Sun after the rain

Rain 17th May 2013

I trot round the park today and listen to the Navy lark. I Oh dear, oh dear
The Tood-Hunter Browns have been thrown out of Wales and are to be taken back to the Island the old Island where Troutbridge used to stay. Will they ever return to Portsmouth? Priceless.
So tired and achy quite day
The Fosdyke saga: The two love birds are married the poet comes and goes and subb plot of Fewsham appears a clerk who steals is reprieved and his wife goes modelling
Mary wins at Scrabble today, just and gets just under 400, I might get my revenge tomorrow, I hope.


James Dickens
James Dickens, who has died aged 82, was a persistent and articulate Left-wing critic of Harold Wilson’s government during the parliament of 1966-70. He opposed it over Vietnam and moves to join the Common Market, but was most outspoken against its economic policies.

James Dickens 
6:10PM BST 16 May 2013
As James Callaghan and, after devaluation, Roy Jenkins tried to stabilise the economy in the face of repeated sterling crises, Dickens fought spending cuts — except in defence — and pressed for a siege economy. From 1968, as chairman of the Left-wing Tribune group of Labour MPs, he campaigned for alternatives to the tight controls maintained right up to the 1970 election, in which he lost his seat.
Despite his hostility to most of what Wilson was doing, Dickens seldom criticised the Prime Minister and spurned plots to overthrow him. Nevertheless, he was eventually suspended from the parliamentary party after abstaining in a no-confidence vote.
One abstention earned Dickens praise from Edward Heath. When, in 1969, Callaghan as Home Secretary instructed Labour MPs to vote down boundary changes that would have cost the party seats, Dickens refused, saying: “I am not prepared to see my membership of the House degraded.”
Even his opponents acknowledged Dickens’s effectiveness. The 1966 Mansion House dinner was dominated by complaints that Treasury guidelines on dividends were surfacing first in parliamentary answers to “the persistent Mr Dickens”. And it was Dickens who discovered after devaluation that a “Letter of Intent” from the IMF imposed stringent, unpublished, conditions — on which he forced a vote in the House.
James McCulloch York Dickens was born in a Glasgow tenement on April 4 1931. He left Shawlands Academy at 14, completing his education later at Newbattle Abbey College and Ruskin and St Catherine’s Colleges, Oxford. He took a clerical job with the National Coal Board and in 1958 became an NCB industrial relations officer, switching to management consultancy in 1965.
He served three years on Westminster council before winning Lewisham West from the Conservatives by 2,034 votes in 1966. Labour, after 18 months on a knife-edge, had a majority of 97, and from the moment a balance of payments crisis forced deflationary measures that July, Left-wing MPs campaigned against policies they saw as hidebound and self-defeating.
Dickens campaigned to freeze prices as firmly as wages. He called Callaghan’s deflationary Budget of 1967 the “last straw”, and threatened to publish a history of Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government, highlighting the bankers’ role in its fall.
Barbara Castle’s In Place of Strife trade union reform package confirmed for Dickens the “masochistic streak running through the government”; he feared putting its penal clauses to the House would split the party.
Ousted by 760 votes in 1970 by the future Tory minister John Selwyn Gummer, Dickens went back to industrial relations. But when the Labour frontbencher Reg Prentice defected to the Conservatives before the 1979 election, Dickens was selected to fight his seat, Newham North-East.
The Trotskyists who had driven out Prentice did not consider Dickens Left-wing enough. His election address scraped through the constituency executive, but, refused a unanimous vote of confidence, he resigned.
Dickens meanwhile became assistant director of manpower at the National Freight Corporation, then director of manpower services at the National Water Council. Former colleagues were intrigued to see him on television in 1980 lamenting the unions’ rejection of a 19.2 per cent pay offer. He moved to the Agricultural and Food Research Council as chief personnel officer, retiring in 1991, when he was appointed OBE.
James Dickens’s first marriage was dissolved in 1965, and in 1969 he married, secondly, Carolyn Casey, who survives him.
James Dickens, born April 4 1931, died April 5 2013


An international minimum wage, whether based on a percentage of the median country wage or on a rate set by international committees, could be destructive to emerging economies (A way to start healing the huge wound that Savar left, 13 May). Not only would such an initiative be costly to administer, but increased costs resulting from a higher minimum wage, and the corresponding incentive among producers to lower costs through automation, would reduce overall demand for labour in emerging economies. Not surprisingly, in the context of prevailing macroeconomic conditions and pent-up demand for low-cost production, the prospect of black market sweatshops becomes all too real.
The problem could be addressed at the other end of the supply chain. Western retailers should be required to display details of their full supply chain to consumers and invest in monitoring conditions at all stages. The “fair trade” concept could then be applied to all types of industries, allowing consumers the choice of paying a small premium on products produced in acceptable working conditions.
Piers Sanders, Vanina El-Khoury, David Faye, Cui Hailiang and Samsoo Oh
Cambridge Judge Business School
• Your article (Fashion chains sign deal for worker safety, 14 May), relating to a legally binding agreement in Bangladesh, is encouraging. However, it is shameful to read that famous retailers with huge buying power are not insisting on fair pay and conditions for an obviously exploited workforce, some of whom are paid as little as £25 per month. Assuming a machinist sews around 10 garments a day, that would be less than 10p per unit. If minimum wages were tripled to £75 per month (say 37p per hour), we would have to pay an additional 50p per garment, including a healthy margin. Ultimately, I blame the retailers for not laying down rules with their suppliers, who seem to care more about tax havens and shareholders with little thought for their hardworking employees.
Peter Connolly

