’t ask you shall not receive, it’s as simple as that.

James Woods, Gort an Choirce, Dún na nGall

 

Thanks for the memories, AP

The great AP McCoy has decided to retire. Anyone who loves National Hunt racing will be saddened and gladdened by this news.

Sad that we will never see his likes again. Gladdened that he will hopefully retire in one piece.

AP – just those two letters will always be synonymous with the toughest rider that ever put his leg across a horse.

There are, of course, so many other heroes of this sport who have paid such a heavy price to provide us with such excitement. Those who come to mind include Kieran Kelly, who died in 2003 as the result of a racing accident, Jonjo Bright, who suffered a severe spinal injury following a point-to-point accident, and JT McNamara, who thrilled so many riding over the hills and banks of cross-country racing and was left paralysed after a fall.

There are many other people who contribute to this great sport who go unnoticed and who play such a big part in its continuance.

The likes of the orthopaedic surgeons who put the broken limbs back together to allow these warriors to return to the sport where the saying “A Horseman’s Grave Is Always Open” was never more true.

As a last word on our great National Hunt jockeys, it would be very remiss of me to close without mentioning the most stylish jockey that ever jumped either hurdle or fence. I refer, of course, to the legendary Ruby Walsh.

I could go on and on, but – sorry about this, Ruby – I’ve run out of ink.

Fred Molloy, Glenville, Dublin 15

 

Rome rule coming to an end

So the Pope believes that it is OK to slap a child. He also stated that if anyone insulted his mother they could expect a pontifical punch in the face. How sensitive, how logical, how insightful and how Christian was that?

Is it just possible that this Pope is a Holy disgrace and perhaps some cardinal, worried about the Vatican’s standing (and now freed of silly old restrictions on corporal punishment) would be allowed to kick him?

I’m only asking – I’m sure there are rules for this kind of thing. Rules that are, in the main, beyond my comprehension. I do seem to remember vaguely some old stuff in the Bible about turning cheeks and loving thy enemy, but perhaps your man never read it all through – too busy with the aul’ martial arts I guess.

The whole things looks and sounds like a missing ‘Father Ted’ episode. How interesting that both the Church and also the monarchies around Europe at this time are slowly but surely beginning to unravel, precisely because they are trying so hard to be ‘like us’ and thereby showing their many, many failings.

Ireland may not have any ‘royals’, but the link is nevertheless fascinating. There was a time when most supporters of the Vatican and so-called royalty around the globe were simply overawed by the apparent medieval, sacred and cultural connections.

As time goes on, we are beginning to see through the brilliantly inventive myths that were keeping us from perceiving the greed, the controlling, the lying, the cheating and manipulations of both institutions, whose ‘princes’, ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ were, and still are, living in a rarefied atmosphere – palatially shaped carbuncles on the face of our modern western democracies.

Mercifully, the notion of some people being superior to others and privileged by birth or by rank has been steadily eroded over the last few centuries. Robert Burns wrote in 1749:

Ye see yon birkie* ca’d a lord,

Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;

Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,

He’s but a coof** for a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,

The man of independent mind

He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

* conceited fellow

**fool/twit

My own late mother had twigged all this stuff quicker than most, when, at the age of 12 she blurted out: “The Pope is just a man” to her shell-shocked Catholic parents.

John Loesberg, Killarney, Co Kerry

Irish Independent

GP

February 10, 2015

10 Febuary 2015 GP

The GP comes to see Mary.

Obituary:

auline Yates with Geoffrey Palmer in The Legacy of Reginald Perrin

Pauline Yates with Geoffrey Palmer in The Legacy of Reginald Perrin Photo: BBC

Pauline Yates, the actress, who has died aged 85, was best known as Elizabeth Perrin, Leonard Rossiter’s long-suffering wife in the 1970s television sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

From Rep in the 1950s until her final television performance in Rose and Maloney in 2002, her career lasted more than 50 years. In the so-called “Golden Age” of British television, in the 1960s and 1970s, Pauline Yates was one of its stars.

Pauline Lettice Yates was born at St Helens, Lancashire, on June 16 1929. The family moved to Liverpool, where her father was a travelling salesman and her mother ran a grocery store. Alhough her parents disapproved, she always wanted to act, her younger sister Margaret recalling an occasion when she gave an impromtu performance, in the dark, of The Phantom of the Opera, with herself as the phantom, which had scared the younger girl to bits.

Pauline attended Childwall Valley High School, leaving at 16 to take up her first job as assistant stage manager at Chorley Rep, from which she graduated to stage roles. Soon she was travelling throughout the country, often performing twice nightly . The habit of hard work would stay with her throughout her life.

In the 1960s, Pauline Yates became a familiar face on television soaps and sitcoms. If she tended to be typecast as the patient, put-upon wife – in such series as Dixon of Dock Green, Sentimental Education, Crime of Passion, Play of the Week, Armchair Theatre, The Ronnie Barker Playhouse, Rumpole of the Bailey and Kavanagh QC, she was occasionally given roles that did not involve her playing second fiddle to a male lead. In Harriet’s Back in Town (1973) she was the divorcée who returns to London to restart her career; in My Honourable Mrs (1975) she was an MP . But it was as Leonard Rossiter’s wife in Reginald Perrin that she achieved most fame. Her catchphrase “Have a nice day in the office”, with Rossiter’s invariable response, “I won’t”, became something of a leitmotif for the white-collar office worker classes.

Although she excelled in television, Pauline Yates continued to appear on stage, including as Viola in Twelfth Night at the Liverpool Playhouse. Although she lived in London for more than 40 years, she always regarded the city as home.

Pauline Yates met her husband, the actor and playwright Donald Churchill, while he was working as a stage electrician in her home city; they married in 1960. Although Donald enjoyed a successful career, Pauline was the family’s main breadwinner and, though she was a fervent socialist who always voted Labour, she enjoyed her status and wealth.

For a time they lived in a sprawling house with an enormous garden in suburban Surrey and Pauline would think nothing of spending most of her wages on designer clothes.

In the late 1960s, however, she insisted that her family abandon the suburbs where, she claimed, wife-swapping was rife, for Camden Town, where her neighbours included Alan Bennett, Beryl Bainbridge, Jonathan Miller and Joan Bakewell, for whom she was sometimes mistaken.

On one occasion she was stopped in the street by a man who insisted she must be the “thinking man’s crumpet”, and though she politely demurred, he remained adamant. “ You are Joan Bakewell,” he declared, before adding, “Well… I bet you wish you were.”

Donald Churchill died in 1991 on the set of the sitcom series El Cid and, in later life, Pauline Yates moved into Denville Hall, the actors’ home in Middlesex.

She is survived by two children, the actor Jemma Churchill and the writer and playwright Polly Churchill.

Pauline Yates, born June 16 1929, died January 21 2015

Guardian:

Houses of Parliament, London
Anachronistic? The Houses of Parliament, London. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

In your editorial of 4 February you once again edge gingerly towards advocacy of a federal UK. Next day David Davis (Letters, 5 February) equally cautiously tiptoes towards the same solution. The Liberal Democrats favour federation but seem too timid to spell out its advantages or to answer misguided objections to it.

England’s preponderant size is a reason for the safeguards for the smaller nations provided by a federal system, not an objection to federalism; and federalism would reduce the number of professional politicians around the UK, not increase it, even with the new English parliament and government which would eventually be an indispensable feature. It offers the only satisfactory answer to Tam Dalyell’s West Lothian question; ends the gross over-centralism that still disfigures our present constitutional arrangements; permits and encourages further devolution within each of the four nations; brings government decisions closer to the people they affect; and works fine in many comparable western democracies from whom we can and should learn.

It would sharply reduce the scope and powers of the Westminster (federal) parliament and government, which may be why it’s so fiercely resisted by machine politicians. Everyone else would benefit. Labour, the party that started the still unfinished devolution process, should adopt it as a very long-term aim and promise to start the long process of consultation and research required to precede it.
Brian Barder
London

It is apparent that the devolutionary initiatives proposed and enacted over the past 20 years have produced a more opaque and anachronistic constitutional political landscape than ever before. Instead of settlement and clarity we have confusion and uncertainty. The problem is generated by constitutional “conservatism” and a reluctance to address the broader questions beyond narrow party political lines (eg “vows” I & II). In this system, devolution is always seen as a concession to be made, rather than a way of improving democracy (George Robertson’s “Devolution will kill nationalism stone dead”). The current chaos is the latest attempt to add constitutional sticking plaster to a wounded Westminster that is clearly dysfunctional. The habit of relinquishing too little too late has roots in our colonial past (cf colonial North America, and Irish home rule), and here we see the same process in the current piecemeal legislation in progress now.

The solution is a bold step to a fully federal UK which would consist of parliaments of each of the nations. This would produce crystalline transparency. The Commons would return to being the parliament of England, and the Lords would be transformed into a new UK-elected superior House. This would add no legislative layer or cost and would have the advantage of producing a much more stable constitutional settlement.

So, yes, David Davis is correct to propose federalism, but will we take this path, or continue to muddle on to inevitable separation?
Euan Brown
Edinburgh

Gordon Brown’s proposal for a constitutional convention to reform the Lords, regions, voting system etc in a single package is just political prevarication. Such a bland-sounding exercise would take years and yet never find all-round agreement, least of all from the SNP.

William Hague’s plan on the other hand is moderate, workable and fair to the majority in the UK. If there is a hung parliament Scottish MPs would still be able to determine which party forms the government. Giving English MPs control over English-only laws would certainly have majority support from the voters and might even be adopted by the next parliament.

As to Brown’s jibe comparing Cameron to Lord North, that just exposes himself to the counter thrust, viz: Brown will always be remembered as a dithering, failed PM.
Keith Hindell
London

Might I suggest a union of the western isles of Europe? The United Kingdom and Great Britain are as much history as the empire was when a transition took place to form the Commonwealth of Nations.

In the manner that the term Scandinavians links Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, with a Nordic council, so the Western Isles of Europe might unite England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Each nation would have its own parliament and initially each country would meet, say, quarterly, hosting the union in rotation. By 2020, with the union established, the meetings would be twice a year, still hosted in rotation.

Topics for discussion at the council of the Western Isles of Europe would settle down to borders (air, land and sea), transport, defence, economy, culture, heritage etc. Our geographical European form was recognised by the Romans 2,000 years ago and it is time for us to identify the beauty and form of our four great nations and use our topography to form the state of our union.
David Rhodes
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Denmark Street on the outskirts of Soho, London's 'Tin Pan Alley': English Heritage says that it has
Denmark Street on the outskirts of Soho, London’s ‘Tin Pan Alley’: English Heritage says that it has ensured no buildings of architectural significance will be demolished during redevelopment. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

English Heritage fully recognises the vital qualities of Soho and Denmark Street that campaigners hope to retain (A lament for the death of bohemian London, 6 February). Denmark Street is actually already a conservation area, in recognition of the special character of its buildings, but only special policy areas can ensure a particular trade continues in a particular place. These can be designated only by the local planning authority – Camden – or the Greater London Authority.

Our statutory remit means that our advice has to be limited to the physical impact of development on historic areas. In the Denmark Street area, working with the council and the developer, we have ensured that no buildings of architectural or historic significance are to be demolished. This includes the rare surviving small industrial forge building in the back of 22 Denmark Street. We are also pleased that the proposals will undertake urgently needed repairs to listed buildings which have been neglected for many years.
Chris Smith
Director of national planning and conservation, English Heritage

Ambulances outside A&E department, Glasgow Royal Infirmary
Under the NHS in Scotland, there is one local health authority for each region of the country that organises and provides health services in its area. Above, Glasgow Royal Infirmary accident and emergency department. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The King’s Fund’s pronouncement on the “damaging” Tory NHS reforms (Report, 6 February) is illuminating in laying bare the waste reaped by the biggest top-down restructuring in the NHS’s history, but obfuscatory in its insistence on separating that reorganisation from privatisation. The reforms were introduced precisely to bolster competition in the NHS. This is not the cuddly, provider-blind competition between NHS providers, “the independent sector” and voluntary-sector providers, but a slow and determined march toward profit-making privatisation, with all the implications that brings for the pay and working conditions of staff. The talk of a Hunt phase two, with a renewed push towards integration, is also misleading since competition will still trump integration. The privatisation train may be slow in getting out of the station, but with the facilitating framework in place, it will gather pace. Could this perhaps a case of praising with faint damnation?
Jason Glynos University of Essex, Ewen Speed University of Essex, Karen West Aston University

The King’s Fund is right about the damage done. As an NHS trust governor I am appalled at the byzantine complexity of the NHS in England. We have a plethora of bureaucracies which have to be paid for out of public funds: clinical commissioning groups, local commissioning sub groups, hospital trusts, ambulance trusts, community health trusts, NHS England (national and local), health and wellbeing boards, Monitor, the Care Quality Commission, the Department of Health, Health Education England, Public Health England, PFI contractors, private healthcare contractors and external consultancy firms. All drain money that ought to be spent directly on patient care. Under the NHS in Scotland, there is one local health authority for each region of the country that organises and provides health services in its area. However, I suppose it is too much to expect the current ideologically driven Tory administration to be willing to adopt the common sense approach to the NHS as implemented in Scotland.
Ian Arnott
Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, centre, with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Francois Hollande
Crisis talks on Ukraine: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, centre, with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Francois Hollande. Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

I have no love for modern capitalist Russia, or for Vladimir Putin, but there are always two sides to a conflict. Regrettably, the Guardian gives credence mainly to the anti-Putin version. In that narrative, the Russian leader is alleged to have violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, though no hard evidence is offered. For those who support western Ukraine’s criticism of Putin it is salutary to remember that the present government came to power via a coup. Moreover, many of its supporters are self-confessed followers of Nazi ideology.

For the Guardian, one of Putin’s main transgressions has been the annexation of Crimea. But this is dangerous ground for western critics of Putin, as a moment’s reflection should remind one that Israel routinely annexes Palestinian land but has never been censured for its action. Turkey, which annexed northern Cyprus, has never been subjected to sanctions. Two wrongs do not make a right, but it is morally shaky ground for western leaders to condemn one country for annexation while condoning it by another power.

As David Owen has pointed out (26 August 2014), Russian leaders are understandably worried by the eastward march of Nato, threatening its security. If we wish to avoid catastrophe in Europe the west must come to a diplomatic agreement with Russia, however difficult that may be (Report, 8 February). The alternative is unthinkable.
David Stainwright
Hove, East Sussex

The solution to Ukraine has been floated – and ignored – before. Treat Russia as part of continental and cultural Europe. Field a joint EU peacekeeping force with Russia and Ukraine. Fly all three flags. Enforce and police the Minsk agreement. Leave Crimea for another day. Use an EU Marshall plan to rehabilitate eastern Ukraine. Recognise significant regional autonomy within a unified Ukraine. This is something the UK should lead with France and Germany, rather than waiting for Washington to let us do it.
Tim Dyce
London

David Cameron could play no part in the Moscow talks (Report, theguardian.com, 7 January). Britain is a US puppet state, which for decades has not had a foreign policy separate from that of the US. Since America precipitated the Ukraine crisis by orchestrating the coup in Kiev, it would not be appropriate for Britain to play any part in mediation.
Stephen Mennell
Dublin

Amjad Bashir MEP speaking on a Ukip platform, 2014: he has now defected to the Conservatives. Photog
Amjad Bashir MEP speaking on a Ukip platform, 2014: he has now defected to the Conservatives. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Given that members of the European parliament are elected by proportional representation on the basis of regional closed lists, how can it be that an MEP who changes party retains his or her seat? Amjad Bashir was elected as one of three successful Ukip candidates after the party gained 31.1% of the vote in Yorkshire and the Humber. Labour won two seats and the Conservatives one. But following the defection of Bashir to the Conservatives, they now have two members representing the constituency. Why hasn’t Bashir lost his seat to the fourth-named candidate on the Ukip list? Can anyone explain why the will of the voters, in a party list PR system, can be overridden by an elected representative switching parties?
Brian Ross-Meering
Newark, Nottinghamshire

Independent:

Times:

Sir, Is the visit of Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande to see President Putin going to be a re-run of Chamberlain’s visit to Munich in 1938? In both cases the separate affinity, in language and political orientation, of a part of an independent country which a nationalist leader wanted to occupy or control, if necessary by force, has given rise to contention. Both leaders would claim some justification because of the vulnerability of their border areas under the status quo. In one case as a result of the excessively harsh Treaty of Versailles, and in the other by the steady encroachment of Nato eastwards.

In a natural desire to solve the problem by diplomatic means, as the alternative would be too horrendous to contemplate, the European leaders might accept a de facto separation or even observation of the disputed area in return for, as Chamberlain did, a promise of no further territorial acquisitions; but can Putin be trusted? We can only hope that any appeasement this time does not end up like the last one did.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall
House of Lords
Sir, Putin’s end game is obvious. He will achieve his objectives within Ukraine, and when/if the economic sanctions imposed reach the point at which he considers his survival is in question the West will be given the option of lifting them or facing military conflict. The West will blink first because it has no other choice.

Preserving peace costs money, effort and strategic thought and, just as importantly, adequate size of military forces to achieve the aim, which is to avoid conflict. Nato has to be conventionally capable and credible. Given the underfunding throughout the alliance over the past 30 years, that is not the reputation that Nato now enjoys.
PP Gilroy (Sqn Ldr, RAF, ret’d)
Bishopsteignton, Devon
Sir, General Sir Richard Shirreff’s comments lamenting David Cameron’s absence from the shuttle diplomacy were inappropriate (report, Feb 6). Ukraine is not a member of Nato, and Nato countries have no obligation to involve themselves. Sabre-rattling can only inflame the situation.
Christopher Ellis
Farnham, Surrey
Sir, It seems obvious that the United States has reservations about the Hollande/Merkel initiative and is holding back. It would not be surprising therefore, if this is the case, that the British government should be taking a lower profile than some would wish.
Brigadier Nicholas Cocking
Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Sir, Putin is not alone in dubious moves (leader, Feb 6). It is clear that the window of opportunity was opened early last year by the EU’s ham-fisted moves on the EU-Ukraine association agreement, which, though scarcely mentioned now or then, contained a raft of military as well as economic proposals that precipitated the origins of the present situation. The naive ambitions of the EU are significantly to blame for the current situation, and even now Ukraine is not engaged in sufficient reform.
Sir William Cash, MP
House of Commons
Sir, Perhaps those advocating leaving the EU would explain how Britain’s exit from the EU, or the prospect of it, would help to deal with the situation in Ukraine, and our vital interest in finding a satisfactory outcome to it.
Sir Peter Marshall
London W8
Sir, Russia’s peace offer is, as you state, an attempt to secure military gains, but it is hardly “cynical” (leader, Feb 6). If the army representing the Russian population of eastern Ukraine is to maintain its foothold, it is surely preferable for this to be managed via diplomacy than through further bloodshed.

Putin’s overture to Hollande and Merkel is far less cynical than his sponsorship of violence to date.
Dr Richard Braithwaite
Pondwell, Isle of Wight
Sir, In reply to Roger Boyes’s article (“Arming Ukraine will stop Putin in his tracks”, Feb 4), we in Russia have a saying: “Gamble but don’t try to win back what you have lost.” OK, the West bet on Ukraine and lost, with a civil war now raging there. Under the circumstances, would arming Ukraine not look like throwing good money after bad?

Besides, Putin knows how to stop Nato encirclement in its tracks: a buffer state with a territorial dispute.
Mergen Mongush
Moscow

 Sir, I always enjoy Derwent May’s column but I should point out that the track left by a fox in the snow is readily distinguishable from a dog’s (Nature notes, Feb 4). The fox walks with immense precision, leaving a perfect single line of clearly cut impressions, almost as if it had hopped on one leg. A dog’s paw prints, by comparison, are clumsy: the edges are blurred and fall to either side of a central line.
Lindsay Waddell
National Gamekeepers’ Organisation

Telegraph:

French President Francois Hollande (R) gestures as he speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow Photo: Kremin Pool

SIR – If America goes ahead with arming Ukrainians it will be making the same mistake it made in Syria, Libya and Iraq.

In Syria, America armed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with anti-tank missiles. Instead of changing the Syrian calculus, this merely prolonged the demise of the FSA. In Libya, America not only armed the Libyan militias, it also conducted air strikes on their behalf. But when the war ended, America had no long-term plan for post-Gaddafi Libya. In Iraq, Isil forces are now driving around in American Humvees, while Shia militias have access to American tanks and other protective vehicles.

There are no easy solutions to the conflict in Ukraine. Sending weapons is an easy choice. The hard choice would be to make the Minsk Protocol work.

Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

SIR – Some 5,400 people have been killed in Ukraine since April 2014, with many more wounded. Well over one million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. Human suffering on this scale cannot and should not be ignored.

Negotiating with President Vladimir Putin may well be a difficult and lengthy matter. It should nevertheless be done, without appeasement and in as forceful and strong-minded a way as the united leaders of the world can manage.

It must be made clear that the killing has to stop and that new unrecognised break-away fiefs are not to be established.

Lord Hylton (Crossbench)
London SW1

SIR – If Barack Obama sends arms to Kiev it would be in flagrant violation of international law and punishable by the international court at the Hague.

I fully support the efforts of Chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande in trying to get a peace deal with President Putin. The belligerent language used by the American vice president, Joe Biden, and John Kerry, the Secretary of State, is irresponsible.

Terri Jackson
Bangor, Co Down

SIR – Who authorised Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande to negotiate with Mr Putin on our behalf and with what terms of reference? Where is the much vaunted and expensive EU diplomatic service and has the United Nations nothing useful to contribute?

John Lindsay
London SW6

SIR – America sent John Kerry to Kiev, where he expressed concern over the dangerous situation in Ukraine.

The leaders of France and Germany have been discussing possible solutions to the conflict with Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has been on the campaign trail, visiting the set of Emmerdale.

Nesta Desmond
Kendal, Cumbria

Sex-selective abortion

SIR – We support women who have been or are in danger of being coerced into sex-selective abortion in Britain, particularly in communities where there still exists a preference for a son. Most of us are pro-choice, though some of us believe that abortion should only be available in limited circumstances. We are united in the belief that sex-selective abortion must end.

The current framing of the law sends mixed messages; the British Pregnancy Advisory Service argues that sex-selective abortion is not illegal under the Abortion Act and that the law is “silent on the matter”, and Professor Sally Sheldon – the lead signatory of a letter to The Daily Telegraph protesting against the proposed amendment – has argued that the unlawfulness of sex-selective abortion is “far from clear”. These are just two examples among many.

The proposed amendment does not change the grounds of the Abortion Act. It does not “criminalise”. It merely makes explicit something that is already unlawful. It does not preclude abortion where there is a sex-linked disability in the foetus. It does not require ethnic profiling. It is limited to the issue of sex-selective abortion.

Practical help is needed in areas where women are sometimes devalued and degraded to the extent that people try to stop them being born. We believe the Government can, and should, play a part. This amendment provides that opportunity and we urge all MPs to support it.

Rani Bilkhu
Jeena International

Jasvinder Sanghera
Karma Nirvana

Faeeza Vaid
Muslim Women’s Network UK

Balvinder Kaur
Sikh Women’s Alliance

Imam Ajmal Masroor
Barefoot Institute

Bal Kaur Sandhu
Sikh Council UK

Sanjay Jagatia
Hindu Council UK (London)

R Kashyap
Hindu Council UK (Birmingham)

Satish Sharma
National Council of Hindu Temples UK

Ravi Singh
Khalsa Aid

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (Crossbench)

Sara Khan
Director, Inspire

Kalsoom Bashir
Co-director, Inspire

Polly Harar
Sharan Project

Jagdeesh Singh
Human Rights Activist

Mandy Sanghera
Human Rights Activist

Dr Gurnam Singh
Coventry University

Ranjana Bell
Director, Rba Equality and Diversity

Sajda Mughal
Jan Trust

Shahida Choudray
The Networking Hub

Khatija Barday-Wood
EIMAN

Ms Kaur
Unique Homes

Mandeep Sagoo
MKV Legal

Vaneeta Prem
Freedom Charity

Shahein Taj
Henna Foundation

Counterfeit cigarettes

(PA)

SIR –The Government is choosing to move ahead with the standardisation of tobacco packaging when there appears to be very little reported evidence that the policy works. Recent reports suggest the Cabinet is not even in agreement on this issue.

Our concern is very much related to the impact this move will have on crime. According to the Government’s own figures, tobacco smuggling costs £2 billion per year and those who smuggle tobacco products are often involved in other forms of serious crime. Therefore, it makes no sense to introduce legislation that would in effect make tobacco packaging easier to copy and lead to more counterfeit products hitting the streets in Britain. This will place further pressure on law enforcement at a time when resources are already dwindling.

Sir Ian Johnston
Former Chief Constable, British Transport Police

Chris Bird
Former Detective Chief Superintendent

Derek Wilson
Former Detective Sergeant, Fraud Squad

Mick Wickerson

Roy Daisley
Former Detective Chief Inspector, Home Office

Malcolm Campbell
QPM Former Commander, North London HQ

Mike McAdam
Former Detective Chief Superintendent, C Division

Nigel Gunning

Barry Phillips
Former Detective Chief Superintendent, Flying Squad

Tony McStravick
Former Detective Chief Superintendent, Fraud Squad

Roy Ramm
Former Commander, Flying Squad

Chris Simpson
Former Detective Chief Inspector, Fraud Squad

Michael Carroll
Former Detective Sergeant

Michael Waller
Former Detective Superintendent, Special Branch

David Cox
Former Criminal Intelligence

John Legge
Former Detective Inspector, W Division

British Jews

SIR – The Gould family are emigrating because of anti-Semitism.

I am a third-generation Jew. I consider Britain to be my home and I have both benefited from and contributed to life in this country. I urge fellow Jews to stay and fight for our rights as equal and safe citizens, who will not be bullied into leaving.

Experts ignored on wind farms in wild Scotland

SIR – Few dispute the necessity of reducing our energy use and pursuing renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels, in order to help address climate change. However, there is public disquiet about the proliferation of energy developments in Scotland’s wild land areas.

It is vital that any decisions on the location of these developments rely on the fair and impartial assessment of all pertinent information and points of view.

Unfortunately, in the face of evidence and objections from many different organisations, communities and individuals, the Scottish Government has approved proposals to site colossal wind farms inland, at Stronelairg in the Monadhliath Mountains, and offshore, straddling the firths of the Forth and Tay.

In both cases the Scottish Government chose to ignore the views of its own expert advisers from Scottish Natural Heritage, who made it clear that the impact from these turbines will be very significant. At the very least, evidence of this calibre should trigger public inquiries.

Rather than force objectors to challenge these decisions in the courts, at great expense, the Scottish Government should first ensure they have been exposed to the proper and democratic scrutiny that their scale and potential impact warrants.

Barbara Goodman
Manchester

John Mayhew
Director, Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland

Brian Linington
President, Mountaineering Council of Scotland

Peter Willimott
President, Munro Society

Sir Kenneth Calman
Chairman, National Trust for Scotland

David Thomson
Convener, Ramblers Scotland

John Milne
Co-ordinator, Scottish Wild Land

Going the extra mile to take care of your body

(Gallo Images / Alamy)

SIR – I was pleased to read that David Moorcroft is in good physical health. David and I were contemporaries in Coventry Schools’ athletics and cross-country competitions in the Sixties and early Seventies and were friendly rivals – mainly because he was comfortably better then me.

However, unlike David, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at 28 years of age and have had numerous surgical procedures since then, including a replacement knee and replacement hips. This condition was not helped by fast(ish) long-distance running on roads with inadequate footwear in my mid to late teens.

Running of all types will generate positive health benefits if carried out in a controlled way. You must heed good advice about pace, distance and footwear and, most importantly, listen to your body when it complains.

Peter Jones
St Neots, Huntingdonshire

Ten to the dozen

SIR – Lisa Moore asks why, in 2015, children should be expected to know the 12-times table. She also says that a better understanding of the decimal system is far more important.

There are 12 months in a year and 12 hours on a clock face. Eggs, bottles and cans tend to come in dozens. Pence and shillings are part of our history and tradition, and most of our historical documents would refer to “old money”.

Of course children should know the 12-times table.

Stephen Beetlestone
Taplow, Buckinghamshire

History repeats itself

SIR – Michael Leapman (“How Wolf Hall has dashed our expectations”) makes a valid point about the television dramatisation.

My husband and I recorded episodes two and three while we were away on holiday. Upon our return we inadvertently watched them the wrong way round. I can assure you, it doesn’t make any difference.

Laraine Goss
London NW3

720-minute steak

SIR – While working in the catering industry I was once asked for “the 12-hour slow-braised steak – medium rare”.

Steve Cartridge
Egerton, Bolton

Spring onions

(Alamy)

SIR – It seems an odd time for Public Health England to issued a warning about daffodil bulbs being mistaken for food; they should have been planted months ago and are unlikely to be in supermarkets again until the autumn.

Les Sharp
Hersham, Surrey

SIR – I wandered lonely as a shopper
When I saw the sign,
The host of golden daffodils,
Had moved to crisps and wine.

Linda Read
East Sheen, Surrey

Globe and Mail:

LORI TURNBULL

Floor crossings: Voters will decide if it’s principles or opportunism

Irish Times:

Sir, – I was surprised when I read the article quoting Pope Francis as having said that it’s okay to smack children as long as their dignity is maintained (February 6th).Victims of violence never lose their dignity; it is the assailant who loses his dignity. – Yours, etc,

SEAN O’SULLIVAN,

Crossabeg,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – Now that Pope Francis has expressed his support for discipline through spanking, it is to be wondered whether, the next time he makes one of his outrageous and unapproved comments, a Vatican official should administer a quick slap? – Yours, etc,

DAVID BYRDEN,

Vienna.

Sir, – The lacuna in Vatican understanding of women, children and parenting is frighteningly exemplified in the pope’s recommendation that children be subjected to corporal punishment. Infliction of pain on the body of a child is child abuse. The secular world has for a long time recognised that good discipline never involves violence, especially towards little ones.

A church that has taken decades to acknowledge clerical sexual abuse of children needs to learn from the insights from psychology about parenting and violence. – Yours, etc,

GINA MENZIES,

Churchtown,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – I do not often find myself disagreeing with former president Mary McAleese (February 7th). I find I have to disagree with her now. She feels the pope overstepped the mark in seemingly supporting parents giving their children a smack to discipline them. Looking at the bad-mannered children I encounter every day, I cannot help feeling that the odd smack could do a lot to improve them. It certainly did no harm to those of us of a certain age where a slap and indeed a bit more was the norm. – Yours, etc,

JOE HARVEY,

Glenageary, Co Dublin.

A chara, – I hold Mary McAleese in high regard. I do not necessarily agree with every utterance of hers, either when president or as a private citizen.

She protests too swiftly in regard to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Pope Francis. With regard to the convention, 194 states are signatories, some with reservations. Just 45 (23 per cent ) have introduced legislation outlawing corporal punishment of children. The UK and US are among those that have not done so. This does not necessarily imply approval of corporal punishment of children. There are questions about how far legislation can or should regulate how parents bring up children. Not everything we see as harmful is necessarily to be outlawed. We see tobacco and adultery and lack of physical exercise and telling lies as harmful, but we have not criminalised them.

The convention itself does not make explicit mention of corporal punishment. Article 19 refers to states taking “appropriate measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse”. If a child physically attacks another child, is it “physical violence” to restrain the child physically? The child might think so. This is not to defend corporal punishment. We need to ask when and where legislation is the appropriate way to go.

Pope Francis might have expressed himself better; as indeed could many politicians. He was not however, as Mrs McAleese asked, “actively and internationally promoting the corporal punishment of children”. In speaking casually and freely, he is perhaps doing the church a big favour – weaning his hearers away from taking everything he says as official teaching. While deserving respect, he knows he is not the sole repository of wisdom for the church or the world. Nor is the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It is not always wise to look to enact law to control what we see as harmful. If we try too hard to regulate people, we may do more harm than good. There are other ways. – Is mise,

PÁDRAIG McCARTHY,

Sandyford, Dublin 16.

Sir, – Why do some people in society consider it appropriate to beat a child, while at the same time condemning such behaviour between adults? – Yours, etc,

HELEN O’NEILL,

Raheny, Dublin 5.

Sir , – Mary McAleese (February 7th) is right to express concern regarding the pope’s comments on smacking and the mixed message that it gives to those seeking to justify corporal punishment. But as a father of small boys, I can appreciate at times, such as getting them out to school while they prefer to wrestle on their beds, that it can lead to occasional moments of parental fallibility on my part. Pope Francis brings a human touch to his role that many of us can relate too, even at the cost of the occasional politically incorrect slip-up. I think he will accept a telling-off by his child protection committee when he next meets it. – Yours, etc,

FRANK BROWNE,

Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – Discipline (even a smack on the bottom) can and must of course be administered with love, and I would imagine that the remarks made by Pope Francis indicate his thinking is something along these terms and he is certainly not advocating “corporal punishment” in the sense Mrs McAleese refers to. – Yours, etc,

MARY RAFFRAY,

Paris.

Sir, – I found myself segueing in my thoughts from the ill-considered and weird counsel from Pope Francis on corporal punishment within the family to that meted out to class pupils in my distant days in primary school – the downward swish of the cane; the “strap”; a searing slap across the face; a wooden handle of a hammer whacked on the the hand; and the tugging upwards of sidelocks to excruciating effect! – Yours, etc,

OLIVER McGRANE,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 16.

Tue, Feb 10, 2015, 01:05

Sir, – Much of the current criticism of Greece’s government’s hard-line stance in relation to its debts comes down to the idea that Greece is expecting citizens of other euro zone countries to underwrite their decades of unrestrained profligacy. This is simplistic and the reality is a little more nuanced, especially if one wishes to consider the histories of all the countries involved.

The EU can’t have it both ways either. If its attitude is one of “united we stand” it would, of course, be more honest of it to admit that a sizable proportion of current Greek debt was the result of a similar situation to Ireland in that it relates to private banking debt and much of this British, French and German. Of course, it won’t do this. It would upset the “bigger players” and interfere with the established narrative.

However, in the interests of balance, it’s instructive to recall how, 62 years ago this month, creditors of postwar Germany came together in London to hammer out an agreement, the end result of which was a complete cancellation of 50 per cent of Germany’s postwar debt. It’s worth noting that, despite what was inflicted upon that state during the course of that same terrible war, Greece was one of the countries which acquiesced to this deal again, with the “united we stand” or “all for one” philosophy in mind. Private as well as public debts were cancelled at that time and the deal covered all creditors. The idea being that with a stronger German economy, Europe as a whole stood to gain. In express consideration of this, a somewhat generous clause in the agreement allowed that Germany only pay for debts out of its trade surplus, and these repayments were limited to a maximum 3 per cent of export earnings every year. As a result, Germany’s creditors had to buy German exports in order to be paid, resulting in Germany only being required to make recompense from genuine earnings, without recourse to new loans. And it meant Germany’s creditors had an interest in the country growing and its economy thriving.

The modern medicine which consists of bailing out reckless lenders via new loans, while simultaneously forcing governments to implement “austerity” and free-market liberalisation to become “more competitive”, has only resulted in increased poverty, deepening inequality and depleted economies. Despite some overoptimistic hyperbole, the Irish economy is in far from rude health and 2015 promises only more of this misplaced medicine.

I applaud the Greeks in resisting the destruction of both their economy (which has shrunk almost 25 per cent since 2008) and its people’s lives in order to appease a greedy elite a stance which stands in marked contrast with the idea of “constructive dialogue” (to quote Enda Kenny) which has been the hallmark of the deferential approach of our leaders from the outset. – Yours, etc,

JD MANGAN,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – A Leavy (February 6th) is right. The Greek electorate decided in its wisdom to vote into power a government that has more in common with the old guard of communist dictatorships than it has with any current European democracy.

That government now cries foul when the empty rhetoric of its inner circle is laid bare for closer examination by those who must pay the piper.

I sincerely hope this lesson is not lost on the Irish electorate in the coming 12 months or so.

We have more than our fair share of flat-earth politicos waiting in the wings – primed and ready to provide us with free lunches. – Yours, etc,

NIALL GINTY,

Killester,

Dublin 5.

Sir, – It would be misguided for Ireland and the other “debtor” nations to seek a debt relief conference. In many quarters this is perceived as virtuous nations picking up the tab for the “partying” of the irresponsible. An EU economic recovery conference is required, with debt relief being just one strand. Who could argue that Europe-wide growth is not in the interest of every member state?– Yours, etc,

BARRY MALONE,

Dunmore East,

Co Waterford.

Sir, – I wish to congratulate The Irish Times on its coverage on February 7th of the Greek post-election standoff with the rest of Europe. The articles by Cliff Taylor, Denis Staunton, Stephen Collins, the cartoon by Martyn Turner, and the editorial, while expressing totally different viewpoints, showed Irish journalism at its best.

I’ll stop there as I am liable to relapse into pontificating from my own particular perspective on the issue and that would spoil the point I am trying to make. – Yours, etc,

A LEAVY,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – There is one thing I would like to ask those who are adamantly opposed to debt relief for Greece – how, exactly, is a country with 25 per cent unemployment, and no large exporting sectors, supposed to pay off a debt of over 170 per cent of GDP?

This is not economically or fiscally possible.

If the intention is to punish the Greeks for “their sins”, I was not aware that the poorest strata of Greek society, or those who are fully tax compliant, were totally responsible for the state of the country.

Syriza plans to tackle corruption and tax evasion – unlike previous Greek governments. So why are so many opposed to co-operating with a Greek administration that is finally dealing with Greece’s real problems? – Yours, etc,

TOMÁS M CREAMER,

Ballinamore,

Co Leitrim.

Sir, – In advance of and shortly after the recent Greek elections, Syriza was referred to in the media (including The Irish Times) as “a far-left party”. More recently, however, it has been referred to as “left-wing” party. What will it be next week, I wonder? “Centrist”? – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL J DONNELLY,

Shrule,

Co Mayo.

Sir, – It is time those who complain about the use of the term British Isles acquainted themselves with the difference between physical and political geography. – Yours, etc,

PAT MULLEN,

Dundalk,

Co Louth.

Sir, – “The British and Irish Isles” might take a while to get used to, but it would be the obvious – and politically correct – solution. And diehard republicans can always reverse the order if it gives them a complex. – Yours, etc,

NORMAN DAVIES,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Not for the first time, John A Murphy (February 7th) has gone beyond the views of Éamon de Valera. While visiting Dublin in 1937, the American journalist John Gunther referred to the British Isles. Dev firmly told him that the term could be used only as a “geographical expression”. When Gunther substituted “a group of islands in the northern part of Europe”, his host “laughed heartily”. – Yours, etc,

GED MARTIN,

Youghal,

Co Cork.

Sir, – The stated justification for continuing this postmediaeval descriptor after 1922 is that the “British Isles” is a mere “geographical” term, not a political one. In that sense, so the argument runs, it’s equivalent to a mere geographical or informal historical term such as “Scandinavia”.

