7May2014 Peter

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate a part is ordered for a Wellington bomber Priceless

Go and visit Mary Peter arrives does some plastering

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Antony Hopkins – obituary

Antony Hopkins was a composer and conductor whose infectious enthusiasm animated his BBC broadcasts for four decades

Antony Hopkins

Antony Hopkins Photo: LEBRECHT

7:25PM BST 06 May 2014

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Antony Hopkins, the composer and conductor, who has died aged 93, was best known for Talking About Music, the broadcast talks he gave on the BBC (and in 44 countries to which they were syndicated) from 1948 until 1992 — when they were discontinued as too elitist for the modern image of radio.

Hopkins’s ability to dissect a composition in intelligible technical language, with piano illustrations which he played himself and extracts from recordings, was appreciated by millions of listeners who were thereby enabled to understand music more fully.

One of radio’s great communicators, in the tradition of Sir Walford Davies, he modestly said that lecturing was an expedient forced on him as a cover-up for his “abysmally insecure” piano technique; it enabled him to skip all the bits he could not play, or to play them slowly under the pretext of analysis.

Hopkins’s gifts as a communicator also made him an obvious choice for children’s concerts such as the two series under the auspices of Sir Robert Mayer and Ernest Read. But he ruefully remarked that in Britain (although not in Japan and Australia) he was never offered engagements for adult concerts because the label of “children’s concert conductor” was so firmly attached to him.

Antony Hopkins was born Antony Reynolds on March 21 1921 at Enfield, son of Hugh and Marjorie Reynolds. His father was a gifted amateur pianist who worked as a schoolteacher and freelance writer but had very poor health. In 1925 he took his wife and their four children to live in Italy, and died that year in Genoa aged 34.

His penurious widow returned to England. On the advice of the former headmaster of Berkhamsted School, where her husband had been a pupil, she went to see the current headmaster Charles Greene (father of Graham Greene), who introduced her to one of the housemasters, Major Thomas Hopkins, and his wife. They volunteered to take five-year-old Antony under a joint guardianship agreement. Seven years later they officially adopted him and he took the name of Hopkins. Mrs Hopkins adored animals, and from her Antony acquired his passionate love of horses and dogs.

Antony Hopkins conducting ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Royal Albert Hall in 1982

After attending Berkhamsted’s preparatory school, Hopkins entered the senior school as a day boy. At that time, riding took precedence over piano-playing. But in 1937 he went to Schwaz on the Innthal in Austria to a summer school for pianists. Hearing an Austrian musician play Schubert’s Op 90 Impromptus filled Hopkins with the desire to be a musician. He went to a private piano teacher in London and also began to compose. On leaving Berkhamsted in 1938 he spent a short time as a master at Bromsgrove School, where he was able to attend concerts by the City of Birmingham Orchestra.

A cartilage operation as a boy had rendered Hopkins unfit for military service (although he later served in the Home Guard), and in September 1939 he entered the Royal College of Music. He studied harmony with Dr Harold Darke and composition with Gordon Jacob but found the piano tuition inadequate.

A chance meeting with Cyril Smith, to whom he had once written a fan letter, led to occasional lessons at the pianist’s home and also to his winning the college’s Mathilde Verne piano scholarship. He later became accompanist in Dr Reginald Jacques’s choral class and rehearsal pianist for the Bach Choir, of which Jacques was then conductor.

Despite twice failing his teacher’s diploma exams, Hopkins won the college’s Chappell Gold Medal for piano (he would not have done so, he said, in anything but wartime conditions). As a result he was invited to give a recital, in May 1943, at Dame Myra Hess’s National Gallery lunchtime concerts. He also enrolled at Morley College to sing in the choir under Michael Tippett, then director of music, in works by Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Weelkes and Purcell.

Later Hopkins said he had learned more about music from Tippett than from anyone. They became friends, and Tippett advised him about his compositions. Hopkins sang in the chorus at the first performance of Tippett’s oratorio A Child of Our Time in 1944 and remembered how the orchestra behaved badly at the final rehearsal, showing hostility to the music and to the composer, who had recently been in prison for failing to comply with the orders of a conscientious objectors’ tribunal.

In 1944 Hopkins wrote the incidental music for a Liverpool production of Marlowe’s Dr Faustus (a commission turned over to him by Tippett) and this was followed by Louis MacNeice’s request for music for two radio plays. More BBC work followed, plus Hopkins’s first involvement with a London theatre production, Oedipus Rex with Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and Sybil Thorndike.

Within three years Hopkins had 19 radio-drama scores to his credit, including one for Moby Dick. He toured France and Switzerland for the British Council as accompanist to the soprano Sophie Wyss, for whom Britten had written some of his early works. Music for the film Vice Versa followed.

In 1947 his one-act comic opera Lady Rohesia, from The Ingoldsby Legends, was produced at Sadler’s Wells to public approval and critical distaste and he was sent on a lecture tour of Germany by the Foreign Office. He also took over from Herbert Howells as lecturer on general musical topics at the Royal College of Music.

Hopkins’s gifts were noticed by the BBC producer Roger Fiske, who invited him to give a series of broadcast talks called Studies in Musical Taste. From these developed Talking About Music, in which a work to be broadcast during the week was discussed and analysed.

While continuing to compose during the 1950s — notably a successful short opera called Three’s Company, about life in an office, and music for the Peter Ustinov film Billy Budd — Hopkins also travelled far and wide as an adjudicator. In 1964 he spent six months as visiting professor of composition at the University of Adelaide.

In Britain he taught at the Royal College of Music, but was disappointed by the standard of entrants. He told the official who allocated pupils to teachers: “Either they must be very talented or very pretty. Otherwise I won’t take them on.”

In 1973 he adjudicated in Hong Kong and lectured in Japan, where he was awarded the City of Tokyo Medal for services to music. He returned to Hong Kong in 1979 to conduct its Philharmonic Orchestra.

Hopkins also wrote many books, several of them deriving from his BBC scripts, such as Talking About Symphonies (1961); Talking About Concertos (1964); and Talking About Sonatas (1971). Others included Music All Around Me (1967); Understanding Music (1979); The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven (1981); Songs for Swinging Golfers (1981); and The Concertgoer’s Companion (two volumes, 1984 and 1986). His autobiography, Beating Time, appeared in 1982.

He twice won the Italia Prize for radio programmes (1951 and 1957), and was appointed CBE in 1976.

Hopkins never regarded himself as an important composer, but his music has considerable charm and tunefulness. His gift for parody also ensured that much of it was witty. But it was as a lecturer and broadcaster that the warmth of his personality and his infectious enthusiasm, backed by expert knowledge, endeared him to listeners. A CD of some of his music was released to celebrate his 90th birthday.

He loved fast cars and lived for most of his life at Ashridge, near Berkhamsted, in the house which his adoptive parents had converted from two derelict cottages.

In 1947 he married the soprano Alison Purves, with whom he had fallen in love as a schoolboy when she sang in musical comedy. She died in 1991, and he married secondly, in 2012, Beatrix Taylor, who survives him.

Antony Hopkins, born March 21 1921, died May 6 2014


There may be many reasons to spread school holidays more evenly (Heads debate changes to long summer break, 5 May). However, to suggest that this would “reduce the holiday price premium” is disingenuous. In the absence of any regulation of the travel industry, all that would happen is that the holiday price premium season would be extended to cover any period when schools could conceivably be on holiday.
Ghislaine Peart

• While having great respect for Rebecca Green and her role as a death doula (A friend at the end, G2, 5 May), as a hospice worker of 20 years’ experience I cannot agree that we encourage patients “to die dying – doing as they’re told”. I would like to draw attention to what Dame Cecily Saunders said: “You matter because you are you and you matter to the last moment of your life. We will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die.”
Delphine Howarth
Bednall, Staffordshire

• Natalie Haynes (Why Greeks rule the stage, 5 May) rightly seeks to rehabilitate Medea, but we should remember that Medea wasn’t a Greek but a so-called barbarian from Colchis, the present day Republic of Georgia. The Greeks demonised her. While researching my book, Please Don’t Call it Soviet Georgia, I found that, in Georgia, Medea is honoured as a healer and that many women bear her name.
Mary Russell

• Neither the merk, unicorn, testoon whole or half or connery, but surely the dram and the tot (A new currency for Scotland? Try the unicorn, G2, 6 May).
Emmeline Stevenson
Pencaitland, East Lothian

• Good grammar is particularly beneficial for getting laid if one studies Latin (Hadley Freeman, 2 May; Letters, 5 May): no classicist would decline sex.
Adelheid Russenberger

• In Cumbria, just north of Skiddaw, we have three low fells named Little Cockup, Cockup and Great Cockup (Letters, 6 May). How would one decide?
John Amos
Great Broughton, Cumbria

‘Because there are rich people in Cheshire and poor people in Kent does not mean there is no measurable difference between people in similar situations.’ Photograph: Don McPhee/

Strange to see Owen Jones (The north-south divide is a myth and a distraction, 5 May) following Tony Blair in dismissing the reality of the north-south divide.

