Demi Johns

12 September 2013 DemiJohns

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble Pertwee and co are off foor a psychiatric test will our heroes pass? Priceless.
It rains I wash out the demi-johns
We watch Dads army v good.
Scrabble today Mary wins and get under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.


Olga Lowe
Olga Lowe, who has died aged 93, was an actress of great versatility. But it was her fate to be remembered chiefly for co-starring with the comedy actor Sid James in The Mating Season on the night that he collapsed on stage and later died.

Olga Lowe 
6:38PM BST 11 Sep 2013
His death, at the Sunderland Empire in 1976, was even more poignant in that Olga Lowe and James were lifelong friends. As youngsters they had worked together in their native South Africa. She first came to Britain in 1935, he 12 years later. With her first husband, John Tore, Olga Lowe was instrumental in launching James on his lengthy film career.
The three ran into each other in London when Tore and Lowe were on their way to audition for the roles of a gangster and his moll in a crime film, Black Memory (1947). James asked their advice on how to break into films. Tore suggested that James should take his place at the audition and James was offered the part.
Olga Lowe was born on September 14 1919 in Durban, the daughter of the leader of the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra, Charles Lowe, whose family came from a Russian-Jewish background . Olga attended dancing classes in Johannesburg before moving to London .
At the age of 17 she travelled to Brazil to support the exotic hip-shaking singer Carmen Miranda in cabaret. She then joined the glamorous French troupe, Folies Bergère, rehearsing in Paris and touring North America. She decided to return to South Africa on board the liner City of New York in 1942, the year after America joined the Second World War. On the journey back, the ship was torpedoed.
Olga Lowe returned to Britain at the end of the war and gained experience in rep. In 1949 she was at the London Palladium as stooge to Harpo Marx, who was appearing there with his brother, Chico. Her big break came when she was cast in the London production of the Rodgers and Hart musical comedy Pal Joey (1954) at the Coliseum. Her relatively small role, with a clever and witty song, Zip, proved a triumph, and on the second night of the production the scene that followed her song was delayed for several minutes by applause.
She enjoyed further success at the Coliseum the following year with another American musical, The Pajama Game, sharing the stage with Max Wall, Edmund Hockridge and Joy Nichols.
She returned to rep in 1965 when her friend the mercurial Alexander Bridge, took control of the Palace Theatre at Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex and asked her to be his leading lady, at £15 a week.
Again she proved her adaptability, starring in the Cliff Richard musical Expresso Bongo with the chart-topper Dave Berry, and — with the Palace’s leading man, the handsome Paul Greenhalgh — in the then controversial drama Tea and Sympathy, whose bold, but understated, theme was homosexuality. She also appeared frequently on Bridge’s regular music hall bills, but in the end they fell out.
Olga Lowe began her cinema career with an uncredited role in Tottie True (1949), about the Gaiety Girls. She also appeared in the wartime adventure Where Eagles Dare (1968), with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood; Carry on Abroad (1972), in which she played a brothel owner alongside Sid James; the television spin-off Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973); and The Riddle of the Sands (1979) .
She regularly featured in the West End in her later career, notably as General Cartwright in Guys and Dolls (1985), starring Lulu at the Prince of Wales. She appeared opposite Rowan Atkinson in The Sneeze, Michael Frayn’s adaptation of eight early Chekhov stories, and in 1997 was part of Peter Hall’s company at the Old Vic .
John Tore died in 1959, aged 35. Later that year, Olga Lowe married Peter Todd. The marriage was dissolved in 1962, and in 1970 she married, thirdly, the actor Keith Morris. He survives her.
Olga Lowe, born September 14 1919, died September 2 2013


I am writing to point out inaccuracies in your article on Stonehenge.
The article, including the headline, (Stonehenge dig finally unravels the mystery of why it was built, 9 September) failed to distinguish between fact and interpretation, and presented one expert’s view as established fact. It also gives the impression that the expert’s view has been adopted by English Heritage. This is very confusing for your readers. English Heritage is firmly of the view that Stonehenge was built as a prehistoric temple aligned with the movements of the sun, contrary to what was implied in the article.
Professor Mike Parker Pearson’s theory about the naturally formed ridges is interesting, but is by no means established. English Heritage’s role was to record any archaeology that survived under the A344 and present the results of the recent discoveries clearly to the public. English Heritage’s interpretation of Stonehenge will be presented at the new visitor centre due to open in December 2013.
The article also mentioned that excavations have uncovered three holes at the stone circle where missing sarsen stones might have stood; the discovery was in fact a new observation of some dry patches in the grass which appeared due to the exceptionally dry summer, and likely show the position of these stoneholes. There were no excavations at the stone circle.
Dr Heather Sebire
Property curator (west), English Heritage
Julian Borger (Can Russia push Syria to disarm?, 10 September) analyses many aspects of the possibility of Assad relinquishing chemical weapons. What would Syria gain from such a deal? Might it be that Russia has promised a continued, or even increased, supply of conventional weapons, making the end of the civil war killings no nearer? Russia, having brokered the deal, achieves a stronger position to continue to take Syria’s side in the UN security council. So, the conflict is prolonged.
Michael Shaw
•  Historians generally fall into two schools: the conspiracy theorists who believe there is an underlying plot behind everything and the cock-up theorists who think historical events are merely the result of accident and happenchance.
Over the past fortnight the chaotic machinations of the world’s powers over Syria demonstrate that both schools of thought are valid. From David Cameron’s bungled recall of parliament, which forced Obama’s hand in Congress, to John Kerry’s slip of the tongue, which was seized on by Sergei Lavrov, our wrong-headed leaders have been wrong-footing each other in their efforts to shape the future of Syria, the region and the world.
Stefan Simanowitz
•  Whatever the future direction of US policy on Syria, the clear fact is that the UK parliament’s no vote to military action caused a swift rethink on intervention. Remember Iraq, when the warmongers said the US was going in anyway so it would serve our interests to be alongside?
Nick Edmunds
Twickenham, Middlesex
•  In all the harrowing debates about military intervention in Syria, one aspect has not been mentioned: the reaction of the victims and their families, carers and doctors/nurses. A punitive action against Assad would give a small boost to their morale; they would no longer feel abandoned by the rest of the world.
Christina Naylor
Brittany, France

The defence secretary Philip Hammond calls the weapons fair a “fabulous show” displaying “fantastic kit” (Hammond: arms exports are UK priority, 11 September). As a Christian who was, in January, accused of comparing same-sex marriage to incest, might he tell us which part of the New Testament prompts him to regard military might as so deeply wonderful?
Brian Smith
Berlin, Germany
• According to Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant” for nurturing female success (Laura Barton, G2, 11 September). Despite our fabulous summer, we’re still waiting for the sunshine to reach Oxfordshire county council. This week, a motion to adopt gender-neutral terms for those chairing meetings was thoroughly defeated: 16 for, 30 against and 11 abstentions.
Mary Evans Young
Banbury, Oxfordshire
• Ian Katz has previous when it comes to “ill-judged” actions (Newsnight editor sorry for calling shadow minister ‘boring’, 11 September); he was of course the guy who decided to drop Doonesbury from the Guardian, and thought that no one would complain.
Chris Parkins
Stanmore, Middlesex
• I’m struggling to work out why it’s inappropriate to describe a shadow minister as boring. I was brought up to believe that honesty is the best policy. Maybe if more of us told more ministers and their shadows the truth, they would respond in kind.
Les Bright
Exeter, Devon
• Does the ability to put the plastic banknotes through a wash cycle in my machine mean that, should I so choose to do, I will be guilty of money-laundering (Here’s your change: notes are going plastic, 11 September)?
Val Harrison
• I read that Glaswegians are being influenced by the London accents of EastEnders on television (Pass notes, 11 September). Will that become a new dialect of “Jockney”?
Tim Walker
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