In their letter (15 May), condemning Professor Hawking for not going to a conference in Israel, professors Michael Yudkin and Denis Noble state that the international code that governs the conduct of all scientists requires them to refrain from discrimination “based on such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political or other opinion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age” (statute 5 of the International Council for Science). I think that they are being a little ingenuous. I have been attending scientific meetings and congresses in all parts of the world for over 50 years, and have even organised a few; I have never heard of ICSU, nor have I ever heard that as a scientist I am bound by their code of conduct. A quick straw poll of colleagues came up with the same degree of ignorance.
What Yudkin and Noble should realise is that actions against the state of Israel are personal ones. I have never visited Israel or gone to a scientific meeting there. For many years I have refused to referee scientific papers coming from institutes in Israel, refused to referee grant applications emanating either from Israel or from American bodies collaborating with Israel, and I have also on one occasion refused to referee in an academic promotion exercise of an Israeli scientist. These are all personal choices; they are not part of “my job description”, and I have every right to make them.
I have not restricted myself to Israel. I had visited Libya and examined there, but following the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London and the Libyans’ refusal to bring anyone to justice, I severed all links with that country and its students.
Emeritus professor Anthony Milton
Royston, Cambridgeshire

The fuss over the EU referendum suggests that many British people want to be independent with no interference or control by foreigners (ie “Brussels”). On the other hand, we seem quite relaxed about letting our key infrastructure and businesses fall under foreign control, such as the proposed takeover of Severn Trent by a Kuwaiti-Canadian group (Editorial, 15 May). Many other “British” things are already foreign-owned: airports, electricity utilities, bus and train service providers, Rolls-Royce cars, Land Rover, the Mini, Cadbury, etc. So are we a proudly independent people or are we, in fact, quite content to see the whole nation sold off as long as the price is right?
Rod Logan
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey
• It is heartening that “only 2%” of students say they want to work for a bank (Letters, 16 May), but in my experience a job in the City proves much more attractive to young people who want to move to London after a quick look at the lettings listings and the figures next to them. Whatever else the financial sector may be, it is an enormous brain-drain of talented young people who might otherwise be researchers, engineers, planners, doctors or journalists.
Ned Hercock
• Bravo, Berlin (Why do British ministers meet anyone from the arts other than to cut them?, 16 May). Meanwhile Herefordshire council is debating whether to withdraw funding from all libraries and museums in the county, or to spare the central library in Hereford, for now.
John Trevitt
• Immediately reached for Concise Scots Dictionary: aye, clouts “clothes”. Get a decent dictionary, you southerners (In praise of … clouts, 16 May).
Margaret Milligan
Newcastle upon Tyne
• As a teacher I would occasionally remonstrate with a pupil (Letters, 16 May), but always “gently”.
Michael Thompson
Cheadle, Cheshire
• Top tennis players never just lose; they always “crash out” of a tournament.
Martin Fowkes
Bourne End, Buckinghamshire

If John Harris is right (Is Labour ready to turn the state upside down in 2015?, 13 May), the party is learning nothing in opposition. In accusing the left of being “fantastical” in its response to austerity, he falls into the Tory trap that says cuts are inevitable and there is no alternative.
Having fallen for this propaganda, he parrots the “swollen” public sector line. But his argument, such as it is, is supported by a distortion of how our public services are being run.
In fact, after having to hurriedly rehire thousands of staff to cope with the effects of the recession, the Department for Work and Pensions has cut 20,000 workers since May 2010. And the dogma of privatisation bafflingly escapes the blame for the “failed £5bn work programme”. Instead, Harris offers this as evidence that the department is beyond repair. The example of the employment service shows that, instead of more cuts and privatisation, we need proper investment to improve public services and get the economy moving again.
Mark Serwotka
General secretary, Public and Commercial Services union
• John Harris writes: “… if Labour is to win the next election, it will have to commit to a set of iron, independently enforced fiscal commitments… focused not just on the elimination of the deficit, but the ratio of public debt to national income… the consequences of which, to quote one Labour insider, could be ‘brutal’.” Nonsense. What Labour needs to say loud and clear is that “getting rid of public debt” is not a sensible or even feasible goal in a stagnating economy.
The real priorities are jobs and growth, and as long as the private sector is rebuilding savings, growth can only be achieved by increased public borrowing and/or monetisation, particularly for investment in greener infrastructure.
Professor George Irvin
Soas, University of London
• Does John Harris understand what eliminating the deficit by the Osborne timetable really means? Cuts to welfare that would take it below anything in Europe and below US levels, unless we can generate a return to growth. Housebuilding is definitely needed, but it’s not enough. We need a major investment in real jobs. How about a state investment bank?
Peter Taylor-Gooby
Professor of social policy, University of Kent
• Back in 2006, David Cameron said: “I want this message to go out loud and clear: the Conservative party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty.” While even diehard Tories will now acknowledge compassionate Conservatism was a mere chimera, calls this week for Labour to abandon the pledge to remove child poverty by 2020 are depressingly fatalistic. Mainstream economists, media and thinktanks have suggested it is nigh-on impossible (Report, 13 May). However, if we had taxed the increase in wealth of the top 1,000 earners in 2009 at 50%, it would have raised £38bn, six times the cuts imposed by the Tories in 2010.
This week we learn that Labour voters are less sympathetic towards the lowest earners, most of whom work. As language used by politicians (all parties) towards those in poverty has coarsened, attitudes naturally harden. George Osborne understands that very well. New Labour never overtly made the case for redistribution.
The child poverty target is not impossible. It requires a political articulation (and action) that poverty is a scourge on society and entirely unnecessary. Who will stand up to the plate?
Richard Bridge
• The New Labour years were marked by Tammany Hall-style candidate “fixes”, “parachuted-in candidates” and blocking of those not “on message”. The result has been a surfeit of indistinguishable career politicians. The process has become more open and democratic under Ed Miliband. Unions such as Unite and the GMB should be applauded for attempting to recruit new members to frequently moribund local parties, and for attempting to get more working-class representation in parliament. Those new union members should, however, be encouraged to join individually, and not en bloc, as has been claimed.
Mark Seddon
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Research by Global Witness revealing the murky world of land investments is a timely reminder for G8 leaders when they meet next month in Northern Ireland (Top bank accused of bankrolling land invasion for rubber, 13 May).
For too long, land investments have remained dangerously unregulated and opaque, exposing poor communities to having their homes grabbed from beneath their feet, including the land they rely on for food to eat and from which they make a living. Globally, the amount of land that has been sold or leased over the past decade could feed 1 billion people.
As host of the G8 summit, the UK government says it wants to begin tackling global hunger and clamp down on land grabs. A significant step towards this would be improving transparency of investments to shine a light on secretive land deals and to ensure that the interests of affected communities are upheld.
Ben Phillips
Campaigns director, Oxfam