Because there are rich people in Cheshire and poor people in Kent does not mean there is no measurable difference between people in similar situations. The 1980 Black report on inequalities in health (which the Conservative government tried to bury) showed that the mortality and morbidity rates for people in the same class and occupation were better for people in London and the south-east than in other regions.

More than 90% of non-university scientific research is spent in the so-called golden triangle between London, Cambridge and Oxford. The government spends twice as much on capital and revenue expenditure on transport in London compared with Greater Manchester and Merseyside or indeed any of our major regional centres. Astonishingly, 94% of capital expenditure on transport is spent on London. This is unjustifiable and unfair.

I have no disagreement with Owen Jones that power and wealth resides in too few hands and that this is our greatest problem, but this does not mean we should pretend that other inequities do not exist. He and John Denham are mistaken trying to bury this problem, and I and others will make sure it stays alive.
Graham Stringer MP
Labour, Blackley and Broughton

•  The north-south disparity is certainly not a myth. Look at regional per-head figures for the government’s capital projects spending, and for arts spending. But calling it a divide perpetuates the erroneous idea that it could be bridged by some link such as HS2. For the north, HS2 will be a massive waste of money. Northern railways, and the north in general, certainly need £50bn of investment – but not on a single line that will just make it easier to run everything everywhere from London headquarters.
Brian Hatton

• While pleased to see you give front-page space (3 May) to Britain’s poor performance in preventing deaths among children under five, and that inequality was mentioned in passing, we were disappointed that both the report and the accompanying analysis focused on poverty and deprivation as explanations. As long ago as 1992, research showed that even for families in the very top social class, babies were more likely to die in infancy in England and Wales than in more equal Sweden. Those deaths have little to do with poverty, deprivation or access to medical care.

Inequality damages health across the social spectrum because of its psychosocial impact. The recently published child mortality figures are significantly correlated with income inequality in rich, developed nations.

Research continues to demonstrate that in a more unequal society we are all, even at the top of the social ladder, affected by higher levels of stress and status anxiety. We must avoid conflating the effects of material poverty with those of inequality – both are bad for population health but they require different solutions.
Kate Pickett Professor of epidemiology, University of York
Nigel Simpson Senior lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology, University of Leeds
Richard Wilkinson Emeritus professor of social epidemiology, University of York

Your report on landlords (Evicted – ‘because I wanted hot water’, 3 May) underlined how market failure in the private rented sector perpetuates injustice. But interestingly, 56% of the population support rent controls, opening an opportunity to put the public interest before the landlords’ vested interest.

For instance, in Newcastle, some £32m a year in housing benefit is paid to private landlords with virtually no conditions. Yet barely a fraction of this vast taxpayer subsidy is reflected in property improvement or better tenancy management. Restructuring housing benefit rules to improve private rented housing is long overdue.

And although councils have a limited capability to take over landlords’ empty properties, why not transfer larger numbers of these homes to local co-ownership schemes or housing co-operatives? This could reverse the neighbourhood instability that extensive private landlordism produces.

Ensuring that buy-to-let options for absentee owners are available only to those who can manage properties in accordance with locally determined standards would also stabilise neighbourhoods.

It’s time for a radical decent homes standard to be applied to the private rented sector.
Cllr Nigel Todd
Deputy cabinet member (neighbourhoods), Newcastle city council

• This government seems spectacularly unable to tackle obscene housing/rental costs. I wonder if David Cameron et al have considered what will happen in a few years’ time when Generation Rent need to fund their own old-age care. Since all their money will have passed into the hands of landlords and other “fat cats”, they will have nothing to contribute. The whole care tab will have to be picked up by the taxpayer. I wonder if this has been factored into the government’s calculations. Do they know? Do they care?
Jeremy Blythe
Burrington, North Somerset

Alistair Richardson (Letters, 2 May) wonders why Canadians use “ae” at the end of a sentence, to elicit agreement. He wonders if it comes from the “Scottish diaspora”, but perhaps should say “Gàidhlig-speaking diaspora”. He might then realise that Gàidhlig, like that of most Romance languages, uses the device. The French language has n’est ce pas? and Gàidhlig has nach eil?, basically meaning “is that not so?”, as Richardson asserts. The confusion, as usual, comes from the influence of Gàidhlig on Scots, which is a dialect of English, not a language.

Indeed, here in the Dales, when asked if we want another drink, we invariably reply “Ae lad” or “Aye lad”. The spelling is irrelevant so “Ye ken whit ah mean, ae/aye?” is perfectly understandable to all English speakers when spoken. Perhaps a short course in elementary Gàidhlig and linguistics might help Mr Richardson, who could then consider spelling his name the Gàidhlig way, “Alasdair”!
John Vaughan
Hellifield, North Yorkshire

Vince Cable is correct to query whether an AstraZeneca/Pfizer merger would be in the national interest (Report, 28 April). But while debate has thus far been limited to Britain’s “science base” regarding jobs, wider national concerns are at stake.

British science is indeed about employees undertaking research, yet also about ethical practice. While comparing the research ethics approaches of manufacturers is not straightforward, Pfizer’s record of exploiting epidemics (decried by Médecins Sans Frontières), dead and brain-damaged children, and forged certification in clinical trials in west Africa (as reported in the Washington Post in 2006) is less than enviable. Repeats of such episodes within an Anglo-American project would damage “brand Britain” and UK scientists’ reputation around the world.

Closer to home, the clout of the larger pharmaceutical manufacturers enables them to influence UK regulation policies for safety and cost-effectiveness – as Professor John Abraham’s and others’ research demonstrates. Further expansion of the world’s largest drug company would grant Pfizer greater leverage upon policies regarding the scrutinising of drug safety (MHRA; EMA) and value for money (Nice). Patient safety and future cost-effectiveness of NHS spending would not accordingly be aided by the proposed merger, especially when the politics around pharmaceuticals is blinkered towards jobs.

It thus seems naive of Shapps to advocate this merger in “economic” terms, especially given the reluctance of Pfizer’s CEO to make promises about UK-based jobs and the recent history of the company’s research and development policies in east Kent.
Dr Patrick Brown
Assistant professor, Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam

•  A simple solution that would protect a vital centre of British research excellence and save the taxpayer billions: the NHS should create a non-profit pharmaceutical company, supplying direct to the NHS and competing in the world market. The drugs companies would be frightened into cutting their prices, because such a model would quickly be followed by most European nations. This would protect vital R&D excellence as the inherent idealism of scientists in the field would be maximised to be able to follow need rather than profit.
Professor Colin Pritchard
School of health and social care, Bournemouth University

• Any scrutiny of the bid by Pfizer for AstraZeneca on grounds of national interest (Report, 6 May) entails an examination of the tax implications. Mergers encouraged by tax rules in the 1960s and 70s were found to have been detrimental to corporate efficiency.

Britain is now perceived as a lax tax jurisdiction compared to the US. Pfizer could gain by taking advantage of lower corporation tax rates and the culture of hesitant enforcement of tax rules by HMRC by locating its tax affairs in the UK. In the New York Times (3 May), Steven Rattner points out that about two dozen US companies have changed tax residence through cross-border mergers since 2008.

Gaming of corporate tax rules to reduce the burden to Pfizer may not necessarily free more money for R&D. In fact the pressure to earn money through product innovation may even be reduced by increasing opportunity to earn money by the gaming of tax rules, and exercising greater market power in negotiations with healthcare providers.
SP Chakravarty

• On bank holiday Monday Pfizer announced a 15% fall in profits in the three months to the end of March compared with the previous year, to $2.3bn (£1.3bn). This was caused by falling revenues (down 9%) from patents expiring. It is still a profitable company, but shareholders will now be looking urgently for changes to cut costs and increase profits in the short term. Real risks to UK jobs – both research staff and in the factories – are obvious.

