14 October 2014 Clinic

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I take Mary to the clinic long day., Mary has he first injection

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


Sir Jocelyn Stevens – obituary

Sir Jocelyn Stevens was an irascible publisher, newspaperman and heritage supremo who delighted in hiring and firing

Sir Jocelyn Stevens surveys the site of the Rose Theatre in Southwark in 1998

Sir Jocelyn Stevens surveys the site of the Rose Theatre in Southwark in 1998 Photo: Stephen Lock

12:01PM BST 13 Oct 2014


Sir Jocelyn Stevens, who has died aged 82, forged a formidable reputation for himself as a saviour of ailing institutions, first in the newspaper industry and later as head, successively, of the Royal College of Art and English Heritage.

Stevens was at his best in a crisis, for his style of management was based less on his intellect than on the overpowering force of his personality. He carried with him an air of impatience and, though capable of great charm, he did not shy from ruthless, even brutal, behaviour where necessary. Private Eye christened him “Piranha Teeth”.

Indeed, at times there appeared to be no form of exercise that gave him greater pleasure than taking an axe to those he perceived as dead wood. Stevens was, par excellence, a sacker — he once dismissed 11 professors from the RCA in an afternoon — and there clustered about him a fund of oft-repeated stories about his towering rages.

Such was his reputation for belligerent cost-cutting that when he was appointed chairman of English Heritage in 1992, one commentator described it as “like putting Herod in charge of childcare”. It was an image in which, in public at least, Stevens revelled.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens at the The Crescent, Buxton (Paul Armiger)

Rich from birth, Stevens had first come to prominence in 1957 when, as a 25th birthday present to himself, he bought Queen magazine. He proceeded to transform the staid fortnightly — founded by Mrs Beeton’s husband — into the house magazine of the Swinging Sixties, helped by contributions from his friends Anthony Armstrong-Jones and Mark Boxer, whom he employed as Queen’s art director.

In truth, in 10 years Stevens only managed to increase his publication’s circulation by 60,000, but such was his flair for publicity — much of it self-publicity — that he quadrupled Queen’s advertising revenue within two years. Stevens undoubtedly had a sharp eye for business opportunities, and in 1964 he became one of the principal backers of the pirate radio station Radio Caroline.

It was at Queen that he first began to acquire a reputation for insensitivity and tantrums. Among stories told about Stevens were the occasion when he sacked an underling over the tannoy, the time he threw the fashion editor’s filing cabinet out of a fourth floor window, and the day he cut short one of his reporters’ telephone calls by cutting the wire to their receiver.

Years later, one of his art directors still quailed at the memory of being picked up by Stevens and shaken like a rat by a terrier, while change from his pockets cascaded on to the floor.

In 1968, Stevens sold Queen and became personal assistant to the chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers, Sir Max Aitken. “I hear young Stevens bites the carpet,” said Aitken of his protégé. “That’s no bad thing.” Stevens became a director of the Beaverbrook group in 1971, two years after he had been appointed managing director of the London Evening Standard. The Standard was then failing and Aitken’s brief to Stevens was terse: “Save it”.

Within three years Stevens had placed the newspaper on a sounder footing and was rewarded with the post of managing director of the Daily Express, the fortunes of which were also in long-term decline. Between 1972 and 1981 it was to lose a million readers and six editors; Stevens himself twice refused the editor’s job.

Though Stevens’s tenure coincided with the peak of print union truculence, his frank approach won their admiration, so much so that when he left the Express in 1974 he was “banged out”, the traditional send-off by printers for one of their own. By then he had persuaded them to accept the closure of the newspaper’s Scottish operations — with the loss of 1,800 jobs — and had transferred printing to Manchester without disruption.

Stevens became the managing director of Beaverbrook Newspapers in 1974, and continued as its deputy chairman when the group was bought out by Trafalgar House under Victor Matthews.

In 1979 he and Lord Matthews started the Daily Star, but they had different ideas about the future of what had become Express Newspapers, and in 1981 Stevens was sacked after he had told his chairman once too often what he thought of him. Many in the City suspected that Stevens hoped to buy the group himself, but he was never able to.

Having acquired a reputation as an ardent free marketeer, in 1984 Stevens was asked to enter the world of arts management and accepted appointment as Rector and Vice-Provost of the RCA. By the time he left eight years later, so had two-thirds of the staff, their 17 departments trimmed to four. But Stevens had also balanced the College’s books, introduced business sponsorship of students and increased the numbers applying to the RCA by 25 per cent.

Stevens was an equally unsympathetic but effective chairman of English Heritage. He was no philistine but nor was he a natural conserver of things, his instincts always favouring change. He presided over several well publicised sackings and rows — on one occasion ejecting the secretary of the Twentieth Century Society from his office with the words “Get out! And take that ghastly little man with you,” the latter being a highly respected city surveyor who had been left a hunchback after childhood polio.

But Stevens’s virtues included fighting tenaciously for causes he believed in, and at English Heritage he succeeded in keeping open more listed churches, presided over the restoration of the Albert Memorial and persuaded the Blair Government to improve the setting of Stonehenge by sinking the busy roads next to it. He retired in 2000.

Jocelyn Edward Greville Stevens was born on Valentine’s Day 1932. His mother, the daughter of the newspaper magnate Sir Edward Hulton, died shortly after giving birth to him.

Jocelyn’s father, Major Greville Stewart-Stevens, could never bring himself to forgive his son for the loss of his wife, and as a small boy Jocelyn was sent to live in his own flat in Marylebone, complete with a staff of cook, maid, priest and chauffeur — for the child’s Rolls-Royce.

His father afterwards remarried and Jocelyn grew up with his stepfamily in Scotland; his stepbrother, Blair (later Sir Blair) Stewart-Wilson, would became Master of the Queen’s Household.

Jocelyn was educated at Eton, where he reached the final of the Public Schools’ Boxing Championship. He then did his National Service in the Rifle Brigade; when, as a cadet, he won the Sword of Honour at Eaton Hall, his father declined to attend the passing-out parade.

Stevens went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he proved himself an accomplished oarsman but was sent down from the university for skipping tutorials to go skiing in Switzerland. Stevens had sent his tutor a postcard marked “Wish you were here”; from an early age he was no respecter of authority.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens with the sculpture of the Allied leaders on New Bond Street (Eddie Mulholland)

On his 21st birthday, Stevens inherited a substantial fortune from his mother. He rapidly acquired a standing in the gossip columns, partly because he was regular escort of Princess Alexandra, partly because he had a predilection for driving sports cars into lamp-posts.

But Stevens had ambitions beyond being a playboy and, having put himself through a course at the London School of Printing, in 1955 he went to work as a journalist at Lilliput, a magazine owned by his uncle’s Hulton stable. Two years later he bought Queen.

Stevens was tall, jut-jawed and fearless. He was immensely hard-working and possessed great brio and vitality. He was also a generous giver of parties, notably in company with his consort for many years in later life, the heiress and philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield, one of the few people who could match him for wealth and temperament.

Though seemingly impervious to insult, Stevens was sensitive enough of his reputation to raid the libraries of newspapers he managed in order to confiscate the cuttings held on him. He also did much work for charity, spurred by the condition of his disabled son Rupert. He cared deeply for his family, and when his daughter Pandora fell prey to drugs, he broke down the door of her squat, carried her to hospital and had her dealer hunted down.

Jocelyn Stevens was appointed CVO in 1993 and knighted in 1996.

