I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A trip to Scotland Priceless
try and fnd the papers for my accountant
Scrabbletoday, Mary wins just by a few points perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.
Sir Ben Gill – obituary
Sir Ben Gill was the National Farmers’ Union leader during the foot-and-mouth crisis and argued that mass slaughter of livestock was the only solution
Sir Ben Gill Photo: STEPHEN LOCK
6:51PM BST 09 May 2014
Sir Ben Gill, who has died aged 64, was president of the National Farmers’ Union from 1998 to 2004, some of the most difficult years for farmers in living memory.
If representing the manifold interests and concerns of farmers is never easy, Gill’s period at the helm was particularly fraught, coinciding as it did with twin crises: the fallout from BSE (popularly known as “mad cow disease”) and the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001.
BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) had first been identified in British cattle in 1987, and over the next 20 years more than 160 people died from the related human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). In March 1996 the European Union imposed a ban on exports of British beef which was not lifted until 2006 — a ban which Gill had spent much of his time as the NFU’s deputy president (1992-98) trying to get overturned.
The outbreak of foot-and-mouth, first detected in pigs in February 2001, led to an EU ban on all British exports of livestock, meat and animal products. In the effort to eradicate the disease, 10 million sheep and cattle were slaughtered, and their carcasses burned in enormous “funeral pyres” which became a sad and shocking feature of the rural landscape. Livestock could not be moved from one place to another (the Cheltenham National Hunt festival was among the events that had to be cancelled), and public footpaths and rights of way were closed.
Gill might have been expected to spare his NFU members the full force of these draconian measures; instead he gave the culling his complete support, lobbying the Labour government and winning the debate against those who argued (civil servants and the Prince of Wales among them) that the vaccination of livestock would be a more constructive approach. He was always tickled by an edition of Newsnight which opened with footage of him in discussion with Tony Blair outside No 10 Downing Street. “One of these men is running the country,” Jeremy Paxman began, in a voice-over. “The other is the Prime Minister.” For Gill, it was an exhausting year: “On a number of occasions I would go back to the flat after Newsnight at midnight and be in the car at 5.30am to talk to GMTV.”
Sir Ben Gill with Tony Blair in 2001 during the foot-and-mouth crisis
The cost to farmers — both financial and emotional — of the wholesale slaughter of their livestock was immense, and Gill admitted that the decisions he made had “weighed heavy” on his mind. His lasting memory of the crisis, he said, would be the pain of the farmers who contacted him, particularly those who had culled animals piled up on their farms. But the foot-and-mouth outbreak was over after eight months, and Gill never doubted that he had steered the correct course: “The people who were vociferous in favour of vaccination thought I didn’t give a damn and made all sorts of claims that I didn’t understand the subject,” he said in 2011. “There were inevitably animals slaughtered that needn’t have been, but you have to be hard to be kind. It is a fact that we stamped out disease.”
Later, in 2004, Gill called for a cull of badgers to stop the epidemic of bovine tuberculosis in areas where the disease had become most prevalent, and for a comprehensive survey of the badger population to be carried out to estimate the extent of the possible threat to the national cattle herd. He also urged ministers to look at vaccinating cattle in infected areas in a bid to curtail the spread of bovine TB which, he said, was “clearly linked” to badgers: “The suffering of cattle, wildlife and humans caught up in this saga has now reached a stage where drastic action is needed.”
The only son of a farmer, Arthur Benjamin Norman Gill was born in York on New Year’s Day 1950 and educated at Barnard Castle School and St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read Agriculture. He then spent three years in Idi Amin’s Uganda, teaching agriculture (“I was the wrong end of a machine gun three times, and talking your way out of that with a drunken soldier is not easy,” he later recalled) before returning home to run a pig farm in East Yorkshire .
In 1978 he took over his father’s 400-acre mixed farm in the Vale of York, and was soon active in the NFU, serving as a member of its council from 1985; as vice-chairman (1986–87); and as chairman of the livestock and wool committee from 1987 to 1991. In 2006 Gill sold the farm, although he retained the house and some of the buildings to develop commercial offices and establish Hawkhills Consultancy, which advises the agrifood industry and specialises in renewable energy.
Sir Ben Gill
He continued to take a keen interest in the farming industry, in 2008 insisting that food prices had dropped so low that farmers struggled to make a living. “When I returned home from East Africa to farm in the mid-1970s, UK farmers were receiving about £60 per tonne for their wheat. Twelve months ago, we were receiving little more than that.” Moreover, he argued that cheap prices meant that the British public could no longer assume that food was produced in an environmentally-sensitive way.
Among many other roles, Gill served as chairman of Westbury Dairies (2004–06); of Eden Research (from 2009); and of Visit Herefordshire (since 2010), the county to which he moved after giving up his farm. He was also a director of Countrywide Farmers (from 2004), and chairman of the Government Biomass Task Force in 2004–05.
He was appointed CBE in 1996 and knighted in 2003.
Ben Gill married, in 1973, Carolyn Davis, who survives him with their four sons.
Sir Ben Gill, born January 1 1950, died May 8 2014
Will Hutton (“Is science about to lose a battle it is used to winning?” Comment) writes on antibiotic resistance and the cost to public health thus arising. However, it might be said that he is already far too late: the Swann report on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry and veterinary medicine (1969) was a wake-up call to all those using antibiotics other than for the treatment of humans. Little notice was taken of the underlying message of this report (the seriousness of the wider threat of antibiotic resistance).