David Cameron’s initial enthusiasm for this deal now appears to have been naive. Grant Shapps’s comment that Labour’s proposal to toughen the rules was “anti-business, anti-jobs and anti-jobs security” now sounds foolhardy, putting short-term election politics above the UK’s long-term interests. The defence industry is subject to detailed investigation prior to government approval for external takeovers of this sort. The business secretary, Vince Cable, can intervene under the Enterprise Act. He should do so and ensure that the pharmaceutical and other key industries are also protected against unwelcome takeovers. We are one of the few industrial countries without such safeguards. Lack of protection endangers both our economic recovery and UK jobs.

Free trade is fine, but the UK must not become an open market for foreign companies to buy our best companies and patents at knockdown prices. Such prudent action should get support across all parties.
Brian Bean

• As an investor, I will be bitterly disappointed if Pfizer takes over AstraZeneca. Annual dividends of around £1.80 still seem worthwhile, even at the inflated share price near £50 today, while Pfizer’s dollar a share last year looks puny. Even if I were offered two Pfizer shares for each Astra share, I wouldn’t be interested. And as investment manager Neil Woodford has reportedly said: “A cashing-out exercise is no use to me – there isn’t another AstraZeneca out there.”

City speculators who want a cash payout may welcome the bid, but long-term investors will not. Of course, we know from the Royal Mail sell-off that government ministers don’t care about long-term investors – their pals in the City want short-term profits. Expect ministers to procrastinate while investors suffer.
Richard Cooper
Chichester, West Sussex

• Since Thatcher, the UK has been the global model for liberalisation, taking for granted that all investment opportunities will be open to transnational and foreign investors so completely that it is never even mentioned.

The results can be seen in the private sector, where we no longer own anything nationally. In the public sector, the involvement of transnational and foreign corporations in privatisations of whichever kind (contracting, sell-offs, PFIs) invokes international treaties that prevent reversals of the underpinning privatisations – even when people want them reversed.

It is time to articulate what liberalisation means, that it has been a political choice and that there are alternatives. The 51% domestic ownership that many other countries enforce would be one alternative.
Linda Kaucher

• The reluctance of Labour to adopt the radical policies based on fairness that, according to the polls, most of the electorate want is apparently partly based on the inevitable alarmist Tory response. This fear, however, is misguided, because whatever policies are chosen, the response is always the same. Even when Miliband proposes the eminently sensible tightening of the “rules to protect key British companies” the Tories take the predictable “anti-business, anti-jobs and anti-jobs security” stance (Coalition rift over £63bn offer for UK drugs group, 5 May),

Last week Labour’s very moderate rent proposals, which concentrated on limiting future increases rather than on reversing recent rent hikes, inspecting rented property and taxing profiteering landlords, received similar treatment, even stretching to “Venezuelan-style rent controls” from Shapps (Comment is free, 1 May).

Hopefully the Labour leaders will realise the obvious; no matter what the proposal, the Tory response will be hysterical, alarmist, or inaccurate, and possibly all three. Let them rant about “red Ed”, “communism” and “written by McCluskey” for all they’re worth, because it appears that is all the Tories have; they can hardly boast of fairness. Grasp the nettle, Mr Miliband, and let’s have ideas and policies that transform, not tinkering!
Bernie Evans

• It has been said that those who control the land control our stomachs. Therefore it is as important for Labour to press for a change in the law to create a new public interest test to cover not just British industry but British land too (Co-op farms could be sold to China as hopes of community buyouts die, 5 May).
Geoffrey Keith Naylor

• Nils Pratley refers to Pfizer as “seeking rent in a country where it has no roots” (3 May). But as a child in the early 60s, I played on fields opposite its Sandwich premises, later covered by massive expansion. Older companions assured me that, if you got close to the buildings, you could hear the screams of the monkeys. Despite these formative memories, I agree with Nils Pratley that Pfizer should not be allowed to get away with buying AstraZeneca as a tax dodge. The imposition of much higher UK tax rates on companies in those days clearly didn’t stunt their growth.
Vivienne Pay

• Cameron says “the decision on any merger is a decision for the two companies and their shareholders”. If the government won’t protect the interests of the British people, why vote for it?
Emma Tait

It is important that the Guardian continues to report on Venezuela. Inevitably many of the letters and reports from the west are often ideological and dismissive of the opposition, who, by the way, obtained over 7m votes in last year’s presidential election. Guardian reporters – for example, Seumas Milne and Jonathan Watts (18 April) – continue to label protesters as mainly well-to-do. And to claim, as heavily ideological Mark Weisbrot did(28 March), that this is a revolt of the rich shows how much he and many others, who presumably have never lived in a socialist state, fail to see the reality of insecurity as millions of Venezuelans do. To dismiss all these people who voted against Nicolás Maduro as dupes of US involvement is ludicrous. And I have seen the well-to-do, both non-Chavistas and the more recently arrived Chavista functionaries, with money in upscale places such as Altamira.

There is widespread discontent and apprehension in Venezuela. Various countries besides Cuba, whose economies benefit from subsidised Venezuelan oil, supply food and household items because the local Venezuelan industries, have been devastated by dreadful economic and political management. And the government continues to borrow money from China, adding to a huge foreign debt load.

People concerned about Venezuela must insist that the government listen to the opposition and find immediate ways of addressing insecurity, rehabilitate local industries and work for Venezuelan interests. The future of socialist governments lies not with allies such as the autocratic Cuban leaders, but with challenging dialogue between Venezuela and neighbouring countries.
Alan Carter
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

India must be a moral force

In your piece India struggles to assert its influence (18 April), Jason Burke gives a comprehensive overview of the challenges facing Indian foreign policy. However, the article considers these challenges only from an economic and security perspective. India might not match up to the economic and military might of its bigger neighbour, but the world’s largest democracy has great potential to be a strong moral force in the region.

Unfortunately, India fails to recognise its strengths and continues to conduct its foreign policy based on strategic concerns. India has made some wrong choices recently, such as opposing a UN resolution on Sri Lanka that authorised an international war crimes inquiry, and failing to take a strong stance against Bangladesh’s skewed elections.

India’s foreign policy should instead be driven by moral values and respect for human rights. Otherwise, its varied humanitarian efforts, such as providing healthcare for conflict-affected people in Afghanistan, and housing to war-displaced families in northern Sri Lanka, will be seen merely as a foreign policy tool. The world would also benefit immensely if India were to exercise its moral weight in strongly advocating for peace in places such as Syria.
Arjun Claire
Delhi, India

Warnings on climate change

With a growing sense of alarm, I have been reading the many dire warnings issued by climate change scientists recently (18 April). My alarm does not stem from the warnings themselves as much as from the complete lack of documented response by government bodies, activists and other members of the general public – the very people at whom these warnings are aimed. Is western society merely content to pass the climate change buck on to governments to address the problem? If so, this sentence should restore its sight: “even the simple statement that 70% of all emissions come from just 10 countries was deemed … naming and shaming”.

In other words, government, when faced with a terminal diagnosis for the planet, is only concerned about how this makes it look. Who would trust such image-obsessed sociopaths to do the job properly – a job upon which billions of lives depend? Who would not simply fire them?

Everyone on this planet is in a tight spot due to climate change. Everybody should be doing something, however small, to stop it. Everyone should be putting pressure on the people who have the power to do more. This job is important enough to do right, which means we must do it ourselves.
A Elliott
Berlin, Germany

• I was a little surprised to find the Guardian falling for the IPCC’s over-the-top call to action. Assuming global warming does do its worst, and most of Earth changes into a global Sonoran or Mojave desert, I can assure readers that a host of snakes, scorpions, lizards, ants and their fellow desert dwellers will be dancing in the streets.

OK, so our planet won’t look quite as green as it does now, but it certainly won’t become a lifeless and doomed world. There just won’t be any people around to screw it up any more.
Bob Eley
Campbellford, Ontario, Canada

A thing of great beauty

In an otherwise well-argued piece, critical of the attitude of Unesco, Simon Jenkins is guilty of seriously underestimating the thought that went into not rebuilding Coventry’s medieval cathedral, destroyed by German bombing in the second world war (25 April). It was not, as he casually puts it, an example of “leaving fragments of churches as witness to Britain’s obsession with war”. It was an attempt to both build something of great beauty in a 20th-century way while preserving the remains of the old.