The UK’s parliament does not agree with the notion that this is a blandly geographical term. The UK’s 1978 Interpretation Act states unequivocally that the “British Islands means the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man”. Ireland is neither mentioned nor purported to be subsumed.

The term “Scandinavian”, for instance, is not an official term that any Scandinavian country can lay sole official claim to. The term “Scandinavian” respects all Scandinavians by applying a new common adjective to all Scandinavian countries.

This is distinguishable from the “British first” mindset behind the “British Isles” argument, a mindset that views as natural and right that one large country’s statutory official territorial descriptor (“British”) should informally be applied, without consultation, to another small state. I suspect it would be a different matter entirely if someone in Sweden started a campaign to substitute “Greater Sweden” for “Scandinavia” and started describing other Nordic countries as “Swedish”.

If we’re really stuck for a meta-descriptor, we could always look to the shared cultural traits of both countries in 2015. Foremost among these is the reality that both countries are governed by the kind of gentlemen who are never happier than when acting against the interests of their citizens and in the interests of rich tax-dodging minorities.

On that basis, let’s call ourselves the “Western Oligarchipelago”. – Yours, etc,

SEÁN Mac CANN,

Trillick,

Co Tyrone.

Sir, – Conor Martin comments (February 7th) that “nobody gets married simply because the other person is of a different sex or has the ability to have children.” Really? – Yours, etc,

JACK MORRISSEY,

Dublin 16.

A chara, – David J Strahan (February 6th) argues, as do others, that the upcoming referendum on marriage equality will redefine marriage. Surely the existence of civil marriage for heterosexual couples, and removed from any religious trappings or meanings, has already done this. I would suggest that nothing fundamental will be happening when the right to civil marriage is extended to all of our population. If the referendum is passed, the broader question for people of faith must surely be that this State no longer prefers or gives special consideration to marriage as defined by the Catholic Church or indeed any other religion. This is in my eyes what separation of church and state looks like and indeed it is why I will be voting Yes. – Yours, etc,

SÉAMUS McMENAMIN,

An Uaimh,

Co na Mhí.

Sir, – It is heartening to hear how concerned our legislators are at the level of alcohol consumption by the younger generation. The fact is that alcohol is at the heart of Irish life. This is reflected by the presence of not one but two bars in Leinster House serving alcohol to deputies and their friends.

What an example it would be to the younger generation if the deputies were to decide unanimously to remove the bars from the Houses of the Oireachtas. – Yours, etc,

JIM KELLY,

Killinick,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – Has no-one given a thought to the possibility that the age requirement of 35 years chosen in the 1930s reflected a mid-point of sorts in average life expectancy? I propose that, given that current life expectancy runs into the high seventies for Irish men and early eighties for Irish women, that we now change the Constitution to reflect this and adjust the age requirement to 40 years. – Yours, etc,

SHEILA MAHER,

Goatstown,

Dublin 14.

Irish Independent:

The assumption that material comfort is superior to having many siblings is an untenable one.
The assumption that material comfort is superior to having many siblings is an untenable one.

Barbara McCarthy (Irish Independent, January 27) writes that having children that you can’t afford is a form of neglect. Based mainly on a financial evaluation, Ms McCarthy qualifies that not being emotionally wealthy enough is also an issue.

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Such assertions are, in the first place, arrogant and, secondly, judgmental. Arrogant because the writer assumes that there is a formula for determining how many children a family can emotionally afford – though she fails to actually say what this is. Maybe it is contingent on the parents: can some parents emotionally manage more children? Is that to say they are better than others? That there is a way to measure how well children have been reared?

Citing financial affordability, on the other hand, is insulting to the many families that brought children up in far more difficult times, in bigger families. Is Ms McCarthy saying all these children were neglected? From Ms McCarthy’s formulaic, judgmental arguments, one would assume so.

I attended a funeral of a mother of 13 children recently. The funeral was sad – but happy – a large family who have grown up to be well formed, who miss and love their mother, but have each other, to come together, and to move forward in life with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

There isn’t a formula for family but the idea that there is some surety in small families, planned and all worked out, is an arrogance that is not borne out by evidence – and an insult to the past. The assumption that material comfort is superior to having a bunch of siblings (and that craic that goes with them: the smiles, the tears, the fighting and the making up) is an untenable one.

Dualta Roughneen, Kiltimagh, Co Mayo

 

The Wild West on Grafton Street

On Saturday, February 7, I had the great pleasure of seeing legendary composer Ennio Morricone performing live at the 3Arena. He played a two-hour set that I will remember for the rest of my life for its brilliance and professionalism. I walked home star-struck, clutching my programme and humming snatches of my favourite spaghetti western themes, the themes that first interested me in the great man’s work.

My route home took me through Grafton Street. It is hard to put into words what I saw there. From the Brown Thomas end right up to the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, the street was peopled with drunks. They weaved up and down the road, crashing heedlessly into the few normal pedestrians like myself. Fresh pools of vomit and urine decorated the pavement.

Young women in dresses that barely covered their modesty tottered drunkenly up and down Dublin’s most famous street in skyscraper heels. Many were screeching inebriated bull**** and obscenities both at each other and at total strangers. No small part of these obscenities involved nasty sexual suggestions. I’m no prude, but this type of thing, coming from young women, is both disturbing and deeply sad.

Almost at the top of the street as you head towards the green, a well-dressed young woman lay stretched out on the ground surrounded by broken glass, her designer handbag a few feet to her left.

“I don’t want stitches!” she groaned to her friends, who were busy calling an ambulance. Did she fall over purely by accident, or because she was blind-drunk and couldn’t walk in her shoes? I can’t say for sure, but I sure as hell could make an educated guess.

Probably the most upsetting thing about my late-night walk was the sight of no less than four homeless men sleeping, or trying to, in shop doorways on Grafton Street. That they should have been forced to make such a disgustingly dirty, litter-strewn and dangerous street their ‘bedroom’ is wrong in the extreme. Look at the risks they are running. They could be physically attacked or robbed or vomited on by the groups of drunks that roam the street on which I saw not one member of the Garda Síochána.

What the hell has happened to Grafton Street? Having just come from Ennio Morricone’s concert, where I listened to his fantastic spaghetti western themes, it felt like I’d walked from that straight out into the Wild West of old.

Sandra Harris, Dublin

 

Left should temper its outrage

The Left should temper its outrage at the arrest of Paul Murphy, a man who has traded on his public declaration that he was “elected to break the law.”

If they don’t, they can’t be surprised when they are accused of undermining the machinery of State.

Killian Foley-Walsh, Kilkenny city

 

Water charges are ‘bad law’

Myles Duffy’s letter (Irish Independent February 4) concerning the refusal of certain TDs to pay water charges is full of quotations by classical writers Cicero and Plato.

I will give you another quotation, from Charles Dickens’s novel ‘Oliver Twist’: “The law is an ass”.

There is, Mr Duffy, what is known as good law and bad law – this particular piece of legislation, which bluntly extracts money from people, regardless of income or circumstances, is bad law.

Perhaps, Mr Duffy, you can afford another domestic bill, however down here in my world it makes life just that little bit more difficult due to economic reasons.

Terry O’Connor, Swords, Co Dublin

 

Corporal punishment is history

I found myself this morning thinking about Pope Francis’s ill-considered and weird counsel on corporal punishment within the family and comparing it to that meted out to pupils in my far-off days in primary school.

Instruments and methods of educational torture ranged as follows: the deadly downward swish of the rattan cane; “the strap” (lengths of leather, professionally stitched into one piece and black as the brother’s cassock); a searing slap across the face; a wooden handle of a hammer whacked on the hand; and, alternatively, the simultaneous tugging upwards of a boy’s sidelocks – to obvious excruciating effect!

Oliver McGrane, Rathfarnham, Dublin

To kill a sequel

Both the book and film versions of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ are classics.

Like all classics, they are hard if not impossible to repeat, especially if the second attempt is based on the same material.

Frank McCourt’s ‘Angela’s Ashes’ immediately comes to mind; the follow up ”Tis’ was weak by comparison.

Harper Lee’s ‘Mockingbird’ is a rare species, it is beautiful and simple, and so many characters jump out of the pages at you. They must forever be allowed their freedom, and not once again imprisoned, to be put under the microscope for inspection.

All great beauties are a once-off – leave well enough alone!

Fred Molloy, Clonsilla, Dublin 15

 

Why Kenny won’t support Greece

Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan are against any debt write-down for Greece.

Why would this be? Common sense would suggest the Greek debt is unsustainable and there is absolutely no chance of repayment of the vast debt that is chocking the country to death.

Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan have had, and continue to have, little appetite for standing up to the Troika and Germany.

Ireland is still in the financial mire and this will continue for decades, as it seems our leaders are determined to pay back every cent owed to German bondholders and others.

Clearly, Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan can’t be seen to support the Greek situation at home, as then there would be no excuses they could offer as to why they did not seek a write-down for Ireland.

They can’t be seen to support it in Europe either, as then Germany and France might frown upon them and they would not get the gold stars for being the good little boys of Europe. Both men are former school teachers, and it would seem that we all have to be disciplined.

Rory O’Connor, Lucan, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

Joanna

February 9, 2015

9 Febuary 2015 Joanna

Joanna and Anna from Edinburgh ring.

Obituary:

Robert (later Lord) Gavron in 1992

Robert (later Lord) Gavron in 1992 Photo: REX

Lord Gavron, who has died aged 84, was a printing tycoon and one of the more cultivated members of the new Blairite aristocracy which entered the House of Lords after the Labour victory of 1997.

Small but muscular with woolly white curls, perma-tanned face and a wolfish smile, Gavron made his fortune by founding St Ives, the magazine and book printer, with £5,000 in 1964. Under his leadership the company became Britain’s largest independent printer, with a reputation as one of the most efficient operations in the industry. When Gavron stepped down as chairman in 1993, the company was worth £400 million and Gavron’s personal fortune was estimated at £40 million. Afterwards he served as chairman of the Guardian Media Group, parent firm of the company which publishes the newspaper, from 1997 to 2000.

In 1996 Gavron, who had previously expressed admiration for Margaret Thatcher and had been courted in the 1980s by the SDP, made a donation to the Labour Party of £500,000, on the grounds that Tony Blair was “transforming” the party’s relations with business and industry and that the Tories had lost their claim to be the automatic party of business. Gavron was credited with persuading Blair, while in opposition, not to scrap Tory trade union reforms. He also gave money to the blind trust that bankrolled Tony Blair’s private office when he was Leader of the Opposition. The trust was later wound up after criticism from the public standards watchdog. In 1999 he made a further donation to the party of £500,000.

Following the announcement of his elevation to the peerage the same year, cynics speculated about what the Guardian’s line would have been had Gavron been a Tory newspaper chairman, eliciting an entertaining defence from Polly Toynbee who regretted that though the Guardian was “a newspaper that prides itself on being better than the rest” her words would sound “exactly like the apologies for many far more dubious titles given out over the years”.

Yet in fairness there was nothing new or secret about Gavron’s commitment to the Labour Party or his generosity to it (and to many other causes) over many years. Besides, he was not a man who craved baubles and in person he was the antithesis of stuffy respectability.

Robert Gavron was born on September 13 1930, the elder son of a patent lawyer. The family was Jewish and lived in that heartland of intellectual socialism, Hampstead Garden Suburb. The Mandelsons were neighbours and young Bob attended Michael Foot’s old school, Leighton Park, at Reading, from where he won a place at St Peter’s College, Oxford, to read Law.

At Oxford Gavron played Buttons to Ned Sherrin’s Fairy Queen (Nigel Lawson was a chorus boy), became literary editor of Cherwell, and joined the Labour Club, though he later claimed not to have been very passionate about politics.

After graduation he trained as a barrister and was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1955 but, “to delay the life-sentence of a career”, he took an executive traineeship with a jobbing printer in Soho.

The same year he married his first wife, Hannah Fyvel, the daughter of TR Fyvel, the literary editor of Tribune, a great influence on Gavron. Hannah, who had trained at RADA, took a degree at Bedford College after the birth of the first of their two sons, and her doctoral thesis, published as The Captive Wife, became a feminist tract. It was about an intense Hampstead feminist and intellectual who finds it difficult to adjust to mere wifehood. In her preface she paid tribute to her husband for his “invaluable help, encouragement and support.” Sadly she did not live to see the book’s publication. In 1965 she took her own life – aged just 29. Gavron was devastated.

For nine years in the printing industry, Gavron observed how “most printers regard customers as a nuisance”. Convinced he could do better, in 1964 he borrowed £5,000 and took over an ailing printing company which he named St Ives as one of its factories stood in the Cambridgeshire town. Over the next 30 years it would grow into an international company, producing 100 million books annually and 600 magazines, of which the glossiest is The World of Interiors. The company came to the stock market in 1985 with a value of £18 million.

In 1967 Gavron married his second wife, Nicky Coates, with whom he had two daughters. A Labour activist, she became a long serving councillor and, after their divorce in 1987, was elected to the London Assembly and became the Deputy Mayor of London under Ken Livingstone.

Lord Gavron (centre) being introduced to the House of Lords in 1999, alongside Baroness Blackstone and Lord McIntosh of Haringey (UPPA/Photoshot)

In 1989 he married Katharine Gardiner (née Macnair), who had worked in publishing and who later came to public attention as vice chairman of the commission on the future of a multi-ethnic Britain (she suggested that Prince Charles should have married a black woman in the cause of racial harmony and ethnic progress). After their marriage she became chairman of Carcanet, Gavron’s poetry imprint. In 1995 Gavron made her chairman of Virago, the feminist publishing house founded by Carmen Callil, which Gavron had backed and later part-owned. The appointment led to a massive row with Carmen Callil and the end of a 30-year friendship.

Gavron first met Tony Blair in the early 1990s at a birthday party given by Charlie (now Lord) Falconer and later invited Blair to a dinner at the Institute for Public Policy Research of which he was a trustee and treasurer. Blair, then employment spokesman, spoke of his plan to reverse some Tory union reforms. Gavron, who had given £100,000 to Neil Kinnock’s election campaign, invited Blair to meet him privately and is thought to have persuaded him to change his mind.

Bob Gavron combined an engaging personality with a strong dash of hedonism. He never spent longer in the office than he had to and always took long holidays and time off for tennis and squash, opera and jazz, ballet and books. A very physical man, he had little time for bourgeois notions of modesty. Guests wanting to use the swimming pools at his homes in Highgate or Provence would be told that naked bathing was the rule.

Lord and Lady Gavron in 2012 (Nick Harvey/WireImage)

Although Gavron stepped down as chairman of St Ives in 1993, he remained a director and maintained many other interests, serving, variously, as chairman of the Folio Society from 1982, director of the Royal Opera House (1992-98) and as trustee of the National Gallery (1994-2001) and chairman of its publishing arm.

He was chairman of the Open College of the Arts (1991-96) and a trustee of the Scott Trust (1997-2000) and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation (1987-2005). He was a governor of the LSE from 1997 and chaired his own charitable trust which dispensed millions of pounds to good causes.

Bob Gavron was appointed CBE in 1990.

He is survived by his wife, along with his daughters, lawyer Jennifer Gavron and film director Sarah Gavron.

Lord Gavron, born September 13 1930, died February 7 2015

Guardian:

Margaret Thatcher in the late 1970s
‘The Tories set up mechanisms that gave an enormous boost to tax dodging,’ writes a reader. ‘One of Thatcher’s first acts as PM was to abolish exchange controls.’ Photograph: ITV/RE

Your article (‘I will not back down’ – Miliband, 7 February) quotes a Tory spokesman as saying: “People should judge Ed Miliband by his record, not his rhetoric. For 13 years Labour … did absolutely nothing to tackle tax avoidance.” Please note your article of 18 February 2009 which began: “A worldwide crackdown on tax havens … will be spearheaded by Gordon Brown”, and pointed out that “Britain’s biggest companies have enjoyed secretive tax arrangements to reduce [their tax] liability … HMRC estimates the size of the tax gap between £4bn and £13bn”. After coming into government in 2010, the Tories ended progress on Brown’s work and, on 7 February 2011, you published George Monbiot’s comment that the coalition’s changes to the law allow that “all the money that has passed through tax havens remains untaxed when it gets here”. Should we not judge the Tories on their record, not their rhetoric?
MR Heylings
Mitcheldean, Gloucestershire

It’s about time someone asked: “What did the Tories do during their 18 years from 1979 to 1997?” In the case of tax avoidance and evasion, the answer is not “nothing” but the very antithesis. The Tories set up mechanisms that gave an enormous boost to tax dodging. One of Thatcher’s first acts as PM was to abolish exchange controls, followed by the Big Bang in the 80s that deregulated so much of domestic and international finance, setting up the conduits for such antisocial if not criminal behaviour. Banks, accountants, investment advising firms and assorted others fastened on to these conduits at great profit to themselves and their customers but detriment to millions of other citizens. The inclusion of these dubious people in the wealth-creating class is a bad joke perpetrated by much of the media but notably the Tory toadying tabloids, the Times and the Telegraph.

Well done, Ed Miliband. They said they wanted some leadership.
Nigel de Gruchy
Labour parliamentary candidate, Orpington, Kent

“The new Jerusalem gets built only if the company that supplies the bricks and mortar is on side: that is the hard truth confronting any idealist” (Opinion, 2 February). For the writer, Matthew d’Ancona, the solution is simple: Labour must be more pro-business than it appears to be, and more explicit in relation to spending plans. But if Labour tries to please business, it alienates its core supporters, who have suffered enormously from job and service cuts, as well as an 8%-10% fall in real wages.

At a time of economic expansion it was possible to please to different degrees all sections of society at the top and bottom. That leeway has gone. For example, businesses like BP are demanding tax relief due to falling profits from lower oil prices. Tax relief means a fall in government income and therefore pressure to cut public spending even more, in order to reduce the budget deficit.

For Labour to succeed it has to decide who it represents – those at the top or the rest. To use d’Ancona’s language, if those who supply the bricks withhold that supply, or even stop producing them through a strike of capital, Labour must grasp the bull by the horns and take those companies into public ownership. If it doesn’t, it risks losing even more support from those who look to Labour to meet their needs. Such losses in electoral support and party membership could see Labour following its European partners like Pasok and PSOE into electoral oblivion.
Darrall Cozens
Coventry

It shows how bizarrely out of touch with the people national election politics has become when Ed Miliband makes what should be an uncontroversial comment that all should pay their share of taxes and every rich Tom and Dick and Harry wades in to complain. I lost interest in this election because all the parties spent ages reassuring business and finance that they were safe to govern – and no one was reassuring us, the people, except with standard Tory and Lib Dem bribes. But a politician insisting on a tiny bit of fairness for us! Not enough, perhaps, to stop me voting Green but enough to think that if Miliband carries on speaking to and for the people a little more, progressives may regain enough respect to consider a loose coalition.
Olivia Byard
Witney, Oxfordshire

Lord Noon (Millionaire donor urges Labour not to alienate business, 6 February) needs reminding that it is business, particularly the large corporations and the international conglomerates, that is alienating the general public with its greed and tax avoidance.
Russell Sweeney
Leeds

Heather Stewart (7 February) suggests at least three reasons for Labour’s “calculated” gamble in “picking a fight with big business”. There is at least one more. I have the same number of votes at the general election as one of our corporate bosses. Not sophisticated political analysis, maybe, but true in a democracy.
Michael Somerton
Hull

BELGreece's Alexis Tsipras meets Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president
Common cause? Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, meets the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, in Brussels, 4 February 2015. Photograph: Ye Pingfan/ Ye Pingfan/xh/Xinhua Press/Corbis

The founders of the EU wanted to ensure that through mutual dependency and support wars that led to so much devastation in the first part of the 20th century could no longer happen, while allowing Europe to continue as a force on the world stage with the rise of continental powers such as China and India. Such fundamental principles of common cause will be totally undermined if the eurozone powerhouses, as Nils Pratley terms them (5 February), continue to demand austerity from Greece, regardless of the economic and social consequences or the democratic will of its people.

The reason most of the British favour retaining EU membership is trade. Countries like the UK not in the eurozone already sit on the sidelines as the European economy stagnates. However, if the eurozone “powerhouses” continue to bully Greece and punish its electorate for daring to vote against austerity – or worse, force a Greek exit from the euro or even the EU – how long will it be before eurosceptic voices suggest that a simple free trade area such as Efta is the best way to ensure that national sovereignty and European democracy are sustained? The break up of the EU will follow. A monetary union without a fiscal union was always a step too far. Now eurozone countries should either make it work for all the countries or accept it is a failure and get rid of it.
JD Budden
Exmouth, Devon

It is a commonplace that every German has memories of the hyperinflation of the 1920s embedded in their DNA. Unfortunately, the Germans appear to have forgotten that the hyperinflation was a direct result of the crushing burden of war reparations imposed on them by Britain and France. The German economy was crippled by the obligation to transfer real resources to the victorious countries on a massive scale – exactly the position Greece finds itself in today. They also seem to have forgotten that the burden of reparations and the ensuing hyperinflation created a fertile breeding ground for extremists and propelled Hitler into power.
Geoffrey Renshaw
Department of economics, University of Warwick

Islamic seminary hit by drone strike, Pakistan
This is what modern weapons do: people gather at an Islamic seminary that was destroyed in a US drone strike in Hangu, Pakistan, 21 November 2013. Six alleged militants were killed. Photograph: Basit Gilani/EPA

The murder of the Jordanian pilot captured by Isis is starkly shocking, barbaric, sickening. But sadly not, as Ian Black suggests (4 February), exceptionally cruel. What Isis has done is no more cruel, no more ugly and no more acceptable than the incineration of thousands in Hiroshima, the civilian deaths caused by the firebombing of Dresden, the slaughter that followed the invasion of Iraq and the elimination of small enemies and their friends by drone.

David Cameron and others are keen to support our arms trade. But this is what modern weapons do. They blast bodies apart, incinerate, pulverise, maim, blind, destroy. They steal life and know no mercy. And they do it ever more efficiently, ever more expensively. And they do it obscenely profitably. The only real difference is that the “civilised” world tries to keep its barbarities safely out of view. Perhaps, Isis has given us an opportunity to reflect on whether our moral high ground is awash with blood and also how our hi-tech cruelties are seen from a different perspective.
Dave Hepworth
Bakewell, Derbyshire

If the video of a prisoner being burned to death displays “a level of brutality shocking even by the standards” of Islamic State, how should we describe the actions of the US and UK around the world? According to a 2012 joint report from the NYU and Stanford University law schools on US drone strikes in Pakistan, “the missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration”. Similarly barbaric, in 2008 the Sunday Times reported British forces were using Hellfire missiles in Afghanistan, creating “a pressure wave which sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies”.
Ian Sinclair
London

 

A man holds up a copy of Charlie Hebdo at a Bristol vigil
A man holds up a copy of Charlie Hebdo at a vigil in Bristol on 10 January 2015. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Your offer of commemorative badges in support of journalistic freedom highlighting “Je suis Charlie”, prompts me to suggest a degree of caution following my experience. Tongue in cheek, I asked my helpful newsagents to obtain a copy of the edition of Charlie Hebdo issued after the dreadful massacre in Paris, if indeed a copy was ever available in north Wiltshire. To my surprise, a copy arrived last Wednesday week and although the standard of content in no way matches that of the Guardian I will cherish it. However, two days later a member of Her Majesty’s police service visited said newsagent, requesting the names of the four customers who had purchased Charlie Hebdo. So beware, your badges may attract police interest in your customers.
Anne Keat
Corsham, Wiltshire

 

Independent:

Let’s be honest. If Fifty Shades of Grey had been written by a man, it would have been denounced as misogynist porn, and every woman (especially those involved in the media and in women’s issues) would have been screaming for it to be banned.

But because it was  written by a woman, it was  a bestseller and huge money-maker. It does make you wonder whether women are more misogynist than men.

Certainly, all the gossip magazines seem to thrive on building up then knocking down female celebrities, to the delight of their readers – who are mainly women.

It seems more and more that men are presumed to be misogynist just by existing, and that misandry, a word most people wouldn’t know the meaning of (men-hating), is given free rein in the media, as men are treated as stupid buffoons, jokes or child-molesting, women-raping beasts. For most of the male population this is not the case, yet we are all lumped into one group, and all assumed to be guilty of this type of behaviour.

Ken Twiss

Low Worsall,  North Yorkshire

I am utterly appalled that the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycraft and Cake International shows in Manchester were promoting a stand with a Fifty Shades of Grey theme.

This is a book – and now film – that gives people the mixed messages that sadomasochism is OK in a relationship; that females should understand that it may be their role to participate in it if it is requested by their partner – and they should find it sexually arousing and therefore tolerate what happens without criminal charges being brought against the perpetrator.

It tells males that being physically and psychologically violent towards females is quite acceptable – just groom them first into voluntarily participating so no criminal charges can be brought.

Our women’s refuges are full of females who have suffered violence, including sadomasochistic violence, from partners – what message does this send them?

I am deeply saddened  that this event, which has a predominantly female  audience, appeared to  take lightly the suggestion that violence against women is sometimes acceptable and could be viewed as romantic and sexually enhancing.

Ingrid Coombes

London

If the film of Fifty Shades of Grey features “murder, mutilation and rape” as Amy Jenkins suggests (Voices, 7 February), then it sounds a lot more exciting than the book – which doesn’t.

And the director has been assigned to give “a whiff of credibility in part because of her gender”? Last time I looked, the author of the book was female.

John Davidson

Stafford

Help that Malcolm Burge didn’t have

I was deeply moved by the tragic case of Malcolm Burge (“The appalling death of a man caught up in a benefits nightmare”, 7 February) who sadly took his own life

I lived in Newham in  the 1990s. It was a heartening time because some of the elderly residents in my road were such a shining example of neighbourly helpfulness and kindness.

One such couple were  my very good friends Pat and Percy, and they always told the story of how a “nice lady from Newham Council” came and sat with them for three hours one day to help them claim what was rightly theirs in pensions and associated benefits.

This is not a cynical letter suggesting we have lost our humanity; I really pray that we haven’t and that systems can be put in place to help and advise people to use the internet and navigate phone systems, as Mr Burge’s nephew suggested in the article.

“We must love one another or die”, as W H Auden said. So, well done to the brave teenagers who tried their best to help  Mr Burge.

Lisa Compton

Brighton

On the same day that you reported the story of Malcolm Burge another newspaper trumpeted the success of Iain Duncan Smith in halting the increase of the nation’s benefits bill.

One suspects that the late Mr Burge, and the 49 other cases mentioned in your article, where employment benefits recipients were “sanctioned” and they subsequently died, are filed under “collateral damage” in the Coalition’s great austerity quest, neatly depersonalising the human cost of Mr Duncan Smith’s diktats.

S Lawton

Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Daffodil story signifies sad truth

I am not remotely surprised that supermarkets are being advised not to place daffodils next to fruit and vegetable displays in case they are mistaken for food (“Keep daffodils away from spring onions, shops told”, 7 February).

Last spring, in my local supermarket, I purchased a bunch of daffodils still in bud. The young man at the checkout asked his nearby colleague if they were leeks, spring onions or something else?

As I left, the colleague sniggered, saying: “Imagine not recognising daffodils.” I replied that the young man’s inability to recognise the flowers might be because his life was such that he had never seen them before or because he had not been told their name at school.

Whatever the reasons, the fact that people are unable to recognise a common spring flower in the UK is an indictment of both social deprivation and the lack of a sound primary school education rather than a failing of our supermarket layouts.

Jean Johnston

Helensburgh,  Argyll and Bute

Chilcot a waste of time and money

Commentators and correspondents loftily whingeing about the Chilcot inquiry may wish to reflect that it has, thus far, taken approximately half as long as the inquiry into Bloody Sunday.

It also happens to be a waste of both time and taxpayers’ money. Unless Sir John Chilcot firmly and unambiguously concludes that we were all conned into supporting the overthrow of a psychotic, genocidal despot, his inquiry will be dismissed, out of hand, as an establishment whitewash.

Keith Gilmour

Glasgow

Drugs don’t work –  but they make money

The £100m cost of buying flu vaccine which was only effective on about 3 per cent of those having the jab and the fact that it was known to be ineffective months beforehand are of no surprise when put in the context of other recent  reports.

A few years ago a chief of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Allen Roses, admitted to the world’s media that most drugs do not work on most patients and are a waste of time.

GSK and other drug companies have been fined in recent years for promoting drugs for unapproved use and for failing to report safety data.

There have been media reports over many years of the drug industry bribing doctors and health officials to buy more drugs, most recently in China.

Some doctors have become little more than drug salespeople, and the drug industry controls our healthcare – for profit.

Edward Priestley

Hove Edge,  West Yorkshire

UK is America’s poodle yet again

Is it any wonder that General Sir Richard Shirreff has said the Prime Minister risked becoming a “foreign policy irrelevance” over the Ukraine crisis?

For more decades than I care to remember, all British governments  have followed behind  the tail of America as if  a dog ready to mount a bitch on heat. That is the reason why the UK has chosen to acquiesce in  the face of this ongoing human tragedy.

And let’s not forget that it is in America’s interest that this latest military adventure in Ukraine should play out according to its plan: the destabilisation of the Russian economy. It appears that it is on track so far.

Ray J Howes

Weymouth, Dorset

Speaking of the crisis in Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has condemned Vladimir Putin’s alleged role there  in the following terms: “This man has sent troops across an international border and occupied another country’s territory in the 21st century, acting like some mid-20th-century tyrant. Civilised nations do not behave like that.”

Has Mr Hammond heard of the West’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq?

Sasha Simic

London N16

This is the bottom line

Younger readers may not know the origins of the title used for Sandip Roy’s article (“Oh, Kolkata”, 6 February) about coming home.

Oh! Calcutta! was Kenneth Tynan’s rendering of the French “Oh, quel cul t’as”. He assumed, one imagines rightly, that he had no chance of staging a West End revue called something like Cor, Look at the Arse on That.

Vincent Clark

Frant, East Sussex

Times:

Sir, Is the visit of Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande to see President Putin going to be a re-run of Chamberlain’s visit to Munich in 1938? In both cases the separate affinity, in language and political orientation, of a part of an independent country which a nationalist leader wanted to occupy or control, if necessary by force, has given rise to contention. Both leaders would claim some justification because of the vulnerability of their border areas under the status quo. In one case as a result of the excessively harsh Treaty of Versailles, and in the other by the steady encroachment of Nato eastwards.

In a natural desire to solve the problem by diplomatic means, as the alternative would be too horrendous to contemplate, the European leaders might accept a de facto separation or even observation of the disputed area in return for, as Chamberlain did, a promise of no further territorial acquisitions; but can Putin be trusted? We can only hope that any appeasement this time does not end up like the last one did.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall
House of Lords
Sir, Putin’s end game is obvious. He will achieve his objectives within Ukraine, and when/if the economic sanctions imposed reach the point at which he considers his survival is in question the West will be given the option of lifting them or facing military conflict. The West will blink first because it has no other choice.

Preserving peace costs money, effort and strategic thought and, just as importantly, adequate size of military forces to achieve the aim, which is to avoid conflict. Nato has to be conventionally capable and credible. Given the underfunding throughout the alliance over the past 30 years, that is not the reputation that Nato now enjoys.
PP Gilroy (Sqn Ldr, RAF, ret’d)
Bishopsteignton, Devon
Sir, General Sir Richard Shirreff’s comments lamenting David Cameron’s absence from the shuttle diplomacy were inappropriate (report, Feb 6). Ukraine is not a member of Nato, and Nato countries have no obligation to involve themselves. Sabre-rattling can only inflame the situation.
Christopher Ellis
Farnham, Surrey
Sir, It seems obvious that the United States has reservations about the Hollande/Merkel initiative and is holding back. It would not be surprising therefore, if this is the case, that the British government should be taking a lower profile than some would wish.
Brigadier Nicholas Cocking
Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Sir, Putin is not alone in dubious moves (leader, Feb 6). It is clear that the window of opportunity was opened early last year by the EU’s ham-fisted moves on the EU-Ukraine association agreement, which, though scarcely mentioned now or then, contained a raft of military as well as economic proposals that precipitated the origins of the present situation. The naive ambitions of the EU are significantly to blame for the current situation, and even now Ukraine is not engaged in sufficient reform.
Sir William Cash, MP
House of Commons
Sir, Perhaps those advocating leaving the EU would explain how Britain’s exit from the EU, or the prospect of it, would help to deal with the situation in Ukraine, and our vital interest in finding a satisfactory outcome to it.
Sir Peter Marshall
London W8
Sir, Russia’s peace offer is, as you state, an attempt to secure military gains, but it is hardly “cynical” (leader, Feb 6). If the army representing the Russian population of eastern Ukraine is to maintain its foothold, it is surely preferable for this to be managed via diplomacy than through further bloodshed.

Putin’s overture to Hollande and Merkel is far less cynical than his sponsorship of violence to date.
Dr Richard Braithwaite
Pondwell, Isle of Wight
Sir, In reply to Roger Boyes’s article (“Arming Ukraine will stop Putin in his tracks”, Feb 4), we in Russia have a saying: “Gamble but don’t try to win back what you have lost.” OK, the West bet on Ukraine and lost, with a civil war now raging there. Under the circumstances, would arming Ukraine not look like throwing good money after bad?

Besides, Putin knows how to stop Nato encirclement in its tracks: a buffer state with a territorial dispute.
Mergen Mongush
Moscow

Sir, The man in the street had a more down-to-earth etymology for the French (letter, Feb 5). J Broom, a recruit to the Exeter Militia in 1803, declared that he “will crip the wings of the French frog-eaters”
Hugh Peskett
(Emeritus Scottish editor, Burke’s Peerage), Winchester

Sir, If Google is to use native speakers to determine the most accurate pronunciation of place names, then the pronunciation of Greenwich that you have shown in your graphic (Feb 7) would be incorrect. I was brought up there and it is pronounced Grin-ij.
Kevin Nash
Aylesbury, Bucks

Sir, Further to your report (Feb 6) on Myleene Klass and the mothers who requested contributions to their children’s birthday gifts, it is good manners to have no expectation of a present at all. Should one be received, it should be acknowledged promptly with thanks, whatever it may be and whatever the monetary value.
Deborah Rubli
Chichester, W Sussex

Sir, I always enjoy Derwent May’s column but I should point out that the track left by a fox in the snow is readily distinguishable from a dog’s (Nature notes, Feb 4). The fox walks with immense precision, leaving a perfect single line of clearly cut impressions, almost as if it had hopped on one leg. A dog’s paw prints, by comparison, are clumsy: the edges are blurred and fall to either side of a central line.
Lindsay Waddell
National Gamekeepers’ Organisation

Sir, At last the King’s Fund (Feb 6) has said what most NHS employees have known for some time about the recent NHS reorganisation. Will the government now urgently address the squandering of many thousands of years of clinical experience due to the early retirement of “reform weary” clinical staff (of which I am one). Will all political parties contesting the general election agree to taking the NHS out of party politics and start a process of dialogue with patients and staff to determine exactly what UK residents want from a health service and, more importantly, how it can be afforded and reasonably provided.
Dr John Harris-Hall
(Ret’d GP) Knapton, Norfolk

 

Sir, The UK has the fifth largest area of ocean in the world under its jurisdiction when its overseas territories (UKOTs) are taken into account. More than 94 per cent of the UK’s unique biodiversity is found in the UKOTs, which support a large number of rare and threatened species and habitats found nowhere else on Earth. It makes good economic and environmental sense for the UK to work with its territories to establish effective networks of marine protected areas throughout all waters under UK jurisdiction.

We urge the British government to protect over 1.75 million km² of the world’s oceans by creating large-scale and fully-protected marine reserves in three of the UKOTs — the Pitcairn Islands, Ascension Island, and South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands. This would make a globally significant contribution to ocean conservation, leaving a historic legacy for people and wildlife at very little cost.

Prof Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation, Zoological Society of London

Mike Clarke, Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Charles Clover, Chairman, Blue Marine Foundation

Sir, Back in the 1980s the base of the director of public prosecutions was a small office in 4 Queen Anne’s Gate in Westminster, and I was one of the lawyers dealing with the cases there (letter, Feb 7). I still remember the cabinet in which the pink folders of guidance were kept containing QCs’ opinions and internal memorandums on a variety of situations that might confront us. There were no grand declarations of policy or agenda to be followed. Each case depended upon its facts. A detached view was taken as to whether there was sufficient evidence to give a reasonable prospect of a successful prosecution. Only if that hurdle was cleared would one consider whether the prosecution was in the public interest.

You cannot start off, in advance, with the declared intention to prosecute something, or somebody. Leave that to the politicians. Dry as it sounds, careful reflection on whether you have sufficient evidence, or how you might lawfully obtain it, is all that should matter to the DPP.
Stephen Sullivan
London EC3

Sir, Further to the comments by the Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone about men’s influence on FGM (“Sexual bias has allowed FGM to flourish, says minister”, Feb 7), the reality is — certainly in the tribal area in northeast Kenya where my charity works — that it is the women (grandmothers and mothers) who persist in perpetuating this cruel practice. This is not only on the grounds of the deeply embedded tribal culture of circumcision being a major and obligatory rite of passage, but also because they had to endure it to “become a woman”, and so, therefore, should their daughters.
David Baldwin
Chairman of trustees, St Peter’s Life-Line

 


Telegraph:

Dry-stone walled field near Castletown, Dark Peak, The Peak District, Derbyshire

Dry-stone walled field near Castletown, Dark Peak, The Peak District, Derbyshire Photo: ALAMY

SIR – I am glad that Elizabeth Truss, the Environment Secretary, has highlighted the madness of the Common Agricultural Policy “Three-crop rule”, which affects small farmers (report, February 1).

I am a retired dairy farmer and I now have just 100 acres of land. Thirty acres is permanent grassland, which doesn’t count as a crop for EU grant purposes, so my other 70 acres (all in a single field) has to have three crops – winter wheat, spring wheat and grass – in one year.

I can’t make any money under this system and, if I don’t comply, I get no subsidy on any of my land. If I ask my landlord to reduce the rent he will just offer the field to a big farmer, who will plant one crop on my 70 acres, and use his existing fields for the other compulsory crops.

It is very sad to think that European leaders, who were not elected by us, are going to destroy the backbone of British farming.

Richard Beaugie
Shadoxhurst, Kent

SIR – In marked contrast to Mrs Truss, I welcome the overwhelming support shown by the farming community for Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Most farmers I speak to in my area welcome continued funding from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which benefits both British food production and the preservation of our countryside.

Some members of the Conservative Party and Ukip call for Britain to withdraw from the EU, and lose all the associated benefits, although agricultural spokesmen for their parties admit that farmers would still need a watered down version of the CAP to support their current production levels.

Leaving Europe would also be highly damaging for British farm trade, as Britain would have to renegotiate its World Trade Organisation tariffs with the remaining 27 member states.

Dr Alan Bullion
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

SIR – Mrs Truss makes no reference to the meltdown in dairy farming, an omission symptomatic of government indifference to rural affairs.

