Waiting 1st May 2013

I trot round the park today and listen to the Navy lark. I Oh dear, oh dear
eslie is up for promotion and all the Admirals on the board do their stuff, he is turned down alas as is Captain Povey Priceless.
Book listing. And waiting the Dish Waher machine man comes tomorrow I hope!
We Watch Dr Who the Aztecs Babs absolutely wonderful
Mary wins at Scrabble today, just and gets just under 400, I might get my revenge tomorrow, I hope.


Jean Floud
Jean Floud, the former Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, who has died aged 97, was a sociologist who studied the relationship between social class and educational opportunity and helped to set the intellectual agenda for the abolition of the grammar schools.

Jean Floud 
6:27PM BST 30 Apr 2013
The Butler Education Act of 1944, which introduced the tripartite system of grammar, secondary technical and secondary modern schools, was initially seen as a key piece of social legislation that would promote social mobility by giving children from poor homes access to the best academic education, free of charge.
The egalitarianism underlying the Act was based on equality of opportunity, pupils in grammar schools being selected on academic ability by the 11-plus examination. The Labour government of Clement Attlee regarded the new system as an excellent tool with which to erode class barriers.
It was not long, however, before educationalists began to question whether the Act was really promoting the social mobility promised. While the numbers of working-class children getting into grammar schools had increased, the odds were still stacked in favour of children from middle-class homes. Meanwhile, the numbers of working-class children dropped off alarmingly in the sixth form, where the middle classes were dominant.
In the 1950s, with AH Halsey and FM Martin, Jean Floud investigated the operation of 11-plus selection between 1945 and 1953. Taking industrial Middlesbrough and semi-rural south-west Hertfordshire as representative areas, they set out to measure the effectiveness of the selection process in boys’ grammar schools, publishing their findings in 1956 in Social Class and Educational Opportunity.
While they found a close relationship between “ability” (defined as “measured intelligence” in IQ tests) and “opportunity” (defined as access to grammar schools), the problem of inequality of educational opportunity was not thereby disposed of, since material and cultural differences in the environment of children from different social classes affected their performance in tests and hence their access to selective secondary education. The educability of children, Jean Floud argued, “is determined by the subtle interaction of the social influences of home and school”.
While Jean Floud was never personally associated with the campaign against the grammar schools, Social Class and Educational Opportunity changed the terms of the education debate. Two years after it appeared, Michael Young published his The Rise of the Meritocracy, in which he argued that grammar schools were instituting a new meritocratic elite, and building an underclass to match, warning that if allowed to continue, selective education would lead to revolution. The same year the Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell formally abandoned the tripartite system, calling for “grammar-school education for all”.
The daughter of a shoe mender, Jean Esther McDonald was born at Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, on November 3 1915. She won a free place at the local girls’ grammar school, but left before completing her studies, though she eventually attended the London School of Economics after taking evening classes, graduating in Sociology in 1936. At the LSE she met Peter Floud, a young Oxford graduate from a very different — upper-class — social background. They married in 1938 after they had both joined the Communist Party.
While Peter Floud pursued a career as a curator, then keeper, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, during the war Jean worked as assistant director of education in Oxford. In 1946 she returned to the LSE and taught there and at the Institute of Education until the early 1960s. As well as her work with Halsey and Martin, she wrote (with Halsey and C Arnold Anderson) Education, Economy, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Education (1961).
After Peter Floud’s death from a brain tumour in 1960 Jean and their three children moved to Oxford, where she became the second woman elected to a fellowship at Nuffield College. She became increasingly interested in academic administration and, from 1964 to 1966, served on the Franks Commission which removed the last vestiges of power from Oxford University’s Convocation — other than the election of the university’s Chancellor and Professor of Poetry.
In 1971 she was elected Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, where she remained until her retirement in 1983, turning down an offer of a life peerage from the Labour government of James Callaghan.
At Cambridge, too, Jean Floud became active in university administration, serving as chairman of the Board of Graduate Studies and of the Social and Political Sciences Committee, and as a Syndic of the University Press. She also served on the Syndicate of the Fitzwilliam Museum, becoming its chairman. At Newnham she was celebrated for the parties she gave at the Principal’s Lodge and was unusual among college heads in supervising undergraduates, though she was never good at confronting colleagues whose performance and commitment were not up to scratch.
From the late 1970s she was involved with the Howard League for Penal Reform. She chaired a working party on dangerous offenders which led to the publication in 1981 (with Warren Young) of Dangerousness and Criminal Justice, which advocated preventive sentencing based on past criminal records and clinical assessments.
Jean Floud was appointed CBE in 1976.
She is survived by two daughters. A son died in a plane crash in 1982.
Jean Floud, born November 3 1915, died March 28 2013


The tragic death of headteacher Helen Mann, while awaiting with dread a visit from Ofsted, will come as no surprise to teachers at all levels of the profession (Report, 30 April). Ofsted has become a politicised instrument used by its leader, Michael Wilshaw, and his master, Michael Gove. As an agent of improvement in education, Ofsted has become defunct. The vast majority of teachers now regard it as a source of fear and intimidation. Its main aim seems to be to turn teachers into frantic, stressed-out workaholics.
Lawrence Glover
Bootle, Merseyside
• That the rate of serious violent crime is falling is surely to be welcomed (Report, 26 April). However, the trend in family violence appears to be in the opposite direction, with serious pressures on child protection services and women’s refuges. Could it be that violence, like other aspects of social life, is becoming “privatised” within the family?
Dr David Jones
Independent chair, Leicester Safeguarding Children Board
• You say that “by 20, [Alan Johnson] was married to his first wife, Judith, a father of three working for the post office and living in a council house” (Interview, G2, 29 April). There seems to be even more to Johnson’s story than meets the eye.
Victoria Philpotts
• So, if Alan Johnson had managed to do a deal with the Lib Dems back in 2010, who would have replaced David Cameron in the leadership contest that inevitably follows a Tory electoral defeat? Would we now have A Johnson and B Johnson as, respectively, prime minister and leader of the opposition?
Tim Lidbetter
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
• You forgot to include the true origin of “trollin'” (Review, 20 April). I mean of course that used by Julian and Sandy in Round the Horne: to stroll along the high street with no real purpose, simply showing oneself off to the lucky onlookers!
Joe Birkin
• Never mind cuckoos (Letters, 30 April). What about furry caterpillars? I haven’t seen one since I can’t remember when.
Rita Williams

I think you are underestimating the growing impact of Ukip and its brand of anti-politics by arguing that this is mainly a centre-right drama (Editorial, 29 April). Here in true blue Tunbridge Wells we have seen increased shifts of support to Ukip from traditional Labour and Lib Dem voters, as well as the Tories, in recent local elections, which as a Lib Dem candidate living in a poorer community I have attempted to address in my campaigning. If national newspaper editors just think this is a tiny temporary squabble between disillusioned Conservatives then they need to think again. The gulf between professional politicians and the public has never been wider, as the expenses scandal showed, and all three main parties should urgently reconnect with the wider electorate through new forms of local engagement on bread-and-butter economic issues and housing.
Dr Alan Bullion
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
• The Tories denounce Ukip as closet racists, and my experience at byelections and local elections and of meeting many of their grassroots supporters bears this out. Most Ukip members and supporters are nothing but opportunists, seeking a populist platform for their extremist views. As the official party of protest, we Official Monster Raving Loonies strongly object to use of the terms “fruitcakes” and “loonies” when describing Ukip (Tories in disarray over response to Ukip ‘clowns’, 29 April). We who seek the holy grail of Loonyism strongly object to the cavalier use of these terms. In our long-held view, all politicians from all the unofficial loony parties are far too loony even for us Official Loonies, so on Thursday, both in South Shields and in the county council elections, don’t vote Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Ukip or for any other pretenders, vote for the real Official Raving Loony party of the UK. As our late founder Screaming Lord Sutch said: “Vote for insanity … you know it makes sense.”
Lord Toby Jug
Leader, The Official Monster Raving Loony party, Eastern Region

