26 September 2014 Ben

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day. Off to the chemist but no medicine for Mary, Ben comes and does some books.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Werner Franz – obituary

Werner Franz was a cabin boy who survived the Hindenburg disaster by jumping through a service hatch as the airship crashed

Werner Franz, survivor of the Hindenburg disaster

Werner Franz, survivor of the Hindenburg disaster Photo: AP

6:03PM BST 25 Sep 2014


WERNER FRANZ, who has died aged 92, was thought to be the last surviving crew member of the Hindenburg, the huge German airship that exploded and crashed in the first major disaster in American aviation history.

As a 14-year-old cabin boy, Werner Franz was the youngest member of the Hindenburg’s 60-strong crew when the hydrogen-filled Zeppelin caught fire and crashed at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6 1937. Of the 97 people on board, 36 passengers and crew and one person on the ground were killed when the airship crashed in an enormous fireball.

The Hindenburg disaster was captured by waiting photographers, film crews and a radio commentator on the ground, making it one of history’s most vividly reported air accidents.

Hindenburg bursting into flames on May 6 1937

Named after the German president who appointed Hitler chancellor in 1933, the Hindenburg airship was a spectacular — and expensive — form of transport that could cross the Atlantic westbound in less than three days, at a time when even the swiftest ocean liners could take up to a week or more. As such it was also a powerful propaganda tool of the Nazi regime.

Having made its maiden voyage more than a year earlier, the Hindenburg had made 62 safe flights before its destruction. Werner had made four round-trip transatlantic crossings, to both North and South America, and had become familiar with the airship’s internal network of narrow wooden passageways that connected bow to stern, a distance of more than 800ft — almost the length of the Titanic.

He had been clearing the dinner dishes in the officer’s mess when, at 7.25pm, he heard a thud and felt the airship shake. The Hindenburg lurched, and its nose began tilting upwards. “Directly overhead there were flames,” Werner Franz remembered.

One memorable photograph of the disaster shows the airship buckling as a fireball rises from its back. Near the nose of the ship, what looks like a spray of water escaping was actually a torrent from the Hindenburg’s ruptured water tanks. Werner Franz believed that getting drenched when they burst protected him from the flames and heat and may have saved his life.

“At first I was shocked, but the water brought me back,” he recalled at a commemoration ceremony in 2004. Gripping both sides of a picture window as the airship sank towards the ground, he kicked open a service hatch used to load provisions, swung his feet out and jumped. He can be seen in newsreel footage of the disaster, leaping the few feet to the ground, and running for his life. “I was doing it instinctively. I didn’t think,” he said.

His timing could hardly have been better. The airship was just low enough to allow Franz to land on a canvas ballast bag, which cushioned his fall, but high enough for him to dash beneath the port side of the airship before it collapsed on the ground in a burning mass. Having jumped clear of the Hindenburg, Franz ran for his life away from the blazing wreckage, as the flames were driven in his direction by the wind. As a result he escaped with singed eyebrows and soaking wet clothes; otherwise he had barely a scratch.

The young Werner Franz with one of his fellow survivors, Heinrich Kubis, who was serving as chief steward on the flight

Werner Franz was born in Frankfurt on May 22 1922. As a 14 year-old he landed his job on the Hindenburg quite by chance. His brother worked in a hotel where the passengers gathered before boarding the airship, and when the Zeppelin Company asked the hotel for a boy to serve the officers, Werner was chosen. The experience was an eye-opener for a boy from a humble background. His job was to make beds, set tables, wash dishes and clean uniforms, but for a brief few months he saw the world in a way usually enjoyed only by the airship’s affluent passengers. As well as huge picture windows affording breathtaking views, the Hindenburg offered passengers gourmet German and French cuisine to the musical accompaniment of an aluminium baby grand piano.

Although Werner worked a 14-hour day serving the officers’ meals and attending to their cabins, he was allowed to take breaks during which he could enjoy the spectacular panorama below. He would often visit the mechanics who manned the engines or the riggers who worked at the top of the airship. On the day of the disaster, he climbed up to his favourite small window for a bird’s-eye view of New York City, gazing over Manhattan’s “ocean of buildings far and wide” as the Hindenburg circled overhead, waiting for local thunderstorms to abate at Lakehurst.

But as the fireball exploded, Franz was busy on the mess deck and not at his preferred observation point further forward, where other crewmen waiting to prepare the ship for landing were incinerated by flames bursting through the nose.

The day after the disaster, as a US Navy search team picked through the smoking wreckage, Werner Franz asked them to look for his pocket-watch, a present from his grandfather. It was found amid the debris, a mangled scrap of blackened metal but still ticking.

Although sabotage was initially suspected, no convincing evidence of a plot to destroy the airship was ever found. A build-up of static electricity that ignited a hydrogen leak is now believed to be a possible explanation for the disaster.

During the Second World War, Franz served as a radio operator and instructor in the Luftwaffe. After the war he worked as a precision engineer for the German postal service and was also a skating coach.

Werner Franz, who considered his few months’ service aboard the Hindenburg as the happiest time of his life, is survived by his wife, Annerose, and several children. At least one other survivor of the disaster, Werner Doehner, then eight years old and who was thrown out of the stricken airship by his mother, is thought to be still living.

Werner Franz, born May 22 1922, died August 13 2014


Houses of Parliament, London Home for a devolved English parliament? The Houses of Parliament at sunrise. Photograph: Alamy

There is already an English standing committee of the House of Commons (If home rule is good enough for Scotland, it should be good enough for England too, 20 September). If you want English votes for English laws then do it in the committee stage. Have the English committee meet in the House of Commons one or two days a week. We can do this now and need no constitutional change to bring this about. We do not need a separate English parliament to bring this about or a separate English executive.
Nigel Boddy

• As Gordon Reece rightly says (Letters, 22 September) the logic of preventing Scots MPs from voting on English matters is that only women should vote on women’s issues etc. But there’s surely a wider constitutional issue. We’ve spent months successfully persuading the people of Scotland that we’re better together. Yet we now plan to tell their representatives that they can only contribute to debate on matters affecting some parts of our supposedly “United” Kingdom. They’d be right to suspect that “together” didn’t quite mean what we led them to believe.
David Robertson
West Malvern, Worcestershire

• We used to have devolved government in England (Cameron faces pressure over home rule deal, 22 September). It was called local government and it had powers to levy taxes dependent on local need – rates. The Tories eviscerated it in the 1980s because councils did not agree with central government. We don’t need regional parliaments. We need local government with real powers.
Gary Hogben
Moreton, Wirral

• The problem at Westminster is not that Scottish MPs can vote on English matters whereas English MPs cannot vote on purely Scottish matters. Scottish MPs cannot vote on purely Scottish matters either, because there is a more appropriate forum where those matters are decided. There is no such forum for English matters. Voters in Scotland elect councillors to decide purely local matters, MSPs to decide regional matters and MPs to decide national matters. To dismiss the notion of having an English parliament (or regional assemblies) as simply adding another layer of politicians is to miss the whole point of devolution: to move power nearer to the people affected by political decisions.
Robin Gardner
West Bridgford, Nottingham

• How can David Cameron, having seen turnout of 85%+ in Scotland, think that the “English question” can be settled by a few Westminster politicians in a matter of months? We need a debate over years, not months, not about the intricacies of the West Lothian question, or Ukip’s sour complaint about English taxpayers’ subsidy, but about a radical devolution of power to local areas, to reflect England’s scale and diversity. Within living memory the city of Carlisle ran both its electricity supply and its pubs – an indication of how far local authority powers have shrunk.

A debate about which powers, and what is local, would wake up England. “Localistas” like me would argue that Manchester and Margate require locally led labour-market and skills policies, and local control over minimum wages. “Centralisers” would worry about small-town corruption and postcode lotteries. Localistas would counter with a gradual transfer of powers as local capacity builds up. And so forth. But it needs all the Westminster parties to abide by whatever consultation or referendum results comes out.

We really are at a turning point. This is an opportunity to get the English voting again. Let’s hope politicians rise to the challenge.
Carolyn Hayman

• The way to spike the neoliberal guns is not so very difficult (Beware the hijacking of reform, 22 September): whatever powers are devolved to Scotland should also be devolved to English local authorities. Too simple? Too obvious? Why?

Health and education are what most voters care most about, as well as being the departments being given away (to privatising forces). You just have to change who you are giving the power to – namely, back to the people, whether of Scotland, Manchester, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Lansley and his lot have already prepared the NHS for a carve-up, and Gove’s work in education was so bad that no recent work done in that area would constitute a loss.

Working out how to have a fair legal system for England will take more time, but giving control of health and education to local governance seems a great start to devolving power to the millions of English, Welsh and Northern Irish people who want to feel relevant again in democratic political processes.
Peter Cawley

• I suggest that there be just one class of UK MPs with dual roles: they would sit in Westminster (alternating with the other capitals) as the House of Commons for two to three days a fortnight dealing with supranational UK matters, and in their home parliaments for the rest of the time, focusing onEnglish/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish devolved powers and their constituents.

