24June2014 Clinic

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. I sweep the drive

ScrabbleMary wins over 400, well done. I barely scrape past 300, perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Felix Dennis – obituary

Felix Dennis was the hedonistic publisher behind Oz and The Week who dreamed of being a great poet but found his true forte was making money

Felix Dennis at home in Warwickshire in 2010

Felix Dennis at home in Warwickshire in 2010 Photo: GEOFF PUGH

6:42PM BST 23 Jun 2014

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Felix Dennis, who has died aged 67, was Britain’s most colourful media mogul; a former jail bird, crack fiend, serial womaniser and sometime poet and arboriculturalist, he built a publishing empire worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Dennis first became notorious in 1971 as one of three defendants in the Oz obscenity trial. Issue 28 of the underground magazine was edited and written by schoolchildren, and the montage of Rupert the Bear and Gipsy Granny having sex led to Dennis, Richard Neville and Jim Anderson being prosecuted for obscenity and conspiracy to corrupt the morals of the young.

Richard Neville, Felix Dennis and James Anderson at the Old Bailey appeal hearing in 1971 (GETTY CREATIVE)

The judge in the case, His Honour Michael Argyle, famously observed that Dennis was “very much less intelligent” than his co-defendants and sentenced him to a comparatively lenient nine months in jail, which was quashed within a week by the appeal court, which detected 78 misdirections to the jury.

The three editors of the underground magazine ‘Oz’ on their way to the Old Bailey for their appeal against a conviction for obscenity in 1971 (HULTON ARCHIVE)

But the insult stung and, in proving the judge’s assessment of him wide of the mark, Dennis went on to make a fortune out of what he called “scrabbling around in the leftovers” of publishing. He never owned a mainstream newspaper or women’s magazine, but had a genius for anticipating the market, spotting trends and capitalising on them.

He was one of the first to spot the potential of personal computer magazines, launching titles such as PC Zone, MacUser, Computer Buyer, and Dreamcast, which in turn funded the 1995 launch in Britain of Maxim (strap line: “sex, sport, ladies, beer, skittles”), riding on the successful laddish formula established by Loaded and FHM. He launched the magazine in America, to derisive sneers, but hit a gold mine: it was soon selling 2.5 million copies a month, more than GQ and Esquire combined, and was even rolled out as a “lifestyle” brand for bars and restaurants.

Felix Dennis with a copy of the magazine ‘OZ’ in 1971 (HULTON ARCHIVE)

A raft of lucrative publications followed, including The Week, a jaunty digest of press coverage from the previous seven days. “Is Felix Dennis mad?” asked The Wall Street Journal when he launched the magazine in an American market where titles such as Time and Newsweek were struggling to maintain profits. Again Dennis had the last laugh. The Week pre-empted, in print, the internet formula of “aggregation” – or reprinting excerpts from other publications. A devastatingly simple idea, it proved hugely popular with readers, all without traditional news-gathering costs such as, say, maintaining a network of foreign bureaux. Where established magazines went under, The Week proved a money spinner.

Dennis also launched the rock’n’roll magazine Blender, which snapped at the heels of the veteran Rolling Stone; he moved into gambling magazines, such as Poker Player and InsideEdge. Beyond publishing he also co-founded, in 1987, Microwarehouse, computer mail order company which eventually went public on the NASDAQ.

All this earned Dennis a garage of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, a 16th-century thatched manor and estate near Stratford-upon-Avon, a house in London, an apartment in Manhattan and houses in Connecticut and Mustique.

It also funded a lifestyle of unrestrained hedonism. After making his first million, Dennis discovered crack cocaine which, at the height of his addiction, his chauffeur would “bring home in buckets”: “With crack, you want to have as much sex as possible, or go as crazy as possible with as many other people doing exactly the same. It is absolutely sensational.” There would often be “13 or 14 girls in the house, for three days at a time, and none of them ever put their clothes on”. Dennis once vowed to “die by an overdose of crack cocaine with an 18-year-old perched on top [of me]”.

In the mid-80s, Dennis survived an outbreak of legionnaire’s disease in Los Angeles. It was the crack, however, that almost killed him. “I found myself wandering around the house with a hammer, thinking when the f—ing CIA come in that window, I’ll be ready,” he recalled. He believed it triggered a hypothyroid condition in 1999. He kicked the habit, went cold turkey and took up writing poetry instead.

In launching himself as a modern-day Kipling, Dennis did not do things by halves. After paying Hutchinson to bring out his first volume, A Glass Half Full, in 2002, he embarked on a nationwide tour of readings to a public who had no idea who he was, encouraging attendance by calling it the “Did I Mention the Free Wine? Tour”. It shifted 10,000 copies – a colossal figure by the standards of poetry sales. The South Bank Show devoted an hour-long documentary to Dennis and his poetry and he went on to publish further collections.

Felix Dennis at home in Warwickshire in 2010 (GEOFF PUGH)

There was no end to Dennis’s eccentricities. Among other projects he embarked on a £200 million plan to plant a 50,000 acre oak forest, the Forest of Dennis, on his estate in Warwickshire. True to form, he said his passion for acquiring land also made him a fortune, as its value increased dramatically.

He also built a “garden of heroes” featuring, among others, life-size bronze statues of Muhammad Ali, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Charles Darwin astride a Galapagos tortoise, Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair, even the late Alistair Cooke broadcasting a letter from America. Naturally, Dennis himself also featured.

Yet at the same time there was always a restless iconoclasm about Dennis — as if his old hippie side found it difficult to come to terms with his aggressive drive to prove himself. He rarely allowed anyone to establish an advantage in conversation. One journalist described interviewing him as “like playing with an untrained dog: exhilarating, exhausting and ever so slightly dangerous”. At parties, he liked to challenge argumentative women to a competitive strip. The result was a foregone conclusion. He would always go further.

On one occasion this instinct led to an extraordinary confession. In 2008 Dennis claimed, after a long drink-fuelled interview with Ginny Dougary of The Times, that in the early 1980s he had killed a man who was harassing one of his girlfriends by pushing him over a cliff in Connecticut, only to withdraw the claim later, explaining that he had been talking “a load of hogwash” while drunk. An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph established that Dennis had been living and working in America at the time and had two homes in Connecticut — both near cliffs that would have provided an opportunity to kill in the way he described. However the police decided not to proceed with an investigation.

Felix Dennis was born at Kingston-upon-Thames in May 27 1947. His life changed abruptly when his father, a shopkeeper, jazz pianist and bomber navigator in the War, left his mother in 1950 and went to Australia. His mother began training as an accountant and Dennis and his younger brother were sent to live with their maternal grandparents in a house without electricity or plumbing.

Dennis passed the 11-plus and won a place at a grammar school in Surbiton, but soon contrived to get expelled — a pattern repeated at two other schools and an art college. He left home at 15 to become, successively, a park attendant, a grass-mower and then a gravedigger, before moving to London and trying his hand as a blues drummer.

When the first issue of Oz was published in 1967, the 20-year-old Dennis sent a taped message to the editor Richard Neville proclaiming it was “the most f—ing fantastic mag I’ve ever seen in my life”. When Dennis turned up on the magazine’s doorstep apparently penniless after selling his drum kit to pay for a girlfriend’s abortion, Neville persuaded him to sell copies of Oz on the King’s Road. The following year Dennis joined the magazine full-time as advertising manager and later business manager and co-editor.

After Oz folded, he joined forces with Dick Pountain, who had been the magazine’s production manager. They found cheap offices in Goodge Street and launched Cozmic Comics, a series of underground comic books, none of which made any money. One day in 1974, Dennis talked to some teenagers in the street and discovered they were queuing (at 9am) to see “the Chink who beats people up” — a Bruce Lee film. Thinking there might be money in it, he founded Kung-Fu Monthly, publishing as “Felix Yen” with his chief writer “Don Won Ton”. He went on to sell millions of copies in 17 countries, starting what would become the Dennis publishing empire. By the age of 35 he was a millionaire. “There you are, son,” Alan Sugar told him. “Now you’ve got f— off money.”

