21 October 2014 Flu Jab
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day Flu Jab, Post Office, Co Op, District Nurses and Sharland
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
Sir John Hoskyns – obituary
Sir John Hoskyns was a Downing Street adviser who called Mrs Thatcher a bully and almost provoked a libel suit from Brussels
Sir John Hoskyns Photo: ITN/REX
5:51PM BST 20 Oct 2014
Sir John Hoskyns, who has died aged 87, was a caustic critic of what he called “the inbred political establishment” as a senior adviser to Mrs Thatcher and, later, director-general of the Institute of Directors.
A restless man, Hoskyns never seemed able, in a career that also spanned the Army and business, to settle for more than a few years in one job. By instinct an outsider, he was least happy when forced to be part of an establishment. As a political thinker he always went for the radical option, claiming that “if you think the unthinkable, a few years later it will become the conventional wisdom”.
His period of greatest political influence was between 1979 and 1982, when, as head of the Downing Street Policy Unit, he played a major role in planning legislation to restrict the power of the trade unions. He also advised Mrs Thatcher on domestic policy, economic strategy, public sector pay and nationalised industries. Although he failed to persuade her to reverse the Clegg proposals for high public sector pay increases, he was a powerful influence in setting the critical 1981 budget, with its emphasis on lower interest rates and reduced public borrowing.
But Hoskyns had little taste for the sort of compromises that are part and parcel of political leadership and he became increasingly unhappy at Downing Street, eventually departing on less than good terms with the prime minister. He had become fed up with the ways of Whitehall and, as Charles Moore revealed in the first volume of his authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher, published last year, he had become disillusioned with her style of leadership too.
In the summer of 1981 Hoskyns wrote a blistering memo headed “Your political survival” and popped it into Mrs Thatcher’s red box before she went on holiday. Breathtakingly candid, it contained such gems as “you lack management competence… you break every rule of good man-management… you bully your weaker colleagues… You criticise colleagues in front of each other… They can’t answer back without appearing disrespectful… You abuse that situation. You give little praise or credit, and you are too ready to blame others when things go wrong.” He warned her that if she did not change she was “going the way of Ted Heath”.
Later Hoskyns said the memo had highlighted how as early as 1981 “the seeds of her downfall were being sown”, although he appeared to have reached a more nuanced view of her achievements. “Most people would acknowledge that Thatcher saved the British economy,” he conceded in 2009, “but, my God, didn’t we hate her while she was doing it.’’
John Austin Hungerford Leigh Hoskyns was born on August 23 1927 and educated at Winchester. His father, a lieutenant-colonel in the regular Army, was killed at Calais during the retreat from France in 1940, and in the last days of the Second World War young Hoskyns took an impulsive decision to leave school and enlist in the Rifle Brigade as a private.
The war finished before he saw action, but he remained in the Army, rising to the rank of captain, and did see some fighting in Kenya, which he described as “not for real”.
Eventually, frustrated by endless Nato manoeuvres, he joined IBM in 1957 as the firm was establishing a base in Britain. Seven years later he left to form his own computer company, which took advantage of the software boom.
He sold out in 1974 for £400,000 to devote himself to his developing interest in solving the problems of the nation’s decline.
Though by no means an ideological Tory — he had voted Labour on occasion — Hoskyns was introduced to Mrs Thatcher by Sir Alfred Sherman, head of the Right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, and became her adviser on trade union matters while the Conservative Party was in opposition.
Among other things he co-authored Stepping Stones, a 1977 paper which analysed the interconnected ailments of the British economy. To explain to himself the nature of Britain’s problem he constructed a “wiring diagram” of the economy’s difficulties, all of which combined in a sort of chain reaction to make each other worse. His conclusion was simple: to cure anything, it would be necessary to change everything. “It is not difficult to carry the country,” Angus Maude, the chairman of the Conservative Research Department, told him at the time. “The problem is the shadow Cabinet.”
After the Conservatives won the 1979 election, Hoskyns became head of Mrs Thatcher’s Policy Unit, but his time in Downing Street confirmed his intense dislike of the political and Whitehall establishment, which he seemed to take an almost perverse pleasure in riling. In his memoir, Just in Time (2000), he complained that civil servants could only function “by cultivating a passionless detachment, as if the processes they were engaged in were happening in a faraway country which they service only on a retainer basis”.
After resigning in April 1982 he retreated to his home in Essex, indulging his love of shooting and opera-going while loosing off periodic salvoes against the political classes, which found favour with the businessmen at the Institute of Directors, where he was appointed director-general in 1984.
The job suited Hoskyns. Unlike his counterpart at the CBI, who has to reflect the corporate consensus (Hoskyns had been considered as a candidate for that post in 1979), the director-general of the IoD is allowed far greater freedom. Rank-and-file members greeted with rapture his call for civil servants to be replaced by “politically appointed officials on contract at proper market rates”. They warmed to his constant reminders to Mrs Thatcher of the need to dismantle the corporate state and reduce the burden on business, and for the government to set a long term goal of reducing tax rates to 10 per cent.
Hoskyns earned his biggest headlines shortly before his departure from the IoD in 1989, when he launched a vitriolic attack on the EEC which, he claimed, had become a “Mafia-style laughing stock”, with expense-fiddling MEPs and Eurocrats “as self-important as the British trade union barons were in the late 1970s”. There were “signs that the Brussels machine is becoming corrupted both intellectually and financially”, and as a result the creation of the Single European Market could prove a “collectivised, protectionist, over-regulated” fiasco.
The reaction in Brussels was furious, and at one point the European Commission even threatened to sue him for libel. Hoskyns himself likened the fuss to that over Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses: “No one is allowed to criticise Europe,” he complained. “It is like criticising Islam. If anyone says anything against Europe they will be outlawed.”
Friends, however, found Hoskyns’s combative reputation difficult to reconcile with the civilised and courteous private man.
After his retirement from the IoD, Hoskyns served as chairman of the Burton Group from 1990 to 1998, of the media company Emap from 1994 to 98 and of the Arcadia Group in 1998.
He was knighted in 1982.
He married, in 1956, Miranda Mott, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.
Sir John Hoskyns, born August 23 1927, died October 20 2014
José Manuel Barroso in London, 20 Octobe 2014, to make the case for staying in the EU. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
The European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, is right to warn that those in favour of the European Union must not expect by default to carry the day, nor should they leave presenting the positive case for EU until the last moment in a spirit of panic, as happened in Scotland (Report, 20 October).
He might also reflect that the Better Together campaign in Scotland wasn’t able to halt the significant momentum generated by the exit lobby. That only happened by external intervention: the belated acknowledgement by those outside Scotland of the core separatist concerns, irritations and resentments, together with a degree of humility in the face of a large democratic groundswell, all sweetened by the offering of substantial, significant and credible concessions. David Cameron is simply not in a position to offer these in respect of Europe, any more than Alistair Darling was in respect of Scotland.
