7 November 2013 Fridge
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble there is a visit from the Admiral and he does not like Mrs Povey’s hat. “Like a mobile Kew gardens’, Priceless.
Quiet day post books Fridge repair man comes, give away book boxes
Scrabble today Mary wins but gets under 400 Perhap it will be my turn tomorrow?
Gwen Robyns – Obituary
Gwen Robyns was a journalist whose passion for ‘human interest’ once saw her unwittingly arrange plastic surgery for a call girl
5:40PM GMT 06 Nov 2013
Gwen Robyns, the journalist and author, who has died aged 96, helped to transform the way royal events are reported in the media; she also wrote biographies of, among others, Barbara Cartland, Princess Grace of Monaco and Agatha Christie.
In 1953, as woman’s editor of the The Evening News, she was one of seven journalists to accompany the newly-crowned Queen who, with the Duke of Edinburgh, was making a three-month tour of the Commonwealth. While her colleagues were reporting the royal round conventionally, Gwen Robyns was offering her readers quirky glimpses of what it was really like for the young Queen, who was being exposed to her first major tour.
On one scorchingly hot day in Rotorua, New Zealand, when the Queen was clearly exhausted and looking bored, and with the press pack muttering that she was in a bad mood, Gwen cabled back to her newspaper: “The Queen is looking tired; this punishing schedule of official events should be rescheduled to allow her time to get off those flag-decked daises and walk among the people” — forecasting the royal walkabouts that still lay 30 years in the future.
During yet another display of Maori dancing, Gwen Robyns hired a lip reader to decipher the Duke’s private remarks to the Queen, when she again appeared to flag. “Cheer up, sausage,” he was supposed to have whispered. Gwen’s news editor, Frank Starr, cabled back: “Lay off personal comments about the Queen. Buckingham Palace has complained and threatens to withdraw your accreditation. Now be a good girl and calm down.”
15 Feb 2012
29 Aug 2013
Prince William represents Queen at State visit for first time
05 Nov 2013
The Queen during her 1953 Commonweath tour/AP
Gwynedd Robyns was born on January 29 1917 in Adelaide but brought up in New Zealand, to which her mother had returned on the death of Gwen’s father. She attended Wellington Girls’ College, where she was head girl, then worked on a weekly newspaper. Within a week of her arrival in London in 1946, when she was 28, she was at Wimbledon for the Sunday Express, reporting a front-page story about Queen Mary’s toque nearly being knocked off. As a result she became a regular Saturday reporter on a salary of £3 a day.
Six weeks later she joined a press trip to Germany to look for the grave of the New Zealand war hero Sergeant Pilot JA (“Jimmy”) Ward, VC, who had been killed on a bombing mission to Hamburg. Arriving at the press camp in Herford, near Hamburg, Gwen Robyns found she was the only woman among 40 male correspondents. There she met Paul von Stemann, of the Danish Berlingske Tidende, whom she married two months later in London.
As well as her Saturday work for the Sunday Express, she wrote a weekly “Letter from London” column which was eventually syndicated to some 40 newspapers around the world (Fiji paid her with sacks of coconuts sent by sea). In 1948 the Evening News, then the world’s biggest evening newspaper, offered her a job as its first women’s editor.
Over the next nine years Gwen Robyns specialised in human interest stories. When a woman wrote in saying that she needed to have an operation to remove layers of flabby fat, Gwen Robyns persuaded a weekly magazine to fund the woman’s plastic surgery in return for her attending the operation and writing an article — a daring suggestion 60 years ago. When she visited the woman some weeks later in London’s Shepherd Market she was told: “I am thrilled with my new self and business has picked up. I was broke before I met you and now I have a waiting list.” It was only then that Gwen Robyns realised that the woman was a professional call girl.
Not everything she learned found its way into print. She refrained from revealing that Mae West always travelled with 15 wigs, half-a-dozen handmade corsets, a box of half-inch false eyelashes and two handsome young men (“They come in handy”).
Her husband abndoned journalism to set up his own design company, but in 1965 this collapsed, forcing Gwen Robyns to diversify into writing books, her first being David Hicks on Decoration (1966), a collaboration with the celebrated designer who subsequently married Lady Pamela Mountbatten. When the book did reasonably well, Hicks commissioned her to write an authorised biography.
Gwen Robyns’s biography of Barbara Cartland
But when his father-in-law Lord Mountbatten heard about the project he was aghast. When he invited Gwen to lunch to discuss it, she refused his demand that she hand over everything concerning the book, particularly the tape-recorded interviews. In the end they compromised: Gwen Robyns was paid to remove any “sensitive” material from the book, and the tapes were burnt, the “cremation” taking place in the office of Mountbatten’s legal adviser. Although Private Eye ran a story claiming that Gwen Robyns had kept copies, this was not the case.
Her next biography, in 1972, was ghosted for the actress Margaret Rutherford; but Gwen Robyns was not permitted to tell the whole truth. For example, she was told to write that Margaret Rutherford’s parents had died in India, where Margaret’s father had been a silk merchant. In fact, he had died in Wormwood Scrubs, having murdered his father with a chamber pot.
Gwen Robyns’s biography of Princess Grace of Monaco
Gwen Robyns next turned her attention to Nicole, Duchess of Bedford, and by the time the book was finished the two women were barely on speaking terms. Even worse was the project to write the memoirs of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. The final straw came when the Duchess accused Gwen Robyns of leaking a diary item headed “Ghost To Two Duchesses” to the Evening Standard. She did not finish either book.
Although Gwen Robyns won an Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for her biography of Agatha Christie, published in 1979, it was, she said, “the most frustrating book I have ever written”. The Christie family were determined to block every source of information about the crime writer’s personal life — and especially her faked disappearance in 1926 .
After the death of her husband in 1996, Gwen Robyns moved from their rented farmhouse in Oxfordshire to a small house in the courtyard of a nearby manor, which she called her new “paradise”.
Gwen Robyns, born January 29 1917, died September 12 2013
Your report of last week’s parliamentary debate on oversight of the intelligence services (1 November) did not mention the role of the interception of communications commissioner. He is responsible for oversight of all electronic surveillance under Part One of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
In the debate I raised the problem of the very low profile of this role and asked two questions which would be of particular interest to the Guardian and its readers.
First, we know from a letter to the Independent that the commissioner is carrying out an investigation into the Edward Snowden leaks. In relation to Tempora, I asked for an assurance that the commissioner would be given full access to all the surveillance information undertaken as part of Tempora, including that acquired from our allies.
Second, I asked whether a special report will be compiled by the commissioner and if so for a timetable. The last commissioner’s report covering 2012 was only published in July 2013. I believe that it is important that we have a timely report on this matter.
I did not receive answers from the minister in the debate and so have now written to him asking the same questions once again.
Diana Johnson MP
Shadow crime and security minister
Chris Huhne (Comment, 4 November) cites the Express’s claim that “freedom of the press is cast aside after 300 years” without questioning its historical veracity. This absurd claim implies that we had a free press in 1790 when criticism of the social system was a criminal offence, and guilt or innocence could be determined solely by a judge. It suggests that we had a free press in 1850 when the stamp, advertisement and paper duties were still fixed to price newspapers beyond the reach of ordinary people. And it suggests that this embedded press freedom, hallowed by time, will come to an end with the introduction of a cheap and open system of redress for press victims, with a state-underpinned audit every few years to ensure that press self-regulation (unlike its predecessors) works.