As a result of a combination of overuse in the wider environment and, more recently, in human medicine, the useful lifetime of any new antibiotic – the time before resistance becomes so prevalent as to make the compound essentially useless – has become shorter over time. Hutton criticises the US FDA for licensing antibiotics for particular rather than generalised use, yet it is the latter that results in inappropriate uses of antibiotics and the rapid rise in resistance rather than the former. A company producing a new antibiotic family could well see it wasted through overuse in a relatively short time and while it is fashionable to lambast big pharma for being profit-oriented, it is hard to see how otherwise the likely cost could be raised.
Dr Peter B Baker
Keep competition on the rails
The successful model for the railways that Labour’s parliamentary candidates desire already exists, particularly in the north, but on too small a scale (“The solution to rail misery“).
Only more on-track rail competition between franchises and private rail companies, known as open access, can better serve passengers, deliver lower fares and serve more routes to places that have previously not enjoyed direct high-speed rail connections. The state-run east coast mainline franchise is the only line where the franchise holder has to compete on a large part of the line with non-franchised, open-access railway companies.
Research from the Centre for Policy Studies – Rail’s second chance – putting competition back on track – shows east coast mainline passenger journeys increased by 42% at those stations that enjoy rail competition between the franchised operator and open access, compared with 27% for those without competition; revenue increased by 57% where competition occurs compared with 48% for those without and average fares increased by only 11% at those stations with competition, compared with 17% at those stations without.
Those open-access companies that compete with East Coast, Grand Central and First Hull Trains also consistently record the highest passenger satisfaction statistics of all the UK train companies and they receive no money from the government.
More rail competition is in the interests of the passenger, the taxpayer, the government and the regions. The Labour party should support more open-access rail competition.
Author, Rail’s second chance – putting competition back on track (CPS)
Bicycle policy still wobbly
Cycling in London may have doubled because of costs of public transport and congestion, but outside the selected cycling cities, the picture is grim (“This is how we roll“, New Review). On Merseyside, we have the biggest cycle-training programme in the country yet just over 1% of residents cycle to work.
As a cycle leader, I see many middle-aged riders returning to cycling who find traffic conditions very different from the days of their youth. The road skills to become a safe and confident rider cannot be taught in a few hours, but that is all that’s on offer throughout the country. Nearly all of the training is aimed at recreational offroad cycling. Until the funding patterns change, and there is an incentive for training providers to target commuters through the workplace, we will remain in a rut.
Treat Scotland like Ukraine
Two lapidary sentences in your leader on the takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer (“This Pfizer takeover would be a real threat to British sovereignty“) exactly sum up the single issue at the heart of the referendum debate on Scottish independence: the inalienable right to self-determination. What a pity that the prime minister cannot be as generous minded to Scotland as he is to the people of Ukraine: “I think all of us in this house should be supporting the Ukrainian desire to be a sovereign, independent country and to have the respect of the international community and party leaders for that ambition.”
Take your sward in hand
Asked about lawnmowers, Lucy Siegle (“Cutting-edge lawns“, Observer magazine) states that a “mildly toxic” lithium ion battery-powered one “is the best option” from an environmental point of view. It might be the less damaging of the two kinds mentioned in the question, but the overall “best option” must be a manual mower, which is non-polluting, lasts until it falls to pieces and gives you a little more gentle exercise than a motorised one.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Mr Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Photograph: Rischgitz/Getty Images
We applaud Alex Renton’s courageous article about abuse and neglect in boarding schools (“Abuse in Britain’s boarding schools: why I decided to confront my demons“, Magazine). The suffering caused by the British habit of sending children away from parental love and the safety of their homes to educational institutions has been ignored for much too long. Materially rich but emotionally poor, with small classes, large playing fields but “no hugs”, as Renton puts it – boarders lose out on a normal childhood. Children may learn to function competently, but at the cost of dissociation from their feelings of abandonment, even if there is no outright abuse. The ex-boarder may never develop emotional intelligence.
To most people, the inherent wrong of early boarding is obvious, as was clear from the majority of comments on Renton’s article. For those requiring more convincing, the evidence is weighty and wide-ranging. Attachment theory plus the work of clinicians over the last two decades and now the findings of neuroscience leave no doubt about the psycho-emotional consequences of depriving children of touch, warmth and a “secure base”.
The privileges of boarding education can no longer compensate its cost to our society. Its elitism is at odds with the goals of an inclusive liberal social democracy; it remains a major force in the sidelining of women and the maintenance of an outdated class system. If boarding once played a role in preparing men for the rigours and cruelties of an imperial age, our present interdependent world calls for a different, more complex and caring set of values. We call for an end to early boarding along with the privations that are demonstrably detrimental to children’s wellbeing.
Felicity de Zulueta, Tavistock Clinic; Professor Joy Schaverien, University of Leeds and Sheffield University NHS Trust; Dr Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst Don Boyd, film director; Kate White, editor, Attachment Journal; Emerald Davis, Lindsay Hamilton, the Bowlby Centre; Pippa Foster, Darrel Hunneybell, Boarding Recovery; Nicola Miller, Russell Bowman, Simon Partridge, Boarding School Survivors; Dr Alastair MacIntosh, broadcaster and writer; AL Kennedy, broadcaster and writer; Mark Smalley, radio producer; Sally Fraser, Boarding School Action; Peter Saunders, NAPAC; Danny Dorling, Marston, Oxford; Nick Duffell, psychotherapy trainer and psychohistorian; George Monbiot; Orit Badouk Epstein, Attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapist; Michael Goldfarb, freelance writer; Professor Andrew Samuels, University of Essex; Barry Sheerman MP (former chair of the Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families); John Tosh, Professor of History, Roehampton University
Alex Renton’s compelling account of his time at school once more exposes the systemic failure of the child-protection “framework”. Whenever an abuse incident is exposed, we hear from all quarters that “everything is different now”. My response to this is very simple: Southbank International school, Hillside first school, Bishop Bell, Little Heath primary. The very recent failures in child protection at all these schools contradict any such assertions. I was serially sexually abused at Caldicott school in 1967. I was the first person to file a complaint, and the multiple convictions that followed demonstrate that the school had been specifically targeted by perpetrators. At that time, there was no requirement to report suspected or known abuse: it was discretionary. The situation is exactly the same today. Your child has no statutory right to have his or her known rape reported to anyone. Private schools are presented with a further conflict of interest by the Department for Education’s “statutory guidance”, because no law is broken for failing to report the worst news any fee-receiving institution can inflict on its balance sheet.
