Busy busy

15 October 2013 Busy busy

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble the Comfort fund is giving a dance Pertwee’s relatives are the band Priceless.
Hospital for Mary blood counts better, bank, tip shopping for me.
We watch the Stop Press Gir
No Scrabble today just too tired


Janusz Lewandowski
Janusz Lewandowski, who has died aged 82, was a former Polish diplomat who, in 1966, launched an effort to bring Hanoi and Washington to the negotiating table and end the conflict in Vietnam — an undertaking code-named “Project Marigold’’.

Lewandowski (right) with Pham Van Dong and one of the Polish deputy foreign ministers, Zygfryd Wolniak, at the presidential palace in Hanoi. Lewandowski (right) with Pham Van Dong and one of the Polish deputy foreign ministers, Zygfryd Wolniak, at the presidential palace in Hanoi 
6:21PM BST 14 Oct 2013
In 1966 Lewandowski was serving as the only ambassador from a communist country in non-communist Saigon, thanks to Warsaw’s position on the International Control Commission (ICC), a body set up in 1954 to oversee the implementation of the Geneva Accords that ended the First Indochina War with the partition of Vietnam. The three members of the Commission were Canada, Poland, and India, representing the non-communist, communist, and non-aligned blocs respectively.
After his arrival in Saigon in April 1966, Lewandowski found a staunch ally in Giovanni D’Orlandi, the Italian Ambassador in Saigon and dean of the diplomatic corps. The two men concurred in their view that America, which had become involved in the conflict in early 1965, was underestimating North Vietnam’s steely determination not to be beaten.
Warsaw’s motives in pursuing a diplomatic solution included improving its global standing and reducing Cold War tensions in order to gain more room for domestic reform. But the move also had the covert backing of the Soviets, Hanoi’s chief backers, who regarded the conflict as an expensive and unnecessary sideshow. The two diplomats approached their American counterpart, Henry Cabot Lodge, who seemed amenable and together they began a series of conversations aimed at opening direct talks.
On June 2 1966 Lewandowski met the North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, who also seemed open to the possibility of negotiations. Lewandowski reported to D’Orlandi that Hanoi might even be prepared to accept a neutral South Vietnam and perhaps even the South’s existing government. Dong had asked only for a timetable for American troops to leave, not for their immediate departure. D’Orlandi informed Lodge who promptly cabled Washington. “The proposals attributed to Hanoi, as a package, go far beyond anything we have heard mentioned before,” Lodge noted, and “appear so forthcoming as to arouse suspicion concerning the credibility of the Polish intermediary.”
Two days later, however, Lodge’s misgivings were assuaged by the Canadian member of the ICC, Victor Moore. “He said that Hanoi wanted to talk and added that our bombing had caused economic damage and dislocation in the life of the community,’’ Lodge wrote later. “Evidently Hanoi wanted our bombing to stop.” Encouraged, Lodge reported to President Johnson that the prospects for talks looked extremely good. The White House authorised Lodge to pursue the matter. Lewandowski, meanwhile, communicated Washington’s conditions to Hanoi, including a willingness to accept South Vietnamese neutrality. Washington even agreed to let Warsaw host secret talks, scheduled to take place on December 6 1966, and involving the American ambassador in Warsaw, John Gronouski and his North Vietnamese counterpart. On November 28 Lewandowski met Dong to lay the groundwork for that meeting and when their conversation ended, Dong, close to tears, embraced the Polish diplomat.
But the meeting never happened for reasons that remain unclear. In his account of the affair, Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam (2012), James Hershberg speculated that a simple communications breakdown was to blame, but he also criticised President Johnson for sabotaging the Marigold channel — against the wishes of his senior advisers — by ordering a new wave of bombing on Hanoi the following week.
As the negotiations turned into a bout of mutual mudslinging, Washington’s line, repeated with various degrees of conviction by American diplomats and “sources close to the White House” was that the North Vietnamese had never been sincere and that the whole thing had been a Polish — or even a KGB — “scam”.
The breakdown of Operation Marigold led Hanoi to close itself off from peace efforts for another two years, while the war dragged on for a further six. In the end Lewandowski’s efforts proved counterproductive, merely reinforcing mutual distrust.
For many years Lewandowski remained resolutely tight-lipped about his role in the affair, and it was only when Hershberg began researching the story of Marigold that, in an interview conducted in a smoke-filled café in Warsaw, he opened up for the first time. Lewandowski admitted thinking, in 1973, when the signing of the Paris peace accords brought an end to American involvement in Vietnam: “My God, we could have done it better and seven years ago”.
Janusz Lewandowski was born in Warsaw on March 10 1931 and took a degree from the Taras Shevchenko National University before becoming a diplomat. He was regarded as a moderate member of the Communist Party.
Lewandowski left Vietnam in May 1967 and later served in ambassadorial posts in Egypt and Greece before retiring in 1991 when the newly-elected non-communist government failed to offer him a job.
Janusz Lewandowski is survived by his second wife, Wanda, and by a son and daughter.
Janusz Lewandowski, born March 10 1931, died August 13 2013


A Conservative home secretary comes out with still more draconian measures against migrants, most of whom are extremely vulnerable. The Liberal Democrats manage to mitigate their effect (Lib Dems restrict May’s migrant tenant checks to one area until 2015, 11 October), while Labour equivocates. Is no one prepared to say simply and clearly that it is immoral to treat needy men and women in this way? Measures that are justified to regulate migration need to be drafted and applied with sensitivity, and the public persuaded of their necessity rather than being pandered to for the sake of winning votes back from Ukip.
Michael Meadowcroft
•  Perhaps the new immigration bill could be extended, or a parallel one introduced, to require checks on those buying residential property in the UK. Only individuals with the right to live in the UK and who are domiciled here for tax purposes really need to own residential property, I suggest. Hard-working, tax-paying residents of the UK might then find it easier to acquire an affordable home.
Rev Dr Maria Hearl
Tiverton, Devon
• If George Osborne is proposing to allow Chinese businessmen to obtain UK visas by resubmitting their Schengenland form (Chancellor opens doors to rich Chinese, 14 October), he presumably feels that being outside Schengenland puts the British economy at a disadvantage. He should talk to Theresa May, who appears to be moving in the opposite direction of requiring everyone to have internal visas for movement around the UK.
John Hall
•  Parked outside my local petrol station, a white van with two logos: “Home Office” and, in much larger letters, “Immigration Enforcement”. Do we now have a unit within the Home Office forcing immigrants to come and live here?
Rev Phil Belli