This version of history is manifestly self-serving. Yet, the “end of 300 hundred years of freedom” canard is being repeated by a number of papers, not just the Express. This distortion helps to explain why, according to the 2010 Eurobarometer survey, the British public was the least disposed to trust its press, out of a total of 27 European countries.
Professor James Curran
Goldsmiths, University of London
Martin Kettle (What poppies and a royal baby tell us about freedom, 31 October) suggests Spinoza got it right: the state should pursue freedom. This interesting idea, however, is let down by Kettle approaching the state as a thing – one that can historically evolve, as things do, but whose meaning and definition are settled. As a concept, though (rather than a thing), the state is not settled. Definitions abound, varying across time, place, politics and purpose. Marxists sometimes include the church and family (against the liberal notion that these are private and so not-state); others argue that the state is merely an idea, without tangible form, yet an idea with powerful effects in masking societies’ divergent interests.
Competing definitions of the state aren’t arcane disagreements. How we think of the state, and what comprises it, affects how politics is done. Approaching the state as apparatuses and systems, as Kettle does, leads to the argument that we need more top-down control by elected government. Certainly, such practical reforms are needed. But if a progressive state is possible, we also need forms of thinking about the state that recognise the multiple ways people participate – as workers, community group members, service users, and residents. Control may be far from equal, but conceptualising the state in ways that treat human action including dissent – from rebellious schoolkids to discretion-exercising public officials – as an integral part, empowers us to think about how we inhabit and so can develop a more democratic state.
Professor of law and political theory, Kent Law School, University of Kent
• Martin Kettle’s refreshing analysis of the “timid form” of British democracy observes that “the crown is in no real sense democratically shaped – though it could be”. Though not, perhaps, if even the Guardian’s extensive coverage of the baptism of the infant George (Report, 24 October) persistently assumes the third in line to the throne to be “the future king”. Maybe. Maybe not.
Pay inequalities between men and women are still rife. Today marks the point in the year when women will be working for free for the rest of the year when taking the gender pay gap into account; 43 years on from the Equal Pay Act, this is a scandal. The pay gap is a result of, and contributes to, unhelpful stereotypes about men and women. The pay gap is wider in the private sector, so lessons can be learned from the public sector.
The impact of becoming a mother still has a greater impact on earnings than becoming a father. Working hours must be reduced for all and the stereotypes about who does the caring confronted. This would help all parents and accelerate equality.
Far from closing, the pay gap is actually widening, and the situation is set to get worse with privatisation and jobs being lost in the public sector. If this issue is not tackled, women may be working for free for even longer in 2014.
Teachers and parents work passionately to raise the aspirations of girls; girls should not face the prospect of earning 14.9% less than boys on average.
We call on the government to take urgent action to counter the causes ofthe gender pay gap.
Natalie Bennett Leader, Green party, Christine Blower NUT, Gloria De Piero MP and Sharon Hodgson MP Shadow ministers for women & equalities, Ceri Goddard Fawcett Society, Tony Greaves and Angela Harris House of Lords, Caroline Lucas MP, Margaret Prosser and Trevor Smith Vice-chairs, APPG on sex equality, Naomi Smith Co-chair, Social Liberal Forum
• Simon Jenkins (Comment, 6 November) is wrong to scoff at Ed Miliband’s proposed £1,000 reward per employee for employers who pay the living wage. Let the details be worked out while the principle is endorsed. There is a low-pay emergency created by a coalition that deliberately disconnects unemployment benefits from the rising prices of homes, food, utilities and other necessities in the market and then claims that work pays more, so leaving the false impression that work on the national minimum wage pays enough. The living wage is underpinned by robust research into minimum prices and quantities of necessities in the market and restores the integrity of a low-pay policy. However, that leaves open for debate the fact that unemployment benefits have been cut and capped so much that individuals, parents and children are both cold and hungry. That scandal will not be ended by funding the £1,000 reward with savings from the cuts in benefits.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
Sadly, Polly Toynbee has shown her lack of understanding about our reforms to disability living allowance in her recent comment piece (29 October). There were several factual inaccuracies which could lead to unnecessary concern. She claims DLA is only paid to those of working age. That’s not true; it is paid to people of all age groups from children upwards. Polly questions where “3.1 million people can be tested” without realising that our reforms are for working-age claimants, which is actually around 2 million people. She also claims the total caseload has tripled to 3.1m claimants, whereas the total caseload is actually 3.3m. One final point, the Department for Work and Pensions did respond to her questions within her deadline.
Mike Penning MP
Minister of state for disabled people
• What has poor Enda Kenny done to deserve Mr Cameron’s “kiss of death” (PM backs Kenny to lead European commission, 5 November)? The last thing an Irish candidate needs is backing from a British Eurosceptic who is indeed playing Russian roulette with UK membership. As endorsements go, only Silvio Berlusconi could be worse.
Stephen Hughes MEP
Labour, North East England
• A teenage Girl Guide says women are only on the front page of newspapers “if they’ve got big boobs or they’re married to someone”. (A girl’s guide to leadership, G2, 5 November). Who is pictured on the front page of the Guardian that day? The wife of the prime minister.
• Does the Munich art hoard (Report, 6 November) include the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies by Van Klomp?
• The polythene bag for the Guardian’s Saturday glossies (Letters, 6 November) is recyclable. Put it in the bin for recycling single-use carrier bags. You can put cereal bags, bread bags and fruit bags in as well.
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
• Ours are used to weatherproof posters for the St Day Historical and Conservation Society – just the right size.
St Day, Cornwall
Jeremy Paxman and Russell Brand have much in common (What Paxman really thinks of politicians (it’s not pretty), 5 November). They both command significant audiences who take what they say very seriously. They have both correctly recognised that there is an ever-growing disconnect between people and politics, and that Westminster continues to appear remote and alien to the majority of the public. And they both – though to differing degrees – accept the argument for not bothering to vote. When two people with such popular influence both appear to have practised non-participation as a response to the problem of political disengagement, it is time others speak up. Britain’s political system desperately needs updating to match the expectations of the modern electorate, but we should not forget how lucky we are to have the vote at all. Participation is the cornerstone of our democracy – without it, the whole thing loses its legitimacy. While people have entirely understandable grievances about the current political system, the one thing that will guarantee things will get much worse is people not exercising their most basic civil right.
It is only by participating and engaging that people have the chance to change things they do not like. Instead of encouraging people to think there is no point in getting involved, we should be looking for ways to increase access to politics and raise voter turnout. Mr Paxman and Mr Brand should use their influence to confront the challenge of how to rejuvenate our democracy for the 21st century, instead of discouraging us from getting involved at all.
Chief executive, Electoral Reform Society
• Voting should be made compulsory, with fines for democratic negligence, the revenue raised to be spent on democratic education in schools. We have a non-choice of three free-market parties, and it’s time they cut the charade of being different. Democracy is throwing up new parties for a new age: the Green party, the People’s Assembly, Ukip, new alliances on the left of New Labour. Democracy works, but it is going through a period of runaway decay out of which will come new democratic opportunities. No one has the right to abdicate their responsibility to be a functioning democrat.
• Russell Brand is spot-on in all his criticisms but presents no “strategy” for how the society he seeks can be achieved (A televised beginning to the Russell revolution, 6 November). Revolutions are inevitably bloody. I’d rather my children had to pay fees to go to university than be killed or maimed fighting for a better society. That is what democratic politics is. It enables the populace to change things without loss of life. But this can only be done by staying within the system and working to change it from the inside. If Brand urged the politically disenfranchised to vote Labour, and then worked within the party to ensure that his proposals for taxation of the banks and super-rich were on the manifesto (and a Tony Blair could never again take over), he could make exactly that real difference he wishes for.