Dennis was fond of making capricious, generous, gestures. When he read that the Compton Homies, a cricket team made up of former gang members from the most violent neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, had had to cancel a goodwill tour to Britain after a sponsor pulled out, Dennis phoned them up and offered them $50,000. He also was known to help those from the London counter-culture scene who, unlike him, had fallen on hard times.

Having been once been pursued by the courts, Dennis liked to claim that he would never sue a journalist for libel. In 1995, however, he made an exception for the Spectator magazine, from which he extracted a grovelling apology and an out-of-court settlement after it printed a piece by Dennis’s old adversary, Michael Argyle, which intimated that the Oz team had peddled drugs to schoolchildren and fully deserved their jail sentences. However Dennis wisely backed off suing the 80-year old former judge himself, not wanting to make a martyr of him.

As well as several volumes of poetry, in 2006 he published How To Get Rich, the story of “a South London lad who became rich virtually by accident” and a handy guide to “the surprisingly simple art of collecting money which already has your name on it”.

Felix Dennis was diagnosed with throat cancer in January 2012. In a series of letters “to friends” published on his website he described physical symptoms, which included “weight loss; difficulty in chewing; lack of saliva; areas of skin so sensitive I cannot bear for them to be touched”. He also described not being able to drink undiluted wine – “a sad development considering the contents of the cellar I’ve laboured to build over the years”. But he also confessed to loneliness amid his riches. “I have never properly surrendered to love myself and sadly, doubt I ever will. To do so would require a kind of courage in which I suspect I am deficient.”

He never married, but had a long-term relationship with Marie-France Demolis, a French hairdresser he met at a party.

Felix Dennis, born May 27 1947, died June 22 2014


“Frontbenchers are expressing private fears that Miliband is not a winner” says your lead story (Labour election anxiety grows, 21 June). When it’s in the paper, it’s perplexing to understand what “private” means. What it stands for, of course, is “unattributably”, and then a more significant question arises: why so? How many frontbenchers voiced these “fears”? Are they known malcontents or leadership aspirants? Are they spreading propaganda and, if so, to what end? Why don’t they speak on the record? What do they hope to achieve by giving the Guardian capricious gossip that is clearly damaging to Labour? What is the point of dragging David Miliband‘s name back into the mix? I bet someone in the coalition could be found to suggest that the Tories would have done better under David Davis – and if so, why isn’t the Guardian reporting that too?

All this is predicated on opinion poll findings. Throughout the coalition’s existence, opinion polls and actual votes have told different narratives. Until the balance became distorted this year by the rise of Ukip, Labour consistently led the Tories by 10 percentage points in actual ballots, but the press, including the Guardian, have decried Labour’s prospects in 2015 for the duration of this administration. Around a year before the 1979 general election, Margaret Thatcher ran significantly behind her party in opinion polls and was 20 percentage points adrift of Jim Callaghan in approval ratings. On the very night of the 1992 general election, exit polls anticipated a win for Labour, and on the night of the elections in the US in 2004, Bob Worcester called it for John Kerry. All this speculation merely distorts and makes the media look unreliable.
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

• Ed Miliband may not be a “great communicator” but he has other qualities. I’m sure I’m not alone in fearing that some of those speaking to the press see style as more important than substance – after all, they were brought up on Peter Mandelson’s red rose and Alastair Campbell’s news management. Why else do they persist in suggesting that his brother David, neither a parliamentarian nor domiciled in this country, would make a better leader? Like many electors I don’t worry about Ed’s adenoids or the bacon sandwich routine, but I do find it more worrying that he hasn’t acted decisively to root out those who are still fighting the last leadership election, under cover of concern about the outcome of next year’s election. How about a night of the long knives, Ed? Too many of the shadow cabinet are doing too little to secure a win and should ship out, get themselves a contract to write a column or offer analysis on a TV sofa, and make space at the table for people with a passion for principles not personalities.
Les Bright
Exeter, Devon

•  May I just caution Labour MPs with goldfish memories that David Miliband was tainted by his knowledge of rendition? No one who remembers Iraq would ever vote for him. As for Peter Mandelson and other Blairites, please remember that even the great Desmond Tutu has referred to Blair is a war criminal, and do us all a favour and shut up.

It is painful to remember being excited by Tony Blair’s first election, but he won power because he persuaded us his “third way” would work. We were not to know it was another neoliberal scam. Ed Miliband does not have to be pretty to win – he has to have the right ideas. But he’s too wary to speak yet because of the vicious media.

No party has its original constituency, except the Tory squire rump. Our huge old industrial base has gone. Labour’s natural constituency now is desperate about climate change, to save our society and earn our right to survive. If young, they fear for their children; if old, for their grandchildren. It’s Ed’s choice whether he comes out for us all or not. Green and sustainable is the only tale in town to tell. No one will vote for more fiddling while the world burns.
Olivia Byard
Witney, Oxfordshire

• ”Ed Miliband is to be told … that he will have to resign as leader if he loses the next election.” Why wait? Surely after the election is shutting the proverbial stable door after the entire Grand National starting grid has reached the final furlong?

My second astonishment is the assertion that “personality, not policy, may be stumbling block to hopes of winning general election” (Miliband’s challenge: how to win over voters and not look like Neil Kinnock, 21 June). Personality is 90% of it, in spite of what commentators habitually argue. This can be the only logical conclusion – as Labour’s policies are now dazzlingly similar to the Tories’. I’m a Labour supporter, yet find it tough to watch Miliband speak for longer than about a minute. It took the party grindingly long to wake up to the Kinnock effect. Labour changing its policies under Miliband would just waste more time. He’s painful – forget about policy.
Nigel Pollitt

•  What is the Guardian’s agenda? You effectively rubbished Gordon Brown before the last election and now you seem bent on destroying Ed Miliband. This steady negative portrayal will be very hard to overcome and may well push the Labour party into losing the next election. Hasn’t the Guardian done enough damage to centre-left parties? Please stop!
Jean Fildes
Birch Vale, Derbyshire

•  Loyalty can be a wonderful thing, unless it overwhelms reason with belief. The pro- and anti-Miliband campaigns documented in your pages over the past week highlight both tendencies, to the detriment of the Labour party and the hopes of anyone who wants to see the coalition annihilated at the polls next May. This is not going happen for as long as Miliband’s acolytes confuse the desire for “change” with the means of achieving it. Instead, we are confronted with kamikazes on Kool-Aid, prepared to self-destruct in the interests of loyalty to the wrong leader rather than draw their daggers in order to have a chance of saving themselves – and many of the rest of us.
Gavin Greenwood

•  One would have thought the Labour party would have learned something from Blair’s first election wins – a united front. Instead, it’s back to the good old days, when, if they were not shooting themselves in the foot, they were stabbing themselves in the back.
Chris Hodgkins

If a “secular” firm like an oil company was to fire a gay engineer who married his lover, the firm would be rightly be taken to court and fined for wrongful dismissal. But the Church of England has sacked a clergyman for the same reason even though the secular NHS retains him as a hospital chaplain (Report, 23 June). As a Christian cleric I find it deplorable that the church now has lower moral standards than the secular world.
Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife

• Geoffrey Robertson’s excellent obituary on that very decent MP Ben Whitaker (17 June) would have been even better if it hadn’t included the throwaway line “Ben remained a great champion of life’s losers – hence his continuing support for Nottingham Forest FC.” Between 1975 and 1993 Forest, under Brian Clough, won the League, two European Cups, and four League Cups. That scarcely puts them among life’s losers.
David Lyon
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

• The usually incisive Vernon Bogdanor has his rights and obligations mixed up (Vote no, Scotland, or become a fax democracy, 23 June). Far from an independent Scotland having “to negotiate for what it now enjoys as a right”, it would have the right to refuse what it now suffers as an obligation.
Chris Coghill

• It is unfortunate for Mitsubishi that it didn’t contact the branding agency Paul Moss refers to (Letters, 21 June). If they had, they might have graced the Pajero (Spanish for “wanker”) car with a different name. It certainly gives me pleasure if ever cut up by one to mouth “¡Pajero!
Diana Hastie
Brockenhurst, Hampshire

• ”Dreadful writing” in The Archers, seriously (Letters, 23 June)? In Sunday morning’s omnibus edition I found myself crying my eyes out at the death of an imaginary lady’s imaginary cat. Now that’s writing!
Wendy Bradley

• How do you know when there’s a drummer at the door? He keeps banging away and doesn’t know when to come in (Letters, 23 June).
Steven Burkeman (@stevenburkeman)

Your article reporting on a Guardian roundtable discussion (Speaking up for foreign language, 19 June) gives a pessimistic view of the state of language education in England. This government has introduced a series of reforms that have led to a languages revival in primary and secondary classrooms across the country.