The tone of Mr Barosso’s intervention will have a wearily familiar ring to it for those who followed the Better Together pronouncements in the early days. If lessons are indeed to be learned from the Scottish referendum, those in Brussels and Strasbourg have at least as much to reflect on as folk in London or Edinburgh.
Rev Jonathan Jennings
• You report that Nigel Farage welcomes José Manuel Barroso’s comments on the free movement of people within the EU because they show clearly that David Cameron’s objectives are unachievable. It seems to me, however, that Barroso’s comments are just as problematical for Ukip. Barroso was not just talking about the rules of the EU but about the rules of the single market (the “four freedoms” of movement of goods, services, capital and people). Countries currently outside the EU that participate in the single market (Norway and Switzerland) have to accept the free movement of people – as Barroso says, this is absolutely fundamental. Ukip’s position, however, is that the UK could leave the EU, continue to participate in a free market and at the same time refuse to accept the free movement of people. Barroso tells us this is just as impossible outside the EU as it is within.
• David Cameron’s demand for a halt to the free flow of EU migrants will wrongfoot both Labour and the Greens. The way out of this electoral trap is for these non-market-fundamentalist parties, who nevertheless support Europe’s free flow of people, to change course. They should make an end to uncontrollable EU immigration central to their manifestos, not because of Ukip but to show that they are truly democratic, that they want to lessen the strain on public services and to burnish their internationalist credentials.
Democratic, because all polls show that the majority of people want to see the flow of immigrants to the UK adequately controlled. The UK’s population is projected to increase by 10 million in the next 25 years. Failure to see these population pressures as making it much harder to tackle social problems insults voters’ intelligence. Finally, the present EU open borders policy is the opposite of internationalism. Romania has in recent years lost a third of its doctors to richer EU countries, and our hospitals scour poor EU countries to fill the gap in our inadequately resourced NHS.
• The claim that migrants are net contributors to the public purse is demography’s equivalent of off-balance-sheet financing, for today’s young migrants will become tomorrow’s old and infirm (Editorial, 17 October). A similar claim that newcomers will do society’s menial jobs is like a Ponzi scheme, for increasing numbers of unskilled immigrants will be needed as the offspring of today’s unskilled immigrants shun menial jobs offering less than a living wage.
Then there is the claim that national debt will become unmanageable without mass immigration, yet the recent ballooning of national debt coincided with an unprecedented influx of migrants.
It was morally wrong to import cheap labour with the aim of driving down unskilled wages. Reversing the process by controlling immigration from within an ever-expanding EU will result in a transfer of purchasing power from the haves to the have-nots, as menial jobs that cannot be outsourced abroad become more costly. This is a small price to pay for anyone concerned about national cohesiveness and a living wage.
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset
• Your otherwise admirably balanced editorial column overlooks one of the wider implications of immigration for the UK – that of food security. England was already one of the most densely populated countries in the developed world before the arrival of large numbers of European immigrants. The increase in the number of people and the diminishing supply of agricultural land means that our dependence on food imports is growing. This makes us vulnerable to the vagaries of international commodity markets, a situation exacerbated by the growth in world population and the adoption of western dietary habits by recently industrialised countries such as China and India. The laws of supply and demand indicate that the cost of food imports will inevitably rise, with possible ramifications for social cohesion. And in the event of future international instability our supply of imported food could be threatened altogether, with wholly unpredictable consequences. Policymakers need to embark on strategy to limit the UK’s population and increase the supply of agricultural land. The first step is to regain control of who can enter the country by withdrawing from the EU.
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire
• The free movement of labour made sense when the EU membership was restricted to the west European countries. Would Poland, Bulgaria and Romania have joined if there was no free movement of labour option available? Would Ukraine, Georgia and Moldavia, which recently signed on the dotted line, still be interested if the clause pertaining to free movement of labour was removed from the Lisbon treaty?
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
• Citizens of EU countries are entitled to each others’ social systems when living and working there. We all have some sort of national insurance that people pay into in their countries and this entitles us to use theirs and them to use ours. Admittedly, what is available varies according to the wealth of the country, but Holland, Sweden and France, for instance, have more generous systems than ours. We should not blame immigrants for the fact that successive British governments for the past 30 years have failed socially on many fronts, particularly housing.
• There are estimated to be up to two million UK citizens living in the EU but outside UK. It is reasonable to assume that if the UK leaves the EU, the position of these citizens will be adversely affected. As a minimum, by loss of access to healthcare, and perhaps through difficulty in obtaining work permits, and even elderly people needing to repatriate.
• If fruit pickers from Romania are not to be allowed to work in the UK (Conservative backs Ukip view, 17 October), who will pick the fruit? British workers certainly don’t and won’t.
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
You report (Watchdog to pursue inquiry into sex sting against MP Brooks Newmark, 20 October) that one of the MPs targeted by the Sunday Mirror’s freelance journalists in the online “sexting” sting, Mark Pritchard, has withdrawn his complaint against the Sunday Mirror. The details of the “amicable settlement” are said to be confidential. The Independent Press Standards Organisation says “we would be pleased if it were the case that resolution has been achieved, since that would be a success for the Ipso complaints process”.
We should be concerned when a newspaper makes a secret deal with an MP (possibly involving a financial settlement or the offer of future good publicity) behind the back of the regulator. We should be especially concerned if the result of the secret deal is that the MP drops his complaint, possibly preventing the regulator getting the full truth. If the regulator considers that a regulatory “success”, then the main difference between the new sham regulator Ipso and the failed and toothless PCC, which it replaced, is now clear. Ipso, it seems, is rather more desperate in both its propaganda and spin operation.
Executive editor, Hacked Off
• You report (20 October) that internet trolls will face two years in jail under Chris Grayling’s new plans. How will “internet troll” be defined? As a person who makes any comment which offends anyone? An ordinary person who “shouts” to be heard in a conversation dominated by famous or influential people? Social media should be available for the use of all society, not just its upper echelon. Of course, if someone makes a credible threat of violence against another person, that should be prosecuted through existing laws. But the proposed new laws imply that social media will be limited to well-known and powerful people giving us their view of the world (and promoting their latest product, film, etc), while the rest of us can only “follow” our favourites.
We would be powerless to tell Russell Brand or Jeremy Clarkson or Polly Toynbee what we really thought of them, because of the inevitable offence caused. By posting a message saying “I bought your book but didn’t like it”, an ordinary person would not be heard. By posting a message saying “I spent eight hours of my life reading your faeces recycled as paper. I am going to torture you for eight hours in return”, that same person will be noticed, but will be banged up for two years for being offensive and threatening (even though it is obvious that the threat is not credible).