• Brand identifies a number of serious defects in our political processes, but there are too many to be solved at once. What is needed is a single change which would naturally lead to a number of other significant changes. I have two suggestions. First, allow no funding to political parties other than party membership subscriptions topped up from public funds. This would ensure that MPs are beholden to the voters only and not to large organisations of any kind. Second, ensure that exactly half of MPs are women. This can be achieved by a pairing of neighbouring parliamentary constituencies. Each new paired constituency would elect one man and one woman. Every voter in the new paired constituency would have two votes, one for the men’s list and one for the women’s. The number of MPs remains unchanged. Those women would be properly proportionate to our population and would surely bring radical change. Either of these ideas could be achieved by a single act of parliament.
• I hope Michael Gove read Russell Brand’s piece. If our schools were allowed to focus on teaching children to “love our planet and each other” as the basis of the curriculum, that would be a good start. Maths, English, history, science and art put to the service of valuing people and planet rather than responding to the whim of successive education secretaries would be an important part of the Brand revolution. Indeed all of our services need to be based on care rather than profit if we are to build an ethical and equitable society, and that applies to health, housing, social services and prisons as much as it does to education. To create a living democracy and bring about the kinds of changes that are needed, we must rebuild from the bottom up. An ongoing intergenerational conversation in which everyone can participate to re-establish shared values and core purposes could perhaps begin in our schools.
European Forum for Freedom in Education
• We were surprised Paxman thinks the most blatant lie in recent political history was the pledge not to raise student fees. It was indeed a blatant lie, one of many – but surely the winner must be the pledge not to mess with the NHS.
Rosemary and Mark Haworth-Booth
• Can someone organise a face-to-face between Brand and Tony Benn, and make sure it’s recorded for prime-time telly? Wouldn’t that be one to savour!
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
• A little of Russell Brand goes a very long way. We’ve had rather a lot of him recently; a little less would be most welcome.
Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire
• The debate about changing the political system must include the role of the rightwing press in this country. One of the main reasons we had a Labour government was because Blair wooed Murdoch, in particular. The rightwing press barons have the same agenda as Cameron. Issues of social justice are at best of no interest to them, at worst anathema. We are currently seeing a toxic partnership between an increasingly rightwing government and the ability of the press to promulgate successful propaganda which vilifies the more vulnerable sections in society and stirs racial hatred. The changes Brand appears to seek and most members of the Labour party passionately want to achieve are under attack. I use Twitter to find other left-of-centre thinkers who are certainly out there and ready to engage in setting out the steps which need to be taken towards a better, fairer place. Miliband took an enormous risk standing up to Murdoch and will never be forgiven. What’s to be done? Perhaps social media offers the only pathway to bring about a more equal and therefore healthier society.
• It is easy to accuse someone rich and famous of hypocrisy when they express socialist views but if Russell Brand wasn’t a celebrity he’s unlikely to have been invited on to Newsnight or given a full page in your paper. He is giving well-publicised voice to what thousands of us think. He mentions initiatives such as the People’s assembly which supports a diverse range of actions against the austerity policies of the coalition. In the last few weeks I’ve attended a rally in support of striking teachers, presentation of a petition to save care homes in Hampshire and demonstrations in Southampton outside the Atos office and in support of the probation service. Over 50,000 people demonstrated against cuts outside the last Tory party conference in Manchester but the amount of media coverage all these actions get is minimal. But they are happening all over the country. I’m not as rich as Brand or as young, but I’m not poor either and as a beneficiary of postwar council housing, free education and the NHS, I am not prepared to sit and do nothing while the welfare state is dismantled and public funds transferred to private providers who are only interested in profits. Russell Brand is not alone. I await my invitation from Mr Paxman.
• Despite some “apparent” unruly thinking on his part, Russell Brand does have every reason to be frustrated at the gesture politics of Robert Webb (Report, 5 November). Had Mr Webb checked whether the Labour party he is rejoining is in fact democratic, before publicly patting himself on the back for his contribution to British “democracy?” A PM like David Cameron has to regularly go before voters in mandatory elections. Yet when is the next regular scheduled Labour leadership contest? Never, it doesn’t exist. How can ordinary Labour members demand a leadership election? They can’t. When is the next scheduled shadow cabinet election? There isn’t one – it was abolished by Ed Miliband upon becoming leader. How does a member propose and vote on mandatory Labour policy? They can’t, again abolished. In the period prior to Russell Brand being eligible to vote, Tony Benn had been proposing local “mandatory reselection” for MPs who failed to carry out Labour policy. But this was before the absurd New Labour coup that inverted the relationship between paid political representatives and the people they’re supposed to work for. Now even their Labour candidate is forced on local people by Central Office. As things stand, Russell Brand’s disengagement makes sense.
• We admire the anger and passion with which Russell Brand calls for alternative approaches to the politics we have in Britain today. But we cannot agree that the answer is telling people not to vote. We hope we can persuade him to think again. We all came to this country as migrants or refugees from countries including Bosnia, Lebanon, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Our free speech, democratic rights and ability to live alongside our neighbours were torn apart. This makes us deeply value Britain’s democratic freedoms.
When we are frustrated by the failure of our politics to live up to the values our country should stand for, that should strengthen our resolve to get involved and make change happen, not to walk away in defeat. We don’t want a politics where those at the top of government talk openly about wanting to make our country a more “hostile environment” to those already at its very margins.
So we believe that every disadvantaged and under-represented group should register and be ready to vote – so that we claim our full share of voice and power, when we put alternative demands to end economic exploitation and promote fairness for all. We want all of our friends to vote in every election. We do not want extreme voices of hate like the BNP to claim a popular mandate, because those who opposed them stayed at home. We want people to turn out and kick them out of office everywhere in Britain.
Russell Brand should use the power of his voice to persuade those who are angry to get involved, to argue and to agitate for an alternative future – for the country we want to live in and to share.
Russell, please don’t tell people to walk away and risk making those who are already most marginalised even easier to ignore.
Zrinka Bralo The Forum, Phil Mutero, Awale Olad Migrants Right Network, Nazek Ramadan Migrant Voice, Cllr Paul Sathianesan London borough of Newham
• It comes to something when a self-confessed “twerp”, “junkie”,and “Jack Sparrow” is the one best able to articulate what I suspect is the majority of the population’s frustration with our system of party politics. Hopefully Brand’s article will succeed as a wake-up call all to all holding power and influence, particularly to the Labour party, as clearly other tactics, even demonstrations, strikes and People’s assemblies have failed. So much of what he wrote is irrefutable, and the point about the “toxic belch wafted into our homes by the media” is particularly relevant on the day the BBC televises a programme about “Britain on the fiddle”, in the Guardian’s words, exposing those who cause a “criminal drain on resources”. No, it’s not about bankers’ corruption, or multinationals’ refusal to obey our tax laws, or even the scams of the utility companies. Nor even about multimillionaire MPs who claim costs for heating their second homes on expenses, but benefit fraudsters, with, no doubt, more to come on “health tourists” and illegal immigrants.
