8 January 2014 Harrogate

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Heather has taken up with Pertwee and someone has sabotarged Troutbridge’s floggle toggle box. Priceless.

Mary to Harrogate the books shops moved! I get my feet done

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets just over300, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.




Robert Boscawen, who has died aged 90, was a member of a distinguished Cornish family and served as Conservative MP for Wells, the constituency later renamed Somerset and Frome, from 1970 to 1992. Known for his robust Right-wing views, he was a Government Whip from 1979 to 1988.

He was also the last holder of the Military Cross to sit in the Commons, an award won at Arnhem with the 1st Armoured Battalion, Coldstream Guards. Having already had three tanks “shot out from under him”, he was severely injured in a bloody tank battle and left permanently disfigured by burns.

Robert Thomas Boscawen was born on March 17 1923, the fourth son of the 8th Viscount Falmouth and Mary Margaret Meynell, who was a descendant of Lord Grey of the Reform Bill. Their family roots ran deep in Cornwall, and the name of an 18th-century ancestor, Admiral Sir Edward Boscawen, who was the Member for Truro, is enshrined in the Records of the House of Commons, noting the unanimous vote of thanks accorded him for destroying the French fleet at Lagos Bay in 1759.

Bob grew up at Tregothnan, near Truro, sailing and quickly becoming an excellent shot. He was educated at Eton before, in 1941, within two weeks of leaving school, he joined up at his local recruiting office, in Redruth. He joined the Royal Engineers, which sent him for nine months to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read Engineering. He then applied to join the Coldstream Guards, with which members of his family had served since 1769 (his eldest brother, Evelyn, had been killed while serving with the 2nd Coldstream Guards Battalion in the withdrawal from Dunkirk).

Bob Boscawen joined the 1st Armoured Battalion of the Guards in 1942 and landed in France shortly after D-Day, when he was troop commander of four Sherman tanks. The fighting was intense, and on several occasions Boscawen, then just 21, was involved in bitter and lengthy exchanges of fire, often witnessing the tanks of comrades bursting into flames.

He was involved in the liberation of Brussels, where he bought a shotgun and (as the partridge season had opened) set out to supplement rations with game birds, all washed down with champagne recovered from the Wehrmacht.

Then on October 2, while supporting the 231st Infantry Brigade of 50th Tyne and Tees Division south of Arnhem, Boscawen’s tanks came under heavy fire. With little support, they stood their ground during a night of intense bombardment, “firing at every muzzle flash”. When dawn broke, it illuminated a scene, as he later wrote, “of scattered death and bits of debris”. He was awarded an MC.

They crossed the Rhine on March 30 1945. Two days later, on Easter Day, his tanks were attempting to capture a bridge over a canal near Enschede. As he later noted in his battle diary, which was published in 2001 as Armoured Guardsman: “I found myself looking down the barrels of four [105mm heavy flak] guns beside the bridge, the place seething with Germans… I saw the shots flying up at me. There was a whoof and the turret was engulfed from below in a whirlwind of flame. I eventually broke free from the flames and stumbled back for some 200 yards to safety. The rest were either trapped or shot down…” His troop had set out after D-Day with 19 men. With casualties duly replaced, 13 of its men were killed and nine wounded before V-E Day.

Almost three years and much surgery in the hands of the celebrated Archibald McIndoe passed before Boscawen could return to anything like normal life. His first step came in 1947, when he volunteered for the British Red Cross Civilian Relief Organisation in Germany, helping to run a rehabilitation centre for the war-wounded and assisting East European refugees.

From 1948 he spent two years with Shell Petroleum as a management trainee before joining the family-owned Cornish china clay business, Goonveen, at Rostowrack. He became a Lloyd’s Underwriter in 1952.

He had joined the Conservative Party while still in the Army and in the Fifties began to take an increasingly active role, winning a reputation as a hard-working and effective campaigner, much in demand as a speaker. He contested Falmouth and Camborne in 1964 and 1966, but was ousted as a candidate a year later after a series of acrimonious rows among his constituency activists over his support for the extreme Right-wing Monday Club. His opponents believed it damaged the Party’s prospects in a seat with a radical tradition.

He spent two years searching for a new seat to contest. He had hoped to continue the family tradition in Cornwall, but had to move to Wells in Somerset for both a safe seat and more sympathetic political ears. There he supported the restoration of capital punishment and drastic cuts in the welfare state and student grants. He was against abortion. But it was the pace of decolonisation that most concerned him, and he became a leading supporter of Ian Smith after Rhodesian UDI. He voted against the imposition of sanctions in defiance of the Party Whip.

He did, however, “reluctantly overcome” his anti-Common Market prejudices, being persuaded by the economic arguments in favour of British entry. While he cautioned pro-marketeers against regarding it as a panacea for Britain’s ills, he warned opponents against being prejudiced by memories of the war: “Parliament should not be guided by the distrust, suspicions and hatreds of past years for decisions affecting our future generations.”

In 1976 Boscawen launched a vituperative attack on plans to increase MPs’ pay, describing the debate as “a disagreeable, disgraceful and miserable occasion”; doing so at a time of economic stringency “brought ignominy” on the whole House, while the inclusion of a notional increase to count towards pension rights was “not just nonsense, but bloody nonsense, immoral and wrong”. He took a particular interest in the National Health Service and sat on its London Executive Council from 1954 to 1965. As an MP he was on the backbenchers’ Health Services Committee and vice-chairman from 1974 to 1979.

In 1979 Boscawen was appointed an assistant Whip and promoted to Lord Commissioner of the Treasury in 1981, then to the two senior Whips offices, Vice Chamberlain of Her Majesty’s Household (1983-86) and Comptroller of the Royal Household until 1988.

When he retired from the Whips office in 1988, Mrs Thatcher paid a glowing tribute to his “truly magnificent service to the country, the government and the Parliamentary party”.

The Trappist life of the Whips office had denied Boscawen the opportunity for eight years to display his skill as an orator and his mastery of invective, but did not interfere with his ceaseless work for his constituents. A much appreciated success was to persuade British Rail to stop London express trains at Castle Cary for the first time for many years. Nor did he forget the interests of his Cornish homeland, and was the driving force behind the creation of the Cornwall Industrial Development Group.

Robert Boscawen was a keen rower and expert yachtsman. He stroked the Trinity boat and rowed in the University trial eights. He was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and regularly sailed in international races, including the Fastnet. On one occasion in the 1950s he was joined on the race by an American journalist who recorded how, in a Force Nine gale in the Irish Sea, many of the crew were “too tired to go on” but found that they would “rather drop in our tracks than admit such feelings to Boscawen himself. Such is the stuff of leadership”.

Bob Boscawen married Mary Alice Codrington in 1949. She died last year, and he is survived by their two daughters, and by a son who followed him into the Coldstream Guards.

Robert Boscawen, born March 17 1923, died December 28 2013




Like so many other Guardian readers, I wanted to express sadness at Simon Hoggart’s untimely death (Original, waspish and witty to the last, 7 January 2014). His parliamentary sketches were beautifully crafted and, in my view, worth the cover the price of the Guardian alone. His humour was always gentle and added to his readers’ understanding of Westminster politics. If ever a journalist encapsulated the values and beliefs of your newspaper, Simon Hoggart was the one.
Matthew Ryder
Buckden St Neots, Cambridgeshire

• I have never read an obituary (7 January) that made me chuckle so much, yet brought such a flood of unanticipated tears. Simon Hoggart enriched our lives in so many ways. When we next travel to France we shall seek out again a restaurant that Simon enthused about and shared with Guardian readers, and raise a glass to his memory. Thank you, Simon, for giving us so much pleasure.
Bob Hargreaves
Summerseat, Bury

• In Jonathan Jones’s article about Picasso (A cut above, G2, 7 January) he says “there were no art galleries in north Wales” when he was growing up. The Royal Cambrian Academy found a home in Conwy in 1885; Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw in Llanbedrog became a public art gallery in 1896; the Mostyn gallery in Llandudno in its present incarnation came into being in the late 1970s. None would have featured Picasso’s work, but still…
Marilyn Davies
Prestatyn, Denbighshire

• The crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin was not a Quaker (Letters, 7 January). She was highly sympathetic to many Quaker causes, such as a commitment to peace and speaking truth to power. But while her husband Thomas came from a well-known Quaker family, she was descended from a line of high Anglican clerics and professed no religious belief as an adult.
Georgina Ferry

• So Eusébio (Obituary, 6 January) was “nullified” by Nobby Stiles in the 1966 World Cup semi-final. In a 10-second clip from that game on the news I saw Stiles commit two tackles on Eusébio that would be straight red cards today. “Kicked off the park” would be more apt.
Billy Morrison
Ayr, Scotland

Michael Gove holds up the show Oh What a Lovely War as an example of a leftwing attempt to peddle unpatriotic myths, and the education department’s defence of its boss implies that this universally acclaimed show “denigrates the patriotism, humour and courage demonstrated by ordinary British soldiers in the first world war” (Baldrick – Your country needs you, G2, 7 January).