The Simon Community welcomes the comments by Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur on housing (Axe bedroom tax, says UN investigator, 11 September). The superficially attractive policy of seeking to make the best use of limited social housing is revealed, in the implementation of the bedroom tax, as immoral and absurd. To demand that a tenant in social housing move to a smaller property when no such property is available is Kafkaesque. To move disabled people out of adapted accommodation is ridiculous. Even the economic justification is bogus, as evicting people from social housing and forcing them into private rented accommodation will cost more.
We agree with Rolnik that this legislation “could constitute a violation of the human right to adequate housing”. We also agree that Britain has consistently failed to build enough affordable social housing for many years. This has resulted in a profound housing crisis. The solution to the problem is to build lots of genuinely affordable accommodation.
We call upon the government to reconsider this ill-thought-out policy before we are humiliated by being called before the European court of human rights.
Bob Baker
Director, The Simon Community
• The global economic context of the bedroom tax and benefit cuts exacerbates the injustices highlighted by Raquel Rolnik. Our governments have allowed an international free market in land, property and housing to thrive in the UK. The worldwide and UK wealthy buy homes in short supply, particularly in London, as a profitable safe haven for their money, and leave some of them empty. This enables landlords to exploit the lack of homes by increasing rents above the three housing benefit caps, creating the new instability of tenure.
Rising rents and the council tax are also driving a coach and horses through the value of the national minimum wage and the living wage, while the prices of all other necessities escalate. Continuing this rapid collapse in living standards below viable minimum incomes for millions of UK citizens can only result in social unrest.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• In 1945-46, the social scientist Mark Abrams reckoned (in Future Books Volume One: Overture) that the UK’s poorest could not pay more than circa 20% of their incomes in rent, without making inroads into their spending on food etc. This level is now exceeded for all social classes with the result that, after paying inflated rents and mortgages, people have less to spend on goods and services, so hindering growth and decreasing wage and employment levels. A set ratio of housing costs to income, say 1:4, is not just an abstract human right but a commercial necessity to maximise aggregate spending power.
DBC Reed
• This policy has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people, as many have been found to have a so-called extra bedroom despite requiring it because of their disability, for example needing extra space to store disability-related equipment. Alongside other benefits being cut, housing benefit has been the final blow for many disabled people and can lead to rent arrears and serious financial hardship.
Sense legal services provide advice and support to deafblind people and their carers. Over the past year we have seen a significant increase in the number of calls received from deafblind people and their families struggling to make ends meet and fearful of being forced to leave their homes. We urgently call on the government to take on board these findings and get rid of the bedroom tax for disabled people. This would prevent more disabled people suffering financially as a result of their disability.
Kari Gerstheimer
Head of legal services, Sense
• As open goals go, Raquel Rolnik’s call to abolish the bedroom tax should have been top of Ed Miliband’s strikes on David Cameron at PMQs, but he declined. Perhaps he thought that it would turn into an own goal when Cameron asked if Labour would abolish the bedroom tax if they win in 2015, which he has before. If Miliband this time answered “yes”, it would be too late for those paying the subsidy or moving home now, but it would offer hope for the future.
Dr Graham Ullathorne
Chesterfield, Derbyshire
• Once again the coalition displays its disgusting lack of fairness, equity and foresight in the areas of benefit and housing policy. Yet the Tories shout about “hard-working taxpayers” making choices about what housing they can afford. Those same “hard-working taxpayers” are subsidising first-time buyers paying deposits to buy properties they obviously can’t afford. All to boost a housing price bubble which reflects mistakes made in the past which will once more end in tears and, in the process, punishes those who struggle to survive already.
Mike Telford
Cockermouth, Cumbria
• In my experience as a housing lawyer in east London, the bedroom tax is only half the story. Equally pernicious is the benefit cap which sees the benefits of families limited to £500 per week, including housing benefit. In an attempt to secure affordable housing, local authorities are offering vulnerable households accommodation outside London away from their communities, support networks and, in some cases, employment. Far from defending its position by emphasising the savings to the housing benefit budget, the government should be counting the cost of its policies in terms of social cohesion.
James Harrison
Tring, Hertfordshire
• The Department for Work and Pensions has rejected Raquel Rolnik’s recommendation to abolish the bedroom tax on human rights grounds, because it is based on “anecdotal evidence and conversations…”. Surely this is how Iain Duncan Smith evolved his whole benefits regime following a visit to Easterhouse.
Alan Rigby
St Rogatien, France

Tim Stone’s perception of UK regulation of shale and oil and gas extraction (Fracking can work, 10 September) is very much at odds with our experience here in Balcombe.
The planning permission allowed 60 passages per week of drilling trucks through our little village. When Cuadrilla pleaded that they had meant 120 (in and out), the regulators just rolled over. The drill is a few hundred metres from houses and the regulators have known for weeks that the total noise at night exceeded that granted in planning. Despite multiple complaints and requests, they made the figures public only recently, and then thanks to pressure from the community. It was Friends of the Earth who forced the Environment Agency to consider the need for mining and radioactive waste licences, and pointed out the ambiguous legal position of the horizontal well. As a result, Cuadrilla must now reapply for full planning permission to test its well. The Environment Agency has issued flaring permits for emission of air pollutants over the populace of Balcombe, but without publishing emissions limits.
Of equal concern are Defra’s published proposals for significant reduction of local air quality monitoring in Britain. This conveniently fits with the coalition’s more-fracking-less-regulation agenda.
Professor Lawrence Dunne, Jackie Emery, Diane Foster, Robert Greer, Juliett Harris, James Hodgson, Charles Metcalfe, Kathryn McWhirter, Professor Alan Rew, Meg Rew, Douglas Wragg, Nancy Towers
•  The article by Dr Tim Stone arguing that the environmental impacts of fracking can be overcome comes to a similar conclusion as did David Cameron in an article last month (in the Daily Telegraph). As a KPMG consultant, Dr Stone developed the most fiendishly opaque system to try to ensure advance payment for nuclear waste management from nuclear operators, but the bottom line remains that the taxpayer will pay the extra costs if the cap on costs is exceeded.
Despite knowing a lot about radioactive contamination, Dr Stone’s new co-authored study on fracking looks only at impacts of so-called fugitive greenhouse gas emissions, with barely fleeting mention of other environmental impacts, including radioactive contamination.
Yet Mr Cameron’s own health minister, Anna Soubry, told the Labour MP Paul Flynn, in a written answer in May, that “Public Health England [formerly the Health Protection Agency] is preparing a report identifying potential public health issues and concerns, including radon (release/emissions) that might be associated with aspects of hydraulic fracturing, also referred to as fracking. The report is due out for public consultation in the summer. Once released for public consultation, the report will be freely available from the PHE website.”
PHE has told me it now does not expect its report to see the light before the end of the year, which is hugely disappointing considering its prospective importance to the public debate. Questions have this week been put in parliament to DECC energy ministers on this.
PHE is concerned to evaluate the potential risks of radon gas being pumped into citizens’ homes as part of the shale gas stream. This is very important, as radon is unquestionably the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
Dr David Lowry
Environmental policy and research consultant

I think, in fact I know, that microcredit is a big cause for domestic violence against women in Bangladesh, and I can imagine that it is the same in other countries with similar social structures.
On the one hand, microcredit has been hailed for giving much-needed seeds and working capital to the unbanked, but on the other it has ironically become the very reason why men scold, control and even beat up women. And development organisations – and companies that are serious about corporate sustainability – keep giving money to women from destitute families.
While this is necessary, it is critical to be mindful of the fact that money in the hands of women may not necessarily translate into empowerment. What is required instead is a whole package of joint development and corporate sector interventions that exposes how more money in the hands of women triggers domestic violence, and what can be done to address the same.
When it comes to women’s right to decision making, mobility, her own nutritional needs, and most importantly getting the family to step in and help maintain her work-life balance, grassroots organisations have argued for years that dollars should be spent on improving intra-household relations – particularly targeting husbands and in-laws.
This is however easier said than done, and requires information and evidence, reinforced by action on the part of development actors. There must be a long-term attempt to engage the family, as well as the community and community elite in order to end violence and empower women, all accompanied by specific measurable milestones that will delineate progress.
Saif Mohammad Moinul Islam
Private sector engagement co-ordinator, Care Bangladesh