Larry Elliott is right that the world has changed significantly since the G8 last came to the UK in 2005 (Report, 29 April). He is also right that inequality is at the centre of global injustice and there’s little chance of the coalition taking action to reduce this. But the UK development community is far from agreed on the acceptability of giving David Cameron positive spin at the G8 in June. That’s why a group of social justice organisations and trade unions has established the Progressive Development Forum: a space to challenge the closeness of our sector to government, and to reconnect with ordinary people suffering the impact of inequality and austerity in the UK.
Neither should we look back with rose-tinted glasses. It’s true we’ve had successes, but for too long the main message emanating from our sector has ignored the central imperative of genuine development – how do we challenge the deeply unequal and unjust distribution of power in the world. At a time when our own continent is subject to IMF-imposed structural adjustment, justified by a bank-created debt crisis, our message should have real resonance with ordinary people. We aim to build solidarity, not sympathy, with the peoples of the global south, an agenda which stresses justice, not charity. In 2013, such an agenda is not only honest, but also has the power to mobilise in a way that traditional campaigns are failing to do.
Nick Dearden Jubilee Debt Campaign, Deborah Doane World Development Movement, Martin Drewry Health Poverty Action, John Hilary War on Want
• Larry Elliott’s charge that UK development charities are treating David Cameron with kid gloves is untrue. The Enough Food IF campaign, a coalition of over 180 organisations, was formed this year precisely to put pressure on the government at this year’s G8 summit to end the shocking situation that sees one in eight people in the world go to bed hungry. The campaign is pushing for change more radical than anything achieved by Make Poverty History.
Yes, we were supportive of the government’s decision to keep a 40-year promise to increase its support to the world’s poorest at a time when both domestic spending and other countries aid budgets are being cut. But that is only one of the campaign’s demands. We’re also calling for an end to land-grabbing and a crackdown on tax havens. We’re pushing the government hard, including being critical when they fail to deliver. Take tax: poor countries lose countless billions every year because of a system that allows companies to avoid their responsibilities by moving profits to tax havens. Changing this is a tougher ask than cancelling debt or even increasing aid during a time of austerity. It requires politicians to take on a powerful corporate lobby and fundamentally change the global economy to make it operate in a fairer way.
David Cameron’s rhetoric on tax-dodging has been encouraging. But be clear that we will judge him on his actions. The first test is for him to lead a crackdown on the UK’s own tax havens ahead of the G8. The crown dependencies and overseas territories over which he has direct influence cost poor countries billions every year – it is a scandal the prime minister cannot allow to continue.
Sally Copley
Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign
• Reading the report on the factory collapse in Bangladesh (29 April), I had to check what I was reading when I read the line saying it “was the product of Bangladesh’s dysfunctional system, where politics and business are closely connected, corruption is rife, and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow”. Then I read your report “Sweetheart tax deals worth over £1bn each” (30 April), which underlined dysfunction closer to home.
Andrew Gamble

Not content with dismantling the social security system for the working-age needy, Iain Duncan Smith has now set his sights on pensioners (Report, 29 April). True to form, the softening-up process has begun with what might seem an innocuous call for “rich” pensioners to “give back” their benefits.
This is just the second phase of a planned assault on universality. Experience tells us that no more mealy-mouthed platitudes can disguise their intent. Given time, this coalition will undoubtedly introduce means-testing for pensions, phase out winter fuel payments, and eventually force pensioners to rely on private means to support themselves. The writing is on the wall.
However, while pensioners are the country’s largest voting block, they must act now before this administration dismantles yet another cherished ideal. I would urge all concerned to write to your MP and give notice that any attempt to attack universal pensions will be answered at the next election.
Christopher Munro
• Do not be diverted by the coalition pantomime about welfare for well-off elderly people. Once Mr Duncan Smith’s “aspiration” has taken root, the next step will be an expectation that the well-off elderly will not need the universal benefit provided by the NHS either. Health insurers will be waiting for them.
Remember Richard Titmuss’s pronouncement, 45 years ago, that “services for the poor are poor services”. No one dares say that well-off people (should) pay more tax, the basis of social cohesion.
Sebastian Kraemer
•  The hue and cry over benefits for “rich pensioners” seems to come down to three things: TV licences for over-75s, the winter fuel payments (a gimmick which could just be incorporated into the pension), and free bus passes. The one which alarms me is free bus passes (and not because I have one which I use occasionally). This is a national scheme which replaced a lot of variable local schemes run and paid for by local councils.
Most councils could not afford to reinstate those if the national scheme were scrapped. If free bus passes were restricted to people getting pension credit (the obvious way to means-test them), the effect on a lot of local, suburban and rural bus services could be catastrophic. Much of the network might close down overnight.
Ministers, civil servants and journalists ought to look outside the London bubble at the wider consequences of what they are talking about so glibly.
Tony Greaves
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords
•  Yet another snipe at bus passes for pensioners. Bus passes are not just another perk, but there is never any debate about the wider issues.
I have a bus pass, so has my husband. Like a lot of pensioners, we don’t need this concession. Where we live it is more convenient to go just about anywhere by car than by bus, but we use the bus to be socially responsible. Personally it does not matter if I have to go without a bus pass. I will just go by car with the added bonus that I no longer feel guilty. I will not be going anywhere by dirty, uncomfortable, inconvenient (privatised) bus if I have to pay the exorbitant fares. This goes for many of us.
Often the only passengers on a bus are pensioners, so many services are likely to disappear along with the bus pass. The pensioner’s bus pass has been a tremendous success and should be extended to everyone. This idea may be too radical for some, but justifiable, as society is arranged in such a way that people have to travel miles to work, at their own expense, for the convenience of their employers.
Imagine the benefits for the whole of society if bus travel was free for everyone. More passengers would lead to more and better services, which would lead to more passengers, fewer cars, less congestion, less smog, better health, fewer road repairs, more freedom for children (all of us) etc etc. It is possible that there would be an overall cost saving and perhaps a boost to the economy. At least let there be a debate and not this constant drip-drip of anti-bus-pass comments.
Karen Fletcher
North Anston, South Yorkshire
•  Work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith could be on to something with his suggestion that well-off pensioners should return their excess money to the state. And why restrict this generous idea to pensioners? Bankers’ bonuses, Premiership footballers’ ridiculous salaries and MPs’ duck-house expenses would all come in very handy. We would have to think of a suitable name for the scheme though. How about “taxation”?
Jill Eckersley
•  I do not need lectures from Iain Duncan Smith on what I should do with my £200 heating allowance. I worked out all by myself that I could manage without it. But why would I give it back to this government to spend on such things as Trident? It went where it would do far more good – helping those who were suffering from his pernicious welfare policies.
Margaret Jones
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
•  I am an 82-year-old retired occupational psychologist. I enjoy a comfortable occupational pension, on which I pay income tax. I could easily afford to hand back my universal perks, as Iain Duncan Smith suggests. Why should I, when IDS’s government reduces the top rate of income tax on salaries and bonuses to which I could never have aspired, in the interest of what? Incentivisation? Performance? Need? Don’t make me laugh. Greed and competitive self-esteem are nearer the mark in many cases, I guess. My answer is to give to charity, under gift aid, which paradoxically also deprives public service of much needed income, but at least benefits some needy organisations.
Jeremy Atkinson
Eaglescliffe, County Durham