Since when have licence fees financed our nationalised broadcasting company in order for it to become a mouthpiece for the Daily Mail and other rightwing alarmist media? In fact, the BBC seems intent on doing everything it can to challenge this section of the media’s exaggerated claim that it leans to the left; there has been an almost total absence, recently, of discussion on tax avoidance and evasion, the really “criminal drain” on at least £35bn worth of our resources per year; no mention of the trillions squirrelled away in tax havens, but instead, a focus which verges on doting, on anything “royal”, another massive “drain” on taxpayers’ money.
David Dimbleby’s rude refusal of the right of Owen Jones to speak up for the nationalisation of energy companies on Question Time epitomised this rightwing stance. Is it any wonder that the views of a comedian, young, irreverent and rude, have such resonance in a society so subservient to the conservative and rich? Keep on rocking the boat, Russell!
• Russell Brand’s fluent tirade about what the franchise is accomplishing seemed worryingly convincing. But as for the dubious respective virtues of “won’t vote” or “spoilt paper”, a common alternative would be Polly Toynbee’s idea of voting with peg-on-nose for the least-worst option. Truer, though, to the spirit of Brand’s concerns might be an additional, final box, titled “none of the above”. Admittedly, if a majority were to vote for that, we might have to think again.
• It is childish to blame politicians. The fault lies with us, the electorate. No one seems to have the courage to say this – not even Russell Brand. If a big majority of the electorate made it clear that it wants a more equal Britain, an end to bonuses, an economy that serves all our long-term interests and not preferentially the interests of the wealthy, politicians would take note. They want to be elected into government. As it is, the electorate is not even interested in proportional representation, and regards as acceptable an election system so organised that a tiny minority, in marginal constituencies, decides the outcome of elections for the rest of us. There is an urgent need for good public education about what our problems are, and what we need to do about them.
Emeritus reader, science and technology studies, University College London
• In the course of what adds up to a full-column account, given front-page prominence of the surrealistic lethal-leopard-versus-angry-butterfly Newsnight encounter between Jeremy Paxman and Russell Brand about our body politic – an encounter which quickly went viral on YouTube – John Plunkett quotes what is surely Paxman’s unanswerable argument. Paxman concludes his own commentary on the interview, in the Radio Times Viewpoint column, with these words (harking back to his gibe about “the whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster”): “Whether you bother to vote or not, someone is going to sit on those benches and tell you what to do.”
The Nobel prize-winning Portuguese anarcho-communist author José Saramago, in his wonderful novel entitled Seeing in its English translation, envisaged a time and place when the people had become so disillusioned with their politicians that they had decided, like Brand, that they couldn’t “be arsed to vote”. Thus they made – what Paxman charged Brand with wanting, and Brand readily agreed – a revolution.
Fine and right! But till that time comes, sad as it may be, rational resistance to the follies and injustices of the world in which we live has to be, whenever we’re free to cast it, “Vote for the least insufferable of the people vying for the right to order us about”.
Builth Wells, Powys
• Well done for giving Russell Brand the space to express his views. It is not surprising that Jeremy Paxman agrees with much of what he says. Just to take two examples: I live in a “safe” Tory constituency – what use is my vote? Also, instead of paying lip service to the idea of people paying “fair” tax, is it really beyond the wit of government to legislate for tax being payable where money is earned?
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Ed Miliband should have no sympathy for the devil of Little Englander myopia when determining the Labour Party’s line on Cameron’s promise of a referendum on Europe (Steve Richards, 5 November).
For decades many of Britain’s electorate have been fed the blatant lies about EU membership of the self-interested right-wing press. Those who in their heart of hearts have known the sheer lunacy of leaving the European Union have remained deafeningly silent, for fear of losing their wafer-thin majorities.
Exiting the EU would be an act of national kamikaze, losing at least 4 million jobs and the massive international influence we enjoy as an active member of a major global economic player.
The Labour leadership should stand strong against such misplaced jingoism. As Steve Richards correctly points out, Ed Miliband always does well in the polls when taking an unequivocal line.
This is an issue vital to Britain’s long-term economic interests. The tail should no longer be allowed to wag the British lion.
Richard Denton-White, Portland, Dorset
When the British were last given a referendum on the EU, the political class systematically deceived them as to what was involved, in order to secure a yes vote. It is likely that this deceit is the most important reason why a clear majority in this country want another vote – and would quite probably cast it for exit.
Does it not occur to either Steve Richards or any other member of that political class that the incessant manoeuvring to avoid that vote is a large part of the reason that confidence in that class has all but collapsed?
Parliamentary candidates simply must go to the next election telling the truth about what they think about the EU, and if they would support a referendum or not. Nothing less will ever draw the poison around this issue and allow us to make a fresh start either in the EU or more probably outside it.
That is called democracy. Do you believe in democracy, Mr Richards?
R S Foster, Sheffield
It suits “call me Dave” to have everybody believe the UK is on the brink of leaving the EU. He thinks the EU desperately wants the UK to stay and will throw away loads of EU directives and agreements just to keep the UK within the EU.
But what happens if all other leaders say, “To hell with these right-whingers and their posturing; we’ve had enough of them. Let them go, they are too much of a problem, they are not worth persuading to stay”?
David Cameron could soon find himself in a position where other EU leaders don’t want him and he has convinced the majority of UK voters not to stay within the EU.
After all these years of antagonising the EU, David Cameron’s dalliance with Europhobic isolationism is risking his negotiating position, and he might find that he’s left with nothing more than a simple “in or out” vote.
Duncan Anderson, East Halton, North Lincolnshire
If voting made any difference…
Having watched the Newsnight interview with Russell Brand I have been mystified by the almost universally hostile reaction from commentators to his views on voting. His views reflect a great swathe of opinion, particularly among younger potential voters who have no incentive to become involved.
As Matthew Norman (6 November) points out, Brand has underlined a situation that is becoming worse. Governments are coming into power with decreasing majorities.
As a committed voter I have participated in every election and referendum since I became eligible to vote and will continue to do so. However, following some recent gerrymandering – sorry, electoral boundary changes – my vote in parliamentary elections has become pointless. Whomever I vote for, the local, unseen and unheard Tory incumbent will be elected thanks to a voting system which disenfranchises millions.
Only when the country adopts proportional representation and the single transferrable vote will there be any prospect of the change so desired by Russell Brand and many more.
Peter Coghlan, Broadstone, Dorset
Matthew Norman suggests a “none of the above” box on ballot papers as a means of luring the disillusioned masses to the voting booth by allowing them to express their frustration. Yes, of course. But why not insist that voting, rather than a right, is a civic duty?
“A plague on all your houses” is a valid option, but refusal to participate in elections to Parliament should incur a hefty fine. “Use it or lose it” should be the watchword of any democratic society.
Max Gauna, Sheffield
Business pays for maternity leave
It is obvious that the writer of your leader “A pregnant cause” (4 November) has never owned a small business.
If they had they would have experienced the chaos and cost when the key member of staff, usually a very capable young woman, who runs the office, pays the wages and copes with difficult customers and the host of other problems that bigger companies have whole departments to deal with, leaves for up to 12 months with no guarantee she will come back at all.
I am not suggesting that they should not be employed or be entitled to maternity leave, but to say that smaller companies are not disproportionately affected is ridiculous. The cost to the bigger companies would not entail the wrecking of the business plan, possible loss of other jobs and the calling in of bank loans.
Gary Kirk, Burnley, Lancashire
Don’t be beastly to the germans
The present government may not be personally responsible for GCHQ spying on the Germans from our embassy in Berlin (details of which you seem to be the only paper willing to reveal), being, as they are, victims of our privileged position in a North Atlantic alliance which is now over 20 years out of date.
