1 May2014Sore feet
I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate helping the farmer Priceless
Mary both of us very tred my feet very sore
Scrabbletoday, Mary getsnearly350Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.
William Ash – obituary
William Ash was a Texan ‘hobo’ turned Spitfire pilot who became celebrated for his numerous failed attempts to escape from Stalag Luft III
William Ash being greeted by Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, on his return from a dog fight in 1941 Photo: BANTOM PRESS
6:15PM BST 30 Apr 2014
William Ash, who has died aged 96, was the real-life “cooler king” of Stalag Luft III, said to be one of several sources for the character Virgil Hilts, played by Steve McQueen in the film The Great Escape; his escape attempts became celebrated – over the wire, through it with cutters, through the gates in disguise as a Russian slave-labourer, and, especially, via tunnels. If he never succeeded, it was not for want of trying.
Ash crammed several lifetimes of adventure into his 96 years. Even in Stalag Luft III he stood out. While most of his fellow-officer inmates in 1942 were from well-to-do British backgrounds, Ash was a former Texan hobo who had swapped his place in a Depression-era cattle car for the cockpit of a Spitfire.
Stalag Luft III
William Franklin Ash was born on November 30 1917 in pre-oil-boom Dallas, Texas, where he remembered, as a boy, the townsfolk gathering in wonder to stare at the city’s first traffic light. His father, a spectacularly unsuccessful salesman of ladies’ hats, was, as Ash recalled, “forever having his automobile, on which his livelihood depended, carted off by the repo-men, like a cavalryman having his horse shot from under him during a rout”.
Almost from when he could walk, Bill contributed to the family finances by doing odd jobs or selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door . Later his work ranged from shelf-stacker to cub reporter for the Dallas Morning News, where he remembered staring at the bodies of Bonnie and Clyde in their bullet-riddled getaway car.
Gradually he managed to save enough money to put himself through school and through college at the University of Texas (Austin). An exceptional student, he graduated with top marks in Liberal Arts, despite doing multiple jobs .
But as he emerged from university into the Depression, jobs were scarce. He found employment as a lift operator at a bank, where he bumped into a former professor who, horrified, asked if the bank realised he was an honours graduate. “Yes,” Ash replied, “but they’ve agreed to overlook it.”
Ash soon took to the road, joining hundreds of thousands of other men riding the rails from town to town looking for work. The experience of sharing what little he had with others in hobo shanties on the edge of nondescript towns all over the Midwest was one that sharpened his sympathy for the underdog as well as making him handy with his fists.
By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Ash’s travels had taken him to Detroit, where he became involved in a punch-up with some early supporters of the American Nazi movement. As the United States was still neutral, he walked over the bridge to Canada and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force — a move which would cost him his US citizenship. “I tried to explain that I was not so much for King George as against Hitler,” he recalled, “but they didn’t seem to care much at the time.”
After training as a pilot in Canada, Ash arrived in Britain in a troopship in 1941 and saw action in No 411 Squadron, flying Spitfires over occupied France as well as defending shipping over the Channel. He also flew escort on the ill-fated bombing attack on Scharnhorst as she sailed up the English Channel in broad daylight.
During his time as a Spitfire pilot, Ash, who gained the uninspired but persistent wartime nickname of “Tex”, featured in publicity drives aimed at encouraging the united States to enter the war and more Americans to go to Canada as volunteers in the meantime. Once, returning from a sortie, he found a portly gentleman in a suit being helped on to the wing of his Spitfire. Flashbulbs popped, and he later discovered his visitor was McKenzie King, Canada’s wartime Prime Minister.
Ash’s luck ran out while he was returning from bomber escort duty over the Pas de Calais in the spring of 1942. With his plane shot full of holes and his gun button jammed, he could do nothing but turn into his attackers to minimise his profile as half a dozen Focke Wulf 190s took it in leisurely turns to try blowing him out of the sky. He recalled continuing to press his gun button and shouting “Bang! Bang!” — to no avail. Forced to crash-land near the small village of Vielle Eglise, he was helped to escape by a Frenchwoman who had been widowed earlier in the war.
With the help of the Resistance he made his way to Paris, where he was holed up for several months . But, instead of hiding , he sauntered out into the streets as an American tourist , visiting art galleries and even the local swimming baths. The Gestapo soon arrested him and took him to the notorious Fresnes Prison, where he was beaten and tortured. Shortly before he was due to be executed, however, he was “rescued” by a Luftwaffe officer who was fearful of reprisals against downed German pilots in Britain if Ash were shot as a spy.
William Ash in 1942 still sporting the bruises from the Gestapo
Arriving in Stalag Luft III, Ash became firm friends with the Battle of Britain veteran Paddy Barthropp, with whom he made several escape attempts. During the first of these, they hid in a shower drain in the hope that they could escape after lying low for a few days under the shower huts, fortified with a supply of “The Mixture” – a high-energy mix of chocolate, dried fruit and oats donated by the prisoners from their Red Cross parcels . When they were discovered they decided the best they could do was to stop The Mixture falling into enemy hands. They were eventually hauled out with chocolate-covered faces and given two weeks to digest, locked up in solitary confinement in “the cooler” .
Though Ash was usually swiftly recaptured, his numerous escape attempts won him the admiration of his fellow prisoners, and it was as a tunneller that he found his true vocation. On one occasion, after he had been sent to a camp for recidivist escapees in Poland, he and a Canadian pilot led an escape bid involving the digging of a tunnel extending several hundred yards from under a stinking latrine to beyond the camp perimeter. They managed to break out, leading the way for 30 other prisoners, but all were eventually recaptured and Ash was returned to Stalag Luft III.
On another occasion Ash staged a daring climb in broad daylight over two barbed-wire fences between machine-gun towers to reach a neighbouring compound where a group of prisoners were being shipped off to a new camp in Lithuania, which Ash thought might offer better prospects for escape.
When he got there, he helped to dig another long tunnel and this time made it all the way to the Baltic coast. There he found a boat, but was too weak from hunger and exhaustion to drag it down the beach alone . He spotted some civilians digging a cabbage patch nearby and tried to enlist their help — only to discover that they were off-duty German soldiers . He swiftly found himself back in Stalag Luft III.
Ash was still in the cooler when his comrades made the great tunnel bid that became known as “The Great Escape”, but he was released in time to hear that many of his closest fellow would-be escapees had been shot on capture on the direct orders of Hitler.
Bill Ash, top right with book under his arm, and fellow PoWs – Bill Stapleton, top left, and Paddy Barthropp, front left, in 1942
He finally escaped in the dying days of the war in Europe in 1945 when, after a long forced march in the snow, he walked through a battlefield to freedom.
Back in Britain Ash was appointed MBE, awarded British citizenship and went up to Balliol College, Oxford, on a veteran’s scholarship, to read PPE. He then joined the BBC, working alongside a young Tony Benn, who became a lifelong friend. Sent to India as the Corporation’s main representative on the subcontinent, he was influenced by Nehru’s brand of socialism, and by the time he returned to Britain in the late 1950s his politics had solidified into a hard-boiled Marxism. He became involved in Left-wing “street politics”, including the post-war anti-fascist movement, but his late-blooming revolutionary tendencies eventually proved too much for the BBC, which fired him — though he managed to cling on to freelance employment in the Radio drama department as a script reader .
Beginning in the 1960s, Ash wrote a series of novels, including Choice of Arms and Ride a Paper Tiger. Politics, however, remained his chief interest. Finding him too quirky and individualistic, the Communist Party rejected his application for membership, and he co-founded the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). He also brought his academic background to bear on the subject, publishing a study entitled Marxist Morality .
In later life Ash served for several years as chairman of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and helped to encourage young writers through his work as a script reader for BBC Radio and later as literary manager at the Soho Poly theatre. His book How to Write Radio Drama remained the best on the subject for more than 20 years.