Some of the roundtable participants paint a picture of primary schools struggling to cope. Yet 95% already teach a foreign language. From September, children will be required to learn a language from the age of seven – so pupils will have four years’ learning under their belt before secondary school.

At secondary school, it is true that the number of children learning languages was in freefall up to 2010, but we are turning this round. Thanks to our EBacc – a league-table measure which encourages core academic subjects at GCSE, including a language – the decline in modern languages has finally been reversed. Last year GCSE take-up in languages increased by nearly 16% from 2012 – up to the highest level in five years. The article featured criticism of the inclusion of more literature in A-levels, but it is universities that are considering a greater focus on literature. Speaking and listening will remain essential parts of the new qualifications.

Far from stifling languages, free schools and academies are unleashing innovation. At Bohunt secondary academy in Hampshire, pupils are taught in Mandarin for a third of their timetable. After two years, their results are nearly a year ahead of their peers – in all subjects, not just languages. And at Europa primary free school in Oxfordshire, pupils learn a second language from the age of four, with half the week’s lessons taught in French or German. Languages are thriving because of academy freedoms, not in spite of them.

These reforms show that this government is putting languages at the heart of our schools system so that every young person in the country can enjoy a rich and rewarding language education.
Elizabeth Truss MP
Education minister

You reported (Study backs teaching of synthetic phonics, 16 June) that a study by Marlynne Grant has reinforced the argument for using synthetic phonics in teaching children to read. It would be useful to know more about the tests used. A major study supporting this system in Scotland came up with a similar result when 12-year-olds were tested on their phonic ability. However, when their ability to understand what they read was tested they were – on average – only a few months ahead, and that gain was falling.

The argument is not against using phonics. It is concerned with the overemphasis of this aspect of teaching children to read. Individuals have different requirements. A child I was hearing a few weeks ago was having problems with left/right direction – she is left-eye dominant. Moreover, teaching children to read of course includes encouraging them to read for information, for fun, for insight.

Teaching children to read English is complex and often is affected by context. How you should pronounce live (short I? long I?) or use (soft S? hard S?) are examples. Where does phonics fit with the pronunciation of pear, pare, pair? There are many, many more examples: Gove, love, move among them.
Professor Norman Thomas
St Albans, Hertfordshire

•  The Guardian’s enthusiastic report about the efficacy of phonics is an example of “cold fusion” journalistic practice: Ppresenting research reports to the public before the scientific community has reviewed them. I provide one brief “peer review” here. Neither the study (thanks to the Guardian for providing a link to the preliminary report) nor the Guardian’s article point out that the study only confirms what we already know: intensive phonics instruction helps children do better on tests in which they are asked to pronounce words out loud, and on tests of spelling.

Not mentioned is the consistent finding that intensive phonics instruction makes no significant contribution to performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read. Real reading ability is the result of actual reading, especially of books that readers find interesting. Good readers eventually acquire nearly all the rules of phonics and spelling, as a result of reading.
Stephen Krashen
Professor emeritus, University of Southern California

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and US vice-president Richard Nixon in front of a kitchen display

Cold war kitchen comparisons … Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and US vice-president Richard Nixon discuss the relative merits of their countries in front of a kitchen display at the United States exhibit at Moscow’s Sokolniki Park on 24 July 1959. Photograph: AP/

Your article on Soviet design, A rocket in every home (19 June) reads a bit like US cold war propaganda. The “cramped, overcrowded and … flimsy” Khrushchev flats provided all Russian families, not only the well-to-do, with individual homes for the first time. The rapid construction of the vast numbers of four-storey prefabricated blocks, many built by volunteers, in the 1950s and 1960s enabled millions to move from hostels and communal flats into separate apartments. The Khrushchev blocks were simple and cleverly designed. The modular dwelling units could be aggregated to provide up to 80 dwellings in one block, most of which were conveniently located near the centre of towns and cities. In the 1990s, colleagues and I worked with tenants to renovate and upgrade their Khrushchev flats in Yekaterinburg. Nikita Khrushchev fulfilled his pledge to house all citizens in individual flats. Ed Miliband could do a lot worse than follow his lead and unleash a “frenzied building drive”.
John Murray
Former Haringey borough architect

We welcome the Guardian’s praise for Lord Fowler (Editorial, 10 June), who has been a strong advocate for harm-reduction and evidence-led policy on HIV prevention. In the recently published findings of a survey he conducted, he describes the swelling tide of prejudice against sex workers.

Although there is strong evidence that there is a high level of awareness of sexual health and safer-sex practices among sex workers, he is right to point out that stigma and criminalisation of sex workers forces them to work secretively, making them less likely to access sexual health services. Criminalising either sex workers or their clients, as in Sweden, only serves to drive sex workers underground and distance them from sexual health services. In Sweden, promotion of harm-reduction and safer sex is seen to encourage sex work.

An independent examination of the laws in the UK governing the sale of sex must focus on harm-reduction and be based on evidence, rather than ideology.
Alex Feis-Bryce Director of services, National Ugly Mugs, Jane Pitcher Board academic rep, UK Network of Sex Work Projects, Michelle Stoops Operational manager, Liverpool Community Health, Kathryn Talboys Chief executive, Renaissance at Drugline Lancashire, Hayley Speed Project director, Men’s Room, Dr Teela Sanders Reader in sociology, University of Leeds 

Labour‘s Future Candidates programme is necessary but not sufficient to select a more diverse range of MPs (Labour picks Westminster insiders for key seats, 18 June). The most effective way of ensuring that future generations of Labour MPs have experience from outside politics is to have a national system for approving prospective candidates. A mandatory requirement could be that all candidates must have a minimum of five years’ experience working outside the “Westminster village”. Such a change would mean that researchers, advisers, thinktank staff, public affairs consultants and full-time union officials would have to broaden their experience before seeking selection. Full-time councillors would need to demonstrate that they had worked outside local government. Such a change would send a strong signal both to aspiring candidates and the electorate that Labour wants MPs who have had careers outside of politics.

The party also needs to take a long hard look at the selection process. Having recently done two selections in safe Labour seats in London with large memberships, it’s clear to me that no one could run a serious campaign while working full-time. Candidates either need to be self-employed, have a flexible job with an understanding employer such as a union or council, or be able to afford to take several months’ unpaid leave. This rules out a significant number of members who would be excellent MPs. The selection process should be demanding, but it should be organised in such a way that people with busy jobs can stand. Then there is the cost of selection. My two campaigns cost me £8,000, without spending any money on accommodation. I haven’t given up hope of becoming an MP, but I have no idea how I would pay for future selections.
Cllr Sally Prentice (@SallyPrentice)
Labour, Lambeth council

• How ironic that in a week when Michael Gove became the latest politician to disown the outpourings of a (former) special adviser, or “spad” (Gove forced to disown senior adviser after attack on Cameron, 17 June), the Guardian’s investigations reveal that almost half of Labour’s candidates in key marginals are “former special advisers, party workers, researchers, lobbyists or MPs”.