There is little doubt her dynamic predecessor, Owen Paterson, would have taken more decisive action, just as he did when tackling the flooding on the Somerset Levels last year.

His sacking by David Cameron has to be one of the worst political misjudgments of modern times.

Ian Wilson
Hinton, Goucestershire

SIR – The Environment Secretary is incorrect when she says “We are doing all we can on ash dieback” (report, February 1).

This fungus was responsible for killing virtually all the ash trees from Lithuania right across mainland Europe, including Denmark, between 1990 and 2010. For the past 25 years nobody in Britain seems to have made any effort to find a treatment for the disease or, until recently, to stop diseased trees being imported. The predictable consequences of this negligence is now evident across Britain.

By 2025, almost all of the nation’s 126 million ash trees will be dead. The effects, in terms of trees lost, will be 10 times worse than those of Dutch elm disease, and with far more dreadful consequences for dependent wildlife and the environment.

If Britain had not neglected to address the problem for so many years, this predictable disaster could almost certainly have been avoided. Even now, were the private sector encouraged to take action by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it is still possible that a useful antidote could be found.

Sir Richard Storey Bt
Malton, North Yorkshire

SIR – Elizabeth Truss is MP for South West Norfolk and claims to love the county. She trots out the old Noel Coward line

about Norfolk being “very flat”.

The North Norfolk coast I visit is far from flat. As soon as you walk inland from just about any part of it, you are going uphill, sometimes quite steeply. To get flat you need to visit the fen country – but that’s mostly in Lincolnshire.

Peter Owen
Claygate, Surrey

NHS on the road to privatisation

SIR – Janet Daley (“Ed tried to ‘weaponise’ the NHS – it ended with a bang”, Opinion, February 1) omits one important point: the NHS is being privatised in compliance with the EU Services Directive.

The former health secretary , Frank Dobson, once said that this represented privatisation by stealth, and was “about putting multinational companies in the driving seat of the NHS”.

John Strange
Worthing, West Sussex

SIR – Was it not Andy Burnham who, as health secretary in the last Labour government, reduced GP working hours to five days a week, while at the same time granting them a not inconsiderable pay rise?

The result: a massive increase in patients visiting A&E (“ ’Tis the season of misty memories and Labour forgetfulness”, report, February 1).

Desmond Mulvany
Shepperton, Middlesex

When yes means no

SIR – I was alarmed to read your report on the new guidelines issued by Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to police dealing with date rape accusations (“Men must prove a woman said ‘Yes’ under tough new rape rules”, telegraph.co.uk, January 28).

Guidelines suggesting that an accuser saying “Yes” while intoxicated can legally be saying “No”, and therefore not be held responsible for their actions while drunk, appear totally unjust when the accused is considered responsible for their actions, even if in a similar (or worse) state of intoxication.

Any loving person engaging in romantic sexual activity with another person may find themselves publicly accused of and charged with rape if drink was involved or the word “Yes” wasn’t specifically used.

Andy Bradford
Alton, Hampshire

Value of new GCSEs remains to be seen

SIR – When the Blair government dumbed down national GCSEs by stages during the 2000s, my heads of department in science and maths, then history, geography and modern languages begged me to let them move to IGCSE qualifications, demonstrating to me their comparative rigour and depth.

If the new national GCSEs (report, telegraph.co.uk, January 27), which are being introduced gradually from September 2015, prove to be equally rigorous then it is highly likely that my school will gladly return to them – but not instantly. The proof will be in the pudding of the exam specifications and outcomes.

Truly independent schools like mine are mercifully able to choose the right exams for their pupils. It is an independence that we cherish and upon which we can build our high standards of education, evidenced in many places, not just in league tables.

Alice Phillips
Headmistress, St Catherine’s Bramley, Surrey

Broadchurch blunders: is the show losing the plot?

(ITV)

SIR – When watching Broadchurch I am totally confused as to whether I am presented with a comedy, a soap opera or a murder mystery. The programme appears to be in the middle of an identity crisis with so many sub plots that we need to keep notes on the unfolding events.

The courtroom drama seems to trivialise the due processes of law, the pained expressions would make good subjects for portrait artists, and the haunting music could benefit from the odd change in tempo.

Stunning backdrops of the Jurassic coast and some excellent acting unfortunately fail to camouflage the show’s weaknesses.

Sally Pool
Amersham, Buckinghamshire

SIR – The actors in Broadchurch should forget about trying to adopt a Dorset accent – it comes across more like a mixture of Welsh and Irish.

Ron Kirby
Dorchester, Dorset

SIR – There was a glaring inconsistency in a recent episode of Broadchurch when Andrew Buchan returned home and told his wife he had been watching the sunrise. He had in fact been sitting on the Dorset coast looking out to sea with the sun low in the sky on his right.

J H K Reeves
Bradfield, Berkshire

SIR – Boredchurch.

Kevin Clarke
Lindfield, West Sussex

SIR – As regards peculiarities found in television dramas (Letters, February 1), I find it extraordinary that only the top drawer in a filing cabinet is ever used.

Paul Eward
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

Adios Archers

SIR – I enjoyed Kate Chisholm’s spirited defence of The Archers (“Why The Archers keeps drawing us back”, Opinion, February 1) but I cannot agree with her.

Having listened to the programme from the earliest days, and finally recovered from the demise of Dick Barton, the time has now come to say goodbye.

Too many story lines, too many new characters and too many old characters with new voices. Anything familiar has been done away with and it has become a cross between EastEnders and Emmerdale.

Sue Charlton
Carlisle, Cumbria

Chef’s specials

SIR – I had always wondered why a restaurant I go to in Stirling always describes its haggis as: “Fresh Scottish haggis”.

The proprietor was a little taken aback when I asked if he ever served “Stale Welsh haggis”.

Brian Smith
Dunfermline, Fife

SIR – In the Eighties one of the smarter restaurants in Damascus, the Versailles, prided itself on its French connections.

We were never tempted to confirm just what the final offering on a small selection of desserts – “Crap Suet” – was.

Richard Warner
King’s Lynn, Norfolk

SIR – I recently went to a very nice Thai restaurant, where I ordered crispy duck topped with “cautiously fried” vegetables. You can’t be too careful.

John Mowforth
Alderley Edge, Cheshire

British Jews

SIR – I read with alarm the concerns expressed by our fellow countrymen and women from the Jewish community (Letters, February 1).

The Jewish community’s integration within British society has been total, and its the contribution to politics, art, science and humour immense. They are as British as any Angle or Saxon immigrant.

Ralph Ingham
Tingley, West Yorkshire

SIR – My late husband, who was Jewish and lost his parents and brother to the gas chambers, always said religion was the cause of all misery.

Shirley Rothstein

Ramsgate, Kent
Unconventional Royals

(David Hartley / Rex Features)

SIR – Regarding your excellent leader (“Heir to the throne and a man of compassion”, February 1), no constitutional law forbids a sovereign from showing independence of mind or becoming involved in politics; this convention has been established during the Queen’s happy reign.

Queen Mary showed that royal convention may be disregarded when she openly supported her diffident second son, George VI, by attending his coronation in 1937, despite a tradition (thought to date from Plantagenet times) that no British queen dowager had ever attended the coronation of her husband’s successor.

Jennifer Mills
London SW15

SIR – There is no evidence that Prince Charles would reign with the title Charles III (report, February 1). Regnal names frequently have been different from first names.

In view of his affection for his grandmother, it is much more likely that Prince Charles would choose the title George VII.

Dr John Newbery
Hayling Island, Hampshire

Transpacific balloons

SIR – Tony Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev are the first to have crossed the Pacific by gas balloon (report, February 1), but theirs was not the first gas balloon to cross this ocean.

From November 1944 until April 1945, the Japanese launched more than 9,000 gas balloons, under the code name “Windship Weapon”, to bomb America. The intention was to ignite forest fires or kill at random and at least 285 reached America, Canada or Mexico.

The balloons – 33 ft in diameter and made of paper and silk – rode 6,000 miles in the transpacific jet stream in three days.

In May 1945 a pregnant woman and five children found a balloon in Oregon and accidentally triggered its bomb. They were the only people killed on the entire American continent as a result of enemy action during the Second World War.

Roger Croston
Christleton, Cheshire

20th-century odyssey

SIR – A contestant on a recent episode of the ITV quiz programme The Chase was asked: “Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey is the story of Odysseus’s journey home from which war?”

Her answer: “The First World War.” I almost wept.

Robert Readman
Bournemouth, Hampshire

 

 

Globe and Mail:

PETER MCKNIGHT

Court has given Parliament a clear path to assisted-suicide legislation

Irish Times:

Sir, – There is a strong anti-fluoridation campaign targeting city and county councillors throughout the State. This campaign seeks to have motions passed calling for the fluoridation of water to end in the area of the relevant council.

The benefits for oral health of adding fluoride to water are well established. There is no scientific evidence that fluoride, at the rate at which it is added to Irish water, is a threat to any aspect of the health of our citizens.

We are asking councillors to review the published scientific information before supporting a motion, which if implemented by Government, would damage people’s oral health for years.

The 2002 North South Survey of Children’s Oral Health showed measurable benefits in oral health among those aged five and 15 in areas with fluoridated water in the Republic of Ireland when measured against the oral health of children in Northern Ireland where the water is not fluoridated. The only negative demonstrated by the research was a slight increase in mild discolouration of teeth, which resulted in a decrease from 0.9 parts per million to 0.7 parts per million in the rate of fluoridation.

If you remove fluoride from water, even allowing for the presence of fluoride in toothpastes, our citizens will suffer from increases in tooth decay with all its associated pain and financial cost. At a time when the Government provides almost no support for the oral health of our citizens, and when the public dental service is severely strained because of cutbacks and the moratorium on recruitment, the removal of fluoride would be a retrograde step. – Yours, etc,

Dr PETER GANNON,

Prof LEO FA STASSEN,

FINTAN HOURIHAN,

Chief Executive,

Irish Dental Association,

Irish Dental Union,

Unit 2,

Leopardstown Office Park,

Sir, – A Leavy (February 6th) is wrong if he thinks that the euro crisis was caused by domestic mismanagement. The euro zone crisis was caused in no small part by the decision of the Irish government to transfer the debts of the private sector banking system over to the Irish taxpayer, in addition to the burden we were facing as a result of domestic issues.

Both Greece and Ireland have applied sufficient austerity so that both have a primary surplus in terms of the fact both raise more in tax to cover the cost of running the country. The problem arises when you then add back the cost of servicing the element of national debt solely related to the banking sector. In Ireland’s case it comes to over €3.5 billion a year in interest alone, while in Greece the cost of the banking part of its national debt is over €6 billion a year.

If that portion of national debt was Europeanised, the way it should have been from the start, then Greece and Ireland could continue to focus on domestic reforms to get their economies working again.

It is incorrect to use the term “Greek debt” and not understand that Greece is not seeking to avoid paying the debt incurred to run the country, nor is the new Greek government in denial about the decades of cronyism and tax avoidance by the self-employed, professional and middle classes, or the endemic cronyism and corruption within Greece.

All it seeks is the basic fairness that other euro zone member states also face up to the role they played by encouraging their banks to continue reckless lending.

Let’s not forget either that for all the patronising talk from Germany about living within your means, it was Germany itself that was the first EU country to breach the terms of the growth and stability pact and when the EU attempted to apply the sanctions for breaking the rules, it was Germany, aided by France, that forced the rules to be changed so it could avoid being held to account.

So a bit less superiority from Germany and a bit less denial about the role it played in creating this crisis wouldn’t go amiss either. – Yours, etc

DESMOND FitzGERALD,

Canary Wharf,

London.

Sir, – I am writing to you as a former child protection social worker in response to the article by Carl O’Brien about young people in care (“We’re not asking for the impossible – we just want what other kids have”, February 2nd).

I want young people in care to know that it was my involvement with them that kept me in the job for as long as I stayed. I didn’t mind the sleepless nights, agonising over decisions I made about their futures.

It was the impossible, bureaucratic, under-resourced system that broke my heart day after day and made me want to leave and go to chop tomatoes in a cafe somewhere.

Frontline social workers should be consulted regularly about the types of solutions that would enhance the lives of children and young people in care and aftercare.

Children and young people in care and aftercare deserve and need much more than they are getting.

Their lives, as a result of being in care, are more complicated and turbulent, and surely that merits care and attention and increased resources to transition them safely into adulthood.

I spent 4½ years as a child protection social worker. I could never do it again. I take my hat off to the amazing social workers who are still working within that system, trying to find solutions and be creative with very limited resources.

It is a wearing battle. – Yours, etc,

MARIE KINSELLA,

Stepaside,

Dublin 18.

Sir, – The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) welcomes the recent focus on energy prices and competition (“Electricity bills should reflect falling gas price”, January 27th; “Those most at risk of energy poverty least likely to shop around”, February 2nd).

The CER has a strong consumer protection mandate and has ensured a supplier switching process for customers which is fast, free and simple.

Irish switching rates are high by international standards, with over 15 per cent of customers switching electricity supplier in 2014 alone. Strong competition has enabled energy prices to be deregulated. In addition to price reductions, competition also delivers choice and innovation. Suppliers now offer alternative metering, billing or payment options, which help customers manage costs, as well as energy efficiency options which reduce consumption and lower bills.

Noticeably lower international gas costs in recent times, combined with competition among suppliers, has fed through to announcements of reduced energy prices by four suppliers since November. If the gas cost remains low for a sustained period, we expect further price reductions in the coming months.

In the interim, we encourage all energy customers to “shop around” among suppliers to see if a better tariff is available, including approaching their current supplier. Price comparison websites, such as bonkers.ie and uswitch.ie, are useful for customers in this regard.

Latest independent Eurostat data for the first half of 2014 show that average prices for typical Irish residential electricity and gas customers are at – or in some cases below – the euro zone average.

The CER commits to continue to monitor energy markets and, should it feel that customers are not benefitting from price deregulation, will use its regulatory powers to take action and improve matters. – Yours, etc,

LAURA BRIEN,

Director, Energy Markets,

Commission for Energy

Regulation,

The Exchange,

Sir, – I very much enjoy Joe Humphreys’s weekly column on philosophy.

However, I was puzzled by the interview with Prof Peter J Bowler (“Unthinkable: Why Charles Darwin is a threat to religion”, February 3rd).

In the article, Prof Bowler states that “Christians would have been more accepting of evolution had Darwin not explained it through natural selection”.

This seems a rather strange statement, given that the hypothesis of natural selection formed a crucial part of Darwin’s theory of evolution (it remains a key component of evolutionary biology today).

It seems to me that it makes very little sense to speculate about the possible reception of a hypothetical “Darwinian” theory that did not feature natural selection – rather like asking whether Rutherford’s nuclear model of the atom might have been more easily accepted had it not involved the difficult concept of the nucleus.

Indeed, while Prof Bowler’s book has received rave reviews from historians, his “counterfactual” approach to the history of science seems quite peculiar to this scientist.

Prof Bowler’s key suggestion is that a different mechanism for evolution might have been more palatable to the church, but how can we know this for sure? It seems unlikely that any theory resembling evolution would have been welcomed by Christian authorities.

In any case, my understanding is that history is the study of what happened – not what might have happened under different circumstances. – Yours, etc

CORMAC

O’RAIFEARTAIGH,

Sir, – Alcohol should not be compared to tobacco when it comes to prohibitive taxation. Unlike tobacco, alcohol has a complex role to play in our social lives, our nation’s tourism industry and our economy.

The taxation proposals are simply a continuation of the prohibitive practices that have helped create problematic attitudes toward alcohol.

Instead of the “Nordic model” of prohibitive taxes, we need a “continental model” of a more nature, relaxed and responsible attitude towards alcohol consumption. – Yours, etc,

KEITH MARTIN,

Westport, Co Mayo.

Sir, – If Peadar Mac Maghnais (February 5th) gets upset with the use of British Isles, imagine how Filipinos feel at being named after a Spanish king, or Romania being named after Rome, and Scotland from the land of the Irish. If the term “British Isles” is an issue, why not follow the pattern of Macedonia and rename our island “the Former British Isle of Ireland”. – Yours, etc,

JASON FITZHARRIS,

Swords,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I sincerely regret that the BBC has lost the exclusive rights to screen the British Open, this great golfing event. I shall miss the superb commentary by Peter Allis and also the fact that the BBC coverage is in high definition, unlike Sky, which charges extra for the privilege. And then there are the ads. Oh woe is me. – Yours, etc,

DENIS O’DONOGHUE,

Moate, Co Westmeath.

Sir, – So sorry to read of Frank McDonald’s retirement (“Reflections on Dublin”, Magazine, January 31st). I wish him a well-earned and happy retirement. He has been such a marvellous ambassador for preserving Dublin’s character and I am sure I speak for many when I say perhaps we did not appreciate him half enough. I hope he continues to keep an eye on things! – Yours, etc,

URSULA

HOUGH-GORMLEY,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – I am researching the life of Pearse Hutchinson (1927-2012), poet, translator and broadcaster, with a view to writing a critical biography. I would be grateful if you would allow me to ask readers to contact me at the address below if they have any information, correspondence, photographs, or other information that might be useful. – Yours, etc,

Dr PHILIP COLEMAN,

School of English,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Irish Independent:

Clare Daly
Clare Daly

The Government says it can’t, for constitutional reasons, support Clare Daly’s Bill to allow for terminations in circumstances where an unborn child has no prospect of life outside the womb.

  • Go To

One can understand and fully appreciate that position, based on a clearly stated legal concern. But what I find deeply disturbing is that the Government, and indeed the main opposition parties too, seem loathe to allowing a free vote on this Bill that seeks to address the heart-rending condition of Fatal Foetal Abnormality and its impact on women.

OK, the Bill won’t become law, but it affords TDs the opportunity to vote for the principle of not obliging any woman in this country to proceed with a pregnancy when the baby cannot be born alive.

This cruel and inhuman obligation is a relic of our darker and horribly shameful past, of the same stultifying oppressive era when Magdalene punishment centres (Ireland’s Gulags) dotted the land, of an insidious political culture that shielded the barbarity of the crude and brutal symphysiotomy procedure.

By refusing to act decisively on the FFA issue, the Government is demonstrating that its well choreographed expressions of regret for past wrongs, in what Taoiseach Enda Kenny called a “cruel time in Ireland”, were all but meaningless.

It was wrong to confine women guilty of no crime in virtual slave camps to wash other people’s dirty laundry for weeks, months, and years on end.

It is equally wrong for this State to compel a woman to proceed with a pregnancy when she knows that a child cannot be born alive…to subject even a single human being to such a form of legalised torture.

If the leaders of Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin, and Fianna Fáil have a shred of decency, they ought to put aside their political differences and, for once, remove the whips and let every member of the Dáil vote freely, openly, and honestly on this issue of conscience and fundamental human rights.

John Fitzgerald, Callan, Co Kilkenny

Slapping children is never right

A slap on the child’s hands is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.

A slap on the back of the child’s legs is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.

A slap on the child’s bottom is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.

A slap on the back of the child’s head is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.

A slap on the child’s face is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.

A slap on any part of the child’s body is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.

Believe me, and I speak from experience, you will humiliate a child, no matter what part of the body you slap them.

I believe, that Pope Francis, a good man, was very unwise to enter this particular debate in the first place.

I congratulate Mary McAleese on her eloquent and measured letter on this subject in your paper.

Any kind of corporal punishment of children, no matter how tame, should be banned, both in the school and in the home. End of story.

Brian McDevitt, Glenties, Co. Donegal.

Is laughter not proof of God?

Without a shadow of doubt in my mind, an Irish atheist is a very sensible person.

Who would believe in a God that is preached by an organisation such as the Catholic Church ?

Not as preached by those within the Church, both lay and clergy, who are genuinely striving to make the world a better place – but those elements within it that are hell-bent on fracturing society through inflicting pain and suffering on our most vulnerable – elements that have been ordained and those who attach themselves to those elements that do the very opposite of what they preach.

Are atheists correct ? Who genuinely knows in one sense, but perhaps a question for atheists that I cannot answer without God popping up as its source … Where did music and laughter come from, for are they not the very proof of Divine Inspiration?

Perhaps Mr Fry, an absolute expert on one of these topics, may like to offer his views, for after all he has brought much laughter, light and happiness to the world in his long and wonderful career in comedy, has he not?

Dermot Ryan, Attymon, Athenry, Co. Galway.

 

Matter can’t produce morality

The idea that matter could, of its own volition, produce ‘sentient beings capable of morality, love and philosophy’ (Conor Faughnan, February 7) is preposterous.

Fr. Georges Lamaitre SJ, who, at a scientific conference in 1933 and at the specific invitation of Albert Einstein, presented his ‘Primeval Atom hypothesis’, now colloquially referred to as the ‘Big Bang Theory’, had a far more reasonable and all-embracing comprehension of primeval existential realities.

‘Should a priest reject relativity because it contains no authoritative exposition on the doctrine of the Trinity? Once you realise that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes … The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to St Paul or to Moses … As a matter of fact neither St Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.’

Colm Ó Tórna, Co Dublin

Equal rights for all families

The referendum is not about you, and it should not become about whether we are gay, straight or otherwise. It is about taxpayers being afforded the same rights as other people and citizens who pay equivalent taxes. Your argument seems to be heavily based on assumptions surrounding the future endangerment of the hetero-normal family.

Why not instead show us solid evidence where gay parents, today, cannot provide a suitable environment in which to raise children. In reality, society cannot favour a particular type of family unit in a culture which is already enriched with the types of families you wish to prevent. These existing children deserve to be legally recognised as do the people, their parents, who are raising them.

Just because something is traditional does not mean it cannot be enhanced and improved upon. Consider how in Ireland tens of thousands of children were handed over to a lifetime of institutional, State-sponsored, abuse by a perfectly respectfully mother and father. States like Ireland can evolve and improve, so too can families.

Caitriona Coen, Castleknock, Dublin

A winning strategy on booze

The Minister for Health has decided that access to reasonably priced alcohol in the shop is to be stopped. Our health police deem that such access is bad for the proletariat; we have an “unhealthy relationship” with alcohol, so price hikes will solve this problem.

The demand will diminish, especially amongst the younger proles. Just like it has for cannabis, cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, LSD, ecstasy. Since these drugs were subjected to similar regulation, nobody uses them anymore.

Sure it’s a winner of a strategy, so it is. A winner.

Larry Dunne, Rosslare Harbour, Co Wexford

Irish Independent

Better

February 8, 2015

8 Febuary 2015 Better

Mary much better has three meals.

Obituary:

Suzanne Kyrle-Pope

Suzanne Kyrle-Pope

Suzanne Kyrle-Pope, who has died aged 93, was a naval daughter and became a naval wife; in almost half a century of globe-trotting she was besieged and bombed in Malta, made maps for the Normandy landings, took part in an opium raid in Singapore, and introduced Father Christmas to Bahraini children.

In a memoir, The Same Wife in Every Port (1998), she offered a unique record of life in a naval family at a time when Britain still had military bases around the world supporting the three Armed Services.

She was born Angela Suzanne Layton at Wolverhampton on February 1 1921. Her father, the future Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, KCMG, KCB, DSO, was, she recalled, popular with his men, but in his family life he was a martinet: “intolerant, severely critical and unapproachable, inspiring nothing but fear and dread”. Because Suzanne was the last of three daughters and not the son he had hoped for, he had no interest in her at all, and their encounters were usually unpleasant. After a perfunctory education in England, in 1938 Suzanne joined her family in Malta, where her father had been posted two years earlier as second-in-command of the Mediterranean fleet, in the rank of vice-admiral.

Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, KCMG, KCB, DSO

Malta at the time was teeming with British servicemen and there were parties every night. But the pleasures of an active social life were offset by her father’s hostility. “You’ll never get married, you know,” he told her; “you are too fat and ugly, and no one wants to marry a girl who can’t even play tennis.” In response Suzanne (who had inherited some of her father’s obstinacy) vowed to marry the first man who asked her — and she did, aged 19, in April 1940.

Her husband was an Army officer called John Parlby; her father gave his consent while expressing regret that she was marrying a “Pongo” (naval slang for a soldier). But the marriage was a mistake from the start. She had never been told the facts of life and had no idea what to expect. Their short honeymoon, spent on the Maltese island of Gozo, was an “unrelieved, fumbling failure”.

After the wedding, Suzanne’s mother returned to England, following her father who had been appointed to the Home Fleet. In June the Italian air force began the aerial bombardment of Malta, in which they were joined by the Luftwaffe from early 1941.

As an Army wife, Suzanne remained in Malta throughout the siege (which lasted until August 1942), working in the cipher office of Military Intelligence. As the attacks intensified, she had a narrow escape when she managed to dive off her bike into a ditch just as a Messerschmitt flew down the road, strafing it with bullets. On another occasion the Valletta hotel in which she was living was bombed and collapsed, blocking the entrance to a natural cave underneath, where the residents had taken refuge, and filling it with choking dust. They were rescued three hours later.

After the hotel bombing in Valletta

By the spring of 1942 Suzanne had had a miscarriage and, as food shortages and interrupted nights took their toll, she became unwell. In early August 1942 it was decided to evacuate wives who were ill in the Wellington bombers which were stopping in Malta at night to drop mail and medical supplies. She left for Cairo, from where she was evacuated to Britain by troopship round the Cape of Good Hope.

Back in England, while living with relations of her husband in Oxford, Suzanne joined a team at the Bodleian Library involved in topographical planning for the Normandy landings. Her job was to study photos brought in from RAF reconnaissance flights taken at low altitude along the Normandy coast and stick them together to make long panoramic views, annotating landmarks that could be recognised from landing craft. On D-Day each landing craft carried one of her panoramas.

Her husband had returned to Britain in early 1943, and the following year she had a daughter, Virginia. John Parlby crossed over to Normandy with the D-Day force but was wounded two days later. While he was recovering in hospital she learned that he had been having an affair. In 1945 he was posted to the British Army of Occupation in Germany.

While living with her parents in Malta, Suzanne had become fond of a young naval officer called Michael Kyrle-Pope, but he married someone else; and during the war Suzanne was told that he had been killed trying to escape from a PoW camp in Germany. So in September 1945 she was astonished to receive a telephone call from him, in which he told her that not only was he alive, but also that his marriage had broken down. His return was the “final straw” in the break-up of her first marriage.

Suzanne and Michael Kyrle-Pope on their wedding day

Their parting was amicable, her husband agreeing that Virginia should live with her; but when she told her father of her intention to get divorced the results were explosive. He disowned her, threatened to “smash” her new fiancé’s career and contrived to ensure that her husband would get custody of Virginia. When she and Kyrle-Pope married in 1947, the wedding was attended by many of his relations but none of hers. Later she discovered that at the time her father had been conducting affairs with two mistresses. “No words can ever express my feelings of disgust for my father and his cant and hypocrisy,” she wrote later.

During her second marriage, which produced another daughter and a son, Suzanne Kyrle-Pope followed her husband to postings in Gibraltar, the United States, Spain, Germany, the Gulf and the Far East where, in 1967, he was promoted to rear-admiral and appointed chief of staff to the C-in-C, Far East.

But she refused to be a typical Navy wife. Instead, withstanding the disapproval of stuffier expats, she immersed herself in local life. In Washington she worked as a shop assistant in a fashion store; in Germany she worked in displaced persons’ camps and persuaded Women’s Institutes back home to send presents for camp children for whom she arranged Christmas parties; in Singapore she became close friends with a Chinese orchid expert, visited servicemen in the psychiatric ward of the British military hospital and went on patrol with the Singapore Narcotics Bureau.

Her favourite posting, in the 1960s, was Bahrain, where she became a good friend of the Sheikh’s wife, organised a children’s library service, made friends with Arab merchants in the Suq and paid visits to Dubai (“an attractive old town built along two sides of a lagoon”) and Abu Dhabi (“a little primitive town on a promontory, with dirt roads, bordered by barasti huts”).

After her husband’s retirement from the Navy in 1970, they moved to Hertfordshire and later, in the 1990s, to the West Country to be near their daughter, Emma Leigh, whose husband Jonathan was then headmaster of Blundell’s School, Tiverton (he is now Master of Marlborough). There she entertained select groups of well-behaved Blundell’s pupils, known as her “tea boys”, to weekly tea parties, remaining in contact with many of them after they had left the school.

Michael Kyrle-Pope died in 2008, and she is survived by her son and two daughters.

Suzanne Kyrle-Pope, born February 1 1921, died December 23 2014

Guardian:

Refuse collectors' strike in Brighton
Rubbish piled up in Brighton, East Sussex, when refuse collectors went on strike. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA

In the city of Brighton, Hove and Portslade on the south coast, we’ve had a Green-run council now for almost four years and to say it’s been a disaster is a slight understatement. (“Chaotic as they are, the Greens remind the main parties that vision matters”, Comment) There have been literally whole months when the rubbish hasn’t been collected, recycling rates have actually gone down and  we are now faced with paying millions for a seafront vanity project called the i360 that very few residents actually want.

The Green group of councillors is riven by disagreement and the latest farce-like situation involves local Green party members voting to mandate their councillors to set an illegal budget, trying to force their own council leader to stand down and suggesting that this all be explained to voters by means of street theatre! To add insult to injury, we also have the local Green MP shamefully trying to distance herself from her own council colleagues.

A complete shambles that will be unceremoniously booted out this May in our local elections.

Peter Atkinson

Brighton

Health regulation is not ailing

Aseem Malhotra’s concern that Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is being ‘‘compromised by pressure from a misguided, industry-friendly government” is misplaced (“Is Nice, our health regulator, fit for purpose?”, Comment).

He claims, citing “insiders”, that Nice’s independent advisory committees have been encouraged by ministers “to be more favourable to the drug and (medical) device industries”. They haven’t. Their job is to interpret the evidence in accordance with Nice’s published methods and to make the recommendations they consider the evidence supports. They don’t get paid for doing it. They do it because they want to get the best for people who use the health and social care system with the resources it has available. They respond to reasoned argument and they are not pushed around by anyone.

Dr Malhotra says: “Failure to regulate the drug and device industries is causing unfathomable damage to our health at great cost.” On the contrary, it’s because we have such a rigorous system for assessing new treatments that patients and the NHS have the best chance of being able to exercise informed choice in their care.

Sir Andrew Dillon

Chief executive, Nice

London SW1

People need to study people

Last summer (Observer, 22 June 2014) saw an exchange of correspondence in your pages about the recently established A-level in anthropology and the immense educational value of the subject for young people. Last week, the awarding body responsible for the anthropology A-level, AQA, announced that it is to be discontinued.

The decision to discontinue the anthropology A-level is both short-sighted and premature. Anthropology is the only academic discipline to span the humanities and sciences and to offer deep insights into both our common humanity and the rich diversity of contemporary cultures and world views.

Hilary Callan

Former director, Royal Anthropological Institute

London W1

Vacant idea is utterly vacuous

The recent introduction of vacant building credit could have far-reaching and potentially catastrophic effects, both for jobs and for the provision of affordable homes in London.

Changes to planning guidance that encourage the development of empty buildings as homes would be welcomed, but this policy does not do that and risks permanently damaging the social mix of our capital city. It has created a perverse incentive for unscrupulous landlords and developers to evict existing tenants and could result in the loss of billions of pounds’ worth of affordable housing investment from developers.

It is now difficult to find anyone who supports the policy, with concerns expressed by London councils, planning experts and even major developers. Together, we represent all the major parties of London politics and are calling on housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis, to suspend immediately the planning guidance related to vacant building credit, pending a full independent impact assessment of the policy’s consequences for jobs and affordable housing in London.

Tessa Jowell MP Kevin Davis leader Kingston upon Thames council Ruth Dombey leader, Sutton council Peter John leader, Southwark council Jenny Jones AM (London Assembly member) Len Duvall AM

Schools do know pupils’ needs

Barbara Ellen’s piece (“Are we creating a lost generation with no prospects?”, Comment) tells only half of the story. No one should doubt the herculean efforts going on in most/all secondary schools. All pupils have detailed statistical records including the requirement to achieve three levels of progress. All sorts of intervention schemes are in action; homework clubs, booster classes after school and in holidays, mentoring schemes, close attention to attendance and lateness.

The factors affecting exam performance from outside the school are well known, but are studiously ignored by the present government. Therein is the problem and the solution.

David J Handley

Gargrave, Yorkshire


Ruling out free higher education, Alan Ware (Letters, 6 February) talks about “how to best match the provision of education and training with the needs of an economy”. How about changing our economic hierarchies and elitist privileges to best match the needs of our citizens? This how we ended up with the former free higher education and mandatory student grant.
Gavin Lewis
Manchester

Perhaps Herr Schäuble (Report, 6 February) should offer the 500 tax collectors to the UK government to collect from the wealthy?
David Bale
Exmouth, Devon

If you work beyond state pension age, you stop paying national insurance (Letters, 6 February). Why?
Jenny Haynes
Barton on Humber, North Lincolnshire

Snapshot: Our annual fortnight’s holiday at Mr Veal’s

This photograph is of my family on holiday in Newquay, Cornwall in the 1970s outside Mr Veal’s bungalow, which we rented for two weeks at the start of every summer. It was always the same two weeks, as my dad worked as an aircraft electrician for Hawker Siddeley and the factory closed for the Leicestershire fortnight.

Mr Veal lived in the bungalow all year round including the summer holidays when he decamped to the attic while letting out the bungalow below. He must have taken the photograph.

I now know that Mum and Dad saved carefully throughout the year for this fortnight in the sun for us. My dad had a market stall on a Saturday as well as his main job and my mum, as was more typical in the 70s, didn’t work. She made most of our clothes, but sometimes they came “over the fence” from the girl next door when she’d outgrown them. My Bay City Rollers dungarees came to me this way.

In the picture, my top is covered with swimming badges dedicatedly sewn on by my mum, who also took my brother Stu and me most days to early morning swimming sessions with the Newquay swimming club so that when we got home we wouldn’t be behind with our training.

Nana always came on holiday with us as Grandad died when my mum was still in her teens. She loved the holidays as much as we did and although the rest of the family could all swim (and surf), she had never learned, so we always enjoyed having a paddle with her. She’d tuck her skirt into her knickers at the sides; something I do now myself if not suitably dressed, much to the embarrassment of my own children.

My children are now a couple of years older than Stu and I are in the photo and they have never been to Newquay, but we have similar beach holidays to the ones we enjoyed then. I hope that when they are my age, they will look back on their holidays as I do, with lots of happy memories.

Louise Essex

Independent:

Kensington and Chelsea offers no council tax discount for second homes, or third or fourth homes for that matter. And I can assure Councillor Emma Dent Coad that no resident is being “displaced” by the council’s regeneration plans (“This short stroll should be our walk of shame”, 1 February).

North Kensington is indeed a comparatively poor part of the capital, but it is also a lively, creative, and very desirable place to live: it is a great example of a mixed community, where people from different backgrounds rub along together.

The council is doing a great deal to tackle disadvantage. Our schools are excellent, our exam results are outstanding, our parks are attractive and well maintained, we are opening a new leisure centre, a new academy has just opened and we are bringing forward exciting proposals to build affordable housing, all enabled by those council reserves (£180m, rather than the £283m reported), which she claims are such a scandal. And, despite your anonymous witnesses, there is good independent evidence that council tenants across Kensington and Chelsea are very satisfied indeed with their homes.

Cllr Rock Feilding-Mellen

Deputy Leader  Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London

I wish to object to the use of the term “psychopath” in “Putin is a dangerous psychopath…” (1 February). It is a term that has no actual approved usage and is generally used by the tabloid media to highlight the rare cases when someone with a mental illness attacks a member of the public. Describing Putin as a psychopath not only reinforces negative attitudes towards mental illness but also reduces the discourse about Russia’s actions to that of “mad evil dictator” vs “the rest of the world”, which is a throwback to the communist era.

Gareth Oliver

York

The Prince of Wales wants to secretly influence laws to suit his own interests, and keep his royal status – no responsibility, no accountability (“Saviour of the nation?”, 1 February). But interfering in the political process has a cost to his position within a constitutional monarchy. More people will start to question the point of this royal family, their cost to this country and their privileges and power.

Jenny Bushell

London SW19

I wanted to write in support of your editor’s letter (“We report news, while we try to avoid manipulation”, 1 February). The hope of terrorists is that their cruelty will make Western governments act hastily or in ways that will bring them more support or publicity. While being in full sympathy with the agony of victims and their families, we must not allow that to happen. It is a very difficult line to tread but I congratulate you on having the courage to do so.

Ros Burnip

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

In “MP Rees-Mogg tells Tory activists he is ‘not proud of gay marriage law’”, (1 February) a fellow Conservative moans, “it alienated a lot of our traditional supporters”. I suppose it was “traditional” Tory supporters who were against votes for women, opposed equal rights for black people, and who still seek to repeal the 2004 hunting ban, despite overall public opinion. Those who woe same-sex marriage can grumble all they like but it’s legal now. You would think there would be more important things for MPs to think about.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

The BAE Systems director writes to defend its record on job creation for apprentices and graduates (Letters, 1 February). Young people need to be reminded that there are jobs that promote wealth and well-being throughout the world, and those that destroy it.

Geoff Naylor

Winchester, Hampshire

Times:

Danger of domino effect if Greece is let off its debts

WHY put all the blame on Angela Merkel and the “Teutonic” attitude, as Camilla Cavendish calls it (“Have a heart, Mrs Merkel. After all, Berlin helped write this Greek tragedy”, Comment, last week)?

Germany is not the only country to think there must be limits. I have no doubt many people in the UK would think the same if they had to foot the endless bill.

I am not German but have lived in Germany for 35 years and raised a family here. I have worked and continue to work part-time — also because it is good for me — to subsidise my state pension.

If we go on subsidising cronyism, corruption and the sunbathers in Greece, more countries will follow. Portugal, Spain and others will be next. Moreover, we have no idea where the new Greek government is heading.
Ella de Vriend, Bonn, Germany

AUSTERITY MEASURES

The article fails to recognise that we cannot conjure money out of air or claim debts entered into by past governments are no longer our responsibility, which appears to be what the Syriza party in Greece and Podemos in Spain want.

Austerity is a necessary fact of all our lives. It is true that Greece should not have joined the euro, as it is not competitive, but that again was a freely taken decision by the Greeks.

A stable exchange rate such as that provided by the euro is, however, a huge benefit to countries — mainly in northern Europe — that are able to compete and are willing to exercise the necessary discipline over their spending.

This is not a benefit that we in the UK have shared as we have experienced fluctuations in our exchange rate against that of our main partner.
Peter Howard, Haslemere, Surrey

HOME AND AWAY

It was refreshing to read a piece echoing the arguments and logic we Greeks have had to adopt in our plight. I am 23 and lucky enough to have moved to Britain in time not to be affected by the situation in Greece. When I go home I leave feeling depressed and disheartened. My friends have been advised to give up further education as there will be no jobs for them in their chosen fields; they work as baristas and waitresses.