Amid other uncorroborated and unsubstantiated assertions about Sri Lanka in her letter (11 October), including a reference to the exploitation of Tamil women in garment factories and army brothels, Margaret Owen, director of Widows for Peace Through Democracy, writes “we now have evidence of forced sterilisation of Tamil women in the north-east”. Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely) she does not provide an iota of evidence to back her claim or where it comes from. Nor does she name the city in the north-east. Is it because she has no such verifiable evidence but merely uses the opportunity to castigate Sri Lanka?
Neville de Silva
Deputy high commissioner, Sri Lanka
• Regarding Paul Dacre and “leftish circles” (Letters, 14 October), where does a reader like myself fit in? I voted Conservative in the last election. My options remain open for 2015. I read the Guardian simply because it is the most serious newspaper with the best written journalism (and layout). Sometimes it infuriates me but, as our daughter says, “What is the point of reading a newspaper with which you always agree?”
Lynne Wilkins
Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire
• So Chris Sullivan at RBS is “150% against quotas” (Legal & General gets tough on all-male boards, 11 October). If the rest of the executive board at the bank share his mathematical prowess, clearly the last thing they need is unqualified women interfering.
Larissa Sullivan (no relation)
Liverton, Devon
•  Currently, South Wales Argus billboards are proclaiming “Newport man grows huge tomato”. And they say there’s no good news in the world.
Marion Worth
Newport, South Wales
•  Appearing to be knocked out by the standard of his completed work in our shower room, our plumber declared it to be “anaesthetically very pleasing” (Letters, 12 October). What more could I say?
Karen Grunert
West Wittering, West Sussex
• My mother-in-law has always admired the work of the Salivation Army.
Steve Vanstone

Your article (We have to make a living: authors rebel over working for free, 12 October) gives a deeply unfair impression of my attitude to the situation of writers.
First, the – polite and friendly – invitation to Philip Hensher to contribute a short foreword to an academic book that I am editing was not “for nothing”, but offered an, albeit modest, compensation for his time in the form of books. This may not be payment in cash, but neither is it “nothing” (this, in the context of a debate about the value put upon writing).
Second, it was not the rejection of my invitation that I found “improper”, but the manner in which it was written. I, of course, respect the prerogative of writers to decline to engage in this kind of work when they deem it not worth their while; and I also see the value of the broader debate around these issues. However, that debate should be conducted in an informed and balanced way – in particular when it rises above the free-for-all of Twitter to reporting in a respected newspaper. It should also take account of the fact that many academics give freely of their time in support of, and in collaboration with, writers and other artists. In my experience, both parties – while rarely deriving direct material benefit from such work – generally have some sense of it contributing to the common good of our culture.
Andrew Webber
• Author Guy Walters’ indignation that he and other authors are being abused by being asked to write and speak for free seems more than a little out of proportion with the nature of the issue. How sad that an Eton-educated academic and author doesn’t know that working for free is volunteering, whereas slavery is being forced to work without reward against one’s will. His rant about this perceived injustice does a great disservice to the many who are still living and working in conditions of slavery. A person with his advantages in life surely ought to know better and get some perspective on what really matters before making such self-obsessed and pejorative statements.
Jenny Pearson
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
• It’s not just writers. Visual artists are also increasingly expected to work for free: asked to pay to exhibit at galleries which could not exist without them and sometimes expect to charge commission on work sold as well; expected to do vast amounts of research and design work on spec if submitting for commissions and even if shortlisted paid a pittance for fully worked out proposals and generally expected to contribute to other people’s events without payment. I absolutely agree that as artists, writers, musicians and performers, it is our duty to put a value on our work and that society should expect to pay for cultural products. I hope the response regarding Philip Hensher’s wholly justified refusal to work for free is taken up by all individuals struggling to make ends meet by producing the cultural artefacts the rest of British society takes for granted. An attitude fortunately not shared by all countries.
Gabriella Falk
Exton, Somerset
•  Your report reminds me of a similar situation with jazz musicians. What is the difference between a large pizza and a jazz musician? A large pizza can feed a family of four.
Kenneth Ball
Ditchling, Sussex
At the British Council, we make no apology for working to build greater understanding – and ultimately trust – between young people in the UK and other countries, wherever they are in the world (Uzbekistan: forced labour, fear and a fine British education, 10 October). The partnerships we supported between UK and Uzbek universities through our Inspire programme, which also operates in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, are publicised on our website – we make no secret of our work to facilitate the growth of long-term partnerships between the UK and central/south Asian countries. The British universities that were part of Inspire deserve praise, not condemnation, for their commitment to creating international opportunity in less open societies. When calling educational links with Uzbekistan into question, we should ask ourselves what isolating the people who represent Uzbekistan’s future would achieve – either for them, or for us.
Dr Jo Beall
Director of education and society, British Council