This is a calumny of the work of Joan Littlewood, Gerry Raffles and all those artists in Theatre Workshop who created the show at Theatre Royal Stratford East. The opposite is the truth. A vital part of the show’s success lay in the fact that it told the story of the first world war from the point of view of the men in the trenches.

Not long ago the respected playwright Peter Nichols said of its original production in 1963, “Joan Littlewood’s masterpiece remains for me the most compelling theatre experience in my life. The supreme tragic event of our century was told with a gaiety that, by using their own songs, showed what spirit had been crushed out of the glorious dead by four years of Vickers guns, poison gas and shells.”

As for it being part of a leftwing conspiracy, important source material came from the Tory MP Alan Clark’s book, The Donkeys, the title of which came from the phrase describing the soldiers as “lions led by donkeys”.

Princess Margaret attended the original production accompanied by Lord Cobbold, who in his capacity as lord chamberlain was in charge of theatrical censorship. While congratulating the cast, Princess Margaret said to the director, “What you said here tonight, Miss Littlewood, should have been said a long time ago”, and added, “Don’t you agree, Lord Cobbold?” “Yes, ma’am,” he replied, and Joan Littlewood made the aside to a nearby cast member, “That’s our permission”, meaning permission to go ahead with a transfer to the West End, which Lord Cobbold’s department was apparently having doubts about without considerable changes.

It seems Mr Gove now wishes to appoint himself the censor of theatre at the heart of the education system.
Philip Hedley
Co-executor of Joan Littlewood’s estate

• It’s not as though the originators of Oh What a Lovely War were the first to challenge orthodox accounts. If Mr Gove wants to say anything serious about how the war has been perceived he needs also to consider its treatment in interwar films such as Kameradschaft, La Grande Illusion and All Quiet on the Western Front. All were banned by the Nazis. It’s not loyalty to anyone’s country that is threatened by such critiques, but the self-assurance of the powerful who seek to hide the truth from the rank and file.
Ian Jewesbury

• Like other readers I very much appreciated Michael Morpurgo‘s call (A year to honour, but not glorify, the Great War’s dead, 2 January). It is not true, however, as he was told, that War Horse is the first play about the war to be performed in Berlin. Sherriff’s Journeys End was performed there in 1929, and reviewed by Erich Kästner under the wry title “Gentlemen Prefer Peace”. The will to reconciliation existed on both sides at that time. But it is generally fair to say that German writings about the war – by authors as different as Ernst Jünger and Arnold Zweig, as well as Remarque – were read with keener interest in English translation around 1930 than the other way round.
David Midgley
Professor of German literature and intellectual history, St John’s College, Cambridge

• Before the battle lines are drawn along political lines of left and right and “right” and “wrong” ways to teach and commemorate the first world war in the forthcoming centenary period (Gove has gone over the top, says Baldrick, 6 January), ministers would do well to remember that ideas about the way the war is taught in the UK context is based on very little evidence and outdated assumptions.

Precisely in response to this issue, academics from the University of Exeter and Northumbria University are leading an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project entitled The First World War in the Classroom: Teaching and the Construction of Cultural Memory. Part of its research base is the first ever national survey into the way the war is taught in English literature and history classes across England. The data, gathered alongside focus groups with teachers from a variety of different locations and school types, is currently being analysed and the results will be released in a final report in late spring 2014 available via the project website ww1intheclassroom.exeter.ac.uk and other peer-reviewed publications.

Initial indications suggest that teachers use Blackadder Goes Forth in a very limited way, often as a comedic window into a more complex and nuanced subject. We would therefore urge hesitancy in jumping to conclusions until more data is available, starting with our survey report and various follow-on projects into how the war is taught that we hope will result from our exploratory research. It is only then that we will be able to have a reasoned and informed discussion about the way the war is taught and how this might be improved.
Dr Catriona Pennell University of Exeter, Dr Ann-Marie Einhaus Northumbria University

•  My late father, a veteran of the first world war, saw many comrades die beside him. Like many, he didn’t want to speak about the war but I watched the “over the top” Blackadder episode with him. There was a long silence, then he said “That is one of the greatest tributes to British soldiers I have ever seen.” What emotions, what feelings, what thoughts does Michael Gove wish to censor in us this year so that he can nostalgically wave a few flags?
Graham Mollart
Farnham, Surrey

•  But for the obstructive attitude of the War Office, there would have been more women to honour for their contribution to the British war effort (Letters, 3 January). When the pioneer Scottish woman doctor Elsie Inglis offered her services, she was turned down by the War Office. Undeterred, and with the help of the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies, she organised the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, whose offers of help were welcomed by Britain’s allies, France and Serbia.

These medical units, staffed entirely by women, saw service in France, Serbia and Russia. Significantly, they were not only staffed by women, but women were in charge – one of whom, Dr Isabel Emslie (who later married my father’s cousin), wrote an account of her experience in command of the unit sent to Serbia (With a Woman’s Unit in Serbia, Salonika and Sebastopol). In contrast to the attitude of the War Office, Britain’s allies recognised the contribution of these amazing women: Elsie Inglis was awarded Serbia’s Order of the White Eagle, the highest Serbian honour. She was the first woman to be so honoured. Isabel Emslie was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French.

Needless to say, after the war, capable doctors like her struggled to have a medical career and were denied kind of the posts of responsibility which they held in wartime.
Professor Sarah Hutton
Aberystwyth University



The “clever illusion” of memory offered by the camera is a point well made by David Shariatmadari (Comment, 2 January). It brings to mind the cautionary parable of Socrates in the Phaedrus (274), where he makes the same point about the invention of writing. The Egyptian god of the liberal arts, Theuth, presents his new technique to the king/god, Thamus, with the words: “This invention … will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom I have discovered.” The king berates him for his misplaced enthusiasm, and replies that, on the contrary, “this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, for they will not practise their memory … You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.”

Like snapshots of times past, I wonder how many written words, cut as aides-memoire from newspapers such as your own, lie, lost and irretrievable, in fathomless desk drawers, their relevance and wisdom long since unremembered and forgotten.
Roger Tarr



We are deeply concerned by the decision of the UK embassy in Moscow to refuse to grant a temporary visa for travel to the UK to a Russian journalist in fear for her life.

The journalist (who we cannot name for security reasons) faces an established and credible threat, which is directly connected to the reporting work she undertakes. The journalist writes for one of the few remaining independent newspapers in the Russian Federation, Novaya Gazeta.

Five journalists at the title have been killed as a result of their work since the paper launched in 1993, including the celebrated war reporter Anna Politkovskaya.

Frequently the Russian authorities fail to investigate cases of violence against journalists and bring those responsible to account. Dedicated mechanisms to protect journalists require the co-operation and support of governments that champion free speech.

Temporary refuge removes people from the immediate threat that they face and enables long-term security planning to ensure their safety and allow them to continue doing valuable work.

Article 19 acted as sponsor for the visa application and has written directly to the home secretary to ask that the decision be reviewed.