We desperately need structural reforms there that can’t be achieved with our hands tied behind our back. I sit firmly centre-right — a card-carrying Tory and a former council candidate — but I think I would have voted for Syriza.
Amy Yiannitsarou, London N13

BAIL BOND

Full marks to Cavendish for her defence of the Greeks. Germany was itself twice bailed out last century when facing financial ruin and should now do the decent thing by Greece, which, after all, accounts for less than 2% of the EU economy. The moral case is unarguable.
John Davie, London W3

Frustration at fighting a losing battle

CONGRATULATIONS on your feature on Diana Gabaldon’s works and recent screen success (“Lights, camera, inaction”, Focus, last week).Her period of choice, Scotland’s rich Jacobean history, has much to commend it and certainly no shortage of material. If the forthcoming television series has done her books justice, it will make excellent viewing indeed.

Interestingly, however, you compare the work with Game of Thrones, the production that has brought nearly half a billion pounds worth of prosperity to Northern Ireland in the absence of suitable studio facilities in Scotland. There can be no greater irony then, with Outlander about to burst on to British screens, that the site of the 1745 battle of Prestonpans, where Gabaldon’s Lord John Grey character features prominently, is under imminent threat from ill-conceived development. Doubly so when this battle site actually overlooks Cockenzie power station, one of the largest, most versatile covered spaces in Europe, moreover one undergoing part-decommissioning. However, in the current climate, it looks less likely now that generating will ever resume at the site as had been the plan.

If ever there was a hand to glove situation, then surely this is it. Just how can a supposedly tourist-friendly local authority ignore the Gabaldon phenomenon that has seen tour companies inundated with bookings elsewhere, and choose instead the desecration of the mostly English graves at the battle site, moreover one that gave voice to a verse in the British national anthem no less? It simply beggars belief.
David Ostler, Steering committee, Coastal Regeneration Alliance, Longniddry, East Lothian

Fast-track airports expansion to boost UK

THE Airports Commission has completed its final consultation on options for the expansion of UK airports. We back the commission’s work but are concerned that unless politicians act swiftly on its recommendations, our economy could lose out to the tune of billions of pounds in trade and investment.

This debate isn’t just about where we lay 3,000 metres of concrete for a runway; it is about how we secure Britain’s future economic prosperity. The inescapable fact is that the UK trades 20 times more with countries with which we have a direct air link, and that 40% of our exports by value go by air.

Our global competitors won’t wait for us. By 2036 the world’s main cities are likely to have built more than 50 new runways, providing an additional 1bn passenger journeys a year. China alone will have constructed 17 new runways, and the airport at the new Dubai World Central development will provide more capacity than all London’s air terminals combined.

We believe that before the general election the political parties should commit themselves in their manifestos to a quick decision on airports expansion, guided by the commission’s final recommendation, for the good of the country.
George Weston, Associated British Foods; Paul Kelly, Selfridges; Baroness Jo Valentine, London First; John Stewart, Legal & General Group; Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP; Sir George Iacobescu, Canary Wharf Group; Mark Preston, Grosvenor; Richard Solomons, InterContinental Hotels Group; Martin Gilbert, Aberdeen Asset Management; Robert Elliott, Linklaters; Victor Chavez, Thales UK; David Sleath, Segro; Nick Roberts, Atkins;Surinder Arora, Arora Holdings; Heather Lishman, ABPCO; Dale Keller, BARUK; Harold Paisner, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP; Bob Rothenberg MBE, Blick Rothenberg LLP; Ufi Ibrahim, British Hospitality Association; Richard Fursland CBE, BritishAmerican Business; Chris Grigg, British Land; Michael Hirst OBE, Business Visits and Events Partnership; Hugh Seaborn, Cadogan; Stephen Catlin, Catlin Group; Iain Anderson, Cicero Group; Mark Boleat, City of London Corporation; Professor Paul Curran, City University London; John Burns, Derwent London; Kevin Murphy, ExCeL London; Mike Cherry, FSB; Theo de Pencier, Freight Transport Association; Sue Brown, FTI Consulting; Hugh Bullock, Gerald Eve LLP; Mike Turner CBE, Babcock International Group; Gordon Clark, Global Blue; Toby Courtauld, Great Portland Estates; Michael Ward, Harrods; Nicola Shaw, HS1; Michael Spencer, ICAP; John Lehal, Insight Public Affairs; Simon Walker, Institute of Directors; George Kessler CBE, Kesslers International; Andrew Murphy, John Lewis; Sir Winfried Bischoff; Mark Reynolds, Mace; James Fennell, Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners; Richard Dickinson, New West End Company; James Rook, Nimlok; Adrian Shooter CBE, Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership; Glen Moreno, Pearson; Mark Bensted OBE, Powerday; John Rhodes OBE, Quod; Mark Lancaster, SDL; Sue Rimmer OBE, South Thames College; Tim Hancock, Terence O’Rourke;Rebecca Kane, The O2; Bill Moore CBE, The Portman Estate; Ric Lewis, Tristan Capital Partners; Vincent Clancy, Turner & Townsend; Professor Michael Arthur, UCL

Bishop’s bully-boy tactics do little for the abortion debate

I FOUND the response of Bishop John Keenan to Jim Murphy’s view that abortion is a matter for a woman’s conscience quite chilling (“Catholic church rift over Murphy stance on abortion”, News, last week). Bishop Keenan is quoted as saying “Catholic politicians are not permitted to be pro-abortion”. First , Murphy does not seem to be saying he is pro-abortion, merely that he believes individuals should have the right to decide what is right for them. Second, Murphy was elected by, and now represents, a diverse range of voters — of all religions and none — and stood under the banner of the Labour party with its wide-ranging manifesto yet the bishop seems to be saying that, at least on some issues “he’s our man and he’ll do as he is told”.

Well done, Murphy, for not going along with this profoundly anti-democratic sentiment and if I may be permitted to offer advice to Bishop Keenan: if you want to have anyone sitting in your pews in years to come, you should perhaps lose this authoritarian voice which, I believe, leaves you badly out of step with most people, including, I’d suggest, a great many decent people in your own church.
Jim White, Glasgow

Bill offers hope in war on killer diseases

WE ARE a group united by grief. We are the bereaved — widows, widowers, brothers, sisters and parents — who have lost loved ones to incurable diseases. We are the parents fighting for the lives of our children who have cancers and degenerative diseases. We are the patients dying for an answer to our own illnesses. We have never met one another. But we share a bond of pain and fear.

And we are united in our support for the Medical Innovation Bill. Not because we believe that it is the silver bullet. Not because we think that if it is passed, tomorrow there will suddenly be new cures for cancers, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other killer diseases.

We support the bill because it gives us hope that doctors will feel more confident to try novel approaches to killer diseases for which current treatments are known not to work. We support the bill because it offers hope to people yet to face what we have faced.

We support the bill because it will inspire doctors to innovate and to collect and share the results of their innovations so that medical science is advanced. We know it will give doctors confidence and legal clarity to try more and to do more.

The patient’s voice has been drowned out. We have been patronised and told we must leave it to the experts. But we have watched — and are watching — our families die. Some of us are watching our own bodies die. Doctors have the medical experience but we have the human experience.

Nobody knows more about these fatal diseases than we do. As the bill proceeds to the Commons, our voice will be heard.
Gail Rebuck, Sir Michael and Lady Pakenham, Lord and Lady Lloyd-Webber, Victoria Gray, Antonia Wellington, Lord Bragg, Sir Christopher Bland, Frieda Hughes, Vita Paladino, Lord Foster, Debbie Binner, Tom Parker-Bowles, Sara Parker Bowles, Richard Kitley, Mavis Nye, Ray Nye, Omaira Gill, Alex Smith, Rose Fletcher, Claire Cowley, Paul Cowley, Annette Gration, Philip Gration, Pat Hay, Julia Samuel, Sir Henry Keswick, Vivian Duffield, Neil Hay, Mary Toms, Nathan Toms, Barbara Whitehead, Julie Cooper, Christine Winters, Esther Driscol, James Driscol, Maurice Chambers, Beverley Chambers, Gemma Chambers, Clare Smith Daughter, Stauroulla Parker, Michele Parker, Dorothy Vaux, Diane Salisbury, Betty Salisbury, Pauline Debra, Debra Stuart, Stuart Faulser, Jan Weston, Cathy Dear, Elaine Bounds, Karyanne Todd, Amanda Reynolds, Steve Wride, Linda Wride, Richard Elson, Jackie Elson, Dr Irene Kappes, David Wilshire, Faye Wiltshire, Patricia Wiltshire, Dawn Fiddler, Barbara Scott, Robert Scott, Barbara Hampel, Billy Jenkins, Hannah Richards, Angela Davies, Michael Lasseter, Pan Pantziarka, Gail Mathe, Elaine Mitchell, Louis Brooks, Julia Travers-Wakeford, Lawrence Tansley, Sue North, William Pope, Diana Boyle, Robert Johnson, Karen Waldron, Ian White, Gayle McElhinney, Patricia Stubbs, David Williams, Jonathan Stubbs, Julie Williams, Jane Weitzmann, Jen Selig, Sally Greene, Emily Crossley, Nick Crossley, Tony Levene, Paul Fitzpatrick, Lord Smith of Clifton, Alex Johnson, Andy Johnson, Lara Veitch, Natasha Bramble, Kerry Rosenfield, Doron Rosenfield, Emma Hallam, Andy Hallam, Steven Ho

SEEING THE BIG PICTURE ON OXFORD STUDENT HOUSING

OXFORD University did not commission the review of the planning process around our graduate student flats at Castle Mill (“Slicing off top of Oxford ‘eyesore’ flats to cost £30m”, News, last week). A planning expert was commissioned by Oxford city council entirely independently of the university. His findings that the university followed all statutory planning and consultation processes are therefore all the more significant.

Nor did the university conduct the retrospective environmental impact assessment that concluded that Castle Mill’s public benefit to students and Oxford’s overstretched housing market outweighed any remaining visual intrusion. Independent planning consultants carried out that assessment. They also recommended that the university take additional measures to help the buildings blend in more. The university is seeking to follow that advice.

Finally, the photographs in your article are highly misleading. As any Oxford resident can confirm, they show almost entirely different parts of the city’s skyline and so provide no useful point of comparison. With an estimated £30m of funding at stake, it is important that everyone gets the right perspective.
Professor William James, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Planning and Resources, University of Oxford

BARMY ARMY

I’m afraid your correspondent Alastair McCall’s defence of the Scottish National party in reply to last month’s editorial “Fruitcakes come in from the fringe” falls at the first hurdle (“Currant affairs”, Letters, last week). The “fruitcake” classification is based on policy, not popularity. All his point seems to indicate is that Scotland has an inordinately large number of fruitcakes.
Malcolm Fox, Lauder, Berwickshire

Watt a man

The article “There must be more to progressive government than ‘ban it and pan it’” (Comment, last week) contains two interesting statements, one right, one wrong. It is true that Britain’s regulatory system is internationally respected. It is the reason why episodes like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have not occurred in Britain. But it is not true that green posters denouncing James Watt would have been condemning the internal combustion engine. James Watt invented the steam engine. He is the reason why railways started with steam and not with diesel.
Michael Spencer, Pittenweem, Fife

CRIMEA AND PUNISHMENT

With reference to the column by the former US assistant secretary of state James Rubin (“Putin won’t stop on his warpath until timid Nato shows it has teeth”, Comment, last week), it is the EU and America that have helped to create the crisis in Ukraine by encouraging the western factions. Crimea has always been a part of Russia, which has always depended on its warm-water ports. The trade sanctions imposed on Russia are also hurting Europe. The old, tired policies of America are encapsulated in Rubin’s viewpoint.
Thomas Duffy, Bowdon, Greater Manchester

A TENOR WELL SPENT

Bryan Appleyard’s interesting piece on the English National Opera (“A fight at the opera”, Focus, last week) contains statistics that, though widely quoted, do not accurately paint a picture of arts funding. The figure removed from the annual Arts Council budget of £485m for 2015-16 is actually £19m, not £83m. The government will provide £270m for arts organisations and £43m for museums. In addition there will be £75m for music education hubs. Taken together this will be less than 0.1% of government expenditure next year. It’s a small amount of money that does a lot of good: for society, tourism, the creative industries and our children’s education — not to mention entertaining and inspiring us.
Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chairman, Arts Council England

CHAOS THEORY

Your editorial “Europe’s folly leads to a Greek tragedy” (January 25) stated that the greatest risk to Europe from the Greek election result was the “spread of disorderly politics”. But to judge by the sheer confusion in Britain surrounding the television debates that are a prelude to the election, is there not an increasing possibility that a characterisation of this kind will be appropriate to describe our own predicament as well? There’s also the power of minority parties to veto measures, notwithstanding broad-based popular support for them. I cannot be the only one with a sense of foreboding that, after May 7, on some important issues the wishes of the majority will be overruled.
David Meakin, Cheltenham

A RAT’S TALE

Matt Rudd bemoans changing museum displays (“Isn’t this museum fun, kids: no Dippy the diplodocus, but lots on composting”, Speakeasy, last week). Salisbury Museum’s “Dippy moment” came when it removed from display a rat from the skull of the nobleman William Longespée, entombed in the city’s cathedral. As evidence of Longespée’s alleged poisoning, the rat proved an irresistible story; popular demand achieved its restoration. Our three-legged stuffed duck was not so lucky.
Peter Saunders, Curator Emeritus, Salisbury Museum

ROUGH JUSTICE

The world is rightly condemning the barbaric actions of Isis. However, which national leaders have mourned all those beheaded under a dubious judicial system in Saudi Arabia?
Ingrid Dey, London NW3

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, should be addressed to complaints@sunday-times.co.uk or Complaints, The Sunday Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF. In addition, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) will examine formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines. Please go to our complaints section for full details of how to lodge a complaint.

Birthdays

Malorie Blackman, children’s laureate, 53; Osian Ellis, harpist, 87; John Grisham, novelist, 60; Sarah Montague, broadcaster, 49; Nick Nolte, actor, 74; Sebastiao Salgado, photojournalist, 71; Mary Steenburgen, actress, 62; John Williams, composer, 83; Trinny Woodall, TV presenter, 51

Anniversaries

1587 Mary, Queen of Scots, is executed; 1819 birth of John Ruskin, art critic; 1904 Japanese attack at Port Arthur starts Russo-Japanese war; 1924 first execution by gas chamber takes place, in Nevada; 1931 birth of James Dean, actor; 1971 world’s first electronic stock market, the Nasdaq, starts trading

 

Telegraph:

We should invest in hospices to free up NHS hospital beds for those with a clinical need to be in hospital Photo: ALAMY

SIR – The role of charities in reducing pressures on the NHS extends beyond helping older people to leave A&E departments (Hundreds of volunteers to help free up beds in over-stretched hospitals,” report, February 5).

Too many terminally ill and dying people in hospital, with no clinical need to be there, would be better supported in a hospice or their own home. Hospices can help prevent their unnecessary admission to hospital, and many work with hospitals to provide alternative care options.

We have asked the Government to expand this work by backing a national programme to help reduce the number of people in hospital beds at the end of life by 50,000 each year. This is about a fifth of the number of people in hospital when they die. Our initiative can give better targeted care and save the NHS an estimated £80 million a year.

We hope the Government considers more partnerships with voluntary-sector organisations – to avoid recurring bottlenecks for the NHS, and provide people with the care they need and want.

Jonathan Ellis
Director of Policy, Hospice UK
London WC1

SIR – Charles Moore (Comment, January 31) is right. I constantly hear the refrain that the NHS is the envy of the world, yet I travel widely and I have never heard a foreigner express similar comments. My untutored guess is that the French and probably Scandinavian medical systems are better than ours.

Two particular issues irk me. First, the dogma on privatisation has reached the ludicrous stage where even if it is clearly in the patients’ interest, it may be rejected.

Secondly, the principle “free at the point of delivery”. It is obvious that we need market discipline and that those who use the NHS, with lots of exceptions such as pensioners, should make a contribution.

Robin Monro-Davies
London SW13

SIR – It is true that the NHS is by no stretch of imagination “the envy of the world”. What other countries do admire is our independent school system, and the key to its success is in the word “independent”.

World-class schools and world-class hospitals must charge the people who use them. The role of the state is to redistribute income so everyone has the means to pay for such services.

A R Graham
Bagshot, Surrey

SIR – Terry Collcutt (Letters, February 2) reckons that the NHS saved his life through hospital treatment.

This is odd. Does he think that if he were French or German or Swiss he would have died?

His life was saved by modern medicine, not the peculiar arrangement that is the NHS.

John Allen
Shrivenham, Wiltshire

The price of gas

SIR – Gas suppliers have recently announced, almost in unison, price cuts that are derisory in relation to the fall in the bulk commodity price.

They plead that in order to maintain security of supply they had to enter into long-term contracts at a price much higher than the current level.

But the petrol component of the pump price has fallen exactly in line with the commodity price and the same is true of heating oil, and those suppliers are no less concerned with supply security.

Whether to enter into long-term contracts or not is a management decision. If management gets it wrong, it should pay the price, and the company shareholders should share the pain. In no other industry would the customer bear such a high proportion of the cost of a supplier’s purchasing mistakes.

John Curran
Bristol

Mystery unlocked

SIR – Why do television detectives (Letters, February 6) never lock their cars when calling to interview suspects?

David Askew
Woking, Surrey

Main mansion

SIR – You report (February 6) that Ed Miliband says he would “probably” have to pay the £250-a-month mansion tax that Labour wants to introduce. The question to ask is whether he will then claim it back from parliamentary expenses as a cost for his main residence.

Paul Honor
London SW6

Cool!

SIR – My recently purchased hot water bottle (Letters, February 6) came with the instruction that it should not be filled with boiling water.

Diana Crook
Seaford, East Sussex

Forever Ecuador

SIR – Perhaps the £10 million cost of policing the Ecuadorian embassy, where Julian Assange has spent more than two years in refuge, could be paid from the overseas aid budget.

Philip Nierop
Exeter, Devon

German role in Greece

SIR – The message conveyed by the Greek finance minister is grave: the country is worse than broke, with no prospect of repaying its debts and a generation of young people with zero chance of meaningful employment (Business, February 6).

Before the euro, Greece had a devaluing drachma, which kept the country nicely competitive in world markets, but hardly at the cutting edge of fiscal responsibility.

But with German industrialists lobbying hard, Athens entered the euro club with low interest. Over three years, the super euro almost doubled in value against the dollar. In came Deutz tractors, Mercedes cars, Leopard tanks and a shiny new airport, all fuelled by cheap credit and a fast-appreciating currency. This was not so good for Greek industry, which saw its industrial base laid waste. Inept governments compounded the damage.

The European Union is now morally bound to help one of its own.

Let European banks take the hit and let European governments work closely with the new Greek government to improve the prospects for a nation tottering on the brink. It was not so long ago, after causing untold misery and death, that Germany had its own debts written off, and look where it is now. Perhaps Germany, in opening the cookie jar, thinks it is blameless. It is not.

James Brown
Director, Francis & Arnold (Hellas)
Athens

Rape laws

SIR – The law on rape has not changed, nor has the burden of proof (report, January 29). All suspects remain innocent until proven guilty, which the prosecution still must prove beyond reasonable doubt.

The evidential tests to bring a case of rape remain the same, and our new toolkit does nothing to affect normal sexual activity where consent is not just given but, in most cases, very obviously given.

What we are now doing is ensuring that, in every rape case where consent is the issue, not only will the actions of the complainant be examined, but also the steps taken by a suspect to establish that consent was given. Such questioning of suspects and gathering of evidence will help to ensure that the law is upheld.

The law on rape is clear, and so must be the importance of looking at all the circumstances in determining consent in these difficult and sensitive cases.

Alison Saunders
Director of Public Prosecutions
Crown Prosecution Service
London, SE1

Bomber Command

SIR – In January 2008, Sir Martin Gilbert (Obituaries, February 5) wrote a pamphlet, British Government Bombing Policy 1939 to 1945, specifically to support the creation of a Bomber Command campaign medal. He sent this to politicians and VIPs throughout the Commonwealth.

In June 2008, the Canadian senate unanimously voted for a motion that Canada should seek a meeting with Britain to discuss creating the medal. This matter remains unresolved to this day.

Wg Cdr A J Wright (retd)
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Tick-tack turnoff

SIR – Why does so much arm-waving go on while people talk to the television camera? Is it necessary to convey the message like a tick-tack man? I switch channels when this happens, even if the subject is of interest.

Terence Jenkins
New Malden, Surrey

The curious history of Britain’s pub names

Sign of other times: the Bull and Dog, painted on stone in 1689, in Sleaford, Lincolnshire

SIR – My great-great-grandfather John Cardwell, described as innkeeper on his death certificate in 1851, was to be found in the Labour in Vain pub (report, February 5), which stood a stone’s throw from his brother Cooper’s lace manufactory in Northampton. This still exists, and has in Welsh the inscription: “Without God, without anything; God and enough”. The family delighted to translate this instead as “Except the Lord build the house”, and held the “Labour in Vain” to be the less evangelically minded brother’s response.

Janette Gallini
St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex

SIR – Rather than change the name of the Labour in Vain, a more fitting pub sign for it might show a voting slip with a cross for Labour being pushed into the ballot box.

Fred Ellis
Doynton, Gloucestershire

Every life’s an open book in the mobile world

SIR – While the advent of mobile telephones has largely been a boon, they have made privacy a thing of the past.

On a recent outing to London, I was regaled in a bar with one woman’s account of an ultimatum she had presented to the married cad she was having an affair with.

At dinner, a pregnant lady sitting a few feet away graphically detailed the findings of her most recent gynaecological examination.

On the train home, a third woman complained at length about her boss (another cad) whom she disliked intensely but feared might dismiss her if she revealed his proclivities to the wider world.

Morgan Kelly
Banstead, Surrey

 

Globe and Mail:

Doug Saunders

Shunning vaccines and the census – a slap in the face of citizenship

Irish Times:

Damnation once again – An Irishman’s Diary about Dante’s Inferno

A guided tour of hell

Dante. “And as we boarded a boat to cross, I realised that the terrible noises were from a man playing guitar nearby.” Dante. “And as we boarded a boat to cross, I realised that the terrible noises were from a man playing guitar nearby.”


I was reading Dante’s Inferno one night recently, while eating cheese. And it must have been this combination that, later, gave me an appalling nightmare.

In the nightmare, the Italian poet led me on a tour of hell, just as Virgil had led him. We met under the sign – “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. And after congratulating him on his major birthday (he’ll be 750 in May), I asked about the people moping around outside the gates, in Limbo.

“Ah yes,” Dante said. “Those were the types who, in life, were always telling others, ‘Cheer up, it might never happen’. Their punishment is to be stuck out there, indefinitely.”

This was when I remembered that, in Dante’s vision, the damned were given tortures to match their sins – so that fortune tellers, for example, guilty of trying to see the future, spent eternity with their heads on backwards.

We were now inside hell proper, and I was immediately aware of a sulphurous smell and terrible noises. The smell was the river Acheron. And as we boarded a boat to cross, I realised that the terrible noises were from a man playing guitar nearby.

“Don’t pay the ferryman,” he sang, and with a shock I recognised him. “Is he in hell?” I whispered. “Ah no – not permanently”, Dante laughed. “He just has to entertain the ferry passengers during summer months, for all eternity.”

The crossing itself seemed to take forever. But when we finally disembarked, I noticed that the passengers, who were now covering their ears in a vain attempt to block out Lady in Red, had to stay on board.

“Yes,” confirmed Dante. “In life, they all used to have loud phone conversations on public transport. They’re on that ferry permanently. Their mobiles have been confiscated.”

We had reached the first circle of hell – a strange place, with various tortures that, although mild, caused the residents great distress. In one area, for example, there was a cinema, where reclining viewers, guilty of the same habit in life, had the backs of their seats kicked constantly by devils.

Elsewhere was a self-service restaurant, where diners writhed in pain. Dante explained that their sin had been to claim cafe tables with coats or bags before joining the queue. And on closer inspection, I now saw that the eternal “seats” of these wretches were hot plates, with candles underneath.

The second circle of hell was full of people talking loudly. Many sounded happy or excited. Yet they too were clearly suffering, by just having to listen to each other.

Dante explained that they had spent their earth-bound existences making annoying radio ads. And indeed, such was the cacophony, I too had to cover my ears, although not before hearing the wheezy chuckle of “Old Mister Brennan” again and learning that Harvey Bloody Norman was having yet another sale.

Hell’s third circle was an old-fashioned lake of fire in which sinners boiled horribly while, between screams, trying to talk into mobile phones, or pressing the buttons.

I was told that, in life, they had commissioned automated phone systems. To illustrate, Dante took a mobile from the nearest sinner and we listened. The voice said: “If you want to escape eternal damnation and go to paradise instead, please press 1…”

So we pressed 1, but got another menu: “If you know your 47-digit reference number, please enter it followed by the hache sign. If you do not know your reference number and would like to speak to a customer service representative, just say ‘Help’.”

Of course, when we said “Help!”, the voice replied: “I’m sorry – I didn’t catch that”. And so on, forever.

Dante now brought me to the fourth circle, where men in suits were being toasted over an open fire. I didn’t recognise them at first. Then the penny dropped. “Are they…” I began to ask, “bondholders?” “Yes, they’re finally burning them.”

The fifth circle, I remember, was for journalists. But before we reached it, I fainted with terror. Then I woke up. So I never did find out who was there, nor who was in circles six to nine.

The last thing I remember was Dante warning that if, I didn’t want to find out, I’d better mention two talks about him to be given in Ireland next week by an expert called Alessandro Scafi.

The first is at the Italian Institute of Culture in Dublin on Monday. The second is on Tuesday in University College Cork. Both events are free.

You can find out more at iicdublino.esteri.it or by (non-automated) telephone at 01-6621507.

@FrankmcnallyIT

Irish Independent:

Adoption: the problem hinges on who provides the mothering and fathering
Adoption: the problem hinges on who provides the mothering and fathering

Sir – Thank you Eilis O’Hanlon for a well-crafted presentation of the ins-and-outs of the Same-Sex Marriage debate (Sunday Independent, Jan 25).

  • Go To

No level-headed person would argue that children can flourish without good mothering and fathering. The problem seems to hinge on who provides that mothering and fathering.

I’ve seen fathers who did more – and better mothering than mothers, and vice versa.

I’ve seen heterosexual couples who have been disastrous as parents; and gay and single parents who deserve medals.

The ‘no-change-from-the-status-quo’ brigade give the impression that heterosexual low-graders are preferable to those who would rank down-their-list of family options, particularly gay parents. But unfit people, whatever their sexual orientation, can be a blight on a child’s life.

What those who are not impaled on medieval definitions are saying is that, wonderful as the ‘gold-star’ family might be, it shouldn’t render all other options beyond the pale and unequal.

Paddy McEvoy,

Holywood, Co Down

Not proud of our Holocaust record

Sir-Olivia O’Leary’s account of her youthful journalistic naivete as she gently probed West German president Dr Karl Karstens, about his Nazi past in the 1980 state visit to Ireland (Sunday Independent, 1 February), was most insightful when she recalled the seeming embarrassment of her journalistic colleagues that any type of reference to Dr Karstens’s past had been uttered at all.

Perhaps this was symptomatic of a burgeoning collective national embarrassment as historians began to reveal the woefully inadequate and uncaring response of the Irish state to the mounting 1930s Jewish tragedy.

These revelations, although only in the initial phase when Dr Karstens visited in 1980, would eventually show,  as O’Leary sais, that we refused “‘entry to so many Jews fleeing Hitler” that less than 300 arrived during the duration of the Nazi regime.

This is perhaps best understood when the immigration efforts of Robert Briscoe, the Irish State’s only Jewish TD are examined. He made multiple applications to secure refugee status for German Jews throughout the immediate pre-war years to no avail, as nearly all were refused.

Indeed Briscoe, a personal friend of de Valera’s, encountered such a sustained rejection that he was compelled to leave Ireland for sustained periods as a member of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s New Zionist Organisation and become a senior organiser of the Aliyah Bet. Only through this endeavour was Briscoe able to effectively save a small number of his co-religionists.

Furthermore, the full extent of Ireland’s exclusionist policy can be seen through the microcosm of Briscoe’s own personal tragedy, where despite being a member of the ruling government party, Fianna Fail, he could not, although he made strenuous and repeated efforts,  secure an entry visa for his aunt Hedwig, a native of Berlin who was eventually deported to Auschwitz and murdered.

As O’Leary pointed out: “the dead can’t ask questions. So we must do it for them”.

Dr Kevin McCarthy,

Kinsale,

Co Cork

We should spend money elsewhere

Sir – It is misleading of Keith Mills (Sunday Independent, 1 February) to suggest that the upcoming referendum on marriage equality will redefine marriage. Mr Mills correctly states that marriage is “mentioned” in the Constitution, but it is not defined therein.

In order to redefine anything, one would need to have a working definition to begin with. Anything else would require the talents of a magician.

I would therefore agree with Mr Mills on one point: money would be better spent elsewhere.

Noel Sharkey,

Donegal

Marriage definition is exclusionary

Sir – I am glad Terry Healy enjoyed reading Claire McCormack’s article (Sunday Independent, 25 January) as she stated in last week’s edition.

I however did not have the same pleasurable experience in reading her own letter despite having read it several times to try and understand why I found it so confusing. I would suggest that she could have saved herself time by simply writing the last paragraph as that seems to summarise the true intent and purpose of her letter.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman who may create children and not between two men or two women.

“Why let lesbians or homosexuals rob us of the meaning and the word marriage.They have already stolen the word ‘gay.’”

Given her definition of marriage, those of us who are past child-bearing age or who for medical reasons are unable to have children are also outside of the criteria for entry into this exclusive institution.

With regard to the preceding paragraphs, I am still confused.

C Leneghan,

Co Down

Was Patrick Pearse just being naive?

Sir – Ruth Dudley Edwards is essential reading for me. She is a no-punch-pulling, informed and honest journalist. However, to suggest Patrick Pearse was a liar is quite below the belt! (Sunday Independent, 1 February).

He was naive; a sentimental dreamer and out of his depth in a highly-charged time. In effect, he had all the characteristics of the Irish patriot of yesteryear.

Could he have been lied to and then imparted in innocence, this “reliable information” to the gullible.

Recording history is a massive responsibility.

John McCormack,

Drogheda

Charlie’s mark in sands of time

Sir – Listening to Joe Duffy and Sean Haughey on RTE’s Liveline recently, discussing the Late Charles Haughey, I was tempted to phone in and say my friend and I were praying for his canonisation.

I could have gone on but being shy — and not bad looking either — I decided not to. So I was relieved when I read James Gleason’s letter ‘Charlie will be well regarded’ (Sunday Independent, 25 January).

Thank you James. I’m sure he will have a high place in Heaven and footprints on the sands of time. May his gentle soul rest in peace.

Eileen Barry,

Cashel,

Co Tipperary

There’s a way to beat diesel thugs

Sir – The raison d’etre of marking agricultural diesel is to permit its sale at a much lower price compared to the normal open market price and thereby facilitate and subsidise, food production.

It is not surprising that enterprising individuals will strive to capitalise on this divergence of price, seeking to use this cheaper diesel for non-agricultural use or, worse again, to systematically render it as open market diesel for sale, with horrendous environmental consequences and of course losses to the Exchequer and considerable policing costs.

I would also suggest that all legitimate bona fide users of agricultural diesel should be tax compliant, having unique tax, VAT and PPS registration numbers, and in addition are familiar with account administration, the keeping of records and importantly the keeping of receipts. If that were done, there would be no need to mark diesel. We could simply use the taxation system to subsidise food production.

All legitimate users would simply pay the open market price for diesel, submit their receipts and be reimbursed on a quarterly or annual basis.

Mindful of the great work done by the customs service over the years in countering the abuse of agricultural diesel, perhaps they  could be used to supplement the Revenue Commissioners in such a new approach by helping to validate the true cost of core legitimate diesel use for food production and in detecting  those who masquerade for the purposes of gaining a lucrative tax rebate.

Of course on a global level it would be better if all such fuel rebates on food production were dispensed with, as they have a number of unhealthy consequences.

They favour richer countries. They impact on local/indigenous food production. And they can contribute to overproduction of some staples — which is not conducive to stable markets.   The can also be responsible for demeaning food by turning it into a mere trading commodity rather than an essential for life.

Eddie McGurrin,

Hazelwood,

Sligo

What the Greeks did for us

Sir- The proposal to incorporate philosophy into the school curriculum can only be of benefit to a long suffering people. Philosophy contributed most to ancient Greece.

Over 3,000 years ago Socrates lived, Plato and Aristotle taught philosophy, Pythagoras mathematics and Hippocrates medicine.

The descendants of these people who had settled around Constantinople were dispersed by the Ottoman Turks and went mostly to Italy where they played a major role in the Renaissance — in essence, a revival of ancient Greek culture a thousand years earlier.

Here, selective versions of philosophy and history gave rise to the flight of our brightest and best citizens.

Granted there has been a major shift in emphasis, since then, away from religious control, but much more needs to be done to repair the damage done by the God squads.

Pat Daly,

Midleton,

Save our essential library services

Co Cork

Sir – I have read with utmost fury an article in last Sunday’s paper (1 February) by John Drennan about plans for the amalgamation of libraries and the introduction of unmanned libraries  in rural Ireland.

As a member of Donegal Town branch library I am utterly opposed to any move to amalgamate our library. In  fact we are waiting on a new library for the town which was promised some eight years ago and which was “shelved” due to the economic crash and the disingenuous intentions of the politicians at the time.

It is ironic to note (as per the article) that we in rural Ireland (especially in the western counties) are compared to the Nordic countries when it comes to the apparent success of unmanned libraries.

What a pity that we in this non-Nordic country have not the competitive economies of these countries which allows their inhabitants to have one of the highest standards of living in Europe and to register near the top of the “happiest” scale of places to live.

Perhaps a good move would be for this government to ‘lease’ the west of Ireland to the Nordic countries — then we can thrill at the prospect of unmanned libraries while enjoying our high standard of Nordic living.

Or we could just register our dissatisfaction with all things non-Nordic — at the polls.

Brid Ward,

Inver, Co Donegal

Greek approach is just selfish

Sir – Whatever its effect on European or indeed Irish politics, John Drennan missed the principal significance of the election of Syriza in Greece (Sunday Independent, 1 February).

By cheerleading demands for debt forgiveness, many Irish media commentators are supporting hypocritical Greek demands that the citizens of countries whose decision makers were responsible should be saddled with the consequences of the recklessness of a succession of Greek governments.

After receiving billions in a bailout, the Greek attitude now is to give the two fingers to every one of the citizens of other EU countries who paid for the Greek bailout. When we realise that the bailout was the result of the recklessness and irresponsibility of those in charge in Athens we see how hypocritical the Greek attitude is.

Irish media support for the  Syriza policy amounts to a mé féin gospel of demanding that ordinary citizens pay, no matter how damaging to their fellow Europeans. That attitude is as reckless as that which bankrupted them in the first place.

There should be bit more perspective to this serious debate. It should recognise that threatening to bring the house down unless citizens of countries which were responsibly run write a blank cheque for those which were irresponsibly run has to be unacceptable.

A Leavy,

Sutton, Dublin 13

Questioning the reality of growth

Sir – I see the IMF is querying the authenticity of Irish “growth” and the export surge Ireland is  experiencing.

It is suspected a percentage of the “growth” may arise from produce bought at cost from low price economies and routed or in some instances just invoiced through Ireland ensuring profit is taxed at 12.5pc or considerably less.

I once knew of a company selling and exporting products supposedly originating here, when even the “made in Ireland” labels were imported.

I am reminded of a story of a local meeting held in the 1950s when industrialisation was first promoted in Ireland. Discussion centred on an idea to manufacture bicycles locally but was criticised on the grounds of absence of local materials in the product.

One entrepreneurial spirit however cheerily proclaimed that the air in the tyres would be Irish — and that was good enough for him.

It appears a portion of present export growth may be of similar content —  at a much higher temperature of course.

Padraic Neary,

Tubbercurry,

Co Sligo

Sunday Independent

Susan Hamer-Bloom

February 7, 2015

7 Febuary 2015 Susan Hamer-Bloom

Mary not too well misses tea and Mrs Hamer-Bloom does her toe nails.

Obituary:

Eddie Price on the site of the Roman villa

Eddie Price on the site of the Roman villa Photo: PAUL NICHOLLS/GLOUCESTERSHIRE MEDIA

Eddie Price, who has died aged 91, was a farmer-turned-archaeologist who devoted nearly half a century of his life to excavating a Roman villa and other ancient settlements which had lain hidden under fields at Frocester Court farm, near Stroud in Gloucestershire.

His curiosity had been aroused during the Second World War after the local Agricultural Executive Committee ordered the ploughing of an ancient grass ridge and field called Big Stanborough on the 250-acre farm of which his father was the tenant.

Price noticed that his plough was turning up pieces of pottery and building debris. “There was obviously a building there,” he recalled, “I was turning up stones that shouldn’t have been there. I recognised a site there.”

In 1960 he invited Captain H S Gracie – one of the country’s most eminent Romano-British archaeologists, who happened to be working on another site nearby – to dig an exploratory trench. “He dropped straight down on to a mosaic pavement,” Price recalled. “By the end of the next day I had excavated the remains of a burnt basket of wheat.”

Eddie Price with Professor Mick Aston of Time Team (SIMON PIZZEY/THE CITIZEN)

Price and Gracie then collaborated on further investigations of the site, and it soon became evident that the Roman building at Frocester was huge – 200ft long and several floors high. At the time it was generally assumed that Roman villas in Britain were little more than bungalows built around a couple of courtyards.

The Roman villa was not the only thing that they found. Human settlement at Frocester dates back to around 1500 BC, the middle of the Bronze Age, when a boundary ditch was first dug. A sunken trackway followed, until Iron Age man built the first farm on the site. This was well established by 200 BC, with roundhouses, granaries, fenced animal pens and a vegetable patch.

Occupation continued until the late third century AD, when work on the villa began. Price believed that the stone building had probably been a gentleman’s country residence rather than a working farm, as it moved away from the strict farm layout; also, artefacts discovered on the site suggested that the occupants had been well-off.

Over the decades, more than 1,100 Roman coins were unearthed, as well as 60 sets of human remains. Notable finds included a beautiful bronze figurine of a horse (now in Gloucester Museum) and a Romano-British brooch, discovered in near-mint condition at the bottom of a well.

Later, excavations of an Anglo‑Saxon feasting hall revealed an extraordinary collection of animal bones which appeared to have been simply tossed out of the window by the diners.

Price, however, was not particularly interested in unearthing “buried treasure”, explaining that his fascination with archaeology arose from a desire to find out about “the history of my place, what the people were like and how they lived and farmed there before me”.

The bronze horse figurine found at Frocester Court (PAUL NICHOLLS/GLOUCESTERSHIRE MEDIA)

Gracie led the excavations at Frocester Court until his death in 1979, after which Price and a team of amateur enthusiasts continued the dig, which took place every summer until 2009. By this time the Frocester Court excavations were said to be the longest-running archaeological project in the country.

