Busy day

7 October 2014 Shopping

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day bank, Market, Coop, Post Office, Newsagent.

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


Dame Peggy Fenner – obituary

Dame Peggy Fenner was a Tory MP who rose from humble beginnings to became Food Minister under both Heath and Thatcher

Dame Peggy Fenner

Dame Peggy Fenner Photo: UPPA

5:53PM BST 06 Oct 2014


Dame Peggy Fenner, who has died aged 91, shrugged off humble south London beginnings to become Food Minister under Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher, and represented the Medway towns at Westminster until she was well into her 70s.

An amiable, no-nonsense housewife, Peggy Fenner — who left school at 14 to go into service — personified the classless Conservatism of both prime ministers she served under. She made a highly credible food prices “watchdog”, saying of her own life on a budget: “I’m not mean, just shrewd.” Nor did she give herself airs and graces after being appointed DBE and a Deputy Lieutenant, remaining a determined but never flashy backbencher.

A feminist in the same sense that Mrs Thatcher was, Peggy Fenner was not a liberal. She opposed easier abortion and relaxed divorce laws, and was a consistent supporter of the death penalty. She represented Rochester and Chatham, and later Medway, winning five elections and twice being defeated. She had the option of switching to her home constituency of Sevenoaks when ousted in 1974 but stayed put, regaining her seat in 1979 but finally losing it in the Labour landslide of 1997.

Edward Heath welcoming 13 of the 15 Conservative women MPs elected in 1970. Peggy Fenner is on the far left (CENTRAL PRESS)

Peggy Edith Fenner (she never revealed her maiden name) was born on November 12 1922; a publican’s daughter, she was brought up at Brockley by her grandmother. They moved to Ide Hill, Kent, and at 14 she left the village school to become a mother’s help, married at 18 and went into wartime factory work.

Joining the Conservative Party in 1952, she was elected to Sevenoaks council five years later, chairing it in 1962 and 1963; she also served on the West Kent education executive. She made a strong impression among Kentish Tories, and in 1964 was shortlisted ahead of 104 applicants, almost all men, to succeed Harold Macmillan at Bromley.

She missed out in the final selection, then again at Brighton Kemp Town where the party was seeking — and would fail — to overturn a Labour majority of seven. Instead she was adopted for the unwinnable Newcastle-under-Lyme .

Rochester and Chatham Conservatives selected her to take on the Left-wing Labour MP Anne Kerr, and in 1970 she bettered the national swing to capture the seat by 5,341 votes. Both candidates bemoaned the fact that the other could not have found a man to defeat somewhere else, and when Peggy Fenner arrived in the Commons it was women’s issues that she took up.

Her first success was to force the Royal Navy to scuttle a “dial a sailor” scheme for the public to befriend sailors docking away from their home port, after Navy wives complained. She joined other Tory women in trying to amend the recently-liberalised divorce laws which ended the right of the “innocent party” to veto divorce after five years. Her work on the Expenditure Select Committee impressed, and in November 1972 Heath appointed her Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Agriculture with responsibility for prices, which were becoming an issue as inflation set in.

At Maff she took through the legislation obliging food producers to put sell-by dates on their products, but spent most of her time tackling a rising tide of complaints about higher meat prices, caused by a world shortage, and explaining a 48 per cent increase in food prices in three years.

When Labour’s Willie Hamilton complained of being charged 5p for a banana, she told him curtly: “You could certainly do with some help with your shopping. I bought six bananas for 17p recently, and I don’t have time to shop around.” Hamilton was back next week saying he had now been charged 16½p for three bananas.

In the February 1974 election called by Heath over the miners’ strike, Peggy Fenner’s majority slumped to 843. In opposition, she joined Britain’s contingent in the then-nominated European Parliament. She attended only a handful of sessions before Harold Wilson called another election and Labour’s Bob Bean ousted her by 2,418 votes.

She was out of the Commons for Mrs Thatcher’s overthrow of Heath, and as the Tories regrouped for a return to government. She won back Rochester and Chatham in 1979, by 2,688 votes.

John Nott’s decision to close Chatham dockyard was a blow to Peggy Fenner’s constituents, many of whom took it out on their MP. And before she could launch a campaign against the closure, Mrs Thatcher, in September 1981, gave her back her old job at Maff.

Prices were now less of an issue, so she could address concerns over quality: the conditions in which veal calves and battery hens were kept, the amount of fat in mince and water in sausages, dyes in pet food, tighter curbs on pesticides, pesticide residues on lemons that were polluting gin-and-tonics, and the unsuitability of cling film for microwave cooking. She also presided over the first raising of the Thames Barrier.

In 1983 she defeated Bean by 8,656 votes for the new constituency of Medway.

Mrs Thatcher dropped her in September 1986 in a cull of junior ministers, compensating her with a DBE. Dame Peggy became a leading campaigner against the high speed link across Kent to the Channel Tunnel. For a decade from 1987 she returned to Strasbourg as a delegate to the Council of Europe and Western European Union.

The 1997 election brought boundary changes and a heavy national swing to Labour. Dame Peggy, her 75th birthday approaching, went down by 5,354 votes to the colourful barrister Bob Marshall-Andrews.

She married, in 1940, Bernard Fenner; both he and their daughter predeceased her.

Dame Peggy Fenner, born November 12 1922, died September 15 2014


Turkey To Possibly Join War Against ISIS A refugee from the fighting between Isis and Syrian forces arrives in Turkey. Photograph: Carsten Koall/Getty Images

You are correct to point out that the trips of British citizens to support rebel fighters in Syria were “in keeping with Britain’s official anti-Assad policy at the time” (Not all enemies of the state, 4 October). By presenting a simplistic Manichean narrative of good democrats fighting evil dictators in a complex civil war, David Cameron, William Hague and the British media undoubtedly acted as recruiting sergeants for groups such as Islamic State (Isis) and Al-Nusra Front. Relatives of British jihadists have cited media coverage as key drivers. Those same politicians and media outlets – having learned precisely nothing from repeated cycles of supporting jihadists against secular bogeymen in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, then facing the inevitable blowback – have shifted their role from recruiting sergeant to Grand Old Duke of York: a march that led inexorably to Mount Sinjar and genocide has been ignominiously put into reverse.
Peter McKenna

• Owen Jones (Isis is turning us all into its recruiting sergeants, 6 October) rightly highlights the political roots of the rise of Isis in Iraq, and argues persuasively for the need to address those as part of any response to the Isis threat. However, he does not extend this reasoning to Syria, where the Assad regime has been far more directly connected with the rise of Isis than Maliki – providing not only the fertile soil of repression but funding through oil purchases and allowing to Isis to thrive in order to take advantage of its attacks on other opposition groups. Isis managed to establish the capital of its “caliphate” in the Syrian city of Raqqa without Assad lifting a finger.