In your report (18 October) that Tesco at Swiss Cottage had refused entry to a woman with a guide dog, a Tesco spokesperson says: “We do allow guide dogs in stores.” Someone should alert Tesco that they do not “allow” guide dogs; they are required by law to facilitate anyone with a guide dog while that dog is on duty. (Though not if it is out of harness.) Too many restaurants, shops, taxis and pubs think they are doing someone a favour if they allow in a guide dog, whereas the truth is they can be subject to a fine if they refuse. Having said that, a friend who is blind, knowing I was going to write this letter, wants me to point out that in the Tesco at Turnpike Lane the staff go out of their way to help her, and go soppy over her dog.
Stuart Jeffries (The most racist election campaign ever fought in Britain, G2, 15 October) does a disservice to Smethwick, the town where I grew up. The Conservative candidate’s campaign in 1964 was vile, but the remote and patrician Patrick Gordon Walker did not lose the seat for Labour because the electors suddenly went racist. He lost because a Liberal candidate intervened and took more votes from Labour than from the Conservatives. Indeed, the Conservative vote actually went down, despite a higher turnout. Such racist activity as there was at that time was largely carried out by neo-Nazi agitators from surrounding areas.
Emeritus professor Keith Graham
• I was 10 in 1964. I remember racist Tory MP Peter Griffiths’s victory tour stopping outside our council house. Stuart Jeffries catches the flavour of a time when casual and overt racism was ingrained in many Britons. However, he underplays the role of the white working-class Labour activists (like my father, Ron, a Smethwick councillor from 1966) who, working with people of goodwill from all races, helped rescue Smethwick from the racists. There is also no tribute paid to Andrew Faulds, the MP to 1997, who defeated Griffiths in the 1966 election. Faulds was uncompromisingly anti-racist and his campaign and victory put Smethwick on course to a wiser, more inclusive politics.
As we know from UKIP’s rise, 50 years on, the context and language changes, but these are battles we still need to fight.
Cllr Phil Davis
• Peter Griffiths ran a racist campaign but, leafletting for Labour, the complaint I heard was of Harold Wilson assuming Smethwick was a safe seat for Patrick Gordon Walker as he wanted him for his cabinet and ignoring more local candidates. Only two years later Labour won back Smethwick with Andrew Faulds and it has remained Labour since, with both Faulds and later John Spellar bucking the trend through majority Tory governments.
Oldbury, West Midlands
I can only feel sympathy and solidarity with Ray Cole and his partner (Report, 17 October). It must have been a horrific and frightening experience. But as an openly gay man who has travelled more than 20 times to Morocco in the last decade (often with my partner), it seems useful to make some things clear to other lesbian and gay travellers. 1) Male homosexuality is, theoretically, illegal in Morocco. However, the law is not imposed frequently. 2) Homosexuality is an accepted part of Moroccan culture and has been for centuries. Most ordinary people are not hostile if you respect local customs (discretion, not pursuing underage boys etc). In addition, extreme Islamism is very rare in Morocco. 3) The whole state apparatus in Morocco has problems with corruption. This means that officials, including police, can act for personal motives – of power, money or religion – without much regard for legal niceties. I have mostly found warm and open acceptance from ordinary Moroccan people as a gay man. Indeed, sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised: such as when the Moroccan-owned riad where we stay upgraded us to the best suite of rooms for free, on hearing that we had just had a civil partnership. So, I think the best advice is to be streetwise: bear in mind you are in a Muslim country where homosexuality is, at least in theory, illegal. Get to know the local people and their views (some places are much more religious than others). In most cases, I believe that you will have a friendly and relaxed experience.
Lecturer in Politics, Goldsmiths, London
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (20 October) is probably right that Russell Brand is a “dilettante”. But he challenges the status quo and stands up for those who are on its sharp end, like the young mothers in Newham.
So he strikes a chord with tens of thousands of young – and older – people. Does anyone think that a book by Ed Miliband, who can’t even bring himself to support strike action by teachers or nurses, would fly off the shelves like Revolution is doing?
Alibhai-Brown is appalled that Brand won’t vote. Yet we all know that millions will abstain in the general election next year. Why? Because there is nothing to choose between the policies of three, now four, pro-big-business parties.
We need a party for the men and women who aren’t part of the corporate elite, a party for trade unionists, NHS users, pensioners, the low-paid, immigrants and young people who need decent jobs and homes. When there’s a real choice, and a chance to make a difference, you’ll get high turnouts, as we saw in Scotland’s referendum.
Nobody I know is sitting around “awaiting the revolution”. We’re defending services, fighting cuts, striking for a living wage, standing in elections as anti-cuts candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), offering people an alternative. We got 10 per cent in Salford last year. If we had PR we’d have a councillor or two.
Alibhai-Brown’s “institutional overhaul” of Parliament won’t bring them flocking to the polling stations – but a clear stand and a socialist alternative is like a breath of fresh air for the disenfranchised.
Chair, Salford against Cuts, Manchester
Edward Collier (letter, 17 October) asks: “In what parallel universe is it fair that it takes 33,000 votes to return one Labour MP and 120,000 for a Lib Dem and 285,000 for a Green?” It was the system that delivers this inequity that a large majority of people actually voted for in a referendum.
I personally regret that decision, but I accept that it is the democratic will of our people, expressed in a referendum where every vote was equal.
Freudian slip raises a real question
There is something desperate about Ed Miliband’s outrage over Lord Freud’s case of foot-in-mouth.
He must know that this is not an issue that can be just harrumphed away. As a society, we have to look at the situation honestly. Nobody should be discriminated against, but if we want disabled people to participate in economic activity, we have to recognise that they cannot make the same contribution as an able-bodied person. It’s a big ask to expect an employer to take on a disabled person at the same wage as an able-bodied person.
The solution is for the welfare system to make up the difference. Such a policy would be perfectly acceptable to disabled people, and less of a burden on the Treasury than paying a full disability allowance.
What’s astonishing is that the Government doesn’t seem to see that – and David Cameron couldn’t spot a prime opportunity to steal Ed Miliband’s thunder.
A huge concern making billions can reasonably be expected to employ a proportion of disabled people at its own expense. A smaller outfit could be damaged by having an employee who, through no fault of their own, was less than optimally productive; in such a case it could be to the benefit of the firm, the disabled employee and society at large for the taxpayer to contribute towards their payment.
That was possibly the point that Lord Freud was trying to make. But he made it badly, and should not be a spokesman for that reason.
He may, however, have done us all a service in raising the issue of “worth”. It could be said that no one is worth more than, say, 20 times the living wage. But many are paid vastly more than that and it is their worth that needs to be challenged.
Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire
The welfare minister claimed some disabled people are not worth the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour and that he’d think about how those unfortunates who might wish to work for £2 an hour might be helped to do so.
A Freudian slip or another Tory “reform” in the offing? The mindset of this divided old political party – the oldest in Europe – is as revolting as it is revealing towards the end of this parliament, no matter how artfully disguised at the beginning.