The emergence of what might be termed the “spad-ocracy” confirms the absence of meritocracy and enshrines an inequality of access and influence at the heart of our politics; it is bad for democracy. While the rise of the so-called “professional” politician has brought some benefits, the dominance of the spad-ocrats across both front benches and beyond leaves parliament more cut off and remote than ever, and confines policymaking to a clique of bright young things who know everything and anything except the price of a loaf of bread.
Dr Tony Breslin (@UKpolicywatch)
Director, Breslin Public Policy Limited

• Labour lost its seat at High Peak in 2010. When the new Tory MP was asked why he thought he had won, he replied that it was because he was a local candidate. Originally Conservative Central Office had parachuted a barrister in from London. Local Tories thought that this was undervaluing the constituents, and campaigned for a local businessman who was born and brought up in the constituency, went to school there and made his livelihood within the community. He spoke the language of the local population. They were right. He won the seat.

Democracy cannot mean representation by an elite trained within the Westminster bubble. The average constituency numbers about 68,000 voters. There must be good candidates to choose from. Labour – please go back to your roots and choose from within your communities.
Roz Cullinan

• I am a proud Yorkshireman, so I should be delighted that so many of Labour’s frontbenchers are Yorkshire MPs. But I am not – because they can’t mouth a native Yorkshire vowel between them. They have all been parachuted in because we have many safe seats and because the party bosses assume – rightly it seems – that we are too daft to send these carpetbaggers packing.

We need immediate corrective action. All-women shortlists have delivered a significant improvement in the gender balance of the parliamentary Labour party, and I propose – as a member for 35 years – a similar mechanism for all winnable marginals, in which only members of the selecting constituency Labour party can be chosen as its candidate. This would help nudge the PLP away from becoming an increasingly despised metropolitan elite, and towards becoming a respected body where provincials had a real say. It might even be that a few country bumpkins would both enrich the mix and expose that the “elite” was no such thing but rather a clique with no special talents whatever.
David Helliwell
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire


When the Archbishop of Canterbury declared his War on Wonga last year the message was “help for credit unions”. I imagined Christians getting their hands dirty counting the cash and knocking on the doors of people who have stopped repaying their loans – the ghastliest credit union task.

But instead we see him setting up a nationwide Churches’ Mutual Credit Union (“War on Wonga: Church of England to set up credit union for members”, 21 June).

So Archbishop Welby’s cosy clubs will compete with existing credit unions. This is un-Christian. Community-based credit unions already carpet much of Britain and the whole of Wales; anyone in their areas can join, but actual coverage is patchy because there’s a howling need for volunteers to deliver the services.

In over 20 years of unpaid work helping to set up and run a community-based credit union in rural mid-Wales I have met many ethically driven colleagues, but almost none from any deist faith. Briefly Welby seemed to offer more.

One gleam of hope is that the list of churches you report doesn’t include the Church in Wales. Maybe the CiW, which has already knocked moral spots off the CofE by approving the appointment of women bishops, will ally itself with existing credit unions.

Richard Bramhall
Llandrindod Wells, Powys


Clash of Tory MP and liberal columnist

All this liberal outrage is having the unwelcome effect of making me feel sympathy for people with whom I do not wish to sympathise.

Michael Fabricant’s tweet no more constitutes a threat of violence against Yasmin Alibhai-Brown than her wish to wipe the smile off Nigel Farage’s face would constitute a threat of violence against him, or my saying that I am so hungry I could eat a horse means that I pose a danger to the equine community.

By all means, let’s express outrage at the foul insults heaped upon such as Mary Beard and J K Rowling, and, when they occur, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, but, frankly, this instance just makes all concerned look self-righteous and ridiculous.

Frank Startup
Cirencester,  Gloucestershire

Can I just say that I have always found Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s columns to be both thoughtful and thought-provoking? Michael Fabricant, however, is just provoking, and I have often wanted to punch him.

Martin Lowe
Cranfield, Bedfordshire


Met’s failed murder inquiries

“Met Corruption” in the investigation of racist murders goes back further than the Stephen Lawrence killing (“Abandoned murder trial fuels new police corruption fears”, 21 June).

The first instance of the Metropolitan Police not thoroughly investigating such a murder was in 1959 when Antigua-born Kelso Cochrane was lynched by five white youths on his way home from hospital, where he had been treated for a finger injured while at work. Though the names of the  murderers were seemingly known to some in Notting Hill, no one has ever been arrested.

Marika Sherwood
Hon. Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies
University of London

Tories push their man for BBC job

Where is the outcry over David Cameron and Boris Johnson trying to bounce the country into accepting Sebastian Coe as Chairman of the BBC Trust? (“Job description tweaked for new BBC chairman – and now Coe has a clear run”, 21 June.) The job is not a political appointment, but is in danger of becoming so.

Imagine if Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone had promoted the appointment of a prominent Labour ex-MP for the post. The Tories and their friends in the right-wing media would have been apoplectic with rage. Now it seems that the BBC, which is supposed to be politically impartial, is trying to accommodate Coe for the job.

All this, of course, is outrageous, but behind it all lies the threat that the Tories want “their man” in place because if they win the next election they will embark on a total dismantling of the BBC and the sale of its “profitable” parts to media companies. To have Coe as chairman would make the whole exercise easier.

Norman Evans
East Horsley, Surrey

Nonsensical job titles in the NHS

It seems to me that the root cause of the NHS’s travails (letter, 23 June) is the commodification of health. The same appears to be happening with universities, which are hurtling headlong into the same pickle.

What has been swept away is professional judgement that used to be made by well-trained and educated, experienced clinicians in all relevant disciplines. No one now seems to be able to act unless they complete endless paperwork, mechanically ticking boxes in the naive belief that it will “prove” the correct action to take.

Money could surely be saved by not paying staff handsome salaries to be “Director of the Patient Experience” or “Director of Patient Dignity” and numerous other nonsensical roles. All these aspects of care should properly be subsumed into professional practice: and the remit of all practitioners.

Dr Anthony Ingleton

Personal remarks

Dr Meic Stephens (19 June) asks if there is any other part of the UK where the second person singular is still in use. When I moved to Leeds in 1971, I was introduced to the sentence “Thee thou thysen and see ’ow thee likes it”, uttered by a speaker who has taken exception to being addressed in the familiar singular (thee) rather than the more formal plural (you). I left Yorkshire a year later and have no idea whether it is still in use.

Beatrice Godwin


Triumphs of the World Cup minnows

Five million Scots will note that in the World Cup, Italy (population 61 million) and England (53 million) have been beaten by  Costa Rica (4.5 million) and Uruguay  (3.3 million).

Dr John Doherty

Jihadist threat comes back to haunt us

The warning by Scotland Yard’s top anti-terror officer about jihadists returning from Syria is chilling. The blame, however, for the rise of these terrorists lies exclusively with the governments of Britain, the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. For years these countries have been arming, funding and training the most extreme and violent jihadists to fight in Syria.

The purpose of this funding was to replace the secular government of Assad with an Islamic regime which would serve US corporate interests. The UK government has given non-lethal aid to the so-called moderate Syrian rebels. This “moderate” group have voiced support for Bin Laden.

The policy of using Islamists to further geo-strategic goals is not new. Britain has been making secret deals with Islamists since the 1920s. The road to 9/11 started with US support for jihadists in Afghanistan in 1979.

There will be attacks on the streets of this country by returning jihadists. The fault will lie entirely with the UK government’s absurd policy of appeasement of the Saudi kleptocrats.

Alan Hinnrichs


It is true that the barbarians, as Patrick Cockburn describes them (23 June), are at the gates, but not just in the Middle East. It is in all our interests that they should be repelled and fought in every way possible.

To stave off recruitment drives for more such barbarians, Western countries rely on their security forces to monitor communities whence these recruits originate, and when they identify would-be barbarians they throw the book at them. But many of these measures can become part of the problem.

It is not easy to frighten, intimidate or overwhelm a jihadist prepared to die for a cause. It is true that measures have to be firm and decisive but they also need to display fairness and a moral compass that is blind to race and religion.