In the short term what is needed in Syria is serious support for the groups on the ground that are not only fighting Isis but have shown in the past that they are capable of defeating it – the Kurdish YPG and the Free Syrian Army, whose allied fighters have been locked in a desperate struggle to defend Kobani. What they need first and foremost is effective weaponry. Western air power may be able to assist, but only if it is closely coordinated with the local forces. At the same time, the root cause of Isis in Syria needs to be addressed – and that is the cancer that is the Assad regime.
Brian Slocock

• You refer disparagingly to the over-emphasis by some Muslims on how western countries set off the chain of troubles which led to Isis’s emergence (Editorial, 6 October). However, the argument has been made by a number of distinguished experts – Muslim or otherwise. Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN special envoy to Syria, recently noted Isis was “originally and still is mainly an Iraqi phenomenon. And that is a direct result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003”. Professor George Joffe, a Middle East expert at the University of Cambridge, told the Huffington Post Tony Blair bore “total responsibility” for the rise of Isis.

Furthermore, the New York Times has reported of the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: “At every turn, [his] rise has been shaped by the United States’s involvement in Iraq.” The article goes on to explain that Baghdadi spent five years in a US prison in Iraq “where, like many Isis fighters now on the battlefield, he became more radicalised”.
Ian Sinclair

• During the 26 September parliamentary debate, the prime minister said that without British air strikes there was no realistic prospect of “degrading and defeating” Isis and destroying it as a serious terrorist force. While he was clear that “we should not expect this to happen quickly”, your report (6 October) that Syrian Kurds have said that US-led air strikes are “not enough” to defeat Isis forces attacking Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border, points to flaws in the US-led strategy.

First, Britain’s decision to limit our intervention to Iraq means we are powerless to come to the aid of Kobani. Second, the prime minister and President Obama insisted that their objectives could be met by providing air power in support of local forces, and by arming them. In Kobani, local forces have been receiving air support, yet still they may succumb to the terrorists. The strategy must be therefore be adapted so that it is capable of achieving its objectives.
John Slinger

• The US and UK have committed not to put “boots on the ground” but, without infantry, failure is likely. T here are already 600,000 boots on the ground. Not on the feet of the poorly trained Iraqi forces who ran at the first sound of gunfire, but on the feet of the 200,000-strong Syrian army and the 100,000 strong National Defence Force that maintains local security in pacified areas of Syria. This combined force includes Alawite, Sunni, Shia, Druze, Christian, Ismaili and Armenian soldiers loyal to the Assad regime. Their effectiveness is hampered by the need to defend themselves against ambivalent western- and Saudi-funded rebel forces, many of whom have crossed over to join Isis. Supporting Syria’s battle-hardened secular army against the Islamist terrorists is the only realistic way to defeat them.
Craig Sams
Hastings, East Sussex

• “Air strikes” sound like a reasonable and proportionate response to the threat posed by Isis, but drones, missiles, high-altitude and stealth bombers operate in virtually complete safety. The word “war” is hardly appropriate. Not only militants but non-combatants of all ages are being killed. Am I alone in my concern both for these unnumbered victims and for the moral and psychological condition of those who kill with the click of a mouse?
George Miller
Oswestry, Shropshire

Nick Clegg Q&A, Lat the Nick Clegg takes a question and answer session at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow, 6 October 2014. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

If the conference season has been marked by one feature, then it is a political scramble to make a raft of baseless promises about NHS funding, upon the sudden collective realisation that the NHS might be important to people. Labour and Tory promises have little substance. They were successful in that they got headlines. That they were uncosted (Conservatives) or poorly costed (Labour) was seemingly less important. Perhaps the Lib Dems this week will promise that all patients will be chauffeur-driven to their local GP surgery at a time of their choosing (Report, 4 October). The reality is that unless the wasteful and unnecessary competitive market and PFI contracts are addressed, the NHS will continue to haemorrhage billions and patients will bear the brunt with poor care. We have a difference between income and expenditure of £6bn a year, approximately 5% of overall NHS spending. The introduction of the market has increased administration costs from around 5% to 15% of NHS spending. It is obvious that we need a move back from the free-market commissioning process to a public sector planning process.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action Party

• Vince Cable proposes to add £1 an hour to apprenticeship wages. At the same time he assures his colleagues that the transatlantic trade and i in response to a demand of the Arab uprisingsnvestment partnership is in all our best interests. Under the TTIP, Veolia is suing the Egyptian government after it raised the minimum wage.
Kate Macintosh
Winchester, Hampshire

• The tone of your reporting of the Lib Dem conference suggests that you are going to urge us to support them in next year’s election. If you do, you threaten my 55-year-long association with your paper.
John Dinning

The new chief executive of the civil service, John Manzoni, in 2000. The new chief executive of the civil service, John Manzoni, in 2000. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

It beggars belief that John Manzoni has been appointed as chief executive of Whitehall (Report, 3 October). According to BP’s own internal investigation into the Texas City disaster, which killed 15 and injured more than 150, he was found to have ignored “clear warning signals” from previous accidents and “failed to obtain information needed to understand better his most complex and important refining asset and the risk of a big accident”. Cue the chorus of praise heaped on Mr Manzoni. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude speaks of Manzoni’s “impressive record”; chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander opines, unaware perhaps of the irony, that “John’s experience speaks for itself”. The fact that former chairman of BP John Browne was apparently on the panel that appointed him is of course irrelevant.
Michael McColgan