However, if they had even a modicum of the courage required to do the morally decent thing for once, they would issue an apology to the German government, along with an assurance that it would be discontinued. This is highly unlikely, as we seem to live in a world where all sense of morality gives way to the quest for power and influence. This government is not one to break free from this.
Peter Giles, Whitchurch, Shropshire
How to make M&S less dreary
Here’s what would help Marc Bolland in his “uphill” task of improving Marks & Spencer clothing sales (Chris Blackhurst, 6 November). Forget about those expensive high-fashion collections: at the moment the mere act of shopping in M&S is a wearisome chore.
Go into the stores and clear out all those ghastly muddles, those corners where lurk the dreary grey and beige remnants of previous failed “fashion launches”, and sort out those overcrowded racks so that we can see what we’re looking for.
And bring in more pay-points so that we don’t have to trail the whole length of the floor for the privilege of handing over our money.
Jane Jakeman, Oxford
No place for burka in a civilised society
Well said, Dr Hargey (letter, 6 November). For too long misguided liberals have held up “culture” as an inviolable justification for practices which would not be acceptable in a civilised society. Burka-wearing militates against social interaction and therefore contributes to the unjustified distrust that many people feel towards Muslims.
Patrick Cleary, Honiton, Devon
Forcing young schoolgirls into burkas and denying them access to natural vitamin D from sunlight is child abuse. Pregnant women wearing burkas are abusing their unborn children by passing on their vitamin D deficiency. The Victorian disease of rickets is returning. A civilised society acts to stop child abuse and the preventable spread of disease.
David Crawford, Bickley, Kent
Rewards for loyalty
Congratulations to The Independent for rewarding loyal readers who opt to take out a subscription to their newspaper, by not increasing the price. Would that other large businesses would follow suit, instead of reducing prices for new customers.
Although we are exhorted by the Government to switch our fuel providers, the most vulnerable in society often fail to do so. The administrative costs saved by discouraging all this “switching” could be used to reward long-standing customers to encourage them to stay with their present providers.
E King, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
Not bad enough for this bank
It’s bad luck for David Punter (letters, 5 November), in his bid to be Bad Boss of a Bad Bank. There is already a wealth of internal candidates, equally well, or badly, qualified.
Beverley Southgate, London NW3
Sir, The decision to close the shipbuilding capability at Portsmouth is lunacy (report, thetimes.co.uk, Nov 6). It leaves England without any advanced warship production capability. Moreover, there will be no maintenance work on the Royal Navy’s Type 26 global combat ships, let alone future designs, because there will be nobody experienced at Portsmouth in these ships to undertake such work.
With nearly 1,000 job losses expected at the shipyard next year, Portsmouth is going to suffer a lingering death after autumn 2014. It is all about giving English jobs to Scotland in the hope that this will scuttle the independence vote.
As a result of this decision, however, the Conservatives will lose massively in the South of England at the next election. It is a miscalculation of gigantic electoral proportions, and a gift to UKIP. R. G. Johnson Hook, Hants
Sir, In the event of Scottish independence, the by then disunited Kingdom would be unable to order warships from Clyde shipyards without first tendering across the European Union. This would place reliance on an international partner that would probably not be Scotland, and would also put sensitive national military information at risk.
If warship-building is allowed to cease at Portsmouth before the result of the Scottish referendum is known, the Government risks being the only major maritime country unable to build advanced surface warships within its own borders.
This seems a significant gamble with our national security.Vice-Admiral John McAnallyNational president, the Royal Naval Association
Sir, It is outrageous that Portsmouth should simply be closed. Eight hundred years of our nation’s history must not be sacrificed merely to save one company’s profits.
Before allowing the shipyard to close, the Government should force BAE to try to sell it.Dr Nick Winstone-CooperLaleston, South WalesSir, In the mid-1970s I was working in a shipyard in Norway building the largest offshore platform then being built. The yard manager told me that his greatest lifetime achievement had been when orders for seven super-tankers had been cancelled overnight when the price of crude oil fell dramatically. He had succeeded in finding other work, and not one employee had had to be made redundant.
That was in Norway, with employer-employee relationships high on the agenda. Can we not do the same here in the UK? And will BAE Systems rise to the challenge?Gerald GilbertWeybridge, Surrey
Sir, Perhaps John Simpson (letter, Nov 5) should explain away his “unclassified” in RE as “a rare grade awarded for work so extraordinary that it was deemed to be beyond the usual exam classification”. With luck, his son will be convinced that his father was one of the great, budding, theologians of the modern age.Mark PorterFarnborough, Hants
Sir, Matthew Syed’s insightful article (Nov 6) gives scientific credibility to an argument that fans have expounded from the terraces for decades: marginal decisions that go against our team are always the result of the ref’s optical shortcomings. It tends to be expressed somewhat more pithily than this during the match.
Greg AustinReading, Berks
Sir, Manufacturers insist on sewing labels behind the collars of men’s shirts. These strategically placed labels are usually made from a robust and stiff material, the corners of which cause the the maximum discomfort to the necks of the hapless wearer. Surely there is a better place for such information to be attached? Neil ArmerNewton Abbot, Devon
SIR – With the news that a £1 billion cache of “degenerate art” is in the process of being returned to its rightful owners in Germany, it is worth reflecting on the role played by the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Sub-Commission that was part of the Allied armies in the Second World War.
Without the efforts of these “Monuments men”, countless works of historic, cultural and aesthetic value would have been stolen or destroyed by Nazi forces.
Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria have taught us that without proper guarantees, cultural property is often the first casualty in conflict. Britain must make a commitment to protecting cultural property by ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols.
We remain the most significant international military power not to do so.
Professor Peter Stone
Chairman, UK National Committee of the Blue Shield
Newcastle upon Tyne
SIR – Baroness Morgan, the chairman of Ofsted, has recommended that children from poorer families should start formal school at two to avoid falling behind. Her comments may be well-intentioned, but they do not address the root causes of under-achievement among a higher percentage of children from poorer backgrounds.
Research carried out on children’s neuro-motor skills in primary schools has shown that children with immature motor skills do not perform as well on educational measures at eight years of age. The developmental window for developing neuro-motor skills and language skills is in the first three and a half years of life.
Neuro-motor skills are developed in the context of free physical space, while language develops through social engagement, free play and imagination. The problem will not be solved by putting children into formal settings at ever younger ages.
The solution is to educate future parents better about the needs of the developing child. This should form part of the education of every teenager currently in the system.
Sally Goddard Blythe
Director, Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology
Protecting artwork in times of armed conflict
06 Nov 2013
SIR – As chairman of governors at a primary school and as a retired schoolteacher, I always thought that Ofsted was off the wall. Now, I think that it is barking mad. Toddlers should be enjoying play activities and learning from parents or carers, not being exposed to formal education. There’s plenty of time for that at a later age. Frequently, I have heard Ofsted criticise schools (although not my own) for not having the facilities for young children to play. Much learning can be achieved through play, if directed correctly. It is time to stop the further erosion of toddler-time.
Rev Alan Wright
Barton upon Humber, Lincolnshire
SIR – Two changes could be easily made to encourage speech and social awareness in pre-school-age children.
Prams and pushchairs should face parents or carers, as used to be the case, making it possible to interact all the time. This makes an otherwise boring outing more interesting for both child and adult.