The KPMG report, presented as a government riposte to the campaign opposed to HS2, concentrates on the benefits derived from increased capacity, rather than the benefit of faster travel. The Government itself is also shifting the thrust of its argument in this direction.
The major factor driving the astronomic cost of the project is speed. The route is designed to permit speeds in excess of 200mph. The cost of the required route has ballooned as extra tunnelling has been conceded to assuage the environmental concerns.
If absolute speed is taken out of the equation, the new route could follow a far more environmentally friendly route alongside the existing motorway network. In this scenario, the enhanced capacity would be economically defensible.
A complete rethink is required. It might be more pedestrian than politicians would prefer for their “legacy”, but would be economically and environmentally far more logical.
David Bracey
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
If HS2 really is to be a “heart bypass for the clogged arteries of the transport system”, acknowledging that the previous emphasis on speed alone was mistaken, then it should be redesigned to avoid the many sites of special scientific interest and nature reserves it is currently set to destroy, and have additional stations to benefit the regions it currently is to speed through without stopping.
It’s pointless having a heart bypass operation which at the same time destroys the lungs and cuts off the blood flow to vital parts of the body.
Giles du Boulay
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
Chris Mills (letter, 4 September) has a point in suggesting that our railways don’t carry sufficient freight, but he looks in the wrong direction for a model.
North American railways carry about 40 per cent of their nations’ freight, compared with 17 per cent in mainland Europe and about 8 per cent in the UK. There are some good reasons for the difference, but the use of railways for freight gives a much bigger environmental benefit than using them for passengers, and we should be looking for ways to increase freight on rail in Britain.
In 2003 a company called Central Railway made what appeared to be a good proposal to create a new rail freight line between the Channel Tunnel and the North of England, reusing much of the old Great Central alignment and making much less impact on the Chilterns (among other places) than HS2.
It was planned to relieve capacity pressure on the West Coast Main Line. The proposal was dismissed by the Department for Transport after heavy lobbying by (among others) Chiltern Railways, which didn’t seem to like the idea that the new line would share its corridor through High Wycombe and Beaconsfield.    
Interestingly, the one thing that HS2 won’t be any good for is freight. The HS2 team will tell you that this doesn’t matter because extra capacity for freight will be released on the West Coast line, but any railway operator can tell you that mixing freight and passenger services on the same route is the worst possible thing to do for line capacity.
Is it time to abandon HS2 and think again about the Central Railway proposal or something like it?
Derek Chapman
Warnford, Hampshire
What do China, Spain, Japan, France, Italy and Germany have in common?  Answer: they all have more than 1,000 kilometres of high-speed rail, some of them much more. I’ve listed them in descending order of functioning high speed rail. And all of them are building yet more. Britain?  Well, we have 113km, and so far we’re not building any more.
Do they know something we don’t?
Sean Maffett
Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire
Old habits of empire still with us
In his broad-sweep article “An elegy to Western colonialism” (11 September) Andreas Whittam Smith makes a strange error in stating that “Britain wound down its empire without serious incident after the Second World War . . . The British declined to mount rearguard actions.’
Tell that to the peoples of the Middle East, South-east Asia and Africa. Has he not been following the continuing revelations of British atrocities in Kenya in the 1950s?
His overall analysis of western colonialism and imperialism is far too simple, as this phenomenon encompassed a variety of different forms, including overseas settler colonies, outright annexation of territory, “informal imperialism” based on dominant trading and investment arrangements, and punitive expeditions. 
It could be argued that it is only the formal annexation and settlement of independent territories that has ended since the Second World War, with the growth of powerful nationalist movements, the influence of international opinion, and changed domestic priorities.
Punitive expeditions such as that envisaged by the United States in Syria have certainly not ended. What is different, surely, is the involvement of representative institutions and public opinion prior to such interventions in recent times. It is too early to say whether this will last.
Dr Philip Woods
London W5
One name for  a new family
If Rosie Millard (Voices, 10 September) chooses to stick with her birth name – in all probability her father’s name – that’s her choice, but it gives her no right to be “disappointed” in a woman who decides instead to share the name of the man with whom she chooses to spend the rest of her life.
Far from giving up one’s identity, it represents a deliberate choice to create a new household, a new family, who will live together under one name. I don’t see anything “radical” about sticking to the name you inherited from your dad.
Marjorie Clarke
Stoke Gabriel, Devon
Rosie Millard seems to assume that women feel obliged to change their names on marriage. It is often a clear choice.
I wanted my family name to be the same for all members of my family, whether mine or my husband’s. I believe that a sense of family identity is important, especially to children growing up in a divided world.
I have many friends who have given their children a double-barrelled name to achieve the same effect, although I pity the next generation who could end up with four surnames hyphened together.
While I am all in favour of freedom of choice, the decision should be a considered one, not a kneejerk response.
Yvette Raikes
Camberley, Surrey
I understand Rosie Millard’s view that women should not change their names on marriage. There is a certain loss of identity.
However, how do we address the question of children’s names?
Presumably those parents who retain both surnames, or choose not to marry, either have to opt for one or other surname for their children, or double-barrel the names, which is fine for first generation children, clumsier for subsequent generations.
Patricia Pipe (née Davis)
Saltash, Cornwall
Twitter makes babblers of us all
Ian Katz’s important message to the world about “boring snoring” Rachel Reeves was proof of how Twitter can hobble intellect, tact, expressive elegance and plain good manners (report, 11 September).
So why do so many embrace a reductive medium that makes babbling morons of the allegedly brightest and best?
Perhaps it’s because intellect, tact, expressive elegance and plain good manners are actually in short supply. These are modest values, but they’re inevitably trumped by a need to be heard, and the arrogant presumption that the world hangs on the writer’s every simple-minded edict.
With intelligent discourse and basic human courtesy apparently now in hot pursuit of the dodo and Betamax, it seems rank idiocy will prevail for as long as 140 characters can be mustered for a planet-wide tour at the wave of a smartphone.
Richard Butterworth
Redruth, Cornwall
Bard’s rebuke to bigotry
I’ve been following the discussion in your letters pages about the rewriting of The Merchant of Venice and possible Shakespearean anti-Semitism. Perhaps it is time for someone to assert that all of us, regardless of our ethnicity, are equal as human beings.
After all, hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?
Prue Bray, Wokingham
An honest vote
Dominic Shelmerdine (letter, 9 September) castigates Sarah Teather for remaining in Parliament while not agreeing with the “Government’s necessary stand on immigration and benefit caps”. These loaded  words are irrelevant. Teather, like all Liberal Democrat MPs, was voted in to carry out the policies of her party, not to get into bed with the Tories. She will be now be able to do what she was elected to do. Would that her colleagues might follow her example.
Ian Craine, London N15
No names
The acquittal by a jury of the Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell should once again highlight the real need for the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” to be recognised. This should absolutely involve anonymity, until the case comes to court. How many people’s lives are tarnished by a picture or a report after they have been charged with an offence of which they are later cleared?
Penny Manning,  Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Inner beauty
There are many handsome Muslim men out there with rather nice hair. If they too want to be judged for their inner beauty (Letter, 9 September) then they should cover their heads like many Muslim women do, or cover up completely. They must be modest too; otherwise it would be a bit hypocritical, wouldn’t it?
Emilie Lamplough, Trowbridge, Wiltshire
Out of print
Should those of us who have no intention of buying smartphones with a fingerprint  sensor send our prints direct to GCHQ?
Dr John Doherty, Stratford-upon-Avon


Sir, Ed Miliband will fail in his attempt to reduce union influence within the Labour Party (reports, Sept 11). First, Labour is broke without union funding and will not be able to raise adequate funds from elsewhere. Second, the unions are powerless without the Labour Party, and will always be trying to exert influence through various means, which includes pushing unionists in selection processes in council and parliamentary seats. Finally, the grassroots of the Labour Party are filled with unionists. You cannot possibly reduce the influence of the unions with these three factors.
James A. Paton
Billericay, Essex

Sir, It is one thing to ask that individual trade union members sign up to the Labour Party. It is another to understand that many longstanding Labour Party members, like myself, became members in the first place because of the millions of trade union members affiliated to Labour. We joined, in fact, not just the Labour (political) Party but the broader Labour Movement — of women and men in all walks of life and work.
The Labour Party without the trade unions is not the same Labour Party as the one which took office in 1945, giving the nation its finest and bravest strides towards justice and civilised values.
Ian Flintoff

Sir, Ed Miliband’s spokesman says: “You have got to get this change in place before you focus on what the consequences are” (Sept 11).
No. You think what the consequences will be before you put a change in place.
David Pollitt
Grasscroft, Greater Manchester

Sir, Rather sadly Ed Balls used his 800-word platform inThe Times (Opinion, Sept 10) to bitterly criticise the fledgling economic recovery. Interestingly, he dedicated only 57 words to Labour’s alternative vision for economic recovery. Rather predictably he argued that the Labour government would borrow (he used the word “invest”) an extra £10 billion which would — he claimed — create more than half a million jobs and 400,000 affordable new homes. It is this type of trenchantly naive, negative and absurd non-vision that renders Balls totally unfit to step across into the Exchequer and, while he is allowed to remain the Shadow Chancellor, renders the Labour Party irresponsible and unelectable.
Richard Bingley
(Former Labour Party press officer and councillor) Grays, Essex