He married, in 1956 (dissolved 1979), Janie Sheffield, a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. They had a son and two daughters. His son Rupert predeceased him. After he and Vivien Duffield separated, in 2008 he married Emma Cheape, daughter of the late Sir Iain Tennant.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens, born February 14 1932, died October 12 2014


Ed Miliband and Liz McInnes Labour party leader Ed Miliband welcomes newly elected MP for Heywood and Middleton Liz McInnes to the House of Commons after she narrowly beat the Ukip candidate in the byelection. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

So Labour is being urged to get tough on immigration (Report, 11 October)? Fifty years of Labour party history suggests that they will do just that, only to be immediately outflanked by the parties to the right of them. No amount of policy-hardening can quell anti-immigration agitation. What is needed is a political party that will stand up to celebrate the contribution that immigration and the free movement of labour make to the UK while challenging those who attribute all our ills to immigrants.
Professor Robert Moore
University of Liverpool

• Labour’s high command have allowed a series of policy vacuums to emerge, leaving them open to getting involved in a bidding war in which the likeliest winners will be those who pander to, rather than challenge, prejudices. In common with many others, I believe that Alan Johnson may be Labour’s most underused resource, but he alone is not the answer to the individual and collective timidity that has beset the party and a shadow cabinet that seems determined to lose the general election so as to stage a leadership election in the months that follow. Labour must tell us what it stands for, and the ways in which Britain will be changed by defeating Ukip – not simply list cuts that match those being offered by the coalition partners as they square up to one another in the dog days of their administration.
Les Bright

• I could see a “frontline role” for Alan Johnson – as Labour leader. He might be a rightwinger but at least he lives on planet Earth and had a real job before entering politics (Review, 11 October), which makes him a hundred times more attractive to the electorate than the current cohort of complete wonkers “leading” the party into the abyss.
Alistair Richardson

• I feel increasingly baffled as to what Ed Miliband expects us to vote for if we vote Labour. We do not want Tory/Ukip-lite. When politicians talk about the disengagement, especially of young voters but increasingly of older people, do they really not understand why? When we were younger we knew which party supported which view of the kind of society they wanted and we could vote accordingly. When all parties appear to believe to some extent that it is ethical to penalise the poor for the mis-management by the rich, where does that leave us?

It used to be a basic tenet of the Labour party that the rich, however they had come by their wealth, should share with the poor. The view now seems to be: well, maybe a bit, if they don’t mind.

I accept that some areas of the country have specific problems related to sudden immigration and no money to help with schools etc. But that is not the cause of the country’s problems and it is dishonest and futile to pretend that it is.

I believe Ed Miliband to be a decent and thoughtful man, but unless he and his advisers remember what a Labour party is, they might just as well give up. (No, you’re right, there aren’t that many Labour voters in Bishop’s Stortford, but some of us haven’t given up yet.)
Angela Barton
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

• It was surprising to read that John Mann MP (Labour, Bassetlaw) believes that immigration is responsible for “too much housing” and thus, indirectly, Ukip’s recent political success. Official estimates anticipate household growth in England is of the order of 221,000 households per year; if combined with official estimates of migration levels, net inward migration accounts for 27.8% of growing housing need. Since recent figures suggest we build barely half the number of homes needed to meet this demand (with 112,000-odd completions in England in 2013/14), it is factually not correct to state that immigration has led to too much housing.

It would be much more plausible to suggest that too little housing has led to political discontentment, with housing costs rising far faster than incomes, and increasingly those on lower and middle incomes finding that the sort of housing their parents expected is way out of their reach. That could only be addressed by building far more homes than we currently are.
Dr Ed Turner
Aston University

• Like it or not, Ukip’s rant and razzle-dazzle is working far more effectively than the Greens’ worthy exhortation, the Tories’ weasel-worded promises, the Lib Dems’ darkly comic somersaults and Labour’s floundering attempts to make Miliband and co look effective (Letters, 11 October). To a large extent that’s because their well-crafted policy statements, eloquently expressed objectives and (mostly) slick presentations are not resonating with us plain folks, something the policy wonks, spinners and party elites seem unwilling/unable to acknowledge. Well, as they are all discovering, commitment and belief is of limited value if it isn’t accompanied by insight and some sort of wow!
Jim Gillan

• Much of Britain’s Tory-dominated media managed to hype the Clacton and Heywood byelection results as nothing too much to worry about for Mr Cameron, the end of days for Mr Miliband and the start of a period of Faragist world domination. By contrast your editorial (11 October) is a model of careful consideration and balance. The way for Labour to deal with Ukip is not to move further right but to tackle the root causes that motivate those who may vote for the party – namely the continuing pay squeeze and job insecurity.

One hopes Mr Miliband and the rest of the Labour leadership will be on the TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise demonstration on 18 October, and when the Mail and Sun attack them for it, they should see that as positive.
Keith Flett

• Owen Jones’s tale of woe about rootless, soulless political parties (Opinion, 13 October) needs a comment about a national institution that should be providing roots and soul to political thinking: the Church of England, which, despite all its faults, I love. We are both part of the problem and could be part of the solution by our input to a debate about a political system that is not serving the needs of all UK citizens. We are locked into and are beneficiaries of the extreme free-market politics and economics that have infected a rootless and soulless parliament. It has required low- and middle-income households to carry the burden of austerity.

As a church we tinker with staffing food banks and credit unions when what is needed is noisy, sustained and effective lobbying, drawing the attention of comfortable households to the innocent suffering of a substantial minority of the UK population in hunger, substandard housing, unmanageable debts, rent and council tax arrears. Nowhere is that noisy lobbying more absent than in London, where the bishops and archdeacons of the diocese of London, are all but silent in the face of the oppression of the poorest tenants by the state.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• I agree with Owen Jones that “British politics has become a careerists’ playground creating disillusionment that charlatans can exploit”. It is a pity, though, that he doesn’t mention the Greens as a credible alternative, when he exemplifies what the party stands for: “politics should be about hope, about satisfying people’s needs and aspirations”.
Jacqueline Dent

• Now, let’s see if I’ve got this right. Nigel Farage says vote Tory and get Labour. David Cameron says vote Ukip and get Labour. Presumably Ed Miliband would say vote Labour and get Labour. What could possibly go wrong?
Roger Carruthers

I can only wonder at the size of the family Jay Rayner mentions if it took a day and half to shop for them in the 1960s (The unromantic truth: supermarkets aren’t dying…, 11 October)? Was she by chance in a local army barracks, or perhaps she shopped for an entire school? I was 10 in 1962 and had to do the main shop on a Saturday for our family of four working adults – including my older brother and sister – plus my grandfather and myself, because my mum couldn’t lift the heavy bags. I could do the lot in an hour and a half, including carrying 20lb of potatoes in two bags to balance myself. We lived in a city and all the shops were two minutes away, unlike now where I have to drive 10 miles to the supermarket, park and queue for ages at checkouts and then drive home again. There’s nothing romantic about that either.
Eric Banks
Hamstreet, Kent

Yale universyaleity campus Tuition fees at English universities tend to be compared with Ivy League schools such as Yale, above. Photograph: Alamy

In the debates on university tuition fees, raised again by Peter Scott (Let’s fight the idea that high tuition fees are inevitable, 7 October), one relevant point seems to be continually ignored or glossed over. Comparison is often made with fees in the US, and very high fees are quoted as if they were the norm there. However, these figures always relate to the well-known private universities, especially the Ivy League schools, but it would seem that a more reasonable comparison for England is with the fees charged by public universities for in-state students. These are all lower than those currently levied by any English universities, in some cases considerably so. The most expensive, such as Berkeley and UCLA charge around $12,870 [£8,000], but at Chapel Hill (North Carolina) fees are $8,340 and at the University of Florida $6,630. These are major research universities, but most states also have schools with good undergraduate and MA programmes with fees at or below $5,000 per annum.

When the issue of fees is raised, especially with respect to lifting the “cap”, the claim is often made that fees in England are low by comparable international standards, and this seems to have become received wisdom. But such assertions do not become true by dint of constant repetition. Fees in England are already as high as anywhere comparable in the world.
Professor Martin Durrell

• I went for a meal with a friend, where we discovered that the waitress had recently graduated with a degree in mathematics. I have met this in several other restaurants, where young people 10 times smarter than I am are serving my table.