In 2005 Ash’s wartime memoir Under the Wire (written with Brendan Foley) became a bestseller and enabled him to enjoy, at the age of nearly 90, some late-found celebrity.
Bill Ash’s first marriage, to Patricia Rambault, was dissolved. He is survived by his second wife, Ranjana, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage.
William Ash, born November 30 1917, died April 26 2014
I hope I am not alone in joining Michele Hanson’s protest (A certain age, 29 April). I also boycott the self-service tills in supermarkets and the newly installed cash machine in our local post office. The tube strike may be a temporary inconvenience but who wants to be in need of assistance or information underground with only a machine to turn to? We need people to help and serve us, not machines, and these businesses need us paying customers. If all the jobs are gone, who will pay for goods and services? Machines don’t have disposable income; nor can they be relied on when power cuts strike.
• Good. At last a fightback for the BBC (What will happen in 2016?, 26 April). Ian Jack could have put even more emphasis on just how much BBC repeats contribute to the output (and revenue) of the whole of Freeview: it can shoulder long-term investment and helps to seed new formats; it provides a pool of talent and training for the UK industry as a whole; that industry would be swept away if the BBC was not there to protect and provide. Forget ideology: only a fool would destroy the goose that lays the golden eggs.
• It’s shocking that, since the first refuges opened and developed great services for women and children fleeing domestic violence, many have been taken over by corporate organisations and have lost their feminist values (Saved by a phone call, 29 April). They are now largely homeless hostels for women and children, suffocated by policies and procedures that have eroded the humanity described by Jenny Smith in the article. With cuts to women’s domestic violence services and refuges across the country closing, we are moving backwards.
• ”Tape may have cost me No 10 job, says Coulson.” But it didn’t (Andy Coulson admits No 10 job doubts, 29 April). Please teach your sub-editors the difference between “may” and “might”.
• As readers continue their search for What (Letters, 28 April), they might like to visit Mundesley (Norfolk), Tewkesbury (Gloucestershire), Wednesbury (West Midlands), Thursby (Cumbria), Fridaythorpe (East Yorkshire), Satterthwaite (Cumbria) and Sunbury (Surrey).
Ukip’s posters for the European elections have been criticised as xenophobic, but many find them convincing. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Ukip has made immigration the main issue of its European election campaign (The problem isn’t racism – it’s the oligarchs of Brussels, Simon Jenkins, 30 April). The trap for pro-Europeans is thinking that hostility to immigration comes and goes with every economic boom and bust. Immigration does not go far enough to explain Ukip’s rise. Nigel Farage’s success would not be possible without the elephant in the room that is the European Union itself.
Ukip arguments about the EU permitting uncontrolled immigration taking jobs, damaging public services and driving down wages are flawed and dangerous. But they are also understandable, impassioned and above all convincing. They answer, in a negative way, the very simple question: what does the EU do for us? Europhiles need to answer this for a public that has lost trust in the EU. Not with obscure figures on potential investment or jobs which can be argued over. It needs to be an argument of pure politics. What does membership of the EU say about Britain? This requires a serious re-evaluation of the mission and role of the EU, as well as into its institutions and powers. A bloated and undemocratic commission forcing the democratically elected government of a country into a period of crippling austerity which it did not vote for, in order to preserve an unworkable currency union, cannot really complain that its people do not feel connected to it. It is time for those who believe in it to demand a better Europe.
Councillor Sean Woodcock
Leader of the Labour group on Cherwell district council
• The Guardian’s suprise that Ukip is successful shows the gulf between the Westminster village and the rest of the country. Discontent over the austerity-dominated politics of a well-heeled political elite and the real life of ordinary people has been obvious, but is not a factor in political calculations as the debates in the Commons demonstrate. No better illustration could be found than Monday’s vote on HS2. The three main parties were united in a cosy consensus, and appear completely unaware that this is a project that has no popular support at all.
But perhaps they do. The lack of anything as elementary as a planning inquiry, plus the suppression of the most recent internal government report into the project, indicates politicians have no intention of letting the public in on the act. It is a gift to Ukip. Here in Staffordshire, while the Labour-dominated council in Stoke-on-Trent embraces the project in a desperate attempt to find a miracle cure for its economic problems, the anti lobby gains support across the political spectrum. However, it is only Ukip that is translating this into votes. Across austerity-dominated Europe, the gap between the political elite and the population is growing. But only in Westminster do the politicians plan to spend huge amounts of taxpayers’ money on a vanity project that will only benefit the wealthy.
• As if the rise of Ukip is not bad enough, a former Labour home secretary advises caution in challenging the racism on which its vision of Britain is built (Cross-party campaign to brand Ukip as racist, 29 April). Compromising on key issues because of electoral considerations is precisely why Farage’s motley crew has risen as far and as fast as it has done. Take them on, spell it out, and don’t just hope that something will turn up. The major parties have shown that they are ready to work together to defeat the SNP’s drive for independence, and they should now sink their differences in a popular front against the poisonous policies which Farage and Ukip promote – immediately.
• If it is racist it must be called racist. The Ukip leaflet delivered to my house was racist (not to mention sexist – the Ukip list here is all male). I have friends living in France (both “British” and “French”), in Bulgaria (“British” and “Bulgarian”), as well as Spain (“British”) and Italy (“Italian”). I have friends in Wales (“Welsh” and “English”) and Scotland (“Scottish”). I have no friends or acquaintances living or originating in the West Midlands, Yorkshire or Cornwall. Why should I be more involved in political issues in those English regions than the places where my connections are? Do you need to know my ethnicity to answer the question?
The EU is a reality and an amazing achievement. We are part of it and we must protect it and develop it. Nationalism is an invention of people who want a fight. Localism is no better. Those of us who don’t want more fighting must oppose nationalism as rigorously as we oppose racism. Promoting governance that is not nationalistic is more difficult than promoting “they are not the same as us” messages. Opinion formers like Mr Jenkins need to work harder at the task.
• Ukip is against immigration, not immigrants, which may explains why the biggest supporters of Ukip’s immigration policy are immigrants themselves. A survey on immigration by the Searchlight Educational Trust (Report, 26 February 2011) showed that a majority of Asian and black Britons want all immigration to the UK to be stopped permanently. In addition, 60% of Asian and black Britons agree with the statement that “immigration into Britain has been a bad thing for the country”; and that multiculturalism has done more harm than good to social cohesion.
Since opposing immigration and multiculturalism do not necessarily add up to racism – if they did, immigrants would not be opposing them – how can Ukip be called a racist party?
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
• Has the Migration Matters Trust considered that its campaign may produce the opposite effect from that intended? From the casual everyday antisemitism that’s so common, through Islamophobia to the anti-Europeanism expressed not only by Ukip but by many in all classes and the abhorrent views of the BNP and other groups hostile to people of colour, Britain is a profoundly racist nation. Stigmatising Ukip may well drive many to support it as reflecting their own views and the perceived need to “defend Britons and the British way of life”.
• Don’t the main parties realise: accusing Ukip of racism is counterproductive? They thrive on the anti-immigration platform. Much better to attack them on the negative effects of withdrawal from the EU, which the Treasury calculates as worth between £1,100 and £3,000 a year to each household in the UK.
• Your campaign against Ukip has been so successful up to this point, can we have a campaign against voting Green?
Green party candidate, Frognal and Fitzjohns ward, Camden
• Those who urge caution with regard to a cross-party campaign to brand Ukip as racist are correct. If Ukip does achieve anything like a 30% vote later this month, by no means all of these people can possibly be racists. Many will have come to the conclusion that none of the three main parties are listening to their concerns on a whole range of issues. Moreover, by what they have done and what they have failed to do, the three parties have completely lost the respect and trust of the electorate and thereby forfeited their votes. I have somewhat reluctantly come to the same general conclusion, but instead of Ukip will look in the other direction, and will therefore hope for a Green candidate to vote for on 22 May. I hope many others will do the same. If, by what they will surely be told by voters during the campaign, by a low turnout and by the outcome of this election, the three main parties still don’t get the true scale of this disenchantment, they have only themselves to blame. Negatively and aggressively chasing after Ukip is lazily missing the point. It will not provide any new positive reasons for voting for any of the main parties.