• The civil service does not need a chief executive. It already has one in the form of the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service. The import of business people to the civil service over the past 40 years has not been an unalloyed blessing. The odd one has reached the very top, but many others have disappeared without trace within two or three years of taking up office. The achievement record is in fact very much the other way round, with some Whitehall-trained civil servants having become successful chairs of banks and other City-based firms, and others holding effective non-executive director positions in business. The one regret is that no former mandarins have moved to the trade unions or the wider Labour movement.
Robin Wendt

• According to John Manzoni: “My priority is building on the existing momentum to strengthen the execution muscle of Whitehall and embed a sustainable productivity agenda across government.” Mandarins whose physique is to be improved by Mr Manzoni in this way will no doubt be familiar with The Complete Plain Words, written by the late Sir Ernest Gowers at the invitation of the Treasury, with the aim of improving official English.
Adrian Whitfield QC

Your article Disney earns £170m in UK tax breaks (2 October) fails to acknowledge the contribution the film tax credit makes to the UK economy. Every £1 invested in the tax relief generates £12 for UK GDP. More than £1bn was spent on film production in the UK in 2013; a significant proportion of this was inward investment from productions basing themselves here, attracted by the UK’s tax relief, world-class skills, locations and facilities, and the creativity of our film talent in front of and behind the camera. The tax relief is a life-blood to the UK’s independent sector, which is the engine-room of creativity in British filmmaking. The UK has a competitive edge as a global centre for filmmaking and supports an industry that employs 117,000 people and turns over £7.3bn a year. It is because of film companies like Disney and others that invest in the UK that we are able to support all of these jobs, build our skilled workforce, raise the game of independent British filmmaking and grow the UK’s economy.
Amanda Nevill
Chief executive, BFI

The report by the Local Government Association (Welfare schemes ‘under threat from No 10 cuts’, 6 October) is a stark reminder of the lifeline provided by so many local authorities to vulnerable people in need. Members of the Keep the Safety Net campaign, a national network of voluntary sector bodies concerned about proposed changes to local welfare provision, see at first hand the vital difference these schemes can make to the lives of vulnerable people. It is essential the government clearly identifies this line of funding to allow councils to provide a much-needed safety net.
Rob Hull
Chair, Cripplegate Foundation for the Keep the Safety Net campaign

• If Karl Lagerfeld cared two hoots about feminism (Comment, 4 October), he’d allow his half-starved models to eat properly. Better still would be if models organised for the rights to proper nutrition and a more sensible female shape. I dread to think what these women are storing up for themselves: low resistance to infection, poor mental health, osteoporosis, sexual dysfunction and sub-fertility, to name but a few possible consequences of their enforced lifestyles.
Ruth Grimsley

• Alan Milburn rather unoriginally claims that many schools are letting down poorer pupils and that if some manage not to, there is no excuse for this (Report, 6 October). Who is to blame for the numbers of children living in impoverished or disadvantaged conditions – these not random misfortunes?
Ian Roberts
Baildon, West Yorkshire

• No doubt familiar with the slogan “no taxation without representation”, some Scots may well be daunted by discovering the converse can also be claimed (Salmond bans councils’ blitz on poll tax debtors, 3 October).
Angela Barton
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire


“The Independent begins a week-long investigation into the parlous state of the health service’s finances … what’s wrong with the NHS?… what has caused the current crisis?” (6 October ).

What indeed? Many things, but some have not even been considered. I visited my local surgery last week. A large notice in the waiting room said “number of missed appointments in August was 196, equivalent to 51 hours or one week’s wasted time and resources of our practice”. You can find the same notices in hospital outpatients. Theatres stand idle when people do not turn up for routine operations. Translated nationwide, this is many million of pounds worth of loss per month, more per year, more still per decade. Free access costs a great deal and its abuse should not be allowed.

P P Anthony


If the conference season has been marked by one feature, it is the political scramble by all parties to make a raft of baseless promises about NHS funding, after finally realising that the NHS might be important  to people. Labour and Conservative promises were successful in that they got headlines. That they were uncosted (Tories) or poorly costed (Labour) was seemingly less important.

By this logic I’m looking forward to the Lib Dem conference this week. Perhaps we’ll see a promise that all patients will be chauffer-driven to their local surgery at a time of their choosing. This will be followed by post-conference deconstruction, where the promise slinks off to join tuition fees in the graveyard of Lib Dem pledges.

The reality is that unless the wasteful and unnecessary competitive market and PFI contracts are addressed, the NHS will continue to haemorrhage billions and patients will bear the brunt of lost money and poor care. We have a difference between income and expenditure of £6bn a year, which is 5 per cent of overall spending. Given that the introduction of the market has increased administration costs from around 5 per cent to 15 per cent of spending, then it is painfully obvious that we need a move away from the free-market process and back to a public sector planning process.

Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action Party, Worthing

How can your journalists write so many words about the parlous state of NHS finances without mentioning the private finance initiative (PFI)?  The Blair government boasted of the huge sums they spent on the NHS, yet much of it went on this monstrous credit-card style financing, and is widely recognised as a major cause of the current lack of money. The medical profession is sometimes accused of addressing the symptoms not the underlying causes; your analysis of this problem did much the same.

S Lawton
Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

As a consultant paediatrician (forced to retire due to illness), I feel ably qualified to respond to Charlie Cooper’s article in yesterday’s Independent.

I believe the following actions will help to improve our NHS: move specialist clinics to community bases; reduce investigations to the minimum required; reduce the huge amounts of medications; establish online communications between health professionals and trusts. If nothing is done, more professionals will leave their jobs.

Dr Michael Reynolds
Buxton, Derbyshire

We must protect the Human Rights Act

In 1950 the European Convention on Human Rights was drafted. This led directly to the establishment of the European Court of Human Rights. Britain was in the forefront of this development and  eventually 47 countries signed up.