My silly companion told me that this proved that it had always been a mistake to send so many students to university. I think it proves that we live in the most badly governed country on Earth, where a nation’s most valuable resource is deliberately discarded into a moronic private sector of dreadfully poor judgment.

The intelligence of these youngsters could resurrect the most important part of a modern economy, the public sector, driving research and analysis to higher levels, to rebuild our nation and its commerce, to civilised standards of honour, integrity and reliable erudition.
CN Westerman
Brynna, Glamorgan

British Government Signs A Deal For New Nuclear Power Plant EDF’s Hinkley Point B nuclear power station. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Dale Vince of Ecotricity is wrong to suggest that end-of-life costs for Hinkley Point C will be an economic burden on the UK (Report, 13 October). These costs are already included as part of the agreements reached with government, and we will make full provision for them as the station generates electricity during its 60-year life. There is no hidden cost when the station closes.

Investment in nuclear energy is needed as part of a balanced mix of low-carbon energies, including wind power. It is cost-competitive with all these forms of energy and offers customer savings compared with other low-carbon choices.

Consumers will pay nothing until the power station is in operation, and EDF and its construction partners bear the risk of delivering the project on time and on budget. The arrangements have been subject to intense review over a number of years and were then subject to European commission scrutiny for a further year. This has been a careful and measured process. Last week’s approval from the commission demonstrates that agreements between the government and EDF are fair and balanced for consumers and investors alike.
Paul Spence
Director of strategy and corporate affairs, EDF Energy

Republican mural, Derry, 1989. Talking point: republican mural, Derry, 1989. Photograph: Peter Turnley/Corbis

Jonathan Powell (Shall we talk?, 7 October) has little to say except repeated rewordings of the near slogan: there is no military solution [to terrorism], you have to talk. His favourite example is Northern Ireland, but this is actually a very poor example. He writes: “No British government was ever going to concede a united Ireland against the wishes of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland [but] once discussions were begun with the Irish Republicans, we discovered that they were prepared to settle for something else.”

Not for 25 years they weren’t, so Britain had to face down the insurgency, which Britain did. Eventually an older, perhaps mellower, IRA leadership accepted that they weren’t winning, and settled for an agreement that they could certainly have got with the Heath government in the 1970s.

And the IRA had a comprehensible political agenda (a united Ireland). Does Islamic State (Isis) have a correspondingly comprehensible agenda? The nearest is a pure Islamic state purged bloodily of all dissenters, somewhere in Syria and Iraq. But this is envisaged to be permanently at war with the rest of the world, fighting to oppose all real and imagined grievances of Muslims everywhere.

Maybe Isis will eventually develop a meaningful agenda, and maybe will one day even be willing to compromise about it. But at present we are at 1970, not 1996, in Northern Ireland terms.
Roger Schafir

• Jonathan Powell is right; talking to terrorists is the only way to establish some sort of peace. He is also right that building trust takes time – “I spent a good part of the next 10 years [from 1997] flying back and forth across the Irish Sea to meet Adams and McGuinness”.

NGOs engaged in similar work also need time. And resources. But there is little funding from governments or the EU, because peacebuilding is regarded as too difficult, too risky, with no guaranteed outcomes.
Rev Donald Reeves
Director, The Soul of Europe

Jane Austen Jane Austen, above, wrote about bad mothers too. Photograph: Stock Montage/Getty Images

“Family” novels by women writers featuring bad mothers (Tim Lott, Family, 11 October) were a standard trope in 19th-century literature. Jane Austen’s lazy Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park prefers her pug to her children. Charlotte Brontë’s cold Mrs Reed in Jane Eyre spoils her children and believes her bullying son’s lies. Elizabeth Gaskell’s hypocritical Mrs Gibson in Wives and Daughters neglects her daughter. All are described with compassion and wit. Perhaps that makes them not quite bad enough?
Michele Roberts

• Pairing socks, hoover, dishwasher and the Guardian crossword were my late husband’s responsibilities when he was ill-health retired (Letters, 10 October). In his last few bedbound weeks he tried to hand over the crossword, but even after his intensive training it is still too cryptic for me. I have kept Radio 5 Live.
Miriam Bromnick

• Excellent idea, Tristram Hunt: I’m sure your “Hippocratic oath” for teachers (Cartoon, 13 October) will help to weed out those who begin their careers determined to lower standards in the classroom and ensure their students’ failure.
Tim Boardman

• I was surprised to see that the nurses testing Britain’s readiness for an Ebola outbreak did not have the whole of their heads covered (Report, 13 October). Suppose someone was sick over their neck? These protective garments are nothing like as good as the photographs I have seen in the Guardian of Médecins Sans Frontières workers in Africa. And MSF has had fewer deaths than the US and Spain. No point skimping.
Teresa Goss

• As a female letter writer (Open door, 13 October), I do my best to emulate Bradshaw, as quoted (in part) by Sherlock Holmes. My language is “terse, but limited”. Though not “nervous”.
Margaret Waddy

• Delighted that Martin Rowson (Comment, 8 October) explained the meaning of the “fur cup” in some of his cartoons. I’ll enjoy them all the more from now on.
Andrew Vaughan-Jones
Turvey, Bedfordshire


In her excellent piece on Monday, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown refers to Nigel Farage’s “veil of respectability”. What kind of respectable person casually stigmatises those who are HIV positive, or indiscriminately demonises eastern European immigrants, or suggests that leaving the EU will miraculously cure the country’s ills?

It is precisely because Nigel Farage has managed to convince so many people that he is respectable that he is so dangerous. His carefully cultivated man-down-the-pub persona is designed to persuade voters that he is one of them, when what he really wants, lower taxes for the rich, more NHS privatisation etc, is the exact opposite of what they believe.

Like other right-wing populists who have preceded him, he is a legitimiser and normaliser of prejudice and a malign influence on democracy. It is the duty of all of us, especially progressive politicians, to denounce him as such in the strongest terms.

Ian Richards


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown appeals to the main political parties not to roll over in the face of the Ukip “malignancy”, and she mentions the Conservatives and Labour as having already done so. What she did not say was that one of the main parties – the Liberal Democrats – is by no means rolling over.

At their party conference last week, Nick Clegg gave the speech of a lifetime. He stressed that the Lib Dems must continue to stand up for basic freedoms, economic fairness, the advantages of the EU and the European Court of Justice, freedom of movement and social justice in this country.

I am one of those Lib Dems who have been unenthusiastic about the Coalition and unsure about where I stood now. The Tory conference demonstrated an unpleasant lurch to the right which made me very uneasy, and Labour’s produced a lacklustre performance.

But at the Lib Dem conference, the conviction and, yes, the fire in Nick Clegg’s voice as he stressed the need for this party of the centre to stand up for fairness and freedom, brought tears to my eyes and reminded me at long last of why this is still the only party I can vote for.

Marjorie Harris
London NW11

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s assertion that many indigenous Britons are content to live alongside citizens from other parts of the world who have settled here is correct, but isn’t the full picture. Those same British-born people still have concerns about the financial cost of this cosmopolitan society, welcome as it is.

It is clear that the eastern European immigrants come to Britain to work, but the work tends to low-paid, and therefore any taxes they may pay are likely to be repaid to them in benefits to enable them to survive and support their families. They also tend to be young, and the overcrowded maternity wards bear testimony to another national expense that their meagre taxes cannot possibly cover, not to mention all the cost and infrastructure required to keep these children healthy and educated. There has been much in the media about the NHS budget, and whatever any politician may say to win votes, there is a limit to how much we can afford as a nation.

Of course we should have open borders and encourage harmony among all who have chosen this great nation as their home, but let’s do so on a sound financial basis.

Jeremy Bacon
Woodford Green, Essex

I saw a glaring example today of immigrants “stealing the jobs of UK workers”.