The new charts do classify more younger children as overweight, but there is good evidence that this is the true picture
Sir, Growth charts based on World Health Organisation (WHO) data from two weeks to four years have now been in use for five years and, contrary to what some claim, are working well in practice (“Children ‘wrongly classed as fat’ to boost breastfeeding”, Sept 9).
It is true that the new charts do classify more younger children as overweight, but there is good evidence that this is the true picture and that British children are a little plump compared with the ideal international standards. This probably reflects the low rates of breastfeeding and the tendency to early weaning in British children compared with the WHO sample. If our habits in the past have not been as healthy as they could be, shouldn’t we point this out and encourage mothers to do better?
The small gap between the WHO standards and the UK 1990 data at age 4 affects only the very few children who have both height and weight measured regularly between the ages of 3½ to 4½. In fact very few children are measured at all at these ages, which is why this age has been chosen to make the transition.
Professor Charlotte Wright
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

It is a fundamental principle of good project management that you should avoid making premature commitments before undertaking sufficient preparatory studies
Sir, Sam Merchant (letter, Sept 10) has things the wrong way around. Certainly £250 million for the preparatory costs of HS2 is a very large sum, but it is only 0.5 per cent of the current budget estimate. It is routine that preparation and design for a large project account for more than 2 per cent of its total cost.
What is less easy to justify is that a political and administrative decision appears to have been made before, rather than after, doing this work. It is a fundamental principle of good project management that you should avoid making premature commitments before undertaking sufficient preparatory studies, so as to be clear about what problem the project is supposed to address and whether the proposed solution is feasible and affordable.
The justification for HS2 is continually evolving. Currently it is the prospective lack of “capacity” on the West Coast Main Line — a wonderfully flexible concept with no meaning independent of the way in which such capacity is or could be used. This is the true symptom of a vanity project — one whose primary justification is its own existence which trumps any goal that it might be supposed to achieve.
HS2 may or may not turn out to be a worthwhile piece of infrastructure, but its birth and management up to now provide a textbook lesson in how not to design infrastructure and spend public money.
Professor Gordon Hughes
School of Economics, University of Edinburgh

Sir, As a one-time British Rail area manager at two of the terminal points of HS2 — Birmingham and Manchester — I find the ­ ever-changing arguments in its support unconvincing (Opinion, Sept 11). Journey times are being confused with train journey times. With many of the proposed stations being out of city centres and a separate HS2 station planned in Birmingham, it is the overall journey time that needs comparing; for example, London to Nottingham centre, as at present, against London to Toton by HS2, ­and Toton to Nottingham by road.
In addition, cities such as Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent and Leicester will get a lower standard of service once HS2 takes the business of Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield from their routes.
Regarding capacity, the Department of Transport does not seem to have learnt the lessons of the over-optimistic forecasting of Eurostar and HS1. Trains at present are running at between 50 and 60 per cent capacity and passenger growth has slowed to 1.9 per cent.
Running longer trains would cope with any increase in demand. Many stations have platforms that were built when 20-coach trains were the norm, while Euston was designed for the platforms to be lengthened to the south.
Iain King

The DNA evidence that might be crucial in deciding where to inter Richard III’s bones has not been subject to the required analysis
Sir, Oliver Kamm (Sept 10) is right to describe Richard III as “the worst of English monarchs”, but he may be too hasty to argue for Richard’s alleged remains to be buried in Leicester Cathedral. The crucial DNA evidence, for example, has still not been subject to proper peer-reviewed analysis. We must be 100 per cent certain that the bones really are Richard’s before we bury them with all the veneration that the Church can muster.
Dr Bendor Grosvenor

Even where there is only one source, the Gospels’ general historical reliability, where verifiable, has been vindicated on numerous occasions
Sir, Norman Gelb assumes that absence of evidence is evidence of absence (“Herod heresy”, letter, ­Sept 11). The Gospel of Matthew may be the only source for the story of the slaughter of the innocents, but, where verifiable, the Gospels’ general historical reliability has been vindicated on numerous occasions. There is thus no reason to assume that the story is fictitious simply because it is not found elsewhere.
It is just as likely that secular writers simply found the incident not worth mentioning, when compared with the rest of Herod’s many atrocities, while for the Gospel writers it had significance as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, and was duly recorded as such.
Alan M. Linfield
Tring, Herts


SIR – The Russian-sponsored plan to persuade Assad to give up his chemical stockpiles is a hoax designed to buy the Syrian regime more time, allowing it further opportunities to bomb its own citizens (“Russian offer could halt Syria strikes, says Obama”, report, September 10).
An operation to trace and destroy tons of chemical agents and warheads hidden and dispersed in myriad locations is likely to take months, if not years. President Obama would be very foolish to allow a “pause”.
Anthony Rodriguez
Staines-upon-Thames, Middlesex
SIR – It seems plausible to suggest that our “no” vote on military action in Syria pushed President Obama to consult Congress rather than acting by mandate, and that this hesitation gave Vladimir Putin greater confidence to follow his own harder line against military action.
It’s hard to imagine a better example of the power of an independent voice. Who says that only with the backing of the EU can we influence events?
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The Japanese weed that’s knot as bad they say
11 Sep 2013
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11 Sep 2013
Ian McVeigh
London N1
SIR – For major crimes against humanity and breaches of international law, the correct remedy is to indict the culprit in the International Criminal Court. The court will consider the evidence and determine the punishment. America does not recognise the court, but Assad’s indictment could be arranged by another nation.
Attacking the culprit with missiles is illegal and risks starting a major war.
Francis J M Farley
Le Bar-sur-Loup, Alpes-Maritime, France
SIR – You reported (September 2) that Lord Howard, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Ashdown were all calling for another vote in the Commons on a military strike at Syria. What is wrong with these people?