The UK government has long been a vocal champion for free speech around the world. We now urge them to stand by those who risk their lives to report and facilitate open democratic conversations.
Thomas Hughes
Executive director, Article 19
Jo Glanville
Director, English PEN
Christophe Deloire
Executive director, Reporters Without Borders
Peter Noorlander
Chief executive, Media Legal Defence Initiative
Galina Arapova
Director, Mass Media Defence Centre (Russia)


The dysfunctional UK housing sector causes serious economic and social problems (The silent scandal, Money, 4 January). We face a supply shortage resulting in a property bubble, exploitation of renters, and overcrowding and homelessness in parts of the country. Property owning is increasingly out of reach for many and there is a huge intergenerational wealth transfer from younger to older generations. But, as your editorial (4 January) rightly states, this is a problem that can be fixed. Three direct interventions are needed urgently: targeted rent controls, to control rents and price rises caused by buy-to-let investment; a tough consumer protection regime to protect renters; and a major housing investment programme.

One of the perceived problems is how to fund a housing programme on the necessary scale. But, there are a number of viable collective funding models. For example, the government could launch a social housing government bond (gilt) to fund local authority building or renovation programmes. Collective funding models are more cost-effective for society than encouraging private financial institutions which demand a significant risk premium for funding major infrastructure projects – in other words, they charge more and still demand the state (taxpayers) underwrites much of the long-term risk involved.

Collective bonds could also offer a higher interest rate to savers hurt by low rates currently available in the market – a win-win for society.
Mick McAteer
Director, Financial Inclusion Centre

• Your focus on the soaring cost of rent reflects the accounts I’ve heard around Britain about how households are being left in impossible circumstances by the cost of simply putting a roof over their heads. And as you rightly highlight, far too many of those privately rented homes are cold, draughty and poorly maintained.

But you are wrong to say that rent control is not on the national agenda: the London assembly housing committee has recommended it and the Green party’s conference last September overwhelmingly supported a motion calling for “smart” rent controls, which would restrict rises for sitting tenants and be linked to significant increases in security for sitting tenants. We need to build much more council housing, to restore the stocks decimated by right to buy. And we need to ensure private landlords provide houses fit for living in. But above all we need to regard houses as homes, a basic right, not a financial cash cow for the few.
Natalie Bennett
Green party leader

• It is timely to see the article focusing on tenants and rents instead of house prices. There is no widely quoted index showing the increase in private rents over the last 30 years. Clearly neoliberal economics has failed the housing market when 30 years of rapidly rising prices have not generated a consequent increase in the supply of housing. Instead rising house prices have proved to be an efficient engine of inequality, rewarding owners of expensive houses with substantial unmerited windfall gain, while penalising tenants with rent increases. Governments need to intervene to provide a satisfactory supply of new housing and to use controls to limit the rise in house prices to protect tenants not merely to avoid housing bubbles.
Nick Vosper



In 1983 John Fortune played a barrister in an episode of Granada TV’s Crown Court which I directed. He was defending a policeman accused of corruption. As was usual, there was friendly but fierce competition between the rival legal teams. A “book” was started during rehearsals and the smart money was on an acquittal for John’s client. Nevertheless, the jury (made up of members of the public who were asked to vote “guilty” or “not guilty”) decided to convict.

After the recording, the cast gathered in Granada’s Stables bar before heading back to London. We were celebrating a successful show, but John was noticeably subdued. “What’s the matter, John?” I asked. “I just think I could have done better for him,” he sighed.



Ed Pilkington (Obama’s bubble continues to deflate, 20 December) and many other commentators express disappointment at Barack Obama’s inability to achieve a swag of reforms in the US and imply, if not state outright, that this indicates indecisiveness at best and weakness or insincerity at worst on his part.

Democratic institutions such as those in the US and most western political systems are designed to prevent maverick leaders from exercising untrammelled power through the checks and balances of the parliamentary system. As long as the parliament does its job properly, this works OK, but if it becomes dysfunctional or corrupted, there is no way that the leader can override it. If subsequent elections fail to produce a government that works any better, radicalisation often occurs and the most extreme form of this is a military coup. This usually leads to even worse consequences, as we have seen in Chile, Greece, Egypt and others over the last century; in fact, the only beneficial military coup in this period was that led by Ataturk almost 100 years ago.

Most of the blame for our current woes is being directed at the leaders in both Australia and US, but I suggest that both our parliamentary systems are in very poor shape and should carry the major responsibility for our problems. Evolution works through both gradual adaptation and through traumatic cataclysm.

Let’s hope we have the sense to develop our institutions of government through the former rather than have to suffer the latter.
David Barker
Bunbury, Western Australia

Dangers of surveillance

Alan Rusbridger’s missive Inside the surveillance state (20 December) fills one with despair for the English-speaking Christian countries that comprise the total surveillance states: namely, the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It took 800 years from the date of the Magna Carta to the present for democratic principles based on the freedom of the individual to grow and mature among the same people.

It is a great irony that the creators of democracy have become its executioners. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, visitors to that country came back with scare stories of how the KGB was following them continuously, watching and noting down their utterances and activities. Now our governments have CCTV cameras, telephones, internet and emails to do the same job with meticulous efficiency, without causing us any concern or pain.

When a country loses its self-confidence, no matter how powerful it may be, it resorts to total surveillance, as with the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the past. Who thought that surveillance was the harbinger of destruction for those political systems at their height of power?

The total surveillance state that our political leaders have created with the intention of safeguarding our freedom and security brings to mind a verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita: I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.
Bill Mathew
Melbourne, Australia

Tensions in east Asia

Your coverage of the current situation in the East China Sea (Escalating tensions leave Japan depending on US support more than ever, 6 December, and Unapologetic Japan squares up to China, 13 December) downplays a few important points that may affect the outcome.

First, it is worth remembering that the current escalation really began when Shintaro Ishihara, then governor of Tokyo, now co-leader of the Japan Restoration party, bounced the previous government into buying the Senkakus from their private owner. As such, the current situation is as much down to the behaviour of the slow-witted nationalists now running Japan as it is to Chinese “aggression”.

Second, when China established its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), all airlines in the region complied with the Chinese demand to file flight plans and to identify all aircraft to Chinese military air traffic control. A week after the ADIZ was imposed, the Japanese government instructed Japan’s major carriers to cease filing flight plans and to tell their pilots to cease identifying their flights to the Chinese authorities. Given the tensions in this region, such action represents the height of irresponsibility, as airline passengers may be used as guinea pigs to test Chinese intentions.

The real risk factor here is conflict starting by accident. The danger is the hot-shot Chinese fighter pilot, a little hung-over, having a bad day, and then sent to intercept an “unidentified” aircraft leaving Japanese airspace. Should such a tragedy befall a Japanese commercial flight in the present era of tension, I have little faith in the Japanese government’s ability, or even intention, to contain the situation.
David Layfield
Okinawa, Japan

Hungarians are not extremists

If András Schiff is that worried about the imminent resurgence of fascism in Hungary (20 December) why doesn’t he come home and get his hands dirty? The answer perhaps, is that there is no prospect of one actually occurring. Yes, there is Jobbik, recently down from 16% to 13% in the Tarki poll, and yes, Jobbik thugs occasionally do nasty, stupid things in public. But one wonders what public soul-searching of the kind Schiff proposes would actually achieve – apart from giving a heady dash of oxygen to the fascists. In fact one could argue that Viktor Orbán’s current policy of letting them self-combust is actually proving quite successful.

Hungary has its problems: near-starvation in some rural areas, little prospect of a quick escape from its economic straitjacket and the absence of a credible opposition. But its long-suffering people are resigned and, some might say, overly tolerant, not extremist.
David North
Nagykovácsi, Hungary

The dilemma of austerity

Austerity is never a popular word and stimulating an economy in recession with easy monetary policy and fiscal deficits is usually good economic policy (US takes a welcome step away from austerity, 20 December). Unfortunately, the resulting increase in the public debt is not always possible because, in many cases, this debt is already considered to be too high by the financial sector. As a result, further borrowing may become impossible or so costly that it becomes too much of a burden, as Greece, Italy and a few other countries have discovered.

Many governments face a dilemma between increasing their deficits to stimulate growth and reducing their debt to avoid the dangerous risk of insolvency. Harry Stein is mistaken when he suggests that the choice is between austerity and economic growth. The reality is that some countries have no choice but to follow austerity.