And parents should be encouraged to talk to their children, rather than constantly using their mobile phones. Recently I watched a young lady with a nice little boy spend a 45-minute bus ride on her mobile phone despite the efforts of the child to interrupt her. His reaction was eventually to wail.
SIR – Two years old in Britain, seven years old in Finland; and Britain is much lower in the global education rankings. Clearly, we are doing something wrong.
Aircraft carriers’ role
SIR – In your leading article, you question the ability of the carriers being constructed for the Royal Navy to intervene “in failed states that have become terrorist heartlands”.
It is possible that British forces involved in such an intervention will need combat air support, as in Afghanistan today. If the “failed state” is beyond the range of land-based air support, the two options are to build a hugely expensive base such as Camp Bastion, which is vulnerable to attack, costly to maintain, and will eventually be abandoned; or provide air strikes launched from carriers.
I doubt whether any British government in the near-to-medium future will want to commit the large numbers of “boots on the ground” that a Bastion-type base demands. A carrier allows you to operate without having to ask anyone’s permission to use their bases or set up your own. At the height of the Afghanistan campaign, much of the air support for ground operations, including those of British soldiers, came from American carriers in the Indian Ocean.
Major General Julian Thompson
SIR – Britain cannot afford these carriers, nor does it require them. The proposed aircraft complement could easily be accommodated in carriers of 40,000 tons. The responsibility for ordering these carriers and for the increase in price lies at the door of the last Labour government.
Under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the cancellation or the reduction in the size of these carriers was seriously considered. However, the contract agreed by the then Labour government with the consortium chosen to build the carriers ensured that any cancellation or alteration would have been financially prohibitive. The original order for 12 Daring Class destroyers was also reduced to eight and then to six by Labour in order to help pay for these carriers.
It beggars belief that Vernon Coaker, the shadow defence secretary, should criticise Philip Hammond for trying to rein in the costs of this flawed contract.
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
To see or not to see
SIR – Sue Spence, who is concerned about the negative impact of live relays on regional theatre, need have no fear if our recent experience at the Royal Opera House Jersey is typical.
We hoped to see a live relay of the National Theatre’s Hamlet, starring Rory Kinnear. From the outset, the sound and picture were not synchronised, which made a nonsense of the soliloquies and made the performance impossible to watch. After 90 minutes, communications broke down totally and we all went home.
Cramping my style
SIR – My bed is now full of corks, unwrapped soap, copper piping and sundry other cramp remedies.
C J Wright
SIR – After some water damage, I have recently entertained an insurance assessor, two decorators, a carpet salesman, curtain maker, plasterer, chimney sweep and some furniture deliverymen. They all arrived at around 1pm, on different days. Is the era of the lunch break over, or do they play golf in the mornings and afternoons?
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
High-speed rail abroad
SIR – The Gulf railway project is not quite as speedy as John Lloyd Morgan suggests. The project was first mooted 35 years ago, and I led the team that completed the design of the northernmost section in 1979. The design constraints of a railway in the empty desert are quite different from one in Britain. Nimbys are replaced by nomadic Bedouin, ancient woodlands by arrays of oil well-heads, and the shifting opinions of politicians by slowly migrating sand dunes.
It seems to be forgotten that the original justification for HS1 from St Pancras International to the Channel Tunnel was increased capacity, with international trains competing for space with commuter trains across Kent. In the event, the high levels of Eurostar traffic predicted by the financiers have never materialised. They are currently at less than half of the lowest of the three original estimates for 2013. The spare capacity on HS1 was invaluable in enabling thousands of passengers to reach the London Olympics last year, and is now used by high-speed commuter services from North Kent.
I have no doubt that extra capacity is urgently needed to relieve the West Coast Main Line out of Euston, but in light of experience, I hesitate to predict what that extra capacity will actually be used for.
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
SIR – In revealing that the Chinese completed their HS2 project in two years, Boris Johnson omitted to tell us that in China, there is vastly more wilderness and open space through which to drive 813 miles of “rifle-barrel straight” track.
More importantly, I do not imagine the authorities would have permitted any opposition to the project, and would certainly not have bothered with the sort of lengthy planning applications and expensive public inquiries that Mr Johnson bemoans here.
SIR – What is this new obsession with wearing shorts during an English winter? Everywhere I go I see young and old men who should know better. Do they think that they are still in Benidorm?
I believe that British postmen will be issued with trousers in January. Does the management suppose that cold legs may speed up delivery times?
Bognor Regis, West Sussex
The shingles vaccine is well worth £55
SIR – One in five people between the ages of 60 and 80 will suffer from shingles. This is caused by reactivation of the herpes zoster virus, which has lain dormant in the nervous system since an attack of chickenpox.
Shingles is not transmissible from person to person. The condition is acutely painful, and, if it affects the division of the trigeminal nerve innervating the upper part of the face and surface of the eye, can cause visual impairment. About 50 per cent of sufferers will develop constant intractable pain in the affected area.
A vaccine which can halve the number of cases of shingles, and thereby the number of patients affected by post-herpetic neuralgia, is well worthwhile.
Roger South FRCS
SIR – The NHS shingles vaccination programme for the over-70s is aimed at entirely the wrong target.
While on business in Norway last year, I fell foul of a bad case of shingles. When I got back to Britain I was signed off work for two weeks, and was considerably under par for several weeks more. It is this loss of productivity that is worth far more than £55 to prevent. The target should not be the over-70s, most of whom do not work, but those like myself still at work who, having had an attack, are far more likely to succumb again, with the associated cost to the employer.
I inquired about getting vaccinated, but was told I was not eligible. I cannot even get a shot by paying for it. Preventing repeat attacks would be well worth £55, whether the sufferer is over 70 or not.
Sir, – Having just been subjected to the ludicrous spectacle of Government TDs with no previous history of objecting to the Seanad utterly failing to convince us of the necessity for its abolition, it appears we are now going to be forced to listen to the same party mouthpieces, with no record whatsoever of gay rights advocacy, desperately trying to convince us that gay marriage is the civil rights issue of this generation. God between us and constitutional crusades! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I am bemused by the position of the Roman Catholic church on the planned referendum on gay marriage (News Agenda, November 6th). It seems it thinks that allowing gay people to marry will somehow harm or even prevent marriages between men and women. How could the marriage of my gay neighbour or colleague to their partner of choice, whom they love and cherish, do anything to harm my own heterosexual marriage?
On the contrary, allowing gay marriage will enhance and add stability to society, and strengthen the role of marriage by including those 5 per cent or so of adults who up to now have been denied it. As for the role of mothers and fathers in bringing up children, all any child needs to thrive is the love and care of one or more responsible adults.
The church does not rail against the bringing up of children by widowed men, hence the gender of the caring parent is clearly not an issue in its view, nor has it ever decried the bringing up of children in women-only households – which has been common throughout human history.
A happy marriage between a man and a woman based on mutual respect and love is a wonderful thing and, I would agree, currently the most important institution in society. An equally happy and respectful marriage between two men, or two women, will be just as important an institution in society in time to come, and will create more families for children to thrive in. I commend the main political parties for supporting a change in the Constitution to allow this. – Yours, etc,
Dr RACHEL CAVE,
Sir, – And there I was unpacking the dress. – Yours, etc,
Clarke’s Bridge, Cork.
Sir, – On November 5th I travelled to Dublin with my daughter, family and friends to collect my daughter’s National Young Carer of the Year award from the Carers Association. My daughter helps my wife and I, as primary carers, to care for her brother who has autism.