To deliver culture change, the legislative catalyst of mandatory reporting must be applied to all institutional settings. Until then, children will continue to be abused and no one will know.
Tom Perry @MandateNow, Amersham
We welcome Alex Renton’s contribution to the debate about children living in institutions. In the British care system, we aim to place looked-after children in foster families rather than children’s homes. When we know that children need love and attention within a family, why do we deprive boarders of this?
Suggestions that children choose to board implies that these children made an informed decision. This might be true for those over 16; it is not true for those under the “age of consent”. There is a trade-off to going away to boarding school. Shuttered emotional development, clinging to institutional life, compared with growing up normally within their family and community.
How can the Government countenance the Secretary of State for Justice shutting down an investigation by the Howard League for Penal Reform into sexual violence and harassment in prison? (“Chris Grayling blocks inquiry into sexual assaults inside jails”, 4 May). Threatening witnesses who come forward with being in breach of licence conditions (leading to recall) is an atrocious breach of trust and power.
Mr Grayling’s keenness to brush a serious problem under the carpet promises to increase victimisation in prison (by less understanding of the problem) and so spell further misery for victims, and for society in general when they are released (as their trauma plays out in violent, sexual or acquisitive offending to cope or react to the ensuing post-traumatic stress).
I wonder if his view on sexual violence in prison comes from a “prison isn’t supposed to be nice” attitude, and he thinks that if he spends his time trying to protect future rape victims (who happen to be prisoners) then “prison wouldn’t be as much of a deterrent, would it?”
New Labour gave the doctors a generous rise and no evening or weekend duty (“Pay doctors extra to help the poor, say Lib Dems” 4 May). Raise the minimum wage and make workers better off – it is better economic conditions and a decent standard of living which will improve people’s health. Everyone contributing has a right to health care, and it is the Government’s responsibility to provide it.
With regard to halal meat, when it comes to showing respect for animals who are raised and killed for food, there is only one label that matters: “vegan”.
The slaughter, whether the animal is stunned and then killed or just killed, is only part of the long and cruel process of modern meat production. The vast majority of the one billion animals eaten every year in the UK are raised on factory farms, where they are crammed into windowless sheds, wire cages, crates and other confinement systems – all of which contradict the basic principles of compassion shared by most religions.
Yes, people have a right to know what is in their food, but the simple solution to avoid mystery-meat scandals is to eat plant-based meals, which are kinder to the environment, our bodies and animals, and are also open to all faiths.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta)
Why is Inheritance Tax “a pernicious tax” (Julian Knight, Money, 4 May)? It only takes money from the well-to-do, and raises revenue from the tax-free wealth gains people have enjoyed thanks to inflation-busting property prices. What’s more it is paid by those taking over an estate who haven’t done anything to earn it.
Russell Hobby is right when he says “Don’t allow these people to run free schools”, (4 May). They shouldn’t be allowed. And they aren’t. As Mr Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers pointed out, “some free schools are performing highly” and, as the Department for Education has pointed out, they are – based on Ofsted inspections – performing better than many comparable settings.
Expose free schools to journalistic scrutiny, by all means, but in the interests of the hundreds of dedicated professionals endeavouring to deliver new and, in some cases, ground-breaking schools under difficult circumstances, don’t resort to headlines that should be the preserve of the red tops.
Principal, Steiner Academy Exeter
There is a very simple answer to the lack of high-quality social workers: a reasonable salary and a reasonable work load (“Top graduates wanted to work in mental health,” 4 May). But I can’t see the idea catching on.
Age has to be a factor when allocating drugs within limited budgets, said Karol Sikora (Suzanne Plunkett)
Ageist NHS has left elderly at back of queue for care
YET again we see older people being written off as the pariahs of society (“‘Old should be denied cancer drugs’”, News, last week). Professor Karol Sikora, a former hospital cancer services director, says “rigorous anti-ageism” policies in the NHS are deterring doctors from using their judgment in withholding expensive treatment from the frail elderly where they believe there is little chance of prolonging a quality of life.
In my experience of working with older people, doctors discriminate all the time, some barely concealing their contempt for “old bones”. No wonder depression is so high among the elderly.
Kathy Tucker, Paignton, Devon
Sadly the elderly are already unofficially at the bottom of the pile when it comes to medical treatment. Formally exempting medical care from age discrimination laws, however, insults a generation that paid its economic dues throughout its life.
Sheila Edwards, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire
What happened to the long-held NHS ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth? Now I read that costly drugs should be provided only to patients who pay tax or are able to contribute to family finances. Not only those on a state pension, but anyone out of work or on sick leave should take heed. Just think how much more could be saved if we were all dead and buried.
Fran Holland, Oswestry, Shropshire
Do not resuscitate
Your article opens up a debate over NHS resources, where the right to choose should be paramount. My late 94-year-old mother understood she had put in place her choice not to be resuscitated in documentation with her doctor.
Yet when she had a cardiac arrest this document was not on her and paramedics resuscitated her. She lived for three weeks in distressing circumstances and would have been concerned these costly resources were not used for younger or fitter people.