Now the Tory party has published proposals that mean the UK could be the first country to leave. If we – as one of the countries with relatively few judgments handed down against us – find the concept of human rights too onerous to contemplate, where does that leave  many of the other countries, such as Italy for example, which has far more questionable records?   And if the Conservative Party’s plan proceeds and Britain’s exit is emulated by others, where does this leave our citizens who may become subjected to unfair prosecutions in these countries?

The Conservative Party is sending out a chilling message to anyone in Europe who believes in democracy and supports human rights.  Will the last country to leave please switch off the lights on the way out?

Nigel Scott

Whatever one’s opinion about prisoners being denied the right to vote, surely it is wrong to use this topic as a basis for an argument about withdrawing from the European Human Rights Convention. It has been suggested that the European Court rulings on the matter could be complied with by giving the right to vote to prisoners sentenced to one year or less.

It might be debated whether as a country we believe that part of the purpose of imprisonment is to prepare prisoners for reintegration into society as law-abiding and responsible citizens. If we do, why not permit prisoners whose sentence will expire within five years after a general election the right to vote at that election, thereby giving those prisoners some chance to influence the make-up of the government of the society into which they will be released? We might even increase turnouts as a result.

Andrew Bruckland


The Tory contempt that keeps on giving

In the opening lines of the speech she did not get to make at the Tory Conference in Brighton in 1984, Mrs Thatcher refers to the ‘‘mob of rowdies outside’’. This was, of course, a peacefully protesting crowd. Her comments reflect the Tory contempt for democracy and the right to protest, echoed 30 years on by their plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.

Keith Flett

Dear George, Thanks but no thanks

I think I am one of the beneficiaries of George Osborne’s latest pension reforms, having been a member of some good pension schemes during my working life. However, I resent being given such generous welfare benefits in a time of austerity, especially as I do not need them at the moment.

Nigel Wilkins


How to get people picking fruit

It is a shame that Mark Steel (3 October) should repeat the oft-heard statement that immigrants come here to do work that the British shy away from, with its implicit racist and demeaning undertones, namely immigrants are only good for menial, low-paid jobs.

Has he considered the option of paying higher wages to fruit pickers, say £15 or even £20 per hour, in which case thousands would flock to Hereford for a stint of fruit picking. I bet an hourly rate of £30 would tempt him to trot to the countryside; it would me.

Fawzi Ibrahim

Madness is… voting without PR

While I respect the intentions of Paul Jenkins in advising everyone to vote (Letter, 3 October), it takes a big effort every four years  for many of us to put that into practice. I have lived in the same constituency for 28 years and have voted in six elections ranging from the high tide of Thatcherism to the Blair landslides. In none of these elections has my vote made an iota of difference.

I live in a safe Tory seat. I never have and never will vote Conservative but I still faithfully make my way to the polling booth, put my cross next to my chosen candidate knowing it will make no difference at all. And, millions of voters around the country in safe seats will be doing the same. I realise campaigners down the years have suffered varying degrees of discomfort to achieve this right but I suspect that most of them were campaigning for real democracy and certainly not so that the trip to the polling booth would be one of utter futility.

One definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result. It has taken me a long time but I am tempted to say that until a system of proportional representation is introduced for West-minster elections, I shall not be indulging in this pointless exercise again.

Stuart Russell

Will Cameron take on Saudi Arabia?

So, David Cameron has done for Alan Henning with his military posing. When will we learn to keep out of interfering in the Middle East? We should immediately cease all aid to Syria and leave the Syrians to sort out their own mess.

Without aid and air strikes, they might realise that it is Isis that is leaving them to suffer, and turn away from it to embrace a more realistic form of government. No amount of compulsion will do that.  Perhaps the only thing we can do is to stop Isis’s backers financing it: which probably involves daring to stand up to Saudi Arabia. Does our tinpot soldier premier dare do that?

Tony Crofts
Clifton, Bristol


Sir, Writing as someone who is — um how shall I put it? — over 25 (“To er is human, but only for the elderly”, Oct 6), I find that my favourite and indeed most useful word in a crisis is “doo-dah” .
Gaye Poulton
London N7

Sir, These days young people tend spontaneously to offer me a seat on the bus. This is at one level encouraging: good manners are not in decline. The shadow-side is the unwelcome confirmation that skinny jeans and a modern haircut don’t allow us septuagenarians to get away with it indefinitely.
The Rev Claire Wilson
London NW3

Sir, Daniel Finkelstein may be right on the narrow point (“Ukip is doomed to be the dead parrot party”, Oct 1) but he misses the wider picture. Ukip is to policy what the catwalk is to fashion: it launches outrageous and populist policies not in expectation that they will be adopted, but in order to watch the mainstream parties manufacture high street versions that are buyable. We will never wear Ukip, but everything on offer at the election will have been influenced by it.
Jane Shaw

Sir, There is no doubt that mushroom hunting should be a joy (letter, Oct 6) but the rise of the gastro pub eager to provide wild delicacies does little to help. The chef will have engaged the services of a fungi forager who will guard the patch that produces the best porcini or chicken of the woods. Woe betide a casual forager seeking “the quiet hunt” when they stumble across the professional’s cache of chanterelle. The observation by Mr Carluccio that they are “one of the most important elements within the ecological chain” should make us leave them well alone and get on with farming a more diverse array of fungi.
Rob Yorke
Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Sir, In France you can walk into any chemist’s shop with the mushrooms you have picked on a day out and be told which ones are safe to eat. It is a free public service.
Dr Robert Bruce-Chwatt
Richmond, Surrey

We are told that “the NHS needs billions of pounds”, yet no-one will recognise that its debt is dwarfed by the amount owed for private finance initiative (PFI) contracts. If the government would take action the deficit would be eliminated overnight. Most PFI contracts have been “rolled up” and sold on and are now in the hands of private equity companies, and are held almost entirely overseas. If the government were to buy back all contracts, at no more than 100th of a penny in the pound, the only ones hurt would be the private equity companies; there is little or no involvement by UK pension funds or shareholders. It would be a major gain for the economy.
M Cohen
Godmanchester, Cambs


SIR – The European Convention on Human Rights was drafted in 1949-50 by David Maxwell-Fyfe, later home secretary in Churchill’s post-war government. Its principal purpose, he said, was to provide “a beacon to the peoples behind the Iron Curtain, and a passport for their return to the midst of the free countries”.