In response to Tom Voûte’s letter about Plasma Resources UK (24 April), I would like to offer reassurance about the future of blood and organ donation. NHS Blood and Transplant is not being privatised and was not part of the recent changes in health legislation. Our services were reviewed in 2011 and ministers endorsed our unique and valuable role in saving lives through blood and organ donation. Making any financial transaction in exchange for an organ is illegal. Any suggestion of selling or buying organs would completely undermine public trust, and lead to fewer organs being donated and more people dying unnecessarily waiting for a transplant. The blood that we supply is on a not-for-profit basis and the prices that we charge to hospitals are based on covering the cost of collection, testing, processing and delivery. Plasma Resources is owned by the government and is a separate business. We do not supply blood or blood components to PRUK.
Lynda Hamlyn
Chief executive, NHS Blood and Transplant

Gay marriage not inevitable
Gary Younge writes with great insight and clarity on the history of the gay rights movement, and he is right to remind us that nothing is inevitable and to commend the struggle of those who started the movement (Optimism blooming on gay marriage, 12 April). If I may add just one point, though – Younge states that “In 2004 gay marriage was legal in just two countries – Belgium and the Netherlands – and one American state – Massachusetts”. In fact, it was also legal in at least two Canadian provinces: Ontario and British Columbia, which both legalised same-sex marriage in 2003. Same-sex marriage was legalised in most of Canada’s other provinces and territories during 2004.
Adam Williamson
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
• Am I alone in thinking that all this agonising over gay marriage shows that our entire society has sunk to a level of stupidity where it can no longer distinguish between a substantive issue and a semantic one? We have a phenomenon: committed, long-term, loving relationships between people of the same sex. What we don’t have is a word for it.
If the gay community finds “civil union” lacking in the necessary emotional content, I can sympathise with that, but the word “marriage” is already taken. It means committed, long-term, loving relationships between people of opposite sex. Its main function is the production and nurturing of the next generation, a function of sufficient importance to require its own word.
The solution is obvious. Let the gay community invent or appropriate a word, which will then be put in our dictionaries defined as “Just like marriage, only between people of the same sex”. It’s not as if it hasn’t been done it before: when I was growing up “gay” meant something completely different.
Graham Andrews
Spokane, Washington, US
Solving the food problem
Sun Tzu’s aphorism “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” was used in the Britain’s banks editorial (19 April) to highlight the uselessness of targeting a few toxic bankers while leaving the toxic banking system intact. It applies equally well to the idea advanced by Peter Lancashire on the Reply page (19 April) that more powerful (and risky) plant-breeding technologies are needed to solve the problem of world hunger. Pointing to yet another major defeat arising from focusing on this tactic (wheat rust evolving to infect varieties bred to be resistant to it), Lancashire fails to see that this tactic is not a strategy that can defeat hunger. He also mistakenly believes that Ireland in the 1840s was “organic” and that this led to famine.
On the contrary, the monoculture of one potato variety in Ireland was the exact antithesis of organic systems farming, which is based on the principle of biodiverse polycultures. All monocultures are an invitation to pests and diseases to multiply, and the bigger the monoculture the bigger the ultimate disaster, as was the case in Ireland.
Only a global strategy of diverse planting for diverse diets will win victory over hunger and malnutrition. Plant breeders who work with farmers to create a diversity of robust plants for specific ecosystems are doing useful work to aid this strategy. Those who breed plants for monocultures dependent on proprietary chemical inputs to survive are effectively engineering and embedding hunger, not ending it.
Christine Dann
Port Levy, New Zealand
• Having a scientific background myself I can understand why Peter Lancashire (Reply, 19 April) feels bewildered and angered by the European attitude toward genetically modified organisms.
They appear to offer the solution to many global problems like vitamin A deficiency, potato blight etc and it’s hard to understand why any right-minded person should be against them – until you take a good look at what’s at stake. On the one hand multinationals involved in the development of GMOs have millions, and potentially billions of dollars at stake.
On the other, our food supply, our source of nourishment, the very essence of our being, without which we cannot survive, is on the line. These two facts sit together very uncomfortably, and it’s only by complete and utter trust that we could allow the one to tamper with the other. Herein lies the problem. Even the most die-hard capitalist would have to accept that sometimes big money can get in the way of the truth. Research results can be overlooked, or fudged or even falsified if they reveal inconvenient truths that undermine the goal of the company. So, there is the first problem – Do we have enough trust to put our future in the hands of multinationals? At the other end of the food chain is the farmer who, if he accepts GM crops, will be obliged to buy the seeds every year because he is forbidden to use the grain produced by the plant and thus will be permanently under the thumb of the agrochemical industry.
So the second question is: do we really want the use of our land to be controlled by multinationals?
The reason why Europeans don’t want GM is not because they are anti-science; it’s because they trust neither the companies nor the politicians who are subject to intense and persistent lobbying by these companies.
Having failed to persuade us to accept GM corn, rapeseed, potato etc, the multinationals are trying to soften us up. This involves developing things like golden rice and blight resistant potato so that we are convinced that genetic modification is a “good thing”, whereas in fact both of these crops can be developed by traditional methods of cross fertilisation. If we are taken in by this ruse, life itself will soon be in their hands. We cannot allow this to happen .
Science has helped the development of humankind in so many ways but science also gave us the hydrogen bomb and thalidomide and now we have GM food. I can fully understand scientists feeling frustrated by the sceptics but I would hope that they could look at the wider picture and the politics involved when so much is at stake.
As for the article on Mark Lynas (12 April), who became pro-GM because he “fell in love with the science”, all I can say is: what a waste of three pages of an otherwise good newspaper.
David Murray
Montbrun-Bocage, France
• Could it be pointed out to Peter Lancashire that organic agriculture does not include the practice of monoculture? In the Irish potato famine, there was no rotation of crops that might have mitigated the tragic consequences of planting potatoes on the same ground year after year, not allowing the causative organism to die out for want of a host.
Lancashire does not identify the company for which he works, but he clearly knows which side his bread is buttered on. True organic farming has proven very effective, especially on small intensive plots, not dissimilar to those of 1840s Ireland. Yes, we must feed the world, but GM is not necessarily the way to go.
Helen Brink
Dundas, Ontario, Canada
Why should we have to pay?
The Cypriot parliamentary president, Yannakis Omirou, is furious because Cyprus has been told to find a further €6bn ($7.8bn) and has been “served poison” by its EU partners (19 April).
The original estimate of the shortfall of €17bn now turns out to be €23bn. Who got the figures wrong? Surely the estimates were based on Cypriot information. We, for instance, here in Germany, are hardly in possession of sufficient data to assess Cyprus’s financial needs.
Cyprus’s poisoners are the Cypriot politicians who have for years been spending money they did not have. We Germans are furious at having to give financial help to countries that seem unable to help themselves, only to be called “poisoners”. I suggest that, either we cease providing the poison, or that the poisoned send it back, before they take it. That way, we would be able to spend the money as we wish, rather than as some foreign government wishes.
Derek Murphy
Bad Pyrmont, Germany
Not a death experience
The resuscitation techniques Sam Parnia described are well known but not easy to perform and cannot be used regularly outside of the hospital (Meet Sam Parnia, resurrection man, 19 April). Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is familiar for medical staff, especially in intensive care units, but cooling down the body requires expensive stuff and specialised medical or paramedical teams, which aren’t easy to find. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is often disappointing outside of the hospital.
As for the so-called ECMO technique, it isn’t possible to perform it routinely either, except with the help of the intensive care units. If your heart stops beating in the operating room, or in ICU, you’ll have a chance to recover, but you’ll risk unpredictable neurological effects.
About the near-death experiences, it has been known for about 40 years, since Raymond Moody’s book came out (Life After Life, 1975), that what Parnia calls “actual death experiences” is an inadequate term. The image of a bright tunnel and the experiences involving looking down at the surgical team at work are probably just the consequences of transient cerebral ischemia.
The actual death is about the definitive destruction of cerebral cells. The patients who recover and can testify about what they experienced didn’t really die. They were only experiencing a reversible cerebral ischemia, which leads to an altered state of consciousness.
Marie Daoudal
Luxeuil-les-Bains, France
• Heather Stewart’s suggestion in her analysis of IMF policies that prospering countries like Germany and China should agree to boost demand amounts to recommending they ask their citizens to indulge in excessive consumption to ease the plight of countries, Cyprus for example, that have done just that (19 April). There is something to be said for botched bailouts and harsh austerity policies after all. In the longer haul, they will remedy the problem, rather than just mask its symptoms.
Michael Goldeen
Palo Alto, California, US
• It behooves us to be tolerant to those who seem to have missed the boat in not thinking that chess is a sport (Reply, 29 March). If one understands and enjoys an art form or a sport, then it doesn’t matter whether it complies with someone else’s narrow definition. Meanwhile, Leonard Barden will lead us to enlightenment as he has for so many years.
John Graham
Hoogstraten, Belgium
• The dead pigs pollution in China is a perfect emblem of their brutal mandarin dictatorship’s unfitness to govern – and the like corruption of every western leader who for decades has been making deals with it (5 April). “Red China” was anathema to democratic media and regimes 50 years ago. Now our and their greed and criminality stink.
Rob MacLeod
Sirdar, British Columbia, Canada
• “Those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan may learn the lessons of those who went before” (19 April). It’s a pity that before “they” thought about going into Iraq and Afghanistan, “they” did not think about the lessons learnt from going into Vietnam.
Don Dormer
Frankfurt am Main, Germany