Dominic Cummings is “arguably the most brilliant” special adviser in the coalition, we are told. Yet he has no experience of teaching or qualifications in education. Would we want a “brilliant teacher” deciding transport policy or a “superb engineer” deciding health policies?
From what is quoted of Mr Cummings’ views (Outgoing adviser pushes Gove to wield axe – and stop worrying about inequality, 12 October), they seem more driven by belief that the market is always best and that “private rules”. Many people not labelled brilliant spout these canards.
Nor is what we are told he believes about the genetic basis of performance accurate. Research shows that about 70% of a child’s attainment in tests (if that equals performance) is determined by their attainment last time they were tested, going back to starting school. Other factors influencing performance are gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic circumstances etc. This does not show that the 70% is genetically determined, as Mr Cummings ought to know. A great deal of the brain is wired in the earliest years of life in response to experiences. Therefore it ought to be possible to improve “performance” of children by supplementing the richness of their early experiences.
It seems a degree in history, even a brilliant one, has not equipped Mr Cummings with a depth of understanding of the interpretation of statistics or the nuances of educational research. Interestingly, he appears to concede that academies aren’t making much difference (in spite of money lavished on them) and seems content to see free schools fail (that’s the market). So why is it disgraceful for a local authority school to fall short?
Graham Dunn
Former director of education standards and inclusion, Lancashire county council
•  Even if you believe that IQ is a measure of anything other than the ability to pass IQ tests, and that the variation within it is “primarily” genetic (a phrase so vague as to be meaningless), that doesn’t prove anything about whether education can improve performance. Most myopia is genetic, but can be fixed with a pair of spectacles. However, the bigger problem with Cummings’ argument is that it implies a view of education in which children are a commodity whose market value we should seek to maximise. Children are people, whose value is intrinsic; those of us who are merely “mediocre” in his view are still citizens with human rights, including the right to an education.
Dr Jim Endersby
Reader in the history of science, University of Sussex
•  The epidemiologist Geoffrey Rose noted that if everyone smoked, lung cancer would appear to be a “genetic” disease. For sure, genes matter, but the heritability estimate, which is determined by comparing twins, is a function of the amount of variation in environmental risk factors in a population. Where universal education exists, genes will look as if they are playing a bigger role because there is less variation in the environment. Similar debates arise in obesity – presumably rightwing advisers aligned to the food industry will assert that the epidemic of obesity is caused by a shift in our gene pool, not a change in diet.
Professor Matthew Hotopf
King’s College London
•  Given that humans share about 98.8% of their genetic pool with chimpanzees, this implies, contrary to David Cummings’ assertion, that there is much to be gained from teaching. Furthermore, if teaching is about bringing children to their full potential, the prevailing orthodoxy of league tables may be considered inferior to measuring the extent to which schools maximise the potential of each child in their care. Improvement is a relative concept and one which is being lost in this war of the ideologues.
Ultimately, the biggest conceptual problem with education in this country is the adherence to the 3Rs. There is a fourth R – reasoning. Teachers know, but politicians and their advisers deny, that the ability to think is as important as the ability to read, write and count. Ah, but to have a nation of people able to think well – where would that get us?
Martin Jones
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
•  I spent part of the 1990s in Canada, where education was a sought-after profession that attracted and retained excellent teachers, in part because teaching was both reasonably well paid and realistically doable. Instead of expecting primary teachers to cover not only literacy and numeracy as well as science and the humanities but also music, drama and PE, there were specialists who took on these roles, including small-group activities for “gifted” children as well as for those who needed help in maths and reading. School counsellors were standard, and there was also a large and well-used library in every elementary school. My son was disconcerted when we moved back to the UK, and found that the “library” in his new primary school (“excellent”, according to Ofsted) was a small bookcase halfway down a corridor.
Canada’s highly educated workforce is a major contributor to the economic health of the nation. Education is a life-long process, with opportunities to acquire degrees in a modular fashion over the lifetime, increasing social mobility and offering opportunities even to those who got a poor start.
Dominic Cummings is right – we don’t need to “reinvent the wheel”. Education isn’t really that difficult, but it does need to be not just a political priority but an economic one. Pay teachers better, and pay more of them. Standards will then rise.
Elizabeth Liddle
Clifton Village, Nottinghamshire
• As well as teaching experience and qualifications, for a headteacher’s role Annaliese Briggs should have had substantial management training (Headteacher of free school appointed with no qualifications quits after seven months, 10 October). And, as she is to now take up a role as a governor, one hopes someone will give her governance training – someone who understands that it is poor practice to reappoint an unsuccessful headteacher as governor of their own school.
Paul Griseri
Middlesex University Business School
• Michael Gove’s desire for more people without teaching qualifications to take over schools shows what an inspirational secretary of state he is. Perhaps the coalition should try this policy in other areas. For example, if lay people took the place of qualified doctors, nurses and pharmacists it would dramatically reduce spending on the NHS. The scheme would also decrease the population and thereby reducing spending in all other areas.
Rosetta Delisle


Each day I become more flabbergasted by the ineptitude and ignorance of our current political leaders. I can only assume it is their privileged backgrounds and comfortable insulation from the pressures of everyday life that put them so completely out of touch (“Middle-class children will be worse off than their parents”, 14 October).
Ask any middle-class parent about their prime concerns and you will get the same reply. Children emerging from university with massive debts, little chance of getting a decent job (certainly not one that will enable the debts to be cleared before they are middle-aged) and virtually zero chance of getting on to the bottom rung of the housing ladder. How can our political leaders be so blind that they need a government commission to spell this out ?
And what will be the reaction? Discussion (already ongoing) about possibly even higher fees for the better universities; Osborne creating another housing bubble (a cynical attempt to buy votes on the back of increased house values?) despite empirical evidence that this is likely to end in disaster; and more measures to penalise young adults for not finding work (even though the jobs don’t exist).
No wonder on the same page you report that almost half of adults suffer from anxiety. Most of us can see the country is going to hell in a hand-cart – why can’t the politicians see this too?
Alex Taylor, London
Should we trust the MI5 spooks?
Chris Blackhurst asks who is he to disbelieve the security services (14 October). The answer is simple: he is a journalist who knows that governments and their security agencies have a long and ignominious record of using “national security” as a way to cover up incompetence, malfeasance and downright criminal behaviour. 
He asks where the story is in the Snowden revelations. The story is that the US National Security Agency has conspired with the designers and manufacturers of encryption and telecommunication products, software and hardware, to have secret “back doors” inserted into them so that they can read people’s communications.
This has weakened these products to the extent that they cannot now be trusted, and the public have the right to know what risks they face because their security systems have been secretly compromised.
It would be naive to believe that there is no chance that criminals or hostile governments could ever find out how to exploit the weaknesses which the NSA have designed into encryption software, mobile phones, telephone switches etc.
We know that government agencies indulge in industrial espionage for the benefit of commercial companies; we know that at least one prime minister has had his mobile phone hacked (but not by whom), and we know that there is not one surveillance technology which has not at some time been misused by governments to infringe civil rights.
Maybe a public debate on all of this would result in people being quite happy with a situation analogous to security organisations having door lock makers provide them with skeleton keys so that they could let themselves into any house whenever they liked. And maybe it would not.
Mike Perry, Ickenham, Middlesex
Andrew Parker, head of MI5, may well be correct in stating that the damage from Edward Snowden’s revelations is great, but he would say that, wouldn’t he? The public has no way of knowing.
MI5 occupies a prominent position in the demonology of the left and centre precisely because there has never been any clarity about its operations, Peter Wright, Clockwork Orange and Cathy Massiter’s revelations being only some of the available material. Its lack of scrutiny has resulted in operations in Ulster about which there is still considerable turbidity, and a general view of the agency being populated by Cold Warriors, Young Turks “blind in the right eye” and an unsavoury collection of ex-Army and ex-police “burgling and bugging their way across London”.
There has never been worthwhile Parliamentary scrutiny of its operations, the Commons committee being either derelict in their duties of oversight or infatuated with the idea of being in possession of secret knowledge.
What Mr Parker and other spy chiefs are complaining about is being caught doing something about which there has never been a public debate. Until he starts to be more open he can never be trusted, and it is naive of him to expect otherwise.
Adam Walker, Durham
Not just a school for the rich
I am writing in response to articles in national newspapers on 1 October, concerning a presentation made by Dr Tim Hands, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference.
I have been a headmaster at two independent boys’ schools in Australia, so I am aware of the unique difficulties that exist in leading a private independent school. I am concerned however as to the merits of attacking publicly a good state school such as The London Oratory School as a means of defence of private schooling.
To suggest that the school’s population derives from neighbouring “houses reportedly on sale for millions of pounds” is misleading. The school is situated in Fulham; but its pan-London catchment means that only 7 per cent of local residents attend the school, with a number of those from neighbouring Peabody and Guinness estates.
Similarly, whilst the school is comprehensive in regard to ability, it is not comprehensive in regard to Catholic practice, as priority is given to those families with established practice. In that respect the proportion of pupils eligible for free lunches is representative of the population it draws from and not of its local authority.
David McFadden, Headmaster, The London Oratory School, London SW6
Why pick on badgers?
Reports about bovine TB usually note that cattle share this disease with “wild animals” and not just “badgers”. This led me to do some brief research of vets’ sites on the web. This showed that the organism has been isolated in a wide range of farmed and wild species, including: deer, pigs, sheep, bison, cameloids (llama), horses, dogs, cats, rats and rabbits. Cats drink milk and share farmyards with cattle and there are more than 7 million in UK. Rats do the same and there are more than 60 million. Rabbits can also carry the disease. My garden in Somerset hosts at least 20 every night. Why are we just culling badgers?
Mick Humphreys, Taunton, Somerset
The badgers have been moving the goal posts. Oh no! The cunning devils, helped no doubt by Mole and Ratty. Is Owen Paterson aspiring to the mantle of Kenneth Grahame?
Michael Watson, Norwich