Stein is right to suggest that tax changes would have been better than sequestration to reduce both government expenses and the public debt, but his claim that sequestration caused terrible damage in 2013 is exaggerated, at least at the global level. The reality is that the US economy has performed better than the year before and unemployment has declined. Admittedly, the recovery has been weaker than in previous cases but the recession was also sharper. In fact, the real surprise has been the very limited impact of these blunt austerity measures on the global US economy in 2013.
Francois P Jeanjean
Ottawa, Canada

Tensions in Singapore

Your report on rioting arising from tension between Singaporeans and migrant workers in the city’s Little India district is a reminder that we need to understand the way in which class and ethnicity interact with one another as part of the social dynamic making Singapore what it is today (13 December).

Beneath the surface of Singapore’s authoritarian democracy is, and always has been, a measure of social tension, which came to the surface [through race riots] in 1964 and which, like the current disturbance, had a class as well as a communal dimension.

It is in large measure in response to this mostly subterranean tension that Singapore’s national unity has always relied on a high degree of state coercion to hold its society together.

That tension, and the state coercion that holds it in check, is reflected in the city’s ill-fated Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park. That spacious and very well-organised speaking venue, modelled on the London equivalent in Hyde Park, has no speakers because its potential orators are too afraid of arrest.

Class and race are, in effect, among the proscribed topics for discussion at this venue because they are, perhaps understandably given what happened in 1964, considered too destabilising.
Terry Hewton
Adelaide, South Australia


• The “newly discovered gas” that is more than “7,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth” (Dispatches, 20 December) certainly deserves to be monitored closely. It becomes a little less scary, though, when you consider that it is actually a liquid, not a gas: Perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA) has a boiling point of 178C at atmospheric pressure, which should make it relatively easy to contain the substance in a closed system.

Moreover, a rough estimate based on the figure of 7,000 and established chemical calculations leads me to conclude that one gram of PFTBA released into the atmosphere is equivalent in destructive potential to the carbon dioxide that results from burning around 250ml of petrol – or from driving an average car for about 8km.
Egbert von Steuber
Lingen, Germany

• That Claire Armitstead should have characterised Dogmatix as “evil-tempered” may be a bit unfair to the cuddly and mild-mannered mascot (3 January). Only under the influence of a wee drop of potion does he transmogrify to unleash his inner beserker – reminiscent of the Hulk’s rage. And like the latter he swells his girth (or maybe just puffs himself up) and rampages in dogged pursuit of Roman popinjays.
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US

• I enjoyed Ian Jack’s article on the coverage of the (undoubtedly great) man’s death (20 December). I was totally Mandela-ed out of it within 36 hours of his demise, as were quite a few people I commented to on the matter.
Muiris de Bhulbh
Leixlip, Ireland




Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove wants us all to rewrite the history of the First World War. It was a great patriotic war where noble Englishmen fought for the liberal ideals of Britain against the rapacious and evil German expansionist regime.

Of course, these were the liberal ideals where women didn’t get the vote until 1918 (and then only if they were over 30), Irish people were considered as subhuman and black people even worse.

No, it was a war that threw multitudes of misled and desperate young men from all over the world into a mechanised hell of death-machines and mutilation. A politician or historian who tries to rewrite this horror as a victory for anyone is at best misguided, and at worst a psychopath with no empathy for human suffering.

Ronan Breslin


Michael Gove has suggested the centenary of 1914 should be an occasion for recognising the necessary and honourable part Britain played in resisting German militarism. He has been immediately assailed by the Labour Party and the British left in general, as well as the SNP, who are determined to make an ideological argument out of the First World War.

But in spite of the carnage it is difficult to see how we could responsibly or safely have stayed neutral while Germany secured hegemony over the Continent. Britain may have had little sympathy for Serbia or Russia, but the Germans’ decision to implement their vast war plan by invading neutral Belgium was a game-changer.

The idea that Hitler was very bad but the Kaiser a cuddly old duffer is undermined by the harsh terms imposed on a defeated Russia; similar terms were planned for the West. It is argued that German victory would have resulted in a proto-EU, but their 1914 plans show that, save for the Jewish genocide, it would have resembled the Second World War occupation.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews

While according the greatest respect to everyone who fought in the First World War, in whatever service and for whatever nation, I cannot help feeling that Nigel Farage’s statistic of 47 British divisional generals killed in action during that conflict tends to reinforce rather than mitigate the popular conception of the incompetence of the British leadership.

Surely it is the job of divisional generals to lead their divisions by planning, disposing and commanding. This is not served by placing themselves in situations where they are likely to be killed.

John Kempster

Basildon, Essex

Michael Gove writes an article suggesting that the First World War tactics of blundering ever forwards into the mire, while sustaining massive damage and needless casualties, weren’t all that bad, really. Two days later, George Osborne announces his intention of continuing his economic tactics of blundering ever forwards into the mire, while sustaining massive damage and needless casualties. Are these facts related?

Steve Rudd

Huddersfield,  West Yorkshire


Power failures after the floods

I have just come back from St Lucia where, on Christmas Eve, severe floods took several lives, washed away bridges and destroyed the homes of people who possess very little. It was therefore interesting to see people’s reaction here to a rather lesser flooding crisis.

Following extensive storm damage it is surely unreasonable to expect power supplies to be restored in one or two days. The power companies should be honest about the likely timetable, and in the meantime pay more generous compensation of perhaps £50 to £100 a day.

Simon Garratt



The record levels of profit and the ownership structure of UK Power Networks and similar transnational companies expose the utter futility of the free-marketeers’ insistence that an unregulated economy is the answer to all ills.

The Government continues blindly to sanction the decades-long policy of creating cash cows for the elite out of once-public assets, with no discernible benefit accruing to the nation, its wealth or its workers.

You don’t have to be an ardent leftie to recognise that for a party self-described as conservative this lot conserve very little indeed.

There is now ample reason for a return to a degree of statutory oversight and regulation, particularly in regard to the mix of shell companies, artificially induced debt, profit extraction and asset-stripping that masquerades as modern management.

Christopher Dawes

London W11

Tories prefer cuts to fair taxes

Given that Mr Osborne has declared the need to save £25bn, why is he making so little effort to increase the tax-take from Google, Apple, Starbucks and the rest? The tax not paid by these transnational companies could go a long way to sorting out our problems. I suspect there is a so far undiscussed reason why he won’t initiate the necessary reforms.

A fair tax-take from these and others like them could be achieved by a concerted effort across the whole EU and enforced by the EU. The EU is big enough to scare the pants off these avoiders with threats of punitive damages for non-compliance. Thus they could be brought to the table and made to pay fair taxes. The supposed threat that they could “go elsewhere” is a bit thin, since these companies need Europe just as much as Europe needs them.

Tragically, Mr Osborne’s prejudice, which can’t accept just how useful the EU could be, doesn’t allow such a plan to be considered. Or maybe he just loves these avoiders too much.

Tim Brook


When discussing benefit reforms, we need to remember that the £24bn we pay out in housing benefit doesn’t help tenants at all – the money goes straight from their bank accounts to those of their landlords. Maybe we should stop calling it housing benefit and rename it landlord subsidy.

In the 1980s there were very few private landlords, not because rents were low (though they were) but because landlords stood little chance of ever regaining possession of their properties if they let them. The much-needed Assured Shorthold Tenancy legislation changed that, and we now have many small private landlords renting houses out. Tenants can’t afford the high rents demanded, but instead of letting the market set the rents, we give them housing benefit.

But we don’t have to keep rents artificially high with housing benefit. We could agree it is not right for landlords to receive a sum equivalent to a fifth of the total cost of the NHS, and start to think hard about rent controls. Or at least withdraw housing benefit and make the rental market a free market.

Of course estate agents and landlords will protest at the idea – they’d lose money – but there must be a better way to make sure people have a roof over their heads.