This system allows English home rule and requires each national parliament to help run the greater UK, so taking their proper share of responsibility for the UK as a whole. An added advantage is the money saved through losing the current non-English Westminster MPs. The hardest problem would be choosing the prime minister, who would be more presidential than now: they would run the macro-economy, foreign affairs and defence, with pretty much everything else devolved to the national governments.The easiest solution is for MPs to elect one of their number.

And, given the much diminished role of the House of Commons, would this system really need the House of Lords revising chamber? The Northern Irish and Welsh parliaments seem to get along fine without a second chamber, as does the Scottish one, and it makes its own laws. The vacated House of Lords would make an ideal, readymade home for the English parliament.
Jonathan Bard

• We shouldn’t get too misty-eyed about devolution as the panacea to our political ills (A big moment that demands a big response; 20 September). A bigger challenge has to be tackled first: the need to root out “old corruption”. In the 18th century, financial, commercial and political elites meshed together to feed parasitically off the growing wealth of the state. It went beyond Westminster, capturing the professions and a whole host of apparently non-political areas of life. Contemporaries felt that the “rapacious economic spirit” of the age pervaded all aspects of society: economics, politics and morality. Sound familiar?

Its disappearance around the middle of the 19th century was down to reforming governments that reconstructed the state to protect the public interest and laid the foundation for regulatory and collective state provision.

A decade ago David Marquand highlighted the return of old corruption in his book The Decline of the Public. It was driven by “the cronyism and clientelism spawned by the privatisation” of the previous 25 years.

It has continued apace: accountancy companies that write tax legislation for government simultaneously provide advice to clients about how to avoid the tax regulations they have drafted; outsourcing giants, Serco and G4S, at the centre of serious fraud inquiries granted new government work; the revolving door between Westminster, Whitehall and the private sector spins faster; profitable public assets sold for a song; companies involved in the privatisation of education and the NHS (to name but two areas of the shrinking public domain) reflects a similar meshing of political and financial interests that would have been familiar to those adept at drawing off largesse from the 18th-century state.

If these issues are not tackled, old corruption will extend its lease on our faltering political institutions: devolved or not.
Councillor Alan Waters (Labour)
Deputy leader, Norwich city council

• Scottish MPs are to be banned from voting on “English issues”. What about unelected Scottish peers in the House of Lords? Presumably Tom Strathclyde (Scottish hereditary baron) and David Steel (former Scottish MP) will be banned, but what about the Countess of Mar, a Scottish hereditary peerage held by a cheese-maker from Worcestershire? Rather than tinkering with an illogical system, we need to embark on fundamental constitutional reform to federalism.
Andrea Woelke

• Surely it would be timely to rename the Bank of England as Bank UK. The assets contained in the Bank of England are proportionately the property of the people of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland as well as England.

Come on, Dave. Betray your tribe.
Thomas Jenkin
Penzance, Cornwall

• Symmetrical devolution across the UK is superficially attractive. The problem is that the idea of “English votes for English laws” is not symmetrical if it involves simply giving additional powers to English MPs elected to the existing Westminster parliament.

The Scottish (and Welsh and Northern Irish) assemblies are elected by voters explicitly voting for representatives who are collectively responsible for delivering defined devolved powers within their geographical areas. Those assemblies are also elected by a form of proportional representation.

By contrast, English MPs at Westminster are elected by the first-past-the-post system. And giving English MPs at Westminster the exclusive right to enact English legislation would be to provide them with two distinct roles: enacting English laws and controlling the creation of the UK-wide government.

What would electors in England be voting for? An MP whose function would be to enact English laws, to appoint and oversee a future UK government, or both? How would voters distinguish between those distinct functions when deciding how to cast their votes in an election? Is it self-evident that an elector would want to vote for a representative of the same political persuasion for both functions?

There is an arguable case for English devolution, but if it happens it should be on the same model as for the three other nations: a separate national assembly elected by proportional representation. It should not be by creating a second and ambiguous role for English MPs in Westminster.
Richard Williams
Kingston, Surrey

• I would like to offer up the following two-part solution to the West Lothian question and the broader UK constitutional fallout from last week’s Scottish referendum. The first part of the solution would be to turn the House of Commons into an English parliament, composed solely of English MPs, to vote solely on English domestic law. In the political hierarchy, this English parliament (still called the House of Commons if needs be) would sit alongside the existing Scottish parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies.

The second part of the solution would be to turn the House of Lords into a wholly elected upper chamber of members elected from across the UK. This reformed version of the House of Lords would hold sway on non-devolved matters (such as wars, defence and foreign policy), debate UK-wide issues, refer issues for debate by the regional assemblies, have the ability to issue non-binding “think-agains” to the regional parliaments and would adjudicate in instances of dispute regarding whether an issue is devolved or not. Members of this reformed House of Lords would carry the title Lord, but only for the duration of their office.
Dr Mark Campbell-Roddis
Dunblane, Perthshire

Irvine Welsh (20 September) is right when he says that “imposing an unwanted parliament in Norwich on East Anglian folks would be as undemocratic as taking away the Scots one in Edinburgh”. The solution that is starting to emerge is different: city-regions. Drastically strengthened local government in places such as the Norwich and Cambridge city-areas could well be popular here.

The key point is that we need real decentralisation from Westminster – which Cameron’s proposals or an English parliament alike are designed not to deliver. It should be up to a citizens’ deliberative constitutional convention to sort out exactly what model of decentralisation to implement. And what is encouraging is that Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage and Caroline Lucas have all come out in favour of creating such a convention.

Will the Lib Dems join this remarkable coalition, or will they back Cameron’s shabby elite-centred short-term fix?
Dr Rupert Read
School of politics, philosophy and languages, University of East Anglia

• It took David Cameron a little less than an hour to set out his new agenda after the results were declared, overriding the debate and all of the promises of the past four weeks. Cameron’s argument for English devolution is now being taken up by several lobbyists, for instance ResPublica, which will be lobbying all three party conferences. ResPublica is peddling a decentralisation/devolution agenda. It wants a devolution of powers not just in local and regional government but also in the public services, notably the health service. This is likely to result in fragmentation: allowing each region to take control, at short notice, while tightening still further their central government funding, with the result that the large corporate providers will step in to bridge any gaps in provision. In other words, it may easily turn out to be a new strategy for continued privatisation of the health and other public services.

I hope the Labour party will show a little less timidity and face up to this opportunistic gambit (Owen Jones, 22 September) with a structured proposal for federalism within the UK that is long-lasting and not just tactical.
David Edgeworth
Woodford Green, Essex

• Martin Rowson’s cartoon with its English Laws for Global Corporations flag and Nigel Farage leading the parade was the only part of the Guardian that really grasped who were the real beneficiaries of the Scottish referendum (20 September). This devolution frenzy now gripping politicians and your paper appears to mistakenly imagine that the country’s ills can be dealt with simply by devolving rights and powers within the UK. Yet it is just a delusional rearranging of the deckchairs on a Titanic sailing through a sea of free-market icebergs, all steered by Steve Bell’s fat cats. These are what dictate the limits of our economic freedom, not how we organise ourselves internally.

Farage will be the major beneficiary from this devolution obsession since it will add one more trump card to the two strong hands he already has to play in the runup to the election – immigration and austerity. Other than Ukip, all national parties, including the Greens, support open EU borders. Farage supports austerity, but can say “so do all big political parties”, albeit with policies ranging from austerity-lite to austerity-cruel. There seems to be no sign of a national political party rejecting both appeasement to the market and open EU borders. Until they do, it’ll be politics as usual.
Colin Hines
Author of Progressive Protectionism (published autumn 2014)

• It would appear that some of the same politicians who were bewailing the potential break-up of the UK if Scotland had voted for independence seem more than happy to advocate the break-up of England into separate regions.

No doubt these politicians are aware of several opinion polls over the past few years showing over 60% support for an English parliament (eg an ICM poll in November 2006 showing 68% support and a BBC poll in January 2007 showing 61%). On the other hand, the referendum for a north-east regional assembly in 2004 resulted in an overwhelming 78% rejection.

There really is only one way to settle this debate. It is time the people of England were offered a fair referendum on whether we want an English parliament, regional assemblies, both or neither.
Simon Cowley

• Both the 1964 and 1974 elections (which we are told are the only ones where the results would have been different) ended periods of Conservative rule. After both elections Harold Wilson was able to call a snap election at an opportune time and secure a larger majority. It is doubtful that he would have been in power at all without Scottish MPs. We could have had almost five decades of uninterrupted Conservative rule. Be careful what is agreed about Scottish MPs.
Will Douglas-Mann
Petrockstowe, Devon

Floods in Kashmir Cars submerged on a road in a flooded area in Srinagar. ‘Thousands are homeless and people are dying,’ writes Liz Turner. Photograph: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

For the past few weeks, since the floods, a Kashmiri friend of mine in Srinagar has been living with his wife, son, mother and grandmother on the floor of his local mosque – his house was destroyed by a wall of water he said was like a tsunami. Thousands are homeless and people are dying; the NGOs in the area are doing what they can to help, but the Indian government has done nothing – at the same time as it’s managed to find £45m to send a spaceship to Mars (Report, 25 September).
Liz Turner

• If India can spend £45m on such a project, why are we continuing to include them in our aid programme?
Edward Thomas
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Red Cross health workers, Ebola centre, Guinea Red Cross health workers wearing protective suits at an Ebola treatment centre in Guinea, September 2014. Photograph: Cellou Binani/AFP/Getty Images

Simon Jenkins is absolutely right to underline the fundamental difference between humanitarian and political or military intervention (Finally, the west is acting on Ebola. What took us so long?, 19 September). It is also true that humanitarian relief work currently faces unprecedented challenges, often as a result of being seen as linked to one side or another in conflict and other disasters. But it does not follow from this that the humanitarian ethic of the Red Cross has diminished, nor that the impartiality of our founders has been “swamped in the rush to war”. Whether in Syria or Sierra Leone, the Red Cross Red Crescent movement can and does deliver vital assistance every day without political, military or religious influence.