Crime Agency comes to call
Am I naive, or is the photograph of the new National Crime Agency in action on its opening day somewhat alarming (8 October). It shows four masked NCA operatives wearing goggled balaclavas, and toting machine guns and pistols, about to enter the house of a suspect. 
What was this heinous crime? Armed robbery, murder, a bomb factory? No, the targets of this “Thunderbirds Swat Team” were suspected of having applied for passports and driving licences using stolen identities. I remember a time when such activities would have been met with a knock at the door and a polite “Ello, ello, ello, who’s been a naughty boy then?”
And they still say the innocent have nothing to fear. Let’s hope they’ve got the right address.
Alan Collinson, Rhos on Sea, North Wales
Public taste for prurience
Ian Richards (letter, 14 October) is right to “differentiate between the investigative journalism that is required to hold those in high office to account, and the prurient and intrusive coverage of the high-profile bereaved, such as the Dowlers, or the lazy vilification of unconventional murder suspects like Christopher Jefferies”.
Trouble is, while the public buys those titles that publish the “prurient and intrusive” stuff – linked to readers’ obsession with “celebrities” – one can hardly blame the papers. It’s a great circulation booster. The public needs to change. But it won’t.
Garry Humphreys, London N13
The Bard on the BBC
Like David Lister (The Week in Arts, 12 October), I believe that classic drama should be on BBC TV; but I am not convinced that the right way to do this is to broadcast live stage performances, which are created to be seen in theatres.
When Laurence Olivier directed three Shakespeare films, he did not simply film stage performances, he thought through the plays in cinematic terms. In 1981, Antony and Cleopatra was directed for the BBC by Jonathan Miller; this was part of a project known in the press as the Bardathon: every single play of Shakespeare was produced on TV in special productions. It is that kind of boldness which is needed now.
John Dakinm, Dunstable, Bedfordshire
Heritage in peril
The project to survey all heritage buildings at risk is commendable (10 October), and it is good to see a resumption of an initiative that began as long ago as 1986; but who will then act to stop the rot in the properties identified?
English Heritage is shortly to be split up, and the local authorities with the necessary legal powers have lost one-third of their heritage experts in the past seven years. Survey is all very well, but useless without, where necessary, the appropriately resourced statutory action.
Bob Kindred, Ipswich,  Suffolk
Forgotten England
Now, at last, we know what it is to be English: it’s just a matter of residence and how you feel (Sports, Comment, 10 October). Any hint of genetics, linguistics or culture is to be deemed both unforgivably racist and xenophobic.
Now that’s sorted out perhaps we can move on to the further problem of whether there is in fact such an entity as “England”, other than as a simulacrum or extension of the international travel hub which is Heathrow.
Dominic Kirkham, Manchester
Lesser honour
Professor Peter Higgs: the Swedes give him the Nobel. We give him the CBE (Leading article, 8 October).
Robert Davies, London SE3


If planning rules were changed to allow more town-centre residential use, a reinvigorating sea change could take place
Sir, Your correspondent Sian Flynn (Oct 12) makes a very valid point. The increasingly downbeat nature of our town centres reflects the nation’s changing shopping habits. The success of “pound” shops surely is a case in point, as they serve a similar role to charity shops in taking the place of traditional town centre shops. Plymouth provides a very good illustration of this, with many premises now vacant. But fine old market towns such as Tavistock are beginning to go this way, too, perhaps because of — and in spite of — its traditional nature and traditional market. If planning rules were changed to allow more town-centre residential use, a reinvigorating sea change could take place. It is bound to happen at some stage, so why not now?
Jeremy Davies
Tavistock, Devon