They’re out of touch, out of time –and out of here soon if there’s to be any fairness at all about politics.
Theatre of the absurd
I warmly applaud Adrian Hamilton’s article on the current theatrical fashion to rewrite or traduce plays that are part of the European classical canon (15 October). However, he omitted to mention the mauling British dramatists have received at such hands.
In a recent National Theatre production of what was claimed to be Marlowe’s Edward II the audience was greeted with a cast dressed in bomber jackets, all smoking furiously and constantly on mobile phones. Scenes were added that are not in the Marlowe text and much that is was omitted.
The nadir of this production, to me, was the scene where Edward’s court celebrated his Pyrrhic victory over the barons by waving plastic swords and dancing the hokey-cokey accompanied by an electric keyboard player on stage.
I certainly do not wish for museum theatre, but production companies must be more honest with theatre-goers. They should announce that this is Ms X’s or Mr Y’s version of Oedipus, Medea or Edward II and omit the names of Sophocles, Euripides or Marlowe from their publicity. But that might not generate the same ticket sales.
Dr Mick Morris
For the second time in recent months I have walked out of a London theatre because of a play’s continuous and unnecessary foul language.
Needless to say I was denied a refund of my ticket price. As I bought my ticket at the box office just before the start of the matinee performance I could not have been aware of the vile content.
Have other theatre goers also been caught out like this, and is it not time all prospective audiences were warned about such disgusting content? In future I will check before buying tickets, assuming I ever consider risking attending another London theatre venue.
John Walsh is quite right in advocating the abolition of tiresome theatre intervals (16 October). However, I would request one exception – the Royal Opera House.
Much of the seating at this ludicrously expensive venue is unfit for humans (battery chickens spring to mind) and 30 minutes is about all I can bear on the rare occasions that I find myself being “entertained” there.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Now, the three-day passport
Beverley Southgate (letter, 9 October) lavished well-deserved praise on the Passport Office after receiving her passport five working days after applying.
Who can beat this? I applied for my passport renewal on 6 October and received my new one on 9 October – after three working days! My congratulations to both the Passport Office and the Post Office.
Whatever new brooms, prunings or decapitations were necessary to achieve such high standards of public service efficiency, pray that they may soon be mobilised to thin out the dead wood in our NHS.
Housing help for the super-rich
Labour proposes a “mansion tax”. This will tax out middle-class Londoners who bought their houses more than 30 years ago and are now coming into retirement on modest pensions. How will that benefit any housing crisis other than that of the very wealthy wanting central London properties?
When the middle classes got driven out of Manhattan in the 1980s it became a ghetto for the super-rich and a once thriving and diverse cultural scene has been reduced to fighting for the best opera seats and to-be-seen-in restaurants.
Ebola or not, we need Heathrow
Nigel Long (letter, 16 October) moves away from a sensible discussion about Ebola to confuse the debate about Heathrow.
It is not airline and airport operator profits driving the need for growth but the long-term interests of current and future generations who will be affected by a decline in our international standing if Heathrow’s hub status is allowed to decline further.
Is Ed Miliband’s new pledge designed simply to achieve the greatest vote-winning impact?
Sir, The two-week pathway for urgent referrals is well established in the NHS and is working well (“Miliband promises 7-day test for cancer”, Oct 18). A plethora of “red flag” symptoms include a breast lump, and blood in urine, stool or sputum. Cancer is detected in less than 10 per cent of patients referred, and there is no evidence of improved survival.
Changing from a 14-day to a 7-day referral pathway is an opportunistic and naive gimmick that reveals a lack of understanding. No cancer goes from curable to incurable in seven days. Early diagnosis will only contribute to improved survival if cancer is detected at an earlier stage. This can only be achieved by screening asymptomatic patients, as happens now with breast and colo-rectum cases.
Professor J Meirion Thomas, FRCS
Sir, Cancer comprises thousands of individual diseases affecting virtually every part of the body. Each presents and is diagnosed in its own way by applying disease-specific testing which can vary from quick and simple to long and complex. It will therefore be impossible for Labour to fulfil its pledge of guaranteeing every suspected cancer case is diagnosed within a week.
What the NHS will be able to achieve, with new funding, is to increase the overall rate of cancer detection by concentrating on simple tests for common cancers.
Conclusion: Labour’s pledge has deliberately been spun from the specific to the general for greatest vote-winning impact.
Dr Gordon Brooks
Sir, Instead of pledging a seven-day test for cancer in order to increase his popularity before the next election, Ed Miliband and the other party-political leaders should concentrate on explaining how the huge funding gap for the NHS will be addressed.
While working unpaid as a medical examiner for the Royal College of Physicians last weekend at a hospital in another part of the country, I witnessed a further example of the resource-starved NHS. In two of the rooms where the postgraduate examinations were conducted I saw cracks in the walls that were wide enough to see and hear what was happening in the next room. We need the assurance of our government that the necessary increase in funds will be identified to meet the increasing demands for safe and effective healthcare while removing the pay freeze for NHS staff.
Dr Peter Phillips
Sir, It is absurd for the political parties to conduct a bidding war for new untested ‘targets’ for the already overburdened NHS. Health service managers should not be forced to chase topical targets at the expense of the health needs of individuals. A cultural rather than an organisational change to an integrated person-centred approach is overdue in the NHS, where real savings can be made and the needs of the individual person can properly addressed.
James Appleyard, FRCP
President, International College of Person Centred Medicine, New York
Sir, There are two significant flaws in the idea that “children should start saving for university at birth” (Oct 20). First, it is likely that the vast majority of parents who did not themselves go to university will not see the need set up a saving account (let alone fund it). Second, for most parents the costs of bringing up their children often means that they are financially challenged, and would not be able to fund the account.
There is a need for debate on how a university education should be funded, but this is not the solution.
Sir, There has been a predictable concentration on the Pope’s humanity towards homosexuals in the face of huge hostility in some parts of the world (“When in Rome, think of gay people in Iran”, Libby Purves, Opinion, Oct 20, and World, Oct 20).
What matters more to the ordinary Catholic in the pew is the position of divorced Catholics, which was also discussed by the Vatican synod. A person who has been divorced, whether willingly or not, is denied the Sacraments. I know people who faithfully come to church each Sunday but may not receive Holy Communion because of their status. People who bring up their children as Catholics, take them to church and send them to Catholic schools, are treated as outcasts cut off from the healing grace of the Eucharist.
Not such a great headline-grabber perhaps, but a source of great pain to many families throughout the land.
Sir, It was not a surprise that Pope Francis’s progressive proposals on gays and divorcees were rejected, as the vast majority of the bishops voting were appointed by his arch-conservative predecessors John Paul and Benedict. Even if the issue is revisited next year, this will remain the case.
Sir, Can Vincent Nichols really not remember how he voted a few days ago at a Vatican synod on the attitude of the church towards gay people (News, Oct 20)? Such amnesia is understandable in a politician, football manager or used-car salesman, but not in a cardinal.
