22 October 2014 Caroline
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day off to get my feet rub by Caroline
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
The 11th Duke of Marlborough was the custodian of Blenheim Palace and preserved Vanbrugh’s baroque masterpiece for future generations
The Duke of Marlborough Photo: JOHN LAWRENCE
5:54PM BST 16 Oct 2014
The 11th Duke of Marlborough, who has died aged 88, devoted his life to preserving his family seat of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, for the benefit of future generations.
After inheriting the dukedom on the death of his father in 1972, the Duke applied his shrewd commercial flair to the business of pulling in the crowds, introducing regular opening hours, tea rooms, boat trips, as well as a gift shop, maze and butterfly house.
In what he described as “the ongoing battle of Blenheim”, he let out the house for corporate entertaining and the grounds for pop concerts, and even went so far as to open the family’s private apartments to the public.
He introduced proper accounts, insisting that every part of the business should be self-financing, and founded the Blenheim international horse trials, which have become a popular annual event.
Blenheim Palace owes its name to Blindheim, in Austria, where on August 13 1704 John Churchill, who had been created Duke of Marlborough in 1702, held back King Louis XIV’s troops and saved Vienna from a French attack.
To show her gratitude, Queen Anne presented the Duke with the royal manor of Woodstock in Oxfordshire and promised that a palace would be built for him in the grounds to be paid for by the Crown.
The baroque masterpiece that was created by Sir John Vanbrugh is a vast, triumphalist celebration of military victory. The Grinling Gibbons pinnacles show Marlborough’s coronet crushing the fleur-de-lis; the rooftop lions are biting into French cockerels; and there is a captured bust of Louis XIV in the centre of the south front.
The original layout of the trees in the park even mimicked Marlborough’s battle lines, though the grounds were redesigned under the 4th Duke by Capability Brown.
Yet even Queen Anne did not anticipate the grandeur and huge expense of Blenheim, and the house went on to become a financial burden to the Dukes of Marlborough for more than 300 years. The huge expense of maintaining the house often tempted them to desperate stratagems that did little for their reputation — or happiness. Gladstone famously remarked: “There never was a Churchill from John of Marlborough that had either morals or principles”.
In recent generations, the “wicked” 8th Duke had sold off many of Blenheim’s treasures to pay for the Palace’s upkeep; the 9th Duke sold himself to the American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, in one of the most unhappy and blatantly arranged marriages in history. Their son, the 10th Duke, was once described by Auberon Waugh as “one of the most richly absurd characters the English aristocracy ever produced, famous for his appalling rudeness, amazing tactlessness and quite extraordinary greed”.
Yet despite their efforts, when the 11th Duke inherited the titles and estates, the Palace and park were in a poor state and he was forced to surrender the Blenheim archives to meet death duties.
The Duke of Marlborough in his study at Blenheim (JOHN LAWRENCE)
“It would be wrong to say,” he observed, “that I was longing to inherit because that would suggest I wanted my father to die, but there were certain things that couldn’t be done while he was alive.”
The 11th Duke’s achievement was in succeeding where so many of his ancestors had failed: in maintaining and improving his estate without compromising his principles or reputation. It was, the Duke said, his dearest wish “to ensure that my heir finds the place in the best possible state of repair and the estate in good order.”
It was a gruelling, uphill battle. Repainting the interiors took seven years, and rewiring took another seven. In 2009 the Duke had to spend £1 million to rebuild the Blenheim Dam and its adjoining cascade, created by “Capability” Brown, to comply with a law requiring that such structures be able to withstand a one-in-10,000-years flood
The Duke’s first two marriages had ended in divorce, and his heir, James, Marquess of Blandford, his eldest surviving son by his first marriage, was deemed for many years to be unsuitable to assume responsibility for the estate. A troubled man with a drugs problem, the Marquess clocked up a string of convictions for burglary, assault, and drugs and driving offences.
In 1994 the Duke and the trustees of the estate obtained a High Court order preventing Lord Blandford from having any management powers over the estate after the Duke’s death. A new trust was established that would oversee the estate’s assets after the Duke’s death, and then pass control to the Marquess’s son, George, when he succeeded. But in 2012, after the Marquess was reported to have been drug-free for five years, the Duke told a television documentary that he would inherit not just the title, but would also be given an executive role in the running of Blenheim Palace — although, like the Duke himself, he would be answerable to the trustees .
The Marquess had often blamed his father for his problems and, partly as a result, the debonair 6ft 5in Duke was sometimes described by profile writers as being remote, formal and stuffy. But the American author Bill Bryson found him “a charming man”, and other interviewers were often surprised to find themselves won over by his sense of humour and warm chuckle. His workforce at Blenheim regarded him as a benign if exacting employer; in 1989 he announced that he would be paying the poll taxes of workers and tenants on his estate.
John George Vanderbilt Henry Spencer-Churchill was born on April 13 1926, the elder son of the 10th Duke of Marlborough by his first marriage to Mary Cadogan, daughter of Viscount Chelsea. His father’s cousin, Winston Churchill, himself born at Blenheim, was one of his godparents.
After Eton, the young Lord Blandford, as he then was, joined the Life Guards, from which he retired in the rank of captain in 1952. Thereafter he involved himself in the management of Blenheim, particularly in the public opening of the Palace.
While his father was still alive, he lived five miles away at Lee Place, a country house which he kept on after becoming duke as a retreat for the family during the busy summer opening season. During the 1950s he served as a councillor on Oxfordshire County Council and became a magistrate.
Having inherited the Marlborough peerages in 1972, the Duke took his seat in the House of Lords and in his maiden speech the next year drew attention to the damage caused to sheep flocks by badgers. After that, he contributed only occasionally to debates, though he was for many years a member of the House of Lords bridge team. He lost his seat in the Lords when Labour banished all but 92 of the hereditary peers in 1999.
The Duke was chairman of Martini Rossi from 1979 to 1996 and president of the Thames and Chilterns Tourist Board from 1974. He also served as president of the Oxfordshire Association for Young People and of the Oxfordshire branch of the Country Landowners’ Association. He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Oxfordshire in 1974.
He was a first-class shot and a good horseman, riding hard to hounds with the Heythrop. He was president of the Sports Aid Foundation (South Eastern Area) and of Oxford United Football Club in 1955. In 1959 he was honorary vice-president of the Football Association.
The Duke’s first wife, whom he married in 1951, was Susan Hornby, daughter of the deputy chairman of WH Smith. They had a daughter and two sons, the eldest of whom died aged two. When, shortly afterwards, his wife left him for another man, the Duke gained custody of their children; they divorced in 1961.
Tina Livanos, the former wife of the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, became the Duke’s second wife in 1961. She left him to marry Stavros Niarchos, who had previously been married to her sister. She and the Duke divorced in 1971.