In a supermarket car park some Bulgarians had a mobile car washing set-up. They had found a niche market. People who were too busy to take time out to go to the car wash or wash their cars themselves were happy to let these guys do it while they shopped, and they did not have to drive their cars anywhere.

I watched them beavering away, doing a great job with enthusiasm.

Richard Topping
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

The political establishment has received a sizeable jolt from the Clacton and Heywood and Middleton by-elections. The fundamental conclusion that can be drawn from the inexorable rise of Ukip is that many people in Britain simply do not consider themselves European, and see the isolationist stance of Ukip as a strength, not a weakness.

The reason for this may be rooted in a combination of history, emotion and pride, but to counteract it the main political parties are going to have to address this matter head on.

Dr Shazad Amin
Sale, Cheshire


To save Britain from Ebola, Help Africa

As the Government introduces measures to try to  prevent the arrival of Ebola in Britain, it would be fatal to forget that the best way to help the UK is to help West Africa. This outbreak needs tackling at source, and in order to change the course of the crisis, we mustn’t simply hunker down in developed nations.

Donors must co-ordinate action to tackle what has become not only a health crisis, but an economic crisis and a human tragedy. The people of West Africa need massive assistance. They need it now.

Of course it is important for the UK government to protect people here, but the only truly effective way of doing so in the long term is to bring this crisis under control in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. We must break the chain of infection.

Tanya Barron
CEO, Plan UK
London EC1

That isn’t actually what the Minister said, was it? (“Minister: We need to start screening for Ebola”, 8 October). As the complete quote within the article makes clear, he actually said the case for increasing screening had to be examined and we need to consider whether existing controls are adequate. Examining or considering things are different from starting to do them.

Nigel Coopey
Thatcham, Berkshire

Homeopathy could save NHS money

Jo Selwood points out that the expenditure by the NHS on homoeopathy is £4m to £12m and that this treatment, which has no scientific basis, is no more effective than a placebo (letter, 9 October). However, she fails to complete her cost-benefit analysis.

The placebo effect is a powerful one and appears to occur even when patients are told that the treatment has no detectable therapeutic effect. Placebos do work and the majority of doctors do prescribe them from time to time – either genuine treatments that are not needed (such antibiotics for viral infections), or inactive substances such as sugar or water.

By having the freedom to divert certain patients into homoeopathy doctors could be saving the NHS money overall.  Homoeopathic remedies have the advantage of being as cheap as water. Some of these homoeopathic patients, the attention seekers or those who are simply hyper-vigilant about their wellbeing, might otherwise be clogging up the expensive diagnostic processes and therapies needed for those who have genuine serious health problems.

Before abandoning NHS homoeopathic treatments, we need a thorough cost-benefit analysis, including a study to establish the additional costs of having to treat with conventional medicine those patients who currently use homoeopathy.

Ian Quayle
Fownhope, Herefordshire

Chatty machines in the kitchen

I am reassured that, in the future, kitchen appliances will be able to communicate with each another (interview with Simon Segars, 13 October).

I would still like to know what a washing machine and a fridge could possibly have to talk about. I can only imagine that the washing machine would want to get to the bottom of that age-old kitchen puzzle: does the light really go off when the door is closed ?

Gary Clark
London EC2


You may not win, but your vote counts

I have been voting for 39 years and have never cast my vote for the politician who has been chosen to represent my constituency. Unlike Frances Gaskell (letter, 10 October) I do not see that my vote has ever been wasted or that, because I failed to get what I voted for, the process was undemocratic or unfair. All votes are counted, and the number of opposing voices are also part of the historical record.

It seems to me childish to say that if the game isn’t played according to rules that suit me I’ll not play at all.

Sarah Dale
Lichfield, Staffordshire

Express passports

Beverley Southgate (letter, 9 October) enthuses about getting a passport in five working days.

Mine took just four (application posted in afternoon of 6 October and received back at home by post on 10 October). It wasn’t an urgent application. Owzat!

Marc Patel
London SE21


Sir, It was refreshing, but deeply frustrating, to read that the government now admits that the Health and Social Care Bill was a huge mistake (report, Oct 13). Frustrating because in 2011-12, when medical professionals were united as never before against the proposed changes, there was little if any media reporting of that opposition. Instead, we had to read Andrew Lansley’s repeated assertions that doctors backed the legislation.

Those of us who urged our professional bodies, and in particular the Royal Colleges, to adopt a unified stance against the Act now see that we were right in telling them that they could make a difference. In 2012, David Cameron was indeed realising what a can of worms had been opened by his health secretary, and could have been persuaded to drop the legislation. I hope it isn’t only George Osborne who is “kicking himself” for failing to act.

Dr Bob Bury

Sir, Your headline “NHS reforms our worst mistake, Tories admit”, published on the day when caring midwives took industrial action for the first time in history, could, and perhaps should, have been written in June 1990. I said then that the introduction of Kenneth Clarke’s untried and potentially unworkable “internal market” could lead to the NHS standing for “No Hope Service” and ultimately “No Health Service”.

Sadly, despite a promise not to embark on “top down” reform of the NHS, the current government’s acceptance of the Health and Social Care Act, with its huge involvement of the private sector, accelerated the problems that flowed from the 1990 reforms. It reinforced my fears that, if I live long enough, I will see my 1990 prediction come true.

Dr John Marks
Chairman of the British Medical Association 1984-90, London NW8

Sir, Having just returned from the Royal College of Midwives picket line at the hospital I have worked in for the past 25 years, I stared with incredulity at your headline “NHS reforms our worst mistake, Tories admit”. A “mistake”? Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wasted because no one understood what Andrew Lansley was doing?

It sounds like a cruel joke but actually means that huge sums of money that could have been used to maintain and improve patient care have been lost, frittered away on “unintelligible gobbledegook”.

I am beyond angry. There is a great deal in the NHS that could be changed — and indeed needs to be. The fracturing and duplication of services, the failure to negotiate best price deals across the whole organisation, and the failure to invest, motivate and lead by listening and consultation instead of top-down diktat. A “mistake” that has led to increased waiting times, services buckling under financial and organisational strain and demoralised, increasingly militant staff. I am 55. I never imagined myself on a picket line. As important as it is to me and many thousands of other NHS staff who struggle to keep the service going, pay is but one factor in the impending disaster.

Heather Redhead RN, RM

Sir, Nowhere in your extensive coverage of the NHS (Oct 13) was there any reference to the fundamental dilemma facing the NHS — namely that there is a limitless potential demand for its services which has to be met by a strictly limited financial resource.

There is just one, and only one, way to resolve this dilemma, and that is to decide which services a tax-funded national health organisation can provide and which it cannot.

Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites
Fishbourne, W Sussex

Sir, Andrew Lansley’s talent for acting foolishly without regard to the financial consequences first became apparent when, as director of the Conservative Research Department, he changed the party’s manifesto for the 1992 election behind the back of John Major’s advisers while it was at the printer. It cost £50,000 to return it to the condition that the cabinet had approved. If the kindness of the party hierarchy had not saved his career at that point, the NHS budget today would be in a better state.

Lord Lexden(Deputy director, Conservative Research Department, 1985-97)
House of Lords

Sir, That the Health and Social Care Act was damaging to the NHS was made abundantly clear at the time of the debate around the bill by those both inside and outside the NHS who knew the consequences. The government should have kept its promise as enshrined in the coalition agreement of May 20, 2010, which stated: “We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care.” Is there a lesson there somewhere for the electorate?

Professor Robert Arnott
Cheltenham, Glos

Sir, Since the start of the NHS in 1948 we have seen successive governments of differing political persuasions make inappropriate, poorly considered and often damaging structural changes.

Has not the time arrived to consider taking control of the NHS out of politicians’ hands and giving the NHS autonomy, governed by a board of trustees?