The coverage of the Oxford and Rochdale sex abuse rings has raised uncomfortable questions around culture, gender and power within the British-Pakistani community which, thus far, the mainstream press has proved rather squeamish in confronting (Social services failed me, says abuse ring girl, 15 May). Are men of Pakistani origin predisposed to abuse girls? No. Do elements of Pakistani culture help explain why a group of men engaged in a joint venture of abusing dozens of poor, young girls? Perhaps. For a community grappling with forced marriage and so-called honour killings, the cultural backdrop and norms of female disempowerment to these crimes are all too relevant. 
Perhaps the press and opinion-formers fear that confronting these issues may feed the agendas of Ukip or the EDL. If so, yet again, the needs of poorer, young females are set aside while the older, wealthier and predominantly white, and male, choose what is worth fighting about. Meanwhile, the fact that the victims were uniformly from poorer backgrounds and young, and many from an underfunded care system, should pose equally searching questions about how white British society wilfully neglects and devalues poor, young girls.
Rocco Blume
• What is not talked about in depth is the role of social services, the police and the courts. What these girls all had in common were that they were in care and very, very vulnerable. Most children in care will have usually come from an abusive family background. All of them tried to tell a responsible adult what was happening to them but they were not listened to. What white people don’t want to admit, but the evidence is clearly there, is that in white culture (just like every other culture), the abuse of women and children, especially women and children from certain socio-economic groups, is accepted as inevitable and almost acceptable. The same goes for rape and domestic abuse.
Social workers etc only reflect the prevailing social attitudes, as do the courts. There is an inability in white British culture to reflect on social attitudes to masculinity, power and abuse. It’s much easier to blame the other, in this instance Muslim men, who fit a construct of pathologised masculinity.
Sarah Haworth
Colyton, Devon
• Sexual predation must be one of the few areas of criminal behaviour where the police (and other authorities) are ready to be completely compliant with requests by possible victims to drop an investigation (Vulnerable girls’ lives turned into a living hell, 15 May). Surely if the police have any inkling that crimes of this sort are being committed (especially when the possible victims are so clearly vulnerable – under age, addicted) they should pursue their investigations even more vigorously, regardless of such requests.
There are many ways they can pursue unproven crime besides relying wholly on personal testimony. Surely that’s why we have plainclothes police officers who can go undercover and find hard evidence. The apparent naivety of all the authorities involved is incredible. Or was it that they too had no respect for young girls whom they saw simply as “having gone off the rails”?
Gillian Dalley