If we do not want young Muslims to be radicalised, should we not spell out what we mean by radicalisation? Does this mean they cannot vigorously criticise British foreign policy, or sympathise with the Palestinians, or visit certain websites, or be practising Muslims, or wear bushy beards, or pray in Arabic?

Confiscating their passports arbitrarily, banning their travel destinations, and handing them over to the US virtually on request do not resonate with the British values of tolerance, justice and common decency.

Those who recruit deluded teenagers tell them that Muslims are being treated like slaves and are suffering injustices like the Palestinians. When politicians in the west proclaim commitment to the safety of their own citizens, should they not wield the tools of diplomacy with greater courage and fairness to mobilise moderates to counter the allure of the barbarians?

Satanay Dorken
London N10


Sir, David Aaronovitch’s strictures against senior doctors who have raised concerns about medicating the population with statins en masse rely on his assumption that the research showing significant benefit is unimpeachable (opinion, June 19). However, much of it is based on pharmaceutical company trials.

The likelihood of bias cannot be investigated if the underlying data is not put into the public domain. Professor Sir Rory Collins has attacked those who, he says, may deny benefit to many patients by spreading scare stories. Rather than engage in a scholarly debate, he has rushed to the lay press in a way which has heightened, not reduced, patient fears.

Although statins may reduce the relative risk of a coronary event by 50 per cent, the absolute risk for many people will only be reduced by 1-2 per cent. And if, like me, he had been unfortunate enough to be disabled by taking statins, I don’t think he would care whether those getting side-effects were 2 or 20 per cent of the exposed population.

I have seen a number of patients whose doctors have insisted that they continue taking statins even when the side-effects were clear-cut and severe. This is frankly stupid. The air must be cleared and all trial data released for independent analysis.

dr andrew bamji

Rye, E Sussex

Sir, David Aaronovitch is pleased that his cholesterol level is low, but cholesterol has little, if any, role in the development of heart disease. All of the cholesterol lowering trials held before statins were available showed increased mortality in the treatment groups. Observational trials have shown, for example, that in the elderly, high cholesterol predicts longevity; and in Russia low cholesterol predicts higher risk of heart disease and increased mortality.

Statins are modestly beneficial to those with established coronary artery disease; but the original trials showed that the benefit of statins is the same irrespective of the starting level of cholesterol or the reduction in cholesterol achieved. This was predictable, as statins exert their benefit through well documented mechanisms such as preventing vessel wall inflammation and reducing the stickiness of blood platelets, not by lowering cholesterol.

Indeed the new guidelines from the American College of Cardiology recommend that once the need for a statin has been established, cholesterol levels do not even need to be re-checked. It says a newer, widely prescribed non-statin cholesterol lowering agent, Ezetimibe, should not be used as it has never been shown to be beneficial. In individuals without heart disease, statins have never shown significant benefit. In one landmark trial supposedly showing benefit, the chance of not dying from a heart attack if taking a statin was 98.8 per cent compared with 98.4 per cent without treatment.

dr angus ross, mrcp

Threlkeld, Cumbria

Sir, David Aaronovitch is right to argue that putting anecdote before evidence is dangerous. I find it extraordinary that Dr Malcolm Kendrick should say “mass statinisation is the triumph of statistics over common sense”.

The main purpose of statistics, and all science, is to reveal to us those truths which are not apparent to common sense. An obvious example is that “common sense” tells us the Sun goes round the Earth. It took science to show us that is not true.

rupert alison


Sir, The simplest way of proofing grammar schools against middle-class domination and private tutors is to have more of them, preferably hundreds, all over the country, selecting their pupils on merit rather than by the wealth of their parents (“Tutor-proof tests”, June 21). But this is currently against the law of England.

peter hitchens

London W8

Sir, Your leader (“Class Act”, June 21) calls for teacher training to be “wrested from the control of the colleges”. In fact teacher education, as we would prefer to describe it, is provided by universities, not colleges, and has been for many years.

Moreover, teacher education is strictly controlled by government, through the prescription of professional standards (with which all programmes must comply) and through Ofsted inspection (the results of which are very positive). Far from being controlled by universities, teacher education in England is more highly regulated than probably anywhere else in the world.

Finally, it is worth noting that those entering teaching through the Teach First scheme, which your leader so warmly applauds, are trained by those self-same universities whose work your leading article criticises.

gordon kirk

Academic secretary, Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers

Sir, Matt Ridley (opinion, June 23) says that GM food has killed nobody. But what about the estimated quarter of a million cotton farmers who, according to Indian government figures, committed suicide in India between 1995 and 2010? Many observers have pointed to debts accrued through purchasing GM seeds, fertiliser and pesticides and a cause of this suicide epidemic. GM seeds usually require chemical inputs and are sold in packages with them, leading to mounting costs for small-scale farmers.

GM seed companies and agrochemical companies, with the support of governments including the UK’s, are now pushing to expand their sales in Africa — and to restrict the traditional saving and exchanging of seeds by farmers. By making it difficult for small farmers to avoid reliance on their products, GM companies risk sending more farmers into debt and out of business.

heidi chow

World Development Movement

Sir, Matt Ridley claims GM food cannot be a threat to health “after billions of GM meals have been eaten all round the world”. This is an assumption, not a scientific finding.

The same belief applied to trans fats (another man-made food) until scientists conducted epidemiological studies decades after their introduction. No such epidemiological studies have ever been conducted on GM foods.

mark griffiths


Sir, George Osborne’s suggestion of an HS3 route from Leeds to Manchester pre-supposes that high-speed railway lines lead to economic growth (report, June 23). It is true that our transport infrastructure needs more capacity along its major arteries, but given that only about 5 per cent of journeys in this country are made by rail, it would be logical to provide more road capacity before spending massive amounts of money on speeding up rail journeys for the few. Advocates of HS2 argue that the present line has little spare capacity, but it is surely more pressing that the M1 has already exceeded its capacity.

andrew harris

Droitwich, Worcs

Sir, The chancellor’s announcement about creating a northern powerhouse via HS3 is enormously welcome and raises the bar on cities policy. Thriving cities need strong city centres that are attractive places to live and work, and are well-linked to surrounding areas. Many northern cities are falling behind in these respects, but Mr Osborne’s vision could make a vast difference.

We must ensure that the first phase of the high-speed link does go from Manchester to Leeds — the two biggest northern cities. The government must also be clear and generous in the powers it affords to elected mayors, giving them a firm and defined mandate and the reach and authority they need to implement change in their local communities.

alexandra jones

Chief executive, Centre for Cities


SIR – I must take issue with Judith Woods, who writes that Kirsty Wark “once she’s got a government minister between her teeth, is as tenacious as a Border terrier”. As a family we have had enormous pleasure from owning Border terriers for more than 40 years. They are charming, friendly little dogs and I would trust them with anybody, especially children. Tenacious bite? No!

Oriel Rogers-Coltman
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

SIR – I warmly welcome your leading article calling for a debate on the current law protecting religion and belief following Baroness Hale’s recent lecture in Dublin. The law in these past years has done too little to protect the beliefs of Christians and the legitimate freedoms of Christian organisations. Baroness Hale referred to a particular case in which a judge had condemned a Christian couple for turning away a gay couple from their B  &  B guest house.

A similar case occurred some seven years ago when the Catholic dioceses in England and Wales were forced to restructure or even close their adoption agencies when a new and quite unnecessary law was passed obliging all such agencies to accept gay couples as prospective adoptive parents. Because of our conviction that children are better placed in a home with a man and a woman, a father and mother, the agencies were unable to offer a service to same-sex couples. Providing an exception to allow these few small religious voluntary agencies to continue would not in any way have denied gay couples access to mainstream providers of adoption services.

It would in fact have been a sensible and proportionate accommodation, recognising that religious organisations have a distinct identity and ethos that very often brings a valuable contribution to the wider common good of society. In spite of the fact that I, as Archbishop of Westminster then, appealed to the prime minister and the Cabinet for an exemption from this law, it was not forthcoming and the result has been a sad loss for the church and society.