Goring on Thames, Oxfordshire
• The increasing gap in political cultures between Scotland and England is further evidenced by the latest research on voting intentions for the European parliamentary elections and attitudes to the European Union. South of the border, Ukip is challenging Labour for first place in the European parliament elections on 22 May. In Scotland, the Ukip vote is a third of that in England with it unlikely the elections will deliver any MEPs for Mr Farage’s party north of the border. Some 48% of those surveyed in Scotland would vote to remain in the EU if a referendum was held, compared with 32% who said they would vote to leave. In England , 40% of people say they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum was held, compared with 37% who would vote to stay in.
The results also indicate how national identity plays a key role in voters’ views about the EU, with Ukip support in England strongest among those who identified themselves as being “English” rather than “British”. It is also made clear from the research that “Scottish” identifiers back entirely different parties from “English” identifiers. Such a result clearly highlights the growing political differences between Scotland and England, two nations moving in very different political directions. The independence referendum will determine which road we in Scotland want to follow, to plough our own furrow or remain shackled to a political system whose values we no longer share.
• The only thing that Guardian criticism of Ukip is likely to do is to persuade a few more people to vote for it on 22 May. Better to look on Farage and co as a challenge for the left. He has built a rightwing populist political presence based on reactionary politics feeding on discontent with how things currently are. Can the left manage to develop a progressive populist appeal to counter this? Support for the Greens and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition suggests the potential is there. That potential needs to be turned into votes and support on the housing estates and in the workplaces.
• The victorious democratic allies created three organisations out of the ashes of the second world war to protect our sovereignty (Nato), our personal freedom (The Council of Europe), and to regenerate our economies (what is now the EU). It is tragic that these pillars of our prosperity, security and freedom are now threatened by a new alliance of the far right across Europe; whom millions died to defeat 60 years ago.
• Deep anxiety is being expressed by our political establishment and media over the rise and rise of Ukip. Simon Jenkins is the latest attempt to explain this phenomena. But could the problem be elsewhere? Western geostrategy , backed by the US in Europe, is a large expansion of the EU. Since the fall of the Soviet Union we can see this process clearly, with the farrago around Ukraine. Geostrategy is outside of democratic control; it involves the encirclement of Russia, and the effort to bring all the old eastern European and central Asian territories of the Soviet Union under western political and economic tutelage. The ongoing struggle with Ukraine illustrates western international strategic goals.
The fall out of these global strategies are now clear to see; the rise of right-led political parties across Europe, to re-establish domestic national political purity will continue, as long as the present foreign policy is followed.
Roger van Zwanenberg
• Dumb shots. Especially Labour. Have they forgotten the big mouth, bigger gaffe and unerring stupid superiority vis-a-vis “bigot” in 2010?
• Good question (No MPs, only one policy. So why has Farage got them rattled?, 26 April). Could it be something to do with the massive amounts of front-page coverage he’s getting from papers like the Guardian?
It’s essential the government uses all available measures to block this American attempt to buy AstraZeneca (MPs to call for investigation into Pfizer’s proposed takeover of AstraZeneca, 29 April). AZ is a strategic company in a strategic sector for the British economy, accounting for 2.3% of UK exports, £2.8bn in R&D, and 7,000 jobs. Pfizer has a bad record in putting short-term business profits before long-term research effort, even though drugs R&D should be what the pharmaceutical industry is all about. It not only notoriously closed its UK research facility at Sandwich in Kent with the loss of 2,400 jobs, but also bought the US drug company Wyeth and cut 19,000 jobs.
It seems to me that Pfizer’s takeover of AstraZeneca has less to do with promoting UK national interests, than with buying a foreign company in order to lower its US tax liabilities on profits earned abroad.
Clearly, Vince Cable is minded to intervene if he has the powers to do so. He does have those powers under the Enterprise Act, which gives him the right to act in the public interest if national security is threatened. It is a plausible argument that the swallowing up of AstraZeneca by a foreign predator for tax reasons is a serious threat to the British economy and to the future of this country, though under EU rules the commission would have to be convinced of this. That shows there is an urgent need to modify the UK legislation to make clear beyond doubt that, where a strategic company or sector is under threat from an unwelcome foreign takeover, the British government has unequivocal powers to prevent it in the national interest. The skill will lie in drafting a general rule that lets through foreign takeovers that do work for the British public interest while excluding others that do not.
The neoliberal rule “Just leave it to the markets to decide” must be abandoned. Under this rubric Britain has already sacrificed far too many of its strategic assets to foreign takeovers – BAA, Pilkington’s, electronic company Smith’s, O2, Rover, P&O, London airports and Cadbury’s, as well as parts of the UK’s electricity, water and steel industries. AstraZeneca is a step too far.
Michael Meacher MP
Lab, Oldham West and Royton
• Just a few months ago AstraZeneca sold its world-class research facility at Alderley Park for peanuts to move to a site in Cambridge that was already considered too small. So what an amazing coincidence that Pfizer, the very same company that is planning to take AZ over, already has two sites of its own there! Maybe it has enough room for the few scientists they want?
In retrospect, this is not just a case of the government standing idly by while all the good jobs head south; it’s standing idly by while another British company disappears into the pocket of a foreign multinational run by accountants who want to avoid paying their tax.
• Further to Peter Hetherington’s excellent article (Making industry’s wastelands workable, 30 April), I looked again at the government’s October 2013 revision of the national infrastructure plan. In section 4.5 of the plan, it announced the establishment of a local growth plan, for local enterprise partnerships to support their local economies, with at least £2 bn a year being made available from 2015 and the LGF allocations being concluded in “growth deals” with all 39 LEPs by July 2014.
As this target date is now only two months away, may we please see a published list of all 39 growth deals? This may give some reassurance about the government’s intention to tackle the problems faced by areas outside London and the south-east.
On May Day 2014, we student union officers and student activists are calling for the release of imprisoned Iranian trade unionist Shahrokh Zamani. On 23 April, Zamani ended a 47-day hunger strike after officials at Gohardasht prison agreed to transfer him to a wing reserved for political prisoners. A member of the Iranian painters’ union jailed for attempting to build independent workers’ organisations, he has also taken action in solidarity with groups including students and oppressed religious minorities. We call for the release of Shahrokh Zamani and all labour movement, student movement and political prisoners in Iran.