With the county elections almost upon us, here in South Buckinghamshire one of the most controversial of political topics has been the proposed HS2 rail link. I am not passionately pro or anti, but what I do feel passionately about is Nigel Farage and his Ukip party’s muscling in to proclaim their opposition to the project. 
I would have a bit more respect for this politician’s sincerity if I got the feeling that his party had a healthy track record in campaigning on environmental issues, or a structured transport policy. However, reading Ukip’s literature doesn’t make a strong impression. There is a reference to upgrading public transport and protecting the green belt, next to encouragement for free car parking and opposition to “renewable energy scams”. Inevitably the foreigner and minority group cards come into play, with no preferential treatment given to travellers, and opposition to road tolls, except where the lorries are foreign-owned.
Any issue which happens to be good for a few votes will do. It is difficult to find any coherent policies, apart from their policy of opposing everything European. At least they are clear on that, even though it would be disastrous, cutting ourselves adrift from our main and closest market and ending up with the political clout of Norway.
Mr Farage and Ukip’s campaign seems to be based on things they are against. If they had to actually take responsibility for anything, they might find that they were out of their depth.
Alex Wilson, High Wycombe
Nigel Farage may be a “rather engaging geezer” as Boris Johnson says, but he is a frog in prince’s clothing – very dapper, entertaining and articulate on the outside but all the time hopping from one Euro-myth to another in furtherance of his cause.
He is particularly fond of exaggerating the influence of the EU on our daily lives by repeatedly telling us that “75 per cent of our laws originate in Brussels”. This is simply untrue. A House of Commons Library study covering more than a decade found that about 16 per cent of our statutory instruments implemented EU legislation.
Even if you added all the regulations imposing some form of obligation upon us, the total came to about 50 per cent of all our laws and regulations – and this included several that don’t apply to us but that we have to sign up to, like those on olive and tobacco growing.
Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon
The political elite are certainly running scared, as witnessed by their outrageous accusations against UKIP as we approach this week’s county council elections. Never have I heard so much spite, venom and ridicule from those supposed to be upstanding members of society.
While we take allegations against any of our candidates seriously, and will deal with matters appropriately, I wonder if all their candidates would stand up to close scrutiny. Let us not forget the expenses scandal of four years ago.
If those parties had listened to the concerns and wishes of the voters instead of treating them with contempt, they would not be in the sorry state they are now.
We are a party that is strong, durable and fast-growing and able to handle whatever the others throw at us, as best summed up in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Philip Griffiths, North West Chairman UK Independence Party , Lancaster
Recent attacks from the Tories have denounced Ukip as closet racists. In my experience of Ukip at by-elections and at local elections and of meeting many of their grassroots supporters, this is borne out. Most Ukip members and supporters are nothing but opportunists, seeking a populist platform for their extremist views.
As the Official party of protest, we Official Monster Raving Loonies strongly object to use of the terms “fruit cakes and loonies” when describing Ukip. We who seek the Holy grail of Loonyism strongly object to the cavalier use of these terms.
Lord Toby Jug, Leader, The Official Monster Raving Loony Party, Eastern Region, , St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Nuclear fusion will never be practical
The ease of international collaboration on a technology is inversely proportional to the likelihood that anyone will ever make any money out of it. We now have the US, the UK, the European Union, Japan, Russia and other countries all collaborating on Iter, pouring their taxpayers’ money into the black hole of nuclear fusion technology (report, 27 April).
Fusion is fascinating basic science. It should be fighting its corner for funding with other big science, such as radio astronomy and particle physics. It will never be an energy technology.
First you have to get the deuterium-tritium reaction to go at all. Then you have to get it to go continuously. So far so good; they’ve done this, at least for short periods. Then you have to get it to release more energy than you use producing the reaction. They’re not close.
Then you have to capture the energy released. The plan is to surround the plasma chamber with a bath of molten lithium. Think about the engineering involved: a high vacuum on one side of the chamber wall, molten lithium on the other side, and a furious flux of hard neutrons bombarding the wall.
You then have to run hot molten lithium through a closed circuit of heat exchangers to raise steam for a turbine. Experience with fast-breeder reactor heat exchangers – molten sodium on one side, water on the other – suggests that this is an engineering challenge we have yet to meet. For four decades they failed, all over the world.
Let’s look a lot harder at the snake-oil PR that fusion people use to keep their hands in taxpayers’ pockets.
Walt Patterson , Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Steve Connor, writes, “The international nuclear fusion project – known as Iter, meaning ‘the way’ in Latin…”
At the risk of appearing pedantic, iter is Latin for “journey”. The Latin for “way” or “road” is via.
Robert Lowe, Deputy Director, UCL Energy Institute, London WC1
Time is on the side of Leveson
Your leading article (26 April) speaks of stalemate over press regulation, but there is no real stalemate. A number of newspapers, unlike your own, are refusing to acknowledge the need for real change in the way the industry conducts its affairs. Their proposed charter is a device to allow them to remain unaccountable, but it is little more than a desperate and forlorn gesture.
The royal charter that was approved by all parties in Parliament embodies the Leveson recommendations, which are fair and measured and pose no threat to free expression. In time this will become obvious. Equally, the incentives to participate in the genuine scheme – incentives that are both moral and financial – will have their effect. What we need is patience.
Professor Brian Cathcart, Director, Hacked Off, London SW1
Outlaw drones or face attacks
You report on protests at the UK’s involvement in drone warfare (27 April). As drones in the wrong hands can also be used as flying bombs, making possible precision 9/11-style attacks on buildings, factories, power stations and sports stadiums, it is only a matter of time before rogue states (and terrorist groups) obtain drone technology.
We should therefore demand that our government has the courage to get the UN to make “drone warfare” a war crime, before it is too late.
Brian Christley, Conwy
Bees still  in danger
Monday’s announcement of a temporary neonicotinoids restriction isn’t an unqualified win for bees (“Another reason to be grateful for Europe”, 29 April). The move is a breathing space which must be used to develop less harmful pest control.
To make good on its bee-friendly rhetoric the Government must also address the chronic loss of habitat, sources of food, and other threats pollinators face in the UK. We need a proper Bee Action Plan now.
Sandra Bell , Nature Campaigner, Friends of the Earth, London N1
Time to go
It is now surely time for our monarchs to follow Queen Beatrix’s example and abdicate in favour of the next generation. As it stands, increasing longevity, improved health and modern medical practices ensure that the reigning monarch will, in all probability, live into their 80s or 90s, meaning their successor is unlikely to succeed until they are themselves in their 60s or 70s.  Unless a way is found to allow the next generation to succeed earlier, we are destined always to have geriatric monarchs.
John Harvey, Bristol
Big city eateries
Your story (30 April) about the new ranking of the world’s top 50 restaurants informs us that “Spain now outranks Paris and New York as the world’s culinary capital”. Is the writer aware that Spain is a whole country, whereas Paris and New York are cities (and the US and France have more entries than Spain)?
Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France
Box of cojones
Guy Keleny (Errors and Omissions, 27 April) reasonably supposes that “b*****ks” had been translated from the Spanish cojones. However, the column was headlined: “Show some cajones and get rid of the asterisks”. As cajones means “drawers” or “boxes”, the column nicely lived up to its name.
David Ridge, London N19
Reality check
Your headline says: “British public loses faith in Coalition’s austerity plan” (30 April). Has it also lost faith in New Labour’s debt-financed boom we all enjoyed so much? Do we now believe that the British have been living beyond our means for the past 40 years?
Martin London, Henllan, Denbighshir