More importantly, it was constructed as a symbol of reconciliation between former enemies. There is, as a matter of fact, a close connection between churches in Berlin, Volgograd and Coventry.

The church in Berlin, incidentally, had been bombed and is a preserved ruin, but has a new church built next to it.
David Townsend
Wellington, New Zealand


• As an avid reader of the Weekly and being particularly fond of that “last page”, I was thoroughly disappointed by Stuart Heritage’s rant about Prince George (25 April). It reminded me of a teenager, voicing his ferocious attitude towards everyone in order to appear cool. Is there really nothing else in today’s world to get annoyed about, other than a baby’s face? Yes, there is extensive coverage of the royal Australia experience but I’d much rather see hundreds more royal family pictures than read another of this cynic’s tirades.
Claudia Looms
Lemsel, Germany

• I enjoyed Oliver Burkeman’s article about the perspective that distance can create (25 April). However, I can’t help but wonder about the implications. Rather than figuratively moving to the other side of the world in order to appreciate our neighbour’s idea, could we not be mindful of the fact that we are biased against their creativity and listen all the more closely to their suggestions? Offering a cup of coffee and 20 minutes of time is much cheaper than return flights to Perth. Still, Western Australia is a great place for a holiday. We have stunning beaches, brilliant weather and a vibrant culture. And that’s from someone for whom it is the closest place in the world.
Edward Tikoft
Perth, Australia

• America’s support for Japan’s attempt to build a radar station on Yonaguni island is a bad omen (Roundup, 25 April). America’s action clearly indicates that the superpower is remilitarising Japan to spite China. The people of Australia, New Zealand and east Asia should be afraid for their futures.
Bill Mathew
Melbourne, Australia

As someone who struggled largely unsuccessfully to learn to write Chinese, I can say that Chineasy (18 April), despite the beautiful artwork, doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know before – that Chinese characters, like the letters of our alphabet, are derived from pictures.

However, only a few characters in common use are so simple: the average Chinese character is much more complex than those discussed in the article, and its origins are obscure to the average learner. I doubt whether artwork can help there.
Alec Rylands
Mugla, Turkey

• Your recent article (25 April) remarks upon the fact that one seldom, if ever, finds vegetables on menus in France. However, in all markets and supermarkets one sees magnificent vegetables of every kind, and when I stay with my family in France I thoroughly enjoy the high quality and variety. I even saw them growing in abundance when I visited Chateau de Miromesnil, Tourville-sur-Arques in 2012.
Katherine Du Plat-Taylor
Mold, UK

• CIA psychologist James Mitchell poses a lot of questions without answering them (25 April). If rather than “no” (as he expects), the answers are “yes”, then he is condemned through his own lips. As with any group that is not overseen by others outside itself, it may be all too easy for the CIA to believe unquestioningly its own rhetoric.
Adrian Betham
London, UK


We are Ukip members, candidates, spokespersons and representatives of the party’s broad range of supporters from minority ethnic and religious backgrounds. We support Ukip’s core values including its zero-tolerance approach to racism and discrimination, and, its commitment to withdrawal from the European Union.

We are deeply concerned about what appears to be a concerted effort by the media to misrepresent Ukip’s policy on immigration and to portray the party and its members as racist or xenophobic.

We have not faced discrimination within the party and we actively support the party’s practice of taking disciplinary action against any member who behaves in a discriminatory manner. Ukip has dealt rapidly with the small number of cases where such behaviour has taken place and has sent out a strong message that it will not be tolerated.

Ukip believes that immigration should be controlled by the UK government and not the EU. Migrants of all origins should have the right to apply to live and work in the UK and be entitled to equality of treatment secured by a points-based system without positive discrimination for those from EU member states. Ukip has never sought to abolish immigration, encourage repatriation, apportion blame or attack migrants or their families.

Increasingly Ukip members are becoming subject to physical and verbal abuse. Members from minority backgrounds who have faced genuine racist abuse are now abused by our opponents. Many have also suffered the humiliation of being called “Uncle Toms” or apologists for a racist party. This level of abuse is unacceptable in a modern democracy. We call on all those who wish to have a mature debate on immigration to cease perpetuating the falsehood that Ukip is “racist”, its members “xenophobic”. We demand opponents no longer engage in physical or verbal abuse and support Ukip in fighting to rid politics of racism, discrimination and sectarianism.

Steven Woolfe, Economics Spokesman, Amjad Bashir, Small Business Spokesman, Winston McKenzie, Commonwealth Spokesman, Andrew Charalambous, Housing Spokesman, and 46 others

UK Independence Party

One can’t help but smile at the predicament Nigel Farage and his party are in.

Ever since Nick Griffin won a seat in the European Parliament the whole establishment has gone out of its way to promote Ukip as a nicer alternative to the BNP, and how Nigel Farage revelled in his new-found popularity. He, or his party, were never off the BBC, from radio interviews to an unprecedented 12 invitations to Question Time .

His ratings soared, but the price paid is too much for the main three parties now that they too are losing votes to their Ukip project. The political establishment has now turned on him, branding his party racist.

They saw Ukip as a means to deal with the BNP but not as a threat to their own cosy positions. Can’t have him taking votes off Labour, Conservative or the soon-to-be-forgotten Lib Dems! No, sir!

How pathetic but predictable.

Helen Carden, Stockport, Greater Manchester

Richard Grant (letter, 6 May) points out that the UK is the third biggest member of the EU, and if we were seen to be leading the EU everyone would be happy, so why don’t we do it?

Indeed, as the third biggest member we have the third largest number of MEPs within the European Parliament, and qualified majority voting gives us equal weighting in the Council of Ministers with France, Germany and Italy, higher than all remaining member states.

But, given Ukip MEPs’ poor attendance at the European Parliament, and their tendency to vote against everything the EU proposes on principle when they do attend, the more Ukip MEPs we elect, the less influence we will have.

This is presumably more of their not-so-cunning plan to build a case against our membership on the grounds of our supposed inability to resist the power of Brussels.

Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon

Economy recovers, but wages falter

Your economics correspondents have drawn attention to how low wages are fuelling a false recovery, where the economy seems to improve but living standards for most people do not.

Increasing use of zero-hours contracts and other tricks which lower the take-home income of ordinary workers means that labour becomes cheaper relative to capital, and there is therefore more incentive to use it as fully as possible. So of course unemployment figures fall, and the number of “real” jobs (properly paid, rewarding skilled full-time work) falls too.

Using the tricks of the trade to lower wages also encourages lower productivity – because the incentive to invest in skills and technology is reduced. This may, of course, not apply in advanced technology manufacturing. But surely it must apply in most sectors of the economy: low wage levels and worsening working conditions are at least  one of the explanations  of the palsied levels  of productivity growth  in the UK.

Chris Farrands, Nottingham

Tories try to scare Scotland

Having worked on the preparation of UK national Budgets for much of my working life, I am irked when I hear the likes of Danny Alexander spouting figures condemning Scotland to financial disaster if it votes for independence. He has no experience of producing these figures, he is simply reading from a script, a mere puppet, while his Tory friends pull the strings.

I once met a Chancellor of the Exchequer who could not work out the PAYE tax for his domestic employees. The reason he didn’t get someone else to do it was that he was ashamed of how little he was paying them.

Amid all the claims and counterclaims, I am sure of one thing: if Scotland votes for independence on 18 September those living north of the Border will not lose out.

John S Jappy, Urray, Highland

Alex Salmond’s assertion that Scotland is a nation of drunks reminds me why I am in the No camp on the question of independence: I don’t want the Scots to leave the union – they’re my best mates.

Julian Self, Milton Keynes

The British in India

The TV review by Will Dean of Dan Snow’s The Birth of Empire: The East India Company (1 May) seethes with contempt of Britain’s past involvement in India.

The Bengal famine of the 1770s was basically a natural event, the sort of thing we still cannot manage very well in our own times. It also led to political intervention to contain the rapacity of the company, echoing current demands in the face of global corporate exploitation.

Whatever the venality of this epoch, in contrast to modern crony capitalists, many operatives had a genuine love of India which led to the rediscovery of its past glories, a renaissance in Indian scholarship and the creation of the India we know today as the world’s greatest democracy.

Dominic Kirkham, Manchester

One way or another, the taxpayer pays

Jeremy Blythe (letter, 6 May) wonders  what will happen when all the money of the “rent generation” has passed into the hands of their landlords, and hence their whole care tab in old age will have to be picked up by the taxpayer.