There are more than 5,000 young carers in Ireland, many of whom are in the inappropriate position of acting as the primary carer due to lack of available services. Resources for children with autism and other special needs are also reducing to the extent that multi-disciplinary teams are spread too thinly to offer an effective service.
I am very proud of my daughter’s award, but would like to live in a society which provides adequate services to those who need them, rather than one which provides waiting lists and excuses. – Yours, etc,
Midleton, Co Cork.
Sir, – This Government’s latest hike in the deposit interest retention tax (Dirt) rate to 41 per cent is a shameless stab in the back to the small saver. Clearly meant to encourage those with large sums of money to use them for investment purposes to help the economy grow, as a mechanism it fails to appreciate that most of the sums involved are small, deriving from long and hard-earned savings.
The majority of these savings are too small to use for any direct investment so all that is available is the deposit account gaining today little more than 1.5-2 per cent, if that. After Micheal Noonan’s 41 per cent Dirt, an investor will be left with little more than 1 per cent return; not enough to cover inflation. In any event these are “nest eggs” they are not going to be used speculatively. Who would fault that, having regard to the way banks and markets have behaved?
If the Government has any real care for the smaller members of society, perhaps it should implement a scale of Dirt rates, only rising to the 41 per cent for sums in excess of €200,000 but starting at 5 or 10 per cent for sums less than €20,000 euro; or even zero per cent for small sums. This might encourage people to save more.
It might give a badly needed “feel good” shot in the arm and not doing this is what this Government is really good at. We, “the blameless ones” have to pay. – Yours, etc,
REG CHANDLER, FRIAI,
Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – The African & Migrant Women’s Network in Ireland (AkiDwA) welcomes the Interim Report of the Child Care Law Reporting Project (Dr Carol Coulter, Nov 2013). Since 2006 we have expressed concern about the number of African children requiring State care or intervention. Protections and supports for unaccompanied minors, trafficked youth and those abandoned are of major concern for all. On the other hand the report also highlighted instances where some cases did not need to go to court and where greater cultural understandings and appropriate training could have helped.
A key area of concern for AkiDwA has been the mental wellbeing of parents within the asylum system. It would appear to us that the longer they are left in a prolonged state of uncertainty the most likely they are to fall into depression. Depression among African parents, while very much hidden from society, is very prevalent within the community. This impacts on the level of care given to children.
AkiDwA feels a closer examination of the reasons African children are taken into State care is needed. An open conversation between agencies and stakeholders is also needed. While not wishing to pre-empt the results of any such examination, AkiDwA believes plans for culturally appropriate timely interventions for parents and children in the asylum system, along with a speeding up of the asylum process, will be one of the most effective means of addressing the current issues.
One error in Dr Coulter’s report is the assertion African families are more than 20 times more likely to be involved in child care proceedings. This figure is based on an estimate of approximately 22,524 Africans in Ireland, or almost 0.5 per cent of the population. However the CSO’s 2011 census of population put the population of Africans at 41,642 or 0.91 per cent of the total population. Thus it would be more accurate to say that African families are 12 to 13 times more likely to be involved in child care proceedings. Despite this lower likelihood than the figure reported, it is still an unacceptably high statistic, a very real cause for concern and an issue that demands a response. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Chris Luke (May 6th) suggests doctors get free (or partially discounted) medical education in return for serving six months reasonably-paid time in hospitals after training.
Why not extend the idea further? Given what it costs the State to educate doctors, many of whom go on to earn large sums for life (at no return to the State if they leave), I suggest doctors (and other top-earning graduates) start repaying part or all of their fees to the State once their earnings exceed a comfortable amount per annum. This repayment could extend over decades, from wherever in the world they work, as part of the deal by which the taxpayer funds their education.
Such funds could help reduce the cost of third-level education for all or endow more scholarship for less fortunate students. – Yours, etc,
JOHN Sir, – Despite what the Constitution says, Edward Burke (November 2nd) holds that it is preposterous to claim that “a 26-county state constitutes Ireland”. I believe it is no less preposterous that, despite what geography says, the six-county entity calls itself “Northern Ireland”.
Why should many of its people take offence when “Ireland” is used for three-quarters of the island, when “Ulster” is often used semi-officially for only two-thirds of that province?
The problem that has never been solved is that “Ireland’s political division” does not and never did coincide with the border drawn in 1920. We’ll just have to continue to muddle through with the informal labels “the South, the North, the Republic” cited by James Carroll (also November 2nd). – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The West sends much-needed aid to support programmes that will help the poor of India. There are more desperately poor people in just three of India’s states than there are in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
Yet that country now chooses to follow up on its nuclear ambitions (nuclear weapons arsenal since 1974) by spending massive sums on sending a space probe to Mars, an unmanned mission that has no guarantee of a successful conclusion (World News, November 5th).
To the starving millions in India, the success or failure of this experiment is of little concern. They will continue to live lives of abject misery while their “betters” remain stubbornly oblivious to the rising stench from the ghettoes.
There seems little will on the part of the Indian Government to wake up to its responsibility to provide a better life for all of the citizens of that great country. Promoting vanity projects ahead of the needs of starving people is unforgivable. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We are calling on Senators to oppose Section 9 (Jobseeker’s allowance – amendments) of the Social Welfare Bill 2013.
The reduction in social welfare payments for under-26s is inequitable and not an incentive to work. At the height of the boom, Ireland had one of the highest proportions in the EU of young people working. . Irish young people want to work. Getting a job is difficult, with 32 unemployed people for every job vacancy advertised in Ireland.
€100 per week is not enough to survive on. The Vincentian Partnership recently estimated the minimum cost of a single adult living as part of a household will be €184 in 2014. The recent OECD report Getting Youth on the Job Track found that 40 per cent of young people aged 16-24 in Ireland in 2011 were at risk of poverty, which is the highest in the EU. Budget 2014 cuts will impose further hardship on young people and force many to emigrate.
If the Government is looking to save an additional €32 million, the banking levy of €150 million could be increased to €200 million, this would allow banks to return to profitability while at the same time being significantly less than the eligible liabilities guarantee scheme (ELG) where banks including AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB cumulatively paid €1 billion a year to the exchequer in exchange for a State-backed unlimited guarantee on deposits. This would allow for social welfare rates to remain the same, but also allow for the Government to invest more in the youth guarantee scheme that currently stands at only €14 million.
We urge Seanad Eireann to stand up for young people by opposing and voting no to this Bill. – Yours, etc,
JOE O’CONNOR, President, Union of Students in Ireland; RONAN BURTENSHAW, We’re Not Leaving; CLARA FISCHER, Equality Budgeting Campaign; DAN
O’ NEILL, Young Workers Network; CIARAN GARRETT, Chair of Labour Youth; IAN POWER, Executive Director,
CUNNINGHAM, Director, National Youth Council of Ireland & PATRICK BURKE, CEO, Youth Work Ireland,
A chara, – Your report (Home News, October 31st) on the Government decision to abolish the extra 6 per cent awarded to those completing civil service entrance exams in Irish doesn’t appear to have provoked much comment. The proposal, it seems, is to replace the current practice with some sort of a panel system reserved for candidates with Irish, and 6 per cent is again the figure mooted. Worryingly, however, we’re told the details of the new system have still to be worked out.