The anti-Europeans in the UK should be careful what they wish for, and the Continental Europeans must be heartily sick of the British right and their interminable moaning. I hope that our Continental siblings will finally draw a line in the sand and tell the Brits to “put up or shut up”; no negotiations, no opt-outs, just pipe down or go. The anti-Europeans will find that a world dominated by giants like the US, China, India and Russia is a very cold and lonely place for little Britain, with only its delusions of grandeur to keep it warm.
D Sawtell, Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire
To those who think Eurosceptics are “Little Englanders” (Letters, 15 May), I would like to ask a question. When were you last presented with the opportunity to vote for or against a programme of government for the EU? This fundamental lack of democracy is built in to the design of the EU. The only vote we get is for MEPs, and all they can do is vote against legislative proposals. As many of your letter writers suggest, most people in Britain are not very interested in the EU and do not care much about this lack of democracy. Others like the idea of being part of a big club and generally agree with what the EU does, so they are happy, too.
Democracy has taken hundreds of years to achieve and, while far from perfect, should not be given up because, as one letter writer suggests, “we are all supra-national now”.
Julian Gall, Godalming, Surrey
It is interesting that those Conservative MPs trying to establish a new “cultural meme” among the British population related to strident Euroscepticism, have ignored the persistent fact that Europe is a relative non-issue among a large segment of the British population, and trying to mask failures over jobs, growth and immigration policy by blaming everyone but yourselves is pitiful. Indeed, in recent surveys, the stay-in brigade, largely composed of the younger generation, are still dominant.
Jon Kingsbury, Totton, Hampshire
Gove hooked on classics
Michael Gove (Letters, 16 May) may take some comfort from the advice given me by my training vicar on the eve of my ordination: “You cannot minister to women until you have read Middlemarch”. So – somewhat to the surprise of my bishop – I took the novel with me on my ordination retreat. But I was 30.
(Canon) Anthony Phillips, Flushing, Cornwall
Sex grooming has an ethnic base
I am becoming increasingly irritated by the apologists in the media who suggest that the Rochdale, Derby, Telford and Oxford cases are not anything to do with a particular ethnic group. I am not suggesting that paedophilia is limited to any particular group, but this specific form of mass grooming of under-age girls for horrendous abuse and trafficking cannot be found in any group other than specific sets of men within the Muslim community.
I have heard several spokesmen from the Muslim community being very clear that there is a problem needing to be addressed, and this should be applauded. On the other hand, I have heard some wishy-washy comments both from Muslim clerics and PC-obsessed white liberals trying to downplay the ethnic slant on these events. Let’s stop trying to pretend there is not an ethnic dimension to these cases and address the issues before extreme right-wing groups take it upon themselves to use it as a rallying cry for violent, racist action.
David Felton, Wistaston, Cheshire
Your leading article “The awful prevalence of sexual grooming gangs” (15 May), said that the question of race must not be allowed to dominate, yet then went on to reveal that detailed research indicated that in 43 per cent of these cases the abusers were white.
Given the ratio of Asian to White males in the UK, that appears to place an axe to the route of the assertion, although, in my view, culture is a more important question than race, the two not always being the same.
Vaughan Grylls, London WC1
Families need land to self-build
So we have Planning Minister Nick Boles and Housing Minister Mark Prisk encouraging councils to find land for families who want to build their own home. Good news in itself, but also needed are methods of achieving this.
When planning authorities zone previous green-field sites as future development sites, the land value rises dramatically. This increase should not be totally to the benefit of the landowners and developers. This simply leads to land speculation, and excessive costs of development land. 
For far too long the major housing companies have held a monopoly. This monopoly needs to be broken. If significant areas of land are to be given development approval, there need to be powers to enforce the division and sale of single plots available to individual buyers. If sold as a single sale of many acres of development land, only the large-scale developers can compete, and therefore maintain their control over development land.
I’ve known of individuals wishing to self-build who have approached housing developers, wanting to buy an individual plot. The developers won’t sell, wishing to retain their control over the supply of houses.
Graham Currie, Bristol
You report that BP and Shell were raided by investigators over petrol price-fixing (15 May): that would be the UK-based BP company  responsible for many deaths of oil workers globally and massive worldwide pollution. And Shell – officially censured for breaking safety rules 25 times in the six years up to 2011 – that had one of the worst safety records of all  the major oil companies in the UK and with leaking pipelines in Africa.
One hopes that the resources and resolve of investigators dealing with occupational and environmental health issues will be as good as those exploring financial abuse. Perhaps we will also finally see effective corporate governance kicking in and holding those who head such companies to account for the deaths and destruction wreaked when they headed these enterprises? Currently such leaders are rewarded with huge pay outs, “honours”, influential roles in Whitehall and places on other company boards.
Andrew Watterson  and Rory O’Neill, Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, University of Stirling
Damn those pesky EU bureaucrats. If it weren’t for their mean-spirited, petty-minded interfering, our good, old-fashioned local petrol companies would have been able to keep fiddling petrol prices. These unelected meddling busybodies are attacking the jobs of all those traditional British workers gainfully employed by traditional British companies such as Texaco and Royal Dutch Shell. And what’s worse, they’re jeopardising this deserving Government’s tax revenues. Why, the British inquiry has established that there is absolutely no evidence of any wrongful behaviour, and this should be good enough for anyone.
James Kellar, Pewsey, Wiltshire
So it seems that the oil companies may have been fixing prices (15 May). Big surprise. If they do manage to catch anyone at it, can we make sure they are prosecuted in the US. America has strict anti-trust laws from almost a century ago which lay down a five-year jail sentence for managers engaged in this practice – and guess who were the culprits back then – the oil companies.
Jail sentences are far more effective deterrents than fines paid by the company – for what I hope are obvious reasons.
John Day, Port Solent
While anti-Europeans try to outdo each other over just how nasty and negative they can be about the European Union, how refreshing it is to see the European Commission launch an investigation across several European countries into allegations of price-fixing (“BP and Shell raided over allegations of petrol price-fixing”, 15 May). Britain could not raid oil-company offices across Europe if it wanted to investigate these  allegations and suspicions. This is a great example of why being part of an endeavour like the EU can help us tackle shared problems, like the behaviour of multinational companies.
Stuart Bonar, Plymouth, Devon
Unsound vision  of Prince Charles
Prince Charles has shown his unsuitability as the potential King in many ways, only one of which  is his eagerness to link up with  the despots of Bahrain (report, 15 May). A lesser but nonetheless important aspect of his  interference is his espousal of architectural mediocrity.
Poundbury, which is in effect a suburb of pretty Dorchester, is one of the ugliest, most chilling places I have seen, reminiscent of the dystopian urban landscapes of films such as Blade Runner. That he is spreading his ghastly vision to other countries is something that will be regretted, probably for generations to come.
Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Impose a church tax like Germany
I heartily endorse John Williams’s letter of 15 May. Since the Church of England is supposed to be the established Church in this country, I fail to see why we do not follow Germany’s example and have a Church Tax. If no funds are forthcoming from the Exchequer, then let us disestablish the Church of England. A Church organist of my acquaintance moved to Norway because there a small-town church had enough funds to pay five full-time employees including the organist and he was recompensed well enough to enable him to buy a house.
Laura Lesley, Steyning, West Sussex
Fairtrade logo on British produce
When I buy bananas or coffee, I can choose to pay a premium for Fairtrade goods, giving workers some degree of security and improved welfare. But when I buy British-grown celery or strawberries, it is deemed that I will accept produce picked by migrant workers paid below the living wage (“Let in non-EU fruit pickers or shoppers will get the pip”, 15 May). Is it time for the Fairtrade logo to be introduced for British produce?
Sue Jackson, Skipton, Yorkshire
UK lite?
Derek Chapman suggests that the rest of the UK should be renamed if Scotland secedes (Letters, 14 May). Wry Scottish Nationalists may delight in the “United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland”; that’s still a bit of a mouthful, so how about my own suggestion of “UK Lite”?
Philip Warne, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire


The Government must grasp the nettle and open a dialogue regarding what the NHS can and cannot be expected to provide
Sir, Alice Thomson (Opinion, May 15) says that GPs must work harder: the implication is that GPs do not work hard now. I have been in practice for 27 years and the opposite is true. General practice has changed out of all recognition since I started, and since Alice Thomson’s brother-in-law’s father was a GP. We used to cover our own out-of-hours work but in truth the day job is far harder now than it used to be.
Demand, as she says, has sky-rocketed. It has been fuelled by successive governments who have encouraged patients to feel that they are entitled to immediate treatment of anything, at any time. In addition, GPs perform many tasks which used to be done solely in hospitals, and are now expected to provide input into commissioning local NHS services.
Ms Thomson was envious of her horse, which received prompt treatment from an osteopath. This practitioner was no doubt paid per consultation and was therefore happy to attend. This is precisely the case in the many new nurse-led Minor Injury and Urgent Care Centres, which (in contrast to GPs) are paid a fee for each patient contact no matter how minor the condition, and advertise their services accordingly. It is no wonder that demand has increased.
To expect GPs to contain and reverse this trend is to risk turning us all into the sort of overworked and overtired doctors who Alice Thomson fears are already staffing the out-of-hours services.
The Government must grasp the nettle and open a dialogue regarding what the NHS can and cannot be expected to provide, and cease the propaganda war against GPs.
Dr Mike Betterton
Skelton, Redcar and Cleveland
Sir, Alice Thomson refers to her four children, and must therefore realise that, with an increasing number of young female general practitioners, her 1970s ideal of an avuncular GP working round the clock providing out-of-hours care is not sustainable. Furthermore, the business concept of purchasers (GPs) and providers (the rest) has put paid to any cohesion. I regret that staff working within the system blame each other because they don’t understand the issues encountered on the other side of the divide.
I have been a GP since 1984 and latterly a hospital doctor working in A&E. Until GPs are actually on site and integrated within emergency departments, the problems will continue to escalate.
Dr M. P. Houghton
Stretton on Dunsmore, Warks
Sir, Alice Thomson’s suggestion that GP surgeries open for longer hours will not solve the problem. Research in the NHS shows that the opening hours of a GP practice has minimal or no impact on the use of emergency care by patients. The overwhelming factors that affect emergency department use are deprivation, poor social support and the increasing number of elderly people with multiple health problems.
Sarah Purdy
Reader in Primary Health Care, University of Bristol
Sir, Alice Thomson’s experience echoes that of my 88-year-old mother this week. A relatively small leg scrape became an infected sore as there were no nurse appointments to dress it. Finally we were directed to a Minor Injuries A&E and received excellent, prompt but rather indignant service: “You are the fourth person today who should have been seen by their GP.”
We called the said doctors the following day to arrange the needed daily bandaging, but again were pushed down the “no nurses’ appointments/go elsewhere” route.
A stern rebuttal prompted a welcome change of policy.
Libby Child
Reading, Berks