Shreya Paudel National Union of Students international students officer-elect
Dom Anderson NUS vice-president society & citizenship
Daniel Stevens NUS international students officer
Piers Telemacque NUS VP society & citizenship-elect, Bradford College SU President
Joe Vinson NUS Vice-president, further education
Hannah Paterson NUS disabled students officer
Sky Yarlett NUS LGBT officer (open place)
Finn McGoldrick NUS LGBT officer (women’s place)
Gordon Maloney NUS Scotland president
Steph Lloyd NUS Wales president
Megan Dunn NUS vice-president higher education-elect
Kelley Temple NUS women’s officer
Shelly Asquith SUArts president and NUS London chair
Omar Raii UCL union external affairs Officer
Rachel O’Brien University of Birmingham Guild of Students
Deborah Hermanns University of Birmingham Guild of Students
Chantel Le Carpentier University of Essex SU president-elect and NUS NEC
Tom Flynn University of Bristol Union VP education and NUS NEC
James Potter Essex University SU VP education
Grace Skelton Manchester SU general secretary
Jamie Green Royal Holloway SU VP communication and campaigns
Kelly Rogers NUS trustee board-elect
Edd Bauer NUS trustee board
Beth Redmond National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts
Tom Rutland Oxford University SU president
Roshni Joshi Ruskin College SU
Robert Eagleton Cardinal Newman College SU
Hamish Yewdall Northumbria SU councillor
Elliot Folan Union of UEA Students
Michael Chessum University of London Union president
Daniel Cooper University of London Union vice-president and NUS NEC-elect
Hattie Craig Birmingham University VP education
Becca Anderson Gateshead College SU president
Kirsty Haigh Edinburgh University Students’ Association VP services
Emma Barnes NUS part-time students representative
Josh Rowlands NUS mature students representative
Jawanza Ipyana NUS NEC disabled students member
Rosie Huzzard NUS NEC
James McAsh NUS NEC
Charles Barry NUS NEC
Peter Smallwood NUS NEC
Rhiannon Durrans NUS NEC
Jessica Goldstone NUS NEC
Chris Clements NUS NEC
Amy Smith NUS NEC-elect
Robert Foster NUS NEC Scotland representative
Afreen Saulat Bath University SU
Chris Pagett Bath University SU
Freya Martin Sheffield Hallam SU
Emma Booth Kent University Labour students chair
Miguel Costa Matos Warwick SU
Roza Salih Vice-president diversity & advocacy, Strathclyde Students’ Association and NUS trustee board-elect
Alannah Ainslie Aberdeen University Students Association
James Elliott NUS NEC disabled students member-elect
Xavier Cohen Environment & ethics officer, Oxford University Student Union
Christopher Rawlinson Harris Manchester College JCR President, University of Oxford
Vonnie Sandlan NUS SEC and NUS NEC-elect
Hannah Webb UCLU external affairs and campaigns officer, NCAFC NC
Helena Mika JCR Secretary, Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford
Abdi-aziz Suleiman NUS NEC-elect
Dario Celaschi President, Stanmore College Students’ Union and NEC-elect
Clifford Fleming Manchester SU campaigns and citizenship officer, NUC NEC-elect and co-chair of Young Greens
Zarah Sultana NUS black students’ committee and NUS NEC-elect
Andy Forse Milton Keynes College SU
Kelly Teeboon Liverpool Students’ Union womens’ campaign officer
We represent organisations and individuals involved on a daily basis in the provision of residential care for older people (Report, 28 April). We are horrified at the revelations in the BBC Panorama programme of the abusive behaviour shown by staff at the Old Deanery towards the older residents in their charge. There is never any excuse for abuse or poor practice and it is a wake-up call for all those involved in delivering care, from commissioners to regulators to providers, to work together to ensure services are of a consistently high quality.
However, this should not be used as a reason to condemn the whole of the care sector. The vast majority of residential care providers provide good, if not excellent care. This is borne out by sector reports, including those of the Alzheimer’s Society, as well as by the findings of the Care Quality Commission. The CQC itself is putting into place a robust inspection process that will focus on the quality of care provided, and that will be evidenced in the good leadership so clearly lacking in the Old Deanery.
The Panorama programme will cause understandable anxiety to the relatives of people who are receiving care and support, and to others considering care options for their families. And there will be many private and not-for-profit care providers who do provide high-quality services who will be concerned because they will be unfairly grouped in the public mind as not meeting high-quality standards.
Our organisations collectively represent thousands of members across the country who are private and independent care providers and who consistently deliver excellent residential care. There are many others out there that do the same. The difference they make to the lives of vulnerable older people should be acknowledged. We are committed to championing the excellent care they provide and to use this as a driver so that excellence becomes the default standard in social care.
Professor Martin Green Chief executive, Care England, Des Kelly Executive director, National Care Forum, Sheila Scott Chief executive, National Care Association, Debbie Sorkin Chief executive, National Skills Academy for Social Care
I think I’ve finally rumbled Ukip’s cunning plan. I’ve been puzzled by all those seemingly stupid and bigoted pronouncements we’ve been hearing from Ukip activists. Surely anyone with any common sense would keep quiet about such views.
But now the strategy seems obvious. These so-called “renegades” are picking up votes from the BNP, and from those for whom the overt racism of that party was unappealing but who are happy to have someone who promises to curb the flow of alien invaders who are driving down wages and stealing their jobs.
At the same time, Nigel Farage works overtime to cultivate the beer-tippling, fag-smoking man-of-the-people image while also taking care to retain his no-nonsense, anti-regulation, anti-EU city-slicker credentials that appeal to the ultra-Conservative, Thatcherite fringe among Tory voters. It’s a winning combination.
And there was me thinking that these Ukippers were just a load of mean-spirited bigots pining for the days when Britain was a proud nation not afraid to stand alone and take on all comers. How wrong can you be?
Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon
Every second day brings fresh evidence of the racist ugliness at the heart of Ukip. Yet, confronted with the outrage over the remarks of William Henwood, Andre Lampitt and others, Nigel Farage briskly dismisses “a few bad apples” and “Walter Mittys” before bleating about establishment-led witchhunts, with not an apology to be heard to the many offended by the rancid, simple-minded opinions of his associates.
How is such inquisition so unacceptable? As a warrior righteously fighting the cynicism of the political classes, surely Mr Farage will agree it’s only proper to hold up to scrutiny all who aspire to public office. In the case of Ukip, such examination is doubly important, since the party’s vetting procedures clearly can’t distinguish outspoken, arguably misguided yet essentially decent individuals from the objectionable bigots who appear more and more to comprise the party’s rump.
It is worrying that national support for the party is rising, despite – or, even more depressingly, because of – the obnoxious views of so many of its advocates.
Richard Butterworth, St Day, Cornwall
The claim repeatedly made by Ukip that most of our laws are made by the EU treats legislation such as the Financial Services Act or the Same-Sex Marriage Act as equivalent to a regulation on the sale of cabbages. If legislation is assessed in this way, why not throw in every local authority bylaw?
The significance of laws does not depend on the quantity of words used, but on what the words say. To pretend otherwise is nonsense.
John Eekelaar, Oxford
The attempt to brand Ukip as racist has not decreased support for the party. The probable reason for this is that most people who agree with Ukip know that they are not themselves racist and therefore see through the smears.
Robert Edwards, Hornchurch, Essex
Don’t blame churches for ‘archaic’ blight
I read with dismay your article (26 April) on chancel repair liability (CRL). This was variously described as “parishes enforcing archaic laws”, “an evil and unfair liability” and “a blight on housing”.
CRL is a side-effect of Henry VIII asset-stripping the monasteries. The monasteries had previously had responsibility for ensuring that certain church chancels were kept wind- and water-tight. The King cannily ensured that those who received the stolen monastic land also took on the CRL.
Almost 500 years on, some of those lands are still in the hands of the original families. CRL has been a known fact of life for generations. However where fields have been subdivided, and houses built, then the CRL passes on to the new owners. Purchasers’ solicitors are supposed to be able to identify such liabilities. If a purchaser does not trust the solicitor to get it right, it is possible to purchase insurance against an unsuspected liability being discovered.
CRL is not new; nothing has changed since Henry VIII’s day. The only new factor is that parishes have been required to register CRL or lose it when the land is next sold.
In law, CRL is a charity asset. A church council which fails to register CRL has in effect given this asset away. In the worst case, church council members could be held personally liable for the loss which the church has suffered.
If you want to blame someone for the present situation, then I would suggest a list that includes a rapacious monarch, incompetent solicitors, and a government which wants national heritage preserved but is unwilling to pay for it. But don’t blame church councils; they are doing an outstanding job in the teeth of unjustified vituperation.
The Venerable Paddy Benson, Archdeacon of Hereford
Gove’s botched free-school crusade
The dismissal by Elizabeth Truss, the schools minister, of your article about the scandal of free-school places (letter, 29 April) smacks of desperation, as it seems to rely on the assertion that free schools are “wildly popular” with parents.
They aren’t wildly popular with Ofsted though. The failure rate of new free schools is running at three times the national average. In addition, some 79 per cent of state schools are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, yet only 68 per cent of free schools reach that standard.
Free schools are a very expensive ideological experiment introduced by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, based on the Swedish model. It is obvious that the Swedish model is failing badly and children’s education is being put at risk both in Sweden and in the UK.