Dr Stuart Sanders, FRCGP
London W1

Sir, You report that David Cameron now regards the Health and Social Care Act as his greatest mistake. This is a ludicrous admission, as the reforms ushered in by the Act have yet to be fully bedded down. Andrew Lansley understood that there needs to be a means by which expensive hospitals are forced to become more efficient and the purchaser/provider split is the only way to do it.

In your consideration of the future of the NHS you might include how market forces might be brought to bear on such a huge organisation, with all the benefits which follow market arrangements. I doubt you could find a better way to do it.

Roger Fox
Down Hatherley, Glos

Sir, Your coverage of the NHS is welcome. but you fail to make clear that the changes introduced by Mr Lansley apply only to England. The NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not had to cope with the madness of Lansley’s “gobbledegook”. Also, Simon Stevens is not the “head of the NHS”. He is the head of the NHS in England.

Professor Rhys Williams

Essential for any WW2 soldier was the Burmese for ‘Do you have any Epsom Salts?’

Sir, With reference to your report (Oct 11) on the 1944 manual given to British soldiers, my late father was given, also in 1944 and while serving with the Royal Navy in the Far East, a booklet entitled Rubbing Along in Burmese. This contained useful phrases, translated into the local language, that every sailor would presumably find invaluable. Phrases included “Please shake hands, we have come in the cause of freedom”, “If you do as we tell you, you will come to no harm”, “Where can I find a bicycle?” and “Can you row a sampan?” It also included the Burmese for “Do you have any Epsom Salts?”

Robert Spicer

Colchester, Essex

If you want to see a full-size copy of the Parthenon, head for Nashville, Tennessee…

Sir, If the Elgin Marbles are to be copied (letter, Oct 13) may I suggest a visit to Nashville, Tennessee. Not only have all the sculptures been recreated but so has the entire Parthenon — faithfully and to scale. It was built for the 1897 Centennial Expo and reconstructed more permanently in 1931. At that time the city purchased casts of the Elgin Marbles which were then used by the sculptors Leopold and Belle Scholz to form the pediments in their original entirety.

The Nashville Parthenon is a sight as surprising as it is remarkable

Edward Hill

London W8

Hampton Court Palace is where Queen Anne ‘doth sometimes counsel take and sometimes tea’

Sir, It is good to see the return of the zeugma (letter, Oct 13). My favourite is Alexander Pope’s description of Hampton Court Palace as the place where Queen Anne “doth sometimes counsel take and sometimes tea”.

John Butler


The local Scottish population helped to inform the choice of names for Erno Goldfinger’s buildings in east London

Sir, Oliver Moody (Oct 4) extends his criticism of Ernö Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower to its name, which sounds to him like “an orc-ridden outpost of Mordor”. The inhabitants of the Stirlingshire village of Balfron will, I am sure, be dismayed. The adjacent building, also by Goldfinger, is called Carradale House, after the village on the Mull of Kintyre of that name, and the third substantial block was named Glenkerry House after a hamlet near Selkirk. There was a marked Scottish element in the population of that part of Bow in the 1960s, resulting in the choice of Scottish place names.

Balfron, incidentally, was the birthplace of the 19th-century architect Alexander “Greek” Thompson, so perhaps the name-chooser in the GLC was trying to suggest a subtle and not wholly unjustified affinity.

James Dunnett

London N1

Surely a slight reduction in crop yields is a fair exchange for not polluting the environment?

Sir, In his piece (Oct 6) on the impact of the moratorium on neonicotinoid use on farming, Matt Ridley asserts that oilseed rape crops are now being devastated because they are no longer protected by these chemicals, and that in some regions up to 50 per cent of the crop has been lost.

His figures are wild exaggerations: only days ago Defra revealed that in reality just 1.35 per cent of the crop has been lost. If that is the price for not polluting the environment with highly persistent neurotoxins, I suggest it is one we should live with.

Professor Dave Goulson

School of Life Sciences,

University of Sussex

Hampton Court Palace is where Queen Anne ‘doth sometimes counsel take and sometimes tea’

Sir, It is good to see the return of the zeugma (letter, Oct 13). My favourite is Alexander Pope’s description of Hampton Court Palace as the place where Queen Anne “doth sometimes counsel take and sometimes tea”.

John Butler



Lock-up: the Government has proposed building the largest children’s prison in Europe Photo: Gareth Copley/PA

6:56AM BST 13 Oct 2014


SIR – Government plans for the largest children’s prison in Europe are bad for children, bad for justice and bad for the taxpayer. Children in trouble with the law are some of the most vulnerable and challenging in our society. Many have been the victims of abuse and neglect.

Small, family-like, secure homes that focus on rehabilitation and tailored, individual learning are better at helping children turn their lives around. Instead we get a plan to create massive child prisons and no details on how they will be run. Proposals to house young children with older teenagers present serious safeguarding risks.

There are 40 per cent fewer children in prison today than when this policy of large prisons for children was first developed, and since 2002 youth crime has fallen by 63 per cent. The estimated £85 million of public money required for this project would be better spent on investing in what works rather than an expensive and dangerous child jail.

Warehousing children in massive prisons is the surest way to create more problems for the future.

Peter Wanless

Shami Chakrabarti
Director, Liberty

Paola Uccellari
Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England

Frances Crook
Chief Executive, the Howard League for Penal Reform

Penelope Gibbs
Chair, Standing Committee on Youth Justice

Juliet Lyon
Director, Prison Reform Trust

Kathy Evans
Chief Executive, Children England

Anna Feuchtwang
Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau

Susanne Rauprich
Chief Executive, The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

Emma Smale
Acting Head of Policy and Research, Action for Children

Professor Sir Simon Wessely
President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Sarah Brennan
Chief Executive, YoungMinds

Dame Sue Bailey
Chair, the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition

Andy Bell
Deputy Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health

Shauneen Lambe
Executive Director, Just for Kids Law

Deborah Coles
Co-Director, INQUEST

Sarah Salmon
Interim Director, Criminal Justice Alliance

Pam Hibbert
Chair of Trustees, National Association for Youth Justice

Dave Clarke
Chair, Secure Accommodation Network

Gareth Jones
Chair, The Association of Youth Offending Team Managers

Dr Laura Janes
James Kenrick

Co-Chairs, JustRights

Joyce Moseley
Chair, Transition to Adulthood Alliance

Sara Llewellin
Chief Executive Officer, Barrow Cadbury Trust

Richard Garside
Director, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

Deborah Russo
Joint Managing Solicitor, Prisoners’ Advice Service

Mark Johnson
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, User Voice

Chris Bath
Chief Executive, National Appropriate Adult Network

Dr Theo Gavrielides
Founder and Director, Independent Academic Research Studies

Sally Hunt
General Secretary, University and College Union

Winds of change

SIR – I have a well-placed 15 kWh wind turbine on my farm on Bodmin Moor, to which no one objected and which I regard as a thing of beauty, as do many of my neighbours. With the 50 kWh generated by my modest array of solar panels, I generate enough electricity for 33 average households, which is fed into the grid. I also drive a fully electric car.

My turbine cost me £60,000 three years ago and earns me about £10,000 a year – a fair return for using my capital to help the country stop using fossil fuels. If every farmer with a suitable site did the same, we could approach electrical independence without any capital investment from the Government. The countryside would look much as it did in the Middle Ages, when every village had a windmill.

Robin Hanbury-Tenison
Bodmin, Cornwall

Oven ready

SIR – After moving into a modest three-bed semi, I received a letter from British Gas stating that my projected gas usage for the next 12 months would cost £53,533.14.

I almost felt like sticking my head in the oven but realised I couldn’t afford to.

Mark Saban
Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

Blind leading the blind

SIR – Living east of your work, to avoid driving into the sun, indeed seems a good idea. But is it safer to be in a convoy knowing all the approaching drivers can see you perfectly, or to be converging on traffic being driven blind?

Terry Wall
Hiltingbury, Hampshire

SIR – The only work I can get that isn’t to the west of where I live is as a fisherman.