As someone who is lucky enough to have both official languages of the State, I think it’s only right that citizens should be able to conduct their business with the civil service in the official language of their choice. I would be very happy with any new system which genuinely ensured that 6 per cent of civil servants were fully able and willing to provide a service in Irish. In the absence of concrete details on the new system, however, I can’t feel any assurance that this will be the case. – Is mise,
Sir, – Each year as we approach November 11th, Irish society has to endure sterile and divisive controversy concerning Armistice Day, poppy-wearing and the commemoration of those who died serving with British forces during the first World War. Those Irish who died fighting in both world wars are solemnly remembered in a dignified and respectful manner on our National Day of Commemoration each July. This commemoration is devoid of the jingoism of the British equivalent, Remembrance Day.
It is inconceivable therefore that the incoming manager and assistant manager of the Irish international soccer team, Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, with poppy in lapels (Front page, November 6th), could be unaware of the symbolism of the poppy in Ireland which has a political subtext. It is even more inconceivable that Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane could be unaware that monies collected from the sale and wearing of the poppy is used to provide material support for British soldiers who fought in the illegal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Even British soldiers involved in the recent Troubles in the North, including the events of Bloody Sunday, are recipients of funds collected from the sale of poppies.
I am uncomfortable with any Irish sporting organisation aligning itself with the British army. I furthermore find it regrettable that the incoming managers of Ireland’s national soccer team would endorse publicly the purchase and wearing of the poppy in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Recently at Ireland West Airport I went to the snack bar counter with a cup of coffee and a chicken sandwich. The cost, €6.20. The good lady assistant informed me that if I was to take a bag of crisps with my order the charge would be €5.50. Balancing a healthy lunch with thrifty economics I promptly selected my crisps, handed over €5.50 and returned the bag to its place on the shelf. We were all happy. – Yours, etc,
Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.
Sir, – “Delaney hails new dawn” (Sports Wednesday, November 6th). I wonder how long it will be before this “new dawn” slowly fades into a Celtic Twilight as O’Neill takes flight and once again the “Keaneing” starts. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – In a bilingual country the eye-catching “Bod’s Ups and Downs” (Front page, November 6th) might seem to be the opening chapter of a new steamy bestseller: Fifty Shades of Green. – Is mise,
PEADAR Mac MAGHNAIS,
Bothar Bhinn Eadair,
* I read persistent expressions of regret about the way Ireland is becoming a secular society.
Also in this section
This emptiness is due to a lack of faith in God
We need a lot more parent-teacher meetings
Bright minds can help bring a dose of reality
Secularisation has been afoot for as long as I can remember and has a very positive influence in attempts to get clear about the relationship between religious belief and the public world we share with believers and non-believers alike.
Any society is a strange amalgam of different interests and beliefs. I find that a trip on the Luas tram in Dublin reveals the great variety of voices that make up human discourse.
When I visit Dublin, I invariably take a trip on the Luas. On my last visit, I sat beside a very genial gent who immediately regaled me with the assertion: “The curse of God is on the country.”
This confident view was outlined in lyrical detail, with politicians occupying a place of honour in his analysis of the decline of Ireland. What my trips on the Luas confirm for me is James Joyce’s view that human discourse slips in and out of sense.
What I love about the Luas is the nature of the conversations, including some down-to-earth religious exchanges, that one encounters.
Now that the Catholic Church has a more humble presence in Ireland, it is time to reinstate religious debate as one source of insight in determining the direction the country takes.
Religious discourse that is open and free is a crucial element in any democracy. Secularism helps to keep dogmatism and superstition at bay, stimulating us to focus on establishing a way of life that befits us as humans, irrespective of our particular religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, differing moral and religious views have tended to see one another as targets for adversarial confrontation.
This is a fault shared by Christians, atheists and secularists alike.
Edith Road, Oxford
PROPERTY TAX DEBACLE
* The handling of communicating with customers about payment of the 2014 property tax would, in a properly run country, be ringing very loud alarm bells – but, of course, not in Ireland.
Firstly, can it be possible that such a high-profile event was not being actively managed from the top down at Revenue?
This begs the question of how many layers of management did the process go through before the final version of letters and processes were signed off, and how can it be that red flags were not raised about the wording of the communications or the processes for implementing the collection? If they were, were they then ignored?
It is such a disappointment to see that, despite the complete and total failure of the Irish system of governance to function properly over the last few years, absolutely nothing has changed.
The same culture of failure and unprofessionalism is as firmly entrenched as ever.
The second issue, which depressingly doesn’t come as a surprise, is the political response, especially from Fine Gael.
Why did the issue of hundreds of thousands of people receiving a large property tax bill just before Christmas, with unclear demands about how to pay it, not register around the cabinet table?
Why didn’t any of the highly paid advisers spot the problem? It beggars belief that there was no liaison between Revenue and the Department of Finance on this issue.
Of course, the property bill won’t cause any politician a flicker of fear as they will simply pay it.
The claims of Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan that they can do nothing because the Revenue is independent is blatantly ridiculous.
The Revenue is an arm of the Government and it follows the tax-raising instructions provided to it by the Department of Finance, which in turn is given its remit from the Government of the day.
Commercial Road, London
* Last week, in reply to a direct question, Environment Minister Phil Hogan said that it was no longer to do with him, as he had handed “it” over to the Revenue Commissioners. What he should have said was that he was still responsible for the property tax and that he had assigned Revenue to simply collect the money.
But he said what he said and now there is a mess. By the way, his comment was fairly novel because he often says that he is waiting for “legal advice” when asked anything.
Since the letters arrived, it’s clear from news bulletins that people are confused and scared.
Who are these Revenue people? They work for us and we pay them very well.
The politicians work for us and we pay them very well, and at the moment we (the taxpayers) are being treated like dirt by one half of this lot and being patronised by the other half.
Why was it necessary for Revenue to know how we intended to pay the property tax? And, incidentally, why is Revenue assuming that everybody is online? Everybody is not online!
Screen, Co Wexford
* I have been observing from afar this coalition Government since it came to office in March 2011. The latest fiasco over payment of the household charge is merely another cabinet bumble as they fumble in the citizens’ pockets and purses.
It is now more than apparent that not one member of the coalition Cabinet has any vision or nous to create positivity and confidence in the Irish economy.
* As the nephew of two, sadly deceased, Sisters of the Presentation Order, I hope that your article on November 1, about the history of Venerable Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Sisters, will provide an opportunity to review the practice in the Irish media of maligning and sneering the Catholic religious orders and their contribution to Irish life.
Presentation nuns, along with other religious orders including the much-maligned Christian Brothers, were the first to provide Irish people with the opportunity for an education when no Government or other public body was able or willing to do so.
Thousands dedicated their life to this and provided a first-rate education to generations of pupils who were thereby given the opportunity to better themselves and their country.
Today, Catholic religious orders continue to provide education – often the only education available – in some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world.
It should also be noted that Nano Nagle, along with others in the church, provided education for girls – something that is still not available to millions of girls in the 21st Century.
Fenwick Street, Liverpool
LOSING SLEEP OVER BOD
* In response to Liam Cooke (Letters, November 4), I find it amusing how many people here seem to be still losing sleep over why Warren Gatland dropped Brian O’Driscoll from the Lions team in the third test.
Gatters has made it blatantly obvious on a number of occasions that his test centre combination was always going to be the Roberts and Davies partnership. BOD starting in the first and second tests was only due to the fact Dr Roberts was injured.
Of course, with his recovery, the partnership could be fulfilled and poor BOD sent packing to the hills.
Unfortunately BOD did not play himself into the team . . . sport is cruel indeed.
For God’s sake, please move on.
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