The Government urgently needs to introduce a ‘Bee Action Plan’ to ensure that we look after our bee population
Sir, I started keeping bees some 40 years ago, in the same garden but in a very different environment. In those days, hedge and house sparrows twittered everywhere; cuckoos arrived in May, nightingales sang at night beside the river, and grasshoppers chirruped in the grass.
Then came agro-industry, and a green desert surrounds our village — enormous fields, drenched with weedkiller and insecticide. The seeds and insects necessary for birdlife vanished, as did the birdsong and my honey crops. Next month I shall make my late-night stands to listen to the few nightingales that are left, but now I have to drive 50 miles to hear them. I fear that my grandchildren will never hear the sounds of a healthy summer.
Alastair Lack
Coombe Bissett, Wilts
Sir, European restrictions on pesticides linked to bee decline are an important stride forward, but as your editorial (“Plan Bee”, Apr 30) rightly points out, we need a strategy for tackling other possible causes of falling bee numbers.
Through our Bee Cause campaign we have been pushing the Government to introduce a Bee Action Plan. The campaign already has the backing of almost 180 MPs from all parties, retailers and tens of thousands of individuals.
Bees are crucial for our environment and economy. Replacing bee pollination with hand pollination could cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year. Last week David Cameron said that “If we don’t look after our bee populations very, very serious consequences will follow”.
It’s time to act on this rhetoric.
Andy Atkins
Executive Director, Friends of the Earth
Sir, The serious problems arising from the use of pesticides in agriculture (report, Apr 30) are not limited to just one group of pesticides, the neonicotinoids. The reality is that there is a whole cocktail of pesticides used in food production. The current UK policy regarding pesticides fails to assess adequately the risks of such exposure to any species whether it be humans, bees, or other. Further, successive governments have failed to act on known risks and adverse impacts, especially on human health. There needs to be a complete policy shift away from the dependence on pesticides by utilising sustainable non-chemical farming methods.
Georgina Downs
UK Pesticides Campaign
Chichester, W Sussex
Sir, The reluctance of the British Beekeepers Association to join the call for action on neonicotinoids tells us something about the complexity of this matter.
They are justly worried about what comes next. There has been widespread rejoicing at the banning of pesticides without any thought of the need for other potentially financially and environmentally costly pesticides required to grow affordable food today.
This debate has lacked an informed balance. It has not helped that a science-led government has lacked definitive independent research while emotional campaigns have been highly successful. No one has delved into the honey bee industry’s use of pesticides to control varroa mites.
We must be prepared to pay more for agricultural R&D, habitat enhancement and our groceries. Your leading article speaks volumes when it says that the battle for the bees has only just begun.
Rob Yorke
Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Resources have been cut in prisons so the chance to engage in constructive work and rehabilitation is limited at best
Sir, Chris Grayling will certainly please the “hangers and floggers” in the Conservative Party and perhaps reclaim some votes from UKIP with his plans for prisoners to earn their privileges by more than good behaviour (report, Apr 30). However, my experience as a volunteer in a highly regarded prison was that resources have continually been cut by all governments, and the chance to engage in constructive work, education and rehabilitation is limited. I met a number of young men who had turned their lives around and were accepted for parole, but had to stay in prison because it was dependent on attendance at an anger management course, which often was not available.
Mr Grayling may talk tough but it will mean nothing unless he backs it up with the necessary resources.
Edward Green
Lichfield, Staffs

Weak planning and building controls, together with unscrupulous contractors, mean that another disaster in Bangaladesh is likely
Sir, Justin Forsyth, the chief executive of Save the Children, makes a number of good points concerning investment in Bangladesh and indeed in other developing countries (“Grieving Bangladesh still needs good businesses”, Opinion, Apr 29) but fails to speculate on the likely causes that led to the collapse of the Rana Plaza building at Savar with the loss of hundreds of workers.
At the end of the civil war, more than 40 years ago, which brought about the liberation of Bangladesh, the built environment in Dhaka and other towns and cities across the country was generally low-rise with just a handful of tall buildings, mainly in the commercial areas of Dhaka and Chittagong. Over the years the construction of tall buildings for commercial, industrial and residential purposes has flourished. Couple this to weak planning and building controls, along with unscrupulous contractors using inferior materials and construction methods, and the fact that Bangladesh is in an earthquake zone, and it is inevitable that disasters such as that witnessed in Savar are bound to happen again.
I very much hope that Mohammed Sohel Rana, whom you report as having property interests in Savar and who was arrested attempting to cross the border to India, does not become a scapegoat, thus deflecting attention from the government departments responsible for planning and the enforcement of building regulations.
Michael Pickett
Crawley, W Sussex