Brendan Martin
Broadstairs, Kent

Flying the flag: A Palestinian at the border with Israel Photo: EPA

6:57AM BST 13 Oct 2014


SIR – In 1917 my great-uncle, Sir Harold Nicolson, was a private secretary to the foreign secretary at the time of his Balfour Declaration. Nicolson, who was involved in crafting every word of the declaration, later wrote: “We never promised a Jewish State. All we ever promised was ‘a’ national home ‘in’ Palestine; and that promise was explicitly conditional on the maintenance of the rights of the Arabs.” (The Spectator, January 3 1947).

In the century following Balfour, we have witnessed those Palestinian rights trampled underfoot. Today MPs can vote to recognise the state of Palestine, which would help to restore the diplomatic balance and retrieve our reputation in the eyes of the world.

It would also warn Israel, as a friend, to save herself from a future even more disastrous than that facing white South Africa in 1990. In a single-state solution Israelis would be outnumbered, even before counting the millions of Palestinian refugees with a right of return.

Nick St Aubyn
Dunsfold, Surrey

SIR – We fully support a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, but it is vital that this is achieved through negotiations and mutual agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Parliament should avoid recommending any unilateral moves that would complicate efforts to find a mutually agreeable resolution. Compromise, conciliation and negotiation are the only routes to reaching a lasting agreement that brings security and stability to both sides.

We urge MPs to ensure that the weight and authority of the Commons remains behind encouraging a negotiated and lasting peace, rather than supporting steps that might make peace more difficult to secure.

Alan Aziz
Director, Zionist Federation

Simon Johnson
Chief Executive, Jewish Leadership Council

Dermot Kehoe
Chief Executive, BICOM

Gillian Merron
Chief Executive, Board of Deputies of British Jews

SIR – Driving around the Scottish Borders, I see many dead and injured pheasants. They make suicidal dives into the road, which makes them hard to avoid and attempts to dodge them can cause accidents.

Gamekeepers rear and release thousands of these birds for shooting estates and it has been suggested that feeding stations are sited too near highways.

If I were to try to take a bird from an estate, a keeper would undoubtedly challenge me. But if a pheasant were to damage my car I assume that no keeper would claim ownership, let alone liability.

Frances Evans
Coldingham, Berwickshire

SIR – In Clacton, a sitting MP, who resigned, has been re-elected as a Ukip candidate and with a lower majority. In Heywood and Middleton, a Ukip candidate came a close second.

The latter result is more likely to reflect the outcome of the 2015 general election.

Dennis Bryant
Ludlow, Shropshire

SIR – The Prime Minister seeks to persuade us to vote not for the party we want to govern, but for a party we do not want to govern, in an effort to prevent a party we want to govern even less from governing.

In view of the result in Heywood and Middleton, I am tempted to suggest that a vote for the Conservatives, rather than Ukip, is a vote for Labour.

Andreas Wright
Les Grandes Magnelles, Haute-Vienne, France

Victim of justice

SIR – Paul Gambaccini, a respected broadcaster and music industry professional, has been denied his good name and his income for a year without a single charge being laid (report, October 11). The process of naming suspects of the nastiest crimes without a shred of evidence, and then taking a year or more to decide whether or not to charge them, is quite simply unjust.

Jonathan Hawkins
London SW20

Steaming rhubarb

SIR – In Cornwall as a small child I would watch with horror as my father rushed out, shovelled up steaming deposits from passing horses and dumped them on the rhubarb – which I was later forced to eat.

But now I think that Heather Moore, who proposes nappies for horses, should make the most of the free manure – it does produce delicious rhubarb.

Jill Bayly
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – I am reminded of a story about an inmate peering over the wall of an asylum and asking a gardener why he is collecting horse manure.

When the gardener says it’s to put on his rhubarb, the inmate responds that he should join them in the asylum as they have custard on theirs.

Clive Robinson
Old Glossop, Derbyshire

Health workers carry the body of an Ebola virus victim in Kenema, Sierra Leone Photo: REUTERS

7:00AM BST 13 Oct 2014


SIR – As the Government introduces measures to try to prevent the arrival of Ebola in this country, it could be fatal to forget that the best way to help Britain is to help west Africa. We must bring the crisis under control in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Donors must urgently commit financial and human resources and co-ordinate action to tackle what has become a health and economic crisis, but, above all, a human tragedy. The people of west Africa need assistance and they need it now.

Tanya Barron
CEO, Plan UK
London EC1

SIR – Of course any decent person must have sympathy for the poor people of west Africa, but surely it is irresponsible to send 750 personnel and a hospital ship to attempt to stem the tide of this terrible illness.

If Ebola is not a world problem at the moment, it certainly could be once the 750 British personnel return from Sierra Leone, any one of them a potential carrier.

Ken Drury
Nayland, Suffolk

SIR – The United Nations and developed countries could assist in controlling the spread of Ebola by helping to install sanitary systems in west African cities.

Establishing a good source of clean running water and waste disposal would raise the standard of living and health as well as discouraging mosquito breeding.

Elizabeth Davies
Papworth Everard, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Screening for Ebola at airports may be useful, but what about people entering through our ports and ferry terminals?

Roy Hughes
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

SIR – The Ebola virus was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 and scientists have repeatedly warned that it can pass from animals to humans who prepare or eat infected meat. Five outbreaks in Africa have been linked to handling meat from gorillas, chimps, fruit bats and other animals.

It is estimated that 7,500 tons of bush meat enters Britain every year illegally. Just one piece of infected meat smuggled into the country could unleash Ebola here.

Clark Cross
Linlithgow, West Lothian

SIR – I fail to understand those suggesting mass quarantining for people arriving in Britain and warning of catastrophic consequences because of our high population density.

Ebola is not highly infectious, except by direct bodily fluid contact and, crucially, it is not infectious until a person becomes unwell. Instead of fuelling the hysteria surrounding Ebola in Britain, we must focus on the real problem: controlling it in Africa, regardless of cost.

Dr Stewart McMenemin

Irish Times:

Sir, – Many excellent and compelling arguments against the proposed new lending rules were raised by Conor Pope (“First-time buyers? Dream on”, Weekend Review, October 14th). The proposed new rules on mortgage lending are ill-conceived and very poorly timed. The key measure in assessing risk is affordability and the proposed ratio of 3.5 times earnings is reasonable. The argument for a deposit, at any level, revolves around two issues – demonstration of financial discipline and the avoidance of negative equity. Anyone saving a 10 per cent deposit at today’s house prices clearly demonstrates good financial discipline. While negative equity can cause inconvenience for borrowers, limiting their ability to upgrade in the short term, it is not a serious issue over the lifetime of a typical mortgage. An adequately capitalised lender should be able to plan for short-term effects of negative equity, within a well-managed portfolio, on its balance sheet. Imposing a 20 per cent deposit is just going to drive borrowers, as it did in the past, to accumulate this burdensome deposit through opaque, poor-quality, short-term borrowing. This will result in greater financial stress on the mortgage applicant and also deliver a poorer risk for the bank. Or we may again see the banks promote the obscene equity release product – where pensioners, who own their homes, start to pay for them again a second time as they are driven, through guilt, to raise cash to help their children face this impractical condition.

A well-policed 10 per cent deposit, together with intense scrutiny on affordability, meets the needs of the bank, the borrower and the community. – Yours, etc,


Kells, Co Meath.

Sir, – The new requirement that people getting a mortgage will need to have saved a large chunk of the purchase money first is not unreasonable.

When the banking crisis happened, we wondered why prudent practices such as this has been abandoned in the eagerness to sell houses. Buying a house is not a right.

Indeed it was common practice that people saved for many years to buy a house and did not expect to be able to furnish it with the very best furniture, have cool gadgets, drive new cars, attend foreign weddings and go out whenever the mood arose.

Saving a large portion of the purchase price is evidence that the people buying the property have the developed habits of saving, budgeting, resisting temptation and attending to financial obligations.