Sir, I disagree with Nicholas Messinger (letter, Oct 18) that cruise ships should be turned into West Africa hospital ships. These ships have vast public spaces which would be of little use and would later be seen as plague ships, and thus prove unusable for the role for which they were designed.
The offshore oil and gas industry has a number of accommodation vessels of various kinds. These include large pontoon-type barges, jack-up and semi-submersible accommodation rigs and elderly but serviceable converted passenger ships. They can be swiftly transported to site on the decks of semi-submersible heavy lift ships, a number of which are owned in the Netherlands.
Peter Adams (master mariner)
Sir, My surgical colleague Wylie Gibbs (letter, Oct 18) suggests copper-impregnated surgical gowns to reduce ebola virus risk because they are bactericidal. We physicians know that bactericidal is not necessarily viricidal. Antibiotics are a case in point.
Giles Youngs, FRCP
Sir, Further to your report “Jihadists threatened with trials for treason” (Oct 17), it is true that wielding the 1351 treason law would be a legal sledgehammer. But it is not a wholly obsolete idea. The treason law was employed well into the 20th century, notably in the cases of Roger Casement and William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) when both were charged with adhering to the king’s enemies. The case against Joyce, cleverly manipulated in 1946 to secure a conviction, was precisely based on the fact that he had used a British passport and therefore owed allegiance to the state in return for state protection.
Under the 1351 Act, the British jihadists might also be guilty of “levying war” and of “compassing the Queen’s death” by threating to attack the British state. But it is the precedent from the Joyce case which gives most food for thought. It makes us analyse what loyalty is really owed to the state by each citizen, and how best to police that loyalty to ensure the security of the whole community.
Professor of modern European history, University of Southampton
Ripe for poaching: damsons on branches Photo: Alamy
6:55AM BST 20 Oct 2014
Mulled with spices and a dash of brandy and then warmed up, it is the one thing guaranteed to bring our children from the four corners of the world home for Christmas.
SIR – In the search for an autumn tipple, may I refer Mr Stephen to a letter from a Rosie Macdonald of Bury St Edmunds five years back, which is pasted into my recipe book. Damson vodka has a cleaner taste, is excellent in a hip flask or with champagne, and easier to make than damson jam.
I converted Granny Streat’s sloe gin recipe and it seems to work: half a bottle of vodka, filled to the three-quarter mark with granulated sugar and to the top with damsons (pricked with a silver fork), plus a drop or two of almond essence. I’ll leave you to work out how to get large damsons into the neck of your average vodka bottle. Lay the bottles on their side and rotate daily until the sugar is dissolved.
SIR – My suggestion for an alternative to sloe gin is “brisky” (bramble whisky). Just substitute blackberries for the sloes and whisky for gin. Keep for several months and then imbibe.
SIR – Damson gin is fine; damson vodka is better. Raspberry whisky is better still.
My favourite tipple involves 1lb marmalade (preferably home-made), one bottle of gin and a quarter-pound of sugar, kept warm for two weeks and drunk after three months. It’ll blow your socks off.
6:56AM BST 20 Oct 2014
SIR – I am often bemused at the level of opposition to inheritance tax. The tax, and its forerunner, death duties, are historically more responsible than any other single activity for enabling the middle classes to own their own home.
When I was a solicitor I became aware of many large landholdings formerly owned by one person that had been sold in the Twenties to pay death duties, allowing for several hundred houses to be built on that land. I am now a vicar in a village that was entirely owned by the Lord of the Manor until death duties led to sales. Now the great majority of the houses are owned by their occupiers.
Any society that lays claim to be more than just the sum of its individuals has a moral duty to ensure some redistribution, while respecting the right of individuals to accumulate wealth. Inheritance tax is a key tool in maintaining that balance.
Revd Peter Dyson
Upton Grey, Hampshire
GPs’ weekend pay
SIR – It used to be accepted that professionals did not have fixed hours of work, and that their pay reflected that. Now we learn that doctors are being paid £100 per hour to work at weekends.
My wife is a deputy head teacher at a secondary school, and she is certainly paid less than doctors. Yet she is at her school for 11 hours a day on “normal” days – that is, unless there are one of many imperative reasons to stay late, such as governors’ or parents’ meetings. She frequently does not get to bed before midnight, and although she has Saturdays for recreation, she works on Sunday evenings preparing for the next week.
How can it be fair that doctors are given these fantastic sums to work “out of hours”, and how are such hours agreed?
The scourge of Africa
SIR – Fraser Nelson is absolutely right in pointing out that malaria is a terrible scourge in Africa, as it is in several Third World tropical countries.
One aggravating factor behind this in recent years has been the widespread use of plastic carrier bags. Discarded in their thousands, these bags easily fill with rainwater, whereupon they can act as a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying the malaria virus.
SIR – I have just spent much of last week interviewing eager souls for positions in our company. All were intelligent and qualified, yet every one of them insisted on the regular use of my first name: “Well, that’s a very good point, Steve”; and “If I may answer that, Steve.”
I subscribe to the joys of equality and bonding, but am I wrong to find this somewhat disrespectful, and how do I politely encourage them to desist?
Handcross, West Sussex
Hands to the sky
SIR – Watching the extravagant arm movements of the weather person on ITV yesterday, I have no idea what to expect from the skies over the coming days. But I’m certain that there must be a corps de ballet out there short of a Dying Swan.
Felicity Foulis Brown
It is unfair to persecute dogs for canine behaviour like growling at the postman
‘Expecting a dog never to bark when playing is like expecting a cat not to miaow ‘ Photo: © Elke Vogelsang
6:58AM BST 20 Oct 2014
SIR – The “dogbo” order to be placed on owners’ dogs who bark or growl at the postman and other passers-by has its priorities wrong.
Expecting a dog never to bark when playing is like expecting a cat not to miaow or a child never to yell. Also, a dog can bark when it feels frightened by aggressive behaviour – someone shouting or waving a stick at it, for instance.
SIR – If a dog that chases a cat can get a “dogbo”, what about a cat that kills a bird? Georgie Helyer
Hanging Langford, Wiltshire
Slow past Stonehenge
SIR – As a regular user of the A303, I am surprised to see that the Government is about to approve plans for a tunnel to ease the bottlenecks caused by “drivers slowing down to admire the prehistoric monument” (report, October 18).
While there is no doubt that drivers are slowing down, the cause is not the proximity of Stonehenge, but the reduction of the A303 westbound from dual carriageway to single lane shortly after Amesbury. Only when the A303 is upgraded to dual carriageway for its entire length will the bottleneck be resolved.
SIR – Peter Mahaffey may be assured that plenty of workers will be available for any task if no alternative income is provided from state subsidies.
It is not relevant that immigrants from other European states will do the work: we cannot afford to outsource it and at the same time pay our own for idleness.