The Duke married thirdly, in 1972, Rosita Douglas, the daughter of a Swedish count and ambassador to the United States. With her, he had another daughter and two sons, the eldest of whom died in infancy. The marriage was dissolved in 2008, and in the same year he married Lily Mahtani — her father, Narinder Sahni, has been a top executive with the Hinduja Group.
The Duke is succeeded to the Marlborough titles by his eldest son James, Marquess of Blandford, who was born in 1955.
The 11th Duke of Marlborough, born April 13 1926, died October 16 2014
‘While George Osborne scrabbles around the empty economic policies cupboard for pre-election sweeteners, it is time for everyone else to realise the patently obvious fact that you cannot have true economic growth if you keep reducing people’s pay.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for The Guardian
Ha-Joon Chang powerfully argues the case that it was “an economic fairytale” which “led Britain to stagnation” (Opinion, 20 October). It may be added that our universities bear a heavy responsibility for this situation. Certainly, it cannot be denied that the fairytale paradigm (“supply-and-demand”, competition in the market, and all the rest of it) can be applied to any economic issue. The point, however, is that the currently dominant adherents of this approach deny that any other approach can even claim to be economics at all; indeed, adherents of other schools of thought have very largely been purged from our university economics departments.
Proponents of the fairytale justify this stranglehold by claiming that all former insights into the economy that have stood the test of time have now been incorporated into their own – narrowly quantitative – “modelling” framework: thus, Keynes’s discussions of uncertainty are reduced to “models” of expectations, Hayek’s alternative to neoclassicism into models of “price messages”, Marx’s heritage into models of inequality, Ricardo’s into “rent-seeking”, and so on. Consequently, so the argument goes, there is no longer any basis for the claim that there are different schools of thought in economics. There is only one.
It is the inflexible grip of this intolerant orthodoxy on university economics departments which has so signally distanced academic economics from engagement in discussion and debate outside the academic arena, much of which is directed towards questioning its fairytales. It is, by the same token, very encouraging that students who reject their approach have in the past year or more been reintroducing into university economics departments the kind of vibrant debate which ought to lie at the heart of academic life.
Dr Hugh Goodacre
Member of the academic board, University College London
• Ha-Joon Chang’s lucid analysis of the coalition’s economic record missed one crucial ingredient: the role of the banks in using public debt to facilitate a putative recovery. Armed with £375bn of artificial credit funded by the quantitative easing policy, banks ignored the real economy and lent 80% of it to speculators and homebuyers, with little heed of the 2008 crash in financial markets which we were assured must not happen again. This vast increase in the money supply will never be repaid even though legally it is a loan by the central bank, and ends up added to the national debt, but this appears not to bother George Osborne. So there is a massive contradiction in the government’s fiscal and monetary policies, such as they are. Another obvious anomaly in the welter of official statistics, some quoted by Ha-Joon Chang, is that of the claimed 1.8m new jobs “created” over four years, 75% are part-time and at low wages; if true, this merely fuels the Ukip narrative that jobs are being taken mainly by “foreigners”, since official unemployment was 2.6m when the coalition took office and has only come down by 600,000 in four years, implying that at least 1m new jobs have not dented official jobless numbers. Furthermore, the official figures are always quoted before offsetting job losses over the same period, so are misleading.
The real tragedy for the public is that the most neoliberal Tory government in 70 years has deliberately eschewed macroeconomic stimulus in favour of a very short-term political strategy aimed squarely at those most likely to vote Conservative and abandoning the rest to “market forces”. I suspect that when the next Labour government examines the books it will discover more than just a few holes and almost certainly that “there is no more money left”, since taxes are falling despite a recovery, suggesting that the GDP figures are highly dubious.
• The two Eds might usefully consider producing a short script, based on Ha-Joon Chang’s piece, for all Labour spokespersons to use from now on to rebut the tendentious assertions by coalition ministers, MPs and their economic policy groupies and fellow travellers about how Labour “crashed the economy” and how in spite of that they are bringing about a marvellous economic renaissance.
• Is it really “the unending economic crisis” that “makes us feel powerless” (Paul Mason, G2, 20 October), or the persistent failure by those in power to act in the interests of ordinary people? To blame the economic crisis is to accept the current dogma of mainstream politicians and the elite, who like us to think that we are all in the same boat, with the same worries. But their interests – in high property prices, regressive taxes, cheap labour and privatised services – are the opposite of those of most people. There’s a very great deal that can be done, even in our globalised world, to regain power and control at local and national levels. And we don’t need to look as far as Greece to find inspiration. The yes campaign in Scotland was – and is – as much about creating a fairer and more equal society and protecting public services, as about civic nationalism. Even without independence, the SNP is proposing fairer property taxes. Naming the problem an “economic crisis” gives the impression of a force beyond human control; naming it a crisis of decision-making by those in power makes it much more open to challenge.
• So it takes a woman to show real statesmanlike quality in a political economy dominated by men, as first Christine Lagarde and now Janet Yellen point out that the ever-rising inequality we have experienced over the last few decades is counter to the basic principle of equality of opportunitiy on which free societies are based (Report, 18 October). But both know that there is more to it than that: rising inequality also threatens the day-to-day functioning of such states. There is a limit, soon reached, to how much a single family can consume, so that the redistribution of income from poorer to richer families must lead to a chronic deficiency of demand for reproducible goods. Ever-cheaper credit to those who are income- and asset-poor is the only way of sustaining purchasing power, but with the ultimately unbearable strain that this puts on financial markets. Austerity packages that hit the poor still further only make matter worse. In his new role as senior statesman, the ex-money-market man Nigel Farage should be banging on about this rather than immigration and the EU.
William Dixon and David Wilson
London Metropolitan University
• Ed Balls is now apparently backing away from an effective property tax (Balls seeks to calm fears in London over mansion tax, 21 October). However, as your chart on the rise of the super-rich showed (UK wealth in numbers, 15 October), individual wealth increased by £1.67tn in the last year. To put this in perspective, the increase in assets has exceeded the GDP of the UK as a whole; more money has been made from wealth than from working. If just 10% of this increase were taxed, the resultant revenue could pay off both the UK deficit and the student loan book, while helping to restore the NHS budget. Labour should recognise that, whatever the problems besetting the UK, shortage of money is not one of them. What is needed is the clear political will to tax unearned wealth fairly.
Dr Mark Ellis
• Three articles in the same day’s Guardian had the same message. Ha-Joon Chang, Paul Mason and Amelia Gentleman (Coalition Britain) all, in different ways, said that austerity – and shortage of money for the majority of the population and public sector – was the reason why the economy was not functioning strongly, individuals were demoralised and services were inadequate. Hasn’t the time come for a campaign for a new economic vision – led by the Guardian?
• The UK does need a counter-narrative on the economy. Thankfully, one is already emerging locally and laterally. Any political party that thinks it can build an engaging economic narrative from the top down is living in a previous century.