We have been responding to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since its very beginning and now have 2,500 volunteers working to prevent its spread across the three countries. They are part of a worldwide movement which delivers aid on the basis of greatest need. This often involves considerable danger, manifested tragically in Syria (where we are among the few humanitarian agencies able to work across frontlines) in the deaths of 37 Syrian Arab Red Crescent workers while carrying out their work.

The biggest threat to our humanitarian mission is being perceived as anything less than neutral, independent and impartial, which can lead to being unable to safely access those in need. This is why in conflict situations we make repeated calls for all parties to ensure quick and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid workers. The decision to provide humanitarian assistance must be driven by need only and regardless of “national security”. For this reason, it is imperative that the concept of humanitarianism is understood correctly.
Mike Adamson
Acting chief executive, British Red Cross

• I’ve seen plenty of coverage of the faltering attempts to combat the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa recently. We’ve all read about the budget cuts at the World Health Organisation that are hampering the response, and the urgent need, articulated by Dr Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO, for “an army of experts and health workers to combat an outbreak overtaking some of the world’s poorest countries”. Once again, Cuba has stepped forward with 62 volunteer doctors and 103 nurses, all with post-catastrophe experience. Over the past 50 years Cuba has sent more than 300,000 health workers to 158 countries, even offering humanitarian aid to the US – which has tried to bring Cuba to its knees over the past 55 years by its illegal trade blockade – when hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Simon Jenkins, to his credit, made a passing reference to Cuba’s initiative in his column, but, apart from that, Cuba’s medical volunteers seem to be totally invisible to our media. Isn’t it time we gave them the credit they so definitely deserve?
Ed Glasson
Bracknell, Berkshire

It is not just those being prosecuted in court who suffer from not paying television licences (Why are we bringing people to court over TV licences, G2, 25 September). I know those on benefits who, having been warned they could be taken to court, then make regular weekly or fortnightly payments. The trouble is that they then have to cut down on other expenditure, such as food. I understand that our wealthy MPs in the House of Commons can watch free television as well as eat their subsidised food.
Bob Holman

• Had I to pay a licence fee, which I don’t, to watch BBC television, I would be really cross that Capita was getting paid £560m out of my contributions to the BBC to claw far less than that back. There must be another way.
Brian Smith
Berlin, Germany

• Is there a way that we over-75s can give our TV licence money to someone who can’t afford one?
Michael Harrison

Shop closing down A shop closing down. ‘Land can so much more profitably be switched to use for speculative housing from industrial, office and retail use,’ writes Michael Edwards. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

In addition to the alternatives your correspondents propose of moving jobs away from London and the south and redirecting infrastructure spending (Letters, 24 September), there is a third pressing problem: jobs and affordable housing within London are getting further apart. Low- and middle-income people are being forced out of central and inner London by a mixture of housing costs and eviction from social housing estates, while employment in many outer-London areas is declining because land can so much more profitably be switched to use for speculative housing from industrial, office and retail use. These switches are the result of the government’s ideological commitment to “deregulation” through removing planning controls and creating “permitted development rights”, together with continuing failure by London boroughs and mayors of London to use the planning system adequately to protect employment.

These are issues on which a wide spectrum of businesses and community groups in the London Forum and Just Space networks have made strong representations to successive mayoral plans without having any impact at all. A tougher approach to protecting suburban employment would shorten trips for workers in all income groups and reduce London’s insatiable demands for infrastructure. While we wait for a new mayor, we all need to tell the department for communities and local government to reverse its proposed expansion of permitted development rights for London and the south-east before its consultation closes at the end of October.
Michael Edwards
UCL Bartlett School of Planning

• I agree with Richard Mountford with mixed feelings. I am grateful that so many people are prepared to live in the overcrowded London and the south-east because it leaves the rest of the country to be enjoyed by us sensible ones! Mr Mountford should add London universities to his list of institutions to be moved. The University of London has over 170,000 students, plus staff and facilities management. Moving it to a more suitable place would increase the availability of rented accommodation and enable youngsters to realise life exists outside London. Given that Oxford, Cambridge, York and Durham are examples of prestigious universities outside London, there can be no excuse for having such a large university in the centre of London, adding to its transport and housing problems.
Brian Keegan

Shakespearean sex worker Mistress Quickly Shakespearean sex worker Mistress Quickly ( Judi Dench) in Merry Wives The Musical at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, 2006. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

If some Luton police officers did not wish to appear in Channel 4’s reality TV show because they were paying child maintenance and did not want their former partners to know they had been promoted (Report, 23 September), we – and the Child Maintenance Service – must hope that their ex-partners are not claiming extra benefits.
Jill Adams

• Jeff Lewis (Letters, 24 September) is right to speculate that parish authorities clamping down on “inconstancies”, as sex outside marriage was known, led to their epithet of “bawdy courts”. However, if Germaine Greer is to believed, the unintended consequences were that many young women fled the ignominy of public punishment to seek new lives in the bawdy houses of London, where they became the models for Shakespeare’s sex workers such as Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

Cancer is diagnosed late (22 September): “Urgent improvements … would save the NHS millions of pounds a year through reduced chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, as well as enhancing many cancer sufferers’ chances of survival”. Love the order of priority here.
Deb Tanner (cancer patient)

• Why is your obituary of a woman who looked after a big house larger than that of a man who helped to save thousands of lives (The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire; Ronald Grainger, both 25 September)?
Peter Brooker
West Wickham, Kent

• May I congratulate you on your splendid Orwellian slogan: Labour must invest in health prevention (Letters, 23 September).
Gerry Abbott

• I assume that the migrating wildebeest in your picture (Eyewitness, 24 September) are seeking gnu pastures.
David Evans

Jeremy Isaacs outlined what Michael Kustow did to make Channel 4 distinctive. I worked as a very junior assistant to Michael when he was commissioning editor for arts there. He was ahead of every curve. He had a bright yellow Sony Walkman, with matching headphones, long before anyone else. What was he listening to, I asked, as he jogged past me in a onesie tracksuit in Charlotte Street, near C4 HQ. “Japanese minimalism,” he said, as if I should know. I didn’t know then, and I don’t now. One day he asked me to accompany him to an ITV South Bank Show lecture to be given by George Steiner. “You’ll meet my friend, the artist Tom Phillips,” he told me. They, with Michael Billington, had been at Oxford together, often performing in Oxford University Drama Society productions. Next day at work I told Michael that Tom had invited me to “see his etchings”. “Oh, you want to be careful,” warned Michael. I married Tom anyway.

Falinge estate, Rochdale: the most deprived in the UK Financial thinking plays a big part in local authority decisions about putting young people in care. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Samantha Morton (‘Nobody would have believed me. I thought they were the coolest, nicest people’, Weekend, 13 September) questions the place of private finance in the care of children. Government data shows that there is the same range of quality no matter who runs children’s homes.

The provision of care for young people with the highest levels of needs, as in children’s homes, is now complex. Samantha Morton is right, there is a social duty of care but it seems to be happening less and less.

Financial thinking is now integral to decision-making by local authorities about a placement. Costs can outweigh care in their reasoning by a ratio of 80%:20%. The costs of independent providers are scrutinised closely. One regional group has a proposal to pay less than it costs to staff a home.

In England 78% of homes are in the independent sector. This is a sector of solo and small providers: 45% own just one home; a further 19% own two, usually started because they saw an unmet need or because they saw how they can “do things better”. The ‘“big money”, which may be the group Samantha Morton is commenting on, own less than one fifth, an amount that looks like it will not rise further, not reaching the density that we see in adult care or in independent fostering.

The reality of residential childcare today is that if you didn’t do it out of commitment, you wouldn’t at all; there’s more money elsewhere in other jobs, and returns from investing in other forms of children’s care.

The reality of residential childcare is of a sector that is, despite underfunding, putting its house in order. Providers have completed their reforms as directed. However, six months after regulation was in place and now some six weeks after further guidance, many other agencies, including local authorities, are still to complete their associated safeguarding reforms designed to be supportive of children’s homes.

No doubt a large cause of the delays come from the reforms, costing money that local authorities do not have. The reforms have cost children’s homes providers thousands of pounds.