Ruth Harrison


Where Harris tweed comes from

Professor Guy Woolley chastised Andy McSmith (letter, 28 December) for missing out Hawick as a centre for Harris Tweed production. However, with the Harris Tweed Act 1993, establishing the Harris Tweed Authority as the successor to the Harris Tweed Association, the following definition of genuine Harris Tweed became statutory:

“Harris Tweed means a tweed which has been hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra and their several purtenances (The Outer Hebrides) and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”

Malcolm Macdonald

Stornoway, Isle of Lewis

Martin Amis’s stepmother dies

I wish to add my protest to that of Louisa Young (Letter, 6 January) concerning your headline at the news of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s death: “Writer who inspired Martin Amis dies.”

It is astounding that someone of Howard’s stature should be described in a modern liberal newspaper largely in terms of what men she was married to, slept with or was related to, and by her looks rather than her considerable achievements as a novelist. Perhaps your staff is too preoccupied with the events of 1914?

Amanda Craig

London NW1

A cut above  the rest

I am glad to see that appropriate recognition has at last been given to the contribution of the noble hairdressing profession by way of the New Year Honours list (“Cameron’s hairdresser is appointed MBE”, 7 January). Can I, through your good offices, make an early plea for the inclusion of my own barber –  George, of George’s Barber Shop, Sydenham – in the list for next year? Thanking you in anticipation.

John Cooper





Sir, As a graduate engineer working on the Crossrail Project, I agree that the time is right to market the dream of modern engineering to young people (Letters Jan 6).

Five years working in civil engineering has provided me with a more varied experience than I could have imagined. I feel immense pride that I have been able to contribute to the inspiring results of teams working on challenging projects in the UK and overseas.

The UK pioneered the construction of underground railways, which has since been developed worldwide. We are proudly delivering the largest civil engineering project in Europe 150 years later, mainly tunnelling based, in an increasingly competitive international marketplace.

Engineering projects are often out of public view or awareness, so more should be done to raise interest in schools and through the media. Engagement and inspiration of the young is certainly the way forward for brand “UK Engineering.” However, a career in engineering demands a sound knowledge of physical principles, so unless there is a universally high standard of science and mathematics teaching in all UK schools, many talented young people may be lost to the profession.

Henry Tayler

London W9

Sir, The stirring letter (Jan 6) crying out for more promotion of engineering degrees overlooks one small detail. Every year more than 20,000 people graduate with engineering degrees in the UK. The signatories of that letter will then automatically refuse to employ roughly one third of them — that is the third of graduates who get 2:2s or 3rd degrees. These several thousand graduates are wasted and end up, like me, going off into something like recruitment advertising, where we find ourselves explaining this to the very same employers who claim there aren’t enough engineering graduates.

Marcus Body

London W1

Sir, I find it a sad commentary that among the seven signatories to the letter on engineering not one is a woman.

Paul Buyers

Wootton, Bedford

Sir, Had he been here to do so, my father Sir Barnes Wallis, one of the foremost British engineers of the 20the century, might well have commented on the letter on the future of engineering. He would certainly agree with the stated need to absorb the young into engineering.

To inspire and encourage, he advocated the lasting benefits of learning by doing: “Try it, experiment, make a mock up, get your hands dirty and risk a failure.” And never think it is too late to try, to invent, to have ideas.

Engineers mature slowly, he said: adding that while mathematicians are not infrequently elected to the Royal Society in their twenties, engineers are more likely to achieve that distinction two decades later.

Mary Stopes-Roe


Sir, Why should we be surprised that “too many 8-to-14-year-olds are left uninterested in the exciting world of modern engineering” when, if the media is to be believed, they can expect to spend their time clearing trees from railway lines and climbing electricity poles in howling gales and pouring rain to repair damaged power lines?

Until the term engineer is given the professional status it deserves, there is little hope of any change.

D. J. S. Pepper

Retired RAF Engineer

Glasserton, Dumfries & Galloway



No information for the citizens of the UK has been published as to the implications for their future citizenship

Sir, I am a citizen of the UK. The Scottish Government’s proposals for secession therefore threaten my civic status. The same is true of every man, woman and child in the whole UK.

I have now browsed the 650 pages of the Scottish Government’s White Paper Scotland’s Future. It is remarkable for its comprehensive and detailed analysis of the Scottish Government’s proposals. It is remarkable, too, for the fact that it affects every citizen of the UK and not just the people of Scotland as it purports to do.

The issues it raises are therefore of fundamental and inherent importance to the Parliament of the UK, an importance of such historic magnitude as should raise these issues to the very top of our present Parliament’s agenda.

As far as I am aware, however, our Government has given no notice of its intentions in the matter. No Parliamentary time has been allocated for the lengthy debate which the matter deserves. No White Paper has been signalled as a complement to the Scottish Government’s. No information for the citizens of the UK has been published as to the implications for their future citizenship or for their future lives more generally.

In short, the Government could be accused of dereliction of duty in that it is appearing to be ready to accept the possible break-up of the Kingdom the protection and maintenance of which is its most fundamental duty. So what indeed does our Government think, and what does it propose to do? We citizens of the United Kingdom need and deserve an answer.

Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites

Fishbourne, Hants


Many mothers nowadays are diagnosed with depression, but, as Esther Walker says, their feelings may be entirely normal

Sir, I agreed with every word of Esther Walker’s article. Even though it’s 33 years since I had my first baby, I can still remember how hard I found the first few weeks, with only my husband to help and with a baby who, like Rosie’s, was awake from 6am to midnight, and crying (both her and me) for most of that time.

Other mothers never mentioned feelings of inadequacy and it was only when I met a couple of like-minded mums, that things started to improve. I’m sure that mothers in the same state nowadays are diagnosed with depression, but as Esther Walker says, this is not the case. The feelings are entirely normal.

My daughter is expecting twins this month and I’ve given her the article to read and digest. Luckily we live near enough to her to be able to give her the help that I didn’t have.

Elizabeth Clarke


Those who move from towns to rural areas should realise that country rights of way are part of our public heritage

Sir, Mark Irving (letter, 6 Jan) is right to stress the importance of legal searches before buying rural properties. Unfortunately, many people buy farmhouses, watermills and old barns for conversion to desirable residences, knowing that there is a right of way on the property and perhaps beside their sitting-room windows.

Having moved in, they set about shifting the path which is not always easy. Often the proximity of an old and attractive building is one of the pleasures of that path, and the law requires that the public enjoyment of the route be taken into account before a diversion is made.

It is, for instance, a pleasure to pass through a farmyard where calves peer round a barn door or by an 18th-century millhouse to which villagers have walked for centuries or a deep-roofed threshing barn that is a listed building.

Nevertheless in my 30 plus years representing the Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society in Oxfordshire I have found, contrary to Mr Pugh’s assertion, that councils usually support the owners. The cost of so doing falls largely on the council and the public: it should be placed squarely on those who have failed to grasp that country rights of way are part of our public heritage, not a suburban inconvenience.

Chris Hall

Turville, Oxon

In 1915 Pte Thomas Hughes of the Durham Light Infantry wrote a letter to his wife, put it in a bottle and dropped it into the sea

Sir, Your report of the finding of a bottle with a letter after 23 years in the North Sea (Jan 4) reminded me of another such message in a bottle.

In 1915, as Pte Thomas Hughes of the Durham Light Infantry was returning to the Western Front, he wrote a letter to his wife, put it in a bottle and dropped it into the sea. Pte Hughes was killed a few days later.

In 1999, 84 years later, the bottle was brought up in a fishing net off the Thames Estuary and after much research returned to Hughes’s daughter, Emily Crowhurst, who was 2 at her father’s death. Mrs Crowhurst was living in New Zealand, and the letter is now in the possession of the Durham Light Infantry.

Brian Turvey









SIR – With the changes taking place at English Heritage, is it not now time to consider placing our medieval churches in its care?

Medieval churches are the principal historic buildings in most villages and towns. Opening them up to the wider public would generate local tourism and lift the great burden of maintenance costs from the shoulders of small local congregations.

Sundays could still be reserved for Christian services, but on other days churches could be available for hire by the wider community, including as wedding venues for couples not living nearby.

Jayne Tracey
Risby, Suffolk


SIR – Charles Moore’s wake-up call in defence of the United Kingdom will have struck a chord with supporters of the Union, whether or not they are entitled to vote.