Local collaborations on empty-space use, a growth in community energy cooperatives, an abundance of crowdfunded projects, and the way some local authorities are spending for maximum social value are evidence of a new momentum on bottom-up, socially minded economic growth. It is a growth model that embraces new technologies and old “friendly-society”-style inclusion; it is market-based but socially driven. It is time for Labour leaders to follow the people, and help them unleash the power in their local communities to develop a new narrative and a new economic reality.
Chief executive, Social Enterprise UK
• Borrowing is increasing under this government, as the gaping black hole in government finances is swallowing up another £100bn-plus of borrowing this year. The truth is that the deficit has hardly reduced since 2010/11, only partly reducing because of Post Office pension and mobile phone licence windfalls into the government coffers. Add to this the fact that tax receipts are increasing at half the rate that they have been for 50 years and the corporation tax giveaway reduction by Osborne from 28% to 20% is now depriving the public finances of £8bn per year. We would be unlikely to know that this economic mismanagement has been taking place, as our BBC, ITV, radio and newspaper journalists (with the exception of the Guardian) seem wilfully incapable of bringing this to our attention. I am yet to hear Andrew Marr, Andrew Neil, James Naughtie, Evan Davis or even Martha “deficit denier” Kearney ask a government spokesperson to explain why the deficit remains stubbornly high and why for the first time in history a government would have doubled debt in one term of office, or even to draw the obvious link between low wages and low tax receipts. Our journalists are still in thrall to the debt narrative, when the facts are pointing to a failure of austerity. If they started to ask these questions, who knows, even the Labour leadership may start drawing attention to it.
Cllr Barry Kushner
Labour, Norris Green ward, Liverpool city council
• Those of a certain age may remember a BBC TV series called Tomorrow’s World that reported on new technological, scientific and medical discoveries that would improve the lives of everybody. The way these were described suggested an end to drudgery and soul-destroying jobs like fitting wheel nuts on a Ford, and shorter working hours and working weeks for everyone; production of abundant food would abolish famine, medical advances would eradicate malaria, cholera and so on. Science and technology would be used for the greater common good. It sounds like a socialist pipe dream now because the reality is the opposite. All the patents and rights to these scientific, medical and technological advances were acquired by Big Business solely to make huge profits, accumulate great wealth and put unbridled power into the hands of unelected, ruthless megalomaniacs. Too many of us have become slaves to technology working longer hours for less pay, no holidays because of zero-hours contracts, living in glorified rabbit hutches, eating unhealthy, mass-produced convenience foods and kept docile by talent shows, soap operas, football and endless repeats of Friends on the telly – the modern-day equivalent of bread and circuses; the Roman empire’s means of pacifying the plebs. Yes, capitalism works. But only for the 1%. Successive governments have sleep walked us into this dilema, and TTIP will only make matters worse. Marching through Whitehall changes nothing. Time for a completely new kind of politics.
• The prime minister has opened the statutory Tory campaign against inheritance tax, by saying that it should be paid only by “the very wealthy”, and adds ‘you should be able to pass a family home on to your children rather than leave it to the taxman” (PM backs rise in inheritance tax threshold, 15 October).
If he believes that the widows and children of hard-working men are being thrown out of their homes up and down the country to meet enormous IHT bills, he needs to be reintroduced to reality.
Liability to IHT begins with estates of £325,000. The latest figures, for 2011-12, show that there were about 30,000 estates of between that figure and £500,000. But that is before various reliefs and exemptions that reduce the number actually liable to under 3,000. Their average income is £380,000, and four out of five had owned their homes – worth £230,000 on average. The IHT they paid worked out at £23,000 – again on average.
In 2011-12 fewer than 16,000 were charged IHT – less than 3% of the number of deaths. That seems as good a definition of the “very wealthy” as any. And as to being forced to sell up to meet the IHT bill, HMRC are prepared to accept payments over 10 years, or await the next sale to collect their money. Perhaps the prime minister could find out how many houses have had to be sold?
• Deborah Orr (Anti-politics is all the rage, on radical left and right, 18 October) uses the disability debate to point out the fundamental difference in thinking between the left and right in politics. Conservatives (whether they describe themselves as “neolib” or not) hold that things would be so much better “if only the market could be left to make decisions unimpeded by the state”. Those of us who think somewhat more to the left hold that both the state and the market should exist for the sake of citizens, not the other way around. After all, this is in the interest of the market. They make their money by supplying demand. They won’t make money if demand in the form of citizens’ incomes is too low to sustain their supply.
Deborah rightly points out all the faults and unfairness of an unregulated market, but like all commentators these days fails to suggest possible solutions. When I had a business in Plymouth years ago I always paid my staff a living wage regardless of so-called disabilities, regardless also of business ups and downs, such that at times I drew out for my family less than staff wages. The business survived, largely because of staff loyalty. So my answer in the current debate is simple. If some employers are not prepared to accept an element of social responsibility, then they should be made to do so by regulation. For example, if say 10% of the working population are regarded as having a disability, then employers should be made to employ the same percentage in their workforce at the same rate as for all employees.
I can imagine the neolib response to this, how unfair this would be to business. Not at all. Business is reaping all the rewards in our society, at the expense of citizens, whether taxpayers, employees or consumers. It’s time they were made to return the favour.
In a wider context, Deborah talks about anti-politics being “all the rage”. Of course it is. Until the left comes out of its shell and starts shouting passionately about how our society can escape the neolib trap and start promoting an altogether more fair and equal society, people will remain dismissive.
• So with a degree of predictability we see that the national debt is now £1.45tn, more than £100bn higher than the same point last year (Government borrowing 10% higher than last year, theguardian.com, 21 October). The government’s much-heralded economic recovery is a recovery of low-waged, unpredictable and unstable jobs which automatically drives up in-work benefits, lowers tax receipts and leads to an entirely misleading form of economic growth based on increased personal debt.
A possible solution for this might be to commit to investing in better-paid and secure jobs to reduce in-work benefits and increase tax receipts. An example? There is clear evidence that healthcare spending improves economic growth. Local hospitals are therefore fundamental to the local economy. Instead we have £20bn cuts dressed up as efficiency savings , £10.8bn in savings made either by underpaying staff or cutting staffing, and a failure to give NHS staff even a 1% pay increase. This health context is a perfect microcosm of what has gone wrong with recent economic policy. That is, the clear evidence that investment in NHS staff pay and staff leads to real growth is ignored because it doesn’t fit with the demands of free-market dogma, privatisation and the interests of party funders.
While George Osborne scrabbles around the empty economic policies cupboard for pre-election sweeteners, it is time for everyone else to realise the patently obvious fact that you cannot have true economic growth if you keep reducing people’s pay.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action party
Your correspondent seems to assume that Patrick Gordon Walker was parachuted in to a safe seat in Smethwick in 1964 (Letters, 21 October). However, he was the sitting MP and had been since 1945. Even though Gordon Walker lost his seat, Harold Wilson still made him foreign secretary.
The allegation of carpetbagging was certainly true of Gordon Walker’s next attempt to re-enter parliament when a byelection was engineered in the safe seat of Leyton, only for him to be rejected by the local electorate. Perhaps your reader is confusing these two events.