Though he was self-taught as an archaeologist, Price’s meticulous approach won him the respect of professionals, some of whom were inspired in their careers as youngsters working at his dig. He carefully drew and documented every trench and every fragment of pottery and bone, writing up the results in reports which set a new standard for archaeological publications.

In 2000 he published a two-volume work in which he traced, in extraordinary detail, the story of the human occupation of the area from the Bronze Age to the modern day.

He was appointed MBE for his services to archaeology in 2008, and in the following year received an honorary degree from the Open University.

Edward Godwin Price was born near Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, on October 6 1923. In 1935 his family moved to Frocester Court farm as tenant farmers of 250 acres. Eddie took over the running of the farm in 1950, establishing a herd of dairy cows. In 1969 he bought the farm, and later purchased an additional 50 acres.

The tithe barn at Frocester Court

His archaeological interests were not confined to digging up the past, but also to restoring and preserving it. In 1287 a great tithe barn had been built at Frocester Court, and when Price bought the farm it was the largest medieval tithe barn still standing in Gloucestershire; but it needed re-roofing, and he was quoted a price for the work which was double what he had just paid for the farm.

So Price set about doing the work himself, using Cotswold stone tiles and lashing ladders together to reach the top of the 11-metre ridge. The job took him eight years to complete.

He went on to re-roof and conserve all the other buildings at Frocester Court, which has 13 listed buildings on site, including the main house, part of which dates back to the mid-1450s. In 1998 he was elected president of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society.

Price’s other great passion was coarse fishing. In 1959 he caught what was then the largest mirror carp ever landed, at 40½lb. In 2007 a fishing diary which he had kept in the 1950s was published in a limited edition, and sold out before printing had finished.

In 1951 Price married Ruth Chandler, who survives him with their six sons, three of whom now run the farm.

Eddie Price’s ashes are to be interred beneath the fields at Frocester Court in an earthenware urn fired in a “Roman” kiln which he built himself.

Eddie Price, born October 6 1923, died January 23 2015

Guardian:

Reception at St Brides Foundation, London, Britain - 05 Feb 2015
Prince Charles. ‘He is welcome to moan about matters that worry him but he could do so just as well as a private citizen. He could even write a letter or two to the Guardian,’ writes John Marzillier. Photograph: Tim Rooke/Rex

Simon Jenkins is simply wrong to claim that Charles is harmless and powerless (Our monarchy is powerless and would remain that way under King Charles, 5 February). The royals have power and influence and seek to exercise it at every opportunity. It may not be in the form of formal constitutional power – most of that these days is exercised by the prime minister (another problem with the monarchy). The power the royals have is that of access and secrecy, the opportunity to influence behind closed doors and beyond any meaningful public scrutiny.

This influence is greatly enhanced by the existence of royal consent, a veto on new laws that Charles and the Queen can exercise if such laws affect their personal and private interest. So it is no surprise that a host of laws give privileged exemptions to the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster. It is no surprise that royal secrecy and royal funding laws have been changed in recent years to the detriment of the public interest. It is because the royals have the power and opportunity to influence government policy.
Graham Smith
Chief executive officer, Republic

Simon Jenkins comforts himself with the thought that “parliament is sovereign”, not understanding that this is where the trouble lies. In the settlement of 1688, the monarchy was divested of its power, which was transferred to parliament. Parliament then had, and in essence still has, the unregulated power of an absolute monarch. Ways to remedy this? Let the people claim sovereignty; sever the ties of the monarch to parliament; set up a new parliament whose members are chosen by a proportional voting system and whose layout no longer expresses a simple binary choice. It is this process, under way in Scotland, which will spell the end of the pre-democratic structure of Britain.
Robin Kinross
London

If as Simon Jenkins suggests the monarchy is powerless, why are we spending some £300m per annum on it. What exactly do we get in return for this handout? Prince Charles sounding off? He is welcome to moan about matters that worry him but he could do so just as well as a private citizen. He could even write a letter or two to the Guardian.
John Marzillier
Oxford

Simon Jenkins would have us believe that we are safe from the influence of the future King Charles because the power of the monarchy is merely symbolic and is, in any case, exercised by the government. However, the power of prominent establishment figures like Charles is exercised through informal channels via a complex of personal relationships, the details of which rarely become public. The plan for the Chelsea barracks may have been withdrawn by the Qataris, but who lobbied them to do so?
Andrew Reeves
Middlesbrough

Simon Jenkins forgets the effects of soft power on public opinion. Mass opinion has political power. It saddens me to make the point that, by this means, the monarchy is far from politically impotent. Jenkins is right in his estimate of public support for the monarchy and this support, if challenged, runs deep. Try engaging your local rugby club, the local boy scouts or members of the Women’s Institute in a discussion of the monarchy.

Ask ex-servicemen, former civil servants; try raising the subject in the pub, if you dare. And then consider the establishment. What chance is there of finding out-and-out rejection of Charles’s opinions? None of this translates directly into politics, but it’s out there. Far from Charles “having no clout, and no one has to listen to him”, the way is open It just depends on how passionately issues are raised, how hard the 75% are drawn, for a matter to become a public opinion/political issue.
Richard Payne
Ipswich

The argument of Simon Jenkins might be taken even further. Preserving an impotent monarchy serves as a permanent and symbolic reminder of the triumph of democracy. If it ceased to be impotent, it would cease.
Tony Wright
Birmingham

You cannot wonder at the lack of confidence in government and powerful organisations when the Duchy of Cornwall and West Dorset district council may choose to ignore their own public plans like this. On 12 February, West Dorset district council is being recommended to approve plans by developers ZeroC Holdings Ltd to build five luxury detached homes on land designated in the Poundbury Masterplan as public open space for the benefit of all the people of Dorchester.

Needless to say, the recommendation to approve the planning application is contrary to the views of Dorchester town council and many local organisations concerned with the character of the town.
Max Hebditch
Dorchester


Ruling out free higher education, Alan Ware (Letters, 6 February) talks about “how to best match the provision of education and training with the needs of an economy”. How about changing our economic hierarchies and elitist privileges to best match the needs of our citizens? This how we ended up with the former free higher education and mandatory student grant.
Gavin Lewis
Manchester

Perhaps Herr Schäuble (Report, 6 February) should offer the 500 tax collectors to the UK government to collect from the wealthy?
David Bale
Exmouth, Devon

If you work beyond state pension age, you stop paying national insurance (Letters, 6 February). Why?
Jenny Haynes
Barton on Humber, North Lincolnshire

'Ofqual’s argument that some schools are only doing a really narrow set of experiments is short-sigh
‘Ofqual’s argument that some schools are only doing a really narrow set of experiments is short-sighted and defeatist,’ writes Paul Nurse. Photograph: Wellcome Trust

The education secretary is right to fear Ofqual plans to remove practical science work from the overall grade for GCSE and A-level science (Nicky Morgan calls for Ofqual U-turn on scrapping science practicals, 28 January). The plans are a downgrading of science experiments that will leave pupils ill-prepared for when they leave school.

Finding things out for yourself is at the very heart of science. Ofqual’s argument is that some schools are only doing a really narrow set of experiments and that some teachers are too generous in the marks they give. They say this means we should no longer include the very skills that young people need as part of their overall assessment. That is short-sighted and defeatist. We need to find a solution that actually serves young people and society rather than a quick fix for the bureaucrats.

While I understand Ofqual’s need to assert its independence, it cannot allow that independence to back it into a corner. Scientists, educators and universities have stated from the start that Ofqual’s decision is the wrong one. Surely Ofqual must now recognise this and reverse changes before real damage is done to science in the UK.
Paul Nurse
President of the Royal Society

For all their emphasis on “rigour”, it is not education ministers obsessing about the 12 times table that will enhance the learning process (Zoe Williams, 2 February). This happens when trained teachers enthused by their job interact well with their pupils, who grow in confidence, learn to make balanced judgments and nurture other personal qualities that are intangible, rather than measurable. Subjecting children to endless tests will no more improve their education than constantly measuring a tree will make it grow.
Barry Samuel
Reigate, Surrey

Independent:

Opinions differ over Alice Thomson’s belief that a good grounding in the basics is sufficient

Sir, Mathematics is not just about learning multiplication tables and algebra (“This obsession with maths doesn’t add up”, Opinion, Feb 4). Taught well, mathematics ignites curiosity and encourages confidence and creativity — the very qualities that Alice Thomson rightly points out we should nurture in Britain.

The scientific and mathematical thinking learnt in the classroom — logical and critical thinking, problem-solving — is vital in the real world and is much desired by employers. If we want an effective democratic society, people must be capable of balancing the benefits and risks of new science and be able to reason mathematically. The Royal Society has called for maths and science to be compulsory to the age of 18 as part of a baccalaureate-style system. It’s not about every student studying an advanced maths or science subject to 18, but creating well-thought-out, inspiring and tailored courses to meet the future needs of UK citizens and employers.

Sir Martin Taylor
FRS Chairman, Royal Society vision committee

Sir, We welcome the political “obsession” with improving mathematical and statistical skills but not only on the ground that basic numeracy needs to improve. More advanced skills are also essential. Like a language, mathematical and statistical skills can fade with lack of practice, and employers and universities have found that the gap between GCSE at 16 and entry to university or work at 18 is detrimental. The CBI repeatedly reports that many employers are not confident of meeting future needs for high-skilled employees, particularly in science, engineering and maths. In a world full of data, higher level analytical and statistical skills are increasingly in demand, as our own work has found.

The government has gone some way toward filling this gap with the introduction of new core maths qualifications to be taken alongside A levels. We urge all politicians, no matter what the state of their times tables, to ensure that these are developed after the election.

Scott Keir
Head of education and statistical literacy, Royal Statistical Society

Sir, Alice Thomson is right to argue that it is short-sighted to concentrate on numeracy at the expense of other subjects. Modern languages are a case in point. The UK’s lack of language skills has been estimated to cost the economy £48 billion every year. This is likely to get worse: the British Council’s Languages for the Future report shows the UK’s highest priorities for business and diplomacy will require several languages that are rarely even taught here.

In Singapore (the second highest scoring country in the Programme for International Student Assessment 2012), the curriculum prioritises languages to give access to a global economy. There is no negative correlation between Pisa scores and language learning. Scientists and other non-specialist linguists need language skills if they are to work internationally.

Baroness Coussins
Chairwoman, all-party parliamentary group on modern languages

Sir, Alice Thomson is right: too many children are being asked to do too much maths. I taught secondary maths from year 7 to A level for some years. The top band of GCSE was too easy, having been dumbed down from the GCE syllabus, and was no longer a good preparation for A-level maths, so that universities’ engineering departments, for example, had to spend time making up the shortfall. But the middle and lower bands maths syllabuses were too difficult, and were padded out with topics that bored those students and which they would never use.

Apart from the top band, children who find maths intrinsically interesting and need to have the possibility of mathematical careers (science, accountancy, etc) kept open to them, students should have syllabuses restricted to practical uses, and their maths class hours reduced accordingly.

Chris Price
Chapel Cleeve, Somerset

Sir, Alice Thomson’s article makes a lot of sense. In my 36 years of nuclear research I never did need to solve a quadratic equation or even simultaneous equations. In my judgment, teachers with the very best university degrees do not necessarily make the best teachers. Is it really necessary to have a first-class honours degree to be an effective teacher at say GCSE level?

Some of the best teachers are those who in their own schooldays struggled at GCSE level and A level — these are the people who best understand the difficulties that their own pupils might also experience.

Dr John Sandalls

It is the constitutional duty of the incumbent prime minister to remain in office until it is clear who the sovereign should ask to try to form the next government

Sir, Peter Riddell (Analysis, Feb 6) is right to say that it is misleading to allege Gordon Brown was “squatting” in No 10 after Labour had lost the 2010 general election. It is the constitutional duty of the incumbent prime minister to remain in office until it is clear who the sovereign should ask to try to form the next government. However, Brown subsequently acted unconstitutionally when he precipitately resigned before the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had completed their negotiations to form a coalition.

Mike Thomas
Former editor in chief, charter2010.co.uk, MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne East 1974-83

Despite claims to the contrary, there has hardly ever been an architecture that did not make some reference to the past

Sir, When Professor Fawcett (letter, Feb 6) refers to a modernist architectural language appropriate for the 21st century, free from historical predilections, he omits to mention that there has hardly ever been an architecture that did not make some reference to the past. The role of any language is to communicate. An architectural language without reference to the past would be unintelligible and would have little to say about matters such as community and continuity. It would also have to remain silent regarding many of our psychological and social needs.

John Melvin
Ascott, Warks

Matthew Parris should heed the second part of the Second Commandment, not merely the first section

Sir, Matthew Parris (My Week, Feb 4) does not mention the second part of the Second Commandment, which says that the sin is in the worshipping of graven images, not in their creation. If God had not wanted his chosen people to make images, then there was little point in including the second instruction. The Old Testament has many references to God’s instructions for images to be made, not least the two gold-plated cherubim with outstretched wings that covered the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus xxv: 18-20). Similarly, pomegranates were carved on the bronze pillars at the entrance to the Temple (1 Kings vii: 18-20).

Dr David Fuller
Killiechronan, Isle of Mull

Given the effectiveness of the Times reports on Rotherham, a campaign for the overhaul of the psychological services for children who have been abused is overdue

Sir, Andrew Norfolk’s report (“Rotherham: finally the truth behind the lies”, Feb 5) is the latest example of the good that a persistent journalistic campaign can do. It has led to the imprisonment of persistent wrongdoers, the wholesale removal of a council cabinet, and an awakening in the public consciousness of the existence of a particularly hideous form of child maltreatment.

However, for abused children up and down the country, such revelations, prosecutions and political cleansing, while signal steps in dealing with the need to safeguard and promote their wellbeing, are not the end of the story. They also need, and are indeed entitled to, therapies and support to help them to recover from their damaging experiences. Sadly though, and all too often, appropriate services are not adequate, and are commonly time-limited and cash-strapped. From the point of view of child safeguarding, this is just as great a failure by the adult world as the original abuse.

Given the effectiveness of your reports on Rotherham, a journalistic campaign for the overhaul of the psychological services for children who have been abused is overdue.

Dr Peter Green
Forensic physician and designated doctor for child safeguarding, Wandsworth Clinical Commissioning Group, London SW12

The Homes for Britain campaign is calling on all political parties to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation

Sir, Everyone deserves a decent home to live in, yet for many families it is expensive and difficult to achieve. The Homes for Britain campaign brings together the entire housing sector, and we are calling on all political parties to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation.

Across Britain we need more than 245,000 new homes a year yet we are building around half that amount, creating a huge shortage of homes which is getting worse year after year.

All of the political parties have acknowledged that we need to build more homes and that this must be a priority. We are ready to play our part but need the next government to meet us halfway by providing real leadership and a commitment to solve the issue.

David Orr, National Housing Federation; Grainia Long, Chartered Institute of Housing; Jon Sparkes, Crisis; Stewart Baseley, Home Builders Federation; Alan Ward, Residential Landlords Association; Trudi Elliott, Royal Town Planning Institute; Harry Rich, Royal Institute of British Architects

Brian Moore’s bickering with Eddie Butler is one of the highlights of televised international rugby

Sir, Unlike Paul Ackford (RBS Six Nations, Feb 6) I find the arguing between Eddie Butler and Brian Moore to be a highlight of televised rugby. Perplexingly, due to the subtlety and complexity of the game, they are often both simultaneously correct.

Eryl Parry
Spittal, Pembrokeshire

Faced with a potentially hostile audience of his constituents, Enoch Powell showed a different side to his character

Sir, The letter on Enoch Powell (Feb 6) reminded me of a time in the 1960s when the Communist party in Wolverhampton was championing a group of Asian residents who were having trouble finding housing. At a meeting, via a microphone and with the aid of a translator, they confronted Powell, their MP. He listened patiently, then strolled over and in perfect Urdu began to talk to them. I still remember the transformation. All smiles, they crowded around him, and the meeting’s sponsors faded quietly away.

David Housden
Elton, Cambs

Telegraph:

Houses of Parliament at night

Lord Salisbury has proposed that a federal union would be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom Photo: Getty Images

SIR – Devolution has opened a can of worms and led to ever-increasing complications. Despite the majority of voters opting for the Union in the Scottish referendum, the concessions made by a desperate David Cameron have only increased the determination of the separatists.

The only logical solution is the undesirable one of the formation of separate United Kingdom and English parliaments. Fudging the issue by means of a veto to be exercised by English MPs will only lead to bickering and horse-trading. In these days of fragmented politics, the result is going to be a fudge open to endless argument and confusion.

J B Box
Hertford

SIR – Will Alex Salmond become the modern Parnell, promising SNP votes at Westminster to any government “prepared to meet his demands”? (“Parnell’s ghost is hovering as the Tories consider their options”). When Gladstone brought forward his Irish Home Rule Bill in the hung parliament of 1886 to appease Parnell, he sought also to abolish Irish representation at Westminster completely. He said that Parnell and his Nationalist MPs were “like vermin about a man’s person, troublesome and disagreeable”.

Later he compromised, proposing to retain Irish MPs but cutting their number drastically to reduce their power of blackmail.

If Mr Salmond does hold the balance of power after the election, such expedients will surely begin to look attractive to Gladstone’s unhappy successors, and the Union will be in the gravest peril. But they will have only themselves to blame for failing to solve the question of English votes for English laws in this Parliament.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

SIR – William Hague’s proposals would go a long way to address the injustice felt in England over Scottish MPs voting on English-only legislation. However, the Labour Party, and others, are unlikely to support this reform.

Lord Salisbury, the former leader of the House of Lords, has proposed a solution that would be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom. This is to create a federal union.

The House of Commons would be the English parliament and the House of Lords would be replaced by an elected chamber for the entire United Kingdom. The prime minister and leading cabinet members would sit there, and it would deal with such federal matters as defence and foreign policy. Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish parliaments would have equal powers to the English Commons.

No new parliament-house would be created, and the total number of members would be reduced (as would expenses).

This would preserve the Union better than the present confused arrangements.

Jonathan C Simons
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

Late payment

SIR – The Bank of England’s data on trends in lending for January showed – as they have for the past few years – further falls in lending to Small and Medium Enterprises. Recent data from the Association of Business Recovery Professionals, meanwhile, showed that late payment is a primary factor in 20 per cent of business insolvencies.

Various initiatives have been introduced to improve the flow of working capital, including the Prompt Payment Code, but little improvement has been seen. Given that SMEs in Britain represent 50 per cent of GDP, employ 60 per cent of the work force and create most new jobs, this should be a cause for huge concern.

Edmund Truell
CEO, Tungsten Corporation
London EC4

Value of trainee doctors

(GETTY)

SIR – Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, is disingenuous when she says that “it costs the taxpayer £400,000 to train an emergency consultant”. She forgot to mention that, during training, a junior doctor contributes around 20,000 hours of service to the NHS, taking on increasing levels of responsibility in line with his or her growing experience.

Doctors in training are a linchpin of the NHS, without which it could not function.

Dr Hilary Aitken
Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire

Protecting addicts

SIR – Mike Barton, the chief constable of Durham, is to be commended for voicing the thoughts of many people who, like me, have lost their children to heroin (“Police chief: don’t jail drug addicts”).

Today I will attend the inquest into the death of a talented musician, my son, Rob Skipper. Had he been given the opportunity to use heroin from a reliable source under supervision in a “consumption room” such as those found in Switzerland, I would have had less cause to warn his wife, sister and mother that he might be dead from an overdose before the end of the year. He would probably be struggling, still, with addiction, but he would be alive and with some hope of rehabilitation. The recent arrest of the dealer who supplied Rob with the heroin is of no comfort to us; my fear is that he may create more addicts while incarcerated.

I earnestly hope the views of the many medical, legal and police authorities who support Mr Barton’s enlightened and considered opinion will gain momentum in the fight against this epidemic, which is taking such a heavy toll on young people.

John Skipper FRCS
Corfe Mullen, Dorset

Broadband promises

SIR – Neil Parish, the Conservative MP, rightly has said that “access to broadband should be considered a fundamental right”. The Government has promised that “by the end of this year, every home and business in the UK will be able to access a minimum broadband speed of two megabits per second – the basic speed for surfing and carrying out online services”.

How is this going to be achieved when the decision to extend the current system is based on commercial viability? I have been running a local campaign for a few years in a small village within the M25 in Hertfordshire. This county has joined with Buckinghamshire to improve the local network under the banner of the Connected Counties organisation. But my village has not been given approval for the roll-out because it is too small. Typical speeds here are below 0.75 mbps. I expect there are many examples such as this.

Elaine Vine
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

Outsiders’ part in ethnic cleansing in Croatia

A resident of Vukovar in late November 1991, after the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs (AFP/Getty Images )

SIR – Croatia has been found not guilty of “genocide” in Krajina, but it should remain guilty of “ethnic cleansing”.

There is no other word for the forcible removal of the Serbs of Krajina during Operation Storm in 1995.

Perhaps the reluctance to indict Croatia stems from the fact that both Germany and America re-armed Croatia with tanks and aircraft throughout 1994, without which the Serbs could not have been “removed”.

When we learnt that the German government was, against the terms of the UN embargo, importing Leopard tanks and aircraft in containers into Croatia, I was ordered by a French diplomat to cease monitoring the port of Ploce, in my area.

When I argued that that was precisely why we were employed as European Community Mission Monitors, I was ordered by a Greek (Greece held the presidency at the time) to continue monitoring but to falsify (his word) my daily reports to Brussels, to indicate that I had not been in the area and thus had seen nothing: but I was to continue to watch Ploce and report, privately, to the Greeks.

Lt-Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour
Ermington, Devon

Need for speed: the benefits of running fast

SIR – As someone who used to run considerably faster than 7mph (I once held the 5,000 metres world record), I read with some trepidation Sarah Knapton’s report on new research which suggests that fast running is as deadly as sitting on the sofa.

I’m happy to be able to reassure your readers that I, like many faster runners, am alive and enjoying the numerous and well-documented benefits of running. These include improved emotional and mental health, reduced risk of cancer, strengthened joints and the prevention of a host of unpleasant conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. While I admit to having a dodgy knee, the health and wellbeing benefits far outweigh my few aches and pains.

One of the joys of the 50-plus years that I have been involved in athletics is to see the hundreds of thousands of people of all shapes, sizes, abilities and ages who have discovered a love of running.

Organisations for runners of all sorts are working hard to help more people enjoy the benefits of this free, simple and accessible sport. Whether people run on their own, with friends, participate in group events like Parkrun and Race For Life, or compete for a club, running is a positive, life-affirming activity.

While I agree that “jogging a few times a week at a moderate pace” is great, running has benefits regardless of the speed you go. But I’ll be sure to warn my faster contemporaries – Seb Coe, Steve Cram, Steve Ovett – that they may soon wish they hadn’t broken all those world records.

David Moorcroft
Coventry

There’s fish in my fish

SIR – Some pub menu misspellings are deliberate – they’re aimed at catching the eye – but perfect spelling could not prevent the amusing critiques we licensees receive in return.

I have fielded complaints that a fillet of fish “tasted fishy”, and – my favourite – another protesting that the “risotto was rubbish” as it “wasn’t even fried”.

Kevin Henley
The White Lion
Crewe, Cheshire

Grammar dictator

SIR – I find the “Hitlers Walk” sign very offensive, too. Where is the apostrophe?

Bill Barksfield
East Hagbourne, Oxfordshire

Cold comfort bottle

SIR – The instructions for use on my new hot water bottle tell me: “Using the bottle every day for prolonged periods of time can shorten the lifespan.” I now have to choose which nights my feet remain cold.

Patricia Pressley
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex

Untrue crime

SIR – As a retired CID officer, I am always amused when a police officer on a television programme knocks on a door and there is invariably someone inside to answer the knock.

In my experience, this is a rare event. Either the householder is out or, if the occupant is of a criminal disposition, he or she declines to come to the door.

Charles Nunn
Upton, Cheshire

SIR – When television detectives visit somebody connected with a case to ask them a few questions, the person concerned invariably continues to prune the roses, cook the dinner, mend the car, or whatever they were doing before the detective arrived. If a chief inspector called on me to gather information regarding a murder inquiry, the least I could do would be to sit down and give my full attention.

Anthony Whitehead
Bristol

Globe and Mail:

Tabatha Southey

Could we stop the anti-vaxxers if we said measles contains gluten?

At the time the British government announced the Longitude Prize, shipwrecks were a grave problem – many people died, ships and cargo were lost. It was decided that a reward in the form of what would be millions in today’s dollars should be given to the person who devised a method by which a ship’s longitude could reliably be determined – making accurate navigation possible.

Ultimately, the prize was successful. Many lives were saved. Faced as we are now with alarming outbreaks of measles and whooping cough, we need a similar competition.

Who, 50 years ago, would ever have imagined we’d need to promise a reward to the person able to persuade wealthy, educated parents to do this small thing for their own children – of whom they seem quite fond – and for those who come into contact with those children, about whom one hopes they’d give a damn.

Yet here we are. There are schools in the wealthiest parts of Los Angeles where the vaccination rate is on a par with that of South Sudan – fashionable tinder boxes of measles waiting to go up. Pertussis (the far-less-fun-than-it-sounds “whooping cough”) is making a dramatic comeback.

“Why don’t we just explain all that?” a contestant in the competition will likely propose. “That, even if vaccines did involve a slight risk of, say, autism – and then we present the multiple studies that prove they don’t they’d still be better than returning to a time when mothers named a child Henry, and that would be their third Henry.”

The Board of Seriously, People, You Went To College, Do You Just Hate Children?, established to administer the prize, would reject this solution.

“A study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal showed that, even when educational efforts ‘successfully reduced misperceptions that vaccines cause autism,’ it ‘nonetheless decreased intent to vaccinate,’ ” the board’s chair would have to say. “Yeah, decreased. And have you seen the Internet? You disprove one theory, they come up with 10 new reasons not to vaccinate. Call in the next contestant.”

An infectious-disease specialist armed with meticulous research makes a sober presentation. She quotes Roberto Cattaneo, a molecular biologist at the Mayo Clinic who has spent 30 years studying measles, which he calls “the most transmissible virus we know.” She leans authoritatively on the chair’s desk, and speaks to him directly. “Let me make my case to parents,” she pleads.

She leaves. Two hours later, she pops her head in the door and explains that, had she been infected with measles, the virus would still be alive on every surface in the room she’d touched and in the room’s airspace. “Nine out of 10 of those without immunity in this room would already be infected,” she says “And that ends my presentation.”

“They’ll just say they’re protecting their kids with kale and organic hand sanitizer,” a nutritionist on the board says with a sigh. “People put a lot of faith in raw food and lavender.”

An accountant, an immigration lawyer and a rabbi make an interesting joint presentation; many parents are requesting exemptions where vaccines are mandatory.

Getting these exceptions is a drag, as parent things can be, but it’s not unlike registering your child for a somewhat exclusive soccer league. And so they present their creation: Together they’ve crafted an exemption process so arduous it would make requesting an exemption the emotional and time-consuming equivalent of filing your taxes, earning your citizenship and converting to Judaism.

“You think this will discourage them?” a member of the board asks. “It’ll just give them more to blog about.” And the accountant, the immigration lawyer and the rabbi leave, disappointed, before walking into a bar.

The next applicant enters with a swagger. “Even before Wakefield’s autism-vaccination study was withdrawn and he was struck from the medical register, his methodology was suspect. Anyone making a choice about vaccinating their child based on the work of a disgraced gastroenterologist might just as well be counting on alchemy to bankroll that kid through university.

“However, my own research” – here he tables a stack of documents and a plastic bottle – “suggests people like things from Fiji. Couldn’t we just say that vaccines come from Fiji?”

“Doctors should keep giving vaccines in their offices, but we should have another vaccine for our target group. It’ll be just like the regular vaccine, but, instead of explaining to people you can’t give the vaccine to children under 12 months old, we tell them there’s a year-long wait list, an interview process and that they’ll need letters of recommendation from prior graduates in Not Dying From a Completely Preventable Illness. Tell them the vaccine’s admission board will want to see little Skyler play the theremin. Whatever you call this place, put the word ‘Einstein’ in the name. Maybe try ‘Einstab.’ ”

“Call them artisanal vaccines,” someone suggests.

Selling vaccines in Mason jars is considered.

“Make vaccines an off-menu item, like the doctor’s receptionist will think you’re really cool if you ask for it,” a sociologist recommends, adding, “Can we get that bee guy involved? ‘Burt’s Preventative Medicine.’”

“Tell them measles contain gluten,” the suggestion is made. “They’ll line up around the block.”

A number of time machines will be invented – capable of transporting people back to the days when childhood death was a way of life. The best of these machines is made from an old iron lung, but still the board – while impressed with the technology – rejects it as ineffective in the face of vaccine resisters who are employing the same part of the human brain that once caused people to say, “It’s okay. I know what I’m doing. I drive better when I’m drunk.”

The Chamber of Perpetual Misery, an invention capable of making its occupant instantly feel exactly what it’s like to be up at 4 a.m., and pacing a second mile, with a screaming, desperately sick baby, is similarly dismissed.

“The phrase ‘I have a right to make the choice that’s right for my family’ is being wielded like a magical incantation,” a board member explains. “Apparently, it includes the right to bring back nightmarish illnesses once thought eradicated.”

I imagine the only invention that could actually win the prize is Polio 2.0. Although that may be wishful thinking on my part.

PETER MCKNIGHT

Court has given Parliament a clear path to assisted-suicide legislation

 

André Picard

Next step in assisted suicide: Ensuring it can be done humanely

Caroline and Nicki

February 6, 2015

6 Febuary 2015 Caroline and Nicki

A quiet day I go to have my hair and feet done.

Obituary:

Penny Lacey

Penny Lacey

Penny Lacey, who has died aged 66, was a senior lecturer in education whose work challenged established notions of the best teaching methods for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.

After the national curriculum was introduced into mainstream schools in 1988, special needs education started to incorporate traditional academic subjects, with the main focus on numeracy and literacy. Skills-based learning was assessed according to “SMART” targets – those that were Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related. For children with learning difficulties, however, such targets often bore little relation to the skills that a child actually needed.

Penny Lacey gave this example of an unhelpful SMART target: “Eve will experience two-dimensional shapes by tracing her fingers round the sides of a square, circle and triangle, three times a week with adult help.” While that might, as she noted, be specific and measurable and all the rest, Eve would probably remain unable to appreciate the properties of a square, circle or triangle. Basic social skills were just as difficult to instil in this manner: it was no use teaching a child to shake hands if the child proceeded to do so indiscriminately, without an understanding of the intent behind the gesture.

Penny Lacey proposed alternative targets, dubbing them, in characteristic tongue-in-cheek fashion, “SCRUFFY” targets. These had a far more general aim: they were Student-led, Creative, Relevant, Unspecified Fun for Youngsters. In order to identify an individual child’s abilities, she and her fellow Birmingham University colleague Dr Jill Porter developed the Strengths and Needs Analysis and Planning (SNAP) system. A “strength” might be simply the ability to maintain eye contact or grip a ball placed into the hand. The “needs” section of the assessment outlined corresponding activities that could allow the child to take the lead as much as possible. A child whose strength was exploring the texture of his or her own clothes, for example, might be encouraged to handle a variety of different materials with the help of another person.

At Castle Wood School in Coventry, a primary special school for children with moderate, severe and profound learning difficulties, Penny Lacey worked to create a new curriculum based on this personalised approach to learning. Many of her pupils needed to acquire the thinking skills so often taken for granted in “neurotypical” development, such as the ability to recall information, link cause and effect or anticipate another person’s wants. Such skills could not be acquired by rote like maths or French, but had to be learnt as part of an ongoing process throughout the school day. “We need to provide environments that provoke curiosity,” Penny Lacey explained. “We need to demonstrate curiosity ourselves and even sabotage routines so that children begin to think.”

She was born Penelope Saunders in London on August 30 1948, the daughter of Barbara, a pianist and physiotherapist, and John, a senior partner at the estate agents John D Wood. The family member Penny idolised, however, was her aunt Dame Cicely Saunders, pioneer of the modern hospice movement. As a schoolgirl Penny herself was mischievous and athletic, a prize-winning runner and, thanks to her height – she would grow to be 6ft – skilled in the high jump. She was also resourceful in the face of opposition. When a friend’s disapproving parents forbade contact, the 10-year-old Penny kept in touch with her via flags waved from the ends of their respective gardens.

Expelled from her first boarding school, she eventually took her A-level exams at St Mary’s in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, and won a place at Kent University, graduating in 1970 with a degree in English and American Literature. The following year she embarked on a teaching career, taking a PGCE at Coventry College of Education.

Following a probationary period she began work at a special educational needs school, Sherbourne Fields in Coventry. By 1989 she was instructing student teachers at Westhill College of Higher Education, and two years later she completed a master’s degree. In 1992, by now a single parent with a daughter to support, she graduated from Birmingham University – where she was already working as a lecturer – with a PhD in Multidisciplinary Education.

Her books include Researching Learning Difficulties: A Guide for Practitioners (2005, with Jill Porter) and Support Services and the Curriculum: A Practical Guide to Collaboration (2013, with Jeanette Lomas).

A talented pianist with a fine contralto voice, Penny Lacey sang in the Coventry Cathedral chamber choir and always arrived in the classroom equipped with a suitcase full of instruments in case of an impromptu music lesson. She continued to run her course at Birmingham University, and to teach for one day a week at Castle Wood School, until being taken ill with a blood clot on her brain.

She is survived by her second husband, David Doggett, a daughter from her first marriage to Stephen Lacey and five stepchildren. A stepson predeceased her.

Penny Lacey, born August 30 1948, died January 12 2015

Guardian:

A surgeon in the operating room
A surgeon in the operating room. ‘Who’d have thought that publishing results would lead some consultants to decide against operating on patients with a perceived higher risk of mortality?’ Photograph: Alamy

So, the penny drops (Publishing patients’ death rates is backfiring, surgeons tell NHS chief, 31 January). Who’d have thought it, that publishing consultant-level results would lead some to decide against operating on patients with a perceived higher risk of mortality? It is the NHS management response though that is interesting. Apparently, this is not the time to “row back on transparency”; “information for patients … helped surgeons raise their game”.

Two points. First, the purpose of the surgeons’ intervention is to warn us that the collection and publication of this data does not lead to greater transparency. On the contrary, whereas we used to think that all surgeons, like all other properly qualified medical staff, were acting in the patients’ own best interest, now we cannot be sure: some, in response to the “transparency” inducing data are instead considering their own positions, and we have no way of knowing which are and which aren’t.

Second, even setting aside the harmful unintended consequences of the death-rate publication experiment, what kind of world are we living in where we think surgeons need to “raise their game”? Are we worried that the supervision they receive within their long and intensive training is insufficient and needs to be supplemented with supervision by an untutored general public, albeit armed with statistics that its lack of expertise renders superficially informative but deeply unintelligible? Or do we think that we somehow have to hold them to account because they do not feel accountable for their actions themselves? If the latter, then we really are in serious trouble and no amount of perfunctory supervision will help.
Dr William Dixon and Dr David Wilson
London Metropolitan University

Alan Milburn urges Labour to embrace NHS “reform” (unspecified) to avoid the electoral disaster of 1992 (Miliband’s focus on NHS ‘mirrors lost cause of 1992’, 28 January). Luckily, we have learnt something since 1992. For the past quarter century England has led the world in market-oriented reform of the public services. The politicians have created a form of permanent revolution, notably in health and education, without any recognition that constant turbulence doesn’t generally make for good outcomes.

The successive upheavals have hardly ever been evidence-based, nor have they been piloted, properly evaluated or developed with staff and user involvement. Usually the architects and drivers of these pet projects have moved on, or down, by the time the chaos has become widespread, as in the cases of Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove. Worst of all, the obsession with pursuing these reforms has distracted the governing system from focusing on the things that matter most but make less of a splash, such as providing enough doctors, nurses, hospital beds, teachers, school places and opportunities for high quality staff training and development.

No service can stand still, and intelligent change based on persuasion and realistic timescales is essential. But the old style of reform that Milburn appears to be promoting isn’t part of the solution, it’s a significant part of the problem.
Ron Glatter
Emeritus professor, Open University

The NHS returned surpluses to the Treasury of £2.1bn in 2012-13 and £2.2bn in 2013-14. If these had been used to increase the tariff paid to hospitals and fully fund emergency admissions above the contract, hospitals would not be in deficit now. There would have been enough to increase rather than decrease the money spent on GPs. I’m glad that finally managers have spoken out as so called “efficiency savings” are damaging the NHS (Report, 30 January). Again this year the US independent Commonwealth Fund put the UK health service top for cost-effectiveness as well as equity and satisfaction.

One cannot escape the conclusion that it is a deliberate government policy to underfund the NHS as part of its privatisation agenda. We are a rich country, as Mr Cameron reminded us during the floods – fifth in the world according to the IMF – and a civilised country should be able to provide good health and social care for its population. Last week, Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham launched Labour’s 10-year plan, which aims to do this. It can be funded by getting rid of the wasteful market and the bodies which support the market.
Wendy Savage
President, Keep Our NHS Public

I am 78 years old. Recently, I was discharged from Sheffield Royal Northern hospital after open heart surgery. As far as I know, the several conditions from which I suffered have been successfully treated, and in due course I’ll be able to resume my former active and, I like to think, useful life. In my opinion, Miliband and Burnham have got their policy on the NHS spot on. Political strategists should bear in mind there are a lot of us oldies, and we tend to vote more often than younger people. The future of the NHS, in something like the form originally conceived, is to my mind easily the most important domestic issue in the forthcoming election. After all, what sort of a country do we want to live in?
David Jones
Matlock, Derbyshire

 

Police stand guard in Westminster
Police stand guard in Westminster. ‘Anti-terror powers are about protecting UK foreign policy from dissent, rather than protecting the ­public from violence.’ Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Yes, the counter-terrorism and security bill is “ideological extremism masquerading as British values”, especially by conflating extremism with dissent against unjust western policies (Karma Nabulsi, Opinion, 4 February). In a familiar pattern, every terrorist act is exploited for strengthening executive powers, extending punishment without trial, widening powers of the security services, eroding fundamental freedoms, and further targeting Muslim communities. Moreover, the government’s latest bill would require public institutions to monitor and suppress “extremist” voices – supposedly to prevent terrorism.

All anti-terror powers are based on the Terrorism Act 2000. It redefined terrorism, blurring any distinction between violent acts and political dissent, thus criminalising vague association and speech acts. Anti-terror powers are about protecting UK foreign policy from dissent, rather than protecting the public from violence.

This political agenda explains the discriminatory application of anti-terrorism laws. For example, schedule 7 of the act, which authorises border officials to detain and question individuals, has disproportionately targeted Muslims and ethnic minorities. Since 2001, some 70% of all arrests under anti-terrorism legislation have been of non-whites. Such practices serve a politics of fear – marginalising Muslim and migrant communities, making others fear them, creating mutual mistrust and increasing risks of violent attack. This Orwellian agenda makes our society more dangerous, not safer.