Jean Bennett, Tarporley, Cheshire
Restored to health
My 82-year-old husband of 56 years has had a great zest for life — we are both active members of the Northumberland Cancer Support Group and attend a gym regularly — until recently, when his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level increased significantly (an indicator of cancer).
Thanks to a lovely, kind consultant oncologist he has been allowed access to one of the new drugs. After six weeks he is fully restored to his usual happy self, even if it will only be for a matter
of months. I feel so grateful (and selfish). He is my best friend.
Dee Townshend, Hexham, Northumberland
Age of enlightenment
How old is Professor Sikora?
Dr JD Baines, Par, Cornwall
Trivialising the vote insults those who fought for it
SHAME on Katie Glass (“The reason I don’t vote? It’s nothing to do with apathy, cynicism or Big Brother”, Magazine, last week). She says that she doesn’t engage in the political process because she keeps moving home and therefore has never put herself on the electoral roll.
It’s a good job that a certain Ms Emmeline Pankhurst took politics a little more seriously; without the suffragettes Glass might not even have had a choice to vote. Our electoral system is far from perfect, but to trivialise the right to vote is somewhat disingenuous.
Stuart Allan, Nottingham
Gaining a disadvantage
Many of your correspondents indicated why they might vote for UKIP in the EU elections (“Bottled it? Me? Pull the other one”, Focus, and “Cameron: I am ready for Farage”, News, last week).
While I sympathise with much of their reasoning, I doubt that voting for UKIP is the wisest response. If you believe membership of the EU is not to Britain’s advantage, it hardly makes sense to vote for a party whose MEPs have had some of the worst attendance and voting records.
The question of whether we should leave the EU is best dealt with by the proposed referendum in 2017. Voting
for Nigel Farage and his ramshackle crew will not hasten our exit from the EU but will ensure we get a raw deal in the meantime.
Mark Stevenson, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
I must protest about the media’s treatment of Farage. Most interviews with him start with an outrageous quote from one of the flakier associates of UKIP, and it is presented to Farage as if it is his own view or party policy. The bias is so extreme, I am beginning to wonder who is pulling the strings.
Jim Harvey, Leatherhead, Surrey
Taking a yolk
I have renewed civic pride in my home town since the recent egging here of Farage.
Michelle Varney, Nottingham
Now that we have overtaken the Liberal Democrats at the polls (“Greens push Clegg back to fifth place”, News, last week) it is clear that voters are contrasting the positive experience of the Greens with the fading Lib Dem party, which has failed to keep its promises on tuition fees and, instead of curbing the excesses of its Tory counterparts, has partnered them by bringing in cuts to the most vulnerable in our society.
Andy Cooper (Yorks and Humber), Rupert Read (Eastern England), Peter Cranie (Northwest), Molly Scott Cato (Southwest), lead Green party MEP candidates, and Maggie Chapman, lead Green party MEP candidate in Scotland
Rent controls could get our house in order
THE proposal by Ed Miliband to control rents is unlikely to prove as catastrophic as Dominic Lawson suggests (“A political triumph, Red Ed, but an economic disaster”, Comment, last week). Controlling rents and extending tenure periods will probably discourage some people from becoming landlords, or be a disincentive to existing ones to extend their property portfolios. It may even encourage some to sell. If so, it should have the effect of slowing the seemingly unstoppable rise in house prices in some parts of the country.
Would-be first-time buyers, who today have to compete with buy-to-let landlord “investors”, will find their main competition limited to others in the same position as them on the property ladder. In that case we would be returning to the 1970s situation that Lawson thinks so little of. But that decade marked the beginning of a time when many people, now smug about the price of their property, were able to become homeowners with relative ease.
If new regulations led to fewer of us aspiring to be landlords, more people would be permitted to take pride in owning their own homes. Governments have always intervened in property markets: the Help to Buy scheme provides the latest example. The Labour party’s proposed interventions appear to me to be well considered and likely to rectify imbalances.
Tony Bowers, Huntingdon, Cambridge
Female presenters must be up to the job
WHY should Jeremy Paxman’s replacement on Newsnight, or the presenter of the new Civilisation series, be a woman (Eleanor Mills, News Review, last week)? The best people are needed for these jobs, not token females, and I hope the BBC realises this and ignores any feminist Twitter campaign.
Mary Beard is not suitable to front the Civilisation series. She’s a good classicist but that’s about it, and in addition has too much feminist baggage. If you had heard the British Museum director Neil MacGregor’s wonderful radio series on world history in 100 objects, you would know that he is the obvious person — quiet, cultured, highly intelligent, possessed of an excellent manner, never patronising and without any baggage. Of course he’s a man, but most of us don’t have an agenda and don’t mind that, funnily enough.
Ann Keith, Cambridge
Poor show, Tom Hodgkinson, to “chuck everything out” and not recycle (“If in doubt, chuck it out”, Home, last week). What he took to the “dump” in his declutter will pollute for centuries.
Terry Slater, Harlow, Essex
Katie Gee’s account of her horrendous attack in Zanzibar was extremely moving (“Acid victim: I will live my dream”, News, last week). Both Katie and her friend Kirstie Trup are truly inspirational, and a credit to this country.
Graeme Warner, Manchester
I think your “Confessions of a tourist” article (“While her husband snored through their Italian honeymoon, she found a life-saver”, Travel, last week) is awful. What would probably happen is that she would catch a sexual disease from the pool attendant and pass it on to her husband.
Cherry Green, Norwich
Twinned with Cyprus
The situation in Ukraine seems similar to that in Cyprus 40 years ago (“Ukraine is at war — and the east is almost lost”, News, last week). The division of the island at that time has never, I believe, been officially recognised, but it seems to have kept the peace.