• Like Eva Joyce (Guidelines from our own correspondents, Letters, 20 October), I “glance first at the headlines of the letter groups” when deciding what to read. So imagine my disappointment that under the headline to the left (as always) of her letter, “Scotland needs you to finish the job, Gordon”, I end up reading more stuff about Gordon Brown, rather than Gordon Strachan and his quest for European Championship qualification.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
• “The hunt for Reds in October” (front page headline, 20 October)? The Soviet Union collapsed over 20 years ago. The Russians are no longer “the Reds”, whatever smart film allusion you might be trying to make. Use headlines to tell us the news, not to increase hysteria.
Ian Mac Eochagáin
• Re the comment from a student protester that objections to two women kissing in a Brighton Sainsbury’s were surprising, “something he might expect in his home town of Southampton” (Love in the aisles, 16 October). This year Southampton is celebrating 50 years as a city, and many same-sex couples walk in the city centre exchanging a cuddle or kiss – no one bats an eyelid.
• The Kleptocene (Letters, passim)?
Stereoscopic image of an enzyme (serine hydroxymethyltransferase, SH) that is a potential target for anti-cancer drug development. The research work was carried out at The Institute of Cancer Research, University of London, and was published in the scientific journal Structure. Image: Dr Keith Snell
Readers wondering why a pair of stereoscopic images accompanied the story of Brian May’s Tate exhibition (Brian May turns up the stereo with Victorian 3D photos at Tate Britain, 21 October) when they need to be seen through “the lenses of a special viewer” can relax. The equipment is readily available in the form of your eyes. The technique is to hold the page about 12 inches in front of the face and focus on a point midway between the two images. Allowing the eyes to cross will combine the outer images into a central one which is then seen as stereoscopic.
Far from being a Victorian relic, such stereoscopic viewing is routinely used in scientific papers published in journals of structural molecular biology.
Dr Keith Snell
Clacton-on-Sea may be on the end of the line in railway terms but its “failing” comprehensive school, Bishops Park college, has lessons for today (The coastal schools neglected by national initiatives, 16 October). Students felt at home, known and cared for in the three small schools that made up its campus. The school was built on the “schools within a school” model, which provides a more personalised education for all students. The integrated curriculum combined with imaginative teaching methods made possible the mixed ability teaching that was part of a whole-school commitment to inclusion and social justice.
By the time it closed in 2009 nearly all its 16-year-old leavers were going on into jobs, training or further education – a huge achievement in an area of high unemployment and low aspiration. There were nil rates of pregnancy and of permanent exclusion. Parents and the local community supported the school and used the campus facilities.
Bishops Park did not achieve the GCSE results demanded by the Department for Education. But it did not fail. What it did achieve was a school community that respected the talents and interests of all its students and gave them an authentic experience of living in the 21st century. The most important lesson to be learned from its short history is that there is an urgent need to rethink our notions of success and failure.
• Your article on coastal schools rightly highlighted their difficulty in securing excellent outcomes for students and recruiting and retaining teachers and headteachers.
Geographical isolation can present significant challenges, but the government has most definitely not left these schools behind. There are a number of government initiatives in place to support schools like Clacton Coastal academy.
Through the pupil premium – extra funding worth £2.5bn a year – we are helping schools transform the way we educate our disadvantaged children. And this is working – a recent report by Ofsted showed that the achievement gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is closing.
But the importance of high-quality leadership in our schools cannot be overstated. We know there is a strong link between school leadership, quality of teaching, and outcomes for pupils. That is why last month I launched Talented Leaders, a programme run by the Future Leaders Trust that aims to recruit 100 exceptional school leaders and match them with schools that are facing some of the toughest challenges – predominantly those in rural, coastal or deprived areas that are finding it difficult to attract a great leader.
These brilliant heads will provide a real leadership boost to a struggling school, help to spread excellence and drive up standards across the area. We are currently recruiting the first cohort of leaders who will be in post by September 2015. Further heads will be recruited and appointed by September 2016.
And, as a further step towards tackling underperformance, we also recently announced a £13m school-to-school support fund, which over the next two years will enable our existing pool of exceptional leaders – the national leaders of education – to support schools in areas of greatest need.
David Laws MP
Please be clear when you claim it is not “hard to argue that the national sport is booming” (Fans are more than mere customers. It’s time for reforms that could give them some clout, Editorial, 20 October) that you are referring to football spectating. Sport England’s Active People Survey shows that participation in football continues to decrease from 4.97% to 4.33% of the population and that 94% of participants are male. In fact, if walking is excluded, swimming is the national sport for participation, and 64% of participants are female. Running and cycling, in which the sexual division of play is also much more equal, are not far behind. This is important because the “booming national sport” narrative appears to legitimise spending more money on football than any other sport. This means Sport England funding per participant is £38 for football, but only £8 for swimming, £11 for athletics and £16 for cycling. In participation terms, football is neither the national sport nor booming. So, in what way does this constitute financial fair play?
Senior lecturer, sport and physical activity policy, University of Cumbria
Dr Fadipe, a Nigerian doctor who was infected with the Ebola virus and survived, credits oral rehydration fluid for his recovery. On 20 October, the World Health Organization declared the country Ebola-free. Photograph: Andrew Esiebo/WHO/AP
As we have seen with the terrible Ebola outbreak, Africa still has huge problems (On the Ebola frontline, G2, 21 October). Why doesn’t each of the EU countries adopt an African nation, to make a difference by practical help, leadership, technology and encouragement? Scotland adopted Malawi a while ago. It would be interesting to see which EU countries could make the most difference to its adoptee – and all would learn from a competitive spirit and from each other. Africa need not be like it is. It has the long-term capability to be a great resource in the world economy as a supplier and as a market. It could also help relieve the problems associated with migration to the EU (Record numbers of migrants have died in the Mediterranean, 21 October). If Africa’s economies could be fully developed, perhaps its peoples would not need to risk death to escape.
• Korto Williams makes a crucial point in arguing that an holistic approach is essential in dealing with Ebola (Letters, 20 October). Simply sending money will not work, not just because so much will be skimmed off to support the lifestyles of corrupt politicians, but because so often countries in that region do not have the capacity to implement top-down solutions. In my own experience working on HIV/Aids in Malawi, Unicef made the fundamental error of insisting on imposing a grand strategy – in a country without the framework of governance to implement it. What the country did and does have is a huge number of dedicated and capable people who would be able to cope if only they had the support they needed to do so. Simple measures such as providing health workers with bicycles to travel between villages has a vastly greater potential to help in a country without adequate public transport.
Dr Richard Carter
Let’s all work together
Twice in the 10 October Guardian Weekly, I noted writers citing population growth as the elephant in the room with regard to climate change. Margaret Perkins (Reply) suggests that population growth is the “number one accelerator of climate change”. John Gray’s review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything suggests that Klein actively avoids overpopulation as the “powerful driver of environmental crisis”.