The convention set out “the minimum standard of democratic government” which they would need to meet in order to rejoin the European family of nations. No one then envisaged major legal changes within democratic Western European countries.

On that basis Churchill expressed strong support for the convention in a speech in Strasbourg in 1949. He endorsed the establishment of a court on the strict understanding that it “would depend for the enforcement of its judgments on the individual decisions of the states now banded together”.

To this original Churchillian vision the whole of Europe now needs to return.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

SIR – You cannot address the European Convention on Human Rights without dealing with the EU. The convention is substantively incorporated in the Lisbon Treaty by virtue of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The treaty provides an opt-out from the charter for Britain and Poland, but academic opinion doubts its effectiveness, were the European Court of Justice (with whose judgments the UK is bound to comply) to test its validity.

David Cameron should add this aspect of our membership of the EU to what should be a long list of issues for reform.

Neil Voyce
Reading, Berkshire

SIR – Tony Blair’s Human Rights Act was passed in 1998. Has speech become freer since then? Is family life more secure? Is the state less intrusive? As another prime minister once said: “No! No! No!”

Joseph B Fox
Redhill, Surrey

Nice is wasting millions on anti-alcohol pills

SIR – The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has proposed that a drug, nalmefene, should be made available to 600,000 moderate drinkers who wish to reduce their intake (report, October 3). Each pill costs £3. If all took up this offer it would increase NHS costs by £675 million a year.

The Nice recommendation is based on a misunderstanding of the available evidence so complete as to be almost comic. There have only been three clinical trials of the drug, and they all produced similar results. The trials were on heavy drinkers, with between 18 and 22 “binge days” per month, who wanted to reduce their dependence. None was from the United Kingdom.

A large minority of the entrants were given an inert pill (placebo), while the remainder took the drug.

The outcomes were unambiguous: all the patients involved reduced their drinking, and there was very little difference between the two “arms”. The drug users reduced their intake by 49.05 grams per month, and those on placebo by 45.58 grams per month.

Other indicators, such as liver function tests, the number of heavy drinking days and so on, were not significantly different. The authors of the trials were suitably cautious about the results. There were a number of cases in which the drug caused unpleasant side effects.

So the only possible conclusion is that if you take an interest in people who drink too much and are worried by it, and give them any pill telling them it might help, they will reduce their alcohol intake and maybe feel a little better, at least for some months.

Nice’s proposal is based on a “health economics” analysis, which ignores the effect of the placebo and any side effects.

It is difficult to believe that Nice could have ever made this proposal, even in draft form, but it appears that it is incapable of evaluating evidence.

Professor G B Arden
London N21

SIR – As the conference season comes to an end, one has little confidence in the political classes. Tories: privileged; Lib Dems: pretentious; Labour: pathetic; Ukip: prejudiced.

Andrew C Pierce
Barnstaple, Devon

SIR – The Scottish referendum produced an 84 per cent turnout. The reason for this high proportion is that every vote counted.

Contrast this with Westminster elections, where the first-past-the-post system disfranchises a huge number of voters. In my own case, I have been entitled to vote in elections for 49 years, but have yet to be represented by a member of the party I voted for, despite its overall national performance.

If the political elite are truly interested in maintaining the interest shown in the referendum, it is surely time to move to proportional representation for all elections.

Douglas Howie
Elgin, Morayshire

SIR – Like Mel Goodman (Letters, October 3) I have voted Conservative for some time. Now I’m looking for a party offering to put an end to big government, that refuses to use taxpayers’ money to buy votes, that will end the dishonesty of separate National Insurance and income tax, and that will cut taxes first, having abolished the handing-out of taxpayers’ money regardless of need.

I live in a dream world, don’t I?

Geoff Dees
Alford, Lincolnshire

Licence to snip

SIR – When a motorist gets an endorsement, the corner of his plastic licence should be snipped off (Letters, October 4).

Thus, for those who keep a clean licence, the wretched paper part would be redundant.

J S Barnes
St Peter Port, Guernsey

SIR – I too tried to hire a car using only the plastic card part of my licence. I was told that I would be charged £10 for a phone call to check for endorsements; but, learning that a foreign licence was acceptable, I produced my Ethiopian driving licence.

It is mostly in Amharic, with all dates written according to the Ethiopian calendar. This was accepted without any call or extra charge.

Ronnie Bradford
Vienna, Austria

Displayed traditionally in beer bottles, the society’s tulips await judging at its annual show  Photo: HOMER SYKES

6:59AM BST 06 Oct 2014


SIR – I enjoyed the article by Charles Quest-Ritson (Gardening, September 26) on the Dutch garden of historic bulbs, the Hortus Bulborum. The collection of English Florists’ Tulips there, with their flamed and feathered marking, were supplied by the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society.

This society has been growing English Florists’ Tulips since 1836. Some of the varieties grown have very long lives, and flower year after year for decades. Unlike most viruses, those that affecting the tulip (and produce its markings) do not appear to mutate. The blooms today are just as illustrated hundreds of years ago.

Tim Lever
Beachampton, Buckinghamshire

Paxman’s clean-up

SIR – The Cornish coast visited by Jeremy Paxman is not the only place with plastic bags of dog excrement hanging on trees and fences (report, October 4). I do a lot of walking, and in this part of Hampshire and Surrey it is a common sight in country lanes and on common land; I guess you could find it anywhere in the country.

If someone of Jeremy Paxman’s standing could help to eliminate this practice it would be appreciated by all country lovers.

Kathleen Mitchell
Farnborough, Hampshire

SIR – My allotment is next to a piece of land used by people who walk their dogs in Windsor Great Park. We have a 7ft hedge to act as a windbreak – and the charming owners regularly throw their bags of mess over the hedge and on to my veg.

Cecil Lunn
Windsor, Berkshire

Joint exercises

SIR – Although humans have 10 digits (Letters, October 4), the phalanges of the fingers number 12 on each hand, and the thumb is a useful pointer with which mark them off. I have been using this method to count since my teens, when I saw a Sikh doing so.