‘Support or rejection of a policy programme should rest on strength at the ballot box, not the depth of donors’ pockets’
Sir, Your leader “Cash Flow” (May 14) offers the right diagnosis but the wrong medicine for Labour’s finances.
Labour has announced two policies which you suggest be ditched in order to attract corporate funding. This is breathtaking.
Political parties should base their manifestos on their vision for how the United Kingdom could be — not leave them to be determined by the highest bidder in a policy auction. Support or rejection of a policy programme should rest on strength at the ballot box, not the depth of donors’ pockets.
The truth is that all parties are struggling with funding. The Liberal Democrats have lost a number of their traditional backers; and the cash-for-supper at Chequers scandal showed the Conservatives are not immune either.
An open, clean and fair model of funding the parties would give taxpayers far better value for money. It would allow politicians to be relentlessly focused on developing policies in line with their philosophies and not having to dance to the tune of trusts, union bosses, City interests or wealthy members of the appointed House of Lords.
Darren Hughes
Director of Campaigns & Research, Electoral Reform Society

‘Imprisonment without any prospect of ever being released is surely as harsh as the death penalty, which we gave up 50 years ago’
Sir, Theresa May is determined that those convicted of murdering police officers or prison officers should face lifelong imprisonment (report, May 15). The killing of police officers should indeed be treated as a particularly serious offence, but the current 30-year starting point is already very severe. Imprisonment without any prospect of ever being released is surely as harsh as the death penalty, which we gave up 50 years ago, or the amputation of a limb, for which we condemn Saudi Arabia. In a civilised country no one should be regarded as so utterly beyond redemption.
Mrs May once wanted the Conservatives to shed their image as the nasty party. Now she seems determined to reclaim that status.
Edmund Gray
Iffley, Oxford

A new kind of vehicle that fired slugs of water proved too dangerous for use against rioters but excellent at dealing with blasts
Sir, Because water cannon were so random in effect and their use was often counter-productive, the MoD developed a vehicle in the 1970s for use in Northern Ireland that would fire slugs of water at specific rioters (letters, May 15). Operational trials proved that range was crucial; if a rioter nearer than the specified target got in the way of the slug he would have been likely to receive a serious injury. As a result the vehicle was never deployed in a riot control situation, but it turned out to be very effective against the blast incendiaries (fuel and explosive devices) that were causing considerable damage to commercial premises at the time.
Edward Green
Lichfield, Staffs

It is concerning that those applying for the very highest position have to provide an essay to support their application
Sir, Francis Bennion wonders what has become of judicial independence (letter, May 16).
Most concerning is the suggestion made that applicants for the post of Lord Chief Justice write a 2,000-word essay in support of their application. If the interviewers don’t know the judicial and intellectual reputations of the candidates, they have no business being on the selection panel.
Jon Mack
Blackfriars Chambers, London EC4


SIR – Laurence Gretton’s letter (May 13) suggesting that Edmund Burke was the first public figure to be pictured wearing spectacles is out by at least four centuries.
The earliest documented painting to feature spectacles is a fresco in Treviso (dated 1352) depicting Cardinal Hugo of Provence, albeit a century after his death.
At the British Optical Association Museum, of which I am curator, we have numerous 15th-century woodcuts and prints of important bespectacled historical figures, including Edmund Burke, as well as artists, popes, saints and villains.
By the mid 18th century it was no longer a novelty to see people wearing glasses, although many public figures still today remove their glasses for the photographer.
Neil Handley
London WC2