I in turn wonder just how much of the assets of the present “house-owning generation” is, despite half-hearted regulations, being prematurely passed into the hands of their impatient potential inheritors, so that their care tab has to be picked up by the taxpayer?

Its not only landlords who can make a killing at the taxpayers’ expense.

Alison Sutherland, Kirkwall, Orkney

US drug giant eyes its prey

Sadly, the revelations by Dr John LaMattina, lately of Pfizer, (“Drugs giant takeover could be devastating, warns insider”, 3 May) merely reinforce the simple reality that big corporations can, and do, buy up rivals and close their operations down.

That is destructive of enterprise as measured by innovation and scientific breakthroughs. Any hopes that we might defend AstraZeneca, which some regard as a national asset, were destroyed long ago: in 2002 by the Enterprise Act. Whoever dreamed that name up must have had a sick sense of humour.

Alan Hallsworth, Waterlooville, Hampshire

Sources of Great War satire

I question Guy Keleny’s  assertion that the poets of the Great War were the literary source of Oh, What A Lovely War! (The Big Read, 5 May); the show was actually inspired by the Charles Chilton radio programme The Long, Long Trail, which combined a sober narrative of the events of the war with the songs of the time.

John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire


Sir, I am not surprised at fraud in the care system when the regime is so punitive (“Care home fraud soars among middle classes”, May 5). At 94 I have a broken hip and have been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and need carers to visit me three times a day. As I have savings of more than £23,000, I have to pay fees of £1,200 a month which consumes my RAF pension. If I had not managed my money wisely, full-time care would be free.

I object to paying for care when I have paid taxes all my life and see so many people getting vast sums for housing benefit. Could not carers’ fees be partially set against income tax?

Sqn Ldr JF Hawthorne

Wallington, Surrey

Sir, Years of hard work and financial prudence do not justify old people keeping the value of their estates and not paying for long-term care. This would be to overlook the major contribution of the rise in house prices to the value of such estates. For those aged 85, house-price rises over the past 20 years will probably have led to a larger gain in lifetime wealth than all their hard work.

Peter West

London SW20

Sir, Concerning the various forms of fraud in or by care homes I would be interested to see some justification of the astonishing sum of £200,000 for one year of care, £548 per day. All the same, it is comforting to know that the average price of a house in many parts of the UK will keep an old person who has worked hard all their life in comfort for about a year before becoming a burden on society.

Mike Fone

Calpe, Spain

Sir, The care home fees which the middle classes fraudulently avoid are a drop in the ocean compared with the amount by which continuing care departments and assessors are defrauding patients. Thousands, especially those with dementia, are denied the healthcare funding to which they are entitled. It is clear that since the Coughlan judgment in 1999 not much has changed and clinical commissioning groups and local authorities are still wilfully abusing the system.

In the Coughlan case the Court of Appeal stated that “where the primary need is a health need, then the responsibility is that of the NHS, even when the individual has been placed in a home by a local authority.” It is clear that many commissioning groups are in breach of this law. The Coughlan case and subsequent rules spawned a culture of funding assessors relying on subjective interpretations of the guidelines, until October 2009 and the revised national framework for continuing healthcare and NHS funded nursing care was brought in. It is evident that these guidelines are being wrongfully and unlawfully interpreted across the UK. Some win funding because tenacious relatives fight for it, while others, elderly, vulnerable and without any representation, are being fleeced of their assets irrespective of their medical needs. Many patients are bullied into disclosing financial assets before a continuing care assessment, making an objective assessment impossible.

If everyone who rightfully deserved care funding were to receive it, the NHS would be bankrupt overnight, but to use the middle classes to fill this void by the misrepresentation of medical needs is morally repugnant.

Maria Esposito

Buckland, Surrey

Head of the Rail Delivery Group lays down some facts for the debate about renationalising the railways

Sir, The crucial role the railway plays in Britain’s well-being means it is in all our interests that public debate about the industry is rooted in facts, particularly with a general election next year.

Blaming private train companies for above-inflation increases in the average cost of commuter fares is wrong. Successive governments instructed operators to increase the average price of commuter fares in real terms every year from 2004 to last year. When commuter fares were held down in line with inflation by the government this year, train companies supported that decision.

Equally mistaken is making the case for a public sector bidder for passenger operations by comparing the finances of publicly run East Coast with private sector franchisees. The rail regulator has made clear that differences in costs between franchises are due to many factors and cannot be used to draw conclusions about the financial performance of different operators.

Nor does the private sector siphon off large profits. Operating margins, on average around 3 per cent, are dwarfed by the money generated by train operations that goes back to government to reinvest in services, increasing from £400 million in
1997-98 to £1.7 billion in 2011-12.

Martin Griffiths

Rail Delivery Group

If the PM is worried about airfares he could reduce Air Passenger Duty, the second-highest duty in the world

Sir, David Cameron’s complaint about higher airline prices during school holidays (May 5) raises two points concerning the aviation industry.

First, in the highly competitive UK business any reduction of fares during one period would surely have to be matched by price increases in other periods. Is the prime minister urging airlines to increase their fares at times when many, such as senior citizens, take advantage of discounts? That is a strange policy just before elections.

Secondly, if Mr Cameron is really concerned about high air fares for children, he could reduce the Air Passenger Duty anomaly. While airlines usually offer reduced fares for children, the Treasury refuses a corresponding reduction in APD, the second-highest aviation tax in the world. So APD has a far greater proportional impact on children, and therefore on families, than on adults. How can this be justified?

Barry Humphreys

British Air Transport Association

It is hard to see the long-term benefits for the UK and for medical science in flogging the company off to Pfizer

Sir, What possible benefit is it to the UK to let ownership of AstraZeneca pass abroad to Pfizer, along with its profits and management, to create a giant oligopoly? Surely this is just the sort of investment our pension funds should hold long term. Let us name and shame those who would sell for short-term profit. The UK has sold most of its “silver”, and now it is selling what’s left of the furniture in an overdone belief in free trade. It is high time we, like many countries, put our long-term interests first.

Lord Vinson

House of Lords

Sir, AstraZeneca is in rude health and does not need Pfizer’s attentions, whereas the latter needs AstraZeneca for several reasons, none of benefit to Astra — in fact the treatment of some previous takeover victims should be a warning. The danger is that the outcome may depend not on long-term investors’ and employees’ interests but on short-term gains by arbitrageurs and hedge funds.

Hubert de Castella

London W8

Sir, In the debate over the bid by Pfizer for AstraZeneca, should not the prime consideration be whether such a merger would lead to an advance in medical science for the benefit of mankind? One would think that the fusion of two of the world’s leading drugs companies would have a positive outcome for patients.

Clyde Aylin

Bury, Cambs

The PM’s spokesman during the Northern Ireland peace talks admits that it is messy — but it is progress

Sir, Melanie Phillips (“The peace process can’t deliver true justice”, May 5) says the peace process may have brought some respite from violence but has solved nothing in Northern Ireland. And it is true that this hasn’t been our finest week; the old sores have been on full display again.

Yet, this week has also shown the progress that we have made, because those suspicions are, at least, being debated openly between, as well as within, our two communities. And

That is at the heart of the issue. The civil war has ended and while the peace may not, at times, be very civil at least people realise that because the problem is multi-dimensional it needs a multi-dimensional solution. That may not be the simple victory Melanie Phillips wants, but she should recognise the courage the people of Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain have shown in accepting different viewpoints and in trying to deal with the consequences of those differences. Yes, it is messy, but it is also progress.

Tom Kelly

(Prime minister’s official spokesman 2001-2007)

Aghadowey, Northern Ireland

A savage London staging of Titus Andronicus is not the first to have audiences fainting in their seats

Sir, Your report of people fainting during Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theatre (May 1) reminded me of the first production of the play at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1955. Directed by Peter Brook it featured Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Maxine Audley and Anthony Quayle. The bloodthirsty scenes were so realistic and the response from the audience so upsetting that the theatre had to employ increased numbers of Red Cross personnel.

Godfrey Chesshire

Balsall Common, W Midlands

Sir, Titus Andronicus has one of my favourite stage directions: “Enter a messenger, with two heads and a hand”.

Tony Phillips

Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

Sir, In Peter Brook’s production in Stratford of Titus Andronicus the role of Lavinia was played by Vivien Leigh. She entered after being ravished, her hands cut off and tongue cut out. In the play she uses a long cane held between her forearms to spell out in the sand the names of her ravishers. One night she dropped the cane. Afterwards Noël Coward went round to her dressing room to pay his compliments. “Butter stumps,” he said.