What stumps me about the shrill voice of these arguments is the silencing effect of their pronouncements: “too many people”. So, who’s first to jump? Your family? Or that nice group over there? What are you going to do about it? Who wants to discuss the effect of China’s one-child policy?
Not yet having read Klein’s latest, I’d venture that she and many others have understood humankind’s crisis as that of a rather overvirulent species. It’s not that we’re breeding; it’s that we’re living in a self-destructive manner. Let’s have a discussion on the new ways forward, rather than finger-pointing the numbers.
Billions of termites work collaboratively. Surely we can too.
Wellington, New Zealand
• I was intrigued by the near-juxtaposition of your article on increased volcanic activity (10 October) and your review of Naomi Klein’s recent book on climate change. The article mentions that receding glaciers may lead to increased volcanic activity, but it does not mention that volcanic activity can lead to global cooling because of ash clouds cutting off sunlight.
Now it appears that reducing ice cover may increase volcanic activity, thus leading to global cooling. Could these fearsome volcanoes save humanity from climate doom?
Russia and Ukraine
I read complaints about the Russians using their gas as a political weapon (Ukraine shivers in gas row, 3 October). Should they stay put while ever-tougher sanctions are thrown in their face? The billions granted from the western-dominated IMF to the Ukrainian government could be used to pay for the military campaign. Is that not a political weapon? And what about the $5bn paid since 1991 by the US government for pro-western groups in Ukraine?
There is a great deal of hypocrisy all around and less and less is clear. But at least we have an enemy to focus on instead of the worsening economy and the social crisis rampant in western democracies.
• I wonder why an entire page was awarded to a Russian writer and novelist so he may vent his personal malice on President Vladimir Putin (26 September). Mikhail Shishkin suggests he has a clairvoyant understanding of Putin’s plans and thoughts, then proceeds to belittle them. He has also assembled well-known criticisms of Putin, given them his own personal touch, then heaps on cliched innuendo and insult.
I do not look forward to such pamphleteering in future editions.
Rosebery, Northern Territory, Australia
Battle across the Channel
Although I cannot but agree with John Lewis boss Andy Street that the Gare du Nord in Paris is not the most welcoming of places, how can he even imagine comparing London’s St Pancras (which I would qualify as a shopping mall, with John Lewis prominently represented, with a railway station as an accessory) with the Gare du Nord, which is the biggest railway station passenger-wise in Europe and second worldwide? (10 October). People abroad are getting rather fed up with the British half-apologetic “it was just a joke”, “it wasn’t serious” as an excuse for insulting all and sundry.
I hope others will follow my example: having been a regular patron of John Lewis on my regular return visits to the UK, I shall no longer set foot in one of their stores.
Meaning of independence
So Ukip have won their first parliamentary seat: this is an indictment both of the voting public and mainstream politics (17 October). I can certainly see how this brand of politics can gain popularity and some of Nigel Farage’s rhetoric, especially his criticism of Brussels, does ring true. But the bubbling undertones of xenophobia leave a really bad taste.
I felt a similar bad taste during the Scottish referendum campaign, where the two main economic planks for Scotland seemed to be: a) to keep oil revenue and b) to offer tax deals to attract international corporations to Scotland.
So what is “independence”? Is it keeping foreigners out, keeping revenue for yourself and having the freedom to roll over and tout yourself as a tax haven to corporations? It should be far more than that.
How can any western country declare independence when most of what we consume is imported from low-cost production zones on the other side of the planet? Trade with distant sources is OK if it is fair and balanced, but if milk can be produced around the corner and if bread and clothing and pots and pans can be produced in your own town or region, then those things should be sourced locally rather than from centralised, automated production centres or from ultra-low-cost sweatshops at the other end of an inhumane, CO2-intensive, corporate supply chain.
We need to take a long hard look at issues of independence, exploitation and the kind of society we really want to live in.
• It is believed that language both reflects, and affects, the way we think. Whether Irvine Welsh’s choice of language merely reflected his thinking on Scottish independence, or was a conscious attempt to affect ours, even he possibly does not know (26 September).
His words regarding total separation, “the aspiration towards democracy”, were a sleight of hand, and avoided the complexities of the democracy question.
While most democrats would favour decentralisation, it is not clear that the total removal of direct democratic representation to the higher level (UK) is without cost to the Scottish voter.
Having an accessible representative (MP) acting on my constituency’s behalf on any remaining matters that Scotland will share with the other parts of the UK seems to me, as a voter, more democratic than having my views diluted and mediated by a small Holyrood elite.
These are still sensitive times, and complex questions of what is more democratic should be considered as impartially as possible.
• I was amused to learn that Mataelpino has abandoned running in front of bulls in favour of a large polystyrene ball (10 October), especially as it is a village not 10km from where I live. Our locals still run ahead of bulls (though you have to wonder at a culture where running away is deemed a display of bravery). But no wonder the residents of Mataelpino have abandoned the tradition – they were historically clearly not the most macho, as the name of their village translates as “kill the pine tree”.
• It is disappointing that Richard Adams (3 October) does not mention whether the literacy test given to schoolchildren in England covered comprehension. If all that the test checked was to see whether children could sound out or pronounce words correctly, it is no great surprise that they managed. Isn’t that precisely what the phonics method focuses on – at the expense of encouraging children to find meaning? Your report suggests that there is nothing wrong in this approach. For nearly 40 years, the child’s search for meaning has been known to be the prime goal of early literacy. The English system seems bent on progressing backwards.
• You raise the concern (10 October) that China is “project[ing] power far beyond” its borders. As a result, its planes and US military aircraft are frequently meeting over the East China and South China seas. The East China sea sounds pretty close to China but it’s a long way from the US. Just who is projecting power far beyond its borders?
• The revelations in Harriet Sherwood’s front-page report (Isis and the schoolgirl jihadis, 3 October) came as shock. The explanation as to the cause followed in Paul Verhaeghe’s Neoliberal economy brings out the worst in us.
Terrace, British Columbia, Canada
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.
Sir, Lord Adonis and others want us to build at least 240,000 homes a year, and say that “the country must set itself on a sustainable path . . . Our children deserve no less” (“Direction needed”, letter, Oct 20).
Our children deserve to inherit a truly sustainable country. Endless growth, which of course means endless destruction of the environment, is impossible in our small and finite land. It leads to ever-increasing overcrowding and ever-reducing quality of life.
The crisis affecting our country is not the lack of housing but the strain imposed on the nation by rapid and continual population growth. Official projections confirm that the UK population is likely to rise from 64 million in 2012 to 70 million by 2027. Although more distant projections are less certain, the expectation is for continued growth, to 73 million by 2037, 75 million by 2050, 80 million by 2071, 85 million by 2087 and 90 million by 2112.
The urgent need is for a policy to aim for a sustainable population — our children deserve no less.