Dig for remembrance
SIR – With the approach of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on June 18 next year, I plan to plant a spinney to commemorate that great victory.
In addition to some Wellingtonias, I wonder if your readers have any other suggestions for suitable species? Given our changing climate, trees that thrive in mid France may be best.
While Ruskin regarded Oxford as a ‘temple of Apollo’, he was less kind about its alleys
6:59AM BST 20 Oct 2014
SIR – Michael Henderson describes being subject to a revelation of beauty looking down Brasenose Lane from the Radcliffe Camera.
He’s not the only person to have had a vivid experience there. When John Ruskin gave his Slade Lecture, “The Relation to Art of the Science of Light”, in 1872, he told his audience about a negative epiphany in the same place.
The university he regarded as the “temple of Apollo”; but, he said, “in the centre of that temple, at the very foot of the dome of the Radclyffe, between two principal colleges, the lane by which I walked from my own college half an hour ago to this place – Brasen-nose Lane – is left in a state as loathsome as a back alley in the East end of London.”
Brasenose College, Oxford
Just how secure is Britain’s future within the EU? Photo: AFP/Getty Images
7:00AM BST 20 Oct 2014
SIR – The Prime Minister’s avowed intention to take back powers from the EU, specifically the power to control immigration from Europe, seems like an attempt to match Ukip’s policy in the light of that party’s recent successes.
Mr Cameron’s approach will be popular and might well lead, if his demand is unsuccessful, to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. But is it really good government to have such a momentous decision depend on a single issue such as immigration? I don’t know how I would cast my vote in any referendum, but I would not want the debate to focus on just one factor.
SIR – When he was in opposition, Philip Hammond, my local MP, assured me that he too was a Eurosceptic.
I reminded him of this when he was promoted to the opposition front bench, because David Cameron had made it clear he had no use for Eurosceptics, and much to my surprise Mr Hammond had a change of heart.
Now, as Foreign Secretary, he talks of “lighting a fire” under the EU. The problem is that Brussels will soon extinguish it.
SIR – The Foreign Secretary’s assertion about “lighting a fire” under Europe is about as convincing a statement as making a bonfire of the quangos.
We know what the outcome was there.
SIR – Mr Hammond states that the EU has morphed “into a putative superstate”.
What he and many other politicians fail to understand that this is, and always has been, the objective of the EU.
If we are granted our referendum and vote to leave the EU, I fear that a further Act of Parliament may be required when we are ordered by Brussels to vote again and make certain that we produce the “right” result next time. Perhaps suitable provision should be made for this in the present Bill.
SIR – Your correspondent Ambrose Evans-Pritchard highlights the disaster that is the French economy, propped up by Germany’s use of the euro.
No one seems to think that Mr Cameron can reverse any worthwhile treaty regulations, but he persists in his view that only by voting Conservative will a referendum be guaranteed.
Now that claim is in jeopardy. If Ukip manages to win several seats from both Labour and the Conservatives, it could just hold the balance of power.
Then the way to let Labour’s Ed Miliband in will be to vote Conservative.
A T Brookes
A chara, – When any group takes unto itself, without reference to objective moral norms or without legal authority, the role of being arbiter of right and wrong for its community, there is the ultimate inevitably of mayhem, brutality and murder. That sad reality is gradually becoming ever more clear in relation to the activities for over 30 years of the Provisional IRA and its fellow travellers in Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland of the Troubles.
The Provisionals established their ghettos and took upon themselves the right to determine how each person should behave and to whom they should be answerable. Failure by any person to comply with the wishes of the self-appointed bosses led to beatings, knee- cappings, tarring and feathering and ultimately to brutal murders. Much of this was given the gloss of being in defence of a beleaguered people. The reality is that the principal victims of those 30 years of mayhem were members of the nationalist community.
Some of the savagery was clothed with words that gave a veneer of respectability. Thus for all too long we have heard of the “Disappeared”, as if they walked voluntarily into the setting sun.
The cruel truth is that they were kidnapped, brutalised, shot and callously buried in lonely bogs far from home and loved ones.
Maíria Cahill’s terrible story of being raped and arrogantly interrogated is another manifestation of the reality that has for too long remained hidden. It is high time that we all treated with great caution those who make great play of their new- found love for freedom and democracy. – Is mise,
Cllr MICHAEL GLEESON,
Sir, – Mary Lou McDonald repeatedly uses the word “decency” when she is attacking her political opponents. In shrill tones she prefaces her lecturers with, “if you had any decency”. It would be helpful if she now looked in the mirror and spoke those words. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Sinn Féin has come up with such excuses as it did not realise the seriousness of if it at the time, it did not know where to go, and it did not know what to do. But it dealt with it in its own way. Where did I hear that before? From the Catholic Church, which often just moved abusers around. Sinn Féin-types did the same, but with expulsions and sometimes shootings. Canon law and cannon law? –Yours, etc,
Sir, – Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman, Pearse Doherty, has said there is no cover-up in Sinn Féin, while the party’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said at the weekend that she believed Ms Cahill had been abused, but described her allegations that members of Sinn Féin covered up child abuse as “completely wrong”.
I find it extraordinary that two of the youngest senior members of Sinn Féin can speak with such authority about IRA matters which took place between 1997 and 2000. Pearse Doherty was little more than a boy when he joined Sinn Féin in 1996 and Mary Lou McDonald was a member of Fianna Fáil before joining Sinn Féin in 1998. Are we expected to believe that the IRA’s kangaroo courts documented their secret “deliberations” for open filing at Sinn Fein’s head office? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Politicians, as we know, are masters of euphemism – but your front page quote from Gerry Adams’s blog takes the biscuit. He admits that “the IRA on occasion shot alleged sex offenders” [my emphasis] and he goes on to say that this “was not appropriate”! Surely a most inappropriate use of the word “appropriate”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In the past few years we have become accustomed to seeing Mary Lou McDonald’s terrier-like stance on the Public Accounts Committee. She has been to the fore as an inquisitor. She has left no stone unturned to get to the truth. I believe Ms McDonald needs to use these skills to question her party leader on the Maíria Cahill allegations. – Yours , etc,
A chara, – I note Sinn Féin’s policy of “deny, deny, deny” is alive and kicking. – Is mise,
Sir, – Fr Vincent Twomey writes, “Sad to say, the synod’s (now not-so-hidden) agenda feeds into a bigger agenda, which is that of a secular society which threatens the traditional family to its very foundations” (“Synod feeds secular agenda hostile to traditional family”, Opinion & Analysis, October 18th).
How extraordinary to hear a celibate express concern for the “traditional family”!
There are many kinds of families. For example, a same-sex couple who have adopted a child is a family, not a “traditional family” to be sure, but a family nonetheless.
On the other hand, Fr Twomey has made no contribution to the creation of a family, traditional or otherwise.