Tarquin Olivier

London W8


Bird’s eye view: a nesting box fitted with a camera shows blue tits caring for their young  Photo: Carl Morrow / Alamy

6:58AM BST 06 May 2014

Comments71 Comments

SIR – We, too, have a camera in a nest box. In our box, we have six great tits – all yellow beaks agape when the food arrives. The hen bird is a possessive mother, and won’t allow her partner to feed the babies – she takes the food from his beak, and feeds them herself.

With the aid of a tiny camera, it is amazing to sit in comfort and watch the private life of birds.

Eileen Sanders
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – My wife bought a nesting box with a camera at Christmas.

Over the past few weeks we have watched the blue tit building her nest. On April 23, we spotted four eggs and seven days later, there were 11 eggs. She is now sitting on them, and is being fed by her mate. We are looking forward to them hatching in about two weeks. The nesting box has been a wonderful gift.

SIR – David Cameron resents travel, and holiday, companies putting up their prices in school holidays. Prices respond to supply and demand.

Supply, of aircraft in particular, is fixed on a long-term basis to optimise return on investment. At some times of year, aircraft run less than half full. At other times there are more potential customers than seats. This is modified by changing the prices.

Preventing that price variation would result in fewer aircraft, and the lack of enough flight seats during school holidays.

Kenneth Hynes
London N7

SIR – If a family has three children, ranging from, say, nine to 16, they might attend three different schools – primary, secondary and a sixth-form college.

If head teachers are allowed to stagger holidays, it is possible that the children will not be on holiday at the same time. If parents are not allowed to take them out of school in term time, this means that a family cannot go away together.

How is this going to help parents?

Pauline Streets
Maldon, Essex

SIR – Being a retired teacher, I now revel in being able to go on holiday when I wish.

I sympathise with the Prime Minister over his discovery that prices inflate during school holidays. He sympathises, however, only with parents. What about teachers who not only suffer from higher fares in school holidays, but also have to go on holiday with everyone else?

Christopher Pratt
Dorking, Surrey

SIR – I wonder if Mr Cameron resents shares in companies going up just because lots of people want to buy them?

David Watt
Oakley, Buckinghamshire

Dress code rebellion

SIR – Dr Steven Field laments the fact that his elected MP can still be refused entry to the House of Commons for not wearing a tie. He equates this with a lack of progress.

A now deceased Irish politician, Tony Gregory, was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1982. From the outset, he refused to wear a tie on the grounds that many of his constituents couldn’t afford one.

Since the 2011 general election, a number of newly elected Teachta Dála have taken matters further. These members turn up in T-shirts, casual shirts and jeans. Despite a concerted effort, the relevant committee has proved powerless to enforce what was presumed to be a dress code.

Progress should not be equated with a facile refusal to conform to the dignity of an institution.

Johanna Lowry O’Reilly

Life in the freezeframe

SIR – Recently, we have discussed with friends “freeze framing”. This involves looking back over their life, and choosing the best time.

Would it be as a 20-something-year-old, starting to earn reasonable money, with maybe a sports car, and no responsibility? Or when you were just married, two incomes, but no children. Later, watching a young family grow up, or much later, mortgage paid off, no more work worries, children grown up and grandchildren just visiting?

Age doesn’t appear to define the answer. One friend, in his late seventies, chose the age of 19, another in his mid-forties said he would “freeze-frame” his life at 40.

Paul Rutherford
Alresford, Hampshire

Futile political debates

SIR – I cannot understand why we need a debate between party political leaders prior to the next general election. This is not a republic voting for a president. What matters are policies, not personalities.

Unfortunately we had a debate before the last election, which allegedly was won by Nick Clegg, even though he was the least likely candidate to be prime minister. Subsequently, the Lib Dems have lost a great deal of support in the country. The debate misled people into voting Lib Dem, proving that the on-air discussions were a bad thing for democracy in this country.

Anthony Gould
London W1

Expats stuck abroad

SIR – The expats mentioned in Sarah Rainey’s feature are the lucky ones, as they have a choice of leaving Spain and returning to Britain. There are thousands of others who cannot leave, either because they no longer have a property in Britain or because they are financially unable to get back into the housing market.

Chasing the dream is fine, but keep a toe on the property ladder here.

D J Coode
Denmead, Hampshire

Flowers and grief

SIR – Neville Landau questions the spending of money on flowers after tragedies. It is a way in which ordinary people choose to express their grief, and support those affected by the tragedy. It helps the public, and it is also some comfort to the bereaved.

Yes, it does seem a waste of money and it does create problems concerning eventual disposal. It is, however, very important that there is an outlet for people to show support in a more personal way rather than just anonymously contributing to a fund.

Brian Smith
Dunfermline, Fife

Too many film stars

SIR – Robbie Collin, in his review of Pompeii, refers to it as being the next worst thing “to roasting to death in a pyroclastic surge”, but he still gives it two stars.

What would merit no stars?

Margaret Collins
Farnborough, Hampshire

History shows the detrimental effect of rent caps

SIR – My late father experienced the financial consequences of rent control imposed by a post-war Labour government. Although in a managerial position, his company offered no pension provision; he provided for his own retirement by investing in housing to rent.

The Labour government froze rents during a period of high inflation, when the landlord was responsible for maintaining the property with increasing costs. He was forced to sell properties at substantially reduced values in order to live.

Is Ed Miliband’s proposal to introduce rent controls on buy-to-let homes a case of history repeating itself?

Colin Powell
Ponteland, Northumberland

SIR – Ed Miliband says that there is a cost-of-living crisis, and that we should vote Labour to remedy it. At the last Labour Party Conference, he said that if elected, Labour would freeze energy prices – which caused prices to rise the next day. He has now said that they will prevent landlords increasing rents – which they will, no doubt, pre-empt by raising rents.

He is creating the very cost-of-living crisis that he says he is trying to remedy.

Ian Eyres
Oswestry, Shropshire

SIR – MPs should stop proposing rent controls, which would trigger reduced investment in property, as well as encouraging people to take their properties off the rental market.

The reason we’re in a housing crisis is because we have not built enough homes to cope with the increasing population.

Ed Miliband’s indirect method of trying to rectify Labour’s failure to build sufficient houses is extraordinary.

Dylan Carroll
London SW15

SIR – I was interested to read that the number of new housing estates has jumped by a quarter since planning reforms. There is a plan to build 1,500 dwellings at Kempton Park racecourse. The Kempton Park estate is green-belt land, and the local authority is ahead of its own housing targets. Despite these two crucial factors – which should mean the development would not be approved – the plan is receiving support from local officials and councillors. Why?

Because the scaling back of the revenue support grant from central government, the effective cap on increases in council tax, and the financial incentives from central government for each new house built, mean that local authorities are forced to sell off assets, such as green-belt land, in order to pay for current expenditures.

The new bias in the planning regime merely gives the council a convenient excuse to ignore local opinion.

Alan Doyle
Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey

SIR – Nick Boles, the planning minister, calls for local councils to make individual plots available for “do-it yourself” builders. Not before time.

Years ago, my wife and I bought a plot of land in north Hertfordshire, and built our own home. When I retired, we tried to repeat the exercise, but the bank would not offer us a short-term overdraft even though we had investments to cover any loan.

The problems facing potential DIY builders today are not just the impossibility of finding a building plot with planning consent, especially in the South East, but with funding the project.

Mr Boles should ensure that funding arrangements can be made available for self-builders at the same time as he is persuading local councils to make land available. Maybe the large developers who hold land banks should be made to sell off a few plots to self-builders as a condition of obtaining planning consent.

Robert Sunderland
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – I share Brian May’s anger over basement development, which is happening in countless London streets.

In our road, three basements are being built simultaneously. This means months of drilling; there are also fewer parking spaces as they are taken up with skips, or bays are blocked off while materials are delivered. Wandsworth council says it can do nothing about it since planning laws allow basements, and they cannot be opposed. It refuses to stagger them.

Soon our annual street party – normally a joyous occasion – will split between basements and non-basements, and there will be a fight.

Mike Griffith
London SW11

SIR – If Britain is so desperate for more houses, why are second-home owners allowed to pay a 50 per cent reduced council tax?