May Bank, Staffs
Sir, Your correspondents make a sound case for comprehensive housing development of 240,000 houses a year. But since that target, even if achievable, will involve an inevitable delay in negotiations and approvals, why not adopt a realistic short-cut through the provision of factory-made, flat-pack houses on short-leased brownfield sites, as we did in helping to solve the postwar housing shortage via the extremely popular prefabs?
As before, tenants could be offered more permanent houses when they become available and the sites then be released for permanent development. The flat-pack houses could be re-erected elsewhere, as needed, in a rolling programme.
Sir, Lord Adonis wants us to build new housing but offers no concrete suggestions. In our tiny cul-de-sac we are fighting builders who are trying to get planning permission to build four three-bedroom houses, in what is, for London, an average back garden, their excuse being that the houses are desperately needed.
If only the government would look at the bigger picture the answer is staring them in the face. Build Boris Johnson’s estuary airport and use Heathrow to build a complete new town right next to London. The infrastructure is all there right down to the Tube station, and the price of the land would go a long way to paying for the new airport.
Sir, Nick Donovan, the managing director of TransPenine, says he is short of nine trains and can see no solution to the shortage of rolling stock (“Key rail line faces being shunted into sidings”, Oct 20). Yet many railway preservation societies have carefully maintained working diesel engines and serviceable carriages that might fill the gap.
Everyone could win. The company could provide an improved service, the railway societies would gain a solid income stream and be seen to be acting in the public interest.
Alciston, E Sussex
Sir, Dame Judi Dench may have little trouble memorising poetry (Oct 20) but many of us would fail with modern works which fail to adhere to the strictures of the late Auberon Waugh that they should “rhyme, scan and make sense”. Today’s stream-of-consciousness stuff eludes me by its self-indulgent wanderings.
Come back Kipling, Eliot and Auden, all is forgiven.
Sir, Nick Donovan, the managing director of TransPenine, says he is short of nine trains and can see no solution to the shortage of rolling stock (“Key rail line faces being shunted into sidings”, Oct 20). Yet many railway preservation societies have carefully maintained working diesel engines and serviceable carriages that might fill the gap.
Everyone could win. The company could provide an improved service, the railway societies would gain a solid income stream and be seen to be acting in the public interest.
Alciston, E Sussex
Sir, There is nothing new about playing darts against sightless players — and with no “strings” attached (Oct 21). After the Second World War, a team from St Dunstan’s played a team from the British Legion. The rules were the same, except that the Legion had to start and finish on a double. St Dunstan’s beat us!
Sir, You report that British visitors to the café in Adinkerke are pleased to see “a bottle of HP sauce standing proudly on the counter” (“Smokers take ‘fag ferry’ to stock up and beat taxman”, Oct 21). Let’s hope they don’t notice the label, which says “Made in the Netherlands”.
Sir, Dr Michael Mosley’s advice on how to test the freshness of eggs (“What to do with old food”, Times2, Oct 21), reminded me of living in the late 1950s in The Gambia, where my mother would test the eggs being sold to her by a doorstep salesman by immersing them in a bucket of water. If they lay horizontally at the bottom she bought them; if they floated, she didn’t. The test never failed.
A 1976 Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR3 Jump Jet Photo: Silverstone Auctions
6:56AM BST 21 Oct 2014
The situation developing in Ukraine and the Middle East may require, once again, everything this country can provide, including both new aircraft carriers. Britain’s “next generation” fighter, the
F-35, is not ready, not serviceable, not battle-proven and is so expensive that only small numbers are ordered.
Financial prudence was argued in the decision to withdraw the Harrier. However, it is still held in such high regard by other operators – including the USA, who purchased all our Harriers when they were decommissioned – that they will remain in service for many years yet. Britain’s financial circumstances and the world’s security situation have both changed since this decision was made.
We need our carriers soon and fully equipped with battle-proven aircraft to give them fighting capability. Harriers of existing specification should be manufactured urgently and in significant numbers. The unit cost would be a fraction of that of the F-35 and they would be in service much earlier. When the F-35 proves itself, it could then be introduced, but aircraft carriers without aircraft are a liability, not an asset.
In the hours before battle, Lord Nelson signalled his fleet: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Part of that duty, surely, is to be ready. We are not.
Guernsey, Channel Islands
Is inheritance teax justified at the current threshold?
6:57AM BST 21 Oct 2014
SIR – The Reverend Peter Dyson informs us that inheritance tax is entirely justifiable because we have a moral duty to redistribute our wealth to the rest of society.
Some of us in this country have not inherited our wealth but have worked hard to earn it and have paid a substantial amount of tax in doing so. Having already redistributed wealth in this way, I fail to understand why he believes it should be necessary to do it again.
Perhaps he would like to explain his case to my children, who, faced with ever-increasing house prices, would struggle to set foot on the first rung of the housing ladder without help from their parents.
SIR – Jennifer List should not assume that her executors will be unable to make use of the unused portion of her late spouse’s inheritance tax nil rate band when she dies. When my mother died after the introduction of the present system, as her executor I was able to make use of the unused allowance from my father’s estate; he died in 1982, well before the present system was introduced.
Contrary to popular opinion, the HMRC website is clear and helpful on this and other matters.
SIR – Sadly, David Cameron’s pledge to raise the inheritance tax threshold, thereby enabling people to pass their family home to their children, will not benefit the people who have had to sell the family home in order to fund the cost of their care in later life.
I remain unconvinced by his pre-election pledges; desperate measures from a desperate man.
How homogenised milk is ruining one reader’s breakfast
Milk float: two men take part in the traditional milk carton boat regatta in Jelgava, Latvia Photo: EPA
6:58AM BST 21 Oct 2014
SIR – I have always enjoyed “top of the milk” cream on my cereals for breakfast and had milk delivered in a glass bottle until three months ago. My milkman then began delivering the milk in plastic bottles, which changed the flavour – I neither liked the taste, nor was I able to decant the cream from the top.
The explanation given was that the milk I had previously received was no longer available, as it didn’t suit plastic, and milk now had to be not only pasteurised but also homogenised. I have changed to Channel Island milk, but this is also homogenised – so there is still no cream rising to the top for my porridge.
Why are both dairy farmers and consumers being dictated to? No wonder the farmers are receiving less money for their milk.
Fame at last
SIR – I wonder how many of your readers eagerly scanned your article featuring previously unpublished letters in the hope of seeing their own submission published there?
I certainly did. It wasn’t.
Mrs Denise Taylor
SIR – George Orwell set out 10 attributes of an ideal pub, but there was one that he took for granted.
Over the past year a colleague and I have been carrying out systematic research into what makes for a successful pub. We have found that the critical factor is the active presence of the landlord or landlady. Take this away and even a tavern that has everything going for it in terms of location, architecture and potential clientele will wither on the vine.
SIR – When Paul Moody, who co-wrote the book ‘The Search for the Perfect Pub’, argued that “nobody can be objectionable with a pint in his hand” he proved two things: the gap between academia and reality, and the fact that he has never worked on Fleet Street.