Perhaps if there are people receiving benefits who do not need them, that extra cash could be diverted to a worthy charity
Sir, I find the indignation of wealthy pensioners (report, Apr 29, letters, Apr 30) who wish to forgo or return their pensions and benefits to the government hard to understand.
Surely if one is in a position to do this, the obvious course is to donate it to a charity — many of which are crying out for support. This gives the donor the freedom to support causes which are important to them, while having the satisfaction of giving rather then have the State do it for them.
Kenneth Herman
Somerton, Somerset

All those who fought in the First World War should be remembered, including the many Indian soldiers who died far away from home
Sir, There is a memorial on the South Downs near Brighton to the fallen soldiers from India, who were shipped across the seas to a war they did not volunteer for, to a continent they did not know, to defend an Empire that had enslaved them (“Great War tributes ‘should be to all the dead’ ”, letters, Apr 29). Nevertheless they held the line at Ypres against the seemingly inexorable German advance for long enough to enable Canadian and New Army reinforcements to be deployed.
A million Indian soldiers, including my grandfather, fought in the Great War, and 60,000 died, far from home, in a cold and distant land. Let us not forget them.
Dr K. Rajagopal
Hurstpierpoint, W Sussex


SIR – Boris Johnson at least offers a more rational analysis of Ukip (Comment, April 29) than Ken Clarke’s rattled rantings, but both miss the point.
We Conservatives are a shrewd lot who grasp the concept of investing for the future. The only effective method of communicating, mid-term, to a sitting government is to re-elect, or de-elect, the party’s councillors in local elections. Local elections are not a direct proxy for voting intentions in general elections but they can send a clear, painful, message to No 10.
A hung county council in Oxfordshire, in the short term, is a price worth paying for a cast-iron, legally binding guarantee from the Tories of a referendum on continued membership of the EU. Short-term pain for long-term gain.
Hugo Brown
Stoke Lyne, Oxfordshire
SIR – I took the opportunity to read the leaflets from Ukip that came through my letterbox to see what all the fuss was about. The main policy document, What We Stand For, details national policies that have little relevance to local elections.
However, it became apparent that the whole raison d’être of Ukip is based on a single premise. Imagine for a moment that Ukip achieved power in Westminster, rather than simply taking votes from the Conservatives and ensuring Labour’s return. Almost everything in its prospectus is based on an immediate referendum on Europe. So, in month one, PM Farage calls the referendum and fails to win a majority – an outcome that is entirely likely.
Virtually everything written about what else Ukip does then collapses, because it all assumes that we have left the EU and that the Government would have the funds to overturn everything Ukip finds abhorrent. But in such a scenario they’d be spending the next 59 months twiddling their thumbs, with the possible exception of “referenda on the hunting ban”.
Richard Lutwyche
Cirencester, Gloucestershire
SIR – The policies that Boris Johnson says that Ukip won’t be able to do anything about (as they won’t be in power) are policies that the Conservatives are doing absolutely nothing about now.
The policies that the Conservatives are forcing through were not in their manifesto, and many of us Conservative voters do not want them.
The Conservative Party has alienated and angered many of its voters, and now it wonders why we are turning to Ukip.
Wake up and try listening to us, David Cameron. After all, Nigel Farage is.
Judi Rumble
Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire
SIR – As a Conservative voter of more than 50 years, I am voting Ukip in the local council elections. I support the Government doing the right thing for the economy, but this is the only way I can show I want independence from Europe.
Margaret Crawford
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Ring-fenced spending
SIR – The Government is struggling desperately in its stated desire to eliminate the budget deficit. It is presiding over an extraordinary ballooning of the national debt.
In light of this we call on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to abandon the Government’s policy of implicit and explicit ring-fencing of certain areas of spending. In this spending review, areas such as health, overseas aid and development, and non-contributory benefits for older people should all be considered as areas in which savings can be made. Many of these ring-fenced areas saw substantial spending increases under New Labour.
It is, of course, acceptable to prioritise certain areas of spending above others. But it is not sensible to define certain areas as sacrosanct, beyond any form of questioning.
Ring-fencing certain spending areas as a device for sending a political message or as a means of positioning a political party is no substitute for proper sustainable reform.
We need to accept that, to cure the deficit, no area of government spending should be considered off limits. It is time that politicians of all stripes came to realise that the need to balance the books should be a national priority.
Mark Littlewood
Institute of Economic Affairs
Tim Knox
Centre for Policy Studies
Simon Walker
Institute of Directors
Sheila Lawlor
Phillip Blond
Matthew Sinclair
TaxPayers’ Alliance
Sterling Scots
SIR – Why is an independent Scotland in a sterling currency zone deemed to be “having it both ways” (Letters, April 27)? There are currently 17 independent states sharing the euro that seem to be free of such criticism.
The UK wants to be a major player in the EU while refusing to join the euro. Now that really is trying to “have it both ways”.
Thomas Steuart Fothringham
Murthly, Perthshire
Piles of unopened mail
SIR – As a private individual on PAYE, I recently discovered that any attempt to follow up a letter by a phone call to HM Revenue and Customs within four weeks of posting will result in automatic termination of the call.
Having then waited for the four weeks to elapse, I have now been informed (after six weeks) that my mail has not been received, or more precisely, not opened.
I am trying to imagine what four weeks’ worth of unopened mail looks like, among which I fear my letter has gone astray.
David Ward
Brockham, Surrey
Healthy experience
SIR – Max Pemberton (Health, April 29) writes in support of the Government’s view that nurses should work for one year as health-care assistants before embarking on their degree-based nurse training. This would seem to be a very good idea.
Taking the argument further, would it not be sensible if all those wishing to embark on a career in NHS management also had to serve a mandatory year as a health-care assistant?
Richard Kefford
Frittenden, Kent
Museum sell-off
SIR – Sotheby’s is to sell £5 million of 20th-century stamps from the British Postal Museum and Archive in July. As a postal historian, with an interest in preserving both our national heritage and stability in the philatelic market, I am shocked.
The auction is said to be a unique opportunity for collectors to purchase “registration” and “imprimatur” sheets, of which only two for each stamp were produced. The auction’s division into 191 lots suggests an average of more than £26,000 per lot. This cannot be described as collector-friendly.
Might the powers-that-be urgently reconsider this sale, which affects the ethos of museum culture? Is it ethical, even if legal, that sheets with unique manuscript markings are disposed of, rather than preserved as a part of our national heritage, and for future research?
If the sale goes ahead, it would certainly be sensible to spread it over five or 10 years, so that genuine collectors might share in the spoils. As matters stand, only the distinguished firm of Stanley Gibbons has the financial muscle to buy much in July, and the material will go straight to its investment portfolios.
Gavin Littaur
London NW4
An ear for Verdi
SIR – Richard Last (Letters, April 26) complains about the lack of attention to Verdi’s anniversary at the Proms. But Radio 3 is to broadcast all Verdi’s operas this year, rather than just at the Proms.
Henry Russell
Hampton, Middlesex
SIR – In the 200th anniversary year of both Verdi and Wagner, Classic FM seems to have abandoned opera. Apart from titbits such as Nessun Dorma and The Ride of the Valkyries, it rarely broadcasts opera.
It could include a complete act in its daily Full Works Concert.
Clive Williams
St Neots, Huntingdonshire
Hives that thrive
SIR – Those clamouring for a ban on neonicotinoids, to save bees, should note that Switzerland, which does not use them, reports die-offs of bees, while Australia, which uses neonicotinoids widely, has no substantial die-offs. Canada, which uses them for canola crops, is not losing bees.
Judy Tren
Wantage, Oxfordshire
Independent schools are no reservoirs of measles
SIR – Professor John Ashton, the public health representative, (reports, April 27 and 29) seems to believe that because many parents nationally failed to ensure that their children received MMR immunisation, independent schools are therefore potential “reservoirs of disease”.
What is especially worrying in his unjustified assault upon the independent sector is his preference for mere opinion over hard evidence.
Independent schools should now brace themselves for further revelations that they are responsible for global warming and the fall of the Roman Empire
Dr Christopher Ray
High Master, The Manchester Grammar School
SIR – It is perverse of Professor Ashton and Dr David Elliman, the immunisation specialist (report, April 27), to suggest that private schools have no proper policies to ensure pupils have been vaccinated against measles, when the Department of Health’s own recording systems and data-sharing are utterly unreliable and inadequate. As Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, says, the lack of communication across the NHS is “completely shocking” (report, April 27).
As a health visitor in Kensington 10 years ago, I observed that very few parents refused the MMR jab. Statistics from GPs’ surgeries confirmed this.
There is, however, no central NHS database: even GPs operate different systems that do not “speak” to each other. Health visitors were expected to enter each immunisation laboriously on multiple IT and paper systems. The resulting PCT statistics were a farce.
Additionally, we had an extremely mobile population to try to keep tabs on. The administrative task was overwhelming, especially since our profession had been decimated by the then Labour government.
Juliet Buckley
London N5