The children’s homes sector is without hope that whatever it does or says will be recognised as positive. We have tried; we have had the almost unanimous views of those doing the job dismissed, excluded. We are holding on, waiting for better times but with a deep dread that they will not be coming – knowing there are yet more reforms to be proposed, probably imposed, soon.
Jonathan Stanley
Chief executive, Independent Children’s Homes Association


Do we learn nothing from history?  When Hitler attempted to bomb the UK into capitulation, the effect was quite the reverse of what was intended. Indeed, history would seem to show that particular episode was not an isolated case.

I remember the US trying to bomb North Vietnam and Cambodia into submission, and that seemed to lead to success for the Vietcong and the rise to power of Pol Pot, and in the latter case the subsequent massacres were truly appalling.

Again, we bombed Iraq in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein – which we did, but the consequences of removing him has led directly to the situation we have today.

Nor is it just the Western powers who fail to appreciate that the use of bombing has a detrimental effect to international relations. Israel and the Palestinian forces seem to be bound together in an endless cycle of violence.

As Tony Benn said: ‘‘War is the ultimate failure of diplomacy’’. What we need to do is to try to reach hearts and minds and have dialogue with others. That, after all, was what has allowed peace in Northern Ireland to flourish. This will only come about through education, understanding and a wish to enjoy ‘‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’’.

John Broughton


Military action in Iraq or Syria is counter-productive. It undoubtedly results in innocent people being maimed and killed. This, in turn, attracts more people to join the extremist cause.  We need to remember that it is our horrendous legacy of intervention in this area which helped increase this anti-West extremism in the first place.

Furthermore, it is double standards to single out extremist groups yet happily allow Israel to continue its illegal occupation of Palestine.

Mark Richards


David Cameron called the Islamic State (Isis) fighters “vicious terrorists”.  Geoffrey Robertson says that it is “legal” for the UK to use the military to go after Isis because they are “criminals”. (As a matter of law, we do not need the United Nations’ permission to attack these criminals, 25 September).  But in 2011, international lawyer Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell stated quite clearly, in Congress and later at Chatham House, London, that “terrorist acts are criminal offences, and therefore properly dealt with by law enforcement agencies”.  To reinforce her point, she added that armies should not be used when dealing with terrorism.

But then, the Ministry of Defence has no remit to do law enforcement.

Lesley Docksey


Isis didn’t exist and couldn’t have existed under Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. The West spent more than 10 years attempting to establish a stable, pro-Western government in Iraq and training the Iraqi army to withstand insurgency from extremist Islamic groups.

Yet this army appears to be incapable of defeating Isis without the support of the Kurdish Peshmerga and Western air strikes.  What makes Western governments think they can achieve in a few years what they failed to achieve in 10 years in Iraq, or nearly 14 years in Afghanistan, especially without putting more ‘‘boots on the ground’’.

Julius Marstrand


Robert Fisk (22 September) claims that defeating Isis must involve “an alliance” with Iran and Hezbollah.  Has he forgotten that even if Hezbollah doesn’t kill or mutilate women, Iran does, and if it doesn’t sell girls as sex slaves, it allows them to be married, even if they are under 13; not to mention imprisoning, torturing and executing political dissidents of both sexes?

 A better way to defeat Isis is to starve them by buying oil from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Canada, or better still – as Anthony Hilton recommended in Wednesday’s Standard and as the Rockefeller Foundation is now doing – to stop investing in fossil fuels and change to alternative forms of energy.

Carolyn Beckingham

East Sussex

To describe the new Middle East war as messy is a masterly understatement.  As your leading article (24 September) states, this is a proxy war between two strands of Islam, Sunni and Shia. It is not a civil war but a religious war.

The two sects have been at bitter loggerheads for 1,300 years (the battle of Karbala AD 680) and the end of their conflict is nowhere in sight. The West, which is nominally a Christian demesne, should have absolutely no participation in this war or any other religious upheaval in the Middle East.

At last the Sunni kingdoms have woken up to the fact that the so-called Islamic State, a Sunni organisation, is trying to impose a cruel and barbaric theocratic regime on their own doorsteps. Let them assume the burden of quelling this monster. They have the financial clout to do so (it will make a change from buying football clubs or running horse-racing stables in Europe).

As for our Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, saying that he hopes Parliament has “the mental strength to take on the challenge” of Isis, has he seriously taken leave of his senses? Has he learnt nothing from our recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan?

David Ashton

Shipbourne, Kent

Camden school is right to ban niqab

Camden School for Girls is absolutely right to ban the Muslim student from taking her A-levels until she removes her niqab (24 September). The young girl involved may indeed be just trying to express her individuality as teenagers do, but she is being either badly advised or cynically manipulated. Dressed like this her job prospects are zero. Not only is the niqab a health and safety issue and an impediment to the face- to-face contact that good teaching requires, it sends out a provocative signal that rejects everything that this liberal school and British society hold dear.

We should not tolerate intolerance. And once one student is allowed to wear the niqab, others will surely follow. Far from being Islamophobia, this is Islamophilia – embracing Muslims who wish to integrate and flourish in a  pluralistic country.

Stan Labovitch


It isn’t perfect, but thank God for the NHS

In response to T Sayer’s ill-informed letter of 25 September about the “NHS and Labour not fit for purpose,’’ I say – from recent personal experience  – you have got it wrong.

There may be a number of highly paid middle- managers that fit your description of “too many overpaid employees” but when I recently suffered a stroke at the age of 48, I was treated from start to finish at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading by caring, kind, professional and brilliant staff –motivated not by profit but by compassion. Thanks to their efforts I can now walk, talk, and write this letter. I am incensed by such lazy criticism of an institution which we should all fiercely protect. Nothing is entirely perfect – but in my mind the NHS comes close; I thank God it was there for me when I needed it.

Sarah Walsh


T Sayer’s letter is just a series of assertions about the NHS and no evidence to support them. Since its inception my grandparents, my parents, myself, my wife, my siblings, my children and my grandchildren have all had cause to be thankful for its existence at one time or another. I don’t think my family is unique. If T Sayer wants to class me as one of the ‘‘ignorant’’, it is a badge I shall wear with pride.

Dr Les May



She wasn’t purring but snoring…

David Cameron claims the Queen was ‘‘purring’’ over the Scottish referendum result. I suspect he is mistaken. If she was having to listen to him, is it not more likely that Her Majesty was gently snoring?

Pete Dorey

Bath, Somerset

Hacking payouts should go to charity

While the press should be brought to justice for hacking if it is a criminal offence, there is absolutely no justification for payouts to celebrities who have suffered no damage to their careers or person. These people crave publicity and while their privacy should be protected the perpetrators should be fined and the money paid to the state or charities. These people, who tend to be well off, get more publicity while victims of violence or fraud are usually left without compensation. Damages should be paid only when justified.

Peter Fieldman

By email


Pedantic message? Not if you speak Latin

Will Dean’s TV review (25 September) uses the phrase ‘‘high jinx’’. This should be high jinks – a jinx is a different thing altogether. Also, I can’t believe Geoffrey Robertson QC wrote ‘‘hostis humanis generis’’. I’m sure he’d have put ‘‘hostis humani generis’’.

Humani is genitive singular to agree with generis. I find that well- produced books make errors over place-names and foreign quotations. Maybe the spell-check can’t deal with anything out of the ordinary.

Alan Langley

Market Harborough

I have just read Matthew Norman’s brilliant and devastating critique of Cameron’s distasteful and cynical volte face.

As Norman succinctly says – instead of using the opportunity to celebrate the “Union”, he reverts once again to his narrow, cowardly and personal and party self-interest. His smug betrayal of the Queen’s “purring” to David Cameron is typical of  the arrogance and shallowness of the man.

But it was ever thus. It amazes me that he has got away with his underlying nastiness for as long as he has. As a Scot exiled in England, I had no vote and I was in Corsica for the two weeks spanning the referendum. Needless to say the Corsicans all supported  the Yes side but they and many other nationalities we met seemed remarkably interested and well informed on the debate.

Contrast this with the ex-Conservative Ukip- voting taxi driver who took me home from the airport – spouting ill-informed  drivel about Latvian murderers, Brussels, aka the EU, telling our courts what to do, and Nigel Farage being the only politician who identifies with the working man – “well he always has a pint and a fag in his hand don’t he”?

My first few minutes back in the UK and I thought, Oh, Scotland, what have you done to remain saddled to this ignorant nation. Matthew Norman’s article restores a little of the  faith that not all Englanders are little.

Tom Simpson


David Cameron appears incapable of talking to, or about, women without demeaning them – even if the woman concerned is almost twice his age and the monarch.

He was caught on camera gossiping laddishly to foreign politicians about domestic matters of state and patronising the Queen. A few days earlier, at the Nato summit, he astonished a beekeeper by asking if a jar of honey would “make me better in bed?”

Is he losing the plot?

Jean Calder



Your paper appears to regard as something of a joke David Cameron’s remark about the Queen “purring” over the phone when he informed her of the outcome of the Scottish referendum vote (report, 24 September). On the contrary, it strikes me as a very serious matter.

This is not the first time that the Prime Minister has been caught speaking out of turn on subjects on which he ought to keep quiet. He has compromised the Queen’s integrity, and in a less lax – or tolerant – age this would probably have been a resigning matter.

I sincerely hope that the Queen gives him a very sharp rebuke at his next meeting with her.