Ordinary criminal law remains adequate to protect the public from violence; terrorist attacks have resulted from inadequately using intelligence and available powers, not from inadequate powers. Therefore we advocate the repeal of all anti-terrorism legislation since the Terrorism Act 2000.
Lady Jones Green party
Shahrar Ali Deputy leader, Green party
Les Levidow Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
Arzu Merali Islamic Human Rights Commission
Hanne Stevens Director, Rights Watch (UK)
Asim Qureshi Cage-UK
Malia Bouattia NUS black students’ officer
Zarah Sultana NUS National Executive Council
Zekarias Negussue NEC representative, NUS Black Students’ Campaign
Arwa Almari West Yorkshire Racial Justice Network

 

combine harvester
‘When a combine harvester now costs millions, why not employ hundreds of farm workers to hand-pluck the corn with a golden sickle?’ writes Jill Moss. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

While there is plenty to complain about in recent Archers story lines (eg Adam’s New Year kiss and Rob’s paternity test) the programme still covers agricultural stories of relevance (Letters, 5 February). One of the most depressing experiences I had recently was to be shown round a robotic milking parlour on the dairy farm where we were staying in north Cornwall. The farmer had mortgaged himself to the hilt; the new system had cost him hundreds of thousands. The impact on milk yields: negligible. When a combine harvester now costs millions, why not employ hundreds of farm workers to hand-pluck the corn with a golden sickle? In the words of Eddie Grundy last week, discussing the robotic parlour, “there goes another skilled job”.
Jill Moss
Chester

Graduate
New graduates. ‘A large ­minority of graduates have to enter careers that will never pay enough during their working lives so as to prompt loan repayment.’ Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

The Labour party has identified a major problem relating to university tuition fees but reducing them is not an appropriate solution for it (Editorial, 3 February). The problem is that a large minority of graduates have to enter careers that will never pay enough during their working lives so as to prompt loan repayment. Many are in careers that were not graduate-entry decades ago and for which degree courses now leave graduates “overqualified” with respect to the skills actually necessary for doing those jobs. Obviously, there are some highly skilled and well-paid jobs, for which there is a shortage of qualified graduates, but typically the skills acquired in most degree courses are not transferable to them, so the shortages cannot be filled by Britain’s large graduate population. By focusing education and training on skills that university courses can develop, Britain has created a system that is socially wasteful and dysfunctional.

Unfortunately, being a university graduate continues to enjoy high social status, so that the fundamental question of how to best match the provision of education and training with the needs of an economy containing many jobs that are not especially highly skilled rarely gets asked.
Alan Ware
Emeritus fellow, Worcester College, Oxford University

Your editorial on higher education funding misses a fundamental point. The present government is already borrowing to support a tuition fee of £9,000, but paying this out via the student loan book rather than through direct grant, thus requiring students to take on much higher loans. The fact that this does not appear on the public accounts or count towards the deficit is a sleight of hand. A much more honest debate about how investment in higher education can be delivered will only happen if the current smoke and mirrors accountancy rules of the Treasury are changed. However, it is not just Labour that has questions to answer about fees and funding.

The Liberal Democrats have agreed to review the system – but only after the election. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have said that they will find funds to lift the cap on student numbers, while at the same time committing to rapid and deep further cuts in public spending, raising the prospect that what little remains of the direct grant for university teaching, is wiped out completely. Until all parties reveal their hand in detail, megaphone diplomacy about the risks of one party’s policy compared to another is premature.
Pam Tatlow
Chief executive million+

We reject the claims made by some university vice-chancellors that lowering tuition fees is implausible. To suggest that a system of free higher education is unrealistic and would damage Britain’s economy is absurd. On the contrary, when the government spends money on public services such as education this grows the economy. Investment in free education would create jobs, growth and provide the resources to allow Britain to tackle the challenges of the 21st century, from climate change to health problems. Free education would also expand social justice, providing those students deterred from going to university because of the enormous debt burden of over £40,000 the chance to fulfil their potential. We are inspired by Germany’s move to scrap tuition fees last year, are committed to building a movement to bring about free education here and call upon vice-chancellors to reconsider their support for an education funding system that is failing.
Piers Telemacque NUS vice-president, society & sitizenship
Shakira Martin NUS national executive and president of Lewisham Southwark College SU
Aaron Kiely NUS national executive 
James Honke University of Birmingham 
Jordan Blyth Teesside University Free Education Campaign
Dave Cocozza Mature students’ officer, University of Kent students’ union
David Brand Free Education Brighton 
William Roney University of Roehampton 
Fiona Edwards Student Assembly Against Austerity

 

Groceries are prepared for distribution at Tesco's distribution plant in Reading
Groceries are prepared for distribution at Tesco’s plant in Reading. ‘It may be that Tesco is cleared of wrongdoing. But potential fines would force major retailers to review their dealings with suppliers.’ Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

It is highly significant that the groceries code adjudicator has announced her first formal investigation – a probe into Tesco’s treatment of its suppliers (Tesco under investigation by new regulator over dealings with suppliers, 5 February, guardian.com). Of equal importance is the regulator’s new ability to fine large retailers for breaching the supply chain code of practice. The Tesco probe clearly shows that Christine Tacon intends to use the powers she has been given.

We cannot, of course, prejudge the outcome of this investigation, and it may be that Tesco is cleared of wrongdoing. But potential fines of up to 1% of annual turnover would force all major retailers to review their dealings with suppliers and, if necessary, put their houses in order.

The crucial next step is ensuring that any fines do not just go into Treasury coffers. The money should instead go towards a dedicated fund to support the innovation and growth of local food supply chains and into the country’s network of micro-, small- and medium-sized food suppliers. This would provide a boost to the rural economy, where many businesses have long been undermined by the expansion of the supermarket sector.
Graeme Willis
Senior rural policy campaigner, Campaign to Protect Rural England

John Harris’s sobering article on the impact of Tesco’s store closures (Very little help, G2, 4 February) brings into sharp focus another of the supermarket chain’s undesirable downturn policies: the placing of smaller, more profitable shops in areas where they are neither needed nor desired. Last month in Belsize Park, north-west London, more than 3,700 residents signed a petition in protest against a proposed Tesco Express on the site of a former bank directly opposite the tube station on the area’s busiest thoroughfare. The impact on nearby businesses, particularly three independently run greengrocers and general stores, may well be catastrophic, and the arrival of yet more huge delivery vans can only worsen the area’s traffic problems. There are two other Tesco Express stores within easy walking distance. But clearly there are profits to be made from further suburban expansion, and panicky shareholders to placate, so why should the detrimental commercial or aesthetic impact on an already well-served local community be of much concern in these troubled times.
Simon Garfield
London

Independent:

With the release of the latest spectacle of sophisticated savagery from the hi-tech studios of Isis, the West has to take its gloves off. Hand-wringing and solemn words of condemnation are not enough. All options should now be mobilised to eradicate this pestilence.

Lethal chemicals and even, as a last resort, tactical nuclear weapons, should all be considered as legitimate means of exterminating an enemy whose barbarities have stripped it of any right to be protected by the internationally recognised restraints imposed upon modern nations at war.

Jordan has swiftly responded to the bestial images by executing two terrorists in its custody, and Western nations should take their cue. Jihadists who fall into their hands should be shown no mercy and receive the same “justice” that the fiends of Isis mete out to their victims. The European Convention and the UN Charter should not apply to them.

If it had been an Israeli pilot who had been burned alive by Isis, Raqqa, the Isis “capital”, would now be a heap of smoking rubble. For the sake of decent humanity and the values which we cherish and hold sacred, the West must now act with the same merciless determination to extirpate a malignant scourge which threatens us all.

And instead of infantile bickering with Putin, the EU and Nato should be looking for Russian support in the liquidation  of jihadism.

Adrian Marlowe
The Hague

 

No regime predicated on violence has ever gone the distance, the most obvious example being Hitler’s Third Reich, which finally collapsed under the weight of its own savagery. There are many others.

What Isis fails to grasp is that its dystopian vision is not a place where any rational person would wish to live, so who will live there? This caliphate would be a loosely defined geographical area peopled by homicidal maniacs whose raison d’être is carnage.

Add to this the moral and intellectual vacuum these people inhabit, and it is obvious that the seeds of a nation could never hope to flourish. Who sets fire to another human being to gain attention?

One senses that with this latest act, a tipping point has finally been reached. The Arab nations and wider Muslim world recognise what this is: not jihad, not devout rejection of Western values, not ascetic fundamentalism in the name of Islam, but simply criminality and adventure without limits or borders. And the world in 2015 is not going to tolerate that.

Mike Galvin
Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

 

I agree that Europe and America should ally themselves with the Damascus regime to defeat Isis (letter, 3 February).  The Assad regime is not all bad. It is tolerant towards Christians and minorities. But there are formidable reasons for the West not to take that step.

First, there is the attitude of Sunni fundamentalism issuing from Saudi Arabia, which opposes Damascus for the absurd reason of “religious heresy”. The West is always keen to appease the Saudis, as was seen in the recent flag-lowering episode.

Second, there is the attitude of Israel and its supporters, which oppose Damascus since Syria is a front-line (and steadfast) state opposing Israeli occupation and expansion. Syria is also allied with Iran, and the Tehran regime stirs the irrational hatred of the right both in the region and in Washington.

Unless the West can learn to disobey the Saudis, and the Israelis, and dump the remnants of the neo-cons, there is little hope of an alliance which might just crush Isis and end the beheadings.

Christopher Walker
London SW18

 

Educating our future MPs

It is a shame that yet again the choice of educational provision parents make for their children becomes a political football, in this case about politics itself (“General election will see no increase in proportion  of state-educated MPs”,  5 February).

Of course, it is important that politicians can empathise with people from all backgrounds, but they also need a passion for the political process, something which many independent schools do particularly well. As William Hague and many others have demonstrated, there is little prejudice or “glass ceiling” preventing state-educated adults from entering the political fray – but they have to want to do it.

Also, this report ignores the fact that many children only attended independent schools through scholarships and bursaries – myself included – and the independent sector strives to make our education more affordable for those aspirational parents who do not have the means to pay.

I know that some of my scholars from very humble economic backgrounds, but with passion and dedication, are the most likely to shape our future country and world through the political process.

Alex Osiatynski
Headmaster, Bilton Grange Preparatory School, Rugby, Warwickshire

 

I agree that Britain needs more MPs educated in the state sector (editorial, 5 February). But if this is to happen state schools need to up their game.

The first requirement is a vigorous programme unashamedly dedicated to identifying the brightest students and encouraging them to apply to the best universities.

The second is a school that values debate and trains its pupils to enter and win debating competitions.

The third is teachers prepared to organise mock council, European and general elections and invite local candidates of all persuasions to speak in assemblies and take part in mock election debates.

And finally, schools should encourage their children to participate in extra-curricular trips and visits and voluntary work, so that they can better understand the nature of the society they will one day represent.

Only by producing articulate, well-educated and well-informed students will state schools be able to redress the balance with the private sector.

Stan Labovitch
Windsor

 

Why isn’t it Sir Ken Dodd?

Congratulations to the extraordinary 87-year-old Ken Dodd, who has been named “Oldie of the Year”, an award which he can add to his many others including the British Comedy Society’s honour “Living Legend”.

Ken Dodd has been entertaining audiences for more than 50 years, and, at an age when most of his peers are ensconced in nursing homes, he continues to tour the country playing to crowded theatres. His act is family-friendly, with no foul language, and most fans could repeat it verbatim. He is a cherished icon.

Why then does the Establishment refuse to award him a knighthood? This is despite many petitions and innumerable letters of support. The only response from the Cabinet Office is that “Mr Dodd’s case continues to be carefully considered”.

Mike Stroud
Swansea

 

Secular abattoirs are cruel too

A great deal has been made of the fact that the slaughterhouse featured in Animal Aid’s latest undercover investigation was a non-stun, halal operation. However, the cruelty we exposed is by no means limited to businesses conducting religious slaughter.

Prior to our latest investigation, Animal Aid filmed inside nine randomly selected abattoirs, all of which pre-stunned animals for slaughter. In eight of them we also found vicious and illegal abuse taking place, including animals being tortured with stunning equipment.

Animal Aid is opposed to bigotry and racism and our complaint with the findings at Bowood Lamb has always been one of animal cruelty, which is rife in all sectors of the slaughter industry. The only way to ensure your food has not suffered before arriving on your plate is to adopt a completely animal-free diet.

Ben Martin
Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent

 

There is no great revelation in the news that animals suffer physical and emotional stress in abattoirs. In a supposedly civilised country in the year 2015 the real story is that successive governments have failed to secure an acceptable level of animal welfare in spite of the repeated propaganda message to the contrary delivered by politicians.

This Tory-led government has animal welfare at the bottom of its agenda, in spite of manifesto promises. Farm animals suffer miserable lives, increasingly forced into intensive systems, transported many miles in fear and discomfort to meet their fate behind closed doors in abattoirs where this government refuses to make CCTV cameras mandatory.

Jill Deane
Staveley, Cumbria

 

Inquiries stuck at the start and the finish

There are 64 million people in the UK, and not a single one of us is judged competent to head an inquiry into child abuse.

Peter Brooker
West Wickham, Kent

 

A member of the Chilcot inquiry has died before the report could be completed and published. This is a fate that may befall many of us.

Brian G Mitchell
Cambridge

Times:

The Institute of Economic Affairs says this idea would save money and end ‘sardine-like’ conditions for commuters

Sir, The brave suggestion by the Institute for Economic Affairs that it might be time for much of Britain’s main rail network to be replaced by a road-borne coach network (report, Feb 3) will, of course, draw intense fire from the ubiquitous rail lobby.

I felt the full force of this brigade’s firepower in 2003 when, as a keen, newly appointed rail minister, I volunteered publicly my belief that part of the problem with this country’s transport policy was that it was profoundly influenced by trainspotters.

As the sky darkened with incoming missiles, the officials at the ministry were very kind to me, as an indulgent uncle might be kind to a deranged nephew, before they resumed their full-time job of trying to persuade the Treasury to cough up vast amounts of taxpayers’ money to keep the railways running. I fear that their job description has not changed much since then.

Dr Kim Howells
Pontypridd

Sir, The suggestion by the Institute of Economic Affairs concerning conversion of our railway to bus lanes is not new. It was floated in the 1980s by Sir Alfred Sherman, who was associated with the same organisation.

There were many loopholes in the proposal. For example, railway tracks are often narrow, have tunnels and bridges, as well as very elaborate and expensive safety systems (which largely work). Furthermore, there is the issue about all the coaches arriving at a major terminal and how they are dispersed.

The present problems of the railway are caused by rapidly increasing traffic and decades of underinvestment. The complex nature of the organisation, riddled with expensive lawyers and financiers as a result of privatisation, is why it costs so much to rectify.

Lord Bradshaw
Lib Dem transport spokesman in the House of Lords and former general manager, British Rail Western Region

Sir, About 30 years ago a study was made of the feasibility of converting the railway between the Chilterns and London into a busway. The idea was not proceeded with for various reasons, not least of which was the problem of what to do with a large number of buses at the end of the journey; clearly disgorging them on to London’s crowded streets was not acceptable.

The Cambridge to St Ives busway does a good job, making use of a former railway track bed, but is not carrying anywhere near the sort of volumes of passengers which the Institute for Economic Affairs mentions. As a retired former busman I am well aware of the potential of busways, but moving large volumes of passengers on urban and interurban corridors is best left to railways, which manage it very well for most of the time.

David Wallace
Wiveliscombe, Somerset

Sir, John Chapman (letter, Feb 5) says that buses could be linked and then put back on railway tracks. With no linkage and steered by the drivers, express coaches using one lane of a road could offer 75,000 seats an hour. That’s 50 per cent more than the crushed peak-hour railway commuters who arrive at Waterloo in trains requiring four inbound tracks.

The coaches would motor at 60mph, with the journey time from Southampton, for example, similar to that by rail. Fares, though, could be halved or perhaps even quartered. Linking the vehicles electronically would vastly increase potential capacity, but putting them back on rails would cost a fortune and prevent any other vehicle from using the track.

The opportunity is overwhelming.

Paul Withrington
Director, Transport-Watch

More from Letters to the Editor

Prince of Wails

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Published at 12:01AM, February 6 2015 The future of HMS Victory aside, the past offers a tantalising glimpse of life aboard the ship in wartime…

Feline diet

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Enoch’s tables

Published at 12:01AM, February 6 2015 The politician Enoch Powell had a slight problem with train timetables as well as times tables…

Telegraph:

A number of chains have already been told that they cannot take on any more academies until concerns over standards have been addressed

Schools, like successful businesses, should value honesty, trust, loyalty and fairness Photo: Rex Features

SIR – Having spent 32 years in the corporate world, I would like to allay fears (Letters, February 4) that a focus on corporate models will undermine values in schools.

Those who lead and work in large companies can exhibit values such as honesty, trust, loyalty and fairness. In any event, it is not models which dictate culture but the people who operate them – and the tone is set at the top.

Our head teacher is near completion of an MBA, in order to bring business discipline to the way he and his team run a highly successful state academy which, like all others, faces severe financial challenges. All credit to him for doing this so that our school can benefit from the best of both worlds.

Jacey Caroline Graham
Chair of Governors, The Coopers’ Company and Coborn School
Upminster, Essex

SIR – Charlotte Vere, the acting general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, argues that it’s time to stop allowing outdated stereotypes to dominate education debates.

The majority of pupils at independent schools come from hard-working families who simply care about their children.

What Ms Vere did not say is that by opting out of the state sector, these parents are saving the taxpayer around £4 billion each year, perhaps a lot more. Yet these parents also pay their income tax and council tax towards state school places they do not take up. This puts into the shade all the nonsense we hear about charitable benefit and the need for independent schools to do even more for the community. What does the community do for independent schools?

Simon Shneerson
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire

SIR – Cambridge Assessment (Letters, February 2) may not thank me for saying this, but its science IGCSEs are easier to teach than the approved GCSEs.

This is not because they are dumbed down, but because they are structured so that new learning builds upon what pupils have already learnt. The progression is not interrupted by environmental propaganda or fashionable educational theory, such as “how science works”. They simply allow a good teacher to get a higher pass rate and, at the same time, provide more able pupils with a superior foundation for further study at A-level and university.

Prof Tom Burkard
Easton, Norfolk

SIR – Appearing in the BBC Two documentary Inside the Commons, the Prime Minister described the architecture by saying: “It looks half like a museum, half like a church, half like a school.”

No wonder the Education Secretary has declared a war on innumeracy.

David Miller
Chigwell, Essex

Cut-off politicians

SIR – Simon Crowley writes (Letters, February 4) that “almost none of our visible politicians have any experience of military service”.

Any vocation other than politics could be substituted for “military service”. They lack experience in science, business, the church, medicine, education and other fields.

Politics has become little more than an academic game without reference to the real world.

Mik Shaw
Goring-by-Sea, Essex

Competitive gas prices

SIR – Rather than bother the Ombudsman about the cost of liquid petroleum gas, Rowan Simmonds (Letters, January 4) should change his supplier.

I am also an LPG user but I take out a contract for a period of time at a fixed price and when due for renewal contact all suppliers for their best price. Customer loyalty is important and I have found that the original installer of my tank has always bettered the lowest offer I have received from their competitors.

Unlike those supplied from the national grid, I am currently paying the same price for my gas as four years ago.

Monty Taylor
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Fashion blackout

Left to right: Nicholas Kirkwood, Jonathan Saunders, Peter Pilotto, Christopher De Vos, Christopher Kane, Erdem Moralioglu (Zac Frackelton)

SIR – I confess I have no understanding of the world of fashion, but I have learnt from your photograph lining up six of Britain’s brightest fashion starsthat it is important to wear nothing but black.

The only exception is one wild young thing with a red pullover peeking out from under his blazer. Did he not get the memo?

Eldon Sandys
Pyrford, Surrey

Isil’s enemies

SIR – The Kurds, whose lands are divided between Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran – and form a very small part of each – have been struggling for independence for decades.

Now that the Kurdish forces have begun driving back the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), they must be rewarded. Frontiers need to be redrawn. To force Iran and Turkey to cede their occupied land back to the Kurds may be difficult but pressure must be put on both countries.

Mervyn Kersh
Cockfosters, Hertfordshire

SIR – As a Jordanian citizen myself, I am filled with a sense of sorrow and unbearable revulsion at the gruesome video showing the Jordanian pilot being burned alive by terrorists.

This heinous crime shows the responsibility we must bear, to work assiduously to confront this fanatical death cult. Most importantly, the world community has a moral duty to help Jordan in its hour of need.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London NW2

Value of make-up

SIR – Your feature on the worth of make-up reminded me of an account from the diary of Lt Col Mervin Gonin, Commanding Officer of 11 (British) Light Field Ambulance, who witnessed the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

“It was shortly after the British Red Cross teams arrived, though it may have been coincidental, that a large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted! We were screaming for hundreds of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish I knew, because I believe nothing did more for those internees than the lipstick.

“Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightdress but with scarlet lips. They wandered about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet lips. I saw a woman dead on the post-mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick.

“Do you see what I mean? At last someone had done something to make them individuals again… That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”

Tom Foster
Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire

Be a sport and keep rounders in the curriculum

Doing the rounds: a Spanish predecessor in the 13th-century ‘Cantigas de Santa Maria’ (The Art Archive/A

SIR – Whenever I meet ex-pupils, they seldom reminisce about favourite maths or science lessons. Instead, they invariably recall games afternoons, in particular rounders.

It is a highly skilled game, developing eye-to-ball co-ordination, fielding tactics and the ability to interpret the rules intelligently. These skills transfer to other sports.

Best of all, rounders is a game for mixed teams of both boys and girls at primary school.

I trust many of my ex-pupils will appeal to Rounders England to fight against the recent decision by the Department for Education to drop the game from the physical education GCSE curriculum.

Michael Cooper
Cosby, Leicestershire

The place of respect in ‘British values’

SIR – While teaching British values is certainly as important as maths, the last word on the Education Secretary’s list, respect, is currently much misused and misunderstood.

Common courtesy should be universal, but respect must invariably be earned. It is certainly not an automatic perquisite of being different from the mainstream, as the “anything goes” brigade would have us believe.

Pete Taylor
Virginia Water, Surrey

SIR – The concept of “British values” is ill-defined – what makes a particular value especially “British”?

What we need to foster in our children and young people is a sense of self-esteem and appreciation of and respect for other people.

Sadly, Government interference with the educational process is undermining the efforts of teachers to help their pupils thrive in a multi-cultural world.

Ralph A Tebbutt
Gillingham, Kent

Privileged parking

SIR – Never mind the use of potato peelers, and drivers chatting to passengers (Letters, February 4): how is it that all drivers on films and television seem to find a vacant – and presumably legal – parking space just outside the door to where they are going?

Tore Fauske
Woodmancote, Gloucestershire

Caught out in the cold

(WENN)

SIR – Your headline “London and the East told to prepare for 3in of snow” (February 4) prompted a wry smile.

When has Britain, let alone the capital, ever been “prepared” for snow?

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

SIR – There is no need for my local council to grit the side road I live on. The potholes provide plenty of traction.

Chris Sparrow
Oxford

What he’s having

SIR – Greek tavernas, where accuracy in translation is frequently given a low priority, are not exempt from gaffes in advertising their culinary delights (Letters, February 2).

A taverna in Koukounaries, on the island of Skiathos, proudly displayed a sandwich board at its entrance that read: “Orgasmic food served here”.

Courtenay Smale
Newquay, Cornwall

SIR – A starter on the menu of a Halifax hostelry a few years ago was “Chef’s own liver pâté”. Surprisingly it remained available for many months.

Allan Denby
Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria

 

Globe and Mail:

Forcese and Roach

How Ottawa’s new terrorism act could chill free speech

 

Harrison, Hoberg and Tindall

Getting rid of petroleum stocks is a crucial first step for universities

 

KONRAD YAKABUSKI

Vaccine paranoia gives Jeb Bush a shot in the arm

Irish Times:

Sir, – Jim Cosgrove, like me, must be of an age when gardaí , doctors and other professionals are appearing to get younger by the week (February 4th). Why not a president to match? After all how much worse could it be? If experience is important in politics, lack of it must be a better bet seeing what the old, experienced, wrinklies have done! – Yours, etc,

JOHN K ROGERS,

Rathowen,

Co Westmeath.

Sir, – Theresa Reidy (Opinion & Analysis, February 5th), arguing that we should lower the age requirement of candidates for the presidency, writes: “There is no scientific evidence to suggest someone is more emotionally mature at 35 than at 30, and no guarantee that as people age, they will earn more life, or political, experience.”

I almost let out a groan of exasperation as I read these words. Is the tyranny of social scientists so far advanced that these latter-day oracles have to be consulted on everything? Has anyone actually measured the emotional maturity of 35-year-old people as opposed to 30-year-old people? How on earth would they do that? What is one unit of emotional maturity called? How could anyone fail to “earn more life experience” as they age, even if they never left the house?

Personally, I wouldn’t care if all candidates for the presidency were required to be red-headed, left-handed girls under the age of 12. I think a monarchy would be much more sensible. But, all that aside, can we please refrain from this mania of replacing reasoned debate with a blind faith in “scientific evidence”, which is so often pseudo-scientific evidence anyway? – Yours, etc,

MAOLSHEACHLANN

Ó CEALLAIGH,

Ballymun,

Dublin 11.

Sir, – Surely the major problem to be addressed is not that a 21-year-old citizen cannot run for president but that the 99 per cent-plus of the population who are not part of the cosy political cadre cannot become president either. – Yours, etc,

KEVIN O’SULLIVAN,

Letterkenny

Co Donegal.

Sir, – It is helpful to remind ourselves of some of the figures who have shaped this State to refute the suggestion that someone under the age of 35 would be unfit for the office of president. The current Taoiseach and his last three predecessors were all in their early or mid-twenties when elected to the Dáil; Dick Spring and William Norton were each under the age of 35 when elected to lead the Labour Party, and, in Mr Spring’s case, tánaiste; and the current government’s youngest member, Leo Varadkar, was appointed at the age of 32.

Should membership of the Dáil, the cabinet, leadership of a major political party and occupation of the position of tánaiste be insufficient to satisfy objections, then what of Michael Collins, whose short life was abridged at the age of 31? Is his role in achieving our independence and serving as leader of the country’s provisional government enough?

To those swayed by the suggestion that the referendum be voted down as a protest at the fact that this proposal is before us instead of other ones, I would argue that it is unclear how voting No would encourage the Government to hold further referendums. If the proposal is rejected, it would be interpreted as a rejection of the proposal itself, not the electorate sending a cryptic message to hold a different vote on something else. Indeed, it could even make it easier for the Government to justify not holding referendums on more important subjects – if the electorate is resistant to a relatively uncontroversial change such as this, then there must be limited appetite for constitutional reform. – Yours, etc,

OSAL KELLY,

Delgany,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Empirical studies comparing children of same-sex and heterosexual couples are more extensive and consistent in their findings than the letters of Ryan Connolly and Neil Bray (February 5th) would imply. All of the available evidence from these studies shows that children of same-sex and heterosexual couples are similar with regard to their gender identity, gender role behaviour, sexual orientation, mental health, and psychological and social adjustment.

These studies include comparisons between children reared by lesbian couples and those reared by heterosexual couples, between children with stepmothers and stepfathers; follow-up studies of adults raised by lesbian mothers have also been published; recent studies have also been undertaken with gay men who are parents. The studies draw on methodologies developed in the field of psychology over decades, including quantitative and qualitative measures of gender identity, sexual orientation, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, parental styles and quality of parent-child relationship. They have been conducted in different cultures at different time periods using small samples as well as population studies. They have been published and reviewed in international peer-reviewed journals and by professional bodies such as the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Paediatrics’ Committee, the Australian Psychological Society and the Psychological Society of Ireland.

The studies are in agreement with other studies of child development in showing that the quality of relationship, whether with one parent or with two, and whether with gay or straight parents, is the most important factor in child development. – Yours, etc,

Dr GERALDINE MOANE,

School of Psychology,

University College Dublin,

Belfield, Dublin 4.

Sir, – The proposal to alter radically the definition of marriage, by way of an amendment to the Constitution, is both flawed and unnecessary.

The idea that the meaning of marriage needs to be fundamentally changed in order to give equality to couples of the same gender demeans our very understanding of the wholeness and integrity of human nature and a long-recognised principle of social foundation.

It is nonetheless entirely appropriate that contractual unions or civil partnerships of the same gender should be not only recognised, but also given full constitutional protection, and surely this could be achieved by way of an alternative amendment. For that to happen, one could only hope that our legislators and their constitutional experts would reconsider the current proposal and come up with a revised definition and wording which would preserve the distinction between marriage and civil partnerships of the same sex, and one that would be just and fair to all.

If they don’t, it is very likely that vast numbers of the electorate will reluctantly vote No. – Yours, etc,

DAVID J STRAHAN,

Kilternan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The upcoming referendum is a missed opportunity by the Government to address the injustice of the period of time that married couples have to wait before applying for a divorce. Currently a married couple can legally separate when their marriage breaks down but must wait for four years after separation before they can apply for a divorce.

The constitutional requirement for married couples to be living apart for four years before being able to apply for a divorce has led to a very unfair situation whereby such couples have to go through a legal separation only to have to go through it again four years later in order to obtain a divorce.

The breakdown of a marriage is a very stressful, life-changing event and the current four-year wait before being able to seek a divorce only serves to make it more stressful for the couple and can have a negative impact on the couple’s parenting of any children of the marriage.

It is interesting to contrast this to the position of same-sex couples in civil partnerships. At present such couples only have to wait two years before they can apply to have their civil partnership dissolved. The shorter time period, in my view, reflected changed attitudes in society by the time civil partnership was brought in.

If the referendum is passed then (somewhat ironically) same sex-couples who marry will also be subject to this four-year wait.

It is time for this to be addressed in a referendum so that separating spouses can finalise matters in one step rather than two. It is a shame that the Government did not use this opportunity to allow marriage breakdown to also catch up with attitude changes in society. – Yours, etc,

JUSTIN SPAIN,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The recent decision of the ECB to no longer accept Greek collateral issued or guaranteed by the Greek government has been made by this “politically independent” institution in the aftermath of the Greek election results (“ECB turns up pressure on Athens by refusing Greek bonds”, Front Page, February 5th).

The junk status of Greek debt has, until now, been waived by the ECB to accept Greek collateral. In the wake of the Greek elections, the ECB has decided, in its political independence, that this waiver no longer applies. Coincidence?

The sooner the EU recognises that its political and fiscal infrastructure is not fit for purpose the better. – Yours, etc,

ROBERT DESMOND,

Castleknock, Dublin 15.

Sir, – Much of the coverage of the post-Greek election situation amounts to little more than an apologia for Greek threats to default on their own self-inflicted debts and ask the citizens of other EU and euro zone countries to pay for it.

The narrative being promoted all over the media now is that of the newly elected Greek government attempting to intimidate its fellow members in the EU and especially those in the euro zone.

The present Greek government is demanding that the citizens of other euro zone countries pay the price for decades of irresponsibility by Greek governments and Greek banks.

Most euro zone members did not go bankrupt. They did not have to look for a bailout because the decision makers in charge of their governmental and financial institutions did not make reckless and irresponsible decisions.

Yet the taxpayers of some small eastern European countries, which are now in the euro zone, are being threatened with picking up the costs for what is generally recognised as dysfunctional administration over decades which allowed endemic tax avoidance by wealthy Greeks and reckless lending by Greek banks.

We can see how hypocritical the case being made by Greece is when we realise that the citizens of these small eastern European countries, which are not among the richest in the world and have their own problems, did not threaten to pull the house down when they had financial difficulties.

The decision-makers in positions of power in government and banking in these poorer countries acted responsibly yet the injustice of their citizens being threatened with paying for the irresponsibility of their Greek equivalents is being ignored by much of the current commentary. – Yours, etc,

A LEAVY,

Sutton,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – So the Government is bringing in controls on the price at which alcohol can be sold. No doubt the “common good” will be invoked to justify this change in the law but the same common good is nowhere in earshot or sight when there is any mention of controls on the price of rents.

The free market works in mysterious ways. – Yours, etc,

JOHN SULLIVAN,

Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – One can only think that those most likely to benefit are publicans and supermarkets that would gladly avoid real competition. – Yours, etc,

DANNY RAFFERTY,

Dublin 5.

Sir, – There are only two occasions when I would write a letter to The Irish Times on the subject of alcohol prices. These occasions are when I am sober or when I am drunk.

Today is no exception. – Yours, etc,

DERMOT O’ROURKE,

Lucan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Frank Kalman has written (February 4th) in response to Elaine Keogh’s courageous article “Hopes for sick children who go abroad may be ‘unrealistic’” (Health, August 20th, 2014). The reference to the response rate of relapsed neuroblastoma ignores the context in the original article, which refers to “high-risk” neuroblastoma that has relapsed rather than relapsed neuroblastoma in general. However, it’s important to point out that the message of the article is not in any way about numbers.

It’s about relationships between families, the wider community and health professionals, and the truly holistic considerations of sending a child abroad for treatment. It’s about the psycho-social impact on and potential harm to patients and families – perhaps split apart by the logistics – and the stress of caring for a sick child far from supports and the caveat as to the motivations of those that may promise (or even be merely interpreted as promising) a miracle.

If a layperson were to attend the average basic cancer biology conference, within a day they would believe that cancer could be cured next week. The sad case is that many of the most promising leads in treatment will remain just that, rather than “real-world cures”.

As a former member of the team, I know that Crumlin hospital, which takes part in many clinical trials, can offer the most promising treatments given in the spirit of hope and advancement of medical science.

While nobody could blame parents for searching for the slightest hope in dire situations – and it is true that parents should indeed be proactive and “fight” as their child’s advocate – this process should not be seen as a conflict between doctor and parent but rather a dialogue; and surely one in which honesty is key.

It is marvellous that Mr Kalman’s daughter’s story is one of success. Fundraising can have a positive impact on multiple domains. Finally I should point out that while I have worked with the doctors whose opinions were expressed in the article, I write this letter independently and my views are my own. – Yours, etc,

Dr NEIL BARRETT

Cambridge Institute

for Medical Research,

Cambridge.

Sir, – Andrew Doggett (February 5th) brings up an important point regarding the lack of transparency in the purchase of houses. This is the biggest transaction is most people’s lives, yet we all have to take on face value the latest bids. It is a system that is open to huge abuse by both rogue bidders and unscrupulous estate agents.

I am certain most estate agents operate with the highest degree of integrity but they themselves are open to be duped in a competitive bidding situation under the current circumstances. This can drive up property prices, particularly in sought-after addresses.

A simple process whereby bidders would have to submit their bids in writing (via email or text), with these recorded by the estate agent for possible future audit, would be the sensible approach. The bidders would still remain anonymous to other competing bidders but it would undermine underhand attempts to drive up prices. – Yours, etc,

BARRY WALSH,

Blackrock, Cork.

Sir, – Congratulations on your powerful editorial “Responding to barbarity” (February 5th). I would like to draw attention to one small inaccuracy contained therein. In dealing with the execution without trial of republican hostages by the Free State authorities during the Civil War, you state that “Joseph McKelvey, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellowes,and Richard Barrett were hanged on the orders of the cabinet”. In fact these men were shot by firing squad in Mountjoy on December 8th, 1922. Apart from this minor point I agree with the view you express that taking and executing hostages “is immoral, and profoundly counterproductive”. – Yours, etc,

Fr IGGY O’DONOVAN,

Limerick.

Sir, – Inspired by Peadar MacMaghnais’s phrase “in these islands” (February 5th), I intend to drop the term the “Irish Sea” from my vocabulary and confine myself to the happy compromise of “in this sea”. – Yours, etc,

KEN STANLEY,

Castledermot,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – Further to “Stena Line confirms end of Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead route” (February 6th), what are we going to wave at now, when we walk to the end of the pier? – Yours, etc,

CONOR MACKEY,

Morden, Surrey.

Irish Independent:

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras looks on as his colleagues applaud during a parliament session of Syriza party lawmakers at the Greek Parliament in Athens yesterday (REUTERS/Kostas Tsironis)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras looks on as his colleagues applaud during a parliament session of Syriza party lawmakers at the Greek Parliament in Athens yesterday (REUTERS/Kostas Tsironis)

Much of the coverage of the post Greek election situation amounts to little more than an apologia for Greek threats to default on their self-inflicted debts and ask the citizens of other EU and eurozone countries to pay for it.

  • Go To

The narrative being promoted all over the media now is that of the newly elected Greek government attempting to intimidate its fellow members in the EU and especially those in the eurozone.

The present Greek government is demanding that the citizens of other eurozone countries pay the price for decades of irresponsibility by Greek governments and Greek banks.

Most eurozone members did not go bankrupt. They did not have to look for a bailout because the decision makers in charge of their governmental and financial institutions did not make reckless and irresponsible decisions.

Yet the taxpayers of some small eastern European countries, which are now in the eurozone, are being threatened with

picking up the costs for what is generally recognised as dysfunctional administration over decades which allowed endemic tax avoidance by wealthy Greeks and reckless lending by Greek banks.

We can see how hypocritical the case being made by Greece is when we realise that the citizens of these small eastern European countries, which are not among the richest in the world and have their own problems, did not threaten to pull the house down when they had financial difficulties.

The decision makers in positions of power in government and banking in these poorer countries acted responsibly, yet the injustice of their citizens being threatened with having to pay for the irresponsibility of their Greek counterparts is being ignored by much of the current commentary.

A Leavy1 Shielmartin drive

Sutton, Dublin 13

 

Help Jordan in its hour of need

The gruesome video showing the Jordanian pilot being burned alive by terrorists was excruciatingly painful to watch.

As a Jordanian citizen myself, I am filled with a sense of sorrow and unbearable revulsion at the ruthlessness, cowardice and depravity to which these terrorists have sunk.

The pilot stood with exemplary gallantry, defying his captives. The cruel and inhumane manner of his execution shows the true colours of the enemy we are all facing; an enemy which has nothing to do with true Islam.

After all, the brave pilot was a prisoner of war, who deserved better treatment enshrined in all universal laws, Islamic values and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed.

This heinous crime shows that we all have a responsibility to work assiduously to confront this fanatical death cult, and replace it with the true and tolerant message of Islam.

Most importantly, the world community has a moral duty to help Jordan in its hour of need; the country remains an oasis of stability, peace and serenity in a volatile region.

As King Abdullah II put it, “we Jordanians will unify our ranks and show the true character of the Jordanian people when we face hardships and plights, which will only strengthen us and reinforce our unity”.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2, United Kingdom

 

Gender quotas not the answer

A Leavy in asking “Was a nearly 90pc male Dáil, the decisions of which helped to bankrupt the country, elected on the basis of merit and expertise?” (Letters, Irish Independent, January 3) rightly criticises the sexual discrimination that has existed with regard to the selection of Dail candidates in recent years.