Ordinary British people are fed up with having the young men in their families sent off to the Middle East to be killed or maimed because they got caught in crossfire between Muslim sects.
A huge majority in Britain and America is opposed to striking at Syria. Those Western politicians proclaiming that we should attack because we have a moral right to do so are just prolonging the cycle of violence. We in the West have to let go of running the world. If the people of Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran want to settle their disputes by slaughtering each other, then that is what they will do.
Timothy Stroud
Salisbury, Wiltshire
SIR – If, under the Responsibility to Protect norm, a nation were to launch military strikes and the nation it attacked, or its allies, were to respond with military force under Article 51 (the right to self-defence), which party would have international law on its side?
Revd Mike Doyle
Grantham, Lincolnshire
Employment protection
SIR – It is strange that in all the discussions over excessive severance payments at the BBC, there has been little or no mention of the effect of the 1975 Employment Protection Act (EPA). Prior to the EPA it was possible to dismiss employees according to the terms of their contracts. Since then, however, any dismissal is potentially unlawful unless elaborate procedures are followed, with any error being fatal. This has had two effects, both leading to larger compensation payments.
First the employer is minded to “pay off” an employee generously to avoid the tribunal route. Secondly it has become desirable for employers to make the contractual terms more attractive in the first place to deter employees from bothering to find out if they can do better.
I have no sympathy with the BBC, but the “Spanish Inquisition” approach adopted by Margaret Hodge seems to want not only to ignore contractual terms but also the effect of legislation of which she presumably approves.
Peter Kirby
London W3
Business crime action
SIR – There is a solution to the problem of overlooked crime (“Most crimes ignored, says police chief”, report, September 5). By closer collaboration between businesses and law enforcement we can build a profile of business crime in Britain and help police establish watertight, cross-border cases that result in real action
Through centralised and collective data-sharing, we, a non-profit organisation, are helping businesses to pinpoint the exact nature and scale of potential threats, as well as identifying prolific, persistent and travelling offenders.
Catherine Bowen
National Business Crime Solution
Greater Chesterford, Essex
A friend in knead
SIR – I love baking, and always try to have a homemade cake to offer visitors. In difficult times, I have found that it is a very therapeutic occupation, and a real cure for those days when one feels below par.
Kneading dough is also a great way to disperse anger and frustration. In the past, I have worked with young male offenders, who enjoyed working the dough and seeing the satisfaction of the end result.
Only now in this digital age, are we realising the benefits of simple pleasures.
Avril Wright
Snettisham, Norfolk
HS2 budget pledge
SIR – It seems that when politicians promise a new way forward it almost invariably results in failure. But when eight leading heads in the construction industry (Letters, September 6) undertake to complete phase one of HS2 on schedule and within budget, one should perhaps sit up and listen. These individuals, unlike their political counterparts, are staking their companies’ and their personal financial future on their ability not to fail.
Who could not accept such an offer?
Andrew M Courtney
Hampton Wick, Middlesex
SIR – Michael Imeson (Letters, September 9) questions whether HS2 trains could be loaded quickly enough, citing Eurostar’s 700-passenger capacity. Well, a fully loaded Pendolino of 600 passengers from Euston manages to load up in about 10 minutes – just like most normal trains.
David Parker
Leyland, Lancashire
SIR – The British completed the 600-mile track from Mombasa to Lake Victoria in 1901 massively over-budget. It became nicknamed “The Lunatic Express”.
Ken Turrell
Abortion law
SIR – Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House of Commons, told Parliament last week that dealing with breaches of the abortion law was “the responsibility of the prosecuting authorities”. However, when he was health secretary, Mr Lansley warned that so-called abortion on demand was not acceptable (“1 in 5 abortion clinics break law”, report, March 23 2012). “It’s not what Parliament intended and it’s not what the law provides for,” he said.
Yet abortion for any reason was, and continues to be, the order of the day at the Department of Health. The department enforces only protocols aimed at reducing (maternal) fatalities to an acceptable level. Requirements for a medical reason for any abortion are routinely disregarded.
So why are “wrong-sex” abortions controversial, if any other reason will do?
John Smeaton
Chief executive, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
London SE11
British nuclear power
SIR – Having given away our lead in nuclear technology to our “partners” in Euratom (the European Atomic Energy Community), we have left it to the French to exploit and profit from our research and development (Letters, September 7). The final straw was Gordon Brown selling our last company with nuclear capability, Westinghouse, to the Japanese.
Nevertheless, we could yet turn these misjudgments to our advantage. We should lead the world again by eschewing uranium, which is fast running out and is hazardous, and develop thorium-fuelled reactor plants. Here at Winfrith in Dorset, a trial thorium plant was successfully built, only for the project to be dropped. Why?
In Leeds a team has perfected the design of a thorium plant but needs £100 million to build and prove it. That is just two days’ worth of our contribution to the EU.
Bill Woodhouse
Mappowder, Dorset
Mum’s the word
SIR – Might I suggest that the new Brownie promise to “be true to myself” (Letters, September 6) means not doing anything that would upset your mum?
Frank Dike
Bridport, Dorset
Verbal and visual clichés in everyday language
SIR – Why is a preview always a sneak preview? Is there any other kind?
Why are celebrities always heavily pregnant when their handbags probably weigh more than the baby they are carrying?
Why, when so many lessons have been learnt, are they forgotten so quickly?
Why are families always hard-working according to politicians?
Anne P Wheaton
West Kirby, Cheshire
SIR – No one ever loses a tennis match any more. Instead they have to crash out.
Dr Martin Kidd
SIR – Scary has replaced anything from “mildly alarming” to “terrifying”.
Claire Bushby
East Horsley, Surrey
SIR – Must a good meal always be washed down with wine?
Robert Eagle
London W4
SIR – How many Lib Dem supporters have reached the end of their tethers?
Anthony Harris
Richmond, North Yorkshire
SIR – Not only do we endure verbal clichés but also visual ones. If an emotional television news story concerns a child, the picture is of an empty, slow-moving swing.
When a family is involved, members of the family are filmed poring over a photograph album.
There are surely other ways for television reporters to illustrate the poignancy of a situation.
Maggie Tur