Nick Chadwick


Mr Cameron’s breach of confidentiality about the Queen’s ‘‘purring’’ satisfaction at the Scottish referendum result is as nothing to his revelation in the next breath that  the whole thing was a  charade that nearly got  out of hand.

Sara Clarke



NHS and Labour not fit for purpose

The Labour Party as per usual wants to appeal to those who think the NHS is marvellous, when it clearly is not. No amount of money

will improve it. It’s past its sell-buy date. Over- bloated, too many over- paid employees in many instances, it’s not fit for purpose. Yet Labour thinks by offering a bribe to

the fickle electorate and the ignorant it hopes to win the next election. This would be a disaster for the UK under Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

T Sayer



Artificial trees for greenhouse gases

Some 70 years ago, the world was in crisis. A key solution was technical, and so President Roosevelt gathered together the free world’s greatest scientists and engineers to form the Manhattan Project. Today, the world is in crisis, and a key solution is technical – the development of ‘‘artificial trees’’ to extract greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere.

President Obama’s greatest legacy would be to gather together the free world’s greatest scientists and engineers to work out how this can be done at scale, and for a reasonable cost.

Dennis Sherwood


The lesser of two evils

To quote the last word in Robert Fisk’s article (24 September), I don’t know whether to laugh or cry; to laugh at his visceral anti-Americanism, or to cry at his apparent lack of concern for the victims of Isis. This is a movement which has ridden roughshod over large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq, establishing a caliphate and, in the process, ruthlessly persecuting those who won’t convert to its brand of Islam.

Sixty thousand Yazidis were driven from their homes and into starvation on Sinjar mountain until rescued by American humanitarian aid. Now we hear that thousands of women have been sold into sex slavery. Space prohibits the listing of the hundreds of other atrocities committed by this evil movement.

There must be concern in Washington, even in obtaining the tacit acceptance of Assad, as the bombing raids spread to Syria, but history is littered with examples of having to choose the lesser of two evils and the reluctant warrior Obama is no George W Bush.

I’m sure Mr Fisk is aware of Isis’s atrocities but he should try and put himself in the position of these helpless, beleaguered victims whose only hope is that the West will rescue them, and understand the joy they must feel hearing the American bombers overhead.

Stuart Russell


Should we airbrush out the druids too?

I was a little surprised that Ben Lynfield seems sympathetic to the idea that Aramean Christians should be denied recognition of their identity.

That their religion and presence pre-dates Islam seems to be lost on him and Arab Knesset member Mohammad Barakeh. I guess he would also suggest that other minority religions should be  airbrushed out of history. Should we do the same for, say, Druids here?

As a small aside you will find Aramaic included in Jewish prayers and it is also the language traditionally used in the Jewish marriage document, known as a Ketubah.

Stewart Cass



We need to learn from our mistakes

It seems that our Government does not learn from history, and often repeats its own mistakes.

Tomorrow, David Cameron is planning on recalling Parliament, and pushing for a vote to authorise Britain’s military involvement in Syria and Iraq. In doing so, it will join the United States, which is already at it.

Many of those militants in the so-called Islamic State were trained by our armed forces last year, to overthrow the Syrian leader Assad. Much of the weaponry in this now- destabilised region was supplied by British and American companies. And if you go back a bit further, those two countries’ forces killed around a million Iraqis following the 2003 illegal invasion.

If we want to avoid any further bloodshed in the Middle East, caused by this country’s military, then we need to demand that this Government votes against another military attack overseas.

Colin Crilly

South London


Indecent assault not school-boy prank

I was surprised at Dave Lee Travis’s conviction apparently for ‘‘fondling’’ somebody’s breasts. My feelings at his actions are that he was behaving in a boorish, unacceptable (to me) manner, but for this to be criminal seems ridiculous. However, this type of behaviour has been treated lightly in the past, although I was always  disgusted by it. It always seemed to be the type of behaviour of someone famous or powerful against a young woman whose complaints would be ignored or brushed off.

A case in point was of Chris Tarrant lifting up the bikini top of Sophie Rhys-Jones – before she was linked to royalty. I was disgusted by his action, which was apparently photographed, but the outrage when this came to light was not about Tarrant’s boorish behaviour, but the fact that someone wanted to publish the photograph.

 To publish the photograph was, of course, offensive, but nobody commented on Tarrant’s offensive action.  I just looked it up on the internet, and this is an excerpt from an article in The Express:

“First, an old photograph – taken before Sophie’s marriage to Edward – had come to light in which the radio presenter Chris Tarrant was seen pulling up her bikini. She was the innocent victim of a schoolboy prank but it hardly helped Sophie’s desire to be taken seriously.”

 “An innocent schoolboy prank.” Need I say more? How times have changed.

John Upright

Pontyclun, Cardiff


Sir, The hook on which our Conservative-led government hung all its subsequent severe cuts to our armed forces — leaving us with the bare rump of a navy with no strike carriers, and an air force with an ever-diminishing inventory of fighting aircraft — was the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. When that review looked at the threats facing this country, did it list the coming threat from Isis, the threat to Crimea, eastern Ukraine and the Baltic states, to Nigeria and Libya? And if not, why not?

Or was that review just a cost-cutting exercise designed to provide a fig leaf to the coming cuts? And when the defence experts foresaw the unexpected as being the greatest threat, did the Treasury tell them that budgeting for the unexpected was a no-go area?
Rear Admiral Conrad Jenkin
West Meon, Hants

Sir, In the discussion about the campaign of air strikes against Isil guerrillas in northern Iraq three key issues have not been fully addressed:

First, Turkey, the one Muslim state that is a member of Nato, must be helped to cope with the massive flow of refugees from Iraq and Syria, not only financially, but if the Turkish government agrees, also, by volunteers with experience in the work of caring for them.

Second, the rules of engagement for forces involved in air strikes should make it clear that civilians must be protected as far as possible. More air strikes against people already terrorised by Isil, such as the Kurds in northern Iraq, will alienate those whose support is crucial.

Third, the US, the UK and France, along with Turkey and Jordan, must raise through diplomatic channels the need for Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to cease support for the jihadis, whether through supplying arms or through madrasses training boys and young men to become recruits.
Shirley Williams

House of Lords, London

Sir, Ed Miliband says Britain should seek UN sanction for air strikes on Isil in Syria. However, if the UN refuses to allow such military action surely this will place the US, which is already carrying out such air strikes, in the position of taking military action in defiance of the UN. Does Mr Miliband really wish us to embarrass our American ally?
Robert Strachan
Edgware, Middlesex

Sir, Without a UN mandate or an explicit invitation from the Syrian government, action against Isis in Syria is illegal under international law. If the government’s view is that due process at the UN is a waste of time, we should “do the right thing” and withdraw our membership. If not, we should demand that the Security Council decides on action. Short of that, we will be falling into the trap that Isis has set for us.
Simon Prentis

Sir, David Cameron now speaks the same rhetoric I heard from Tony Blair prior to our invasion of Iraq in 2003. We were wrong to get involved in America’s crusade then, and we are wrong now. Far from being uniquely evil, the Islamic State is simply one actor in a Sunni uprising. They are not a threat to Britain. They are extreme but rational players who are successful only through the support of a large portion of the local population.
Bilal Patel
London E1

Sir, Can everyone stop referring to Isis and call it EAIS — Enemies against Islamic States — instead? It does not in any way represent any Islamic state.
Ben May
London N1

Sir, Dictators and fundamentalist “religious” leaders all employ hypnotherapeutic principles to get ideas past a person’s critical faculty. If they succeed, then that part of the mind controlling behaviour treats that concept as true: in short, it becomes a belief. It doesn’t matter what the idea is — the reprogrammed mind can happily destroy innocents in the belief of a reward. Isis is clever. It focuses on the mind while we appear to focus on drones, bombs and hardware.
Fraser White
Bunbury, Cheshire

Sir, Is this a good time for the UK to tow our aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean?
Martin Bean
Ryde, Isle of Wight

Sir, Tim Montgomerie’s opinion piece (“Ed wouldn’t say the D-Word. The Tories must”, Sept 25) was excellent. For too long all parties have argued on how “to up the cake” rather than concentrating on how to make it bigger. We all realise that there is a need to improve standards in many sectors, but also people must be encouraged to work harder and take more responsibility for their own needs. We have massive, and growing, imbalances on both the internal account and on our external payments. It might be politically difficult but this is the message that parties need to be honest about, rather than giving easy sound bites.
Roy Harrison
Prestbury, Cheshire

Sir, Tim Montgomerie calls me a “contrarian”. I’m not one.
Peter Hitchens
Derry Street, London W8

Sir, My family business produced large volumes of apples but in 1999 we took out our orchards in order to focus on other crops (“Battle to keep apple crumble British”, Sept 24). The decline in British apple production has several reasons but one trend has been the relationship between family incomes and the cost of food since the war. In 1949 a box of Kentish apples paid for a man’s wages for a whole week; when we removed our orchards 50 years later, the equivalent value did not cover half an hour.