J H K Reeves
Bradfield, Berkshire

Arab countries won’t provide ground forces in Iraq; Britain can’t

Demonstrators parade with ISIL flags

Isil must be engaged on the ground, but who will do it? Photo: AP

7:00AM BST 06 Oct 2014


SIR – Twenty two years ago, Britain could have put 30,000 front-line men on the ground, with good reserves and support, to deal with some thing like Isil. Had others joined us, the force could have been ten times larger.

Weak, liberal politics has reduced us to a bunch of also-rans with no potency. There is no political leadership and consequently no military leadership.

The sop of using air power alone is just that. It is clear that the Arabs do not wish to deploy ground forces. That leaves Europe, which is currently sitting on its hands.

You might have to wait till hell freezes over to get Arab forces on the ground, because no one Arab country will trust the other. Kuwait taught us that.

David Cameron has reduced us to this state of affairs, with his Liberal Democrat chums. Procrastination is now the thief of time, and the death warrant to an untold number to come.

Philip Congdon
La Bastide d’Engras, Gard, France

SIR – Like others, I am glad the Prime Minister has moved strongly on to the front foot, but as the defence of the realm is his prime responsibility I was very concerned that he did not announce that further substantial monies would be made available to enhance our military firepower.

It would be good for morale in the armed forced and also make a very strong international statement that this country means business.

Lord Sterling of Plaistow
London SW1

SIR – How many more such barbaric killings like that of the brave aid worker Alan Henning are to be committed before the West will accept its responsibility and fully commit itself to defeating the murderous advance of Isil, which threatens the global economy and world order.

Military leaders say that air strikes alone cannot stop Isil, and that ground forces are required, but with the Iraqi army in some disarray and the region unwilling or incapable of providing the necessary forces, the West must act on the ground.

In committing forces to Iraq last week, the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, said that the Middle East situation was now an international concern. Therefore international action is required.

David Vetch
Smallfield, Surrey

SIR – Since air strikes against Isil are aiding the Kurds and Iraqis to regain their lands, should not their undoubted high cost be funded from the overseas aid budget?

Bruce Clench
Chichester, West Sussex

SIR – Is there a paper trail for the apparently new Toyota vehicles used by Isil that we see on television every day? Where are they manufactured, and how do they arrive in the desert?

David Smith
London W14

Irish Times:

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole is to be commended (“It’s time the State treated our cultural institutions with respect”, Weekend, October 4th) on actively keeping the plight of the cultural institutions before your readers.

These institutions were at rock bottom in the 1950s (the line of buckets to catch raindrops on wet days along the upper floors of the National Gallery said it all). The reversal of a slow but real upturn from the 1960s is made all the more serious by the proposed replacement of real management boards , themselves instituted a decade ago under the National Cultural Institutions Act of 1997, by mere advisory bodies.

A restoration of civil service management is hardy reassuring, given the record of neglect in the past. There was never over many decades a civil service brief to Ministers on the development of these institutions or their needs. The few bold steps were wholly ministerial in origin – Liam Cosgrave in the early 1970s on archives and Michael D Higgins on the institutions at large in the mid-1990s.

As for the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, under Jimmy Deenihan policy was a mere mantra of private philanthropy coming to the rescue. The Enda Kenny-Heather Humphreys debacle of recent days hardly promises a bright future. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – While the vigilance of the Dublin media in preserving artistic standards in public office is to be admired, I have to say that on a recent visit to Donegal I came across some watercolours and some poetry books. I can only assume they were left behind by a holiday visitor from the Pale, whose occupation, be it in law, medicine, theatre, politics, business, etc, fell from the stars and in no way can be traced to family connection or influence. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 24.

Sir, – Standards in public life could be given a new lease on life if the public elected members of the Seanad in the manner they elect members of the Dáil. – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.

Sir, – With regards to appointments to State boards, why not allocate say two seats on each board for political appointees? These could be appointed by the relevant minister at their absolute discretion. The remaining board members could be appointed through the public appointments system, and completely independent of the government.

With each change of government the political appointees would tender their resignations, allowing the incoming ministers to replace them if they wished. This approach would clean up the appointments process and introduce transparency, while recognising that all political parties want to retain these appointments as a form of patronage. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, –Reading a crime novel by Donna Leon, I was struck by a remark attributed to one of the lead characters: “In the presence of a trough, it is difficult not to oink”. It was mainly Italian politics that she had in mind, I suppose! – Yours, etc,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – As you say in your editorial (A temporary measure?) of September 30th, “on no major issue has the Government behaved quite so dishonourably as on the pensions issue”. This is surely correct.

The Government prides itself on the “tough” but necessary decisions it is making for the good of the country – and no doubt the levy, and how tough it was not to keep the promise to terminate it, are part of that story.

Tackling the public service unions next year on their demands for more pay will be a stroll after this.

Since most employers have decided to pass on the full cost of the levy (as prompted by the 2011 Government legislation), the upshot of each extension of the levy is a further cut in pension – for life. What then, should the levy be made permanent? Pensioners and pension scheme members, be very afraid.

The €2.3 billion bite taken from pension funds, far from being a source of Government embarrassment, or reason for ceasing such plunder, is now becoming the very reason for continuing with it.

The reputation of the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, riding high at the moment, might yet be his role in wrecking the private pensions system. Is there no way to stop him?

Has any thought been given to the legality, or constitutionality, of what is going on here? – Yours, etc,


Churchtown, Dublin 14.

Sir, –Several contributors to your newspaper have remarked on the apparent lack of outrage at the pension levy. Might I suggest the following reasons: private pension holders were already punch-drunk from the far larger “hit” they suffered at the hands of a pensions industry that awards itself some of the fattest fees for some of the worst investment performance on the planet.

Second, I suspect the victims of this heist are from a demographic that prefers its vengeance, well chilled, at election time.

May heaven help any government that attempts to force us into the high-cost, risky, and opaque products that are the stock in trade of this industry under the guise of a compulsory national pension scheme.