SIR – Japanese knotweed is relatively easy to control in the garden and can be treated using off-the-shelf products. Like any other weed, it will find its way, if untreated, through cracks in concrete, walls or tarmac, but it certainly does not “eat through concrete” (“War on the Demon Weed”, Gardening, September 7).
This type of negative publicity has caused panic among mortgage lenders and disproportion costs being incurred by people selling their property. New companies are popping up everywhere, getting rich on the back of the avalanche of demands on property sellers, by the lenders, to provide five- or 10-year guarantees to manage and eliminate this weed. Quotes of between £1,500 and £4,000 are not unusual to treat domestic gardens with small areas of growth. Unless better guidelines and regulations are put in place, this could easily get out of hand, causing long delays in the house-selling process and stopping even more sales.
Alan Billingsley
Whitworth, Lancashire

We are deeply concerned about the impact of the Government’s early years policies on the health and wellbeing of our youngest children. The early years of life are when children establish the values and mindsets that underpin their sense of self, their attitude to later learning, and their communicative skills and natural creativity.
Though early childhood is recognised world-wide as a crucial stage in its own right, Ministers in England persist in viewing it simply as a preparation for school. The term ‘school readiness’ is now dominating policy pronouncements, despite considerable criticism from the sector.
The role of play is being down-valued in England’s nurseries. For many children today, nursery education provides their only opportunity for the active, creative and outdoor play which is recognised by psychologists as vital for physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. However, two key qualifications currently being drawn up for nursery teachers and child carers no longer require training in how children learn through play. Indeed current policy suggestions would mean that the tests and targets which dominate primary education will soon be foisted upon four-year-olds.
Research does not support an early start to testing and quasi-formal teaching, but provides considerable evidence to challenge it. Very few countries have a school starting age as young as four, as we do in England. Children who enter school at six or seven – after several years of high quality nursery education – consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of wellbeing. The success of Scandinavian systems suggests that many intractable problems in English education – such as the widening gap in achievement between rich and poor, problems with boys’ literacy, and the ‘summerborns’ issue – could be addressed by fundamentally re-thinking our early years policies.
Instead of pursuing an enlightened approach informed by global best practice, successive ministers have prescribed an ever-earlier start to formal learning. This can only cause profound damage to the self-image and learning dispositions of a generation of children. We as a sector are now uniting to demand a stop to such inappropriate intervention and that early years policy-making be put in the hands of those who truly understand the developmental needs and potential of young children.
Wendy Ellyatt
Founding Director and CEO, Save Childhood Movement
Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green
Former first Children’s Commissioner for England, Professor Emeritus of Child Health University College London
Professor Lord Richard Layard
Director, Well-Being Programme, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics
Professor Guy Claxton
Co-Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning and Professor of the Learning Sciences, at the University of Winchester
John Freeman
Past Joint President, Association of Directors of Children’s Services
Dr David Whitebread
Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology and Early Education, University of Cambridge
Barry Sheerman MP (Lab)
Chair of The Skills Commission; Chair, Labour Party Commission on School to Work; Co Chair, All-Party Group on Bullying; Co-Chair, Westminster Children’s Commission
Penelope Leach
Psychologist and Director, Mindful Policy Group
Susie Orbach
Psychoanalyst, writer and social critic
Christine Blower
General Secretary, National Union of Teachers (NUT)
Dr Mary Bousted
General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers
Chris Keates
General Secretary, NASUWT
Deborah Lawson
General Secretary, VOICE, The Union for Education Professionals
Ben Thomas
National Officer, UNISON Children’s Services
Neal Lawson
Chair, Compass
Melian Mansfield
Chair, Early Childhood Forum (ECF)
Sue Palmer
Independent writer, consultant and presenter
Purnima Tanuku OBE
Chief Executive, National Day Nurseries Association
Neil Leitch
Chief Executive, Pre-School Learning Alliance
Liz Bayram
Chief Executive, PACEY
Wendy Scott
President, TACTYC
Margaret Morrissey
Founder, Parents Outloud
Emeritus Professor Philip Gammage
Former Chair TACTYC; former President BAECE; Foundation de Lissa Chair in EC, South Australia, former Dean University of Nottingham
Professor Emerita Janet Moyles
Early Years Consultant
Dr Richard House
Senior Lecturer in Education (Early Childhood), University of Winchester and Chair, Early Childhood Action (ECA)
Annette Brooke MP (Lib Dem)
Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Children, Young People and Families 2004 – 2010
Melanie Gill
Founder of the Mindful Policy Group
Patrick Holford
CEO, Food for the Brain Foundation
Professor Kevin J. Brehony
Froebel Professor of Early Childhood Studies, Froebel College, Roehampton University
Ben Hasan
Chair of the National Campaign for Real Nursery Education (NCRNE)
Adrian Voce
Independent writer and consultant, Founder of Play England
Catherine Prisk
Director, Play England
Marguerite Hunter Blair
Chief Executive, Play Scotland
Mike Greenaway
Director, Play Wales
Professor Michael Patte
Co-editor, The International Journal of Play
David Lorimer
Chief Executive, Character Scotland
Tanith Carey
Parenting journalist, author of Where Has My Little Girl Gone? How to Protect Your Daughter from Growing Up Too Soon
Margaret Edgington
Independent Early Years Education Consultant
Janni Nicol
Early Childhood Representative for Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship UK
Kim Simpson
Nursery Head Teacher and Founding Director, Save Childhood Movement
Penny Webb
Childminder, Founder of the One Voice Site
June O’Sullivan
CEO, London Early Years Foundation
Titus Alexander
Convenor, Democracy Matters
Sally Goddard Blythe
Director, The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology (INPP Ltd)
Professor Barry Carpenter
Professor, Early Childhood Intervention, University of Worcester
Professor Colin Richards HMI (retd)
Emeritus Professor University of Cumbria
Dr Barbara Taylor
General Secretary, National Association for Small Schools
Grethe Hooper-Hansen
Independent Consultant
Anne Nelson
Early years specialist, former chief executive of the British Association for Early Childhood Education (BAECE)
Professor J David Ingleby
Centre for Social Science and Global Health, University of Amsterdam
Professor Rita Jordan
Emeritus Professor in Autism Studies, University of Birmingham
Dr Ana Marjanovic-Shane
Professor, Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, USA
Richard Masters
Manager, Hermes Trust
Tobin Hart
Professor of Psychology, University of West Georgia, USA
Jane Joyce
Dr Jennifer Patterson
Senior Lecturer in Education, Principle Investigator Natural Learning and Environments, University of Greenwich
Pat Petrie
Professor Emeritus, Institute of Education, University of London
Dr Bronwen Rees
Former Director, Centre for Transformational Management Practice, Anglia Ruskin University
Professor Andrew Samuels
Pippa Smith
Co-Chairman, Safermedia
Miranda Suit
Co-Chairman, Safermedia
Brian Thorne
Emeritus Professor, University of East Anglia
Annie Davy
Early Years Adviser, Author and Consultant
Jo White
Head of Portman Early Childhood Centre
Dr Carolyn Morris
Senior Lecturer Early childhood Studies, Middlesex University
Laura Henry
Managing Director, Childcare Consultancy, UK representative for the World Forum in Early Care and Education
Edwina Mitchell
Independent Researcher
Elizabeth Jarman
Managing Director, The Elizabeth Jarman® Group
Maggie Fisher
Representative for Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA)
Juno Hollyhock
Executive Director, Learning through Landscapes
Barbara Isaacs
Director of National Strategies, Montessori St. Nicholas Charity
Pauline Trudell
Vice President, The National Campaign for Real Nursery Education
Dr Carole Ulanowsky
Social Researcher
Dr Helen Prochazka
Director, the Montessori Partnership
Lydia Keyte
Chair, What about the Children
Leigh-Anne Stradeski
Chief executive, Eureka National Children’s Museum
Marie Peacock
EYPS, Mothers At Home Matter
Helen Ruffles
Head teacher/Head of Centre, Netherton Park Nursery School and Children’s Centre
Barbara Patterson
Author of Beyond the Rainbow Bridge – nurturing our children from birth to seven years
Fiona Carnie
Vice President, European Forum for Freedom in Education
Gabriel Millar
Teacher and Therapist
Professor Fraser Brown
Playwork Team, Faculty of Health & Social Sciences, Leeds Metropolitan University
Adrian Ramsay
Green Party Home Affairs spokesperson
Rod Parker-Rees
Coordinator of Early Childhood Studies. Plymouth University
Mary Macomber Leue
Founder and Director-emeritus of The Albany Free School, NY
Vincent Nolan
Ex Trustee, Synectics Education Initiative
Sue Cox
Senior Lecturer, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia
Julie Fisher
Independent Early Years Adviser & Visiting Professor Early Childhood Education at Oxford Brooke’s University
Rosa Collins
Early Years Consultant
Marie-Louise Charlton
Early Years Education Consultant
Aonghus Gordon
Founder and Executive Chair, Ruskin Mill Trust
Catriona Nason
Managing Director, Daycare Doctor
Elizabeth Steinthal
Head Teacher, Educare Small School
Shirley Brooks
Senior Lecturer in Early Years Care & Education, University of Winchester
Professor Del Loewenthal
University of Roehampton
Dr Simon Boxley
Undergraduate Programme Leader, Dept Education Studies, University of Winchester
Derek Bunyard
Senior Lecturer in Education Studies & Liberal Arts, University of Winchester
Jess Edwards
Charter for Primary Education coordinator and Lambeth National Union of Teachers
Dr Bridget Egan
Senior Lecturer, Education, Health and Social Care, University of Winchester
Dr Richard Eke
School of Education, University of the West of England
Sue Gerhardt
Author of Why Love Matters
Dr Gillian Proctor
Clinical Psychologist and author
Dr Sebastian Suggate
Lecturer in education, University of Regensburg
Kathryn Solly
Early Years Specialist, Former maintained nursery school head, a member of ECF, NET, NCRNE, Early Education, and NAHT
Barbara Bedingfield
Founding Director, Suncoast School, Florida
Nancy Blanning
Early Childhood Developmental specialist, Denver, Col., USA
Richard Brinton
Educator, former Principal, Hawkwood College, Stroud
Katharine Brown
Early Childhood Educator, Middleton, Mass., USA
Dr Julia Cayne
Psychotherapist and Visiting Lecturer, Centre for Therapeutic Education, University of Roehampton
Peggy Day-Hakker
Lead Writer, Australian Steiner Curriculum Preschool Director, Sydney, Australia
Betty Jane Enno
WECAN (Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America) Regional Representative
Eric Gidseg
Department of Elementary Education, State University of New York
Lavinia Gomez
Writer and researcher
Sherry Jennings
Early childhood educator
Yvonne LaMontagne RN
Early childhood educator
Dawn McCoy
Former Waldorf kindergarten assistant, Potomac Crescent School, Arlington, Virg., USA
Pearse B O Shiel
Heidi Anne Porter
Waldorf Kindergarten Teacher
Sylvie Hétu
Early years educator, international Trainer for IAIM and MISA
Rosemeire Laviano
Maiana Educacional, Brazil
Denise Sachs
Davina Muse Simplicity Parenting
David Adams
Sierra College, Grass Valley, Calif, USA
Vicki Kingsbury
Early Childhood Teacher, Pewaukee, WI
Manali Mehta
Director, Shrishti Pre-Kindergarten, Mumbai. India
Margaret Shams

Irish Times:

Sir, – In his enthusiasm to abolish the Seanad, Desmond FitzGerald seems keen to abolish our history books along with it ( September 11th).
First, he claims David Norris has attempted to become a TD by standing for the Dáil. In fact, Mr Norris has contested six Seanad elections, but has never stood for the Dáil.
Second, he challenges readers to name 10 Senators “who were not a Dáil has-been or wannabe”. Within two minutes of reading his letter I had already scribbled down 14 names: WB Yeats, Jim Dooge, TK Whitaker, Dr Maurice Hayes, Alexis Fitzgerald (Snr), Seamus Mallon, Brid Rodgers, Catherine McGuinness, Prof John A Murphy, Prof Joe Lee, Feargal Quinn, Joe O’Toole, David Norris and Dr Mary Henry.
These 14 people served a total of 45 terms in the Seanad between them. None of them were ever members of the Dáil, nor did they ever seek election to the Dáil. There are many other examples.
What strikes you immediately is the sheer impact which they collectively had on our society and our politics. Would any of them have been elected under the parish-pump Dáil system which will be retained post-Seanad? And would our country really be better off if they had never served in our Parliament?
Mr FitzGerald also asks readers to name “one time since its creation when the Seanad did anything to prevent the Dáil making one of its many bad laws”. Again, two very obvious examples spring immediately to mind.
Fianna Fáil’s second attempt to rig the electoral system by abolishing PR-STV in 1968 was delayed by the Seanad, thereby helping to prevent perpetual Fianna Fáil rule for the rest of that century. Also, Fianna Fáil’s bizarre attempt to ban opinion polls during the final week of election campaigns was scuppered by Shane Ross in the Seanad in 2001.
I can only presume that Mr FitzGerald had no objection to either of these attempts to distort our democracy, or that they passed him by completely unnoticed. – Yours, etc,
Clontarf, Dublin 3.
A chara, – Martin Mansergh’s rambling attack on Sinn Féin (September 11th), under the guise of criticism of its stance on the abolition of the Seanad, is a timely reminder of the sheer gall, hypocrisy and arrogance of that once all powerful symbol of Irish political life – Fianna Fáil Man.
I could indulge in a long rambling incoherent dissection of the challenges of this State’s and Fianna Fáil’s violent origins, the rather undemocratic bloody atrocities of the Civil War and the politically earth-shattering challenges of attempting to import arms while in a government; but that would do no more than to indulge Mr Mansergh in his political game. 
Let me simply cut to the chase and quote from the Fianna Fáil election manifesto of 2011, which stated, “much of the rationale for the inclusion of the Seanad in Bunreacht na hÉireann has ceased to be relevant over time”, and more to the point, “It is important to note that second chambers are not an essential part of parliamentary democracy”. 
Yes, in 2011, the Fianna Fáil election manifesto supported the abolition of the Seanad while now, just over two years later, we have Martin Mansergh admonishing Sinn Féin for taking a similar stance while at the same time attempting to score political points by demonising that same party. It is indeed a timely reminder of times past in Irish political life.
My, oh my, how we have all missed Fianna Fáil Man. – Is mise,
Whitehall Road,
Churchtown, Dublin 14.
A chara, – At the launch of his party’s referendum campaign, Enda Kenny stood with a copy of the Constitution in his hand and declared that “It is the constitutional responsibility of Dáil Éireann to hold the Government to account”. I am amazed that Mr Kenny was able to keep a straight face in making this declaration.
We witnessed, during the passage of the recent abortion legislation, just how ruthless this Government can be in using the whip system to exert its control over the Dáil. To suggest the Dáil can hold the Government to account, and ergo we do not need the Seanad, is simply absurd, and suggests a degree of desperation already in this campaign.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny’s party colleagues have suggested that scrapping the Seanad could save us upwards of €20 million a year. However, in his appearance before the Committee of Public Accounts on January 12th, 2012, the secretary general of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, Kieran Coughlan, made it clear that the annual cost of running the Seanad was €22.5 million. Of this figure, €13.3 million was as a result of indirect costs which, since the Dáil and Seanad are co-located, would remain a cost to the State even if the Seanad was abolished. The only saving to the State would be the €9.2 million in salaries, staff allowances and equipment.
The constant reference by Fine Gael deputies to a saving of €20 million a year – and their continued refusal to elaborate on how this saving would be achieved – is, I believe, another indication of the desperate attempts to justify what looks increasingly like a power-grab.
The Seanad in its current guise is not an adequate democratic safeguard, but certainly the abolition of the second chamber leaves our legislative powers more vulnerable to the whims of party politics and ideology. – Is mise,
Lismore Road,
Crumlin, Dublin 12.
Sir, – It is a pity Michael Mc Dowell (former Minister and leader of the Progressive Democrats) was not as passionate when he was in government for eight years to ensure the financial regulator and the governor of the Central Bank were doing their job ensuring the banks were run properly as he is now to retain the Seanad.
As a founder member of the Progressive Democrats, I can well remember one of the its policies was to abolish the Seanad – also to reduce the number of TDs from 166 to 100.
We know these policies were never carried out when the PDs were in government with Fianna Fáil. At least Taoiseach Enda Kenny has the guts and courage to implement the promise he made prior to the last election to abolish the Seanad.
Mr Mc Dowell said on one occasion the Seanad was a place for would-bes and a place for has-beens. One reason the PDs were formed was to try and stop the corruption and the mismanagement of the economy by Fianna Fáil at that time: that is why I and thousands of others joined that party.
As soon as Michael Mc Dowell and Mary Harney got the opportunity to go into government with Fianna Fáil, they did so, against the wishes of the vast majority of the members. That is why there is no PD party any more; because of Michael McDowell, I, and thousands of members, resigned.
The people of Ireland have a great opportunity to get rid of the Seanad in the forthcoming referendum, and save €20 million in outrageous salaries and expenses for Senators, that we cannot afford any more.
Do your country a service and vote Yes to abolish the Seanad. – Yours, etc,
Co Kilkenny
Sir, – Enda Kenny and Fine Gael are spending considerable energy and a considerable amount of taxpayers’ money in attempting to abolish the Seanad and thus add 60 people to the dole queue. The energy and money is misplaced and should be directed to putting the 14 per cent of our population who are unemployed back to work; and stemming the increasing number of our talented youth who have to emigrate. Perhaps the talents of this group could be better employed in devising a realistic plan to put people back to work and perhaps succeed where the lower house has failed. – Yours, etc,
Westminster Lawns,
Foxrock, Dublin 18 .
Sir, – There is a misconception about the Seanad referendum that those in favour of reform should vote No. In fact, reform can happen even if you vote Yes. In the 1930s the Seanad was abolished only for it to be re-created two years later. If it happened once, it can happen again.
In the event the referendum is approved, there is nothing stopping a future government asking the people to re-establish a reformed Seanad. The danger of a No vote is that there is no guarantee of reform. It is highly unlikely that reform will occur before the next general election. This means an unreformed Seanad could continue until the subsequent general election, in seven years’ time. Even then, there is no guarantee that a future government would reform the Seanad, or that a reform referendum would be approved.
Those in favour of reform should vote Yes, as it is the safest option. – Yours, etc,
Swords, Co Dublin.

A chara, – Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s I have vivid memories of accompanying my mother to the annual parish “mission”. I was too young to comprehend what was being preached. What I do remember is hundreds of women leaving the church in good spirits (the men had a separate week). They had had the good news of the Gospel broken for them and their dignity reaffirmed by Fr Tony Flannery and his retreat team.
As a religious sister for almost 40 years, it saddens me greatly to see good people such as Fr Flannery and many others silenced by our beloved church. I say “many” because, although only a few have been canonically silenced, hundreds (if not thousands) of earnest Irish Catholics remain silent for fear of the repercussions of speaking their truth.
Wouldn’t it be a fitting closure to this Year of Faith if Catholic men and women, lay, cleric and religious, in their efforts to live and spread the Gospel, were free to voice their present concerns regarding the church – a church whose compassionate founder always looked for the lost one, brought back the stray, and bandaged the wounded. – Is mise,
Greenhills Road,

Sir, – Your Editorial (September 9th) states: “None of the companies have publicly disclosed the content of the chemicals being pumped into the bedrock”. This is not true.
In the United States, where gas prices have fallen by 80 per cent, a full listing of the materials, including chemicals, used by over 600 companies at more than 50,000 registered shale gas wells, is viewable at (the US national shale gas chemical registry overseen by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission).
Furthermore, from January next, all companies engaged in shale gas must publicly report all materials used during the exploration process, including chemicals, to the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). This information will be published online by the USEPA, and made available to all the relevant authorities.
By making all the information available, local communities have full access, the public can be better informed, and decision-making can be fact-based. – Yours etc,

Sir, – Your Editorial (September 3rd) misses a number of key points about Pfizer’s new lung cancer medicine and the challenges of assessing the benefit of end-of-life medicines.
Determining the impact of new cancer medicines on overall survival is very difficult as ethical considerations ensure all patients failing existing treatment have access to the new treatment, which limits the ability to show an increase in overall survival for the new treatment.
The clinical trial used for the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics Health Technology Assessment (HTA) compared patients taking Pfizer’s new cancer medicine and patients receiving chemotherapy. The trial was designed to give the patients allocated chemotherapy the opportunity to receive our lung cancer medicine once their cancer had progressed. This factor makes it difficult to compare the differences in overall survival between the two arms of the trial as both groups of patients received the new medicine.
Comparisons with historical data would suggest a meaningful improvement in survival – another clinical trial has shown that it extends overall survival beyond 20 months.
This new lung cancer medicine is a major advance in treating a specific type of lung cancer and there is a test to identify those patients who will respond, and only the patients most likely to benefit are treated – hence it is a highly efficient and targeted use of medicine expenditure.
The HTA states fewer than 40 patients a year will be eligible for this medicine at an estimated annual cost of €1.3 million. This is a relatively low- budget impact for a very significant medical innovation and this medicine is already reimbursed in the more than 10 countries in Europe.
We agree with your Editorial that it is right to scrutinise healthcare expenditure – but this should not be just medicine expenditure. We need to look at a range of interventions – medical, surgical, diagnostic and review their value for money.
Cancer unfortunately remains an area where better treatments are needed and support of scientific advance and innovation is essential for patients everywhere. – Yours, etc,
Managing Director,
Pfizer Healthcare Ireland,
Citywest Business Campus,