Since we stopped producing apples, a number of growers have been creating a renaissance with new systems and higher yielding varieties, all at their own cost. During this same period, the environment department now headed by Liz Truss has removed funding for research in support of the crop for which she expresses so much enthusiasm. One can only hope that she will match her words with deeds and put British apples back at the top of the tree.
Peter Vinson
Faversham, Kent

Sir, My late father, who loved his Russets and Cox’s English Pippins, considered French Golden Delicious to be a contravention of the Trades Descriptions Act.
Gillian Wilson

Sir, One million British workers are exposed to levels of noise that puts hearing at risk, and noise-induced hearing loss is a serious, permanent and debilitating condition (“Insurers cry ‘foul’ over rising claims of industrial deafness”, Business, Sept 22). This is entirely preventable, and employers who take note of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 should have risk assessments on file.

An ENT specialist can also diagnose whether deafness is likely to have been caused by long-term exposure to loud noise. Industrial deafness is not a grey area in the context of insurance fraud.
Steve Perkins
Chief executive officer, British Occupational Hygiene Society

Sir, I think I can better Matthew Parris’s tale about two left shoes (“I’m a Tory, I simply could not have two left feet”, Sept 28). My father’s friend would walk across fields to catch the 8.30am train in wellington boots. At the station he would change into his well-polished black shoes, handing the boots to the porter for safekeeping. One morning, arriving late, he leapt on to the train and tossed the boots out of the window to the porter. He then sat down and opened his briefcase . . . no shoes!
Neil MacFadyen


Jihadi groups in Syria fear they may be targeted by American air strikes  Photo: AFP/Getty Images

6:58AM BST 25 Sep 2014


SIR – Proposals for air strikes against Islamist fighters in Iraq and Syria ignore the likely outcome: that bombing campaigns will fail and soldiers will be needed on the ground, and that the inevitable civilian casualties will act as a recruiting tool for extremists.

Here in Britain we have lost control of our borders, significantly reduced our police forces, and are faced with a growing internal threat of home-grown terrorism which is stretching our security services to breaking point. We don’t need another failed military campaign; let’s put our own house in order first.

Ian Hurrell
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – It is now some years since Tony Blair mistakenly joined America in the invasion of Iraq to “free” that country from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have since been killed. We are now honour-bound to help that country with military assistance if need be.

Don Roberts
Prenton, Wirral

Cameron’s royal gaffe

SIR – If David Cameron is guilty of such a breach of protocol as to pass on a private conversation with the Queen, one can only wonder how many other unreported gaffes he makes at international conferences.

Kevin Heneghan
St Helens, Lancashire

SIR – When David Cameron is kicked out by the Conservatives, I will positively purr.

Robert Hall
Skipton, North Yorkshire

In search of Lee’s Rosie

SIR – I always thought that Mrs Rose Bayliss, a garage owner in Cheltenham, was the original Rosie in Cider with Rosie, rather than Rosalind Buckland, who would, as your obituary said, have been only nine during the period depicted in the book.

Rose Bayliss didn’t actually embrace her would-be fame, and said she thought Laurie Lee was “a bit wet”.

Lynn Davis
Finglesham, Kent

Free range

SIR – Last week we enjoyed a trip to Legoland with our daughter, son-in-law, and two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter.

There I was struck by how many children were in buggies, even children well over four. Apparently it is easier for the parents to have the child contained, as a loose toddler is a liability.

Children are consuming huge amounts of calories and expending very few, contributing to our rising obesity problem. It is important that they run about in order to experience different surfaces, tone their bodies and learn control – as well as the meaning of such words as “no” and “stop”.

Jane Ludlow
Canterbury, Kent

Forbidden fruit

SIR – What those who complained about remarks in The Great British Bake Off fail to realise is that you have to have a dirty mind to recognise smut. To the pure of thought, a pear is a pear and a cherry a cherry.

Les Sharp
Hersham, Surrey

Last laugh for Germans

SIR – In 1959, I went to live in Hanover – a city that had been destroyed by the RAF just 14 years earlier – and I was offered only friendship and kindness by the locals. I share the bewilderment of Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, at the attitude of some of my fellow countrymen to modern Germany.

Who are these people still fighting the Second World War in their minds? Certainly not those who actually fought in the war, many of whom gladly attend reunions as guests of their former enemies.

Nor are they likely to be people who have been to Germany and witnessed first-hand how much our countries have in common.

These monoglot Britons delight in saying that the Germans have no sense of humour, but when Germans visit Britain and observe their cars on our streets and appliances in our homes, they do, indeed, laugh – all the way to the bank.

Peter le Feuvre
Funtington, West Sussex

A private lesson

SIR – The difference in teaching hours between the independent and state sectors (Letters, September 23) is not the point.

Independent-sector teachers can use their skill and initiative within a tried-and-tested curriculum. Those in the state sector spend most of their time under pressure from government requirements, drowning in paperwork and teaching to exams.

Mik Shaw
Goring-by-Sea, Sussex

Every statement helps?

SIR – Regarding Tesco’s £250 million black hole, its chairman, Sir Richard Broadbent, explained: Things are always unnoticed until they have been noticed. Is this the most unhelpful statement ever made?

Peter Birch
Cuffley, Hertfordshire

Colour-coded children

SIR – Emma Watson spoke this week about gender equality.

Why did Jeremy Silverton (whose family had not had a baby girl for a century) feel the need to repaint the nursery pink for his daughter and not keep it blue? This attitude perpetuates inequality through the generations.

David Bowman
Andover, Hampshire

How best to resolve the problem of devolution

SIR – In the debate over devolution for England, there are three things to consider.

First, given the overwhelming rejection of regional government in the North East in a referendum in 2004, the poor electoral response to the concepts of elected mayors and police commissioners, and the lack of any political demand for devolution in England hitherto, it seems unwise to get over-enthusiastic about the subject.

Secondly, any proposed large-scale constitutional revision would have to be put to the electorate in a referendum.

Thirdly, a new written constitution might well end up abolishing the House of Lords, introducing proportional representation (PR) and giving extra powers to the kind of judges who today rule on human rights.

The easiest thing for Conservatives to do would be to suggest that the Speaker, on the advice of the Commons, should compile a list of topics on which Scottish MPs could not vote. Labour should agree to a minimum list and threaten to introduce PR in general elections if the Conservatives were too radical. In this way, the Prime Minister’s complacency and later panic over Scotland could do the least damage to the constitution.

Professor Alan Sked
London School of Economics, London WC2

SIR – I can quite see David Cameron’s difficulties in fulfilling the promises all three parties made regarding devolution.

However, there is only a problem because, while we may have union, we have never had a union of equals. The South and, in particular, the London establishment, have always exercised undue influence over UK policy.

The solution? Transform Westminster into the English parliament, abolish the House of Lords, and build a new UK parliament in the north of England to which the constituent parts of the UK elect representatives to deal with those issues not devolved to the federated countries.

Esther Read
Carnoustie, Angus

Lest we forget: an installation of ceramic poppies surrounds the Tower of London Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 25 Sep 2014


SIR – We visited the Tower of London last week and marvelled at the wonderful ceramic poppy cascade within the moat.

Fired with enthusiasm, we grabbed our wallets in order to make a purchase. How sad to then be told that this could only be achieved online, rather than on-site. We couldn’t even make the online purchase in the information centre at the Tower.

Unlike our brave forebears, we were forced to retreat and, much chastened, we left for home feeling sadly deflated – a lost opportunity.

How many other visitors leave feeling similarly disenchanted and never actually follow up with an online purchase?

What a shame and what a loss to the charities involved.

Nigel Embry
Byfleet, Surrey

Ed Miliband at the Labour Party conference in Manchester Photo: Eddie Mulholland/The Telegraph

7:00AM BST 25 Sep 2014


SIR – In proposing to reform the House of Lords in his conference speech on Tuesday, the Labour leader Ed Miliband seems to have conveniently overlooked the fact that he, and a majority of Labour MPs, let it be known that they would vote against the timetable being proposed for the House of Lords Reform Bill in July 2012, and thus the Bill was dropped.

As far as his promises on the NHS are concerned, it appears that even Andy Burnham, his shadow health secretary who made a complete hash of the job when in office, had no clue as to where the money would come from to meet such promises.

Bharat Jashanmal
Fairford, Gloucestershire

SIR – I am deeply concerned about the health of the NHS under a future Labour government.

If Ed Miliband imposes a mansion tax to prop up the NHS, many of the people who currently manage to pay for private health insurance out of taxed income will be forced to give this up, adding to the burden on public health services.

Caroline Barr
Much Wenlock, Shropshire

SIR – It is fanciful to suggest that a mansion tax will make a major contribution to funding the NHS. A tax on mansions will cause their value to drop.

The total raised from collection of stamp duty and from this proposed tax will be less as a result.

Mansion owners will be hit three ways. First, they will suffer the drop in value. Secondly, they will bear the tax itself and they must find the money to pay it, probably by selling investments or taking out equity release mortgages at high compound interest rates. And finally, when they die, their estates will yield a lot less in inheritance tax. Far from saving the NHS, this tax would cost the Exchequer dearly.

Mark Homan
Radlett, Hertfordshire

SIR – Where exactly does Ed Miliband think that he can find an extra 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, 5,000 home-care workers and 3,000 midwives?