If anything “threatens the traditional family to its very foundations”, surely it is celibacy.
Fr Twomey need have no fear for the family, for all successful families are based on love, not on tradition, unless love be the tradition.
And since love comes from God, as Fr Twomey’s church teaches, then as long as God exists, so too will successful families. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Rev Dr Vincent Twomey claims “he is sad to say the synod’s agenda feeds into a bigger agenda, which is that of a secular society”. But as a “faithful Catholic” too, I think the agenda may actually be the result of enlightened leaders within the church reviewing its teaching with an up-to-date understanding of human nature and an appreciation that gay, separated, or divorced persons in committed and loving relationships should be fully welcomed within the Catholic Church. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – On the weekend that the synod of bishops in Rome were reluctant to provide a welcome for gays, lesbians, etc, a Catholic priest sues his former male partner for a share of a house they cohabited in.
Mixed messages indeed. – Yours, etc,
PATRICK S BRADY,
Sir, – We learned in The Irish Times of October 18th what the prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signatura, the prefect of the Papal Household of Pope Francis and the private secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict had to say regarding various church laws. Surely the very Christian priests and nuns, who live out among the real people, would be much better qualified to say what Jesus Christ might think. Jesus, unlike the above, had no fancy title. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The traditionalists’ warped view of Catholic beliefs has disturbingly held sway at the recent synod. They cling to outdated traditions, traditions which did not, do not and never will form part of the church’s core beliefs. Pope Francis has given hope to many Catholics that the much-needed change to these traditions is close at hand. The moment has now arrived for him to lead and transform. – Yours, etc,
Tai Tam, Hong Kong.
Sir, – It would be nice to think that the Holy Spirit is constantly at the side of Prof Twomey and his fellow Ionians as they trouble themselves so assiduously with our lack of holiness.
But maybe the Holy Spirit has other plans. Who knows? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I am a 73-year-old father and grandfather who would claim to be both a practising and obedient member of the Catholic Church. At my age, most of the issues for members of the church about marriage and sexual practices have a feeling of personal remoteness, and I can almost rest content to hope and pray that the church’s leaders will be enlightened and empowered by the Holy Spirit in all of its responses to its members’ needs or questions.
Dr Twomey believes that the preparation for and summoning of this synod (and certainly its interim report) are only causing confusion about “pastoral situations already causing havoc for people” – including those “clinging by their finger tips”. For some that may indeed be so but for me and, I am sure, many like me, his article only brings to the fore once again what, to my mind, is the single greatest dilemma for the modern church regarding a large proportion of its currently baptised membership – the use of artificial contraception by Catholic married couples for planning their families.
While these men and women do not (yet) aspire to the “holiness” of teaching emanating from Humanae Vitae such as Theology of the Body by John Paul II, they also do not (in their own conscience) regard their family-oriented and sexually faithful lives, in such regard, to be “gravely sinful”. Yet in such circumstance, it seems, John Paul has stated in his brilliant if erudite book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, when dealing with the necessity of the church for salvation, that members of the church “who do not persist in charity, even if they remain in the Church in ‘body’ but not in ‘heart’, cannot be saved”.
If we accept, as I feel we must, that these ordinary men and women will not soon, if ever, be persuaded that what they are doing is very wrong (or at all), and given as Dr Twomey seems to admit, that the better way has hardly ever been adequately preached from the pulpit (and also that many of them participate in the preparation of their children for first holy communion), I sincerely wonder if Dr Twomey and those who feel as strongly, might not yet hope that some sincere but realistic way could be found to include them in a meaningful way in the sacramental (and sanctifying) life of the church.
Or, if this hope be simplistic, what exactly should the church and its evangelical members be saying to these people and with what words should they be invited and encouraged, from where they are at, to renew their faithful membership. – Yours, etc,
Clane, Co Kildare.
Sir, – Irish Water is out of its depth. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Was this bonus business taken into account when calculating the average water charge?
Can the Taoiseach now quantify for us how much we all will be paying, on average, to cover the cost of these bonuses?
I don’t mind paying for a water supply but I strongly object to having to pay for bungling and featherbedding. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – So people on the Rental Accommodation Scheme are to be threatened with eviction for not paying water charges and inevitable call-out fees they can’t afford? That’s another 36,000-plus votes not going to the Government in the next general election. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The new water tax is not just about the supply and disposal of public water but is yet another Government-supplied gravy train for private individuals. Why are these people to be paid annual bonuses? Why isn’t every working man and woman on similar payouts? Because employers can’t afford them, that’s why. As a taxpayer I cannot afford to pay either the salaries or the bonuses of the new Irish Water staff. That’s that sorted then. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Bonuses for doing what you’re paid for? Gosh! – Yours etc,
Sir, – I have finally figured out how this water company is to work. First we have always paid for it though general taxation, but it leaks. So now, we are to pay a second tax to pay for the leaks. However, then, if we get a leak, we have to pay again (call-out charge) to fix the leak.
As a wise man once wrote, “it’s a great little country”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – One of the strongest points in favour of the water charges is that it will put a stop to the gallop of the wasters.
We have all heard the stories about people who leave their taps running so that the pipes won’t freeze and who lavish water on the garden, washing cars, etc, etc.
I am surprised at how badly this is explained. I am also surprised that the question is never put to the anti-charges people, “How would you deal with this awful waste?”
Already I find myself cutting down on the use of water in many different ways.
I wonder what people will think of us in a hundred years when they are told that we flushed our toilets with expensively purified water. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – John McAvoy, former general manager of the CAO, in his comments on TCD’s alternative entry assessment criteria (“Students are guinea pigs in Trinity’s experiment”, Education Opinion, October 14th), raises the key issue of the authenticity of the authorship of the essay which is a significant element of the proposed entry assessment procedure.
The Hyland report (2011) draws particular attention to this issue.
When dealing with the question of essays and personal statements, Hyland states that “plagiarism is common in countries where personal statements are required, and would be likely to occur here if such an option were introduced”.
On the question of the presentation of a portfolio, Hyland states that “issues of author verification would arise, as well as the advantage secured by candidates who might have had access to coaching and private support”.
The same would apply to an essay.
As regards the proposal to rate students relative to their school, Hyland has this to say: “Students might transfer to less advantaged schools in their final year to take advantage of the benefits such a system would confer”.
I sincerely hope that the realism of Mr McAvoy and Prof Hyland will not be ignored. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In his article “€4m plan for 1916 Rising ceremonies is a mystery” (Opinion & Analysis, October 18th), Diarmaid Ferriter states that the plans may be “an even bigger secret than were the plans for the Rising itself”.