And what does he propose to counteract this sexual discrimination – the introduction of another form of sexual discrimination, aka gender quotas?

If you have a problem with sexual discrimination in favour of men, it doesn’t make sense that you support the introduction of sexual discrimination in favour of women.  Gender quotas, by their very nature, facilitate and encourage sexual discrimination.

Is this not precisely what advocates of gender quotas are seeking to address?

While it may well be true that better qualified Dáil candidates were not always chosen in the past (and I look forward to the day when we have more women in politics and put the era of the old boys’ networks and cronyism behind us), I would submit that the performance of the Dáil up to and during the bankruptcy of the State had more to do with the well-documented objectively identifiable deficiencies of the Dáil – for example a lack of expertise, groupthink and the whip system – than with its gender profile.

Candidates should be chosen on the basis of ability and merit, irrespective of gender.

Rob SadlierStocking Avenue

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

 

Remember the Commandments

Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Religion may be an excellent means of taming and training the perverse, obtuse and wicked biped race: but in the eyes of the friend of truth, every fraud, however pious, is still a fraud.”

All Abrahamic religions, by the very virtue of their timing, contain the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Even though they are originally from the Jewish faith, many an Irish schoolchild has had them etched on their brain.

One of the Commandments is “Thou shalt not kill”. This is a very simple instruction and whether one believes in God or ancient wisdom or even the function of law within society for the greater good, I think it’s fair to say that going around killing people is a bad idea.

And yet daily, even hourly, we are fed the news that man is ignoring the advice quoted above.

We were recently told about the horrific killing of a Jordanian pilot – who was a Muslim himself – and then the execution of two prisoners by the Jordanian government in retaliation for this. These are only the latest in a string of grotesque, macabre actions that seem to spring from the theatre of war that soldiers are so willing to perform in.

And isn’t the word of God to blame for it all? Funny that, when our teachings suggest something completely different.

Perhaps humanity and its strange habit of hanging modern interpretations on the words of prophets long dead has something to do with it?

Or perhaps those who seem to be educated in theology have gone and we have lost the most basic ability to interpret that which is so simply written? One could mention the first Commandment at this stage but then again who is any of us to judge the religious that scream blue murder – regardless of their Prophet’s words?

Perhaps we should just leave that to Solomon or someone else like that

Dermot Ryan Attymon

Athenry, Co Galway

 

Curbing drinkers’ harmless fun

The end is nigh for responsible stay-at-home tipplers if Leo Varadkar and his sycophantic cohorts in the Government introduce a minimum price for alcohol.

Pleasant leisure-time evenings of harmless fun and banter will be outlawed, as it will be far too expensive to consume even the smallest snifter.

However, the voting public will no doubt give Leo’s libation legislation their full alcohol-free verdict at the next general election – and we’ll all drink to that.

Now what’s the quickest way to Newry?

Vincent O’Connell

New Ross, Wexford

 

Raising a glass to new law

A new law to ban cheap alcohol – I’ll drink to that!

Kevin Devitte Mill Street,

Westport, Co Mayo

Ankle

February 5, 2015

5 Febuary 2015 Ankle

A quiet day my right foot is very sore arthritis.

Obituary:

Sir Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin Gilbert Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty

Sir Martin Gilbert, who has died aged 78, was a historian of authority and meticulous scholarship, whose output was dominated by his official biography of Sir Winston Churchill: six narrative volumes, 11 companion books of source material, a 981-page popular precis and 13 spin-offs.

Equally authoritative as a historian of Judaism, the Holocaust and the sweep of the 20th century, Gilbert was renowned for his ability to ferret out precisely what had happened, though some critics felt he paid too little attention to the “why”.

A committed Zionist and a proudly observant Jew, Gilbert’s writings about the travails of his people drew their force – to the annoyance of some co-religionists – from the enormity of the facts rather than an emotional involvement. Writing in support of Jewish “refuseniks” in the Soviet Union, however, he let his feelings go.

Gilbert was an Oxford graduate student when, in 1962, Sir Winston’s son Randolph – commissioned to write the biography – engaged him as a researcher; Lady Diana Cooper introduced him. Randolph had delivered only the first two volumes (an immense task in itself) when he died in 1968, leaving Gilbert £250.

Churchill’s grandson, Winston, and Lord Birkenhead, the son of F E Smith, were keen to take over, but the Chartwell Trust stuck with Gilbert. He undertook to complete the outstanding six volumes for a flat fee of £80,000 – out of which he would finance research – instead of royalties. By the time the final volume of the main series appeared in 1988, the project had taken Gilbert 26 years and generated nine million words over 25,000 pages. The precis, Churchill: A Life, appeared in 1991, and the most recent companion volume, covering the year 1942, in 2014. Six more were originally planned.

Gilbert – a Fellow of Merton College for 32 years, then from 1994 an honorary fellow – continued his own research alongside his work on Churchill, initially with Randolph in Suffolk. His first task on taking over was to shepherd into print the companion volumes to those Randolph had completed; these appeared under Randolph’s name.

Gilbert’s first narrative volume, Winston S Churchill: Volume Three: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916, appeared in 1971. Serialised in The Sunday Telegraph, it sold out in a fortnight. The reviews were enthusiastic, Michael Foot declaring: “Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill’s biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice.”

Maj-Gen Edward Spears wrote of the same volume: “From its pages emerges a living Churchill who towers above his fellow politicians and whose courage is that of a paladin whom nothing can dismay, yet whose fundamental tenderness peeps out in the letters to his wife.”

Research for that single volume (on which Randolph had started him in 1963) took Gilbert from Flanders to Turkey. His inquiries were exhaustive: Churchill’s resignation telegram to Asquith was not among the official records or in either man’s papers, and he eventually tracked it down in the Beaverbrook Library. The first draft of that volume was two million words, cut down to 300,000.

Sir Martin Gilbert (NEIL DRABBLE)

Gilbert’s non-judgmental portrayal of Churchill led to disputes with other historians. His thoroughness, too, aroused comment, notably when he ascertained from a 1930s laundry list that Churchill had paid a hitherto unknown visit to Beirut. Not content with editing all Churchill’s correspondence in parallel, he even compiled brief biographies of every one of the hundreds of people mentioned in the text.

In 1971 Churchill College, Cambridge, built a special air-conditioned home for Sir Winston’s papers, to which Gilbert had sole access. When, in 1995, the Heritage Lottery Fund purchased them from Churchill’s grandson to keep them in Britain, Gilbert welcomed the step.

Alongside Gilbert’s other output – he wrote some 90 books in all – further instalments of the Churchill biography appeared at regular intervals: Volume Four: The Stricken World, 1917-1922 (1975), Volume Five: Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939 (1979), Volume Six: Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (1983), Volume Seven: Road to Victory, 1941-1945 (1986) and Volume Eight: Never Despair, 1945-1965 (1988).

Volume Six brought Gilbert the Wolfson award; the publication of the final volume a snub from Margaret Thatcher. She barred her Cabinet from the launch because Heinemann was also publishing Peter Wright’s Spycatcher, which she had tried to ban. When funding for the companion volumes ran out in 1982, an American benefactor financed their publication.

Martin John Gilbert was born in London on October 25 1936, the son of Peter Gilbert, a jeweller, and his wife Marian. All his grandparents were born in Tsarist Russia. Nine months after war broke out, he was evacuated to Canada. Vivid memories of the crossing from Liverpool to Quebec sparked his later interest in the war.

After returning to Britain he attended Highgate School, where he was taught history by the Balkan expert Alan Palmer, and politics by the redoubtable Fabian T N Fox. After National Service with the Intelligence Corps he went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, taking a First in Modern History; one of his tutors was A J P Taylor.

In 1960 Gilbert was appointed a senior research scholar at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and two years later Merton made him a Fellow. He was already assisting Randolph Churchill when his first book was published, in 1963: this was The Appeasers , written with the Marxist Richard Gott, then at Chatham House. The Roots of Appeasement, casting its net wider, followed three years later. To Gilbert, the villain of the piece was Sir Horace Wilson, the government’s chief industrial adviser and Chamberlain’s emissary to Hitler.

Gilbert attracted criticism for the way he presented the case against Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and R A Butler; decades later, he would say that a lifetime of research had shown them to be even more culpable.

Without lessening his academic rigour, Gilbert found time to be the recent history correspondent for The Sunday Times, help research the BBC’s British Empire series (1968) and look through the draft of Harold Wilson’s book on the 1964-70 Labour government. “Sir Harold asked for comment,” said Gilbert. “I’ve never known anybody quite so receptive to suggestion.” He declined an invitation to be Anthony Eden’s official biographer .

Gilbert’s interest in Jewish history first showed in his Jewish History Atlas (1969), and his first major work was The Emergence of Jewish Statehood (1978). While researching his Atlas of the Holocaust (1982), he found a distant cousin in a Polish village who had been hidden from the Nazis in Warsaw as a child – and was now one of 50 Jews where there had been 30,000.

He took up the cause of the refuseniks with passion, writing the biography Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time (1986) and appearing before the UN Commission on Human Rights, where he clashed with Soviet delegates over the Kremlin’s refusal to let them leave.

John Major brought Gilbert to Downing Street as an adviser and “court chronicler”, and he helped to draft several speeches, also telling Tory rebels that Major was “a doughty fighter and a successful negotiator in a world where leadership counts”.

He was a member of the prime minister’s delegation to Israel – advising on the history of the Holocaust – and to Jordan, and sat in on Major’s talks with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Major confessed: “I do not know what I would have done without Martin Gilbert to keep me briefed on the Middle East.” In Washington with Major in 1995, he charted the progress of the “special relationship” after friction with the Clinton administration.

In 2009 Gilbert was appointed to Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq War and made a Privy Counsellor to give him full access to the evidence. Several MPs criticised the choice because Gilbert had once compared George W Bush and Tony Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill, but he proved a meticulous questioner of Blair about his motives and decisions.

Gilbert advised on the script of the Oscar-winning documentary Genocide (1982). He was historical adviser to Southern Pictures’ Winston Churchill: the Wilderness Years (1980-81), BBC television’s Auschwitz and the Allies (1981-82) and Yalta 1945 (1982-83). He also wrote and narrated the BBC’s four-part series Churchill (1989-91).

Over the years he held visiting professorships and fellowships at universities around the world . In 2002 President Bush invited him to lecture at the White House. In 1999 Oxford University conferred on Gilbert an honorary DLitt for “the totality of his work”. Churchill College made him an honorary fellow in 2008, and since 1978 he had been a governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He was appointed CBE in 1990 and knighted in 1995.

Martin Gilbert married first, in 1963, Helen Robinson, with whom he had a daughter. In 1974 he married Susan Sacher, great-granddaughter of Lord Marks, the founder of Marks & Spencer; they had two sons. In 2005 he married, thirdly, the Holocaust historian Esther Poznansky.

Sir Martin Gilbert, born October 25 1936, died February 3 2015

Guardian:

Campaigners march on City Hall to demand solution to housing crisis
Tenants, housing campaigners and trade union activists demand solutions to London’s housing crisis on the March for Homes on 31 Janaury. Photograph: Mark Kerrison/Corbis

While the stupidity of the Tory government’s change in relation to affordable housing is obvious to all – even Tories dealing with the issues, such as planners at Westminster council – who is going to even try to deal with the house-price madness (Property forms profit as home rules change, 2 February)? Average house prices in London are now far beyond even bankers and others on £100,000-a-year salaries: an average flat in north-west London costs over £900,000. Who let this happen and, more important, who is going to do anything about this ludicrous situation?

Not the Tories, since Brandon Lewis, the Conservative housing minister, talks about requirements for “affordable” flats in new developments as “a stealth tax” that hindered regeneration and encouraged empty properties. And that is in relation to the developers’ notion of affordable, at 80% of local prices. The crude mansion tax from Labour might have some impact on prices at the top end, but even a complete revision in council tax will not affect these prices without hitting every householder equally hard. We did nothing to earn the increased values of our flats, this is just a side effect of all the funny money looking to London for a safe haven for their mostly ill-gotten gains, rich Greeks included.

Is there an economist in the house (or House), the Treasury, the Bank of England with any idea what to do about this insanity? Apparently not.
David Reed
London

Congratulations to the Guardian for exposing the loss of affordable housing that has resulted from the government’s successive changes to planning law.

The latest changes to planning law are in a series that have progressively created major loopholes to excuse developers from providing affordable housing. Just south of Sutton station, in south London, there is an office building, empty for some years, which the developers propose to convert to 128 luxury flats. The day before Sutton council’s planning committee was to approve the scheme, which included a significant number of affordable homes, the developers withdrew the scheme. They had spotted the advantages to them if they followed a newly created route called “prior approval” that has now forced the council to accept the application with zero affordable homes included.

On one calculation, our borough may have lost up to 500 affordable homes due to that legislation. The latest changes you highlight are further steps on a path that is seriously undermining the efforts of local authorities to help those in dire need of better housing.
Councillor Richard Clifton
Chair of planning committee, London borough of Sutton

It is good to see the Westminster Property Group, with its big ticket property club members, supporting more social housing in central London. But central London’s affordable homes shortfall is a special case, which has no general case application on a nationwide basis.

Brandon Lewis, the housing minister, is nearer the mark elsewhere. Excessive section 106 tariffs and the affordable homes burden do push many projects into the non-viable basket. Simply look at the numbers; that is to say the house sale proceeds from which these public benefits are funded. Central London sale values, as a rough and ready average, are £1,500 per square foot. Put differently, a modest, 1, 000sq ft three-bed town house or flat will cost the buyer £1.5m, or more with stamp duty on top. Put 15 of them on to an acre, and the gross receipts are £22m. After building costs, profit margin and land, there is still scope to fund some affordable homes.

Apply the same model in the home counties, for example in Reading, where the sale price for the same home will be nearer £350psf. What is more, density will also be about one third lower. The gross receipts in this case are £3.5m, less than 20% of the value generated by an acre in central London. Far less margin left over here, particularly if developers overpay for their land. Then they will just wait.

Until local authorities with supplies of unrestricted, white land challenge the vested interests, and decide to release far more of it for housebuilding, the affordability crisis will continue. This initiative is near impossible for Tory authorities in rural area, where the nimby lobby has the final veto.
Ian Campbell
Richmond upon Thames, Surrey

The dearth of genuinely affordable homes to buy or to rent can only be made worse by the rule changes that allow property firms to reduce, or even avoid, making contributions to build affordable housing. Recent data from London’s Poverty Profile – independent research carried out by the New Policy Institute and funded by us – reveals that only seven London boroughs met their target for affordable home completions from 2010 to 2013. This lack of affordable housing is creating serious problems in the capital; after housing costs are taken into account, 28% of Londoners are now living in poverty. We need to build more homes that people can actually afford.
Mubin Haq
Director of policy and grants, Trust for London

In the early 1970s, we took out a mortgage two and a half times my salary to buy a home to live in. That same home is now valued at 60 times that amount. One reason for huge increases in the prices of homes is that when final salary pension schemes were scrapped people looked to property as an alternative nest egg to supplement their pension. A shame then that John Lewis is adding fuel to that fire (John Lewis scraps final salary pension, 3 February).
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

Man Using an Inhaler
A man using an asthma inhaler. ‘Last year, the National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed that two-thirds of asthma deaths were preventable with routine care.’ Photograph: Corbis

Your report claiming that “1 million people in the UK may have been wrongly diagnosed with asthma” (29 January) is unhelpful and, arguably, irresponsible. In reality, asthma diagnosis is complex, and many people who do have it may not show clear signs on clinical testing. Reporting otherwise means that millions of people with asthma who do need treatment have been left with uncertainty about their diagnosis and care. What is in no doubt is that care must improve. Only last year, the National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed shockingly that two-thirds of asthma deaths were preventable with routine care. This is supported by even more recent findings from Asthma UK, which revealed that eight out of 10 people in the UK are not receiving care that meets even the most basic clinical standards. Asthma is serious and the complacency that leads such to headlines has to stop.
Dr Robert Niven
Senior lecturer in respiratory medicine at the University Hospital of South Manchester
Dr Mark Levy
General practitioner with an interest in asthma
Ann-Louise Caress
Professor of nursing at the University of Manchester and University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust
Andrew Woodcock
Professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester
Dr Angela Simpson
Professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester
Monica Fletcher
Chief executive, Education for Health

Gordon Brown
Former prime minister Gordon Brown in Scotland this week. ‘His devolution settlement created the tensions and conflicts that are placing such a strain on the union today,’ writes David Davis. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

It is an act of extraordinary political gall for former prime minister Gordon Brown to criticise William Hague’s proposed English votes for English laws (Scotland didn’t kill off the United Kingdom – but Cameron would, 4 February) when it was his devolution settlement, designed to shore up Scottish Labour’s vote, that created the tensions and conflicts that are placing such a strain on the union today.

As chairman of the public accounts committee, I raised directly with Mr Brown the problems that would be caused by denying the Scottish parliament a sufficient tax base to fund its legislative programme, relying instead on drawing from general UK taxation. Mr Brown, with characteristic hubris, rejected these concerns out of hand, and we are now trying belatedly to patch up his mistakes.

He complains that the current proposals will leave us with two classes of MP. This is the fault of the system he helped to create. Now, either we have two classes of MP, so feared by Mr Brown, or we have two classes of citizen, where some are afforded greater representation than others.

Of course, in reality the only way to fully address the rising tensions within our union would be to move towards a more federal style system. It is a shame that this choice is not being presented to the public by either party.
David Davis MP
Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

In the report about William Hague’s proposals (3 February) I see no indication of how members of the upper house will be allowed to vote. Will they have to declare their allegiance beforehand to England or Wales or Scotland and so on? Or will all those with a name beginning Mc or Mac be presumed to be Scottish and all others English?
Revd Barry Parker
Leeds

Labour leader Ed Miliband: detractors are only helping the Tories, says W Stephen Gilbert. Photograp
Labour leader Ed Miliband: detractors are only helping the Tories, says W Stephen Gilbert. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Straight after the 1997 election, Tony Blair held meetings with backbenchers at Downing Street. In the course of the exchanges, the incoming prime minister said to me that he hoped any criticism I might have in the future would be put privately. Would it not be useful if those who held the most senior jobs in that government did the same over any differences with the position the party is now taking – all the more so with under 100 days to the election?
David Winnick MP
Labour, Walsall North

Yet another supposedly left-sympathising commentator airs his disdain of Labour’s electoral chances in good time to be able to say “told you so” on 8 May (Labour under Miliband failing on bigger scale than in 1992, says Hare, 31 January). Do these people not perceive that there is little honour in self-fulfilling prophecies? Rather than hugging to themselves their brilliance at foresight – and Sir David Hare (he accepted the knighthood from the Blairites) loses no time in telling us how on-the-money his plays always are – it would be more useful if all those who want an end to Cameron’s premiership were to keep their self-indulgences to themselves and row in the same direction as those of us who want Miliband to have the opportunity to prove himself.
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

There have been many complaints about the essentially cosmetic changes to the Guardian’s website (Open door, 2 February). Yet in a change that coincides with the launch of the general election campaign and may have to do with the Guardian’s heart and soul there has been plenty of disturbing silence. I refer to the arrival of one regular Tory guest columnist, Matthew d’Ancona, and one intermittent, Anne McElvoy, both normally to be found rubbishing Labour in the right-of-centre London Evening Standard, but now carrying on their business in the Guardian.

With the entire might and circulation of the national press, aside from the Guardian, Independent and Mirror, already rampantly Conservative, what on Earth explains the decision to import these unlovely, predictable cuckoos into your nest?
Nicholas de Jongh
London

 


Tom Clark is right (Society, 28 January) to highlight the need for young people to vote. With 4 million under-25s not registered it is no wonder the major political parties tend to favour policies that support older voters. But that is starting to change, with many politicians now openly courting the votes of young people. The question will be whether young people wake up to the importance of May’s general election in time. The Centrepoint Parliament is working with other young people supported by Centrepoint through our You Got a Problem campaign to show how decisions made at Westminster have a direct impact on young lives. And, more important, their views can make a difference. On 5 February we’ll be working with Bite the Ballot as part of National Voter Registration Day to try to register 250,000 people in a single day. If we can achieve this aim then it will be impossible for politicians of any parties to ignore the voice of young people during the election campaign.
Ben Wardlaw
Chair, Centrepoint Parliament

What's that all about? A doctor writes … Photograph: Dmitriy Shironosov/Alamy
What’s that all about? A doctor writes … Photograph: Dmitriy Shironosov/Alam

Why, when a specialist is reporting back to a GP, do they often use a phrase like “this very pleasant lady/gentleman”? Is it some kind of code, and if so, what for?

Janet Fraser, Twickenham

Post your answers – and new questions – below or email them to nq@theguardian.com. Please include name, address and phone number

Independent:

 

Times:

Sir, In arguing about whether tuition fees should be capped at £6,000 or £9,000 a year, both the Labour party and Universities UK miss the point (“Labour presses ahead with plan to cut fees”, Feb 3). The real issue is value for money — and the big number here is the increase in the proportion of graduates still in non-graduate level employment more than five years after graduating — up from 28 per cent in 2001 to 34 per cent in 2013. The jobs market has changed, and an over-regulated, poorly incentivised university system has not adjusted.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, says he is a fan of a graduate tax, but this would do nothing to improve teaching quality unless the revenue flows back to each graduate’s alma mater. Only if this happens is there is a nexus between the fortunes of the graduate and the university, aligning their interests over many years.

Peter Ainsworth
London SE1

Sir, Your leader (Feb 3) misses the obvious truth about who should pay for the survival of the English higher education establishment. While an army of young graduates will soon be hitting the streets, each with a £50,000 debt — or £100,000-plus for a couple possibly thinking of bringing up a family — the real beneficiaries are those lucky enough to have graduated 15 years ago or so, who are enjoying all the benefits of a free education leading to large salaries, but who have been relieved of the burden of providing a similar benefit to those who followed them. What justification can there be, if it is acknowledged that an educated population is a benefit for our whole society, for excusing these people from sharing in its ongoing cost?

A graduate tax is a sensible suggestion only if it applies to all graduates, irrespective of generation. The current system is unfair, especially when one considers the current emphasis on apprenticeships, in which participants are paid to be educated, and the large number of new working-class graduates with few family assets to fall back on.

Phil Clement
Horsham, W Sussex

Sir, The views expressed by a group of vice-chancellors (letter, Feb 2) do not align with those of many members of the academic community. On the contrary, a large body of academics, of all political persuasions, welcomes the fact that the proposed policy challenges the idea that the current system is inevitable or set in stone.

The urgent need to query the existing system is, furthermore, backed up by the Higher Education Commission’s report Too Good to Fail, in which the advantages and disadvantages of various scenarios are evaluated. The commission noted that a major drawback of the current model of funding is that it exacerbates intergenerational inequality by withdrawing from a generation which had most or all of its tuition fees paid by an older generation of taxpayers the burden of passing on the same advantage to the younger generation.

Gordon Campbell, University of Leicester

Dorothy Bishop, University of Oxford

Tim Horder, University of Oxford

Howard Hotson, University of Oxford

Sir Peter Scott, UCL Institute of Education

Sir Keith Thomas, University of Oxford

Rowan Tomlinson, University of Bristol

on behalf of the Council for the Defence of British Universities

Sir, Ideally, the state should subsidise students that it wishes to see educated, and not institutions, for reasons well understood by those concerned to see universities free to question whatever they choose to question. The state may have an interest in ensuring that there is no differentiation in fee between subjects, but university autonomy would benefit if there were no cap at all. An implicit subsidy through unredeemed student debt is far less dangerous to academic freedom than direct subsidy.

John Barnes
Co-author, Strategies for Higher Education, Etchingham, E Sussex
Sir, Peter Brookes’s cartoon showing Labour figures as a University Challenge team (Feb 3) has Ed Miliband out on the left and Chuka Umunna in the captain’s seat. Does Mr Brookes know something?

Andrew Maywood
Twickenham

Pupils should have the option for the systematic study of humanism in GCSE, AS and A-level religious studies, these religious leaders say

Sir, As religious leaders we wish to express our support for proposals to allow students to have the option for the systematic study of humanism in GCSE, AS and A-level religious studies, and for detailed content on humanism to be added alongside that which exists for the principal world religions. Such a change would not compel anyone to systematically study non-religious worldviews or make it possible to do so for the whole of a qualification, but it would allow young people to study a more representative sample of major worldviews common in Britain today.

Baron Williams of Oystermouth

Baron Harries of Pentregarth

The Rev Professor Keith Ward Regius Professor Emeritus of Divinity, University of Oxford

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain Maidenhead Synagogue

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers Movement for Reform Judaism

Plus a further 23 signatories whose names are at thetimes.co.uk/letters

For a true picture of the character of Thomas More, you have to go back to the history books

Sir, Hilary Mantel’s first novel in the series was published six years ago, so why are two Roman Catholic bishops complaining about her portrayal of Thomas More only after seeing Wolf Hall on television (report, Feb 3)? The bishops might console themselves with the rosy picture of More presented by Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons (1966). However, neither Bolt nor Mantel are accurate about how Tudor theologians actually thought and spoke; you need to read history books for that.

Ralph Lloyd-Jones

Nottingham

A closer precedent for HMS Victory than the Vasa is the Mary Rose, now housed brilliantly in its new museum

Sir, A closer precedent for HMS Victory than the Vasa (letter, Feb 4) is the Mary Rose, now housed brilliantly in its new museum alongside Victory.

Had both projects been combined, the prospect of truly unique world-class conservation, learning and architectural experiences would surely have guaranteed both their futures.

Peter Saunders

Curator emeritus, Salisbury Museum

When, and why, did the British start using the term ‘frogs’ to describe the French?

Sir, Patrick Kidd (Times2, Feb 2) says that the British started to mock the French as “frogs” after the publication of an anonymous print in 1799. However, the scholar Diana Poulton, remarking on the popular tune of the 16th century, the Frog Galliard, observes: “It is a well-known fact that Queen Elizabeth often referred to the Duc d’Alençon (later Duc d’Anjou) as ‘her frog’, and it could be that the tune . . . was named after the last and most persistent of her suitors.”

Graham Wade

Withernsea, E Yorks

 

Telegraph:

Britain's spending on defence will fall to 1.88 per cent of GDP

Britain’s spending on defence is predicted to fall to 1.88 per cent of GDP Photo: ALAMY

SIR – Con Coughlin asks: “Can Britain still defend itself?” The simple answer is: “No.”

During the last days of the Falklands conflict our ground troops were stretched to the limit. I joined the British Army in 1986 and the total land forces strength was then 176,000 men. We currently stand at 100,000, if that. We have more admirals than vessels, little more than a token air force and an apparent lack of will to defend our interests effectively.

Almost none of our visible politicians have any experience of military service, or, therefore, an appreciation of the importance of preparedness for conflict.

Simon Crowley
Kemsing, Kent

SIR – We have seldom been in so dangerous a predicament. With historical hatreds lurking in the background and new threats coming to the fore, we approach a general election in the same spirit as if we merely had to say to the children that we could not afford to give them any more soldiers to play with.

Harry Leigh-Dugmore
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire

SIR – None of the main political parties is interested in the needs of the Armed Forces. All three of them place third-world interests above the defence of the realm. A century ago that would surely have been tantamount to treason.

Only Ukip is committed to restoring defence expenditure to pre-2010 levels.

Mark Harland
Scarborough, North Yorkshire

SIR – On reading Mr Coughlin’s article I was reminded of a visit to Timna, the ancient capital city of Qataban, in what was to become South Yemen.

In its time it had been the centre of one of the oldest and most advanced civilisations in the Arab world. Now all that remains are some impressive outer ramparts and some foundations of buildings. Trade along the spice route, which the city dominated, brought such a level of prosperity that, over time, the need to maintain a strong defence force was ignored. It was then unable to defend itself from attack by the Himyarites, who razed the city to the ground.

Mike Anderson
Bathpool, Cornwall

SIR – The duty of a government is to make the necessary provision to defend the country and to protect its people. Is no politician ready to speak up for our superb Armed Forces and the police?

David Binsted
London SE21

SIR – If we awoke tomorrow morning to find ourselves surrounded by the combined navies of Andorra, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, do we have the capabilities to hold off an attack?

Alan Mosey
Over Kellet, Lancashire

Winterbourne freeze

SIR – We, the families whose loved ones were patients at the Winterbourne View private hospital (where systematic abuse by staff members was uncovered in 2011) or are currently patients at other similar assessment and treatment units, are bitterly disappointed by the lack of a clear plan to move people away from these units and into their communities.

The Government assured us and the charities supporting us that places like Winterbourne View would be closed down, but nearly four years on we are seeing more people going into these kinds of units than are coming out. For so many of us, what kept us going was the hope that the suffering of our loved ones would lead to change and stop the suffering of others. However, the scandal continues.

NHS England’s recent report recognised the scale of the problem, but this is not enough. We need this inappropriate system of care to be ended and we must be told when this will happen.

Jan Tregelles
Emma Garrod
Steve Sollars
Veronica Dunn
David Jack
Jill Jack
Helen Cherry
Wendy Fiander
Ann Earley
Sue Battin
Rachael Torrance
Lynne McCarrick
Luke McCarrick
Phillip Wills
Shahana Hussain

Family members of patients at Winterbourne View or other assessment and treatment units
Jan Tregelles

Chief Executive, Mencap
Vivien Cooper
Chief Executive, The Challenging Behaviour Foundation

Mystery ‘bird strike’ leaves pilot spitting feathers

it a bird? A flock of Canada geese and a formation of jet planes during an air show (ALAMY)

SIR – Ian Dick’s near miss with a fish (Letters, January 31) reminded me of an incident while I was co-pilot of a helicopter in Northern Ireland in the Seventies.

We were unloading some troops and their kit in a field near the border when one of them managed to hurl a sleeping bag through the turning rotors. My boss, who was at the controls, looked up to see an explosion of feathers. He was convinced that we had just hit a bird – a highly unlikely event for a stationary helicopter.

The soldiers were despatched to pick up the remains of the unfortunate “bird”, which was then sent off to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for analysis. Their reply did little more than question the sobriety of the pilot.

Paul Luker
Hook, Hampshire

SIR – On operations during the Second World War, my father used to fly at very low level up enemy estuaries. On his return, the station commander, seeing salt and mud splashes on the aircraft, would comment: “I see you’ve been boating again, Smales.”

Peter Smales
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Employing ex-prisoners

SIR – Timpson, the cobbler and key cutter, is an impressive company for many reasons, particularly its programme of employment of ex-offenders.

Government figures show that the cost of reoffending by recently released prisoners is between £9.5 and £13 billion per year. The average cost of convicting a prisoner is £65,000 and the average cost for each year in custody is £40,000. Employment drastically reduces reoffending. Having attended a presentation by John Timpson, the chief executive of Timpson, I understand that former prisoners are among the company’s most hard-working and successful employees. They are no doubt grateful to be given the opportunity.

What is clear is that companies enlightened enough to provide that opportunity can find that it is a win-win-win situation: for the employee, the employer and for the country.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

Waste of energy

SIR – I recently contacted Ofgem to complain that a certain supplier was charging me 45 per cent more than other suppliers of liquid petroleum gas while claiming to pride itself in offering a competitive price.

Ofgem suggested that after taking the issue up with my supplier, which I duly did to no avail, I should contact Ombudsman Services: Energy and they would help. Imagine my surprise when Ombudsman Services told me that as the supplier did not subscribe to their service they could not help me.

What is the use of a monitoring body if a supplier is not obliged to subscribe to it?

Rowan Simmonds
Marlborough, Wiltshire

Schools’ corporate focus undermines core values

Mrs Morgan said ‘No school should be exempt from promoting fundamental British values’ (EDDIE MULHOLLAND)

SIR – British values are under attack from more directions than Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, seems to think.

With independent schools increasingly adopting corporate models in order to make headlines in the global market, it seems that capitalism is our new idol, and heads are no longer head teachers but chief executives. Such a shift places values such as honesty, trust, loyalty and altruism in precarious positions.

Susan Wigmore
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

SIR – I can’t help feeling that the targets for 11-year-olds being set by Nicky Morgan are not particularly ambitious: well behind what was required for the 11-plus, well behind the syllabus in the private sector and quite patronising.

Charles Pugh
London SW1

SIR – On being asked what he’d done at school one day, my brother, then aged six, replied he’d liked the shouting lesson best.

It emerged that the class had been chanting the times tables. My brother later took a degree in electrical engineering and did not become the town crier.

Dinah McIlroy
Lesbury, Northumberland

SIR – I would love to see a front-page headline reading: “Cameron: We’ll take control of mediocre power companies.”

John McWhan
Nantwich, Cheshire

Road to disaster

SIR – I agree with the letter from Professor Keith Day (Letters, February 2) about the inefficient use of potato peelers on television.

I get more steamed up by the length of time that car drivers in soaps and the like spend looking across at their passengers while talking. In real life they would be involved in a crash very early on in the conversation.

John D Bland
Littleover, Derbyshire

SIR – Another agonisingly slow activity in television dramas and historical documentaries is writing with a quill pen.

This featured frequently in David Starkey’s Magna Carta last week, where the scribe appeared to be still struggling with lesson one in his calligraphy course. At that speed I shudder to think how long it would have taken to write out even one copy of Magna Carta, let alone entire books.

Karin Proudfoot
Fawkham, Kent

Karate chopped

Varsha Vinod, five year-old karate blackbelt (CATERS)

SIR – The Department for Education is proposing to remove a number of popular sports, including judo and karate, from the GCSE physical education syllabus (report, February 2).

My grandson started training with a local karate group when he was nine. The physical and mental benefits were apparent almost immediately and included improved concentration, growing self-discipline and vastly increased confidence.

He had to follow instructions in Japanese and the sport encouraged the appreciation of a different culture, which, unlike some of our national sports, actively promotes courtesy and respect for others. Training sessions also include both girls and boys.

Judith Hicks
Birmingham

Brotherly love

SIR – In order to address any possible jealousy when I was born, my parents told my brother that they would choose the first name of his new brother but he could choose the second name.

Christopher Robin Berry
London SE21

Good honest grub

SIR – Pub menus seem to abound in unintended humour of the artesian cheeses” sort (Letters, February 2).

One of our locals features a dish including “candid beetroot”. Another rather nice hotel bar in the area has a wine described as having “exotic notes of melon and leeches”.

Mike Cooper
Market Harborough, Leicestershire

SIR – Last Christmas our local pub was advertising aborigines on the menu.

They did mean aubergines. I hope.

Mary Eveleigh
Parkgate, Cheshire

 

Globe and Mail:

Charles Wright

Why is CPR being used for end-of-life care?

Irish Times:

Sir, – The alcohol policy proposals announced yesterday and covered extensively in The Irish Times (“Government moves against cheap drink sales”, February 4th) are identical to those announced by the Government on October 24th, 2013; they are also broadly the same as the proposals accepted by Government on foot of the National Substance Misuse Strategy of February 2012. Indeed, they have much in common with previous public health proposals on this issue stretching back over the past 20 years.

Maybe the Government is finally going to do something on this matter, but is it a coincidence that this week’s announcement was made the day after Groundhog Day? – Yours, etc,

SHANE BUTLER,

School of Social Work

and Social Policy,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – With regard to the Government’s proposal to introduce restrictions on the sale of cheap alcohol, might I suggest that these restrictions be introduced on a sliding scale for first-time drinkers? It would be a shame to see this demographic locked out of the alcohol market. Or not locked, as the case may be. – Yours, etc,

RONAN GLYNN,

Rathmines,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – I note that the “creeping prohibition” of alcohol is to begin, much as it did with tobacco 10 years ago. Prices will rise, availability will be curtailed and advertising will be restricted. Doubtless that is only the beginning.

However the term “cheap alcohol” is a relative one. The supermarket pricing for alcohol may seem cheap to a TD or the chief executive of a national charity, but to those we are told are availing of these offers, it is still expensive. Rigging the price even higher will only ensure that the better-off can continue to buy as they please while the poor and middle classes will be priced out.

More importantly, however, nobody is asking why sections of society are seeking solace in affordable alcohol. Are they searching for a temporary break from a stress-filled life? Could it be the one bit of happiness they can look forward to in a week?

However, those addicted to alcohol will need it rather than want it so they will pay the higher price and other obligations may be neglected, causing problems elsewhere.

The reaction of young people to this move will be fascinating to see as well. According to some reports, we are awash with all sorts of dangerous illegal drugs aimed squarely at the young. Will expensive alcohol lead them to explore an alternative “buzz”? Perhaps affordable alcohol could, in fact, be keeping the lid on simmering resentments all over the country and soothing frayed nerves. As humans, we need our moments of escapism.

I suggest that maybe we should be looking instead at “why we over-drink?” not “what we pay for it?” Irresponsible drinking is a symptom of a problem to be addressed, but not the problem itself. Are we not looking at the hole and not the doughnut? – Yours, etc,

JOHN MALLON,

Mayfield,

Cork.

Sir, – While welcoming the proposed introduction of minimum pricing, one unwelcome outcome may be a huge increase in profit margins for brewers and off-licences.

It would be infinitely preferable if a mechanism could be devised whereby the Government imposed the increased cost as a health levy, which should be ring-fenced for health and alcoholism treatment purposes.

This, after all, is predominantly a health issue and such a levy can be logically justified. – Yours, etc,

PETER MOLLOY,

Glenageary,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – The letter on alcohol and sport sponsorship by Dr Michael Loftus (January 31st) is extreme in language, does not fully represent the situation and does not serve his argument well.

It is incorrect to say the industry has enormous profits. Many in the drinks industry are craft distillers and brewers eking a living to break even, creating countless hundreds of jobs across rural and urban Ireland. The industry in Ireland is saddled with the most penal excise taxes on alcohol in the OECD, and a bottle of Irish whiskey is now $15 less expensive in Manhattan than it is in Dublin.

As a result there have been several hundred job losses, particularly by the multinationals who have downsized their domestic Ireland operations or exited in response to the significant falls in domestic alcohol sales.

But for the growth in export markets where a more balanced and responsible attitude to the drinks industry prevails, there would be no industry in Ireland.

Exaggerated and prohibitionist agendas are not what the people want and certainly do not serve the promotion of reasoned argument.

Yes to responsible alcohol consumption. And to more reasoned arguments by the anti-alcohol activists, – Yours, etc,

PATRICK J RIGNEY,

Drumshanbo,

Co Leitrim.

Sir, – I applaud Dr Michael J Loftus in his justified condemnation of the Government climbdown in refusing to ban the alcohol industry’s sponsorship of sports. I cannot understand how associating alcohol and sport can be seen as acceptable. Surely it is evident that alcohol and sport are incompatible? Anyone seriously interested in advancing in a sporting career will not be advised to indulge in alcohol.

As Dr Loftus rightly points out, from his experience as a doctor and a coroner, and having over very many years seen the effects of alcohol abuse, it is unbelievable that Ministers for Health, Children, Social Protection and Justice can continue to permit this sponsorship. Their spinelessness is something to observe. – Yours, etc,

MARY STEWART,

Ardeskin,

Donegal.