Sir, – Farewell Trap and Marco and thanks for the memories. We will always have Paris. – Yours, etc,
Fore Street, Edmonton,
London, England.
Sir, – “We leave this country with emotion because we understand the Irish supporters . . .” (Giovanni Trapattoni, Breaking News, September 11th). Unfortunately“the Irish supporters” didn’t understand Signor Trapattoni! – Yours, etc,
Beacon Hill,
Dalkey, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Addio Trapattoni! – Yours, etc,
Monaloe Avenue,
Blackrock, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I think the debate over who fills the role of national coach is the wrong debate.
Youth soccer in Ireland is very poorly developed, partly because of lack of funds due to paying for the Aviva stadium, but also because, as Trapattoni suggested, we have a pretty poor domestic league.
A comparable organisation to the FAI is the IRFU, which once had only the All Ireland League. This league is similar in many ways to the FAI Airtricity league. If the IRFU had not introduced the provincial structure to create four powerhouse teams, we would be looking at Irish rugby players flowing across the water to play in the UK just like their soccer-playing colleagues.
Could the FAI introduce a provincial structure with maybe two teams per province, well funded and structured under clear financial rules to play in a smaller Irish league? It would mean more support based on geographical rather than club affiliations and attract better finances. We might even have the quality to compete in Europe. The trickle-down to youth development football would be natural. If our northern cousins in the IFA wanted to join, then even better. The next stage could be a Celtic league, who knows? The FAI needs to do something now because, speaking as someone involved in youth soccer, I can’t see a real future for it. – Yours, etc,
Taney Crescent,
Goatstown, Dublin 14.
Sir, – In the wake of Trapattoni’s departure (and following a year-long crescendo of negative sentiment towards the Italian), it is important to remember that he brought us to a European Championship and has achieved far more than could reasonably be expected of him with the players available.
Many of the current squad ply their trade in the second tier of English football, and this simply isn’t a requisite level to achieve sustained success on the international stage. As Trapattoni bows out, I say bravo on a job well done. – Yours, etc,
Fanthorpe Street,
Putney, London, England.
Sir, – A truly sad day for Irish soccer, no longer will our TV be brightened by those big Italian brown eyes – Manuela we’ll miss you. – Yours, etc,
Skreen Road, Dublin 7.

Irish Independent:

* Watching my son wobble down the path towards where the school bus would take him to the pobalscoil brought back memories of me doing the same sort of wobble, but it wasn’t going to school – I was too busy for that.
Also in this section
Decision to keep school is correct
It’s time to praise, not criticise, our first ministers
Random act of kindness gives hope for future
I was the same age, 13 or thereabouts, when a neighbour called to the house and said he had an extra bag of spuds he had no need for. My mother said sure, they wouldn’t go to loss here. So off I went with him, taking big strides in the process to collect the bag of spuds.
When I saw the size of the bag that would dwarf anything I had ever lifted, a smile swept the oul buck’s face as he chewed a lump of tobacco. He told me to get a good grip on it and, with a little twist, lifted it up on to my back. With a weight that would buckle a donkey, my legs were locked into a dead straight position and it took a lot of effort to move forward without the bag pancaking me into the ground. I wobbled as if every step was going to be my last until I reached the house.
So why on Earth in this modern day and age are children weighed down with such a load of books? I weighed my son’s bag and it was spot on the two-stone mark. Thankfully, he now has a locker.
I will not go into the whole cost associated with a child going to school – that’s another story.
What children should have in their schoolbags is a laptop, iPhone, tablet, Kindle, ebook or some other gadget with a screen on it that they can download books on to for a fraction of the cost of buying them.
Books of this bulky and weighty nature are becoming an irrelevance when pitted against modern technology that will tell you whatever you want to find out at the press of a few buttons.
I think developing countries are ahead of us when you see a picture of a child sitting beside a ramshackle hut that poses for a school, doing their homework on one of these gadgets, with a goat eating sun-baked leaves alongside them.
We must modernise how pupils are taught if we want a skilful workforce that will take us on the next leap of faith into an uncertain and unplanned future with troika-led Enda Kenny as Taoiseach and Eamon Gilmore as Tanaiste.
J Woods
Gort an Choirce,
Dun na nGall
* The Government makes much mileage of keeping its election commitment to abolish the Seanad. This is in the face of several broken promises and U-turns in the past two years: for example, in the fields of education, healthcare and hospital waiting lists, pay, social and child welfare, the banks, bondholders and lowering emigration. The Government also promised to reduce the number of TDs by 20, another one they have broken.
Let’s see Seanad abolition for what it is – an easy, populist distraction in current harsh times. It is widely acknowledged that the Seanad in its current form is anachronistic. Why did the Government exclude the Seanad from the brief of the Constitutional Reform Committee it established when it came to power?
In the absence of the Seanad, has anyone demonstrated how its functions would be fulfilled? With new quangos? With a plethora of additional boards and committees with well-paid executives?
If the Seanad is abolished, power will be concentrated even more in central government and in a handful of senior ministers, without fear of scrutiny by a (reformed) Seanad. The Dail will have absolute power to introduce any legislation of the Government’s choosing. Rather than playing games with Seanad abolition, the Government should introduce urgently needed reform.
We are told TDs are already working flat-out on committees, and it is widely acknowledged that backbench deputies have little influence in the Dail. Otherwise, already hard-pressed and overworked backbenchers will be further pressurised to continue their parish-pump roles in order to feel they have some worth.
Richard Bruton has consistently argued that change is necessary, so why is reform not an option?
Martin Krasa
* Emma Jane Hade wrote in the Irish Independent on September 9 that “Speed-limit blunder sees 1,306 drivers get points struck off”.
In 2007, and on April 18, 2011, I had letters published in the Irish Independent when the gardai and the Road Safety Authority claimed the new speed cameras were on roads where people had died.
This is incorrect, as the speed detection unit operates for eight hours a day on the 50kmh one-way R108, a three-lane dual carriageway that is not on the list of collision-prone zones.
We issue 32 times more penalty points in the Republic than in Northern Ireland, where the accident record for the road must be publicly displayed.
Frank Cullinane
* I am appalled at the treatment of mother-of-two Stephanie Meehan, the partner of Fiachra Daly, the Priory Hall resident who took his own life. After being told of Fiachra’s death and having received payment from his life policy, KBC Bank had the chutzpah to pursue Ms Meehan for payment of the outstanding balance plus interest.
The excuse of “automatically generated letters” is incredulous, and the belated and all-too-public writing-off of the balance would appear to be little more than a damage-limitation PR exercise. This behaviour reminds me of the tale of the scorpion and the frog crossing the river together. After dooming them both with a sting of his tale, the frog asks: “Why have you done this?” He is met with the reply: “Because I am a scorpion – that is my nature.”
John Bellew
Co Louth
* The Italian government has in the past week scrapped its plans to implement a property tax on primary residences, in the wake of public discontent. It is abundantly clear that the implementation of a property tax in Ireland is deeply unpopular and has placed a heavy burden on already overladen shoulders.
Taxes on primary residences do not make economic sense as these properties do not produce income. Taxing them is either a poorly disguised additional income tax, if you assume that there is a strong correlation between the value of someone’s house and their income, or a tax on capital that households have decided to save or invest to protect against future financial hardship.
The IMF admitted in a late 2012 paper that it had underestimated the impact of fiscal tightening on economic growth; in other words, the dose of austerity it prescribed to Europe was too strong. In the wake of plummeting VAT receipts, it is clear that the tax burden is stifling real economic activity in Ireland.
We hear much pro-growth political rhetoric in the Dail, but see little action. As we prepare to exit the EU/IMF bailout, one of the first undertakings of the Government should be to scrap the unpopular and flawed property tax. Aside from the money it will free up to be spent and invested in the real domestic economy, it would also greatly improve sentiment and consumer confidence.
Greater economic activity should support increases in job-creation and a higher take for VAT and other economically sensitive taxes. It would also restore confidence in the idea that the Government is answerable to its citizens and has the integrity to reward this population for its stoicism through this dark period in our history.
Gavin Dredge
Killiney, Co Dublin
Irish Independent


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