Irish Times

Sir, – Sr Anne Maher (April 29th) is simply incorrect in her assertion that the Irish public view the threat of suicide as an invalid reason for permitting an abortion. Two referendums in the wake of the X Case (in 1992 and 2002) attempted to remove this possibility from our Constitution, and both were defeated.
The people of Ireland have spoken and it is time for the politicians to listen and legislate for X now. – Yours, etc,
Coolamber Park,
Knocklyon, Dublin 16.
Sir, – The emotion Louise O’Leary (April 27th) feels about the potential risk to her life should she become unwell while pregnant clouds the clear reality that when it comes to a choice between the life of the mother and the life of the foetus, the former will win out.
It is unfortunate that she tries to cite the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar’s death where the above clear-cut scenario did not occur. Ms Halappanavar died after having initially requested an abortion while miscarrying but outside the legally allowable circumstances of a threat to her life. Sepsis intervened, was missed, didn’t respond to standard antibiotic treatment and the tragic loss of a life occurred.  – Yours, etc,
Beechwood Court,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – Aidan O’Boyle (April 29th) says that a woman must be “close to death” before a medical termination is carried out. This is singularly untrue. The risk to life does not have to be immediate, just real and substantive. In the case of Ms Halappanavar, for example, the threat to her life from sepsis was real long before it was immediate, but as the inquiry told us, failings at Galway University Hospital meant it was not acted upon at that time. – Yours, etc,
Annadale Drive,
Marino, Dublin 9.
Sir, – How I would to see all this concern, money and energy (relating to the abortion debate) directed to those children who are actually born, and in great need of help.– Yours, etc,
Athlone, Co Westmeath.
Sir, – I would first of all like to share what appeared to be the Sunday Independent ’s shock that Anne Ferris TD and Aodhán Ó’Ríordán TD were found to be pro-choice over the weekend. My “shock”, however, is not that they are pro-choice, but that more TDs were not outed by the media as caring enough about the women of Ireland to be willing to stand up for their right to bodily autonomy.

Sir, – The publication of the National Positive Ageing Strategy by Minister of State Kathleen Lynch represents a milestone in the framing of policy on ageing in Ireland. However, there is a danger that your Editorial on positive ageing will lull people into a false sense of security regarding their future wellbeing (April 29th). This would be unwise. The reality is that the National Positive Ageing Strategy requires an implementation plan if it is to have a tangible impact on older people’s lives. The Minister, to her credit, recognises the need. She has committed herself to the completion of an implementation plan, including actions, timelines and performance indicators, within six months.
Now is the time to sustain pressure on Government for the production of an implementation plan. Our advice to older people is to remain vigilant during the next six months and to continue to lobby their public representatives for a result. The launch of the National Positive Ageing Strategy followed a seven-year campaign by older people and their advocates. Let’s make one final push now for an effective implementation plan! – Yours, etc,
Older & Bolder,
Jervis Street, Dublin 1.

Sir, – The verdict of the Supreme Court on Marie Fleming’s case (Breaking News, April 29th) brings mixed emotions. Although at one level I think we all believe the upsetting reality of Ms Fleming’s situation merits the conclusion she sought, on another level and what is possibly a more upsetting reality is the knowledge that such a precedent could see the weakest and most vulnerable in these situations abused, as has occurred in our past.
I would hope that in the future the above possibility becomes non-existent and that our citizens in these very personal and tragic positions receive the respectful support and help that they truly deserve! – Yours, etc,
St Laurence’s Road,
Chapelizod, Dublin 20.