If this Government wishes to do something for private pensioners in recompense for this unjust levy, might I suggest the following two reforms in the upcoming budget (in addition to announcing the abolition of the levy): follow the example of the British chancellor and free Irish pension-holders completely from the shackles of increasingly bad-value annuities; and give each taxpayer the option of nominating a single deposit account in a bank or credit union where deposits would enjoy the tax treatment enjoyed by pension investments – on condition the capital could not be accessed until retirement without first returning the avoided tax. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Irish Water give as its excuse for demanding our PPS numbers (the kind of confidential information that we are discouraged from giving to anyone) that it needs it to verify how many free allowances to give to each household.

Perhaps logic has deserted me, but I can’t see why a single-person household, claiming only one allowance, needs to supply a PPS number at all. – Yours, etc,


Miltown Malbay, Co Clare.

Sir, – Linda McNulty (October 2nd) argues that single occupant households are being discriminated against, in the case of estimated billing. This ignores the fact that there are shared aspects of water consumption where two or more people share a household. As a crude example, a garden will require the same amount of water irrespective of the number of occupants in the household. So an estimated water bill for two should be less than simply twice that for a single person. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I see Irish Water will allow its domestic customers to pay for their water by installments. Water on the drip? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The Housing Agency’s contention that the current minimum apartment sizes set out by Dublin City Council are inhibiting the construction sector should be strongly supported (“Build smaller apartments to tackle shortage, says Housing Agency chief”, Front Page, October 4th).

I would also suggest a reduction in building standards, a ban on costly thermal and sound insulation, an abolition of any building inspections and a rowback on fire safety standards, as these will surely encourage a building boom and create many jobs. Feeding our children less might also mean future generations will fit into even smaller apartments.

If we do not bail out developers who paid too much for land by allowing them to build cheaply, we risk construction profits, the jobs they create and the lobbying power they finance. Are people really going to place having a decent home above jobs? Do they really value their dignity that much?

If the city council refuses to back down, the the developers should sit tight and hold the city to ransom.

I can only be thankful that, regardless of whether Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael hold sway in the Dáil, we are governed by the benevolence of the construction industry – an industry that has so generously added to the architectural riches of the city over the last 25 years. – Yours, etc,


Rathgar, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Further to your editorial (October 4th) on Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s options, you should be mindful of the comment by William Cobbett (1763 –1835), the pamphleteer, farmer and journalist: “Nothing is so well calculated to produce a death-like torpor in the country as an extended system of taxation and a great national debt”.

Messrs Noonan and Howlin could bear this in mind when framing the 2015 budget. – Yours, etc,


Old Ross,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – Regarding Dublin city councillor and former lord mayor Mary Freehill’s recent call for a new and more “inclusive” motto for the city, this prompts the question: who is excluded from the present motto (“Obedientia civium urbis felicitas” – “The obedience of the citizens produces a happy city”)? With its reference to “the citizens” which, presumably, means all the city’s residents, the present motto is as inclusive, in the proper sense of the term, as any conceivable alternative could be. According to herself, even Ms Freehill hasn’t devised a more “inclusive” alternative. The present motto has served Dublin well for over 400 years and is sufficiently fit for purpose to serve it well for another 400. – Yours, etc,


Athboy, Co Meath.

Sir, – I can remember a time when we had no need for a telephone directory. It was not the lack of fast broadband or slow dial-up, it was the lack of a dial – with a telephone attached to it! – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Sir, – The best possible solution to the glut of new unused telephone directories is to offer a new edition on production of an older edition. The principle of the “money-back bottle” should be alive and well in 2014. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – The latest Times Higher Education league table finds that most Irish universities have dropped down the league table. One of the causes for this downgrading is perhaps being missed. There are increasing levels of employee apartheid in many Irish universities. An elite group of staff and senior permanent academics enjoy remuneration and conditions that are in stark contrast with those of part-time, temporary and hourly paid staff.

What probably began as a genuine effort to use postgraduate researchers as classroom assistants and tutors, thereby giving them important experience, has been expanded over the past decade.

Now complete modules and undergraduate courses are being taught by temporary hourly paid employees, many of whom have PhDs, but who are being denied opportunities to gain the permanent employment that their qualifications would justify.

Some of our best researchers and potential university lecturers are being lost to emigration and non-academic employment.

The working conditions of many of these hourly paid teachers include problems such as no access to university office and computer facilities. In addition, they are expected to work many hours unpaid for each paid lecture hour, including several hours of lecture preparation, student guidance, setting and correcting exams and assessments, attending meetings and other administrative tasks.

Younger academics, in particular, are being exploited, because they feel they have to suffer in silence so as not to endanger their chances of getting permanent status.

When it comes to the treatment of junior and temporary employees, most Irish universities are engaged in a race to the bottom. Universities are winning that race, at the expense of unjust exploitation of their employees, and decreasing standards of third-level education for their students. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The Helmut Kohl revelations regarding Angela Merkel support my view that our predominately male political leaders are simply not up to the task of dealing with this canny female political operator (“Kohl gives unflattering verdict on Merkel”, World News, October 6th).

Can I suggest that we employ the services of an equally astute Irishwoman to send to EU summits to represent our interests? Perhaps we will then have a chance of getting a real “game changer” debt deal. To date, the men simply haven’t cut it! – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – As ever, people died in Ireland last week. I would have thought that among them there were individuals whose lives were interesting enough or important enough (in whatever sense) to have merited being written up in what holds itself to be Ireland’s premier newspaper.

However, your latest page of Obituaries (October 4th) is completely devoted to four people who died in the UK – an army officer, a literary editor, a member of their aristocracy and a music scholar. They would seem to have been chosen not because of international repute, but simply because of some perceived status in British society. I am left wondering about the weighting of your selection criteria. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – At the heart of the European project is the concept of free movement of capital and people. All European governments, bar Ireland and Malta, recognise this by permitting (and in most cases encouraging) their emigrants to vote in general elections.

A friend, born and educated in Rome, tells me his voter registration papers arrive every year from Italy and only his signature is needed to renew his entitlement to vote in elections there. He has been here more than 35 years. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – I see we are going to have a referendum on whether to remove a phrase from the Constitution. Can anyone else think of 10 more important issues that should be put to the people before the blasphemy referendum? – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.