SIR – Much of the extra pressure on accident and emergency departments is from illnesses that should be dealt with in primary care (Comment, May 14).
As a semi-retired GP, working in primary care out-of-hours, I sympathise with patients’ difficulty in accessing the service. The 111 system is as much a frustration to service providers, as it is to patients. I have seen countless examples of delay, inappropriate triaging and ambulances being dispatched for minor complaints.
Primary care out-of-hours service points should be put in A & E departments. This is already happening in Oxfordshire, although not every evening and weekend. GPs can treat minor ailments much more quickly than nurses or junior hospital doctors, leaving the latter free to deal with the more complex trauma cases, which is what the department is there for.
This policy could be applied quickly, as a trained body of staff is already available.
Dr David Wise
Wantage, Oxfordshire
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A longer-sighted look at the history of spectacles
16 May 2013
SIR – We no longer provide out-of-hours services through our practices because under the 2004 contract, responsibility for providing out-of-hours care was given to the primary care trusts. It was up to them to enter into a contract with a provider to provide this care. It was unfortunate that the contract for this vital service was priced at around £6,000 a year, which works out at around £1 an hour.
It was offered to GPs, but their response was predictable and, in my view, justified. The government had deliberately priced the contract at a level that it knew GPs would have to refuse, and did this in the expectation that the primary care trusts would be able to contract the service from alternative providers at a reduced cost.
The current 111 fiasco is a consequence of the government’s gross underestimation of the true value of the out-of-hours service, and its desire to get it done on the cheap.
Dr David Wright Gillies
Basingstoke, Hampshire
SIR – We welcome the announcement by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, that every vulnerable elderly person will have a single point of contact for all their health and care needs (report, May 13). But the NHS is at full stretch, and it is crucial that coordinated care adequately includes organisations, such as the British Red Cross, which provide crucial support.
We have 170 projects across the country and reached 400,000 people last year. Our services assist vulnerable people on discharge from hospital. We offer transport to collect prescriptions, to attend appointments or just to get out and about for some social interaction.
The Big Society may be out of fashion in Westminster but if this new generation of older people is going to be looked after there will need to be full collaboration between the NHS, social services, voluntary organisations, families and neighbours.
Joe Farrington-Douglas
Head of Public Policy, British Red Cross
London EC2
Genetic cancer risk
SIR – Angelina Jolie (report, May 15) has made a courageous decision to have a double mastectomy and brought global attention to an immensely difficult choice for women with the BRCA gene, which also increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
Given that Miss Jolie’s mother died from ovarian cancer, the only option available to reduce her own risk of this disease would be to have her ovaries removed, with a recommendation for a full hysterectomy including Fallopian tubes.
This is an exceptionally hard decision to make – aged 37, she would go into menopause and put herself at more risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
Miss Jolie will also worry as to whether her birth children have inherited the fault. My mother died, aged 48, from ovarian cancer and was not tested for BRCA. It was 15 years before I decided to take the gene test as I knew I would not have had the strength to do what Miss Jolie has done.
It is vital and urgent that new research looks at other ways to reduce the risk of ovarian or breast cancer for women with BRCA; the current options are extreme and unpalatable in today’s modern world.
Allyson Kaye
Chairman, Ovarian Cancer Action
London NW1
SIR – Your report and comment on Angelina Jolie’s surgery are very welcome, but the mutant BRCA1 gene also affects males, causing an increase in the possibility of male breast cancer and prostate cancer.
This points to how much more is spent on research into, and prevention of, breast cancer compared with prostate cancer. Is it time a balance was reached?
Marcus Woodhouse
Wolverhampton, Staffordshire
EU negotiations
SIR – David Cameron clearly believes that his plan to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the EU will result in his obtaining sufficient concessions to persuade the electorate to vote to remain in the EU at the subsequent referendum.
His interlocutors, however, will surely have realised that there is a strong possibility that even if they give Mr Cameron what he wants, the British people will nevertheless still vote to leave.
There would seem little incentive for the rest of Europe to run the risk of bending over backwards to accommodate us, and then being made to look weak and foolish when they are snubbed in the referendum.
The most likely outcome, therefore, is that the negotiations will fail and those opposed to our continued membership will claim they were right all along and that the EU is an intransigent organisation.
David Langfield
Pyrford, Surrey
Museum in a box
SIR – Our abandoned red telephone box is temporarily the venue for a pop-up museum as part of the Fringe Festival of the Arts, which is currently holding our community in its thrall (Letters, May 15).
Exhibits exciting local debate include two preserved amphibians from a past production of Frog Lake by The Gentlewomen’s Guild and Temperance Choir, an ancient charm to depress rats, and a set of curtain rings (circa 1920) excavated from the charred ruins of a local hostelry. Sadly, there is no telephone.
Nick Gold
Mayfield, East Sussex
SIR – If you want to see sparkling red telephone boxes, with phones in working order, then go to Malta.
Geoff Edwards
Rowing Nimbys
SIR – While Nick Boles, the planning minister, may appear to be adopting a more conciliatory attitude to planning (report, May 7), it needs to be remembered that it was he who declared war on the countryside. I do not believe he has suddenly changed his mind regarding building on greenfield sites.
Mr Boles suggests that objectors would do better to “have a row” with local officials, and invites people to take an active role in preparing Neighbourhood Plans. I would like him to confirm that if we do that and agree plans, he will back any objections to further developments.
We all know that the Government will override local plans and back any such applications through its Planning Inspectorate, which has the final say.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which Mr Boles wants us to support, was first drafted to require any developments to be “sustainable” within a somewhat narrow definition of that word. That was changed in the final NPPF to “a presumption in favour of sustainability” – in other words, the Planning Inspectorate now has only to presume that projects are sustainable for them to proceed.
What chance do local councils have against this sort of legislation?
Doug Pennifold
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
Just not cricket
SIR – It was good to see the photo of young people playing cricket (Letters, May 14). That their opportunities are so limited is due to the tyranny of examinations which condemn students to the exam hall for four summers – from the age of 15 to 18. These exams finish so early that the summer term is over by early July, and not only cricket but all outdoor activities are the losers.
All exams should be held before Christmas. An Australian head told me that he hears the sound of bat and ball in his school for 10 months of the year.
Brian O’Gorman
Chichester, West Sussex
Cold as ice
SIR – Your report (May 14) on cold weather made no reference to the “Icy Men” . These three saints have their fixed dates in the May calendar on which they are expected to bring cold weather – St Pancras on the 12th, St Serviatus on the 13th and St Boniface on the 14th.
Anna Howarth
New Milton, Hampshire
Non-violent women should not be sent to prison
SIR – Vicky Pryce, who has recently been released from jail, is more fortunate than many other women in prison, who feel more at home behind bars than in the community. If we are to end the cycle of reoffending, we must ensure that there are adequate resources in the community to meet this vulnerable group’s needs.
Custody is an expensive punishment, with poor outcomes for both women prisoners and the taxpayer. That prison does not work is evidenced by the fact that 45 per cent of women prisoners are back behind bars within one year of release.
As the Government moves to implement its new strategy on women offenders, we urge it to invest in cost-effective alternatives to locking up non-violent women offenders. Robust community sentences provide a balance between punishment and successful rehabilitation.
Roma Hooper
Director, Make Justice Work
Deborah Coles
Co-Director, Inquest*
Frances Crook
Chief Executive, Howard League
Rachel Halford
Director, Women in Prison
Davina James-Hanman
Director, Against Violence and Abuse
Polly Neate
Chief Executive, Women’s Aid
Eleri Butler
Chief Executive Officer, ADVANCE Minerva Project
Juliet Lyon
CBE, Director, Prison Reform Trust
Dominic Williamson
Chief Executive, Revolving Doors Agency
Jackie Russell
Director, Women’s Breakout
Deborah Cowley
Director, Action for Prisoners’ Families
SIR – Your report (May 14) that Vicky Pryce is to publish a book called Prisonomics, analysing the economics of keeping women in prison, raises the question of whether she might benefit from her criminal actions. I suggest she donates any profits to a penal reform charity.
Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Irish Times:

Sir, –   I wrote to you 11 years ago (March 1st, 2002, p15), describing the traumatic situation I found myself in one year earlier, having received a diagnosis that the baby I was carrying had a condition that was incompatible with life.
I am writing again because it appears that now there is an opportunity to alleviate the distress I and many like me have gone through, but it is being ignored.
It was disappointing to note that women who have had terminations following a similar diagnosis to my own were denied the  opportunity to contribute to the Oireachtas Health Committee’s public hearings.  
The words used – abortion, and even termination of pregnancy – are emotive, and  can cause a visceral  reaction in many. So let me put it another way. Is there anyone who would deny someone like me an induction of labour at 40 weeks’ gestation? That is full term, so I wouldn’t think so – inductions at this stage are common. So how about 38 or 37 weeks – still okay? Of course – full term is defined as anything from 37 to 42 weeks, and again is a common time-frame for inductions  every day in our maternity hospitals. Would an induction at 33  weeks still be okay?  (Ten years ago, my son was born at 33 weeks, and he is now almost as tall as me and academically is  top of his class. In fact, my twins were  born  by Caesarian section at 32 weeks, and are fine healthy senior infants now). So it would appear that there should be no ethical problems with any of the above, so how far back could we go? Twenty-four weeks?  Twenty-two? Why would these present any more of a  problem? Don’t forget we are talking about babies who have conditions that are incompatible with life.
So why do some people object to an induction of labour and delivery at anything other than full term? Who exactly are they saving? The outcome, whatever the gestation, is inevitable.
The diagnosis at any stage is devastating. The very real and deep grief starts immediately, whatever the decision of the mother, and is only compounded by the restrictions and stigma that the  various  self-proclaimed  pro-life groups continue to promote.
Many of us who travelled to terminate an already doomed pregnancy found ourselves pregnant again before the  full- term date of those pregnancies. I have often wondered which life these absolutists consider to be more important. – Yours, etc,
Kilcoole, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (Letters, May 16th) sends out a clear and unambiguous message of support for the life of the unborn child during pregnancy. While this is highly commendable, I find it odd that most statements emanating from church spokesmen on this subject seem to downplay the value of the life of the primary patient, ie the mother, who may present with a life-threatening illness. Is it the church view that a patient must forgo life-saving treatment simply because she is pregnant? – Yours, etc,

Sir , – The Taoiseach’s decision to proceed with a referendum on abolishing the Seanad in four months’ time leaves little time for discussion on this hugely significant proposal either inside or outside Leinster House.
With the political holidays looming and many other more pressing economic and social matters to be addressed, it is hard to believe his timetable can be adhered to. However, if he does proceed then the likelihood of rejection must be very high given that voters have clearly demonstrated in past referendums that they want to be fully informed on all issues and options and don’t like being taken for granted or fools. – Yours, etc,
Ardmeen Park,
Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – When times were hard in the past we built follies on Killiney Hill. Nowadays we build totally bizarre roundabouts in Glenageary. Does anyone know when the next replacement is due? – Yours, etc,
Flower Grove,
Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The comments (May 14th) are all part of our muddled concept of our country’s neutrality or perceived non-alignment during the second World War.
These interesting comments were an obvious reaction to your heading on Diarmaid Ferriter’s article ­ (“Denigrating neutrality during second World War has become fashionable”, Analysis, May 11th) which in my opinion did not reflect the reality of the time in poverty-stricken Ireland.
In a recent publication by this reader, 29 Main Street: ­ Living with Partition the reflections of Sean Milroy (TD for Cavan) explain the fledgling Free State’s neutral position from the Dáil debates on the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
Furthermore, the Irish Free State became aligned with Britain and Canada through the Irish Meteorological Service’s weather observances for the proposed development of transatlantic air routes from the late 1930s. This shared service maintained strict secrecy during the second World War to the benefit of the Allies and the D-Day landings in particular.
When the US entered the conflict via Northern Ireland, the Border regions boomed and nobody cared when the Yankees visited many towns in Co Cavan in their uniforms to spend very welcome dollars. The Allies were given permission to fly over Irish territory to assist their patrolling of the north Atlantic. There were many more instances of the Irish people co-operating with and assisting the Allied cause, both here and in industrial England. In summary, Ireland maintained its neutrality, with a small n, on the British side, and this was a bonus to Britain and the Allies. – Yours, etc,
Cootehill Road, Cavan.

A chara, – Alf MacLochlainn (May 10th) is incorrect about the absence of commemorations of the 1916 revolution on the anniversary of that momentous event and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
On Republic Day, April 24th, the Citizens’ Campaign for Republic Day organised dignified and proper commemorations at both Arbour Hill Cemetery and later, at noon, at the GPO. There were commemorations held too in Cork, Tyrone and Edinburgh.
The campaign was initiated by me in 2010, motivated by a sense of shame and disgust at the neglect of that most significant date in our national calendar, and we have marked Republic Day each year since. It is quite deliberately a citizens’ campaign, and is outside of any political party or organisation. Our intent, apart from honouring both the leaders and the rank-and-file revolutionaries – women and men, girls and boys – is to create Republic Day on April 24th as our national day by popular acclaim.
Our national day is not just about how we present ourselves to the world, but also about how we present ourselves to ourselves. We are better than the universal image of drunken revellers. It should be a day for relaxation and enjoyment, but also for celebrating our freedom and reflecting on how it was won and what we do with it, what the nature of the republic we want should be, and about the privilege, power and responsibility of citizenship.
The campaign organisers intend that in 2014 Republic Day will be celebrated in every one of the 32 counties and abroad and that it will build towards a very significant and unique commemoration by citizens on Republic Day 2016, which will involve family members or other representatives of all of the revolutionary participants in Easter Week 1916.
As a proud citizen, a grandson of Volunteer John Stokes of Boland’s Mills Garrison, I would invite Alf MacLochlainn, a grand-nephew of Volunteer Patrick Pearse, to consider playing a role in establishing a citizens’ commemoration on Republic Day 2014, in Galway. – Is mise,
Co-ordinator, Citizens’
Campaign for Republic Day,
Season Park,