I fear that the writing is on the wall for this botched crusade and after the May elections Mr Gove will be moved on. He will leave behind a disjointed and largely unaccountable system.
Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex
Elizabeth Truss’s abuse of statistics is a cause for regret, at the least.
She says: “24,000 are attending free schools”. This from a school population of over 6 million represents less than 0.4 per cent. She then states that the DfE is devoting 28 per cent of the department’s capital expenditure to the schools educating 99.6 per cent of children and 8 per cent to schools educating less than 0.4 per cent. Extraordinarily, she states that as if it was a positive.
From my experience of working in the Department for Education, I would assume that the figures have not come from its professional statisticians, or, if they have, Elizabeth Truss has been very selective in the statistics provided to her that she has chosen to use.
It is more likely that her “special advisers” have provided the figures and obvious slant – if this is the case then she needs to get rid of them if she wants to do her job properly.
Roy Hicks, Bristol
Was this ever a truly Christian country?
So now, according to Lord (Rowan) Williams, this is a post-Christian country. But there is still that attempt to lead us back to Christianity, as we are told that we are still affected by the legacy of Christian influence.
Any study of our history makes it hard to claim that this was ever a truly Christian country. It may, for some time, have been a church-attending country, in the days when one man owned one or more villages, and the peasants had to go to church or risk losing their cottages and livelihood. Even in my lifetime I knew someone who was forced to make this choice.
The Industrial Revolution began the decline of this system, but it was a very long time dying. The result is what we see today. As science and technology progress, the country can only move further away from religion.
Whether that is good or bad will long be debated.
Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
Helen Clutton (letter, 29 April) asks what is the “Cornish way of life”.
Some years ago, a regular pub customer of mine was bemoaning the dire economic state of his home county, and he firmly believed that the Cornish should revert to their traditional industry, for which they were well known.
When I asked what it was he replied: “Smuggling.”
Pete Henderson, Worthing, West Sussex
Three generations, one wedding dress
Reading your fashion article on bridal dresses (28 April) I was once more amazed at what women will pay for a one-day outfit.
My mother was married in 1945 in a dress costing £9 and 10 shillings. I wore it for my wedding in 1988 and my niece looked very fashionably retro in it for hers in 2009.
Mary Evans, Reading
Che gelido vino: opera goers picnic on the lawns at Glyndebourne in Sussex Getty Images
Last updated at 5:37PM, April 30 2014
Opinion is divided on whether one should bother to dress up to go to the opera
Sir, Apropos your letters on opera audience dress codes (Apr 26 & 29), may I add that as a septuagenarian who sees in an average year over 40 opera performances in Munich, Berlin, Vienna and Dresden, from the most expensive seats, my attire of short-sleeved black tennis shirt, jeans and boots topped by a linen jacket removed once seated, has never raised an eyebrow of disapproval.
In every venue audiences are invariably friendly and, like me, dressed for comfort. Opera needs enthusiastic informed audiences however dressed, and not serried ranks of black ties.
David T Evans
Sir, Years ago our family was lucky enough to have tickets to a first night at the Royal Opera House. This was a posh do.
My father was hard pressed to get there on time, having to rush home from work to the farmhouse in Northamptonshire where he lived, change into his glad rags and drive quickly down the M1 to London. He made it in time, looking flushed but chic in evening dress. And wellies.
East Horsley, Surrey
Sir, Oh dear, opera snobbery raises its ugly head again. Wearing black tie is not the only, or the best, way for an audience to show its appreciation of the performers. Joining the company’s friends helps to pay for more works and performances. I am sure most artists do not care what the audience is wearing, as long as there is enough work to pay their mortgage.
As for WNO being some kind of oiks’ alternative, I would rather hear Bryn Terfel singing Hans Sachs with a dedicated, enthusiastic company in its beautiful modern opera house than sit through a dreary overpriced performance in a stuffy theatre with an equally stuffy audience.
Sir, I am curious to know how your correspondent (letter, Apr 26) shows appreciation to opera performers by wearing his black tie in the dark, as the house lights will be down when audience and performer are connected. I appreciate the performers by paying for my seat and turning up; I do this at ROH, ENO and WNO on a regular basis, but feel no need to dress up, and have never met a performer who felt applauded by the audience’s apparel.
I go to the opera because I love it, not in order to be seen there. The latter way of thinking only fuels the dangerous myth that opera is elitist.
Sir, Some years ago I had a similar experience to Charlotte Farris (letter, Apr 29) who was mistaken for a gardener at Glyndebourne.
I was in my clapped-out old car on the way to Glyndebourne to see a production of Carmen with one of Peter Hall’s earlier wives in the lead role. Being young and not much given to forward planning, I decided to stop near Lewes at a pick-your-own place for strawberries to augment my picnic supper.
The sales assistant was chatting to me while taking my money. Noticing my black tie attire — with dinner jacket trousers now muddied at the knees — the assistant asked where I was going. When I said Glyndebourne she immediately asked me what instrument I played. It took me a bemused second or two to catch up with her assumption that I was in the orchestra.
Dr Antony Roberts
St Cross South Elmham, Norfolk
Sir, All teachers will have been disturbed by Ann Maguire’s death
and the manner of it (“Boy, 15, stabs teacher to death in classroom”,
Teacher management, Ofsted and government may tell those threatened and psychologically overtaxed like the schoolmaster-author of “The truth about knives in class” (Times2, Apr 30) and like many others embattled and sorely tried in the same situation that support is always at hand, but the truth is: a teacher is always on his/her own in the classroom.
Long experience tells me that fashionable, so-called supportive panaceas are irrelevant. Ways of doing a demanding, very important job have to be found. The power of a teacher’s autonomous skills deserve credence and respect. The spirit of Ann Maguire’s effort and contribution must not be forgotten.
Ackworth, W Yorks
Sir, Many will be grateful to Chris Packham for highlighting the plight of migratory birds in Malta (Apr 28). Perhaps we could help to end the slaughter by all choosing, as I have done, not to go to Malta for holidays.
We should resist any move by religious radicals to relegate our daughters to “the back of the class”
Sir, Janice Turner (Apr 26) hit the nail on the head. As a nation which has striven to give equal chances to women we should resist any move by religious radicals to relegate our daughters to “the back of the class”. Let’s stop bending over backwards to appease their intolerance.
Sir, Boris Johnson says there is no tree in this country older than 200 years. Perhaps his father, a trustee of Plantlife International, could tell him that this is b******s.
Sir, In suggesting that there is no such thing as ancient woodland because there’s no tree in this country more than 200 years old, Boris Johnson shows that he cannot distinguish between the wood and the trees.
Sir, Did the RMT plan to sabotage every London student’s results at GCSE, AS or A level next week by calling a strike as the exams start, or is it just incompetent, failing to realise the importance of these dates?
SIR – You report that red deer in the Czech Republic are not straying into Germanyin spite of theborder fence having been removed 25 years ago.
This is not a new phenomenon. Herdwick sheep in Cumbria have been hefted on the hill for centuries; the ewes and their offspring do not stray from the area where they were born. If they are moved, they tend to find their way home.
SIR – Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor, has heralded new cuts to prevent “legal aid abusers” tarnishing the justice system. Specific restrictions were said to be justified to restrict judicial reviews “instigated by pressure groups, designed to force the Government to change its mind over properly taken decisions by democratically elected politicians”.
Today, in a critical report, the cross-party Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), of which I am a member, rejects the Government’s case. We reject, as being without foundation, the premise that judicial review is abused by pressure groups, and we express concern about the role of the Lord Chancellor. Judicial review sees people seek redress for unlawful Government action. Proposals which may limit access should be treated with caution.
Parliament, not the Government, must determine whether these changes are justified. The emerging cross-party consensus suggests that the Government needs to go back to the drawing board lest it cause lasting constitutional harm.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC
Rugby fan segregation
SIR – I am registered as a volunteer for the Rugby World Cup. The idea that rugby fans need to be, or should be, separated for any reason is anathema to the culture and ideology of the sport.