Exposing the numerous flaws in the independence White Paper and elsewhere is necessary, but fighting rearguard actions is no way to win a campaign: it is perfectly clear which side has been making the running so far and this needs to change before further momentum is gained.

On the optimistic side, there is an assumption in some quarters that supporters of the Union, under the banner of Better Together, are simply keeping their powder dry and awaiting the ‘moment critique’. It is to be hoped that this is the case and that the political, constitutional, economic and many other arguments are being mustered for a timely, co-ordinated and decisive initiative.

Paul Chamberlain
Lowick Green, Lancashire

SIR – I find it very strange that within the United Kingdom an attempt is being made by a limited group of people to determine what will have significant repercussions on the remainder. As all matters pertaining to England in Parliament were debated and voted on by Scottish and English MPs, surely the same situation should apply to Scottish independence?

David Grant
Northallerton, North Yorkshire

SIR – Charles Moore is correct to call for a more serious approach to the Scottish referendum. He is correct, too, in pointing out that timing is everything.

I hope, when the time is right, that a ruling will be made that an independent Scotland will not be able to retain the pound. Evidence from the eurozone shows that no country can be truly independent if it does not control its currency. Surely, Alex Salmond will settle for nothing less?

John Carter
Shortlands, Kent

Ski helmets a must

SIR – My son has been a ski instructor in Canada for the past nine years. He always wears a helmet and would refuse to teach anyone who did not. He also replaces it each year courtesy of his grandmother, his helmet sponsor.

We have skied in Canada since 1996; the children have always worn helmets, but as adults we stood out like sore thumbs last year when we didn’t have helmets. We promptly invested in them.

Alison Cobb
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Excused fish heads

SIR – My granddaughter is studying AS-level biology at a state school in Kent. She is to undertake her first dissection – of a fish head – next week.

Apparently vegetarians are to be excused this exercise, together with students from particular faiths.

Kevin Sanders
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Back in training

SIR – HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sounds great, but is this another catchy acronym targeting the gullible (Letters, January 2)? When I want to get fit, I run backwards.

Reverse running is exercise’s best-kept secret – it’s free, has incredible benefits for the body and mind and, unlike HIIT, you laugh as you do it. Perhaps, if it was called RR, it might catch on?

James Bamber
Tiverton, Devon

Felling Scottish trees

SIR – Millions of trees on the public forest estate, most of them valuable commercial conifers, have been felled by the Scottish government, and its agency, Forestry Commission Scotland, to make way for wind farms.

The Scottish government stands to earn substantial income from wind farm developments on its land, but there is little evidence to suggest that this revenue will be used to plant woodlands in a like-for-like manner. Is this the best way to decarbonise the economy?

The Government must stop squandering this natural resource and focus on increasing woodland cover, which, after all, was one of the founding principles of the Forestry Commission.

David Sulman
Executive Director,
UK Forest Products Association

How to defend the Rock

SIR – If elected as Gibraltar’s MEP, I hope that James Cracknell examines the Rock’s continuing status as a colony.

Like France, Spain long since integrated its overseas possessions, including the North African “Gibraltars” of Ceuta and Melilla. The United Nations’ call for an end to colonial practices gives Spain, like Argentina, a small yet permanent piece of high ground for its demand that Britain decolonise. Madrid and Buenos Aires can thus sustain some reasoned hope that the constitutional status of their coveted territories will be revisited at some point, provided they apply enough pressure.

Britain should offer all of its remaining colonies integration, along with as many as possible of the devolved powers that they enjoy today. Such “devolved integration” would end Britain’s long-standing practice of leaving the door on sovereignty permanently ajar.

John Tate
London SW6

Heavy metal ironing

SIR – Kirstie Allsopp enjoys ironing because she finds it immensely therapeutic, and considers it one of the ways in which working mothers unwind. As a relatively domesticated bachelor of mature years, I, too, find ironing therapeutic, especially to loud recorded music, although I cannot say the same of other household chores.

Alan Robertson
Ladybank, Fife

A mnemonic that has entered the language

SIR – Probably the most successful mnemonic to have entered the English language as a word is cabal: a small body of persons engaged in private machinations or intrigue. This derives from the initials of a group of privy counsellors used by Charles II to run the country – Clifford, Ashley, Buckingham, Arlington and Lauderdale. It is thought by some that this was the origin of the Cabinet.

D M Anderson
Ashvale, Lanarkshire

SIR – In the RAF, we were taught a mnemonic to remember the resistor colour code (the numbers zero to nine represented by coloured bands) – Billy Brown revives on your gin but Violet goes wanting (for black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, grey, white).

We changed it to something more earthy.

Roy Ellis
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

SIR – As a geology student in the Seventies, I was told that “China owls seldom deceive clay pigeons, they just chase each other muttering preposterous puns” was a useful way of remembering the sequence of geological ages (Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene and Pleistocene).

David Dewhirst
Austwick, West Yorkshire

SIR – Teaching physics in Otukpo, Nigeria, I realised the old “Richard Of York” mnemonic for the colours of the spectrum would be meaningless, so I came up with Real Otukpo Yams Grow Best In Villages.

Rev Philip Foster
Hemingford Abbots, Cambridgeshire

SIR – For the seven hills of Rome in clockwise order: “Can Queen Victoria eat cold apple pie?” Capitoline, Quirinal… then I’m lost, though I can still remember the mnemonic 40 years on.

Luke Grant
Pensax, Worcestershire



SIR – David Cameron expects us to believe that he will protect the state pension with his “triple lock”. But the Government has been manipulating interest rates, and quantitative easing has reduced the current pension’s value by half. The inflation figure is in reality much higher, rather than the 2 to 3 per cent spouted by the Establishment.

Peter Cresswell
Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

SIR – Successive governments have destroyed our thriving private pensions sector through clumsy regulation, poor supervision and adverse tax changes.

The erratic changes in contributions limits to personal pension plans show how governments have no strategy and fail to understand long-term planning.

Recent attacks on annuity providers are a smokescreen for the Government’s own failings. There are so few annuity providers because the regulatory structure is costly, and businesses have to build in additional margin to allow for unforeseen changes in their capital and operating environment.

Personal pensions are now so damaged that the Government should allow holders complete freedom in their use of their own funds, and adopt a flat tax policy so savings can be made from taxed income.

Andrew Smith
Epping, Essex

SIR – The question of withdrawal of universal state benefits from the rich is being raised again. In view of the complexities in the tax system, applying chiefly to marginal cases, would it not be more effective, and economic, simply to tax all such benefits as income?

V W Hughff

SIR – The description “rich”, when applied to pensioners, is as difficult to define as “mansion” is when applied to houses. Yet politicians propose to remove benefits from one and tax the other without any accepted yardstick for either. No benefit limitation or taxation should be accepted without a clear definition of threshold.

Paul Bonner
London SW19

SIR – The Government should phase out winter fuel payments and free bus passes for new pensioners when the new basic state pension rate is introduced. This will prevent existing pensioners being annoyed, and save costly means-testing.

Bob May
Much Wenlock, Shropshire

SIR – David Cameron’s announcement on pensions is welcome, but we await his comments on inheritance tax, which, with the increase in house prices, is affecting an increasing number of senior citizens. This iniquitous tax now includes more ordinary people, whose views are likely to be expressed at the ballot box in 2015.

Eric L Parrish
Pevensey, East Sussex


Irish Times:


Sir, – Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte is quoted in Steven Carroll’s report (“Rabbitte accepts consultation over pylon concerns not good enough”, Front Page, January 4th) as criticising both Eirgrid and the Government for failing to consult properly the local communities about the grid-link project to erect pylons and thus ruin our landscape. Mr Rabbitte went on to say that “it is incumbent on those of us involved to . . . get as much community acceptance as we can”.

Does this not imply that instead of placing the concerns of those directly exposed to the implications of such a project as his priority, Mr Rabbitte is in fact approving the scheme on condition that the Government and Eirgrid get as much acceptance from the community “as possible”?

Regardless of whether that level of acceptance is even close to a public majority of the local communities in question? – Yours, etc,




Co Wexford.