How extraordinary that a law, in the name of tolerance, should become so intolerant to a charity that aims only to do good and foster the most vulnerable children. We do indeed need in our pluralist society to strike a much fairer balance which recognises the importance of religion and belief and allows a more open and mature accommodation of differences while ensuring that the law protects everyone equally and prevents harm.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor
London W4

Nasty fire danger

SIR – I sympathise with Charles Metcalfe (Letters, June 20). Perhaps if he had spent some time watching the Discovery Channel he would have understood the danger: wire wool and a nine-volt battery are excellent tools to start a campfire. Those who have spent time in a machine shop will know the hazards; metallic swarf can behave in a similar fashion and oily rags can self-combust. The nastiest is shredded paper; any attempt to extinguish one of these fires leaves one in no doubt that it should be stored off the premises.

Andrew Woodward
Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia

Flagging it up

SIR – Why do we not just redesign the Union Jack so that it is equal both ways up? Then no one will need to complain that it is flown upside down.

Adair Anderson

High-vis kids

SIR – Recently, on BBC News, live from within the House of Commons, I saw groups of visiting schoolchildren all clad in high-visibility jackets. Can someone tell me what dangers await them within these walls – apart from a portly MP or two rushing off for a subsidised lunch or to submit their expenses.

Ted Shorter
Hildenborough, Kent

Women in engineering

SIR – Today is National Women in Engineering Day, a chance to focus on the many opportunities that exist for women in engineering, at a time when the industry needs engineering skills more than ever.

Women make up 46 per cent of Britain’s workforce, but only around 15 per cent of the core Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) workforce. Women are particularly under-represented in engineering, as only 6 per cent of the British engineering workforce is female. Creating an inclusive environment in the workplace has shown us that diverse teams get better results and are good for business.

One quarter of our British workforce at Bechtel is female, including 14 per cent of our engineering population. While this is greater than the national average, we recognise that we need to do more to foster equality and publicise the great opportunities that a career in engineering can offer both men and women.

Encouraging more Stem teaching in schools is the first step to raising the number of female engineers. We are to hold 24 outreach events this year at schools and universities across the country to boost the numbers of women in engineering and technology.

However, increasing the number of female engineers is also about helping women to feel accepted and comfortable in a traditionally male-oriented sector. We have a company group focused on gender diversity that involves both women and men, and we are providing training to raise awareness of unconscious bias that continues to permeate the industry.

Peter Dawson
President, Civil Infrastructure, Bechtel
London EC4

An uphill struggle

SIR – We appear to have lost the battle to stop yet another peculiar word being accepted into normal usage. For now we have Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, speaking about a “hike” in the interest rate. What on earth is the matter with saying “increase” or “rise”?

Ron Kirby
Dorchester, Dorset

Nod off

SIR – I do not nod my head as I listen to a question being asked of me. BBC television reporters do it, on average, every three seconds when being questioned by news presenters. Why?

Lt Col Richard King-Evans
Hambye, Normandy, France

Out with the trans fats, in with the dripping

SIR – Far better than a tax on sugar (Letters, June 21) would be to remove from the shelves all those foodstuffs that contain substitute trans fats.

Look at ingredients of the vegetable oil or palm oil contained in ice-cream, biscuits, bagels, pastries, cakes, mayonnaise and bottled sauces and you will find these artificial fats listed. They are behind obesity and high blood pressure.

People should be educated again to eat proper fats made on the farm: butter, cheese and double cream; good beef dripping for frying chips and making Yorkshire pudding; and pork lard for pastry, frying old potatoes and making bubble and squeak.

Dr George Yuille Caldwell

SIR – As a leading producer of sugar in Britain, we are committed to playing our part in addressing obesity but do not believe that a tax on sugar is the right answer to what is a complicated problem.

There is no conclusive evidence that a sugar tax will have the desired effect or prompt a change in consumer behaviour.

A tax introduced in Denmark in 2011 on food containing more than 2.3g of saturated fat was repealed after just 15 months, having had no measurable impact on dietary habits. Furthermore, here in Britain, government figures show that there has been a reduction of almost 12 per cent per capita in total sugar consumption for the past decade. In order to make better and more informed choices about the food and drink we consume, we need clear, unbiased, evidence-based information.

Richard Pike
Managing Director, British Sugar
London WC2

SIR – The 1975 sugar crisis put paid to my taste for sugar in my tea and on breakfast cereal. At my convent boarding school, in response to the crisis, only one teaspoonful per cereal bowl was allowed. This was administered from a central point in the dining room. The sugar scatterer did a halfhearted job at distribution, delivering it in one plop which inevitably ended up combined with the milk as a sickly residue at the bottom of the bowl, having missed the cereal altogether.

Virginia Hudson
Swanmore, Hampshire

SIR – I believe the reasoning behind the Royal College of Nursing’s proposal for a £10 charge in order to prevent trivial complaints being presented to GPs is seriously flawed.

Those who were unable to afford paying this fee would probably only see their GP when a possibly minor, easily treatable ailment had become more troubling and possibly serious, even terminal. This would result in more expensive treatment and fewer successful outcomes than if the patient had been seen sooner. That is hardly a recipe for reducing NHS spending.

Pensioners, who are in general more reluctant to visit their GP in any case, would be the least able to afford £10 for a consultation, and so would be even less likely to seek help until a problem had become serious.

Margaret Robinson
London SE9

SIR – Various statistics are projected on to a screen in my GP’s waiting room. One shows the number of “no-shows” for booked appointments, which runs into several hundred per month.

Rather than charging to see your GP, which would unfairly penalise those who are unable to pay due to their circumstances, patients should be fined for failing to keep an appointment and refused further appointments until payment of the fine has been received. This may cause patients to act more responsibly.

Stephen Barnes
Alton, Hampshire

SIR – Who will be held accountable for the first death that occurs as a result of a seriously ill person not having the £10 to pay for a visit to a GP?

Mary Ross
Penketh, Cheshire

SIR – I’d willingly pay £10 to see my GP if it improves the service I currently receive.

As it stands, if I ask to see the doctor I am given an appointment eight days later. Being 67 I might be forgiven for forgetting a date that far in advance. In making an appointment I must telephone at 8.15am. I am not allowed to go in person, send an email or write a letter.

When I do see the doctor, I’m allowed only 10 minutes and only allowed to discuss one problem. Should I need to discuss two, I have to book a 20-minute appointment.

Bill Thompson
Birkenhead, Wirral

SIR – I recently had visitors from Australia, one of whom became ill while here. They went to an A&E, where they were given excellent attention and treatment, including 20 minutes of the doctor’s time.

On asking how to pay, they were told the hospital didn’t have any facilities for receiving cheques or cards. They then asked if there was a box in which to make a contribution and were told there wasn’t. Would they be sent a bill? No.

Susan Gibbs
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Claire Conlon (June 21st) wonders why we cannot have a free healthcare system for all funded by general taxation. Indeed, she asks “why not?” She makes the usual assumption, so often heard, that the problems in the health system are due to the inequity of those with money in their pocket being able to access treatment and diagnostic tests over those with the actual clinical need.

She goes further, however, by stating that poorer people will continue to die while those with money will have treatment that they “may not even need”, with no “external scrutiny” in private medicine. These are astonishing and serious allegations. She fails to present any evidence to support them, however. I have worked in both sectors, and auditing and regulation of practice is as thorough, if not more so, in the independent sector as it is in the public system. Furthermore, most private hospitals are subject to biannual investigation and accreditation through the independent, external Joint Commission International, which sets out clear guidelines and criteria by which hospitals should practice and function.