Call me Steve
SIR – I will let Steve Baldock in on a secret: us twenty-somethings find it disconcerting to be addressed by our surnames. The reasons for this are numerous and would undoubtedly make a fascinating anthropological essay.
We do still follow the mantra of “treat others as you wish to be treated”, so in addressing Mr Baldock by his first name his interviewees were just being polite.
Ostrava, Czech Republic
SIR – If we were meant to have straight-cut nails, as the scientists at the University of Nottingham have proclaimed, surely we should have been provided with square ends to our fingers in the first place.
Zac Goldsmith’s blueprint for the power of recall would serve those with vested interestes and big money
6:59AM BST 21 Oct 2014
SIR – Your editorial “Plans to keep MPs in line are an insult to voters” contained a number of inaccuracies.
In the Coalition Government, it is the Liberal Democrats who have consistently argued for a power of recall to be introduced to apply to those MPs who have committed “serious wrongdoing”. That was always the proposal on the table for legislation in this Parliament, by this Coalition Government.
However, the Conservatives in Government have consistently dragged their feet on this important issue. They originally blocked it being included in the Queen’s Speech this year and it only made it in after an eleventh-hour change of heart from the Prime Minister.
Subsequently, when I have argued for the proposals to be as strong as possible, it has been made abundantly clear that, as one Conservative minister put it: “We [Conservative MPs] would not wear it.”
Putting that to one side, it is right that we now properly debate the details of how recall will work. On principle, I don’t agree with the blueprint put forward by Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. His is not the people’s recall, it’s the rich man’s recall. It would provide a field day for those with vested interests and big money who don’t like how an MP has voted on controversial issues such as gay marriage, abortion, fox hunting or military action. This would lead to some MPs facing near constant threats of recall.
Members of Parliament can, and absolutely should, be held to account in general elections for how they have voted as MPs. But the recall process should be for those who have indeed committed “serious wrongdoing”. It is right that we now actively consider, as the Recall of MPs Bill is debated in Parliament, the best possible way to define and test “serious wrongdoing”. Liberal Democrat MPs will be bringing forward proposals to ensure that MPs don’t sit as judge and jury on themselves, and I hope they gain support from MPs and parties across the House of Commons.
Nick Clegg MP
Deputy Prime Minister
A fire engine waits below burnt cooling towers at Didcot B Power Station in Didcot Photo: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
7:00AM BST 21 Oct 2014
SIR – The closure of Didcot B power station due to a fire could have a serious impact on electricity prices and supplies in an already tight situation.
In the past eight months six large power plants, representing just under 12 per cent of our peak electricity-generating capacity, have closed unexpectedly due to fires or mechanical breakdowns. Even before five of these closures, Ofgem warned that electricity-generating margins could drop below 2 per cent in the winter of 2015/16.
The Government must better incentivise remaining power plant operations, starting by removing the high carbon price floor tax, which could result in the early closure of up to 10 coal-fired power stations over the next five years.
Centre for Policy Studies
SIR – As an engineer who worked on the design and construction of our nuclear power stations in the Sixties and Seventies, I am deeply concerned that we now rely wholly on foreign expertise and finance for this vital contribution to our energy sector.
With no British alternative, the French company EDF has been lined up for the design, construction and operation of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant and already owns other nuclear power stations in Britain. Not only have we lost this expertise along with the resultant rewards, but we will also pay the price when we use the subsidised energy.
Meanwhile Austria has raised a legal challenge over the European Commission’s decision to approve the plant, so we are faced with a greater delay and increased cost thanks to membership of the EU.
Jim W Barrack
SIR – The media and politicians confuse energy with electricity. In Britain, electricity accounts for a mere 26 per cent of our total energy demand, so whether we supply this small proportion from nuclear, coal or renewables is not the main issue. Energy policy must address how we are going to deal, in a sustainable way, with the 41 per cent of our energy demand which is heat and the 33 per cent which is transport.
If Hinkley Point C does produce 7 per cent of our electricity in a decade’s time, it will still only be supplying around 1.8 per cent of our total energy demand – not much to show for the expenditure.
Ian M Arbon
SIR – Gradually moving away from fossil fuels is one thing, but dashing headlong into shutting down reliable plants before securing viable, affordable alternatives is irresponsible.
Our industrial competitors are not on the same track. New coal-fired power stations are still under construction in Germany and elsewhere, soon to be producing reliable power at a fraction of the cost of our unreliable alternative sources.
Dr Bev Wilkinson
Sir, – Is Irish Water a public utility or a public futility? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I recall canvassing in the 1977 general election (for Fianna Fáil) and being certain of an overall majority only two days into the campaign. While I believe the victory was due to a combination of the charisma of Jack Lynch and the sweeteners of the abolition of car tax and rates, the response at the doors was “get them out”.
If the present Government does not renounce Irish Water, and all its works, it will face the same treatment as the 1973-77 coalition. The democratic revolution that they promised has now been taken out of their hands .
Furthermore, the escalation of street politics has its own inherent dangers that should be obvious to all of us on this island. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Given that this overincentivised, overstaffed monopoly has shown itself to be so inefficient even before a single bill has been calculated, perhaps it should be privatised sooner rather than later? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In recent times, technically astute humans sent a spacecraft to the planet Mars, upon which a remotely controlled vehicle landed, drove about and transmitted data back to Earth. In a year or so another spacecraft will land a probe on a comet and again data will be transmitted to Earth.
Meanwhile back on “planet Irish Water”, a customer wishing to retrieve water usage data will be required to lie on his belly on the footbath, prise open the meter lid and hope that he is lucky enough to have a meter where the digits are visible. Truly installation and operation of water meters is not rocket science. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The news that some members of staff working for Irish Water will be awarded a performance-related payment even if their performance requires improvement has generated much debate. Politicians and the general public should be aware that a similar scheme has been operating in the public sector for decades. It is called “getting your increment”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – And so the saga of how not to set up a company, especially a State-owned company, goes on. The company was set up offering a defective product (charging people for a water supply system that wasn’t properly set up in the first instance – full of leaks), which, if it were a private company offering such a product, would immediately result in political and public uproar. The product was badly costed from the outset; indeed, people were being told for a long time that the costing was still being worked out. What a way for a company to launch a product! Then we learned that it was going to employ more people to deliver the service than was necessary to do so, simply because they had to take over the water systems of the existing local authority councils, which apparently it was known that they didn’t need.
And now we learn that this magnificent monopoly, which it seems can obligate us to pay whatever it decides to charge, is to pay bonuses to staff for doing what they are supposed to be doing! It isn’t as though they will have to go out and sign up new customers – we all have to be their customers, whether we would want to or not. And it seems that bonuses will be paid to people who are deemed to be not working satisfactorily – in a monopoly.