Sir, You publish two letters (David Lort-Phillips and Sian Flynn, Oct 12) that go to the core of the problem of the UK’s lack of affordable housing. One referred to the opportunity to tear up outdated planning rules to allow increased residential development in town centres. The other, from a farmer, bemoaned the fact that policy requiring private housing development to finance affordable housing fatally curbs supply and pushes prices yet further up.
I wish to add a further radical suggestion based on research done by a great thinker, Professor Jay Forrester, at MIT in the 1960s and summarised in his book Urban Dynamics. He concluded that building cheap housing to provide a first rung on the ladder was a fatally flawed planning policy. Echoing the second letter writer, Forrester went much further — never build social housing. Always build good-quality housing. Sell that to the upwardly economically mobile and build enough to meet the total housing needs of the community. The better off will vacate their older tired housing and that will become available as affordable housing. Housing associations should buy or rent that bottom-end housing to meet the housing needs at the bottom of the housing ladder.
Four benefits immediately arise: greater total supply of housing units; lower house prices; a steady improvement in the quality of the housing stock; and no low-income housing ghettoes are created.
Tim Guinness
Basingstoke, Hants

Sir, John McTernan’s article on house prices (Opinion, Oct 14) was interesting but unrealistic. The greatest pressure on house prices is in London, where there is no farmland on which to build houses. The problem lies elsewhere, given that 72 per cent of all purchases of inner London properties in 2012 were by overseas buyers. This has other negative effects, because a large percentage of these properties are not lived in and this has a detrimental effect on local businesses.
Brixton is starting a brave initiative by increasing taxes on properties unoccupied for more than a year. The Government should extend this to cover all London boroughs.
Charles Nettlefold
London WC2

The sale represents very poor value for the taxpayer and quite unnecessarily so — who advised the Government and what were they paid?
Sir, While clearly those fortunate enough to acquire shares in the Royal Mail — at what looks like a ridiculously low price — must be delighted, the sale represents very poor value for the taxpayer and quite unnecessarily so.
This situation would have been avoided if the offer for sale had been made by tender, as such offers were frequently made in the 1960s. The method was simple: a reasonable minimum price was set and purchasers were invited to bid for shares at or above that price. The sale price would then be set at the level, or slightly below the level, at which bids for all the shares being offered were received, hopefully at about 10-15 per cent below the price at which the shares later settled down in the market.
Thus the purchasers would show a reasonable, as opposed to an exorbitant, profit and the seller would have received a reasonable, as opposed to an unreasonably low, price. It would be interesting to know what was the fee paid to the Government’s advisers for the advice provided.
Peter Spira
London W14

It is possible to reduce both the excessive drug bill and relieve common mental problems in our communities, but this area deserves more support
Sir, GPs are reported to be “too quick” to prescribe pills for depression and should be prescribing exercise instead (Oct 14 ). Exercise helps, but more can be done without resorting to medication. In the 1950s the reason given for excessive prescribing was that the doctors were not listening to their anxious and depressed patients, as a result of which, recognising how their anguish challenged the doctors’ own psyches, Drs Michael and Enid Balint started their GP seminars at the Tavistock Institute.
The need for such listening exists more than ever and can be met within the NHS, to an effective degree, by the availability of adequate numbers of well-trained counsellors to provide useful help without undue delay. In January 1957 The Lancet published the results of work in my practice in conjunction with a psychiatric social worker, demonstrating the potential benefit of what, at that time, was a pathfinding exercise.
It is possible to reduce both the excessive drug bill and relieve common mental problems in our communities, but this area of healthcare deserves more support and should be fully exploited.
Dr Neville Davis
Hove, E Sussex

In the 20th century we introduced the concept of “privacy” to make the government keep an appropriate distance from innocent citizens
Sir, Your leading article “Freedom and Security” ( Oct 12) suggests that Edward Snowden doesn’t understand the balance between the two. What balance? Snowden has proved that our digital private lives are no longer private. The US National Security Agency and our own GCHQ have bugged virtually everyone with an internet connection, and put them under suspicion of terrorism. They did so with no political debate and in the presence of increasing evidence that the actual bad guys have long since stopped operating through the internet but have instead been constructing and using their own, underground internet: their independently wired and encrypted darknet.
In the 20th century we introduced the concept of “privacy” to make the government keep an appropriate distance from innocent citizens. This was not because we should mistrust the government, but because we can’t be sure that the government will always remain trustworthy in the future. Anyone who reminds us of this shows an understanding of the balance between freedom and security.
Danny Mekic

Sir, In April it was 250 years since the radical journalist and MP John ­Wilkes was arrested and imprisoned for seditious libel for criticising the King’s Speech made by George III which had been written by the then Prime Minister, Lord Bute. Wilkes was quickly released, although it would not be the last time that he would be imprisoned for opposing ­governmental attempts to restrict the freedom of the press. His supporters (of whom there were many) used the chant “Wilkes and Liberty” during their protests against Wilkes’s treatment.
Today, again, we see an attempt by the government of the day to
interfere with the hard-won liberties that we have long enjoyed in this country, allegedly in the name of the protection of individuals. Although the details of the politicians’ plans for press regulation are still largely
undisclosed, it seems inevitable that they will contain political control of some sort. I hope that our modern media will have the courage of John Wilkes and others who fought for our liberties, and will not bow to
unnecessary interference in the freedom of the press and not sign up to any scheme controlled by politicians. I wonder whose name we will have to chant this time around.
Simon Hunter
London NW6

The reliability of local utility supplies in rural Bedfordshire would almost certainly be unacceptable to most city dwellers
Sir, Living in a village eight miles north of Bedford, I have read your correspondence (Oct 1, 7 & 9) on poor broadband speeds and national infrastructure renewal with envy and resignation. The reliability of all my local utility supplies would be unacceptable to most city dwellers.
The water pressure is so low that I cannot shower, and it is customary for our electricity to be cut because of the susceptibility of the overhead rural distribution network to high winds and severe weather. No network coverage or a very weak signal is normal for my mobile phone and my broadband download speed is so slow that even BT’s speed test once timed out.
James Bunyan
Keysoe, Beds