We are not football fans, and never will be. If this goes ahead, I will look at whether I want to be a volunteer – segregation of fans is not what rugby is about.
Dr Sheila Child
SIR – Half the fun of watching rugby is the banter between fans. I remember going to Twickenham to see England play France. When the French side scored a try, a Frenchman seated behind me grabbed my hat, threw it in the air, caught it, and then put it back on my head. We all laughed.
To be in England
SIR – Daphne MacOwan doubts Nick Clegg’s love for England. I can assure her that he, like me, has a deep love for England. Perhaps one demonstration of this is that we choose to live in England.
Mike Thornton MP (Lib Dem)
Good South African life
SIR – Edward Dale’s sad letter is not a true view of the whole of South Africa. I lived there for many years after Nelson Mandela’s victory, and have seen the country make enormous strides forward. Of course there are problems, as there are in Britain and in America.
I am flying to South Africa today to help my son and wife settle into a new home – they love living in the modern state. The Queen is right to congratulate the country on 20 years of democracy.
SIR – I enjoy barbecued food, and often cook this way instead of using an oven. Unfortunately, I am left with a sack of small powdery charcoal pieces that stifle the barbecue. Is there a use for them?
Justified HS2 fears
SIR – Boris Johnson believes that those opposed to the HS2 rail project are worried only about its impact on property values.
While there will be young people who wish to upgrade their homes, many have no intention of moving. In fact, reduced property values may lower my council taxes and inheritance tax, which will be beneficial to my children.
I assume that Mr Johnson’s new attitude means he is now happy for the expansion of Heathrow to proceed, as his Nimby accusations can apply equally to his and his constituents’ arguments against this far more important investment in our economic future.
HS2 is fatally flawed: it cannot deliver the predicted economic resurgence in the Midlands and North of England.
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire
Care home choices
SIR – I agree with Sheila and John Murray that recent events bring into sharp focus the intense challenges disabled people and their families face. For disabled people, just getting support to get up, dressed and out of the house can be a battle. Things need to change.
Disabled people are campaigning against old-fashioned services that only provide support if you hand over your right to decide where, and with whom, you live. Some of our care homes are set up that way, so we’re proposing to close them.
Even those with the most complex of needs can make choices about their life. But we know change is difficult. We’re speaking to families so that they can have their say. If we go ahead, we’ll support families to work with local bodies to find alternatives that are right for them.
Archers off target
SIR – Not so long ago, listeners to the Archers were confronted with the tragic death of Nigel Pargetter, having fallen from the roof of his house. Many found that very distressing, especially coming around Christmas, and complaints were made.
Now, when we expected the wedding of the year, Tom jilts Kirsty at the altar – or, more specifically, in the vestry.
Why cannot the scriptwriters provide the listeners with a few happy events?
A tunnel past Stonehenge is urgently needed
SIR – Sarah Robinson decries sinking the A303 road into a tunnel “as it will deny travellers a view of Stonehenge”.
For the people who live in this area and endure the year-round misery that this road brings, the last thing we care about is the travellers’ view. This is the only A road into the South West and, for much of the year, it is gridlocked over the single-lane section from Amesbury until the next dual-section 15 miles later, with the Stonehenge stretch nearly stationary for most of the year. The road is intolerable for the hundreds of thousands who use it to go on holiday to the West Country each year.
The single-lane section also has one of the highest fatal accident rates in the country. The situation is a national disgrace, and yet another review by the Department of Transport is worthless without Treasury funding.
When HS2 threatened to upset local Tory constituencies north of London, extra billions were quickly found to sink large stretches of the rail line underground.
We have a local joke that the only way to get this problem solved is to buy George Osborne, the Chancellor, a holiday home in south-west Wiltshire, requiring him to travel there on the A303. If this issue were not so serious, I could almost smile.
Cllr Christopher Devine
SIR – The rat runs that are becoming infamous make living near Stonehenge more and more difficult. We, and many locals, fully support the tunnel proposal and hope that it won’t be too long before it becomes a reality.
SIR – I agree with Philip Johnston on Stonehenge: views from the A303 should be conserved.
When tunnelling was last on the agenda, I visited Carnac and learnt of a similar threat of exclusion. There, Breton citizens occupied the visitors’ centre, bound it in rope and fishing nets, and frightened off the fonctionnaires.
Our visit to this amazing site was improved as a result.
SIR – Nima Sanandaji is right to say that Britain needs more innovative entrepreneurs. But his advice that government’s only role in this is to cut taxes and “do as little as possible” is not borne out by the evidence.
The hotbed of entrepreneurship in America is in high-tax, liberal California, not the small-government states of the South. California’s businesses have benefited from public research, large government contracts and supportive planning and labour rules. The technology revolution in Israel, whose entrepreneurs Mr Sanandaji praises, owes much to military funding of technology, the excellent technical training many Israelis receive in the army, and government schemes such as Yozma, that kick-started the country’s venture capital industry.
Even in Europe, government need not be the enemy of growth. Mr Sanandaji is unimpressed by the EU’s Lisbon Strategy to boost innovation. But the EU countries that have done well out of innovation, with high research and development rates and fast economic growth, include Sweden, Finland and Germany, whose governments work closely with businesses on research and development, not countries such as Spain, Greece and Italy, whose Governments do not.
Of course, bad government can stifle enterprise and hold back growth, but to assume all government is bad misunderstands how innovation happens.
Executive Director of Research, Nesta
SIR – Anyone put off by a top tax rate of 45p or capital gains tax of just 28 per cent is not an entrepreneur, just a selfish profiteer.
Enjoying the privilege of living in a civilised society has its costs. None of us likes paying taxes, or the way all governments waste our contributions, but business is about far more than the bottom line or lining one’s own pockets.
SIR – I was once invited to support a project to develop “entrepreneurship” in local schools, which was being run by the local, well-known business school.
I was told to report to a particular school, where desks were arranged to form a large boardroom table. When the pupils arrived, they were to be allocated to various posts such as chairman, finance director, human resources director and so forth.
I concluded from this that either I, or the business school in question, did not understand the concept of entrepreneur. I did not proceed further with the project.
J R Ball
SIR – “Entrepreneurialism is difficult to quantify,” says Nima Sanandaji. The simplest test to qualify for this title is to have risked your own money or assets to back your own innovation.
Most others are called managers.
Sir, – For at least five years the public, egged on by politicians, has been baying for the blood of the bankers on the understanding that they were the cause of all the ills that befell our economy.
Hopefully, Judge Nolan’s decision to highlight the role of the regulator in an illegal share support operation will be the start of a new focus on those truly responsible – the Government.
While there may have been some elements of criminality – yet to be fully uncovered – in the actions of bankers, the main reason behind their reckless lending was sheer stupidity. They decided, with the herd mentality that has always been a characteristic of that profession, that there would not be a downturn in the property market. This view was shared by thousands of borrowers and by a political caste which did not want to call an end to the party.
It is the regulator’s job to stand back from the crowd and consider the possible downside of actions taken by bankers, and to rein them in accordingly. Not only, as has been found in this case, did the regulator allow and encourage the Anglo Irish directors to give loans to support their share price, he also – and more damagingly – allowed the banks to build up massive exposure to a single sector of the economy and to relax lending rules to the extent that the smallest shock would inevitably lead to immense bad debts.
It is the Government which is ultimately responsible for failing to ensure that their regulator was competent. But not only did it fail to do so, it also ran the economy in a manner which fostered the banks’ ability to indulge in a lending splurge. Both those in charge at the time of the crash and the new political incumbents have attempted to exonerate themselves by blaming the bankers, and in the process have virtually encouraged reckless borrowers to renege on the debts they took on – at the expense of the taxpayers.