Richard Clatworthy, Beverley, East Yorkshire
Don’t keep the change
Perhaps another reason why many people resent parking ticket machines is that they rarely give change (“The peasants are revolting, and they’re armed with chewing gum”, Comment, last week). It has just been reported
that last year our councils made up to £38m from overpayments when motorists did not have the exact change. This surely should not be allowed.
Anthony Roberts, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
So AA Gill is surprised at getting a decent lunch in deepest, darkest Suffolk (“Table talk”, Magazine, last week). Maybe he would better off sticking to the capital, where he is able to find a plethora of one-star and two-star establishments deserving of his encouragement to improve.
Tim Bennett, Ipswich
In response to the letter from Alf Menzies about the slaughter of migrating birds (“Hit Malta in pocket”, Letters, last week), boycotting Malta will hit the innocent, who outnumber the hunters and trappers . Far better would be to support the excellent conservation group BirdLife Malta, which not only campaigns vigorously against the killing but also has a programme that educates schoolchildren, which will clearly pay off in the future.
Jennifer Powell, Ascot, Berkshire
The insightful article “PM joins battle against Islamism in schools” (News, last week) raises all manner of questions, including over the role played by Ofsted in allowing this situation to develop. Perhaps if Sir Michael Wilshaw and his chief inspector predecessors had employed more black and ethnic-minority inspectors in recent years, the present situation in our schools might have been understood more by the watchdog.
Michael Cosh, London N19
The fall in the number of overseas students regretted by Sir David Warren, chairman-designate of the council of Kent University, should instead be welcomed (“Britain is throwing the race for foreign students”, Comment, last week). Canterbury is overrun by large numbers of fee-paying scholars from abroad. Other economic activity is being driven out.
Rather than fill second-tier universities such as Kent with foreign students, the government should invest in 21st-century industry, which would give British graduates properly paid jobs and enable them to produce competitive exports.
Frederic Stansfield, Canterbury
Corrections and clarifications
There was an error in the article “Stand by for invasion of hornets that eat 50 honey bees a day” (News, last week). We stated that there were 50,000 honey bees at the height of summer. It should have read that there are around 100,000 colonies of bees, each containing about 50,000 bees.
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Eric Burdon, singer, 73; Louis Farrakhan, US Nation of Islam leader, 81; Andres Iniesta, footballer, 30; John Parrott, snooker player, 50; Jeremy Paxman, broadcaster, 64; Jason Queally, cyclist, 44; Mort Sahl, comedian, 87; Holly Valance, actress and singer, 31; Judith Weir, composer, 60
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The Duchess of Cambridge watches Team GB take on New Zealand at the London Olympics Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
6:58AM BST 10 May 2014
SIR – The World Cup is due to begin on May 31, but you wouldn’t know it. I’m talking of course of the Hockey World Cup. It, too, takes place every four years and this time it will be on our doorstep, in the Netherlands.
Both men’s and women’s tournaments, which are equal in status, are run concurrently. England’s men’s and women’s teams are ranked fourth and third in the world respectively, and both have a real chance of beating rivals Germany, Australia and Holland to the title.
By some estimates, hockey is the third-largest team participation sport in the world. It is fast-moving, highly skilled and extremely exciting to watch. Why does nobody seem to care?
SIR – We agree with Shechita UK and the Muslim Council of Britain that consumers should be informed about the food they are buying and eating.
We have been campaigning for an end to non-stun slaughter, which compromises animal welfare at the time of death, and have started a government epetition that has attracted huge public support.
But as long as non-stun slaughter remains permissible, we want to ensure that consumers can make an informed choice. We want simple labelling that lets customers know whether the animal has been pre-stunned to render it insensible to pain before the throat is cut, in line with British and EU legislation, or if it has been slaughtered without stunning.
President, British Veterinary Association London W1
Brain cancer research
SIR – You report the good news that a tipping point for cancer has been reached, as half of patients are now cured. However, the prognosis for individuals facing a brain cancer diagnosis is still relatively poor.
While most cancers have reached this tipping point, with survival rates jumping in the past 40 years, brain tumours remain almost as deadly as they were in 1970, which is a terrifying prospect for the 16,000 people diagnosed each year in Britain. The survival rate is 13 per cent, up from 6 per cent. The 10-year rate for testicular cancer jumped from 69 to 98 per cent, while breast cancer went from 40 to 84 per cent.
Why have brain tumour survival rates remained so static? There is a direct correlation between the money spent on research and an increase in survival rates. The latest figures show that brain cancer receives 1.3 per cent of total cancer research spend.
The thousands of people facing a brain tumour diagnosis need more invested in research so they, too, can have the prospect of a cure or better treatment.
Sue Farrington Smith
Chief Executive, Brain Tumour Research
SIR – I am sure that Penelope Gibbs is correct when she says that there is no evidence that imprisonment acts as a deterrent. The reason for that is that prevention is unmeasurable. As a youngster, the knowledge that I would be punished for wrongdoing kept me on the straight and narrow – and probably still does.
Bank on it
SIR – I am pleased to report that my bank is also hyper-vigilant when looking out for possible fraudulent transactions. I recently received a telephone call warning me that on the previous Friday night, my card had been used to pay for beer in a London pub, pizza in a London pizzeria, and then a London taxi fare.
I was able to set their minds at rest.
Rhyming slang Romeo
SIR – On our 40th wedding anniversary, my husband took me out for a “ruby murray”. Ten years on, I am hoping there isn’t a Golden Palace Chinese restaurant in our vicinity.