SIR – London commuters have always complained that their journey to work is too expensive. However, the harsh economic truth is that the capital’s public transport passengers only actually pay half the full cost of running the system themselves. The total taxpayer subsidy to London’s various nationalised public transport systems is now approximately £7 billion per annum. Next time Boris Johnson sits on a London bus, he ought to remember that half his bus fare was paid for by the taxpayer.
Peter Bryson
Addingham, West Yorkshire
SIR – Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, is wrong to say that a figure showing that East Coast returned £209 million to the Government last year “reinforces the RMT case that renationalisation of the entire rail network would save over a billion pounds a year, which could be reinvested in services and capacity” (report, October 9).
In addition to East Coast, many other operators returned money to the Government last year, with the amount totalling £1.3 billion, of which the highest repayment, of nearly £315 million, came from South West Trains.
Competing with one another to run services incentivises train companies to expand rail usage and contain costs. Over 15 years, Britain has seen a 73 per cent growth in rail journeys, far outstripping that in other European countries with state-owned railways.
With train operators carrying more people, there is a growing financial dividend that benefits passengers and taxpayers by helping to maintain investment in the network while government support declines.
Tom Smith
Chairman, Association of Train Operating Companies
London EC1

SIR – The wafer-thin margins between supply and demand for electricity in the coming winter, disclosed by the National Grid’s market operations director, underline the total failure of successive governments’ energy policies.
This includes the present Coalition, which has failed to decide on any major investment in its three-year life and is seemingly in thrall to the ideological charm of renewables, which contribute little to energy supply.
When it comes to HS2, the Government trumpets the need for national infrastructure, while presiding over the potential failure of energy supply, which will affect us all.
It’s all very well to say that supplies of gas won’t be affected, but most gas-fired heating systems rely on electric power for circulating pumps, boiler safety systems and timer settings. A winter huddled round a kitchen gas hob, lit with a match, seems in store for us all.
Dr Harold Hughes
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Related Articles
London’s commuters are only paying half price
14 Oct 2013
SIR – I can’t see why anyone would want to invest in electricity generation in Britain. It is becoming impossible for energy companies to plan ahead, as politicians try to compete for votes with various policies. At the same time, massive investment is required by these companies to prevent a shortage in capacity in the near future.
Ultimately it is the taxpayer who will pick up the tab for politicians’ vanity projects. The cost of all the green subsidies should be reflected in direct taxation, not in energy bills, thus protecting the people least able to afford the rises in energy bills.
Deregulation was meant to give consumers more choice and cheaper energy. Since the end of the Nineties we have in fact managed to reward and subsidise the most expensive, least flexible sources of energy while shrinking the number of participants to the big six. Some of this was on Ed Miliband’s watch as energy minister, so hearing him talk about capping prices fills me with despair.
Mark Davies
Upper Gatton, Surrey
SIR – The flood of information and disinformation about the reasons for high energy prices has failed to mention the 5 per cent VAT on all energy bills, which was introduced in 1993.
As with all percentage taxes, it increases at the same rate as the price to which it applies, so the tax take from it must be rising very fast. The Conservative Party could promise to reduce or abolish VAT on energy after the next election. I doubt that the Lib Dems would agree to do so earlier.
Martin Sage
Westhay, Somerset
SIR – Is it time to turn up the heat on government to embrace nuclear power?
Charlie Messervy-Whiting
SIR – The £112 charge on average electricity bills for environmental costs is only part of the story.
A large proportion of the £288 charge for delivery arises from the need to make extensive modifications and extensions to the transmission network in order to cope with new wind farms.
Spencer Atwell
Felbridge, Surrey
SIR – The 8.2 per cent increase in fuel by SSE is small compared with Npower’s demand for an increase in my monthly direct debit from £158 to £208, a rise of 31.64 per cent for the same four-bedroom detached house I’ve lived in for 34 years.
Geoffrey Hodgson
Shadwell, West Yorkshire
SIR – Energy is not expensive in Britain. Most households pay more for their television and broadband subscriptions than their electricity, and vehicle fuel is cheaper than bottled water and beer. We simply don’t value it. Supposedly “high” household bills are a reflection of wasteful use, not high unit costs. Put a jumper on and turn some lights off.
Michael Heaton
Warminster, Wiltshire
The minimum age
SIR – The Transport Research Authority says that 17-year-olds are too immature to be allowed to take a UK driving test and that drivers ought to be at least 18 years of age and have restrictions imposed for their first year after passing the test (report, October 11).
At the same time, the Scottish Government says that all persons over the age of 16, regardless of academic or any other ability, are sufficiently mature to determine the political future of Scotland.
They can’t both be right.
John Jukes
Bosherston, Pembrokeshire
SIR – Seventeen-year-olds are too young to write a credible diary, to hold a full driving licence and to deploy to a theatre of military operations.
Why is the Labour Party pushing to lower the voting age to 16?
Michael Nicholson
Dunsfold, Surrey
A free press
SIR – I am deeply disappointed to learn that the new proposals by the newspaper industry for self-regulation have been rejected by the Government.
The free press in this country has been the envy of the world and, while it does make some mistakes, existing law, properly used, is sufficient for appropriate redress.
Under the new regulations the principle of free speech is yet again undermined. What opportunity would The Daily Telegraph have been afforded to reveal the MPs’ expenses scandal had these new rules been in place at the time?
Apparently, our inept and inexperienced politicians have yet again bowed to wrong-headed lobbying from pressure groups.
Ian Briggs
Stanton-under-Bardon, Leicestershire
Coffin up
SIR – With funeral directors charging £4,000 for coffins, I’m pleased to read that it is now possible to procure one for £865, or even a cardboard one for £15.
I asked my local carpenter if he would make a coffin out of recycled timber. He said that he would be pleased to find alternative use for his old stock, which is occupying valuable space, and would supply a bespoke pine coffin for £300.
He is making it now.
Charles Holcombe
Brighton, East Sussex
The Abortion Act
SIR – Surely any civilised human being must agree with Lord Steel that abortion on the grounds of the sex of the foetus is repugnant.
His 1967 Abortion Act framed what were, at the time, very reasonable conditions under which abortion could be carried out. As a retired member of the medical profession, I am ashamed at the way it has yielded to pressure for abortion to be available on demand for virtually any reason.
However, the legal profession and Parliament are equally at fault. Lord Steel suggests the burden of any change should be on the General Medical Council, but surely what is required is a firm acceptance of the original framework of the 1967 Act, if necessary confirmed by new legislation.
Nigel Dwyer FRCS
Solihull, West Midlands
First-time buyers
SIR – Paul Harrison continues to perpetuate the myth that house buyers 40 years ago had to overcome many hurdles.
I bought my first home in 1969, a Fifties semi-detached house in south Manchester, for £4,000. I had no financial track record in Britain, having lived in southern Africa since 1966, but had been offered a job with a basic £2,100 salary. A 98.75 per cent mortgage for £3,950 was arranged in seven days. Although the mortgage rate was 8 per cent, tax relief on interest (Miras) eased the pain and a monthly repayment of £33 was quite manageable.
I passed this house five years ago and it was on sale at £169,500, I guess well out of reach of first time buyers.
We had it much easier than today.
Ian R White
Langho, Lancashire
Hungover hockey
SIR – For those who do not have access to an Austin Healey to cure a hangover, a large swig of Barr’s Irn Bru, followed by a game of hockey, ideally mid-winter on the west coast of Scotland, works equally well.
Ginny Hudson
Swanmore, Hampshire
SIR – Two rashers of bacon, two fried eggs and a grilled tomato, lashings of toast and marmalade, and a pot of strong Yorkshire Gold tea never fails.
Fred For
Salford, Lancashire
Partridge should be fair game for student dining
SIR – Should we not be applauding the Oxford Brookes students for demonstrating admirable initiative in producing a delicious meal for 12 using sustainable, seasonal produce on a student budget and not a takeaway pizza in sight? They even cleared up the waste!
Polly Paterson
Windlesham, Surrey
SIR – Partridge, shot on the wing, hung, plucked, and cooked is about as green as it gets.
Had the students had the wisdom to paunch the classless rabbit rather than pluck red-legged partridge, maybe they would have been recognised for their austerity rather than condemned for their aristocracy.
Philip Usherwood
Fleet, Hampshire