Sir, – I found your report on the anti-pylon folk a bit distressing. Some heat but no light. The generation and distribution of electricity is a highly technical engineering matter. As is, of course, the exploitation of natural gas resources. Both require highly trained engineers to achieve the desired objectives in a practical and safe manner. A little knowledge acquired on the internet is not enough but is, in fact, more than a little dangerous.

Alison Healy’s report (“Opponents of pylons and wind turbines come together to highlight their concerns”, Home News, January 6th) notes a protest banner with the message “Bury the cable, not the people”. The protesters’ slogan implies that overhead transmission lines kill people: where has this happened? The facts ignored are that buried cables are vastly more expensive than overhead lines and are wildly uneconomic. Why do these people not tell us which countries have pursued their “policies”? As far as I know there is not one noteworthy country which has a 100 per cent cable policy for high-voltage transmission. Not one. – Your, etc,


Wyckham Place,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – After over two decades of exhaustive research in Ireland and elsewhere there is no evidence whatsoever, even at the lowest level, to prove, suggest or imply that pylons damage the health of those living nearby. That the argument around pylons continues, and at such a hysterical, irrational, frivolous and unfounded level, is disappointing. By now people should know better. – Yours, etc,


Claremont Road,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – There is one way to solve our need to criss-cross the country with electricity pylons. We could stop flood-lighting our sheds, yards, gardens and the entrances to our houses, and we could stop putting dozens of spotlights on the roofs of our kitchens or sitting rooms. The gnomes in my garden have never once asked to be flood-lit at night. – Yours, etc,


Ballydubh Upper,

Co Waterford.


Sir, – If the Government’s “staunch anti-nuclear stance” (“Government contributing to nuclear fusion reactor development”, Front Page, January 6th) extends to nuclear fusion, then the sun itself is Ireland’s enemy.

Your report is possibly trying to generate a little frisson by blurring the lines between fusion and fission. It is perfectly consistent to be anti-Sellafield and pro-fusion. – Yours, etc,




Co Kerry.

Sir, – I accept that the development of fusion reactors, which will produce electricity on a commercial scale, involves some as yet not fully resolved challenges and that the time lines for meeting these challenges remains uncertain. However nuclear fusion reactors when they become a commercial reality will be intrinsically safer and cheaper to operate primarily because:

1. The fuel they burn (normally a mixture of two isotopes of hydrogen) is intrinsically safer to handle than uranium and of no interest to terrorists;

2. The quantities and types of radioactive wastes they produce are much smaller in quantity and much less hazardous than those associated with fission reactors;

3. The fusion reaction, which involves the fusion of atoms rather than their fission, is very easily controlled – switching off the electric current that supplies the large magnets that confine the ionised atoms in the fusion process stops the reaction in its tracks.

For this reason most scientists and governments, including, I believe, the Irish Government, are supportive of nuclear fusion research as is being undertaken in Cadarache in France.

Turning briefly to the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while it certainly true that this includes promoting the peaceful development of nuclear energy, it also plays a pivotal role in the inspection of nuclear weapons and potential nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities.

Perhaps less widely known is the role of the IAEA in the safe use of radiation in a wide range of applications, for example in agriculture, industry and medicine and also in upgrading radiation protection standards in these areas, especially in developing countries. I have worked for the IAEA on its radiation protection programme and so consider myself well placed to point this out.

The Government’s contribution to both nuclear fusion research and to the IAEA reflect a maturity and ability to think beyond the Sellafield issue. – Yours, etc,


Green Isle Road,


Dublin 22.


Sir, – I think Daniel Griffin is unduly harsh on Enda Kenny when he asks in his recent letter (January 4th), “How can a Taoiseach who identified many of the flaws of the Seanad during the campaign now preside over that same flawed institution?” In fairness to Mr Kenny, we have to recognise that the man is still reeling following the rejection by the electorate of his proposal to abolish the Seanad. Furthermore, the recently published report of the Referendum Commission on the October ballot has effectively demolished the excuse put forward by the Government for its failure to win a majority in favour of the abolition of the Upper House. Prior to the release of the commission’s report, Ministers and their spokespeople maintained in a series of non-attributable briefings that voters were bewildered by the fact that they were asked to vote on a counter-intuitive basis, ie, vote Yes to abolish the Senate, vote No to retain the Upper House.

It is clear, however, that voter confusion served to depress artificially the majority in favour of the retention of the Seanad. The Referendum’s Commission’s report states that “13% of declared Yes voters actually wanted the Seanad to be retained . . . However 6% who voted No said they actually wanted the Seanad to be abolished”. If the percentages quoted in the previous sentence were applied to the total No vote (634,437) and Yes vote (591,937) recorded in the referendum, we would see a net increase of 38,886 in the number in favour of retaining the Senate. When the latter figure is added to the actual majority of 42,500 recorded on polling day as being in favour of retention, that majority increases to 81,386. It is also worth noting that the total number of votes spoiled on polling day (14,355) clearly had no material impact on the final result.

Adding to Mr Kenny’s post-referendum difficulties, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald was reported in a recent edition of your newspaper (Front Page, December 27th) as saying that the campaign to abolish the Senate was “demeaning” and that there was “absolutely no need, ever” to “rubbish” the Upper House and its members, past or present. Your report of December 27th also states that, during the referendum campaign, Ms Fitzgerald, along with other Fine Gael Ministers, backed Mr Kenny’s position that there would be no reform of the Seanad if it was retained. That particular article then goes on to point out that Ms Fitzgerald “now says her position was that there should be reform”.

I am sure that the Taoiseach is, like me, still trying to resolve the difficulty posed by the comments from his Minister for Children.

Precisely how can a member of the Government be against reform of the Upper House in advance of the referendum and in favour of reform afterwards? In addition, did it really take Ms Fitzgerald almost three months from the date on which the referendum was held before she realised that the campaign was “demeaning”? – Yours, etc,


St Lawrence’s Road,


Dublin 3.


Sir, – Reading of our Taoiseach’s trade mission to Riyadh (“An Irish troika offers words of advice to Kenny on Saudi trip” Home News, January 6th), and the promotion of Ireland by a member of the trade delegation as “not that different” to Saudi Arabia, made my stomach turn.

How much better to highlight the great differences between our countries! Such as the fact that our people can express dissent without fear for their safety. That Irish women do not need male permission to drive, go to school, travel or work. That we are free to protest, assemble and express public dissent at government decisions and policy. That we do not have public executions or punishments.

If we don’t stand for such minimum principles in our business dealings as gender equality, free speech and human rights, then we don’t stand for much. – Yours, etc,


Sallymount Avenue,



Sir, – The arts community in Limerick quite reasonably imagined that an event called “Limerick City of Culture” would be a celebration of their city through art and culture. What they failed to understand was that, for the board of the event, this was really a “rebranding” exercise, with a few auld plays and jugglers thrown in to take the hard look off it. Provided they didn’t want much of the budget, of course. – Yours, etc,


St Agnes Park,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – In light of the recent debacle surrounding the City of Culture, the “Curse of Saint Munchin” comes to mind. The story goes that the workmen employed on the building of the ancient church of St Munchin were one day striving to raise a very heavy block of stone to a certain part of the work. The saint was standing by and called on some of the citizens to help the men to put the stone in the desired position. These citizens refused to lend their aid, and the saint appealed to some strangers who were passing, who readily lent their assistance, whereupon St Munchin fervently thanked them and prayed that the strangers might always prosper in Limerick and the natives be unfortunate and unsuccessful. – Yours, etc,


Quarry Road,



A chara, – Richard Irvine (“An inclusive Ireland can surely find a place for the union flag”, Opinion, January 3rd) makes some unfortunate errors. To suggest that Sinn Féin, and nationalists generally, only started to object to Orange parades and associated symbols in the 1990s is patently ridiculous.

These coat-trailing exercises have been a source of contention since they began.

Current opposition is merely a resurgent nationalist population finding its voice in rejecting situations which have been foisted upon them from since before the Act of Union but especially in the six counties from 1922 to 1972.

I find it interesting that rather than pressing for unionists to accept nationalist parades in majority unionist areas (which would be a true compromise), Mr Irvine suggests that, as usual, it is up to nationalists to capitulate.