Rating the purchasers’ commitment against the value of the property addresses the risk that should trouble arise and the security is insufficient, the banks (and the public purse) are not the only losers. It confirms that the purchasers have fully thought the matter through, beyond their desire to get on the property ladder.

There is no doubt this is difficult, but it wouldn’t be an achievement if it was easy. – Yours, etc,


Wilton, Cork.

Sir, – Is it possible that Irish people, when it comes to property prices, have gone from a mood of irrational exuberance to a mood of irrational fear; that any increase in prices is seen as a bubble, and therefore needs to be halted?

The Central Bank has announced measures that, as things stand, will have the effect of excluding a great many people from ever owning their own dwelling, and will leave them permanently dependent on the rented sector.

Before any such measures are adopted, the Central Bank will first have to establish that there is a bubble; that is not, so far as I know, quite as easy to establish as some people seem to think. If the measures are then seen to be justified, then the issue of social housing needs to be addressed: are people, already required to put up a 20 per cent deposit on their purchase of a dwelling, willing to see their taxes increased to meet this need? The evidence doesn’t appear to be there that they are. If they are not, where is the money going to come from?

The Central Bank was a disaster during the housing bubble; no one should take it for granted that they’ll get it right this time. Announcing measures to cure a problem they haven’t as yet established exists, but which will have a very serious impact on less well-off people, is unacceptable. The Central Bank still has a case to prove. – Yours, etc,


Mount Brown, Dublin 8.

Sir, – The proposal to limit mortgage lending to a fixed multiple of earnings is crude and illogical. A much more sensible approach would be to base a mortgage on the applicant’s savings history and monthly rent. It would be quite easy for a mortgage applicant to provide documentary proof of both of these and this would let a bank make a rational decision on lending based on proven ability to pay.

The 20 per cent deposit rule serves only to cushion the bank against a borrower losing their job and being forced to sell at a loss. Again this rule is crude and takes no account of the borrower’s job stability. For example, a permanently employed teacher or civil servant is a pretty safe bet and the bank should be able to make the appropriate commercial decision.

The current proposals by the Central Bank are crude instruments that carry the real risk of killing off the recovery in the property market. A more sophisticated approach, which would protect the banks, the borrowers and the State, is needed. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 5.

Sir, – Old-style politics continues to drag the already damaged political system into further decline, and some of our politicians continue to ignore the demand for change from the general public. The younger members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do get this message but their ability to influence the stubborn and intransigent leadership is nil. I predict a further move away from the mainstream parties to Sinn Féin and Independents. While the economic outlook may be improving, the political system continues to deteriorate and no longer serves the will of the people. – Yours, etc,


Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – We have seen a significant public turnout in the capital opposing water charges and electoral victories for the anti-austerity alliance and the anti-establishment “Ming movement”. What does this tell us about our preferred society? Anarchy? A future of sectional self-interests paying no heed to the common good? Embedded begrudgery? We’ll reap the whirlwind. – Yours, etc,



Co Kerry.

Sir, – Could this be what’s known as a tapping point? – Yours, etc,


Raheny, Dublin 5.

Sir, – The proposal to appoint a key figure linked to the drinks industry to the board of RTÉ (“Opposition to RTÉ nomination of outgoing Meas chief executive”, October 10th) speaks volumes about our commitment as a nation to tackling the greatest social issue facing our country at this time.

In Ireland, television is the most powerful instrument available to the drinks industry, enabling it to promote its products to young and old, as it has done for well over 50 years since the establishment of RTÉ television. For that reason, the possibility that a person who has headed Meas, a drinks industry-funded “social responsibility agency”, beggars belief.

The drinks industry is fighting to influence decision-makers at all levels and in every sphere to ensure that the state does not step in to regulate the advertising and promotion of alcohol, as has been the case in other countries, notably in France, where the law limits the exposure of alcohol promotion to younger people.

Whether or not this appointment goes ahead is now in the hands of a Minister, Alex White, who up to very recently was responsible for the formulation of health policy in relation to alcohol and its promotion. Let’s hope he sees the big picture. – Yours, etc,


Crossmolina, Co Mayo.

Sir, – It was reported in this newspaper (“Council defends demolition of houses in Moyross”, October 10th) that Limerick City Council has defended the ongoing demolitions of valuable housing stock in Moyross, stating that such demolitions are “strategic demolitions planned due to strategic planning reasons”.

I have to ask whose strategic interests are being served by these demolitions? Certainly not the three 18-year-olds who arrived on my door today who have been sleeping rough in Limerick city. Certainly not the 30 or so parents with young children who have recently called to my office because they are homeless, are at risk of homelessness, or have no appropriate roof over their heads. I have to look such people in the face, often help dry their tears and can’t offer anything meaningful. Yet outside my window the trucks roll by with rubble from a freshly demolished house. I ask again, who benefits from this strategic demolition? I say again, stop! – Yours, etc,


Parish Priest,



Sir, – It is hard to disagree with Ross McCarthy (October 10th) when he says “a safer, healthier and more prosperous world is better for all of us”. However he produces no evidence to show that the maintenance or even an increase in Irish overseas aid will contribute to this objective. Over the past decade or so there has been significant economic growth in many developing countries, all of which has been caused by increased trade and investment. The old mantra “trade not aid” holds true. It is also true that the elimination or the much-reduced incidence of war in many of these countries has helped.

There is no reason why Ireland should continue to borrow over €600 million a year to waste on foreign aid projects. The funds would be better off used to finance much-needed spending on health or education services at home or indeed to reduce the fiscal deficit. If Irish people in general support foreign aid spending, they can continue to do it through the multitude of Irish and international charities. This is not to argue that Ireland should not allocate a small budget of say €100 million to contribute to short-term disaster and emergency relief programmes such as the current Ebola crisis. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Joe Humphreys (“Are university grades being inflated to suit jobs market?”, October 13th) suggests that companies demanding a first or 2.1 for entry level jobs or internships is a factor in the proportion of such degrees awarded. If Irish universities continue to respond in this way to the demands of employers, Ireland’s experience will likely mirror that in the US, where the minimum requirement for sustained employment in many fields is now a master’s degree. – Yours, etc,


Sterling Heights,

Michigan, US

Sir, – While David McConnell (October 13th) may, like Karl Popper, assert that “Mathematics, chess and music, poetry, plays and books of all kinds, symphonies and song, painting and philosophy, family, friendship and fellowship, ordinary conversations, scientific theories from relativity to plate tectonics to evolution by natural selection” are all inventions of mankind, as a member of the same species, I couldn’t possibly take any credit for these marvellous “inventions” which add such pleasure and meaning to my life without any satisfactory explanation as to how they may aid my mere survival. His confession that humanists “believe” (his word) that “nothing exists beyond the empirical realm” merely demonstrates a mind that is closed a priori to considering the abundant evidence to the contrary. – Yours, etc,



Co Derry.

Sir, – Thanks to David McConnell for a comprehensive and thoughtful contribution to the debate on belief. While I applaud all of the points he makes, the most important for me is his assertion that it is not fair for those who believe in God to insist that this belief should intrude into the lives of those who do not.

This is at the core of the difficulties we have experienced here in Ireland for very many years. Non-believers can live with the religiously denominated holidays and the inclusion of religion in the language (nobody has any difficulty with naming certain days of the week after ancient Norse and Germanic gods, after all), but as long as we have religious discrimination in our state-run, taxpayer-funded schools and as long as reproductive medicine continues to be influenced by religious precepts that make no sense to those who simply cannot come to believe in any supernatural explanations for the phenomena that we see around us, we will continue, as a nation, to serve up injustice. – Yours, etc,


Windy Arbour,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Further to the news item “Belvedere past pupils join ‘Rockmen’ in admissions battle” (October 11th), if Belvedere and Blackrock College wish to preserve their distinctive ethos, reserving places for the children of former alumni, they will remain free to do so even under the new legislation. All they have to do is stop taking public money. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The new “In brief…” section of the online letters page is a welcome addition. If only more people would take the time to write shorter letters. – Yours, etc,


Adamstown, Co Dublin.