Irish Times:
Sir, – The apologists for keeping brand advertising on packs of cigarettes must be getting desperate if they argue that it should be allowed because it doesn’t work (October 14th).
Smoking kills five times as many people as road accidents, overdoses, murder, suicide and HIV put together.
Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of our two biggest killers, cancer and heart disease.
Ireland led the world in introducing smoke-free public spaces – against fierce opposition.
Having lost the lost the debate over the deadly effects of their product, Big Tobacco is now fighting the introduction of plain cigarette packaging, devoid of logos and branding.
Unless dead smokers are constantly replaced by new adolescent addicts, the habit will die out.
Minister for Health James Reilly deserves the fullest support in his efforts to reduce disease, death and disability by introducing plain packaging of tobacco products. – Yours, etc,
Cnoc an Stollaire,
Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal.

A chara, –Diarmaid Ferriter’s article, “Referendum defeat does not have to spell trouble” (Opinion, October 12th) needs to be challenged. Having given us a history lesson on past referendums, he concludes his article by implying that the onus for reform of the Seanad should fall on Enda Kenny. In fairness to Mr Kenny, he believed that the Seanad was unreformable, as I did and still do. Why then should the onus for reform be placed on him?
Surely it should fall on those who passionately campaigned for Seanad reform, namely Democracy Matters and Fianna Fáil? It is now up to them to come up with an acceptable reform package and, if needs be, to persuade the Government to put this package before the citizens of this State in a referendum. Mr Ferriter also stated, erroneously in my opinion, that not  reforming the Seanad “will be seen as a result that prompted a determination to maintain the status quo”. Not correct.
When I voted Yes to abolish the Seanad on October 4th, I voted to change the status quo and  for a new beginning in Irish political life. Those who voted No voted for the maintenance of the status quo and for the continued existence of that elitist, anachronistic political institution. Nowhere on the ballot paper was the word “reform” mentioned.
In relation to reform, the idea of giving a Seanad vote to all third-level graduates is being suggested. This again is an elitist, segregationist, non-democratic suggestion, in my opinion. So those who never get the privilege of attending a third-level institution don’t get to cast their vote.
Regarding “real” reform, may I suggest the following: 1. Reduce the number of senators from 60 to 30. 2. Pay each a salary of 50 per cent of a TD’s salary. 3. Give them no expenses, allowances, free parking or perks. Let them commute to their place of work like everybody else. 4. First preference given to young, able, bright, unemployed people who have a vested interest in creating a new Ireland for themselves and others. 5. Introduce a culture of accountability and responsibility where non-performing and low-attending senators are brought to book and moved on. 6. Allow no cronyism, no gombeenism and absolutely no nepotism.
Lets’s make a fresh start and begin to remove the barriers between the “haves” and the “have nots” in our society for once and for all. Future generations will thank us for it. – Is mise,
Orchard Grove,

Sir, – We warmly congratulate François Englert and Peter Higgs on being awarded the Nobel Physics prize for their work leading to the discovery of a new particle, the Higgs boson.
We also congratulate the member states of CERN for working together to make this great discovery, which enriches our understanding of the fundamental workings of nature.
It was a great pleasure to welcome Peter Higgs and colleagues to Ireland in May, when their talks at the Royal Irish Academy and NUI Maynooth provided inspiration to all, particularly the hundreds of school children who attended.
Along with Peter Higgs we hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research. – Yours, etc,
Oviedo, Spain.

Sir, – So Mark Paul (One MoreThing, Business This Week, October 11th) thinks GAA “games aren’t 60 minutes”, Well he’s right except for all club matches, all inter-county intermediate, junior and minor matches. If that wasn’t bad enough, he, it seems, has “never even heard of a GAA wing back”. Here are a few for him: Tommy Walsh, Brian Whelahan, Jack McCaffrey and James McCarthy.
He should stick to the Business pages. – Yours, etc,
Limetrees Road East,

Sir, – So the ESB is choosing to ignore Dublin City Council with regard to its policy that the redevelopment of Fitzwilliam Street should see the reinstatement of Georgian facades (Olivia Kelly, Home News, October 12th).
If semi-States are free to ignore the wishes of the public through their elected representatives it begs the question, qui regit? – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Gearoid Kilgallen (October 11th) asks in relation to the US’s aggressive foreign policy: “Isn’t it time that somebody shouted stop?”. The best thing we in Ireland can do is to stop our direct involvement – via Shannon Airport and Irish airspace – in these bloody military adventures. So, the buck stops here with us. – Yours, etc,
Galway Alliance Against
Maree, Oranmore,