I would award the politicians a gold star for the success of their campaign to divert responsibility from where it really lies. Hopefully the Nolan judgement will mark the beginning of the end of this brainwashing. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Surely those who contributed to the financial destruction of the country from their positions in public jobs should not be rewarded for their incompetence. The state pension is all that they should receive, but I will not hold my breath for that measure to be implemented. Yours, etc,
Sir, – I agree with Judge Nolan’s decision not to jail the former directors of the failed Anglo Irish Bank. Our cultural environment at the time of the events contributed to behaviour that perhaps at a different time and in a different place would not have occurred. So what next? Certainly the premises of the regulator’s office should have a dressing down and operate out of some obvious inferior building and thus serve as a constant reminder not only of the financial crash and its impact. We might incorporate a new motto into its letterhead: (Invisible) money makes you mindless. Remember 2007. Yours, etc,
Sir, – So, it was a case of “the big boys made me do it”? Or if not the big boys, then perhaps the inadequate boys? The pronouncement by Judge Martin Nolan that one arm of the State could not punish an offence that was encouraged by another State body, namely the financial regulator’s office, disregards the well understood legal principle of “joint enterprise”.
It seems that the much loved loopholes enjoyed by the people who got us into this mess continue to be enjoyed when the State acts to try to hold some to account. Meanwhile, back in the non-loophole world, poor people are threatened with jail with no possibility of excuse if they don’t pay property tax, TV licences or water tax. This is no republic. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Re the non-jailing of the two Anglo-Irish executives, can we take it that ignorance of the law will now be regarded as a mitigating factor in white collar crimes? It certainly doesn’t seem to apply in other areas of our legal system. Yours, etc,
Sir, – So it’s clear. The function of very costly corporate lawyers is to give advice which if found to be wrong will ensure you don’t go to jail for your part in bankrupting a country. No wonder we were, and probably still are, regarded as the “Wild West” of finance. Some times you just can’t help but feel ashamed to be Irish. Yours, etc,
Sir, – The inaction and/or incompetence of a state agency and its servants is now an excuse for a non-custodial sentence. I look forward to future judgements in relation to memb ers of marginalised communities where surely it can be argued that the State has failed to provide adequate health, education and recreational amenities. Yours, etc,
Sir, – When I was a child I never got away with something on the grounds that “he made me do it”, nor with saying “I didn’t know it was his”. When we played football next to a neighbour’s window, the fact that I didn’t kick the fateful shot didn’t absolve me of my collective responsibility. Common sense arguments with a child. However, in the adult world all of this is turned on its head. I am looking forward to Judge Nolan absolving petty criminals on the grounds that their motive wasn’t greed or avarice but feeding their child. But no: one law for the rich and another for the rest of us. Yours, etc,
GEARÓID Ó LOINGSIGH,
Sir, – Perhaps the current pause in the farcical Middle East peace talks will finally mean a dose of reality can be brought into the discussions.
There can never be a two-state solution, not because both people can’t live in peace, although the Arabs seem to have more difficulty with the concept of peace than Israelis do, which is probably because of their jealousy at the success of the Israeli state over the last 60-plus years.
The real reason is because the two-state solution has never been credible but no one has had the honesty to point this out. A Palestinian state can never be self-sufficient or sustainable, even if its political class wasn’t corrupt on a scale that would make their African counterparts blush, because the very notion of what would form that state makes it impossible. No state split in two parts the way the proposed Palestinian state would be can be a success.
However, the elephant in the room that no one seems to want to recognise is that the solution is quite easy. Gaza should become part of Egypt and the West Bank should become part of Jordan, the countries which annexed these areas in 1948 anyway, without any objection from Palestinians then. There is no difference between a Palestinian and a Jordanian: they are both from the same tribe. Then full citizenship should be offered to Palestinians in Egypt and Jordan with a set window of opportunity for anyone who wants to move between Gaza and the West Bank before their citizenship is fixed.
The nonsensical right of return policy for Arabs should end because if Arabs can make such a claim, then it stands to reason that all the Jewish people who have been expelled and had their property seized in Arab countries should also have a right of return and receive compensation for their losses. Jerusalem should then be formally split into two, with half in Israel and half in Jordan.
Both sides will have to suck it up and accept compromises on where that line is drawn, with Arabs losing the chip on their shoulder and dealing with the anti-Semitism that is endemic within their culture and Israelis also giving up a few sacred cows, especially among the settler community. They should also forget this voodoo rubbish that God intended them to live in a certain place.
The international community can stump up the costs involved in moving people and businesses where required and providing grants for new communities. The agreement, which should require an explicit recognition of Israel and the right of her people to live in peace, should be ratified in each country by referendum and formally supported by the UN, EU and the Arab League.
Then western aid, which currently disappears into a black hole of Palestinian corruption and never makes it to the people it is intended to help, together with billions from the oil-rich Arab countries, can be used to provide the physical infrastructure and civil society structures each community will need to bed in these changes.
Solving the Middle East crisis doesn’t need a messiah. It just needs a bit of truth-telling to both sides and someone with the guts to admit that the two-state solution was never credible. It’s time to stop wasting everyone’s time and focus on the solution that is realistic and can work. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Boaz Modai (Letters, April 30th) feels that the notion of a “right of return” to lands from which Palestinians were forced to flee in 1948 is “absurd”. Obviously this does not apply to the Jewish diaspora, who continue to return each year to their historical homeland, with which many have only the most tenuous of connections. The fact that Mr Modai is writing in his professional capacity as ambassador of Israel indicates that this is an official position.
I think Mr Modai’s letter tells us more about Israeli attitudes to Palestinian aspirations than his diatribe does about Mr Abbas’s attitude to Israel. Yours , etc,
Sir, – Anne McCluskey (Letters, April 29th) presents a list of practical difficulties associated with teaching young children but fails to mention the one hurdle we have all experienced in many subjects, namely poor quality of teaching. Ms McCluskey is so busy, as she says, putting out bins and unblocking toilets she probably has no time to do her annual staff appraisals. In every profession there are the successful, the less successful and the unsuccessful, and it is this last group which requires the closest monitoring, and if necessary advice and counselling about a career change. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Higher level or ordinary level leaving certificate maths for prospective primary teachers is not the question. The question is how one adult can choreograph meaningful learning experiences for 30-plus children whose problems may include ADHD, dyslexia, autism and general learning difficulties (this is not an exaggeration) as well as handling the usual mixed range of abilities. Excellent new approaches to numeracy have been developed, approaches which would enable any teacher to be an effective maths teacher and which would break the tyranny of bad textbooks, but quality teaching and learning in maths can only become the norm if teachers have smaller classes and children with special needs have more support. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Ruairí Quinn’s comment that honours maths should be required for primary teachers was on a par with Sheila Nunan’s assertion that it was boys doing honours maths that caused the crash – both seem fairly nonsensical. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Once again (report, April 30th) Aosdána circles its wagons and complains about “hostile scrutiny” from the media. This is an organisation that seems to do little except perpetuate cliques and argue shrilly for support from the taxpayer.
It’s good to see one of its number (James Hanley) suggest that there could be better communication about what it actually does. It has certainly, for example, helped many fine artists create full-time rather than dissipate their energies elsewhere.
But how many? Aosdána is often referred to as an Irish equivalent of the Académie Française. It has 40 members from a population of 65 million while Aosdána has 248 members from a population of six million. Yours, etc.