West Byfleet, Surrey
Street light switch-off
SIR – Congratulations to Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, for standing up for switch-off schemes and the beauty of starry skies, which is one of the distinctive characteristics of the English countryside. Many councils, including Essex, should be applauded for their efforts to strike a balance between necessary street lighting, saving energy and money, and reducing light pollution.
Where switch-off schemes cannot win public support, councils should consider street light dimming schemes, which our research shows are supported by more than two thirds of communities.
That way we can all enjoy the beauty of dark skies, and get a good night’s sleep.
Senior Rural Policy Campaigner, Campaign to Protect Rural England
Is he an Englishman?
SIR – I was born in England to Scottish parents and moved to Scotland at the age of nine. I have lived here ever since. My brother was born in Scotland and, excepting his secondary schooling, has lived in England his entire life. We both sound English, but I have represented Scotland in a sporting context.
Are we Scottish, are we English and Scottish respectively, as well as British, or are we only British? We have always assumed that we are Scottish and British. Does anyone disagree?
Andrew H N Gray
SIR – If David Cameron stands by his word and we are given our promised referendum, would we have to participate in the Eurovision song contest if we voted No? Forget all the other extraneous arguments, this ridiculous event alone is good enough reason for me to want to leave the EU behind.
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall
Play that funky music
SIR – Having suffered the attempts of my five children to play the recorder, I wish to make the case for its replacement by the harmonica, which is cheap, pocket-sized, and makes the least unpleasant sound in the hands of a novice.
Little sympathy for the ‘squeezed middle class’
SIR – Should I laugh or cry at Judith Woods’s article featuring the family that “makes £120,000 but can’t recall the last time we went out for dinner”?
I could laugh because by sending their children to state schools along with 93 per cent of children in Britain, the Jacksons could splash out more than £120 on dinner for their family every night of the year with the savings. (Or shop at Ocado once again instead of Tesco.)
Or should I cry because a good proportion of the current Cabinet has a similar background to the Jacksons, and, I fear, the same attitudes?
SIR – Although I can both sympathise with Mr Jackson that he has not been out for dinner recently and applaud him for investing so much in the education of his two sons, he has made a lifestyle choice and the Government is not responsible for his resultant frugality. I wonder just how squeezed the middle classes would be if such things as three-car families, holidays in far-flung places, private education, state-of-the-art entertainment systems and other personal choices were stripped out.
SIR – We all share the crippling pain of no longer being able to shop at Ocado, and the novelty of shopping at Tesco is worsened by having to do it without the most basic necessity of a new car.
It pleases me to see that, despite their credit catastrophe, they have not been so stingy as to deprive their children of an independent education.
Perhaps one effect of the financial crisis has been to redefine the meaning of the phrase “squeezed middle”.
SIR – As a former head and governor in both maintained and independent schools, I find Michael Gove’s suggestion that Ofsted rather than the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) should assess schools in the private sector quite baffling. Ofsted inspections are narrow and increasingly statistically based, while the ISI looks at the value of a well-rounded education.
Mr Gove should note that it is our independent schools that are envied across the globe and realise that the ISI system would be of huge benefit to state schools.
SIR – I am sceptical about Michael Gove’s suggestion that Ofsted is the body most trusted to “speak out on educational standards in this country”. I have experienced two Ofsted inspections during my teaching career. In both cases, the inspectors were hostile and openly critical of private education. In the boarding houses, for example, they focused more on the number of sinks and lavatories (easier to measure) than on the benefits of boarding.
I have been struck by the increased number of teachers from the state sector applying for jobs here in recent months; when asked why, many express frustration at a growing focus on trying to measure everything.
Warminster is an academic school. But in addition to good exam results, we work to develop intellectual curiosity and a love of learning. We also emphasise the importance of character, values, leadership and service.
What makes a person successful and fulfilled in life, both professionally and personally, is his or her emotional intelligence and ability to interact with others. It is not easy to assess whether a school is developing well-rounded, decent human beings. The Independent Schools Inspectorate, directed as it is by the Department for Education, struggles valiantly to do so. I have little confidence that Ofsted would do better.
Headmaster, Warminster School
SIR – I find it strange that Richard Cairns, the headmaster of Brighton College, should object to Ofsted inspecting his and other independent schools. Ofsted should be more than capable of assessing the suitability of a curriculum as well as being able to determine how successfully it is being delivered.
His unfortunate reference to “very different educational worlds” reinforces the perception that we still live in a
silver-spoon society ridden with class divisions and privilege for some. Such a judgmental remark will find no favour with an Old Etonian Prime Minister who travels by Easyjet and does his best to steer clear of the trappings of power.
Published 11 May 2014 02:30 AM
Also in this section
Madam – To counter all the rhetoric about Mr Adams’ arrest emerging from Sinn Fein, the following facts must be acknowledged: Jean McConville was abducted, beaten, tortured and brutally murdered by Provisional republicans.
Her young children were physically and psychologically abused by members of the Provisional republican movement.
Violence against women is always a crime; child abuse is always a crime; police forces are obliged to investigate such matters thoroughly; and at the basis of authentic republicanism is the belief that all are equal before the law.
The sight of Sinn Fein advocating that the current questioning of Mr Adams is ‘political’ invites the claim that Sinn Fein advocates a Downton Abbey form of republicanism where some citizens are ‘betters’ who should be treated differently from the rest of us.
One of the greatest sources of scandal in the Irish Republic, and in the UK at present, is that some influential people appear to escape justice altogether or are treated differently from less influential people, and the McConville case cannot be seen as anything other than an investigation of abuse, against a vulnerable woman and her young children. The only way to tackle this perception that some escape the law is to assume the innocence of everyone before the law, including Mr Adams, and then to investigate all regardless of privilege.