His solution regarding flags on public buildings again urges nationalists to yield. It is worth pointing out that the measure to fly the British flag for “only” 18 days a year was simply to bring the North in line with the rest of the UK.

Why not, in the spirit of the Belfast Agreement, fly both flags over public buildings in the North? This is surely the only equitable solution, particularly in Belfast, which is a majority nationalist city! – Is mise,


Thormanby Road,



Sir, – Prof Pat O’Connor raised the serious omission of a gender profile of those in senior academic and administrative reports (January 2nd) in a recent evaluative report produced by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

The HEA response (January 4th) is very disappointing – in fact somewhat insulting – given that in the late 1980s the HEA itself under the direction of Michael Gleeson commissioned and published a report on women in academia (or rather the lack of women in higher positions in academia). It does not augur well that after 30 years the HEA has not managed to count the number of men and women in each senior position in all the third-level colleges under its direction.

This is not a new issue for the HEA nor indeed is it “rocket science”, as their response suggests. – Yours, etc,


School of Social Work

and Social Policy,

Trinity College Du



Sir, – Peadar Mac Maghnais (December 27th) raises an interesting point about our Army’s own usage of its correct and historic title, Óglaigh na hÉireann.

For many years the Department of Defence in collaboration with the officer corps, or in defiance of them, has been busy branding every unit in English.

Soldiers wear jackets bearing the word “Army”. The big drum of the Aer Corps is emblazoned “Irish Air Corps Pipe Band”.

I have seen photos of naval personnel with “Navy” on their baseball-type caps. Most recently, An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúl (FCA) became the “Army Reserve” and at the same time An Slua Muirí was converted to the “Naval Reserve”.

The present Minister for Defence and the officers of Óglaigh na hÉireann can easily reverse the situation and create a force as proud of its Irish name, in all of its branches, as is An Garda Síochána. – Yours, etc,


Baile an Teampaill,

Sir, – James A Quinn says that the whistle was not blown on the reckless abandon of the Celtic Tiger boom because “a culture is almost always stronger than any individual within it”(January 2nd).

John Fagan says that anyone who did attempt to point out that the boom was unsustainable was promptly accused of failing to “put on the green jersey” and told to “stop talking down the economy” (Letters, January 4th).

Is blaming the ordinary individual for being intimidated and not confronting the conventional wisdom of the boom time – that all in the garden was rosy – not missing the point?

Surely the people of influence, who had the information and resources to form and lead public opinion, were the people who should have challenged those in the green jersey brigade?

Surely those who were in positions of power needed to be challenged by those in media and academia who were in a position to do so when the reckless abandon was getting out of hand? – Yours, etc,


Shielmartin Drive,

Sutton, Dublin 13.




Sir, – Pensions were invented in the time of Bismarck, when the average life expectancy was 58. Thus, very few people were ever expected to qualify for a pension at 65.

In the meantime, average life expectancies keep growing and are currently at 76 for men and 81 for women. Thus, keeping the original differential, men should currently qualify for a pension at 83 and women at 88! – Yours, etc,




Co Kildare.



Sir, – Any chance that the Teaching Council might tackle underperforming pupils? – Yours, etc,


Norseman Place,

Stoneybatter, Dublin 7.




Irish Independent:

* There have been a number of letters lamenting the fact that Christmas drags on, and what would tourists make of this, with shops closed and businesses all locked up.

Also in this section

Why Pope is the only hope to save church

Editorial: Pylon problem could be real headache for Kenny

Letters: Why I’ll always regret buying a shotgun

But with everyone so busy the rest of the year, is it so bad to take a break?

Being from Germany originally and neither “foreigner” nor a tourist, I don’t see the point of these letters.

I find it not only nice but necessary to have some days to contemplate and hang out with friends and family after another “Christmas Hyper” this year.

Obviously these authors have a problem and do not feel the same as I. Not to go back to work on December 27 can be, but does not have to be, based on religious motifs.

One letter refers to Dev’s Ireland, which must have been way before my time here. I have worked and lived happily in Co Dublin for 18 years.

It is simply a human thing to chill out.

It seems to me like an unnecessary kind of jealousy to call people “lazy” for taking a rest after Christmas, regardless of working for the public service or private business. I enjoyed the great time off anyway, and will hopefully do the same next year again.




* For about six months I had endeavoured to keep to a vegetarian diet. However, at Christmas, I gave way to temptation. On entering a supermarket I saw a package labelled ‘Traditional Irish Ham’. On opening the package at home, I found the ham looked, felt and tasted like rubber.

Perhaps this was a sign that not just I, but my fellow citizens, should make a New Year’s resolution to endeavour to become vegetarians?




* Barry Clifford’s letter (Irish Independent, January 6) set me thinking about those strange Connemara rabbits who stand up on their hind legs.

I would wager the price of a box of No 4 cartridges that the animal in question was, in fact, a hare.




* I recently booked return flights to Birmingham with Ryanair at a cost of €70. Moments later, I found out that I should have, in fact, booked return flights to Liverpool. When I requested a change of flights, to my horror the cost of travel increased to €255. Imagine my further dismay when I priced new flights to Liverpool and realised that I could have gotten the same for €60 while leaving my seats on the Birmingham flights empty.

I emailed Ryanair and got a reply stating that they would fully refund €160 to my account in light of my two unfortunate errors of judgment. A huge relief for me and a great show of goodwill on their part.

I recently read in your paper that their charity calendar for this year has so far raised over €100,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

They are not the big, bad wolf that everyone makes them out to be and I think that this story proves that.




* Michael Brennan and John Downing ponder whether President Higgins should have mentioned Christ at Christmas (Irish Independent, January 6) since he already took the oath under the Constitution. There’s not much to ponder.

The preamble to that Constitution observes the important position of Jesus Christ — and for a very good reason. In Ireland’s continuing need for a “moral compass”, who else but Christ can provide a better one?





* The recent visit of An Taoiseach to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is, in this letter writer’s humble opinion, an affront to anyone who has concerns regarding basic human rights, democracy and the independence of sovereign nations to conduct their own affairs without outside interference. In November 2013, Amnesty International‘s Middle East and North African director Philip Luther said: “The crackdown on freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia is widening with at least a dozen human rights activists sentenced in 2013 alone.”




* Less than a week before Christmas, Taoiseach Enda Kenny had sharply disagreed with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore’s claim that same-sex marriage was the “civil rights issue of the generation”. Nevertheless, the Taoiseach went on to say he would canvass in support of Mr Gilmore’s proposal to hold a referendum on the issue. And that was despite admitting that the burning issue of the day for him was job creation. Where in heaven’s name lie our priorities?

At least we know now, the Taoiseach was honourable in his intentions. He has since been on a five-day trade mission in the Middle East involving more than 80 Irish companies. Hopefully the trip will have a fruitful outcome for potential employment or lay the foundation for future jobs.




* I have found a solution for Enda Kenny and the Department of the Taoiseach, which has yet to commission an official portrait of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, something that tradition demands. Why not resurrect the portrait of Mr Cowen that mysteriously appeared on a wall in the National Gallery a few years back? To my eye, it seemed a magnificent piece of work.




* Not wanting to sound callous but flooding is a perennial issue; could someone not go to Holland and study flood prevention and provide a solution to the problem?




* Minister Pat Rabbitte’s recent comments that the wind turbine issue and electric pylons are not linked is disingenuous. The massive pylon infrastructure proposed by EirGrid is to facilitate an increase in wind power on to the grid — 70pc of all power on the grid according to gridlink manager John Lowry.



* With our green hills under attack, the following lines came to me:

A Lament

Not far from Yeats’ last Earthly rest

Near beautiful Glencarr

The desecration of hilly crest

Windmills ugly scar

No Yeats to voice a fisted curse

Against this crass betrayal

By those in Power who plead no choice

And squirm in their denial

When we allowed these Philistines

To wave their moneyed hand

They know the price of everything

But not this valued land

How can we lift our heads again

And sing of Ireland’s name

When our poet’s dead and lies beneath

A land of ravished shame.



Irish Independent




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