JOHN P O’SULLIVAN,
Saval Park Crescent
Sir, – Is there any reason not to believe that the number of distinguished individuals capable of accounting for important output, prestige and making a credible difference to the stature of the arts in Ireland is closer to 25 than 250 persons? Should Mr Deenihan be spending taxpayers’ money more strategically? Yours, etc,
Sir, – In response to Robin Heather’s question about the use of mobile phones while driving (Letters, April 29th) the answer is that it is never safe to use a mobile phone when driving, whether hands-free or otherwise. Repeated studies have shown that holding a telephone conversation while driving is seriously detrimental to concentration. To justify endangering every other road user with the excuse that you have a business to run is simply not acceptable. Yours, etc,
Sir, – One of the features of modern professional football is the frequency with which inane comments are touted as though they were pearls of supreme wisdom. Thus when Vincent Browne, who really should know better, quotes Jamie Carragher as saying “If you assemble a squad of players with talent and the right attitude and character, you’ll win more football matches than you lose” you can almost hear football fans up and down the country nodding sagely and commenting “That’s a good point and well made.” Yet it is surely akin to an athletics writer saying “If you are faster than the other competitors you will win more races than you lose.” In this environment Mary Hannigan stands out like a shining beacon in a sea of clichéd mediocrity. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Perhaps Conar Dunne (Letters, April 30th.) would be kind enough to let me know where on YouTube he found the concerts from the National Concert Hall in Dublin. I have been unable to find them.
In the meantime he might like to think about this simple comparison. At €9.40 for 20 the cost of a single cigarette is 47 cent. The daily cost of a TV licence is just under 44 cent, for which we get the service of three TV stations (not two as he states), plus the RTÉ radio stations, for which no charge is made. The value of the stations he “doesn’t want” is the same value one attaches to having our own newspapers, which compared to newspapers elsewhere are inordinately expensive. Their “value” is that they reflect us and our own values and concerns, warts and all. Mr Dunne might also consider that the “wonderful concerts” at the NCH to which he refers are given predominantly by the two orchestras and other performing groups (including the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, the members of which are unpaid), which are funded and managed by RTÉ, from the 44 cent a day that it costs the licence fee payer. Surely all this is worth more than the cost of a cigarette? Yours, etc,
Sir, – John K Rogers (Letters, April 30th) suggests that the number of non-nationals in European rugby club sides should be kept to three or four players. Sad to say, this is not going to happen. At least 10 of the Toulon team that beat Munster were non-French. With professionalisation the game has changed irrevocably and there is no going back. C’est la vie ! Yours, etc,
Beggars Bush Court,
Published 01 May 2014 02:30 AM
* The response of Labour spokespersons to the unorthodox bombshell from Phil Prendergast has not been ‘pathetic’ but ‘bathetic’ – ie, bordering on farce.
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Unquestionably, Ms Prendergast has broken a key clause in the ‘omerta’ or ‘bushido’ of Irish political parties. It goes back to the days in the 1920s, when deviating from party discipline could, quite literally, be a matter of life and death.
However, we live in very different times. We are still in a life-and-death battle for the survival of this nation – for whatever flexibility in determining our way of life is possible in the 21st Century.
Curiously, despite innumerable lectures from ministers as to how little we, the peasantry and the proletariat, understand the ‘gravity’ of the situation, this Government, its Taoiseach and Tanaiste, have never tried seriously to spell it out and to include us – as mature adults – completely in the struggle.
Grotesquely, the only Taoiseach ever to attempt that was CJ Haughey! Of all people! Even my political soul-guide, Garret FitzGerald, was too busy after he got his seal of office in 1982 to make that politically crucial gesture of inclusion.
If, in the distant past, Irish voters lost the run of themselves and voted emotionally rather than rationally, we have learnt a great deal very rapidly.
But too many of our 20th-Century vintage politicians have learnt nothing.
The polls (and one must always study several polls and the ‘trend’ rather than once-off peaks and troughs) indicate not only that Labour support has slid inexorably towards single figures but that support or tolerance for all three-and-a-third ‘main’ parties could be only barely 51pc.
There is profound disillusion and lack of confidence in our politics. One factor in this is that those parties have not treated us as adults with whom the facts must be shared fully.
The wonderful banquet at Windsor Castle reminded me of nothing so much as Versailles before the 1789 revolution. Of the last paragraph in George Orwell‘s ‘Animal Farm’, in which the animals, (meaning ‘the people’), look through the triple-glazed windows and cannot tell the difference between their old and new masters.
Phil Prendergast and Nessa Childers have broken the old canonical rules but they have pointed the way to a possible new politics – and thus deserve our votes.
Maurice O’Connell, Tralee, Co Kerry
THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
* I’d like to ask a question about Paddy O’Brien’s God-slamming letter (April 30).
Mr O’Brien writes: “Of all the millions of species of life that exist on Earth, man in his present form is a very recent arrival and we represent less than 10pc of all life on this planet; insects represent about 80pc of life here.
“Man has everything in common with animals – he reproduces in the same manner; he must eat, drink and breathe to stay alive; he has the same internal organs as an animal. All life is related, and all living things on Earth, from microbes to elephants and everything in between, will die, decompose and turn to dust.”
Does Paddy’s flanking this simple, widely acknowledged fact with the first line of ‘The Little Book of Atheist Platitudes’, that “Man invented God”, prove that God does not exist?
Or, rather, does it point to some intrinsic order and consistency in nature that is entirely, fundamentally at odds with the commonly held atheist affirmation that the universe, our lives, and everything in them are entirely random, chance events, devoid of meaning and substance?
It seems to me that, far from disproving the existence of something bigger than himself running the show, Mr O’Brien just worked out for himself Aquinas’ ex contingentia proof of the existence of a deity: that of the ordered line through nature which we call God.
Killian Foley-Walsh, Kilkenny City
KEEP THE LETTERS COMING
* The ongoing debate on God in your letters page, for which I thank you, and enjoy, reminds me of an incident in the life of Ballyshannon poet William Allingham.
Circa 1800s, a Ballyshannon newspaper was in danger of closing, and Allingham and a friend began a campaign of writing letters on controversial matters.
The response and counter-responses proved so interesting to readers that the newspaper survived.
Declan Foley, Adelaide, Australia
* With another full month of political promises/waffle/baby-kissing/ posing/backtracking on new taxes and false smiles before the public decides who gets to the new councils and who will board the Brussels gravy train, the fighting and arguing has hit new lows among the parties.
Usually it’s the “know-alls” in each party tearing into the opposition. Now we have the spectacle of the party faithful arguing among themselves and gunning for their own leaders. In the words of S Jerzy Lec: “The only fool bigger than the person who knows it all, is the person who argues with the fool.”
Can’t argue with that.
Sean Kelly, Tramore, Waterford
RADICAL IDEA ON GENDER QUOTAS
* A simple if seemingly radical change to our electoral system would ensure equal male/female representation in the Dail.
If constituency boundaries were redrawn and an even number of seats allocated to each constituency, then half of the seats in each constituency could be designated ‘Male’ and half ‘Female’.
At election time, voters would complete two ballot papers – one for the male candidates and one for the female candidates. This would ensure equal representation in the Dail.
Fred Meaney, Dalkey, Co Dublin
YOU GET WHO YOU VOTE FOR
* In response to the letter (April 30) regarding nepotism in Irish politics, one would have to acknowledge the importance of the voters in electing TDs. It is fair to say that family ties play a part in Irish politics but Irish politics is not alone in that sphere.
Ireland is synonymous with family businesses being passed down generation to generation without question. People aren’t handed seats in Dail Eireann, but merely given the platform to obtain one. It’s the voter who decides and you get who you vote for.
Ronan Herlihy, Nenagh, Co Tipperary
BETTER USE OF TAXPAYERS’ MONEY
* Eamon Delaney’s article (Irish Independent, April 29), ‘Elitist Aosdana corners market in art of living off the State’, demands an urgent and reforming response from the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Aosdana is a society with no obligation towards public accountability or transparency. It has no public mandate, other than the distribution of tax-free stipends.
This year, €2.6m of taxpayers’ money is being paid to 157 artists, comprising 60pc of Aosdana membership. Many are unknown to the public and many others are past their creative prime. Stipends are to ‘honour’ past accomplishments, not to stimulate new output.
Should the State also provide life-long tax-free stipends to reward the past glory of other pillars of society, from fields such as science, the humanities and social sciences?
Should Mr Deenihan be spending taxpayers’ money and public debt more strategically?
Myles Duff6y, Glenageary, Co Dublin