However difficult it is for Sinn Fein, no genuine republican should oppose such an investigation whenever it happens.
Sinn Fein’s stance in this matter is a test of its belief in republican principles concerning the equality of all citizens. At present, it is dismally failing this test.
Peter Caffrey, Glasnevin, Dublin 9
Armchair critics unfair to councils
Madam – Reluctant as I am to disagree with a constituent, Emer O’Kelly (Sunday Independent, May 4, 2014) has tempted me. Her comments about the role of councillors are ill-informed and unfair.
Her dismissal of those of us who wish to be local councillors is based on an antiquated view of the role of local government and indeed of citizens. I believe local government has a major role to play, way beyond being a kindergarten for the really dysfunctional chamber of Irish political life – Dail Eireann. I am not an apprentice TD – nor would I want to be. Twenty years after first joining the city council I am proud of a record that I would not have been able to deliver from the Dail.
Last January, as leader of the Labour Group on Dublin City Council, I helped force the city manager to increase funding for homelessness by €6m, to increase funding for housing adaption grants for people with disabilities by €3.5m, while at the same time agreeing a commercial rate reduction for the fifth year in a row.
This was achieved through a mixture of political lobbying and a forensic analysis of the city accounts and the proposals from management.
Contrary to Ms O’Kelly’s implication, the adoption of a budget is a reserved function for councillors.
Over the next five years, councillors will adopt a development plan that will either be planning-led or, as has happened too often in too many councils in the past, developer-led. The electorate’s choice will determine that outcome.
Repeatedly in the media, commentary on local government is confined to armchair spectators and academics far removed from the realities of local government. Recent debates on the property tax and the water charges were examples of these. Focusing on the impact of local elections on national politics adds to that sense of pointlessness.
Ireland cannot be reformed if we do not seriously reform local government. So let’s have some coverage on the possibilities of a genuinely different local government scenario as we face into the local elections.
Councillor Dermot Lacey, Dublin 4
Setting out stall on policy
Madam – With reference to John Drennan’s article, ‘Ex-FG TD and McDowell are in a very similar space now’: I am surprised to hear this, as in April 2012 at a “town hall” meeting in Dublin city centre, at which I was present, Michael McDowell stood up and spoke at length about how the euro was not working for Ireland and how we should consider other possibilities.
Lucinda Creighton is an established member of the European People’s Party.
Evidently one has changed their political discourse on their “stance”. The electorate has every right, now more than ever, to be told exactly what new parties are proposing. No more pussyfooting around.
When you hear of two people who are “chalk and cheese” on political vision, suddenly forming alliances, this really makes you think it’s all about being at the helm of power.
Can Ms Creighton and Mr McDowell tell us if they support the euro, want to reform it, or to be out of the currency and the European Union completely?
Olivia Hazell, Clane, Co Kildare
Dawn of new parties too late
Madam – Given that we live in a democracy and enjoy the benefits of having a free press, I am all in favour of giving ‘it in the neck’ to those in power (Daniel McConnell and John Drennan, Sunday Independent, April, 2014), and advocating the formation of new political parties. My problem is that the time for doing both was 10 or more years ago when a small number of our most powerful citizens in government, financial institutions etc, who seemed to be immune to challenge, were making decisions which would bankrupt the country.
At this stage we can get rid of all the existing political parties and replace them with a whole new set and the conditions for all in the aftermath of the bankrupting of the country will not change one iota.
A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13
Say no to Quinn
Madam – Megaphone man and bad-mannered teachers aside (Sunday Independent, April 27, 2014), a more pressing issue is the nature of education itself as opposed to a ‘skills’ version now being proposed by the Minister for Education. Skills such as concentration, observation, discrimination, perseverance and moderation, as opposed to fanaticism in thought, are all by-products of learning.
Since the humanities are to be a matter of indifference in the Quinn ‘curriculum’, it will be intriguing to see what content will fill the vacuum to facilitate the non-mathematical/scientific mind. It is well documented that young children are natural learners and thrive best when exposed to meaningful activities. Unless we say no to this caricature of education, the ‘child’ inside every student of tomorrow will look up and not be fed.
How a half-baked ‘education’ could be more conducive to a successful nation than the rounded education (liberal, in the sense of liberating the mind from ignorance) Quinn wants to abandon, defies logic.
Agnes McEvilly, Co Galway
O’Leary reminds us of royal joke
Madam – Reading of Michael O’Leary’s recent gaffe, when he said that addressing an “august body” reminded him of making love to the Queen of England, I was reminded of this story.
Evidently an Irishman some years ago was a dead ringer for the Prince of England. On hearing of this he was invited to Buckingham Palace. The prince remarked that the resemblance was uncanny, and they were of a similar age.
Seemingly said the prince: “Your mother was in England at one stage.” Quick as a wink our Irish friend replied: “No, but the ould fella was.”
Murt Hunt, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo
Catholicism and fight for freedom
Madam – The point of two juxtaposed letters in last week’s Sunday Independent is significant and instructive, since each illustrates differing and conflicting narratives of Irish historiography.
Noreen Dunne, having expressed her concerns with regard to perceived losses of freedom asked: “Did the people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom (including freedom of speech) ever think…? The problem with the letter is that it nauseatingly resonates of the doctrinaire received, tendentious and sloganised verities of Catholic nationalism. Claims for a ‘democracy’ sound hollow in the light of the fact that the men of 1916 were un-mandated and we still live with their hideous legacy.
I am reminded of the time when I seized the opportunity to remind an ambassador that the only real freedom I experienced in Ireland was the freedom to leave it for Britain, after he had referred to the so-called ‘struggle for freedom and independence’ no less than three times, during a spiel to a group of pathetic exiles here in London.