Ken Culley
Marlborough, Wiltshire

SIR – Was Ed Miliband applying to be our prime minister or just auditioning for his local amateur theatre?

It is revealing that he was more focused on how to say his lines (unscripted) rather than on what to say, resulting in the omissions in his speech of vital issues such as the deficit and the state of the economy.

Richard Searby
London N3

SIR – That Mr Miliband “forgot” to mention the economy is hardly surprising.

After all, he and his colleagues forgot about the economy for the 13 years Labour was in power.

Dominic Regan
Little Coxwell, Oxfordshire

Irish Times:

A chara, – A “democratic revolution”, a “new kind of politics”, whichever populist idiom they used, Fine Gael and Labour promised an end to the kind of stroke politics that blighted Irish politics in the past.

However, the appointment of John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) shows that this Government is mired in the sort of cronyism and “strokes” that have caused so many problems for this country in the past.

Fine Gael Ministers have claimed that Mr McNulty would bring valuable business experience to the board of Imma, yet now he has resigned. So how much experience is he going to bring to the Seanad from that short time?

That explanation simply does not stack up, and quite frankly those Ministers that have trotted out that line have damaged their own credibility.– Is mise,


Lismore Road,

Crumlin, Dublin 12.

Sir, – Desmond FitzGerald (September 25th) takes issue with John McNulty’s candidacy for a Seanad Éireann vacancy.

Mr FitzGerald should understand that the vacancy arises on the Seanad’s “Cultural and Educational Panel”. Mr McNulty is a longstanding volunteer manager of under-age and adult football teams in Kilcar and Donegal.

He thus represents the thousands of people who are the State’s most important cultural leaders and youth educators, week in and week out.

Perhaps Mr FitzGerald thinks that the vacancy arises on the “High Cultural Panel”. The GAA is our nation’s most important socio-cultural movement.

We need more people like John McNulty in our national parliament. – Yours, etc,




Co Roscommon.

Sir, – I visit galleries and exhibitions; I go to the theatre; I read books; I have attended numerous art classes. Apparently it is also important that I am a woman and live in north Clare. I don’t understand why I haven’t been called to join the board of Imma. But I haven’t run for any political party. That must be it. – Yours, etc,




Co Clare.

Sir, – I’m wondering if John McNulty’s appointment to the Imma board and nomination to the Seanad are actually part of an installation piece.

If so, I applaud Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys for her bold creativity and let’s not forget her patron, Enda Kenny .

It certainly is a challenging piece to understand and unfortunately may be used by those afraid of modern art as an example of a total waste of taxpayers’ money. But I say bravo to all involved. – Yours, etc,


Allin Street,

Culver City,

Los Angeles.

Sir, – Your editorial “Bombing Syria” (September 24th) assumes that the UN doctrine of “responsibility to protect”, or R2P, would entitle the US and its allies to take military action against Islamic State targets in Syria without UN Security Council backing.

The 2005 world summit at which the heads of state approved the terms of R2P, later agreed in UN Security Council resolution 1674, explicitly stated that member states are “prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the charter . . . on a case-by-case basis”.

In international law, R2P sets out a responsibility – to be exercised through the UN Security Council – and not a right. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The Irish Times, for the first time as far as I am aware, raises the question of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) in relation to Syria – “then there’s the UN doctrine of ‘responsibility to protect’, certainly arguable in relation to the genocidal threat to Kurds fleeing IS advances inside Syria near the border town of Kobani”.

However do crimes by the Assad regime not also warrant mention of R2P? Roughly half the population of Syria has already been forced to flee their homes since the Syrian peaceful protests in Spring 2011 were crushed by the regime. Thousands have been killed, imprisoned and brutalised in Syrian “gulags”. Yet the regime, undeterred, continues its daily aerial bombardment, killing scores of civilians, including children.

There is “massive evidence of … war crimes and crimes against humanity” indicating “responsibility at the highest level of government including the head of state”, according to Navi Pillay, former UNHCHR director last December.

In a strongly worded presentation at Dublin’s Institute of Europe on July 11th (the anniversary of Srebrenica), Dr Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, moved by two particular images of Syria – one of the devastation in Homs, the other of a child who had frozen to death – stated that “there could hardly be a more damning indictment of the international community’s abject failure to uphold its responsibility to protect the people of Syria than those two images”.

It is “certainly arguable” that this failure and the failure to adequately support early on the moderate armed opposition forces were significant factors in the rise of Islamic State.

According to Dr Jonaj Schullofer-Wohl of the University of Virginia, “Higher levels of western military and financial support – if provided expeditiously – could have prevented radical Islamist groups from occupying a dominant position within the opposition”.

Your editorial seems more preoccupied, however, with the “somewhat dubious legality” of the anti-IS coalition entering Syria without Assad’s permission rather than the protection of those still left at the mercy of his brutal regime. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, – I must confess that I had never heard of rule 68 of the “Rules for National Schools” until it was reported by Joe Humphreys (“Change in ‘archaic’ rule on religious teaching sought”, September 24th) but, now that you mention it, I quite like it. I checked the rule book and number 68 says that the teacher should “constantly inculcate the practice of charity, justice, truth, purity, patience, temperance, obedience to lawful authority, and all the other moral virtues”.

Actually I think I’d like to live in that sort of country. – Yours, etc,


Clarinda Park North,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – In recent years it has been widely acknowledged that our public education system fails to respect the basic rights of those citizens, particularly non-Catholics, who may have little choice but to attend denominational schools. This raises questions concerning not only the divestment of schools from denominational control, but also concerning how, in the interim, citizens in this position should be accommodated within the school environment.

For the most part, this is now dealt with on an ad hoc basis by schools themselves. It is in this light that the Minister for Education has proposed to amend the controversial provision of the “Rules for National Schools”, from 1968, which states that a religious spirit should “inform and vivify” the whole work of the school.

Certainly, this acknowledges a fundamental problem in the status quo – that the integration of a denominational ethos across the whole school environment may make it impossible, in practice, for non-coreligionists to exercise their right not to participate in religious exercises. However, the rules are not enforceable legal protections but merely a set of flexible ministerial guidelines. What is needed is legislation – and particularly, amendments to the Education Act and the Equal Status Act – that clearly defines how schools are to accommodate parents’ and children’s constitutional rights. Adjusting the rules seems like impotent gesture politics by comparison.

Moreover, it seems wrong to address issues of fundamental concern through a form of ministerial rule-making that bypasses parliamentary scrutiny and control. Only through comprehensive legislative reform can the State exercise its responsibility as a protector of rights. – Yours, etc,


School of Law,

NUI Galway.

Sir, – It seems that the debate on the housing crisis has slipped back into the usual format – a zero-sum tug-of-war between competing lobby groups and vested interests that prefer writing press releases and issuing grandiose statements to rolling up their sleeves to work out an ambitious yet feasible plan.

Since the approval by An Bord Pleanála of “fast-track planning” for what was referred to as high-rise housing for the Dublin Docklands in May, there has been precious little attention given to the actual low-density schemes from those who claim to want affordable housing for all.

Meanwhile, media outlets concentrate on a queue outside one particular development or on dizzying price rises in the more fashionable locations.

I had hoped that the lamentably low density of the proposed development and the timidity of the plans for Dublin’s dreary skyline might provoke a call to arms by those concerned by unaffordable housing, but not so far.

Ireland is frequently compared unfavourably to the Scandinavian countries by the trendy youth and those on the left, yet the type of medium-density city housing I witnessed a recent visit to Copenhagen inspires neither planners nor housing advocates.

Are the minutiae of housing density, design and provision not sexy enough for the media and lobby groups or do they simply have short attention spans? – Yours, etc,


Griffeen Glen Avenue,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – In an interview shortly after being appointed as Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar said an awful lot of money had been taken out of general practice. Yesterday, after the GP protest, he stated that fees had gone up for GPs since this Government came to power. Both of these statements cannot be true at the same time.

The fact is that in 2002 the government paid €282 million for 1,168,745 medical card holders. It now pays €469 million for 1,853,877 medical card holders; and if it adds children under six, it will pay €503 million for 2,253,000 medical cards.

If it had maintained the payments in line with inflation since 2002, the Primary Care Reimbursement Service would now need to pay €700 million per year, an effective cut in resources of €200 million.

I would believe Dr Varadkar if he said that the Government could not afford to do this, which he was invited to do at the rally.

It does him no credit in the face of the crisis actually happening right now to the provision of medical services in Ireland to resort to this type of spin. It would be even worse if he actually believed what he was saying were true. – Yours, etc,





Sir, – I concur with Eamonn McCann with regard to his observations on the Ryder Cup (“US golfer’s bad hair day pushes talk of Irish split down agenda”, Opinion & Analysis). During the last week or so, listening to the radio, I have heard on an almost hourly basis such words as “vision, leadership, strategy, wisdom, mentor, motivation, secret plans, captain”, and so on.

It is bizarre that otherwise rational adults and media organisations devote so much time and seriousness to such an utterly pointless activity. – Yours, etc,


Newtown Road,


Co Kildare.