Irish Independent:

• Why is it that the Children’s Allowance always seems to be an easy target for taxation by governments?
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Moreover, why does the Labour Party’s Education Minister Ruairi Quinn feel it is okay to suggest that some recipients of the benefit consider it a “holiday fund”.
This may be the case in a very small percentage of cases.
But if Mr Quinn carried out an in-depth audit of all the families claiming the allowance, he would realise that most of them use the money to buy school-related essentials for their children such as footwear, books and uniforms, and to help to pay for extra-curricular activities.
This is what I use the allowance for, we can then look at paying our mortgage, household bills and put food on the table with our earnings – which have taken a dramatic hit over the past few years.
Mr Quinn himself reared three children during the 1970s and 1980s. Is he prepared to come out and tell the public that he did not benefit from the Children’s Allowance when raising his own children?
You cannot reap the benefits for yourself and then, when it no longer applies to you, feel that it is “easy” money for everyone else.
We did not create the crisis the country is in but we have more than played our part in helping the country to get itself back on its feet.
Name and address with editor
Atlantic sea change
• When you look at the North Atlantic map, you find that Britain, Ireland (North and South), the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Iceland all have some things in common.
We are all islanders and we are Christian more or less. Importantly, we share the same time zone, unlike continental Europe.
Is it possible that Britain could drop the title of British Isles and become instead, with the rest of us islanders, The North Atlantic Isles.
The possibilities are enormous.
We could exit the EU, which is going nowhere and is now loathed in many countries, and leave it to the Germans who are running it anyway.
We could have our own currency and valuations, stamps, flags, anthems and everything else without permission from Brussels.
We would have control of the fisheries which are presently plundered by every nation in Europe. Our armies and navies would have sites throughout the Atlantic Isles.
Dermot C Clarke
Mount Merrion, Dublin
The future is green
• In a world where climate change is fast becoming a reality, we are proposing transferring control over our forests to private businesses to pay debts we didn’t create.
Ireland has a sustainable future in a green world. We’re exactly suited to build a prosperous economic model in a world where food quality and sustainability will be at a premium.
Or we could just sell off what assets we have left and beg from Europe for the rest of our existence?
Pauline Bleach
Wolli Creek, NSW 2205, Australia
Wheely good idea
• Recently, 200 cyclists arrived at our school, the back of a truck was transformed into a music stage and 400 sandwiches were demolished. It was The Cycle Against Suicide.
The initiative, set up by secret millionaire Jim Breen, deserves high praise. It brought a new energy to our school and I am sure to schools all over Ireland.
Instead of whining about the negatives of recession, the people of Ireland should focus on the positives and realise that sometimes “it’s okay not to feel okay”.
Sophie O’Donnell
Castlebar, Co Mayo
Saint or Sir Alex?
• So glowing have been the tributes to the departing Sir Alex Ferguson that many must have expected to see a halo above his head when he bid farewell to the Old Trafford faithful last Sunday.
Letters in the Irish Independent this week have been thanking ‘The Great Man’ for joy brought to Irish supporters of Manchester United over the last quarter of a century.
It is obviously very wishful thinking to hope that some of the “we” brigade in this country who slavishly follow cross-channel soccer teams would come to their senses and realise where they actually live.
Why is it that most of the supporters of British teams here opt to cheer for the top teams?
The Manchester United and Liverpool bandwagons must be overcrowded at this stage and in danger of toppling over.
Of course the boots will be on the other feet in the coming weeks when native Liverpudlians and Mancunians will be supporting GAA sides like Dublin, Kerry, Kilkenny and Tipperary in the All-Ireland championships.
Liam Wilson,
New Ross, Co Wexford
Mary’s a huge turn-off
• Every time I turn on the radio Mary O’Rourke seems to be on some panel or other telling us all a few home truths.
I was really angry listening to her on the radio last weekend.
Why did she decide to wait until she had resigned/retired and was in receipt of her big pension to fire all these revelations at us. I didn’t buy her book, read her book, and nor do I want to listen to her on the airwaves
Isn’t she rich enough?
Mary Burke
Address with editor
Bruton backlash
• Congratulations to Donal O’Donovan on his article regarding John Bruton’s lecture on “frugality”.
I find the arrogance of the man breathtaking, given his massive income and pensions.
The only thing I would consider “immoral” is retired politicians and senior civil servants drawing full pensions from their previous employment.
Liam Mac Cionnaith
Co Luimnigh
Here endeth the lesson
• I remember once a true story about a father who hinted to his teenage son that on graduation day he might be buying him a car. That hint only got stronger when they both visited various car showrooms together.
On graduation day, as his son stepped beaming from the podium in front of a large crowd holding his diploma, his father pressed into his sons hand a long expected present inside a brown paper bag. Believing that the bag contained the unspoken keys to his new car, logbook and manuals, the son ripped open the brown covering.
He was aghast when all he found inside was a Bible. The colour drained from his face before he threw the Bible to the floor and walked away. He never spoke to his father again.
The years passed and eventually so did the father. The son, going through his father’s personal effects, found the same old Bible in the attic. While leafing through it in remembrance of times past, a piece of paper fell from the pages.
Looking at it, the son realised to his deepest regret, he was looking at a cheque. It was made out to the full amount for the purchase of a brand new car at one of the showrooms they had visited together almost 40 years earlier.
The moral of this story for me was this: When we expect too much, we can become self-appointed judges dispensing forgiveness, or not. The blunt instrument for the torture of his father was guilt. A guilt which the son would now have to live with always facing into a very uncertain future.
Barry Clifford
Oughterard, Co Galway
Irish Independent

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