As for funding of the health service, voluntary health insurance is in reality a voluntary health “taxation”. It is paid in large part by people of modest means who have no faith in the public system, and choose the burden of extra taxation to look after their health and that of their families. It is not the preserve of those “with money”. Without the independent sector, the general taxpayer would have to absorb the extra cost for funding what is currently done in the private hospitals. Seeing as 41 per cent of all elective surgery is performed in this sector, this would run into several billions. This does not even take into account what the HSE is earning by charging insurance companies every time a patient with insurance darkens the door of a public hospital.

Of course, the direct taxation-funded model exists across the water, in the guise of the NHS. Anybody who thinks that this model can simply be replicated here is misguided. One has only to look at the state of general practice in the UK to see the problems that the NHS model presents. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, patients can now expect a 14-day delay before being seen by their GP, and some will not be seen at all, but triaged over the phone by the practice nurse. Many NHS trusts are almost bankrupt, and services are being severely curtailed in many regions.

Ms Conlon obviously believes the state of the public health service is due to the existence of the independent private sector. She has put the cart before the horse. The independent sector has not caused the problem. It exists because of the problem.

Without the independent sector, the public health system would implode. The public sector needs to fix itself, with the resources that are currently at its disposal, and stop looking at others as the cause of its illness. – Yours, etc,



Association of Independent

Medical and Surgical


Beacon Hospital,


Sir, – As a retired circuit judge, albeit from another jurisdiction, I feel impelled to write in defence of Niall Collins TD. He may have been unwise, but by no stretch of the imagination can his conduct be characterised as improper.

He acted “by the book”, sending through defence solicitors a letter that would be referred to in open court – just as anyone else who knew the defendant, be they doctor or priest or social worker or neighbour, might have done.

Impropriety, indeed very grave impropriety, would have attached to any behind-the-scenes or private communication between TD and judge, but of such there is in this case no suggestion. Mr Collins, in my view, has been quite unjustly castigated.

As a footnote, during 22 years as a member of the judiciary of England and Wales, I received only one back-door approach on a sentencing issue. It came from a then retired, and now long dead, circuit judge in Ireland! – Yours, etc,


Catley Grove,

Long Ashton,


Sir, – What is being perhaps overlooked here is the power and influence of Oireachtas notepaper, which every TD is only too aware of.

Mr Collins regrets if writing a letter to the courts pleading for leniency for a convicted drug dealer suggested “anything other than total respect for judicial independence”.

What part of respect does Mr Collins not understand? Pleading leniency for a convicted drug dealer is an insult to the many families throughout Ireland that have lost parents and children, brothers and sisters to drugs and drug-related violence.

Show a little real respect, Mr Collins. – Yours, etc,



Moyne Road,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – The Israeli embassy’s response to the “Breaking the Silence” exhibition in Dublin illustrates the agenda that Israel’s foreign office has been promoting for years – to distort and hide the truth of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands (“Israeli soldiers speak out on abuse of Palestinians”, July 19th).

“Breaking the Silence” gathers testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Our goal is to tell the story of the occupation through the eyes of Israeli soldiers in order to generate a debate about the moral price of the occupation. We aim to turn our society into a more honest and healthy one.

The Israeli embassy in Dublin clearly does not respect honesty and courage. They referred to us as “useful idiots” and accused us of supporting the destruction of the state of Israel.

The term “useful idiots” is used to silence opposition by implying that someone is a pawn in the hands of the enemy. Our organisation was established by soldiers who could no longer keep quiet about the unjust reality of occupation. It is not easy to speak openly about these things, but we know it is our moral duty.

We are all patriots, and we all love our country. When we enlisted into the army we did so out of love for our country. Today we are guided by that same love. The state of Israel that we want to live in is one that does not force its control over other people.

The embassy claims that we are “delegitimising” the state of Israel. It is time that our ambassadors understood what is clear to everyone – it is the 47-year occupation that is delegitimising Israel.

To the embassy, I say – if you truly care about Israel, join us and break the silence. Until you decide to do so, idiots or not, you are not useful. Not for Israel, and not for the future of the region. – Yours, etc,


Executive Director,

Breaking the Silence,

PO Box 51027,

Tel Aviv,

A chara, – Further to Michael Jansen’s article (“Betrayal of Arabs after first World War set stage for turbulent century”, June 21st), there is no doubt that the Sykes-Picot borders were and are deeply problematic, but the Arabs did not all speak with one voice. For example, the Alawites of Syria – fearing domination by Sunni Muslims – wanted their own state and it’s difficult to see how a pan-Arab state could have avoided the problems we see in countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq today.

By 1948, the vast bulk of the territory that comprised British Mandatory Palestine had been awarded to the Arab Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. The remaining coastal strip was to be divided between Arabs and Jews. However, Arab nations refused to accept this and invaded. It was under these circumstances that Arabs fled their home – often under the urging of their own leaders on the expectation that they could return once the fledgling Jewish state had been erased from the map.

The article makes no reference to the greatest population movement of all in the Middle East in the 20th century – the forced exodus of nearly one million Jews from Arab and Islamic countries. Any account that ignores this is failing to give a full picture of the complexities of that region. – Yours, etc,



College Street,


Sir, – Five million Scots will note that in the World Cup, Italy (population 61 million) and England (population 53 million) have been seen off by Uruguay (population 3.3 million) and Costa Rica (population 4.5 million). – Yours, etc,


Cnoc an Stollaire,

Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Donegal.

Sir, – Your excellent coverage and analysis of the World Cup has been most comprehensive, but it has been unable to suggest which team God supports. The South American teams are blessing themselves before running on to the pitch, and African teams are clasping their hands in a “prayer-like fashion” and looking towards the heavens after each near-miss. The Brazilians seem to point a single finger skyward after each goal, indicating some sort of divine pact. The Italian players are kissing crosses and medallions, on the sidelines, suggesting that they may be the chosen ones. It seems divine intervention was unavailable for the “atheistic” Switzerland, and it appears that God has not saved the queen, although he may be guiding Costa Rica towards the final. – Yours, etc,


Rock Road,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Is there any chance, out of the goodness of their hearts, that the organisers of the World Cup could give us a couple of those orange stretcher yokes that they use to transport injured players off the field? Not only do the players seem to recover remarkably quickly as soon as they are put on one, but some, as soon as the stretcher is presented, seem to recover instantaneously on the pitch. They appear to be a remarkable medical advance and might be used to some considerable effect outside our overstretched A&E departments. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Thomas Conway (June 21st) rightly commends Fifa for the use of foam to assist in the marshalling of free-kicks. I presume the diversion of the foam to this new purpose is the reason that so many players seem not to have had a decent shave. – Yours, etc,


Ballyraine Park


Co Donegal.

Sir,  – As a first step to restoring the reputation of Fifa, perhaps someone could spray Sepp Blatter with the vanishing foam. – Yours, etc, PADRAIG DOYLE,

Pine Valley Avenue,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – May I suggest that rumours of support from British prime minister David Cameron for the potential candidacy of the Taoiseach for the presidency of the EU commission should be seriously considered? The prestige and influence for Ireland of Enda Kenny attaining this position would be considerable; it would reinforce the current excellent relations between Ireland and Britain; and would ensure for Mr Kenny a career beyond 2016, which is nowhere near guaranteed at the moment. – Yours, etc,


Glasnevin Woods,

Ballyboggan Road,

Dublin 11.

Sir, – I am amazed that the Minister for Justice has decided to extend the search for a new Garda commissioner to foreign nationals (“Search for new Garda commissioner to go overseas but may be protracted”, June 21st).

The Garda commissioner is responsible for all domestic intelligence gathering through the Crime and Security Branch. The idea of appointing a non-national to head up the FBI in the US or MI5 in the UK would be rightly risible in those countries. Ireland, like other countries, has interests that may be similar but are never the same as those of other states. For example, there are ongoing differences between the Irish government and the UK over the investigation of the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Furthermore, how would a non-national receive top-level security clearance in this country? Time to think again, Minister. – Yours, etc,




Co Cork.

Sir, – The improvements in law and order in Tallaght fill me with pride in our capital’s justice system.