Sir, – Like Neil O’Brien (September 24th), I will be avoiding the Ryder Cup this weekend but, I think, for slightly different reasons. Professional golf is, I believe, unique in one particular respect. It is the only sport in which spectators watch primarily to see the best in the world play a game that many of us play to varying degrees of mediocrity. We want to see how it is done properly. One result of this is that it is possible, even while having one’s favourites, to cheer every example of good play, and hope that, at the end of the day, the best player, no matter who, wins the day. Sportsmanship is exhibited, for the most part, by players and spectators alike.

The Ryder Cup is changing all that. Fuelled by television companies looking to increase revenues, we are now seeing bad shots (by the other team) cheered, opposition players intimidated, and partisan chanting by “barmy army”-type supporters. Players talk about “getting the crowd going” in the hope that this, rather than superior play, will bring victory. If anyone thinks that the sort of behaviour that will be seen by the likes of Ian Poulter over the next few days is improving the image of the game, then I think they should move to another sport.

I will be looking forward to the Solheim Cup which, for the present at least, seems to be maintaining the standards that make golf great. – Yours, etc,


Seafield Crescent,

Booterstown, Co Dublin.

A chara, – In relation to the views expressed by Neil O’Brien regarding the “pressures of golf” in the Ryder Cup, one would have to agree wholeheartedly. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of column inches and airtime devoted to a sport where millionaires essentially and ponderously club a little ball around a scenic area for four hours.

Give me a hot-blooded hurling match, for instance, where players play with skills, instinct and vitality. In comparison the game of golf appears anaemic, sterile, overanalysed and overindulged. – Is mise,


Sandyford View,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – Having read your Comment & Letters page (September 24th), I remain somewhat confused. Did Malachy Clerkin (“Is there no end to Denis O’Brien’s intervention in Irish sport?”, September 18th) upset James Morrissey, media adviser to Denis O’Brien, or Denis O’Brien, media “advisee” of James Morrissey?

If the latter, then why didn’t he write his own letter? – Yours, etc,


Laurel Court,


Co Cork.

Sir, – I was disappointed to read Darragh Ó Sé’s comments about Kerry’s All-Ireland win last Sunday, and in particular what he said about the nature of winning (“The middle third”, September 24th, 2014).

Having freely admitted that the final “was a terrible game” and that both teams were responsible for that, he then said, “But this is about winning. Get the medal in the drawer and let people sing laments for the game all through the winter”.

I couldn’t disagree more. Of all the counties in the Gaelic football tradition, Kerry have always embraced the philosophy of winning in style, whilst remaining true to the fundamental skills of the game.

This, of course, can’t always be done and I accept that they were short of key players this year and had a relatively modest team on paper. In light of that, their achievement is a magnificent one. However, the tripe served up to us on Sunday does not necessarily bode well for the future of the game and the Ulster-initiated blanket defence system should be rejected out of hand, rather than emulated.

Furthermore, the unwritten commandment of “win at all costs”, so often faithfully followed in professional sports, has no place in our amateur games. With those same games comes a certain tradition. A departure from that tradition is, in my view, a betrayal. – Is mise,


Larchfield Road,

Goatstown, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Further to Declan Service’s letter on paying €6.85 for a pint of Carlsberg (September 25th), at the risk of stating the obvious, Mr Service should do as I have done for many years and avoid Temple Bar and its rip-off pint prices. The message will eventually be heard. – Yours, etc,


Devenish Road,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – I see from the Irish Water application form that I will not get an allowance for my dog Harry. – Yours, etc,


Cromwellsfort Road,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole writes (“Things that haven’t changed since the crash”, Opinion & Analysis, September 23rd) that we are emerging from a disastrous recession. Are we not emerging from the after-effects of a disastrous boom? – Yours, etc,


Woodbine Road,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Do you think that it might be possible that motorcycle and moped manufacturers might invent a self-cancelling indicator? – Yours, etc ,


St John’s Road,

Sandymount, Dublin 4.

Irish Independent:

As a Dubliner who has lived on the continent for many years, I wonder why we don’t stand up against the rising rent prices.

Rents are going through the roof. Housing is unaffordable. For every flat available, there are 20 couples queuing. There is absolutely no humanity in any of this. The Government is asleep. I pay €1,200 rent for a 1-bed, 45-metre-square place – not even in Dublin city but in Co Dublin.

Try raising the rent in France, and see what happens. Within 24 hours, you’ll have 100,000 people protesting on the streets of Paris. Landlords are not even allowed to remove their tenants when they haven’t paid their rent for half a year.

Why does our joke of a Government not protect the middle class and cap the rents? Is it because it has bought half of all the property through NAMA? Why do we just let this happen and suffer in silence? Is it in our blood after 800 years of foreign rule? We must break with our sad past and stand up like dignified citizens.

All I am asking is for us to demand that those who represent us actually represent us. Cap the rents – don’t let us struggle while the rich get richer.

Ciaran O’Brien

Blackrock, Co Dublin

Birds and bees at the Ploughing

In beautiful autumn weather, the 2014 National Ploughing Championships took off at Ratheniska, Co Laois. The great open-air festival, believed to be the biggest in Europe, is attracted massive crowds from north, south, east and west. Past records for numbers were far exceeded on the first day increased as the event went on.

The National Ploughing Championships is where two worlds collide and city dwellers mix with the best of rural Ireland – some realising for the first time the true origin of their bread and butter, cheese, milk, burgers and omelettes.

There is something for all ages and all tastes in the 1,400 exhibits: hobbies, education, religion, sport, media, prize livestock, birds and bees. The huge modern agricultural machinery, dairy technology and the Ploughing Championships themselves naturally dominate the scene. It is where the farmers mix business with pleasure, meet new acquaintances and really enjoy the few days’ break from the homestead.

Eamon Tracey, who was just back from France after being crowned World Champion Ploughman, was the big attraction in the ploughing area.

Sprightly President Michael D Higgins, with his wife Sabina, officially launched the event and said that farming was the cornerstone of Ireland’s society, economy and identity, supporting 300,000 jobs in the agri-food sector. The President also urged that the fruits of agricultural development be shared around and not just divided among the richer and biggest.

The 700-acre site with 1,400 exhibits had a temporary staff of over 400 stewards, judges and managers. Catering outlets were geared up to serve 60,000 teas and coffees and provide 30,000 breakfasts daily, with the necessary carbohydrates from 14 acres of potatoes.

To crown off this day of days, you couldn’t leave without hearing Richie Kavanagh’s latest song, ‘Water Meters’!

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary

Obama: champ or chump?

US President Barack Obama is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar.

With the exception of Jordan, none are our friends.

None are countries in the traditional understanding of the term. They are all family-owned businesses.

None of the royals has a modicum of interest in human rights. The royal families live lavishly off the oil wealth they neither discovered nor developed.

These tribal kings have contributed nothing to the world. Now, as Isil is running rampant over Iraq and Syria, they know they are in the cross-hairs of the jihadist terrorists they have so often supported.

We now have the United States of America fighting to save the Islamic kings who have fleeced us for decades.

Is Obama the champ, or the chump, of the Middle East?

Len Bennett

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

It’s all about tactics, not the score

Fred Molloy’s letter (Irish Independent, September 23) in which he laments the “dull” All-Ireland football final, represents an attitude common among the public, but one that I don’t understand.

When people describe a game as “boring” they really mean “low-scoring”. (If you disagree with that, I challenge you to name the last evenly matched high-scoring game that was dull).

Some have suggested handicapping defences by allowing only two hand-passes before kicking, or some similar nonsense.

Why not go further and only allow one-eyed full-backs or mandate that the half-backs be over the age of 45? This would definitely make for high scoring and would liven up every game for the viewing masses.

I would urge Mr Molloy, and those who share his sentiments, to learn to appreciate the defensive art and the tactical battle that is the modern game.

John O’Donnell

Quin, Co Clare

Reverse sexism

Europcar Ireland, the car rental company, is airing a radio advertisement, which has a woman saying, “My mother said you were useless” to her husband.

I think there is mistake in there somewhere, and it is meant to be the man saying this to the woman. Or would that not be acceptable, or even viewed as verbal abuse, which could see him end up in court?

Robert Sullivan

Bantry, Co Cork

I’m a celebrity . . . solicitor

Pray tell, what is a celebrity solicitor? Is it unique to the legal profession, indeed can one get a celebrity plumber, for instance? Maybe some reader will get on the case and have the answer on tap?

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont Dublin 9

Isil’s rampage must be stopped

Edward Horgan (Letters, Irish Independent, September 25) criticised Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan for his condemnation of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine on one hand while supporting the US-led air strikes against Islamic State (Isil) in Syria on the other.

Mr Horgan says: “The minister failed to mention that these air strikes contravene international law, because they do not have UN Security Council approval.”

It is difficult to get approval when some of the permanent members of the UN Security Council continually vote against reasonable resolutions. However, even Russia has given tacit support to US air strikes in Syria.

Surely, Mr Horgan knows that Isil is an organisation that operates outside all international laws and human decency and that its rampage through Iraq and Syria is almost universally condemned?

Perhaps he should prioritise his concerns towards the plight of those fleeing in terror from Isil and the humanitarian disaster that is taking place on Turkey’s borders, instead of focusing on what he perceives as breaches of international law.

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth

Irish Independent


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