A chara, – Brian Tobin references “an abundance of research since the 1970s” which allegedly shows that children do not require “dual-gender parenting” (“Why ‘child welfare concerns’ are not a valid reason to oppose same-sex marriage referendum”, Opinion & Analysis, February 2nd). It is a pity that he did not decide to examine any of these studies in greater detail, as the majority of them suffer from serious methodological flaws.

In a study entitled “Nontraditional Families and Childhood Progress through School”, published in the journal Demography and available on the website of the US National Institute for Health, Michael J Rosenfeld gives an overview of 45 studies on same-sex parenting and outcomes of children prior to 2010. Some of the problems with this research include “universally small sample sizes of children” (the studies look at on average only 39 children raised by same-sex couples) and a tendency in many of the earlier studies and some of the later ones to rely upon convenience sampling, often focusing mainly on same-sex parents from a higher socioeconomic bracket. In some cases, the studies even lacked a married heterosexual control group for comparison, making the results utterly meaningless.

Some of the more recent surveys have been shown to have similar flaws too. As such, these studies do not provide a sound basis for arguing for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum. – Is mise,

RYAN CONNOLLY,

Ranelagh,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Dr Brian Tobin’s implied assertion that same-sex parenting is not detrimental child welfare is not in fact substantiated by research since the 1970s, as he claims. Data on the long-term outcomes of children placed in same-sex households are sparse and do not bear out Dr Tobin’s contention.

The study by the Australian Psychological Society that Dr Tobin seemingly relies on has critical design flaws. For instance, whereas the heterosexual parents were sampled at random and the sample varies in the quality of parenting for analysis, the same-sex parenting sample was based on applications from same-sex couples. The temptation to report positive assessments could be elevated in this self-selected sample. There is a risk of “social desirability bias”, the tendency to portray oneself as better than one actually is.

The issue of child welfare in the context of gay marriage is more complex than Dr Tobin’s article proposes. Katy Faust, who serves on the Academic and Testimonial Councils of the International Children’s Rights Institute, was raised by her mother and her lesbian partner. She writes: “Talk to any child with gay parents, especially those old enough to reflect on their experiences. If you ask a child raised by a lesbian couple if they love their two moms, you’ll probably get a resounding ‘yes!’ Ask about their father, and you are in for either painful silence, a confession of gut-wrenching longing, or the recognition that they have a father that they wish they could see more often. The one thing that you will not hear is indifference.” – Yours, etc,

NEIL BRAY,

Cappamore,

Co Limerick.

Sir, – David O’Brien (February 3rd) states that “it is not possible to redefine marriage”. However this is exactly what has taken place in California, where, to make everyone feel more equal, all mention of the words “husband” and “wife” has been removed from state laws. Is the wording of the marriage referendum a precursor to the same thing happening here? – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS O’CALLAGHAN,

Carlow.

Sir, – The controversy over “marriage” seems rather absurd in the light of history. State oversight of marriage is relatively modern – 1753 in England (later still in Ireland) – primarily in order to bestow rights on women and children, and incidentally to clarify exactly which “wife” of a Royal Navy sailor was entitled to draw down his pay whilst at sea. Prior to that only the wealthy indulged in formal marriage, which comprised an exhaustive legal contract regarding dowries, inheritance and a widow’s rights. Indeed the Catholic Church itself only adopted marriage as a sacrament in 1563. Meanwhile the vast majority of ordinary couples simply lived together despite attempts by government to promote recorded marriage via the established church.

Whilst churches have administered the sacrament of marriage, the state has confined itself to extending the rights of wives and children, especially to financial support. As far as the state is concerned, the marriage ceremony merely triggers a range of rights aimed at ensuring children and family are protected, particularly from errant fathers.

What gay couples are seeking is apparently the confirmation that their relationships are sacred to them. Ironically, however, a state redefinition of marriage would merely trigger rights which in nearly every case are bizarrely irrelevant to their situation, and incidentally confirm that politics is the refuge of the ridiculous. But it does not undermine the sacrament of heterosexual marriage unless religious authorities choose to do so.

In order to cater for the modern age we really need to revert to the pre-1753 position – couples living together and producing or legally adopting children are de facto married. They should be required to register their status and thus ensure that facts, not ceremonies, determine the rights and responsibilities and of children and parents. Other couples of all descriptions neither require nor merit special treatment. – Yours, etc,

BILL BAILEY,

Ballineen,

Co Cork.

Sir, – In response to Jim Cosgrove (February 4th), does anyone seriously think that an assessment of an adult citizen’s competency based solely on age is an appropriate argument? It is a total nonsense. – Yours, etc,

RICHARD SCRIVEN,

Ballinlough, Cork.

Sir, – There is a place for political stunts as we witness the death throes of an increasingly clueless Government. But the Constitution is not one of them. And why 21, by the way? Why not 18, while we’re at it? Or is that a gimmick for another day? – Yours, etc,

JAMES O’KEEFE,

Crumlin,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – Carl O’Brien states that more than 8,000 cases of child abuse, neglect and welfare concerns over children at risk are waiting to be allocated a social worker (“Concern over child protection backlog”, February 2nd).

Surely this state of affairs makes a mockery of the passing of the children’s rights referendum: “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights”.

This neglect will undoubtedly come back to haunt us as a society. – Yours, etc,

EILEEN McDERMOTT,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Every time a potential buyer places a bid against a property with an estate agent, this has the effect of increasing the actual price of the property for the eventual successful buyer. However there is no legal legislation in place that regulates this process of bidding against a property which is up for sale. This has the effect that all such offers are only accepted in good faith by the estate agent.

It is generally accepted that the purchase of our homes is the most expensive financial transaction for most people, barring serious illness of course. So why is there no current legal framework in place to protect the actual bidding process for all mutual parties to the sale? Perhaps your readers feel as I do that this current process is also a contributor to the high cost of property transactions here in Ireland and should now be examined by the Government. – Yours, etc,

ANDREW DOGGETT,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.

Sir, – I was disappointed to read that Senator John Crown (Independent) and Senator Averil Power (Fianna Fáil) are introducing a Bill to ban e-cigarettes from the workplace (“E-cigarette regulation proposed in new Bill”, January 30th). I am surprised at this knee-jerk reaction to what is probably the most invaluable aid yet developed to helping people stop smoking. And all on the basis that their long-term effects cannot yet be shown to be safe.

I have just researched the long-term safety aspects involved in handling sheets of paper. As of this time there is no evidence that this practice involves no untoward side-effects. It is for this reason that I am sending you this missive via email rather than letter. Just to be sure. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN MADDEN,

Carndonagh, Co Donegal.

A chara, – Dr Daire Keogh, president of St Patrick’s College, is quoted as saying of the new St Patrick’s campus of Dublin City University: “There will be nothing in the British Isles and practically nothing in Europe that would compare to us in terms of scale” (“Churches unite at St Patrick’s teacher training college in Drumcondra”, February 2nd). It is surprising that Dr Keogh uses the dated term “British Isles”. British and Irish diplomats studiously avoided the term in the complex Anglo-Irish negotiations. The British Lions tours have become an embarrassing memory. Even that High Tory, Sir John Biggs-Davison, recognised the political implications of the term and proposed the use of “Islands of the North Atlantic” as a substitute. I would suggest that Dr Keogh should confine himself to the happy compromise of “in these islands”. – Is mise,

PEADAR Mac MAGHNAIS,

Baile Átha Cliath 5.

5 Febuary 2015 Ankle

A quiet day my right foot is very sore arthritis.

Obituary:

Sir Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin Gilbert Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty

Sir Martin Gilbert, who has died aged 78, was a historian of authority and meticulous scholarship, whose output was dominated by his official biography of Sir Winston Churchill: six narrative volumes, 11 companion books of source material, a 981-page popular precis and 13 spin-offs.

Equally authoritative as a historian of Judaism, the Holocaust and the sweep of the 20th century, Gilbert was renowned for his ability to ferret out precisely what had happened, though some critics felt he paid too little attention to the “why”.

A committed Zionist and a proudly observant Jew, Gilbert’s writings about the travails of his people drew their force – to the annoyance of some co-religionists – from the enormity of the facts rather than an emotional involvement. Writing in support of Jewish “refuseniks” in the Soviet Union, however, he let his feelings go.

Gilbert was an Oxford graduate student when, in 1962, Sir Winston’s son Randolph – commissioned to write the biography – engaged him as a researcher; Lady Diana Cooper introduced him. Randolph had delivered only the first two volumes (an immense task in itself) when he died in 1968, leaving Gilbert £250.

Churchill’s grandson, Winston, and Lord Birkenhead, the son of F E Smith, were keen to take over, but the Chartwell Trust stuck with Gilbert. He undertook to complete the outstanding six volumes for a flat fee of £80,000 – out of which he would finance research – instead of royalties. By the time the final volume of the main series appeared in 1988, the project had taken Gilbert 26 years and generated nine million words over 25,000 pages. The precis, Churchill: A Life, appeared in 1991, and the most recent companion volume, covering the year 1942, in 2014. Six more were originally planned.

Gilbert – a Fellow of Merton College for 32 years, then from 1994 an honorary fellow – continued his own research alongside his work on Churchill, initially with Randolph in Suffolk. His first task on taking over was to shepherd into print the companion volumes to those Randolph had completed; these appeared under Randolph’s name.

Gilbert’s first narrative volume, Winston S Churchill: Volume Three: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916, appeared in 1971. Serialised in The Sunday Telegraph, it sold out in a fortnight. The reviews were enthusiastic, Michael Foot declaring: “Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill’s biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice.”

Maj-Gen Edward Spears wrote of the same volume: “From its pages emerges a living Churchill who towers above his fellow politicians and whose courage is that of a paladin whom nothing can dismay, yet whose fundamental tenderness peeps out in the letters to his wife.”

Research for that single volume (on which Randolph had started him in 1963) took Gilbert from Flanders to Turkey. His inquiries were exhaustive: Churchill’s resignation telegram to Asquith was not among the official records or in either man’s papers, and he eventually tracked it down in the Beaverbrook Library. The first draft of that volume was two million words, cut down to 300,000.

Sir Martin Gilbert (NEIL DRABBLE)

Gilbert’s non-judgmental portrayal of Churchill led to disputes with other historians. His thoroughness, too, aroused comment, notably when he ascertained from a 1930s laundry list that Churchill had paid a hitherto unknown visit to Beirut. Not content with editing all Churchill’s correspondence in parallel, he even compiled brief biographies of every one of the hundreds of people mentioned in the text.

In 1971 Churchill College, Cambridge, built a special air-conditioned home for Sir Winston’s papers, to which Gilbert had sole access. When, in 1995, the Heritage Lottery Fund purchased them from Churchill’s grandson to keep them in Britain, Gilbert welcomed the step.

Alongside Gilbert’s other output – he wrote some 90 books in all – further instalments of the Churchill biography appeared at regular intervals: Volume Four: The Stricken World, 1917-1922 (1975), Volume Five: Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939 (1979), Volume Six: Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (1983), Volume Seven: Road to Victory, 1941-1945 (1986) and Volume Eight: Never Despair, 1945-1965 (1988).

Volume Six brought Gilbert the Wolfson award; the publication of the final volume a snub from Margaret Thatcher. She barred her Cabinet from the launch because Heinemann was also publishing Peter Wright’s Spycatcher, which she had tried to ban. When funding for the companion volumes ran out in 1982, an American benefactor financed their publication.

Martin John Gilbert was born in London on October 25 1936, the son of Peter Gilbert, a jeweller, and his wife Marian. All his grandparents were born in Tsarist Russia. Nine months after war broke out, he was evacuated to Canada. Vivid memories of the crossing from Liverpool to Quebec sparked his later interest in the war.

After returning to Britain he attended Highgate School, where he was taught history by the Balkan expert Alan Palmer, and politics by the redoubtable Fabian T N Fox. After National Service with the Intelligence Corps he went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, taking a First in Modern History; one of his tutors was A J P Taylor.

In 1960 Gilbert was appointed a senior research scholar at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and two years later Merton made him a Fellow. He was already assisting Randolph Churchill when his first book was published, in 1963: this was The Appeasers , written with the Marxist Richard Gott, then at Chatham House. The Roots of Appeasement, casting its net wider, followed three years later. To Gilbert, the villain of the piece was Sir Horace Wilson, the government’s chief industrial adviser and Chamberlain’s emissary to Hitler.

Gilbert attracted criticism for the way he presented the case against Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and R A Butler; decades later, he would say that a lifetime of research had shown them to be even more culpable.

Without lessening his academic rigour, Gilbert found time to be the recent history correspondent for The Sunday Times, help research the BBC’s British Empire series (1968) and look through the draft of Harold Wilson’s book on the 1964-70 Labour government. “Sir Harold asked for comment,” said Gilbert. “I’ve never known anybody quite so receptive to suggestion.” He declined an invitation to be Anthony Eden’s official biographer .

Gilbert’s interest in Jewish history first showed in his Jewish History Atlas (1969), and his first major work was The Emergence of Jewish Statehood (1978). While researching his Atlas of the Holocaust (1982), he found a distant cousin in a Polish village who had been hidden from the Nazis in Warsaw as a child – and was now one of 50 Jews where there had been 30,000.

He took up the cause of the refuseniks with passion, writing the biography Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time (1986) and appearing before the UN Commission on Human Rights, where he clashed with Soviet delegates over the Kremlin’s refusal to let them leave.

John Major brought Gilbert to Downing Street as an adviser and “court chronicler”, and he helped to draft several speeches, also telling Tory rebels that Major was “a doughty fighter and a successful negotiator in a world where leadership counts”.

He was a member of the prime minister’s delegation to Israel – advising on the history of the Holocaust – and to Jordan, and sat in on Major’s talks with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Major confessed: “I do not know what I would have done without Martin Gilbert to keep me briefed on the Middle East.” In Washington with Major in 1995, he charted the progress of the “special relationship” after friction with the Clinton administration.

In 2009 Gilbert was appointed to Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq War and made a Privy Counsellor to give him full access to the evidence. Several MPs criticised the choice because Gilbert had once compared George W Bush and Tony Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill, but he proved a meticulous questioner of Blair about his motives and decisions.

Gilbert advised on the script of the Oscar-winning documentary Genocide (1982). He was historical adviser to Southern Pictures’ Winston Churchill: the Wilderness Years (1980-81), BBC television’s Auschwitz and the Allies (1981-82) and Yalta 1945 (1982-83). He also wrote and narrated the BBC’s four-part series Churchill (1989-91).

Over the years he held visiting professorships and fellowships at universities around the world . In 2002 President Bush invited him to lecture at the White House. In 1999 Oxford University conferred on Gilbert an honorary DLitt for “the totality of his work”. Churchill College made him an honorary fellow in 2008, and since 1978 he had been a governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He was appointed CBE in 1990 and knighted in 1995.

Martin Gilbert married first, in 1963, Helen Robinson, with whom he had a daughter. In 1974 he married Susan Sacher, great-granddaughter of Lord Marks, the founder of Marks & Spencer; they had two sons. In 2005 he married, thirdly, the Holocaust historian Esther Poznansky.

Sir Martin Gilbert, born October 25 1936, died February 3 2015

Guardian:

Campaigners march on City Hall to demand solution to housing crisis
Tenants, housing campaigners and trade union activists demand solutions to London’s housing crisis on the March for Homes on 31 Janaury. Photograph: Mark Kerrison/Corbis

While the stupidity of the Tory government’s change in relation to affordable housing is obvious to all – even Tories dealing with the issues, such as planners at Westminster council – who is going to even try to deal with the house-price madness (Property forms profit as home rules change, 2 February)? Average house prices in London are now far beyond even bankers and others on £100,000-a-year salaries: an average flat in north-west London costs over £900,000. Who let this happen and, more important, who is going to do anything about this ludicrous situation?

Not the Tories, since Brandon Lewis, the Conservative housing minister, talks about requirements for “affordable” flats in new developments as “a stealth tax” that hindered regeneration and encouraged empty properties. And that is in relation to the developers’ notion of affordable, at 80% of local prices. The crude mansion tax from Labour might have some impact on prices at the top end, but even a complete revision in council tax will not affect these prices without hitting every householder equally hard. We did nothing to earn the increased values of our flats, this is just a side effect of all the funny money looking to London for a safe haven for their mostly ill-gotten gains, rich Greeks included.

Is there an economist in the house (or House), the Treasury, the Bank of England with any idea what to do about this insanity? Apparently not.
David Reed
London

Congratulations to the Guardian for exposing the loss of affordable housing that has resulted from the government’s successive changes to planning law.

The latest changes to planning law are in a series that have progressively created major loopholes to excuse developers from providing affordable housing. Just south of Sutton station, in south London, there is an office building, empty for some years, which the developers propose to convert to 128 luxury flats. The day before Sutton council’s planning committee was to approve the scheme, which included a significant number of affordable homes, the developers withdrew the scheme. They had spotted the advantages to them if they followed a newly created route called “prior approval” that has now forced the council to accept the application with zero affordable homes included.

On one calculation, our borough may have lost up to 500 affordable homes due to that legislation. The latest changes you highlight are further steps on a path that is seriously undermining the efforts of local authorities to help those in dire need of better housing.
Councillor Richard Clifton
Chair of planning committee, London borough of Sutton

It is good to see the Westminster Property Group, with its big ticket property club members, supporting more social housing in central London. But central London’s affordable homes shortfall is a special case, which has no general case application on a nationwide basis.

Brandon Lewis, the housing minister, is nearer the mark elsewhere. Excessive section 106 tariffs and the affordable homes burden do push many projects into the non-viable basket. Simply look at the numbers; that is to say the house sale proceeds from which these public benefits are funded. Central London sale values, as a rough and ready average, are £1,500 per square foot. Put differently, a modest, 1, 000sq ft three-bed town house or flat will cost the buyer £1.5m, or more with stamp duty on top. Put 15 of them on to an acre, and the gross receipts are £22m. After building costs, profit margin and land, there is still scope to fund some affordable homes.

Apply the same model in the home counties, for example in Reading, where the sale price for the same home will be nearer £350psf. What is more, density will also be about one third lower. The gross receipts in this case are £3.5m, less than 20% of the value generated by an acre in central London. Far less margin left over here, particularly if developers overpay for their land. Then they will just wait.

Until local authorities with supplies of unrestricted, white land challenge the vested interests, and decide to release far more of it for housebuilding, the affordability crisis will continue. This initiative is near impossible for Tory authorities in rural area, where the nimby lobby has the final veto.
Ian Campbell
Richmond upon Thames, Surrey

The dearth of genuinely affordable homes to buy or to rent can only be made worse by the rule changes that allow property firms to reduce, or even avoid, making contributions to build affordable housing. Recent data from London’s Poverty Profile – independent research carried out by the New Policy Institute and funded by us – reveals that only seven London boroughs met their target for affordable home completions from 2010 to 2013. This lack of affordable housing is creating serious problems in the capital; after housing costs are taken into account, 28% of Londoners are now living in poverty. We need to build more homes that people can actually afford.
Mubin Haq
Director of policy and grants, Trust for London

In the early 1970s, we took out a mortgage two and a half times my salary to buy a home to live in. That same home is now valued at 60 times that amount. One reason for huge increases in the prices of homes is that when final salary pension schemes were scrapped people looked to property as an alternative nest egg to supplement their pension. A shame then that John Lewis is adding fuel to that fire (John Lewis scraps final salary pension, 3 February).
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

Man Using an Inhaler
A man using an asthma inhaler. ‘Last year, the National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed that two-thirds of asthma deaths were preventable with routine care.’ Photograph: Corbis

Your report claiming that “1 million people in the UK may have been wrongly diagnosed with asthma” (29 January) is unhelpful and, arguably, irresponsible. In reality, asthma diagnosis is complex, and many people who do have it may not show clear signs on clinical testing. Reporting otherwise means that millions of people with asthma who do need treatment have been left with uncertainty about their diagnosis and care. What is in no doubt is that care must improve. Only last year, the National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed shockingly that two-thirds of asthma deaths were preventable with routine care. This is supported by even more recent findings from Asthma UK, which revealed that eight out of 10 people in the UK are not receiving care that meets even the most basic clinical standards. Asthma is serious and the complacency that leads such to headlines has to stop.
Dr Robert Niven
Senior lecturer in respiratory medicine at the University Hospital of South Manchester
Dr Mark Levy
General practitioner with an interest in asthma
Ann-Louise Caress
Professor of nursing at the University of Manchester and University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust
Andrew Woodcock
Professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester
Dr Angela Simpson
Professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester
Monica Fletcher
Chief executive, Education for Health

Gordon Brown
Former prime minister Gordon Brown in Scotland this week. ‘His devolution settlement created the tensions and conflicts that are placing such a strain on the union today,’ writes David Davis. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

It is an act of extraordinary political gall for former prime minister Gordon Brown to criticise William Hague’s proposed English votes for English laws (Scotland didn’t kill off the United Kingdom – but Cameron would, 4 February) when it was his devolution settlement, designed to shore up Scottish Labour’s vote, that created the tensions and conflicts that are placing such a strain on the union today.

As chairman of the public accounts committee, I raised directly with Mr Brown the problems that would be caused by denying the Scottish parliament a sufficient tax base to fund its legislative programme, relying instead on drawing from general UK taxation. Mr Brown, with characteristic hubris, rejected these concerns out of hand, and we are now trying belatedly to patch up his mistakes.

He complains that the current proposals will leave us with two classes of MP. This is the fault of the system he helped to create. Now, either we have two classes of MP, so feared by Mr Brown, or we have two classes of citizen, where some are afforded greater representation than others.

Of course, in reality the only way to fully address the rising tensions within our union would be to move towards a more federal style system. It is a shame that this choice is not being presented to the public by either party.
David Davis MP
Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

In the report about William Hague’s proposals (3 February) I see no indication of how members of the upper house will be allowed to vote. Will they have to declare their allegiance beforehand to England or Wales or Scotland and so on? Or will all those with a name beginning Mc or Mac be presumed to be Scottish and all others English?
Revd Barry Parker
Leeds

Labour leader Ed Miliband: detractors are only helping the Tories, says W Stephen Gilbert. Photograp
Labour leader Ed Miliband: detractors are only helping the Tories, says W Stephen Gilbert. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Straight after the 1997 election, Tony Blair held meetings with backbenchers at Downing Street. In the course of the exchanges, the incoming prime minister said to me that he hoped any criticism I might have in the future would be put privately. Would it not be useful if those who held the most senior jobs in that government did the same over any differences with the position the party is now taking – all the more so with under 100 days to the election?
David Winnick MP
Labour, Walsall North

Yet another supposedly left-sympathising commentator airs his disdain of Labour’s electoral chances in good time to be able to say “told you so” on 8 May (Labour under Miliband failing on bigger scale than in 1992, says Hare, 31 January). Do these people not perceive that there is little honour in self-fulfilling prophecies? Rather than hugging to themselves their brilliance at foresight – and Sir David Hare (he accepted the knighthood from the Blairites) loses no time in telling us how on-the-money his plays always are – it would be more useful if all those who want an end to Cameron’s premiership were to keep their self-indulgences to themselves and row in the same direction as those of us who want Miliband to have the opportunity to prove himself.
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

There have been many complaints about the essentially cosmetic changes to the Guardian’s website (Open door, 2 February). Yet in a change that coincides with the launch of the general election campaign and may have to do with the Guardian’s heart and soul there has been plenty of disturbing silence. I refer to the arrival of one regular Tory guest columnist, Matthew d’Ancona, and one intermittent, Anne McElvoy, both normally to be found rubbishing Labour in the right-of-centre London Evening Standard, but now carrying on their business in the Guardian.

With the entire might and circulation of the national press, aside from the Guardian, Independent and Mirror, already rampantly Conservative, what on Earth explains the decision to import these unlovely, predictable cuckoos into your nest?
Nicholas de Jongh
London

 


Tom Clark is right (Society, 28 January) to highlight the need for young people to vote. With 4 million under-25s not registered it is no wonder the major political parties tend to favour policies that support older voters. But that is starting to change, with many politicians now openly courting the votes of young people. The question will be whether young people wake up to the importance of May’s general election in time. The Centrepoint Parliament is working with other young people supported by Centrepoint through our You Got a Problem campaign to show how decisions made at Westminster have a direct impact on young lives. And, more important, their views can make a difference. On 5 February we’ll be working with Bite the Ballot as part of National Voter Registration Day to try to register 250,000 people in a single day. If we can achieve this aim then it will be impossible for politicians of any parties to ignore the voice of young people during the election campaign.
Ben Wardlaw
Chair, Centrepoint Parliament

What's that all about? A doctor writes … Photograph: Dmitriy Shironosov/Alamy
What’s that all about? A doctor writes … Photograph: Dmitriy Shironosov/Alam

Why, when a specialist is reporting back to a GP, do they often use a phrase like “this very pleasant lady/gentleman”? Is it some kind of code, and if so, what for?

Janet Fraser, Twickenham

Post your answers – and new questions – below or email them to nq@theguardian.com. Please include name, address and phone number

Independent:

Times:

Sir, In arguing about whether tuition fees should be capped at £6,000 or £9,000 a year, both the Labour party and Universities UK miss the point (“Labour presses ahead with plan to cut fees”, Feb 3). The real issue is value for money — and the big number here is the increase in the proportion of graduates still in non-graduate level employment more than five years after graduating — up from 28 per cent in 2001 to 34 per cent in 2013. The jobs market has changed, and an over-regulated, poorly incentivised university system has not adjusted.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, says he is a fan of a graduate tax, but this would do nothing to improve teaching quality unless the revenue flows back to each graduate’s alma mater. Only if this happens is there is a nexus between the fortunes of the graduate and the university, aligning their interests over many years.

Peter Ainsworth
London SE1

Sir, Your leader (Feb 3) misses the obvious truth about who should pay for the survival of the English higher education establishment. While an army of young graduates will soon be hitting the streets, each with a £50,000 debt — or £100,000-plus for a couple possibly thinking of bringing up a family — the real beneficiaries are those lucky enough to have graduated 15 years ago or so, who are enjoying all the benefits of a free education leading to large salaries, but who have been relieved of the burden of providing a similar benefit to those who followed them. What justification can there be, if it is acknowledged that an educated population is a benefit for our whole society, for excusing these people from sharing in its ongoing cost?

A graduate tax is a sensible suggestion only if it applies to all graduates, irrespective of generation. The current system is unfair, especially when one considers the current emphasis on apprenticeships, in which participants are paid to be educated, and the large number of new working-class graduates with few family assets to fall back on.

Phil Clement
Horsham, W Sussex

Sir, The views expressed by a group of vice-chancellors (letter, Feb 2) do not align with those of many members of the academic community. On the contrary, a large body of academics, of all political persuasions, welcomes the fact that the proposed policy challenges the idea that the current system is inevitable or set in stone.

The urgent need to query the existing system is, furthermore, backed up by the Higher Education Commission’s report Too Good to Fail, in which the advantages and disadvantages of various scenarios are evaluated. The commission noted that a major drawback of the current model of funding is that it exacerbates intergenerational inequality by withdrawing from a generation which had most or all of its tuition fees paid by an older generation of taxpayers the burden of passing on the same advantage to the younger generation.

Gordon Campbell, University of Leicester

Dorothy Bishop, University of Oxford

Tim Horder, University of Oxford

Howard Hotson, University of Oxford

Sir Peter Scott, UCL Institute of Education

Sir Keith Thomas, University of Oxford

Rowan Tomlinson, University of Bristol

on behalf of the Council for the Defence of British Universities

Sir, Ideally, the state should subsidise students that it wishes to see educated, and not institutions, for reasons well understood by those concerned to see universities free to question whatever they choose to question. The state may have an interest in ensuring that there is no differentiation in fee between subjects, but university autonomy would benefit if there were no cap at all. An implicit subsidy through unredeemed student debt is far less dangerous to academic freedom than direct subsidy.

John Barnes
Co-author, Strategies for Higher Education, Etchingham, E Sussex
Sir, Peter Brookes’s cartoon showing Labour figures as a University Challenge team (Feb 3) has Ed Miliband out on the left and Chuka Umunna in the captain’s seat. Does Mr Brookes know something?

Andrew Maywood
Twickenham

Pupils should have the option for the systematic study of humanism in GCSE, AS and A-level religious studies, these religious leaders say

Sir, As religious leaders we wish to express our support for proposals to allow students to have the option for the systematic study of humanism in GCSE, AS and A-level religious studies, and for detailed content on humanism to be added alongside that which exists for the principal world religions. Such a change would not compel anyone to systematically study non-religious worldviews or make it possible to do so for the whole of a qualification, but it would allow young people to study a more representative sample of major worldviews common in Britain today.

Baron Williams of Oystermouth

Baron Harries of Pentregarth

The Rev Professor Keith Ward Regius Professor Emeritus of Divinity, University of Oxford

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain Maidenhead Synagogue

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers Movement for Reform Judaism

Plus a further 23 signatories whose names are at thetimes.co.uk/letters

For a true picture of the character of Thomas More, you have to go back to the history books

Sir, Hilary Mantel’s first novel in the series was published six years ago, so why are two Roman Catholic bishops complaining about her portrayal of Thomas More only after seeing Wolf Hall on television (report, Feb 3)? The bishops might console themselves with the rosy picture of More presented by Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons (1966). However, neither Bolt nor Mantel are accurate about how Tudor theologians actually thought and spoke; you need to read history books for that.

Ralph Lloyd-Jones

Nottingham

A closer precedent for HMS Victory than the Vasa is the Mary Rose, now housed brilliantly in its new museum

Sir, A closer precedent for HMS Victory than the Vasa (letter, Feb 4) is the Mary Rose, now housed brilliantly in its new museum alongside Victory.

Had both projects been combined, the prospect of truly unique world-class conservation, learning and architectural experiences would surely have guaranteed both their futures.

Peter Saunders

Curator emeritus, Salisbury Museum

When, and why, did the British start using the term ‘frogs’ to describe the French?

Sir, Patrick Kidd (Times2, Feb 2) says that the British started to mock the French as “frogs” after the publication of an anonymous print in 1799. However, the scholar Diana Poulton, remarking on the popular tune of the 16th century, the Frog Galliard, observes: “It is a well-known fact that Queen Elizabeth often referred to the Duc d’Alençon (later Duc d’Anjou) as ‘her frog’, and it could be that the tune . . . was named after the last and most persistent of her suitors.”

Graham Wade

Withernsea, E Yorks

Telegraph:

Britain's spending on defence will fall to 1.88 per cent of GDP

Britain’s spending on defence is predicted to fall to 1.88 per cent of GDP Photo: ALAMY

SIR – Con Coughlin asks: “Can Britain still defend itself?” The simple answer is: “No.”

During the last days of the Falklands conflict our ground troops were stretched to the limit. I joined the British Army in 1986 and the total land forces strength was then 176,000 men. We currently stand at 100,000, if that. We have more admirals than vessels, little more than a token air force and an apparent lack of will to defend our interests effectively.

Almost none of our visible politicians have any experience of military service, or, therefore, an appreciation of the importance of preparedness for conflict.

Simon Crowley
Kemsing, Kent

SIR – We have seldom been in so dangerous a predicament. With historical hatreds lurking in the background and new threats coming to the fore, we approach a general election in the same spirit as if we merely had to say to the children that we could not afford to give them any more soldiers to play with.

Harry Leigh-Dugmore
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire

SIR – None of the main political parties is interested in the needs of the Armed Forces. All three of them place third-world interests above the defence of the realm. A century ago that would surely have been tantamount to treason.

Only Ukip is committed to restoring defence expenditure to pre-2010 levels.

Mark Harland
Scarborough, North Yorkshire

SIR – On reading Mr Coughlin’s article I was reminded of a visit to Timna, the ancient capital city of Qataban, in what was to become South Yemen.

In its time it had been the centre of one of the oldest and most advanced civilisations in the Arab world. Now all that remains are some impressive outer ramparts and some foundations of buildings. Trade along the spice route, which the city dominated, brought such a level of prosperity that, over time, the need to maintain a strong defence force was ignored. It was then unable to defend itself from attack by the Himyarites, who razed the city to the ground.

Mike Anderson
Bathpool, Cornwall

SIR – The duty of a government is to make the necessary provision to defend the country and to protect its people. Is no politician ready to speak up for our superb Armed Forces and the police?

David Binsted
London SE21

SIR – If we awoke tomorrow morning to find ourselves surrounded by the combined navies of Andorra, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, do we have the capabilities to hold off an attack?

Alan Mosey
Over Kellet, Lancashire

Winterbourne freeze

SIR – We, the families whose loved ones were patients at the Winterbourne View private hospital (where systematic abuse by staff members was uncovered in 2011) or are currently patients at other similar assessment and treatment units, are bitterly disappointed by the lack of a clear plan to move people away from these units and into their communities.

The Government assured us and the charities supporting us that places like Winterbourne View would be closed down, but nearly four years on we are seeing more people going into these kinds of units than are coming out. For so many of us, what kept us going was the hope that the suffering of our loved ones would lead to change and stop the suffering of others. However, the scandal continues.

NHS England’s recent report recognised the scale of the problem, but this is not enough. We need this inappropriate system of care to be ended and we must be told when this will happen.

Jan Tregelles
Emma Garrod
Steve Sollars
Veronica Dunn
David Jack
Jill Jack
Helen Cherry
Wendy Fiander
Ann Earley
Sue Battin
Rachael Torrance
Lynne McCarrick
Luke McCarrick
Phillip Wills
Shahana Hussain

Family members of patients at Winterbourne View or other assessment and treatment units
Jan Tregelles

Chief Executive, Mencap
Vivien Cooper
Chief Executive, The Challenging Behaviour Foundation

Mystery ‘bird strike’ leaves pilot spitting feathers

it a bird? A flock of Canada geese and a formation of jet planes during an air show (ALAMY)

SIR – Ian Dick’s near miss with a fish (Letters, January 31) reminded me of an incident while I was co-pilot of a helicopter in Northern Ireland in the Seventies.

We were unloading some troops and their kit in a field near the border when one of them managed to hurl a sleeping bag through the turning rotors. My boss, who was at the controls, looked up to see an explosion of feathers. He was convinced that we had just hit a bird – a highly unlikely event for a stationary helicopter.

The soldiers were despatched to pick up the remains of the unfortunate “bird”, which was then sent off to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for analysis. Their reply did little more than question the sobriety of the pilot.

Paul Luker
Hook, Hampshire

SIR – On operations during the Second World War, my father used to fly at very low level up enemy estuaries. On his return, the station commander, seeing salt and mud splashes on the aircraft, would comment: “I see you’ve been boating again, Smales.”

Peter Smales
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Employing ex-prisoners

SIR – Timpson, the cobbler and key cutter, is an impressive company for many reasons, particularly its programme of employment of ex-offenders.

Government figures show that the cost of reoffending by recently released prisoners is between £9.5 and £13 billion per year. The average cost of convicting a prisoner is £65,000 and the average cost for each year in custody is £40,000. Employment drastically reduces reoffending. Having attended a presentation by John Timpson, the chief executive of Timpson, I understand that former prisoners are among the company’s most hard-working and successful employees. They are no doubt grateful to be given the opportunity.

What is clear is that companies enlightened enough to provide that opportunity can find that it is a win-win-win situation: for the employee, the employer and for the country.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

Waste of energy

SIR – I recently contacted Ofgem to complain that a certain supplier was charging me 45 per cent more than other suppliers of liquid petroleum gas while claiming to pride itself in offering a competitive price.

Ofgem suggested that after taking the issue up with my supplier, which I duly did to no avail, I should contact Ombudsman Services: Energy and they would help. Imagine my surprise when Ombudsman Services told me that as the supplier did not subscribe to their service they could not help me.

What is the use of a monitoring body if a supplier is not obliged to subscribe to it?

Rowan Simmonds
Marlborough, Wiltshire

Schools’ corporate focus undermines core values

Mrs Morgan said ‘No school should be exempt from promoting fundamental British values’ (EDDIE MULHOLLAND)

SIR – British values are under attack from more directions than Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, seems to think.

With independent schools increasingly adopting corporate models in order to make headlines in the global market, it seems that capitalism is our new idol, and heads are no longer head teachers but chief executives. Such a shift places values such as honesty, trust, loyalty and altruism in precarious positions.

Susan Wigmore
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

SIR – I can’t help feeling that the targets for 11-year-olds being set by Nicky Morgan are not particularly ambitious: well behind what was required for the 11-plus, well behind the syllabus in the private sector and quite patronising.

Charles Pugh
London SW1

SIR – On being asked what he’d done at school one day, my brother, then aged six, replied he’d liked the shouting lesson best.

It emerged that the class had been chanting the times tables. My brother later took a degree in electrical engineering and did not become the town crier.

Dinah McIlroy
Lesbury, Northumberland

SIR – I would love to see a front-page headline reading: “Cameron: We’ll take control of mediocre power companies.”

John McWhan
Nantwich, Cheshire

Road to disaster

SIR – I agree with the letter from Professor Keith Day (Letters, February 2) about the inefficient use of potato peelers on television.

I get more steamed up by the length of time that car drivers in soaps and the like spend looking across at their passengers while talking. In real life they would be involved in a crash very early on in the conversation.

John D Bland
Littleover, Derbyshire

SIR – Another agonisingly slow activity in television dramas and historical documentaries is writing with a quill pen.

This featured frequently in David Starkey’s Magna Carta last week, where the scribe appeared to be still struggling with lesson one in his calligraphy course. At that speed I shudder to think how long it would have taken to write out even one copy of Magna Carta, let alone entire books.

Karin Proudfoot
Fawkham, Kent

Karate chopped

Varsha Vinod, five year-old karate blackbelt (CATERS)

SIR – The Department for Education is proposing to remove a number of popular sports, including judo and karate, from the GCSE physical education syllabus (report, February 2).

My grandson started training with a local karate group when he was nine. The physical and mental benefits were apparent almost immediately and included improved concentration, growing self-discipline and vastly increased confidence.

He had to follow instructions in Japanese and the sport encouraged the appreciation of a different culture, which, unlike some of our national sports, actively promotes courtesy and respect for others. Training sessions also include both girls and boys.

Judith Hicks
Birmingham

Brotherly love

SIR – In order to address any possible jealousy when I was born, my parents told my brother that they would choose the first name of his new brother but he could choose the second name.

Christopher Robin Berry
London SE21

Good honest grub

SIR – Pub menus seem to abound in unintended humour of the artesian cheeses” sort (Letters, February 2).

One of our locals features a dish including “candid beetroot”. Another rather nice hotel bar in the area has a wine described as having “exotic notes of melon and leeches”.

Mike Cooper
Market Harborough, Leicestershire

SIR – Last Christmas our local pub was advertising aborigines on the menu.

They did mean aubergines. I hope.

Mary Eveleigh
Parkgate, Cheshire

Globe and Mail:

Charles Wright

Why is CPR being used for end-of-life care?