Julie Juniper
Bridport, Dorset

Irish Times:

Sir, – Congratulations to John McManus (Business Opinion, “Blame McCreevy and Harney not regulator for light touch”, May 5th) for bringing some insight and perspective to the Anglo trial debate and the demonisation of former financial regulator Patrick Neary. I would go a little further and suggest that the depth and severity of our current crisis, if not the crisis itself, was in no small way attributable to the political ethos of “unfettered capitalism” which was core to the PD political movement. – Yours, etc,


Grosvenor Place,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – I refer to the Business Opinion piece by John McManus on where the blame for the Anglo-Irish Bank crisis lies. I would like to correct the record.

He tells his readers that the decision to create a new financial regulator had its origins in a report of mine. That is simply not so.

The report of the Implementation Advisory Group on a Single Financial Regulatory Authority, a group which I chaired in late 1998 and early 1999, indicates that its “point of departure” was the prior decision in principle already taken by the government to create a single regulator. The report is still available online.

Months earlier, in July 1998, a report of an All-Party Oireachtas Committee (which numbered among its members three members of today’s Government) had recommended, and the then government had decided, that there should be a new independent financial services authority, an “FSA”.

That all-party committee had criticised the then Central Bank which, “while empowered to regulate banking institutions, has been largely unable to prevent the types of malpractices under current investigation”, referring to the banking sector involvement in widespread tax evasion and systematic overcharging of customers.

The advisory group that I chaired was subsequently established to advise inter alia on the powers and functions of the new single regulatory authority and whether the new regulatory body (to the establishment of which the government was already committed) should be located within the existing Central Bank or as a free-standing separate regulatory authority, a matter on which opinion in the government was then divided.

Nowhere does the report of the group which I chaired discuss, advocate, or even remotely deal with or touch on issues of “light-touch regulation” or “principles-based regulation” or of making the financial regulator “smaller and cheaper” as Mr McManus now suggests. The opposite is the case, as the report makes quite clear.

The advisory group report argued for high standards of regulation, and expressly recommended radically improved new enforcement measures including sanctions such as multimillion fines, personal disqualifications and sanctions, etc, and a statutory tribunal to enforce these standards.

The group’s report also dealt comprehensively with early implementation and with the requisite interim statutory and comprehensive legislative underpinnings.

I never championed “light-touch regulation”, or “unfettered capitalism”, or “free markets” in the context of banking and financial services where bankers were left alone to make as much money as possible as Mr McManus now suggests.

On the contrary, at the time I publicly likened “light touch-regulation” to “light-fingered regulation”, and stated my view that an effective balance had to be struck by Ireland between “heavy-handed” and “light-touch” regulation in the financial service sector.

I have always supported reforming our laws and institutions to ensure that regulation of corporate activity and financial services was effective. Indeed, the report of the Company Law Enforcement and Compliance Group which I also chaired in 1998 and which was, happily, accepted and implemented by government, shows that I was not an advocate of “light-touch” regulation but of effective regulation.

The Implementation Advisory Group’s majority report (of which I was part) concluded that the new financial regulator should be a free-standing body separate from the Central Bank, and the report also contained a dissenting minority view (held by the Central Bank and the Department of Finance representatives) that the new single regulator should instead be located within the Central Bank.

In the end, the government to which I reported rejected the model in the group’s majority report, and instead adopted a compromise “twin-pillar” structure which had featured in a footnote to the report.

I would invite your readers to read the report online to judge for themselves whether it merits the comments made by Mr McManus. – Yours, etc,


Charleston Road,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – While Gerry Adams received support from his sympathisers around the world, from New Zealand trade unionists to Basque separatists, and while twitter raged with retweets of “Tiofaidh ár lá”, the families of the over 3,700 killed in the Troubles relived the politicisation of their loss. Being a victim of the Troubles means being the victim of very public, very complex trauma. Notions of justice, truth, reconciliation are abstract ideas that while they might be desirable for most they are, in the context of a sectarian conflict, likely unachievable.

For the family of Jean McConville, who have already been through a very public and very painful process that culminated in their presence on a desolate beach in the hope of finding their mothers remains, their personal and family history became an open book. For the McConvilles being victims of the Troubles not only meant loosing their mother, it meant loosing their home, being institutionalised, being threatened and a very long struggle with the truth.

However what seems to matter in the very public dissection of the abduction and murder of their mother Jean is some notion of innocence, some idea that she was perhaps in some way complicit in her own demise. In cases such as this the notion of innocence is the holy grail, the loss of an innocent victim being the “most” horrendous of all.

In conflicts between divided societies perceptions of innocence depend on the perpetrator of the attack, the community affiliation of the victim, religion, family history, allegations of disloyalty, media coverage of the death and the form of politicisation applied to the death. This should not be the case – victims of the troubles are just that, the victims. However, they bear the burden of “preventing progress” by seeking truth and justice, notions that are increasingly counterpoised against peace.

Those who have been forced to sacrifice so much cannot be asked to sacrifice again in the name of peace, a peace that was negotiated on the back of those who died. It cannot be “peace at any cost”. – Yours, etc,


School of International


University of St Andrews,


Sir, – How can the Taoiseach state with conviction that there was no political interference in the detention of the Sinn Féin leader? He had it on the authority of the British prime minister. Now, let that be that! – Yours, etc,



Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – A total of 11 EU member states have announced plans to introduce a financial transactions tax.

The Government has failed to opt into this process.

Some 25 leading civil society organisations have joined Claiming Our Future to call for the introduction of a financial transactions tax in Ireland. These include the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Mandate, Impact and Siptu; Trócaire, Christian Aid and Oxfam; Feasta and Cultivate; and the European Anti Poverty Network, the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, Social Justice Ireland, and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

The 11 member states involved in bringing forward this financial transactions tax include Germany, France, Greece and Spain. The tax would raise 0.1 per cent on trading in bonds and 0.01 per cent on trading in derivatives.

The proposal has been advanced through an “enhanced cooperation procedure”. The Government chose not to opt into this procedure and has played no role in the development of this initiative. It could have raised between €300 million and €500 million for the Irish exchequer.

We are disappointed the Government did not take the opportunity to make the financial services sector contribute to the recovery of Irish society and economy. It is extraordinary that the financial services lobby has been able to persuade the Government to opt out of this tax.

A financial transactions tax would raise much-needed revenue for the exchequer, reduce harmful economic activity by short-term speculators and high-frequency financial traders, and make resources available to invest in public services, address climate change, eliminate poverty and support development aid. – Yours, etc,



Claiming Our Future,

2/3 Parnell Square East,

Sir, – In your leader (May 5th), you refer to me by name as having said that I had “nothing but contempt” for critics of Aosdána. This is not an accurate representation of what I said. I did not aim my contempt at critics of Aosdána in general but at journalists (themselves in a privileged position) who conduct a relentless campaign against it, all based on resentment at the awarding of the cnuas to some of its members.

I also decried the total absence of serious discussion – in the public domain – on the other and more significant aspect of Aosdána, namely its place in the core of Irish cultural life. I urged that such a discussion should happen and is very long overdue. You chose not to report this important point, however. You are apparently speaking from the same “greasy till” mentality as your colleagues in your profession. I take exception to what seems to be a veiled suggestion that I am against freedom of speech.

Of course Aosdána is accountable to the people of Ireland, as also is the profession of journalism.

Finally, please consider the following – the people of Ireland voted in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Alt 1, “chun a saol saíochta a chur ar aghaidh de réir dhúchais is gnás a sinsear”.

The present State’s patronage of the arts through Aosdána puts that demand by the people into effect. – Yours, etc,


Henrietta Street,

Dublin 1.

A chara, – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has my sympathy . If, when asked on RTÉ radio about hell, he had given it a full-welly, fire and brimstone response, he would surely have been hit with a barrage of accusations that he was trying to bully and scare people back into the pews. His more nuanced reply has him all but being called a doctrine denier. Surely a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Presupposing the existence of Hell, an interesting thermodynamic conundrum then is presented, namely whether the conditions therein are exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat).

Based upon the principle of the conservation of energy, does the very high temperature in Hell, or as Milton put it “a fiery deluge, fed/With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed”, depend for its sustenance upon the injection of heat from an external source (endothermic) or does it result from an internal heat source (exothermic)?

This conundrum was considered some years ago by an engineering student who postulated that if the rate at which souls enter Hell is greater than the rate at which Hell is expanding to accommodate them then, in accordance with Boyle’s law, the temperature and pressure will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

Alternatively, if Hell is expanding faster than the rate at which souls are entering, again in conformance with Boyle’s law, the temperature and pressure will fall until Hell freezes over.