Facing the music

Sir, – Frank McCartan (October 11th) has highlighted an annoying trend of loud music in all aspects of the hospitality industry. It reminded me of a concierge in a Las Vegas hotel who laughingly answered my question “Where can I go for a quiet drink?” with the reply “Not in this town”. Perhaps Las Vegas has spread beyond the hills of Donegal! – Yours, etc,



Roy Keane’s autobiography

Sir, – Diarmaid Ferriter reckons Martin O’Neill “should dump Roy Keane as soon as possible” (Opinion & Analysis, October 11th). I’m sure that Prof Ferriter was delighted to see that, after his shave, there was less of the hair apparent about Roy. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – In your online reports following the Gibraltar match there was not one mention of whatshisname.

That’s what I call a result. – Yours, etc,



Co Down.

Figures of note

Sir, – It’s all very well having the likes of Julius Caesar, Joyce and Yeats on the euro notes (October 13th) but with the current standing of the currency, perhaps Charles Dickens’s Mr Micawber would be more apposite. He was financially feckless yet forever optimistic, always believing something would turn up. – Yours, etc,




Vegetarianism and veganism

Sir, – Further to recent correspondence, veganism is not yet universally recognised.

A young woman was at a dinner in a Dublin hotel on Saturday evening and had rung the hotel beforehand for an appropriate Vegan menu. At the dinner, when the waiter approached her table for her order, she said “I’m vegan”, to which he replied “Oh, hi! I’m Sean”. – Yours, etc,


Killiney, Co Dublin.

Water meters

Sir, – In Tim O’Brien’s article of October 10th (“Some householders having trouble reading water meters”), Irish Water is quoted as saying: “By reading the cubic meter reading, your reader will get an accurate reading of his water consumption”.

From this, I understand that when Irish Water asks me to provide my PPS number, I can respond that it is a long number with a letter at the end. This answer will be completely accurate. Perhaps not very precise though. – Yours, etc,



Irish Independent:

I suspect that Pope Francis must be aware of the incongruity of holding an all-male gathering to discuss family life, even if there are some lay delegates to the current synod, giving women some peripheral voice in the proceedings. This is the strange world that the Pope has inherited and I trust him to bring reason and justice to bear on it.

The Pope is focusing not on particular teachings, but on the more pressing general issue about how the Catholic Church reaches conclusions about belief and moral practice. His call to the cardinals to come down from their ivory towers to experience the actual lives of the people they purport to lead is well placed, showing that he is more concerned with learning than with teaching.

This Pope seems determined to focus not so much on obedience to the Catholic Church’s teaching, but on the exercise of individual human responsibility. He has pleaded for a more critical fidelity, urging the cardinals to speak their minds, not to think like sheep and follow the flock.

The suggestion by some that the Catholic Church should not be a democratic institution, as the majority may be wrong, seems somewhat disingenuous and music to the ears of today’s dictators. Even conclusions about morality are not fixed for all time; otherwise we would still be supporting the practice of slavery. Our lives are informed by thoughtful reflection, not by sets of commands which we must obey. Obedience is not a virtue and can never trump human judgement.

The Pope is hampered by a church persistently identified with an over-emphasis on sexual behaviour. Though how we actually live our lives does not determine how we ought to live them, it is a significant reference point in moral debate. Pope Francis acknowledges this.

There is change afoot that challenges some and threatens others. I am reminded of John Henry Newman’s suggestion that to live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often.

Philip O’Neill, Oxford, England


Rabbitte in a trap of his design

I would like to express my gratitude to Pat Rabbitte.

There is sea change taking place in Irish politics. The two-and-a-half party system that has dominated Irish politics since the foundation of the State is being dismantled, one election at a time. Such drastic change can sometimes be scary and some people may feel the need to fall back on the ‘old reliables’ of Irish politics.

Enter Pat Rabbitte. In an interview over the weekend, Mr Rabbitte lamented the rise of Independent politicians, dismissed them as “populist” and expressed his “fear” for the future of Irish politics. That’s right, despite the fact that the current party system has led us to ruin on more than one occasion, Mr Rabbitte fears the fact that the Irish people have chosen to elect politicians who don’t have to cow down to a party whip.

He also does not give himself enough credit for the role that he and his party have played in the surge in support for independent politicians. After all, in their 2011 general election campaign, the Labour Party opposed water charges. They also signed a “pledge” not to increase third-level fees. On the basis of these and many other promises made by the Labour Party (one need only look at the ‘Tesco ad poster’) the Irish people gave them a record number of TDs. Once they were in power, however, Mr Rabbitte and his colleagues swiftly and cynically set about breaking most of their campaign promises.

The Irish electorate have finally woken up to the manner in which the main political parties operate and they are choosing a new way of doing politics. It is this that Mr Rabbitte fears. He fears that in the future his party (should it survive the next election) and the other main parties will no longer be able to ‘tell people what they want to hear’ and saunter into power. With the Dail heavily populated with independents, the party whip system will no longer have control.

The bitterness and disrespect with which he speaks about the democratic choice of the Irish people is music to my ears. I hope the lesson is not lost on the rest of the TDs that put their party and their ideology before their country.

Simon O’Connor, Crumlin, Dublin 12


Dail could confound Da Vinci

“There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see,” said Leonardo da Vinci.

The above quote is from one of the greatest minds to ever walk the Earth. Yet, despite the man’s undoubted genius across a wide range of subjects, time dealt him a cruel blow when he came up with that particular piece of wisdom.

You see he didn’t have the pleasure of observing Dail Eireann, where a whole new class of individual seems to have evolved on a rich diet of ignorance, cronyism and the ancient Irish art of duckin’ and divin’.

Da Vinci grew up in an Italy that was a collection of city states, many of them ruled by powerful families.

They did not have a history of having Flurry Knox type characters from ‘The Irish RM’. That gombeen who thought that by keeping in with the rich lad in the locality he made himself somehow important and somehow smarter than the guy that was cleaning out his neighbours.

Indeed, such was the cognitive dissonance of this type of evolved “Gobs***e” he could not see even if shown or told. Therefore a new, separate type must be added to Mr Da Vinci’s classification – those who will never see!

If you don’t believe me then I will offer the following proof.

The function, nay, the raison d’etre of Dail Eireann is to improve society. The inhabitants of Dail Eireann continuously tell us that we are broke, that the books aren’t balancing and that now a budget will be produced that will agree to a foreign power’s version of what our worth is. A foreign power that is now itself broke after it has cleaned out most of the EU.

I am not referring directly to any nation state, but rather a policy born in one that sees it deliverers making rakes of money while their citizens and former friends are thrown to the harsh winds of austerity.

Dermot Ryan, Athenry, Co. Galway


The people have spoken

The recent by-elections in Roscommon and Dublin South West proved three things.

1. Luke “Ming” Flanagan has wings and coattails.

2. Water charges do not win hearts and minds or votes.

3. Austerity is no longer just an anti-establishment rant.

Kevin Devitte, Westport, Co Mayo


Democracy must be defended

I have just heard an independent TD on radio declare democracy in this country to be just “a charade”. This is a democratic republic, set up after nearly 800 years of colonial rule, in which all have the right to elect those that represent us in the Dail.

Yet the declaration that this democracy is “a charade” was unchallenged by the interviewer.

At a time when two independent TDs were elected to the Dail I hope that they have more appreciation of the privilege each of them enjoyed when they were elected to represent the rest of us in this democracy.

I also hope that they do not regard their election as “a charade”.

In addition our media should show more appreciation of the privileged position they hold. They should do that by challenging any attempt to demean the freedoms both the media themselves and the rest of us enjoy in this democracy.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin

Irish Independent


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