Perhaps what is proposed by the Government is to replicate the events leading up to the Rising – plan, disagree, cancel and then go ahead at the last minute? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Prof Diarmaid Ferriter correctly deplores the lack of concrete information about the Government’s plans for the Easter Rising centenary commemorations, but may I express my disgust that the Government has seen fit to allocate an additional €4 million for these commemorations without offering any relief to the national cultural institutions – in particular, the National Library and National Museum – which have been starved of resources in recent years, with draconian cuts in funding and staffing? These institutions are the key bodies for meaningful research in Irish history and culture, and the allocation of these additional funds favours commemoration over history – a serious case of misplaced priorities.
The Romans used to think panem et circenses would keep the people happy, and this Government apparently takes the same dismal view. Its policy seems to be, better to have a spectacle in 2016 – a patriotic circus – than a deeper understanding of our history. – Yours, etc,
FELIX M LARKIN,
Sir, – Perhaps Jennifer O’Connell in her column should have referred to the taking on of her own surname (“Bear Mel Gibson’s example in mind, Mrs Clooney”, October 21st).
To quote from her column, “but you’ll never take away my surname”.
Presumably her mother took her husband’s name of O’Connell on her marriage and left behind her own “maiden name”, so why didn’t Ms O’Connell take on her mother’s original surname to use, rather than her father’s? This would be the logical step for her to take, even at this late stage, when she now criticises Amal Alamuddin for taking on her new husband’s name of Clooney! Is it not Mrs Clooney’s business as to what decision she has made in this regard and no one else’s? – Yours, etc,
Clontarf, Dublin 3.
Exaggeration of the proximity of Christmas is a striking feature of today’s commercial world. We become easy victims of the magic of marketing and the seduction of sales strategies with their relentless repetition of the message to ‘shop ’til we drop’.
The marketing surrounding Harry Potter memorabilia, in my opinion, takes the stimulation of a desire to possess trinkets to a new level. The Potter magic is weaving spells of acquisitiveness that appeal to the innocent gullibility of children. Be warned! Your little loved ones will not forgive you if you refuse to empty your purse into the coffers of a fairly ruthless business peddling these toys.
Vance Packard, in his book ‘The Hidden Persuaders’, was one of the first to raise awareness of the way advertisers manipulate our expectations by subliminally inducing desire for products. The world of advertising plays fast and loose with the truth in its determination to stimulate sales.
The morality of marketing techniques is rarely questioned. Just consider the power of ‘buy one get one free’ marketing, which has resulted in over-filled fridges and subsequent food waste. But then, moral imagination has no place in the world of conspicuous and extravagant consumption.
Advertisers claim that they are in the business of making it easier for people to get what they want by providing relevant information. A more accurate characterisation of their work may be that it fuels our insatiable drive towards having far more than enough, whilst so many are struggling to feed their families.
The modern supermarket replaces the cathedral, particularly in relation to Sunday attendance. No longer do we pray for what we want, but reach for it on the well-stocked shelves. Should we be unable to pay for what we purchase, the contemporary good Samaritan, the pay-day lender, comes to the rescue.
True Seanad reform needed
It is a year on from the Seanad abolition referendum and there is no sign of the sort of possible reform that was invoked by action groups such as ‘Democracy Matters’ as the primary justification for its retention.
If anything, the recent Cultural and Educational Panel by-election only served to highlight the inherently dysfunctional nature of the Seanad panel structure.
Obviously, there is a notorious sense of awareness regarding the unfulfilled, perennial nature of Seanad reform debates. There have been so many alternative proposals put forward that a bottleneck of ideas has itself influenced the constitutional inertia. Who is going to do something about it?
The answer to this dilemma is to give the electorate the opportunity to decide which is the best reform. To do so, however, there is a need for constitutional reform to allow ‘preferendums’ to be held. Only permitting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers in referendums has an anachronistic, stifling effect on our democracy. A preferendum would allow for many constitutional questions (not just on the Seanad) to be answered by the people more inclusively and conclusively.
Goatstown, Dublin 14
Bonus points for right answers
When is a “performance-related bonus” not a bonus?
Only when it is “water-tight”!
Now that is “gas”!
The Curragh, Co Kildare
Means testing and child benefit
Tanaiste Joan Burton has stoutly defended her decision to continue paying the Child Allowance without any reference to means. In a recently reported case of the disposal of two luxury homes on Dublin’s Shrewsbury Road, an estate agent confirmed that one of the properties was rented to an “Irish family” for €15,000 a month – that is €500 a day.
Someone should ask Ms Burton to repeat her justifications in light of the fact that there are families in Ireland with hungry children while, on the other hand, there are wealthy families which are automatically entitled to receive the same State payment that is clearly meant only to be a support where needed.
Rathedmond, Co Sligo
A dying man’s plea to Catholics
By way of introduction, I left Ireland in 1959, just after my 23rd birthday. After a short stay in France I moved to England in 1960 and Canada in 1966.
While my mental faculties are still functioning 100pc I am writing this letter from the intensive care unit of the hospital. My condition is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, for which there is no cure. It has taken a bad turn, so the future is unknown.
The amazing initial outcome is that I have been able to accept it with complete resignation. This is, I believe, because when I received the news in January last that I had six months to a year to live it enabled me to plan so that all necessary details of my affairs are in order, including funeral, etc. This will greatly help my wife and family.
This strength just did not come from the foretelling of my death. It came from the spiritual training I received growing up in Ireland. I have always drawn strength from this throughout my life, especially from a very special teacher at the national school I attended.
The bad apples in the clergy barrel of recent history don’t have the power to take away this inner strength given to me by God through the Catholic Church in Ireland.
My prayer is that Irish Catholics will take advantage of the fantastic spiritual assistance still available from the many loyal priests who are so deserving of their support and trust.
Looking from afar I thank God for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin who, despite humbly taking such public abuse, has done so much in regaining respectability for the church.
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Suffering not confined to Africa
Bob Geldof states that people in Africa are dying because they are poor, not because there is no medical care or food. This is true to some extent, but death, unbound bereavement, the feeling of loss and helplessness are not confined to the African continent.
They can also plague rich Western nations where there is abundance of medical care, medicines and food and where there are the best healthcare centres to care for patients and staunch the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola.
The mega rich in wealthy nations can also succumb to death through different vistas: drug addiction, mental health illnesses, terrible depressiveness and suicide. Death is inevitable. It intrudes itself unexpectedly into the lives of all without taking notice of their backgrounds, religions, beliefs, races and cultures. In this sense, it embodies God’s justice itself. It is therefore lamentable that people vie for power and resources.
In our shrinking world, the quest for hegemony and natural resources has led to authoritarianism, corruption, wars and viruses and there is no end in sight for our descent into chaos. This is an unholy war. This is where people declare themselves God’s chosen people on Earth to do God’s will.
What is needed is the will and bravery to confront ourselves and choose whether we want to live in our God’s image or do his will on Earth.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
Response: ‘And also with flu’
I got the impression from a medical person that one of the most likely ways of spreading cold, flu, etc is by shaking hands indiscriminately. In the context of Church services, as they say in the exam papers, please discuss.