Irish Independent:

Maeve Halpin’s precise phrasing of the debilitative and disappointing real-politik of modern-day living and struggling relationships, hits a nail on the head. (Letters, October 6).

The shallow and shoddy vacuity of ‘venereal’ wannabeeism, celebritism and hyper-materialistic value systems offer little towards longevity or maturity for close relationships of the satisfyingly lasting kind. Chasing fame, fortune or fallow frippery may initially contrive a gloss of smug achievement, but will merely dissipate into a perennial cycle of emptiness, dashed dreams and so very little in the way of deep contentment.

The pervasive troika-pandemic of ‘virtuality syndrome, cyberism & have-to-have-ism’ coalesce to undermine steadfastness, practical imagination and authentic interpersonal dynamics. Such dynamics have both vagary and vicissitude as life-long bedfellows. Dwelling and struggling in the mire of friction, frisson and ‘fraughtability’ is grist to the mill of an enduring intimacy.

The natural strains, tensions and differentiated aspirations of individual partners within a dyad of shared living are challenging. Eventually, however, such challenges are (mostly) enriching, enlightening and transformative when addressed, processed and resolved.

Whether this needs a professional to process is a moot point. The patient, personal discipline to prevail through the dark (hopefully occasional) labyrinthes of conflict, is a part of real-life living together. No ‘happy-ever-after’ in sight.

“This fictional world gives people no preparation for the humility, compassion, effort and ability to compromise involved in making relationships work in the face of all kinds of change, both positive and negative.” Such sentiments should be roundly and regularly flagged throughout our early developing lives, to prepare for the fray of ‘day-to-day’.

Ms Halpin is right on the money to give the ‘negative’ equal status as the ‘positive’. Such is simply a real-life appraisal, but we needn’t, of course, aspire to wallow in the negative. Living through it with sentient aforethought is a valid recipe for success, where we can also revel in all the positive ‘ups’ which can regularly abound.

Let’s not allow ourselves to be suckered into the fallacies of unrealistic positivity, which will always disappoint and fail. A warm, practical ‘meso-melancholy’ of balanced acceptance, peppered with highs, as well as (some) lows, might be an optimum realism, affording a truly successful, authentic togetherness.

There is no handy ‘app’ to substitute for same!

Patrick J Cosgrove

Lismore, Co Waterford

Law needed on cyberbullying

The increasing occurrence of cyberbullying – not just in schools – cries out for legislation that will be effective in stemming the advance of this sickening trend, rescuing the victims from the bullies and the bullies from themselves. Reports have recommended that legislation under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act should be amended to provide for an offence of cyberbullying. However, this is slow in coming.

Bullying springs from low self-esteem that festers away behind a facade of bluster and bravado. The achievements of others are seen as a threat, so are confronted by instigating a programme of humiliation and the orchestration of a hate campaign.

A crucial task for the bully is to silence the victim, doing so by threat or by the intensification of the abuse.

The relentless attempt to destroy the chosen target has even led to the victim’s suicide in some tragic cases.

Those who bullied at school tend to continue the practice into their adult lives as a result of a persistent low estimate of their capabilities, failing to see that the real enemy is the enemy within that eats away at their confidence in themselves.

The greatest gift to the cyberbully is anonymity. The experience of freedom from detection creates a vicious world where bullying becomes almost recreational, on the assumption that the victims have no real redress, though there is redress – albeit inadequate – through the legislation relating to defamation and harassment. It is in the interest of all of us to identify the abusers and confront them with the seriousness of their behaviour. The excuse of “I was only joking” is a disingenuous attempt to suggest that the dramatic impact of bullying has its source in the victim’s over-sensitivity.

Appropriate legislation cannot come soon enough so that the perpetrators, not the victims, pay the price of this pernicious practice.

Philip O’Neill

Edith Road, Oxford

Taoiseach should meet soldiers

The 44th Infantry Group return to Ireland from their tour of duty on the Golan Heights in Syria this week. These Irish troops have had a stressful deployment and have engaged in a number of fire-fights with armed anti-regime groups – including groups associated with al-Nusra and al-Qaeda.

The 44th Infantry Group also rescued – under fire – a contingent of Filipino Peacekeepers from their besieged UN positions. The Irish people ought to be proud of their service and as examples of positive Irish citizenship in a troubled world.

I would ask that Taoiseach Enda Kenny meet these soldiers on return from their overseas service.

At a time when we organise civic receptions for returning football and rugby teams, an official reception for our peacekeeping troops is the least our government could do for them and their families.

This is especially so at a time – against a backdrop of crony-ism and toxic politics – when we as a nation are seeking to focus on genuine public service and true citizenship.

Dr Tom Clonan,Captain (Retired)

Booterstown, Co Dublin

Water charges inevitable

There are conflicting views on the introduction of water charges.

On various radio programmes presenters fail to explain that supply of water should never have been free to users. It is the public perception that because rain or river water is free that it should arrive in your home miraculously.

They fail to recognise that water must be captured, cleaned, distributed and the waste must be piped, distributed, cleansed and disposed.

The user is happy to pay for bottled water. Why? Simplistic solutions to national supply are immature and unworthy of their promoters.

Sean McCool

Address with editor

Boarding school blues

“Terror mixed with homesickness meant I cried myself to sleep, night after night” (Irish Independent, Weekend Review, October 4).

As a very young boy, Ivan Yates was sent to a boarding school in Bray.

As a very young boy I was sent to a boarding school in Dublin.

Every detail of Ivan’s boarding school misery I can relate to.

I congratulate Ivan Yates. His very courageous book – ‘Full On’ – deserves to be read.

Brian McDevitt,

Glenties, Co Donegal

Ireland’s waist problem

I find it strange that Liam Fay (October 5) should have a problem with the “corpulent poor”, as I think of he were just to make a little effort and look around in this country alone he should have no problem seeing lots of politicians, bankers, rich business men and women with rather expanded waistlines and double chins!

Gemma Hensey

The Quay, Westport, Co Mayo

Irish Independent




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