A chara, – I wonder did Una Mullally consider when she was writing her article decrying the “idiocy” of the “lowest common denominator” obsession with the Love/Hate cat that she was still writing an article obsessing about the Love/Hate cat (Opinion, October 14th)? But presumably that’s okay, as long as it’s done in a consciousness-raising cause. – Is mise,
Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.
Sir, – Following the collective traumatisation of the nation after the shooting of a cat on RTÉ’s premier drama series, and the cat’s subsequent meteoric rise to stardom, I would suggest the national broadcaster invest in a new spin-off series, Fluff/Hate, starring the said feline. – Yours, etc,
Belton Terrace,

Irish Independent:
* I have just returned home having spent two weeks in your lovely capital.
Also in this section
Battered coping class
Blinkered anti-Catholicism
Independents are not the solution
Dublin has a unique energy, its people are friendly and open-hearted – a rarity in the cosmopolitan context.
One thing did strike me as puzzling, though. On two different weekends I happened to be in the city centre, where I encountered what looked to me like a new genus.
There were beautiful, angelic female figures dressed elegantly in ballgowns, but their skin was of a deep orange hue.
They moved with great difficulty, staggering wildly, and defying all of Newton’s gravitational laws on towering blocks of plastic – these, I was given to understand, were shoes.
This was preposterous, as they were evidently designed to be impediments to all known modes of propulsion.
These exquisite creatures were accompanied by what appeared to be young men clad in bow-ties, and dressed for all intents and purposes as if they were going to a state banquet.
Here, too, I was hopelessly mis-directed in my thesis, as they at all times carried big vessels from which they sucked as if their lives were dependent.
I pondered might they have been some kind of independent life-support system?
The following morning I happened to return to the capital, where I once more encountered many of these young fellows. Their attire, by now, was somewhat dishevelled, but the most striking thing about their aspect was the bright green pallor they now bore.
As they moved towards me out of the morning mist, with their startling orange companions, whom had also wilted in the intervening hours, I wondered had I slept through an alien invasion.
So startled was I by these encounters, that I looked to a nearby flower seller for an explanation.
“Ah sure, they’re only finishing up after the Debs, love, they’re debutants, that is,” she explained.
I left none the wiser. For the life of me, I could not imagine which sphere of society was such an exotic rite of passage a preparation for.
Richard R Hetherington
Kentucky, USA
* With the recent vote on the future of the Seanad and the inevitable post-mortem on the result, we are now facing an even more important decision regarding the country’s systems of government and politics.
While the Seanad may have won the vote, it was hardly a resounding success, with just 42,000 votes the difference between life and death for the 76-year-old institution. But the vote was not the end of the fight because now we, as a nation, not just the Dail or the Seanad, must decide what we want the Seanad to do.
Clearly we are not impressed with its relative powerlessness yet we do not want a situation like that which prevails in the US at the moment, with an immensely powerful upper house causing political gridlock.
We must also decide who we want the Seanad to represent. The old cry of “represent the people of Ireland” is nowhere near good enough in explaining what role the Seanad will play in the government of the nation. Do we really want a second body elected in exactly the same way as the Dail? Surely we need a body that will represent the country but different to the Dail.
The people must decide these things. After all, democracy means the people are responsible, too.
Colin Smith
Clara, Co Offaly
* Last week saw an unprecedented attack on the good folk of Dublin 4. First we had lexicographer Prof Terence Dolan saying that D4 has an affected accent, a contrived and pretentious one.
How dare he? (or should that be ‘how dor he?’). Anyway, things got worse. Next, the Government launched its attack by announcing the introduction of a new seven-digit postal code. D4 will cease to exist. In these circumstances, Joseph Conrad wouldn’t mind me borrowing this exclamation – the horror, the horror.
John Bellew
Paughanstown, Co Louth
* The speculation recently that pensioners won’t be hit in the Budget ignores a very important fact that from the January 1, 2014, all 65-year-olds will have no entitlement to contributory old-age pension. These unfortunate citizens who have paid all their life into a scheme will be dis- enfranchised from reaping the benefits of their social welfare contributions.
This legislation was introduced by Fianna Fail to increase the pension eligibility age to 66 years, thus doing away with transition pension from the age of 65 years, to be effective from January 2014.
Now if this Government really believes that the last government was the culprit for all the injustices against the Irish people, let it right this wrong.
Frank Cummins
Dublin 22
* The high piercing sound of a captured hare in a net, like a child crying, in a pro-coursing report on ‘The Today Show with Sean O’Rourke’, has confirmed it’s open season on the hare again.
With the Irish Council Against Blood Sports’ ceaseless reports of agonising injuries, trauma and even death inflicted by hounds in coursing, along with netting, caging, training and captivity, how can Ireland pretend to the world that the hare is a protected species here?
Blood sports have been outlawed in all the neighbouring jurisdictions, yet our country continues to capture and pursue the terrified hare with hounds, for fun. If Ireland hasn’t caught up with the civilised world by then, it is our duty at the next election to elect enough enlightened politicians, who oppose coursing as part of their agenda, in order to prohibit and banish forever this deplorable sport from our country, too.
Mary Reynolds
Dublin 6
* Stop spending money building speedbumps and filling in potholes in our cities and towns. Both are a waste of public finances as the latter more than adequately fulfil the objective of the former if we would just leave them alone.
John F Jordan
Killiney, Co Dublin
* I wish to respond to Ian McCabe about school counsellors (Letters, October 12). Mr McCabe suggests that at a cost of €24m, a counsellor could visit all schools primary and secondary for one afternoon a week.
Second-level schools up to 2012 had full-time guidance counsellors in place on a daily basis at a cost of €33m a year.
Since becoming Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn has gone a long way to demolishing what was a good service for young people.
Mr Quinn along with Kathleen Lynch constantly state how important it is to have a proper mental health service for young people. There was a service in place in second-level schools on a daily basis. Budget 2012 ripped the service apart.
I am a guidance counsellor in a second-level school in Dundalk. The cuts to guidance have left young people isolated and very much at risk.
They and the rest of the Oireachtas members who brought in the cuts to guidance should hang their heads in shame.
Some talk about the importance of mental health services for our young people. It’s hypocrisy, as these same TDs and senators voted to demolish a service that was working.
Gerry Malone
Blackrock, Co Louth
Irish Independent


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