In January a judge was calling for “the assistance of the Civil Defence” due to a “total breakdown in social order” in the area (“Judge calls for Civil Defence after ‘social order breakdown’” Front Page, January 23rd). Now a mere six months later it seems we don’t even need a courthouse in Tallaght (Breaking News, June 23rd).

Other countries must look on in envy. – Yours, etc,


North Brunswick Street,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – Conor Kennedy (June 20th) makes an excellent point regarding the excessive length of time taken by our banks to process electronic payments and transfers. I paid my credit card bill online recently. The money was taken immediately from my bank account (of course), but was not credited to my credit card bill until five days later. When I queried this with the bank, I was told that it was because of the weekend in between payment and credit to my account. Irish banks must be the only ones in the world that give their computers the weekend off! – Yours, etc,




Dublin 16.

Sir, –Why is it being assumed that the people of Northern Ireland would wish to remain attached to the southern portion of the British Isles if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom?

Scotland is unique in that it is well-placed to understand the concerns of both the unionist and republican communities in Northern Ireland.

If Scotland votes for independence, the choice for the people of Northern Ireland would be to remain attached to England or attached to Scotland.

If the prospect of Irish unification remains unacceptable to the unionist community, might not a link with Scotland offer a more acceptable compromise which offers something to all sides? – Yours, etc,


Rosefield Street,


Sir, – Further to Hugh Oram’s An Irishman’s Diary (June 17th), it is worth noting that today’s academic bestseller is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century; in 1927 it was Helen Waddell’s The Wandering Scholars. Then, as now, popular appeal can raise scholarly hackles. Waddell’s fellow experts were baffled and not a little miffed by her success: a rival declared that “the very genius of her writing negates its appeal to a crowd of specialists” and accused her of “jazz[ing] the Middle Ages”, while FM Powicke, who had known her as an undergraduate at Queen’s University Belfast and was soon to be installed as regius professor of modern history at Oxford, prophesised “that she will have many readers, and that, though some of them may often want to shake her, all of them will wish to thank her”.

Waddell’s works may no longer be fashionable but they continue to attract readers – and serious attention, not so easily sidelined into “certain academic circles”. Her unique fusion of scholarship and creativity stimulates questions as to what she does and how she does it; the answers which emerge draw attention to her profound, radical and extraordinarily fertile achievement. Mediaeval Latin Lyrics has been reissued with a searching introduction by John Scattergood (Four Courts Press); a new biography interweaves her scholarly fortunes and misfortunes with that of her best friend, Irish medieval historian Maude Clarke, and the first critical examination of Waddell’s varied oeuvre, examining her extraordinary achievement, edited by myself, has just been published under the title Helen Waddell Reassessed: New Readings (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014). – Yours, etc,


Bruceala Court,

Cardiff, California.

Irish Independent:

Ireland’s history is a burden that cannot be shed, it weighs heavily on every generation. For far too long it has been seen as a never-ending fight for our freedom from British rule – a struggle that was governed by the heart more often than by the head, sometimes justifying actions of unspeakable depravity.

Sigmund Freud reminds us of the blood and cruelty that lie at the bottom of all we uncritically see as good.

In Ireland, we have generated a myth of origin that has all the marks of religious belief, emphasising the ritual significance of laying down one’s life for one’s country and the glorification of war, inhibiting a more critical grasp of our past.

The 1916 Rising was, by any standards, an abysmal failure driven by the religious notions of martyrdom and blood sacrifice, echoes of which we see in today’s fundamentalist Islam.

What the Easter Rising and the Civil War did for the country was not to release the free spirit of the Irish but to imprison us in a world created by a dynastic system of politics, allied to an outmoded form of nationalism, working to the advantage of the few.

The regular commemoration of the events of 1916 continues to confront us with all the ambiguities that lay in the wake of those days.

Yeats’ terrible beauty was not just born but continues to be nourished and reared in a haze of banal triumphalism, drowning out the anguished cry of the poor and the marginalised.

We are living in challenging times where traditional certainties are ebbing away.

However, if we have no clear vision for the future we become locked in the past, living in it rather than learning from it.

There is a crying need for a genuine national debate about where Ireland is heading.

Would that such a debate would replace the exchange of empty political slogans and promises so that politics does not continue to degenerate into the art of the improbable.





Spain has recently crowned its new King, Felipe VI. The Kingdom of Spain is one of Ireland’s oldest allies, possibly our oldest. Spain’s relationship with Ireland stretches back, at least, to the time of the Elizabethan oppression when many Catholic chieftains and lords were exiled from Ireland to Spain and to other European countries.

Today there are still shipwrecks from the famous Spanish Armada, which many Irish in the year 1588 hoped would liberate Ireland from the oppression of the Protestant English crown of the time, lying off the west coast of Ireland.

Irish participants fought on both sides of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Given Ireland’s cultural and historic links with Spain, I would like to see the Government extend an invitation to the new king and queen to come to Ireland on a state visit.





Very little has been written on the Irish Famine until relatively recent times. One of the reasons for this may well have been the impact of the Famine on the Irish psyche. There is a similarity with the Jewish Holocaust of the 1940s where at least a generation was to pass before Jewish artists and scholars got to work.

The sheer horror of the experience had made the task of confrontation extremely difficult. So it must have been with the Irish Famine. It is hard to conceive, but is nonetheless true, that in many parts of the country people of all ages witnessed the dead bodies of whole families on roadsides or in abandoned hovels.

This may have some relevance for the taboo surrounding children born out of wedlock, which emerged with a vengeance in post-Famine Ireland and caused such pain and distress to so many young women and their offspring. In investigating the origins of this taboo, many lines of inquiry need to be followed. I would hope that the role of the Famine is not ignored.

To what extent did the taboo of bringing a child into the world out of wedlock, without clear provision for its future, derive from the image rooted in the Irish psyche of the dead Famine infants and children?





Wasn’t the hurling game on Sunday a dinger?

There they were, the cats; purring! All systems running like a Swiss watch. Galway beaten in almost every position on the field. Game over, Henry on – “bye bye Galway, next please!”

Then we saw what the power of one person can do. Namely Joe Canning. He caught the game by the scruff of the neck and inspired those around him to say, “No, we will not capitulate!”

The power of one who says ‘No’ is a very powerful force indeed, it would seem.

“Yes we can!” “No you won’t!” And the heat goes on!





It is a little bizarre to base the case, at least in part, for inviting a British royal to 1916 commemorative ceremonies on the premise that the Home Rule Bill signed by George V in September 1914 was “more or less what we got in the Treaty of 1921” (Noel Flannery, June 21), thereby implying that both the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence were completely unnecessary.

There is a world of difference between Home Rule, now called devolution, and independence.

Britain was quite happy to grant Home Rule to both Northern and Southern Ireland in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, but made every effort militarily to break the campaign for independence, though based outside North-East Ulster on an overwhelming electoral mandate.

When historical arguments are adduced to support political positions, it is important that they do not gloss over vital differences, or belittle real achievements.





The United States tax authorities have recently reported that foreign corporations, incorporated in Ireland but controlled by 666 American corporations, reported earnings and profits, before tax, of $87.12bn for 2010 and that tax on these earnings amounted to $2.9bn (3.3pc). The corresponding earnings of this cohort for 2004 were €24.78bn on which the tax liability was €1.6bn (6.4pc). The scale of these earnings was equivalent to 12pc of our GDP in 2004 and 42pc of our GDP in 2010.

By way of comparison, the earnings and profits in 2010 of over 3,200 American-controlled foreign corporations incorporated in France and Germany was $31.4bn, which incurred a tax liability of $5.1bn (16.2pc).

The Irish corporation tax system is statute-based and its characteristics of transparency and simplicity are promoted across the world as being advantageous. But could the quality of transparency be substantially enhanced if all taxpayers’ returns were disclosed in the public domain by the Irish authorities?

Financial transparency is a vital component of a progressive and accountable democracy. The communication of tax payment information would strengthen the relationship between a company and the stakeholders who are the source of its prosperity and growth.



Irish Independent


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