Irish Sir, – Obstetricians in Wales have a lower case-load of women (Home News, April 27th) because midwives in that country see every woman in the community for their first “booking” visit in pregnancy. All women assessed as being healthy and well, with no risk factors for labour and birth, continue to have midwife-led care throughout pregnancy and can choose to birth at home, in a community birth centre, or hospital. This takes a tremendous load off hospital-based obstetricians.
In Ireland, over-worked obstetricians are responsible for 30,000 “low-risk” women who do not routinely need their care. Midwives are educated, and qualified, to care for such women.
The remaining 40,000 women in Ireland who need medical attention in pregnancy receive less detailed care than they should, because obstetricians are having to spread their time over a wider population of women. This is despite the 2008 KPMG report on maternity care in the Greater Dublin Region, which recommended midwife-led units for the whole country, units that incur, on average, €300,000-800,000 in initial capital costs and result in a saving of €332 per woman birthing there.
Irish research, as well as many international studies, demonstrates consistently that midwife-led care, in a unit close to a maternity hospital, is at least as safe as consultant-led care and is associated with less intervention and greater satisfaction.
Our maternity services are at breaking point. Thirty thousand healthy, normal women receiving expert midwifery care in pregnancy, labour and birth, would save the country €10 million per annum. What is the Government waiting for? – Yours, etc,
Nursing and Midwifery,
Trinity College Dublin &
Midwifery, National
University of Ireland,
A chara, – As I look back on my career in hospital medicine over the past eight years, I can honestly say that the cases Ann Marie Hourihane describes (Weekend Review, April 27th) are unfortunately relatively common in our health service.
I have met the dedicated and often frustrated relatives she describes and oftentimes it was so frustrating for me to try to explain how little the service can offer them. But at the frontline of the service you are the person that people see and people blame for these issues even though you may have little or no control over them. You find yourself trying sometimes to defend these practices and your nursing colleagues because you know that the issue is not that the nurses or the doctors don’t care about the patient.
I have worked with some of the most dedicated staff and they are so frustrated at having to ration care on the wards. On a ward of 30-40 acutely ill patients, four to five nurses and a health care attendant are simply not enough to provide the level of care required. The wards are not staffed enough for someone to sit down and spend time feeding or cleaning the patients. This is sad but true.
Priority is given to the very acutely ill, to documentation and to the administration of treatment. Simple issues such as feeding and personal hygiene are often neglected in favour of these.
I have observed that the nursing staff over the years have seen their administrative load increase and the amount of documentation expected of them is ridiculous. I have witnessed nurses being reprimanded for not adequately completing documentation.
Oftentimes I have had to conduct ward rounds without the nurse present; I have had to do procedures without the assistance of a nurse and have had to have meetings with families without the patient’s nurse present. It’s not their fault – they just don’t have enough staff on the floor to do everything.
I feel sorry for the patients sometimes because they put up with so much. Some of the elderly patients, in particular, are so vulnerable. They deserve better.
It is professionally embarrassing for me, to stand in the emergency department at three in the morning and find myself trying to defend the service to the relative of an 80-year-old patient on a trolley for hours.
I would rather not be put in that position, but unfortunately, as resources are cut and hours are cut, and savings are made, someone has to pay and it’s the elderly, the infirm and the sick who are footing the bill. – Yours, etc,
Addison Park,
Glasnevin, Dublin 11.


• I remember as a child running out of the room once my parents started to fight. It was the shrillness of the tone, the incoherent anger; you never knew where it could end.
Also in this section
It’s very lonely living in the real world, minister
McDowell right on whip system
Special accolade for hypocrisy
That is the din in which the abortion debate is being conducted, compassionless and blind.
At the centre should be the traumatised mother and the unborn child. But there is room for neither in the unreasoned sound and fury that prevails.
For many years now, women have gone overseas for abortions. The State seemed happy, or at best indifferent, with the status quo, even though the Supreme Court was not.
I am neither pro nor anti; I judge not, lest I be judged.
I will go with the democratic will of the people. But I could never fault a young girl who has no guidance and no support from making her decision.
On the other hand, I know three girls who had abortions and whose lives were altered permanently by their choice.
There are no easy solutions; just because one shouts louder than someone else does not mean you have moral force behind your voice.
I would like to see improved sex education, and I would like to have some debate on how the father of the child could be compelled to support the girl whom he has impregnated.
There is a dual responsibility and the woman should not be left on her own to deal with the consequences. Has the State not a role to play here?
The decibel level in this scarring debate is already unbearable, and we have once more produced an abundance of heat and no light.
Name and address with editor
Action on abortion
• Ireland’s struggle with the issue of abortion confronts us with the ambiguity of the relationship between church and State in a predominantly Catholic country. The Government has to appear to be framing legislation independently of the church’s demands, yet it cannot ignore the teachings of the church – not because these teachings come from the church but because they may embody the views of the majority of the people.
A representative democracy, however, is built on the people’s trust in the elected government’s capacity to make the right judgments. To engage in constant referendums on all major elements of legislation weakens government and militates against the decisiveness and clarity that one expects from our elected representatives.
It is conceivable that government legislation may not be in perfect accord with the teachings of the church. If this were an excluded possibility, we would be back to the days of the many ill-judged incursions into politics by the late Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.
The ultimate political judgment must rest with our elected representatives. They seem to be loitering with intent to legislate. They have succumbed to the philosophy, ‘Don’t just do something, sit there’.
Philip O’Neill
Edith Road, Oxford
Boucher’s thousands
• With all the talk about Richie Boucher’s thousands, would it not be easier to refer to them as Richie’s Mint?
Maurice Gavin
Tramore, Co Waterford
One law for the rich
• Let’s recap here briefly so I am certain I am not hallucinating. The banks and building industry went belly up in 2007/08, right? The Government bailed them out . . . essentially without viewing the books. We, the public, were the ultimate guarantors of this Faustian pact.
The quid pro quo, then, should have been that the mortgage costs of over-valued houses should have been readjusted so as those undertaking the new austerity burden, or who have now lost their jobs, could be compensated – something altruistic along the lines of “we are all in this together”.
Instead, we see that the banks, though bust, are tethered to the taxpayer, but the Government had no opinion on the gross salary of their senior executive. Interestingly, they do on the fraught frontline staff who are on the receiving end of an angered public; the Government wants them to have wages reduced by 10pc. One law for the rich; one law for the non-rich.
Researching my old village the other day, I came across a nugget. In the spring of 1883, over 3,500 people sailed from Blacksod Bay to Boston. They were classified as “congested” and could not pay the rent due for their meagre stripes of land. The then government had set up the Arrears Act of 1882.
Essentially, this boiled down to a mass removal of the people who were in “arrears”. Back then and as history unfolded, we blamed the British for the unholy mess of “arrears”. Who do we blame today? Germany or the EU, or has our own Government any input to this impending catastrophe inside the next few months?
Can we expect ships anchored in our bays to carry our people away from their debt to be resettled in a new land? If only it were that simple.
John Cuffe
Dunboyne, Meath
Workers losing out
• While watching the spate of Irish reality TV programmes, ‘John Lonergan’s Circus’ and ‘The Estate’, it has come to my sad attention that there may exist a whole new generation of “career unemployed” in emergence.
Coming from a strong work ethic and having been financially independent since 17, hearing comments like “can’t wait till 18 and draw the labour” and “paid to stay in bed” are very disheartening for Ireland’s working population. We, the very folk who enable people to be paid to stay in bed, have become a laughing stock.
There is a growing perception in this country that a person can decide to be state dependent and exist with almost the same weekly cash-flow as a person who has never asked the State for anything.
I would ask you, the working people, to calculate the sum of the items you are forced to pay for now, versus if you had decided never to work. Include accommodation, taxes and levies, household charge, health and doctors, waste and water. Now subtract this from your income. The results I found were shocking.
My blame lies with the system that has created this monster and the reality that if you’re not bothered working, you pay for nothing, and if you try to better yourself and be independent, you pay for everything.
B Cahill
Listowel, Co Kerry
Proud as punch
• I am surprised that Laura Butler saw “despair” for those in red at the Heineken Cup semi-final (Irish Independent, April 29).
Yes, I am a Munster supporter and proud of it, but their brave performance in defeat was magnificent; the courage and determination unconnected to their pay packets or anything else except loyalty to their team and pride in the red jersey.
These people put their hearts and every sinew of their bodies on the line over and over again. They might have lacked the skills to seal the victory but absolute self-belief and dogged determination took them to within a hair’s breath of a seemingly impossible victory.
And how could anyone be unmoved by the players’ evident heartbreak at the end, the tears of Zebo, Coughlan and O’Gara, the embrace of the latter with O’Connell, the gracious meeting of the fans – and that is far from the end of the list.
Yes, it a disappointing day, but one of which all Ireland, not just Munster, can be proud.
Ann Talbot
Coole, Ballacolla, Co Laois


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