No conclusive evidence to support either scenario was forthcoming but, if Milton is to be believed, it has to be accepted that the expansion rate of Hell is exactly balanced by the ingress rate of damned souls for steady-state conditions of temperature and pressure to prevail. – Yours, etc,


Kempton Park,

South Africa.

Sir, – With regard to the question “Do you believe in Hell?”, at least, thank God, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has his doubts, when he believes in only the possibility of Hell. All that Hell and damnation nonsense is what destroyed this country for years. – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

Sir, – Further to the article by Joe Humphreys on Richard Kearney (Arts & Ideas, “How Atheists Can Still Believe in God”, May 2nd), I’m so tired of people misunderstanding the very simple concept of atheism.

The key to understanding atheism is to embrace its simplicity.

Theological debates can get so absurdly complicated that people can’t accept that there is this beautiful, fabulously simple approach to accepting what we know and don’t know. It’s called atheism.

It’s like that old sketch, the woman trying to understand the man’s silence on the way home from a party. She reads all kinds of things into his silence, ponders their relationship, worries about their future. When all he’s really doing is thinking about football.

Stop trying to overanalyse atheism! And stop trying to tie it up in knots as some kind of theology, which it isn’t. Read the bloody dictionary.

Atheism is blissfully simple! – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – I hope that the pen is still mightier than the sword. But, if we must have armed naval vessels then, rather than name them after poets and writers, would it not be more apt to name them after Irish people who worked on the technologies of war? People such as John Philip Holland from Liscannor, who developed the modern submarine; Louis Brennan from Castlebar, who invented the first guided missile; Sir Charles Parsons from Birr, whose turbines powered gunships; or Sir Howard Grubb from Dublin, who invented a submarine periscope and telescopic gunsights. – Yours, etc,


Ingenious Ireland,

Manor Street,

Dublin 7.

A chara, – Is this about naval vessels or navel-gazing? – Is mise,


Ellensborough Drive,

Kiltipper Road,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – I was disappointed, but not surprised, to read the letters from John Kavanagh and Sheila Griffin (May 3rd). They have missed the point. Using a mobile phone, whether hands free or otherwise, whilst driving is a major distraction. A distracted driver is a dangerous driver. Yes, there are many other forms of distractions in cars, as listed by your correspondents, but to drive safely you need to concentrate on your driving. A momentary lack of concentration can kill. You have control of the “Off” switch on your mobile phone, so use it. – Yours, etc,


Knocknacarra Park,

Salthill, Galway.

Sir, – Kieran Fagan’s letter (May 5th) reminds me of the occasion when we encountered an Irish family on a package holiday in Majorca who had brought a 20kg bag of potatoes with them as “the Spanish could not grow a decent spud”. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – The shenanigans within Fianna Fáil around Mary Hanafin running for Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Council will show the voters two things.

First, that nothing has changed in Fianna Fáil.

Second, that the old FF guard is waiting in the wings and the new people were taught everything they know by that old guard. – Yours, etc,


Wilfield Road,


Dublin 4.

Irish Independent:


Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore’s party candidates are hearing of people’s anguish

Published 07 May 2014 02:30 AM

The din created by those who feel they have been short-changed by austerity has become like background noise, we barely hear it. People become desensitised over time, the sting of the lash becomes a little less of a shock, the pain is still there, but you learn to get on with it. Some call it craven, others see it as evidence of stoicism and strength.

Also in this section

What we really want is a joyous Lord – who can also dance

A quiet revolution is occurring in healthcare issues

We must face the music

However, above the usual din, to which we have become accustomed, a different more urgent cry is now being heard.

Many of those who are now losing their discretionary medical cards cannot even shout out in protest, instead we are hearing the despairing voices of their carers. I heard recently of a postman on the minimum wage whose wife is immobilised and who has to have regular expensive hospital treatment. Too bad, is the state response, the medical card has to go.

And then there was the father of a little girl with spina bifida. The child’s medical costs are impossible to predict, but they are certainly considerable. The man has an income of €50,000 a year. Again the statutory reply is, you’re over the limit. The sick child is not entitled to a card.

Children with Down syndrome are also not automatically entitled to a card.

We have prioritised the payment of casino capitalists over the needs of sick children and invalids. As Edmund Burke said, for injustice or evil to thrive it is sufficient that good men do nothing. We see fit to hand over tens of billions to those who knew they were rolling the dice with our fates, and yet we make the most vulnerable and least able pick up the tab for this obscenity.

Apparently, the poor foot soldiers of Fine Gael are beginning to hear the anguish of the suffering as they knock on doors and appeal for votes.

Frankfurt‘s way or Labour’s way? That was one of the many distracting delusions of the last election. Sadly it seems there is another way, the Irish political way. This involves turning a blind eye to the difference between right and wrong.





With regard to the ongoing debate about “God” that is currently evolving in your paper, a writer suggested that man is unique in that he can think rationally. While I understand his contention, it seems somewhat incorrect perhaps.

There is a breed of eagles which eats turtles. How the eagle eats these turtles is fascinating because of the turtle’s shell. The eagle cannot open the turtle’s shell on the ground. How the eagle has overcome this problem displays what I contend is rational thinking. He/she grabs the turtle and brings it for a spin, and once the eagle has reached a certain height it releases the turtle so that its shell smashes on the ground below – dinner served!

So what makes man unique in the animal kingdom? I contend that what makes humans unique is the fact that we have a concept of time. We have a concept of our role within time as a temporary existence. We are conscious of our death. We mark the place where our loved ones are buried after death.

I contend that in order to conceptualise time we need God. Because once one considers the fact that they are going to disappear from the concept of reality that we observe on this planet, namely life, then we uniquely to all other animals must ask the question, why do we have to die?

The only person/entity that can answer this is God. The proof being that no one has answered the ultimate questions: where did we come from and why are we here?

To put it another way, without a “creator” then our existence is merely that of the most tortured of all animals in that we know we are going to die. Without God then there is no concept of community, no concept of purpose etc.





Paddy O’Brien (Letters, Irish Independent, April 30) claims God exists in the mind only and that man, arriving billions of years later than other creation, simply lives and dies like all other forms of life. When Christ decided to come on this earth, he came in the form of man.

Man is the only form of life academic minded enough to adapt to science, medicine, technology, philosophy, psychology, invention and all forms of manual and mental skills. I, too, have an interest in Attenborough, Darwin, Hawkins and all the other naturalists, scientists and technologists. But I also study the Bible, the Word of God, that was good enough to convince over a billion Catholics of God’s existence.

I also exercise God’s greatest gift to man – the power of discernment. If Mr O’Brien practises it, I’m sure it will make him happier and convince him of his superiority over the elephant, the mouse or the spider, despite the fact they may have similar organs, eat, live and die like us.





When you throw a boomerang you better have some clue as to how you are going to catch it. The water charges debacle is a boomerang capable of hurting the Government.

The latest compromises, which incidentally will still result in an annual minimum bill of €240, demonstrate what happens when you start off with a faulty compass, no matter how many different directions you take you are still unlikely to end up in the right place.

The compromise allows exemptions for children, this is right and proper. However, as any parent will tell you, the days of the empty nest are over. Most households have a number of adults living under the roof as grown-up offspring can no longer afford to move out.

This means that those over 18 are going to be hammered and the already hard-pressed mums and dads are going to be doubly so.

So, well done Eamon and Enda, or should that be Laurel and Hardy? One way or another this is certainly another fine mess.





Your coverage of councillors’ expenses is comprehensive except in one important measurement, and that is the amount of time county and city councillors devote to representing their communities.

Councillors are available to their local communities at all times of the day and week and are ready to respond to issues and concerns raised by individuals and groups. From Malin Head to Mizen Head, and in rural, urban and suburban settings, councillors provide an essential and accessible link between their communities and the local government system.

Later this month the people of Ireland will go to the polls to elect their council representatives for the 24th time since the first elections for democratic county and city councils in 1899.

By all means scrutinise public spending, but such scrutiny needs to be balanced by the less measurable but no less real input of elected members in serving their localities.





Good to know Fianna Fail have not lost the art of shooting themselves in the foot. Three times Micheal asked, three times Mary declined. But will it be Mary or Micheal standing when the smoke clears?



Irish Independent

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