Vincent J Lavery commendably reminded readers of the virtues of Daniel O‘Connell, including his commitment to non-violence, constitutionalism and civil rights for all. However, the flip side is that O’Connell fatally yoked Catholicism to nationalism, and he lamentably failed to appreciate the potency of Protestant resistance in the north of Ireland. It strikes one as a thorough vindication of the Shakespearian assertion: “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones,” as we now know to our cost.
Republicans and nationalists are all too ready to blame Britain for Ireland’s woes. We saw in your columns recently a reference to Queen Victoria as the Famine Queen. I seem to recall that the Queen’s personal donation exceeded that of the Catholic church, which continued to build cathedrals while the people starved.
Might one suggest that an appropriate form of amendment on behalf of the Catholic church, on the eve of 2016, would be to commit itself strenuously and unreservedly to the de-segregation of schooling in Northern Ireland?
William Barrett, Surrey, UK
MOVING ON FROM UNITED IRELAND
Madam – Just because there might be a majority of Irish nationalists in some faraway day in Northern Ireland, who want it, it doesn’t mean a ‘united Ireland’ will follow.
There is a constant debate going on among a small section of the “32 or nothing” brigade that this is inevitable. It’s been my reading of the political situation here in the south for many decades, that the citizens of this Republic want as little contact with ‘up there’ as is possible. For those in the ‘fantasy camp’, just leave us out of the quagmire because we’ve long ago moved on from the madness. Furthermore, the divisions are undeniably sectarian and cannot be fixed by political goodwill, even if it comes from every politician in this land and in the UK.
Someone is always eager to shoot and bomb for myriad reasons – and for no reason at all, in the name of Northern Ireland, with the rest of us down here expected to be understanding.
The reason we all voted for the Good Friday Agreement fluff in the 26 counties was because it bought time and distance, and some peace from the North.
We, too, will have to be asked if we want the nightmare that would follow a forced unity because of mere numbers in the six counties.
Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken. Martin McGuinness learned this hard and valuable lesson when his own protests against the Queen coming to Ireland fell as flat as his tired old rhetoric. He’s on page two now.
Robert Sullivan, Bantry, Co Cork
HARRIS LEADS THE CHARGE AGAINST SF
Madam – What a tour de force in today’s Sunday Independent (May 4, 2014). Eoghan led the way with JP, Jim, Brendan, Eilis and Declan laying into the elephant (Sinn Fein). If we could only export this stuff? All will be rewarded when the penny finally drops. Let’s hope the cheque doesn’t arrive posthumously.
Niall Ginty, Killester, Dublin 5
Alarm at broken rural peace
Madam – Having come to Wicklow for the bank holiday weekend partially to escape the noise of burglar alarms that accompany every holiday period in Ireland, readers may imagine my dismay to hear a lone burglar alarm in the desolate hills.
On the beaches, we will have to fight them on the beaches…
Christian Morris, Howth, Dublin 13
1916 RISING LEFT US TOXIC LEGACY
Madam – Your leading article’s headline, (Sunday Independent 20 April, 2014) , ‘So long to the revolution’ can be read in at least two ways:
‘Goodbye to the Revolution!’ and ‘Why do we have to wait so long for the revolution to happen?’
A further nuance arises from the underlying question as to which ‘revolution’ are we referring? That of 2011? That of 1916-1921? That of some date in the future when – finally – we get it right politically?
I have to indicate my broad support for Eoghan Harris when he makes extremely unpopular but soundly based suggestions that the Rising had no mandate, was profoundly undemocratic, (if not anti-democratic) – and left us with a toxic legacy – undermining true democracy which has rumbled on for a century. It could explode like an unstable hand-grenade in 2016.
At the core of both the 1916 ‘problem’ and the more immediate 2014 mega-problem is our very human (and extremely Irish) inability to face facts – and to tell ourselves and each other the truth about the world as it is. Our unwillingness to accept the burden of reasoned principle – and values that can never be compromised or betrayed.
It was naive of us to think that simply changing the names of the players on the team in 2011 would change everything.
Is there nobody among the ‘younger’ and more junior TDs and senators willing to provide pragmatic social democracy unmistakably committed to constitutional democracy – and to cherishing all the children of the nation equally?
Though the task be heavy, cruel and tedious, what we have to save – our people and our country – is too valuable and sacred to be thrown on the rubbish heap of history.
Maurice O’Connell, Tralee, Co Kerry
CHILL, GENE, AND SMELL THE FLOWERS
Madam – Please pass the word to Gene Kerrigan to get himself a life. Chill out and smell the flowers. From his dour picture, he looks like a smile would do no harm.
The constant drivel and bile on a weekly basis from his pen makes me wonder why I should pay to read it.
J Dawson, Dublin 24
SWEARING BY A GREAT READ
Madam – I have just spent my whole day reading the Sunday Independent and really enjoyed it, warts and all. Why? There was not one nasty swearword and this is why I left down my paper fully satisfied, thank you.
Angela Joyce, Co Galway
TOUGH TASK FOR SHATTER SUCCESSOR
Madam – In politics you are obliged to praise a colleague to the hilt and show God-like respect when questioned about their competence.
However, as soon as a damning report comes along that highlights that person’s inadequacies, they are manoeuvred towards the exit.
Alan Shatter’s demise was inevitable. He failed to deal with issues that saw his department spiral out of control.
The reasons why Alan Shatter had to go are very well documented (300 pages).
It is now time for the new Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, to gain the public’s confidence lost during Shatter’s tenure and that, for sure, will not be an easy task.
Vincent O’Connell, Wexford