What a hare-brained system and what hare-brained thinking behind its setting-up! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The broadcast media habit of asking every Government politician about Irish Water, including views on the tenure of the chief executive, is becoming tedious in the extreme. I wish those politicians would deliver a stock response: “Ask the Minister for the Environment”.
It’s a practice that might well catch on. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It’s time to shout “Stop!” Irish Water is totally discredited. The final nail in its coffin has been the revelation of the award of bonuses to staff.
When the leaks in the system are repaired, people will be willing to pay a fair charge to the State, provided the service remains in public ownership. This latest quango must be dismantled forthwith. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – When Irish Water was being set-up by the Minister for the Environment, it is inconceivable, and indeed unforgivable, that the salary structures were not set down strictly by the Government. The details of salaries and “performance-related” pay now revealed are staggering to behold for the extremely hard-pressed citizen.
The idea that Irish Water staff with a rating of “performance needs improvement” will be able to avail of a substantial increase is beyond belief. The outcome, of course, will be that the Government will announce that the staff were appointed with this ridiculous pay structure as their “terms and conditions”, their contract, and that this cannot legally be changed. Once more the Government has scored an own goal. What a country! – Yours, etc,
A chara, – The annual cost for water in a family home? Hundreds. Bonuses for water-workers? Thousands. The cost of setting up Irish Water? Millions. The value of all this for the Opposition come the next general election unless there are major changes soon? Priceless. – Is mise,
Rev PATRICK G BURKE,
Sir, – What an excellent article by Rev Dr D Twomey, a highly qualified celibate, male, moral theologian, defending celibate, male, moral theology on marriage and the family (“Synod feeds secular agenda hostile to traditional family”, Opinion & Analysis, October 18th). However, celibate male theology has no place in real-life family situations.
As a non-celibate, non-male parent, I challenge Dr Twomey’s theology based on my own experience of raising a large family. If I had adhered to church teaching, particularly Humanae Vitae, my marriage and my family would not have survived. Pope Paul Vl encyclical Humanae Vitae is one of the main causes of the collapse of confession.
Dr Twomey needs to come out of his theological ivory tower and rub shoulders with us sinners. What is at stake for the church is not “holiness”, it is “love”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Congratulations to Fr Vincent Twomey for so eloquently and compassionately expressing the concerns of many Catholics regarding the agenda of some groups in the recent synod.
It’s interesting that Fr Twomey is attacked by Declan Kelly (October 21st) and others for daring to comment due to his vow of celibacy. So much for respect for plurality and diversity of views.
On the basis of this logic, presumably faithful and childless Catholic couples are also debarred from the debate. One only wishes that those opposed to Fr Twomey’s analysis would express themselves in the same civilised and respectful manner that he employs. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – As scripture says, “the road that leads to perdition is wide an spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). All the Catholic Church can do is light up the narrow road that leads to life.
Some liberal commentators on the synod apparently want the Catholic Church to light up the broad road that leads to perdition instead. That road, however, would still lead to perdition no matter how well lit up it is. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – If “ordinary men and women” (Seán O’Riordan, October 21st), though sexually faithful and living family-oriented lives, cannot be persuaded to think that responsible artificial contraception family planning is very wrong, perhaps the church and its proponents should settle for two out of three, even if they themselves are somewhat at a remote remove from such actual situations.
Perhaps the essence of the issue is that some people believe as much or more in a faith system than in a deity? –Yours, etc,
Sir, – Here we go again. A scandal comes to light, the Robert McCartney killing, the “Disappeared”, the Maíria Cahill story – and we hear the same old defence-strategies being employed by Sinn Féin. Surely they can come up with a better word than “wrong”?
When will voters for this party tumble to the fact that, however in need of reform Northern Ireland was, the campaign of violence of the Provisional IRA has made the situation much worse, for all of us. Senior members of Sinn Féin, of older and newer vintages, have staunchly come to the defence of the party in claiming there was no cover-up within Sinn Féin itself, which is hardly an earth-shattering position to take. How could they be expected to know what went on within the IRA? Surely the whole point of paramilitarism was to keep the left hand guessing what the right hand was doing, hence the dearth of authentic information.This country has been ill-served by “armed struggle” and the sooner this is acknowledged by all, the sooner we can clean out every corner of our reeking stables. – Yours, etc,
Holywood, Co Down.
Sir, – Surely nobody can possibly believe that an institution that enjoys the trust and support of so many Irish people has not only been harbouring alleged sexual abusers in its ranks, but has also attempted to deal with such issues internally and has actively discouraged witnesses from notifying the proper authorities? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I’ve no doubt that the issue of Sinn Féin’s transfer toxicity with the electorate would be ameliorated by a change of leader. The problem for its members, though, is that they seem to be afraid to tell him. – Yours, etc,
Clonsilla, Dublin 15.
Sir, – I was greatly concerned by the views expressed in a recent article (“Students are guinea pigs in Trinity’s experiment”, Education Opinion, October 14th).
I have been dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard for almost 30 years. During that time we – just like other major universities in the United States – have used a holistic admissions system, involving many of the same elements Trinity is testing in this study. Far from being “mumbo jumbo”, and an arcane practice “verging on voodoo”, this approach is recognised as providing a more reliable way of admitting talented students who will excel in their studies and in all their endeavours during college and beyond.
Over the past few years I have watched Trinity’s work with great interest, and have helped support and advise it in its attempts to apply internationally respected indicators to an Irish context. At Harvard every year we run a “Summer Institute” where we discuss the benefits of the use of personal statements and review panels with experts from many nations. They would certainly be surprised by the charges in the article.
Trinity has acted responsibly in running this study on a very small scale, and it is unfortunate to condemn Trinity, one of the most respected universities in the world, for attempting to test something that is seen as standard practice in its peer institutions. – Yours, etc,
Dean of Admissions
and Financial Aid,
Sir, – In his response to John McAvoy’s welcome and overdue criticism of TCD’s latest admission novelty, Patrick Geoghegan revealingly speaks of the “problem of the points race” (“We stand over our attempt to solve the points problem”, Education Opinion, October 21st).
The points system fairly compares school-leavers by their performance in the national school curriculum and examination system to which everyone has equal access.
Prof Geoghegan speaks of the Leaving Certificate as a “single examination”. It is not. Students are examined in at least seven subjects, including universal subjects English and mathematics and a wide choice of other subjects designed to develop a range of aptitudes and abilities. Universities are involved in school curricular development and reform.
Prof Geoghegan quotes unnamed “international experts” as favouring “holistic” admission systems. The US 2008 Commission on Admission and the UK NFER Report of 2010 both recommended the use of school curricular-based tests for admission rather than non-curricular tests.
Mr McAvoy raised valid questions in relation to the TCD experiment. Who is excluded by it? Can it be “gamed” by wily applicants? How is an applicant expected to prepare for it? Is it fair? The points system is. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Ciaran O’Neill has got it in one (“Paying for privilege”, Education Analysis, October 21st). What fee-paying schools offer is “polish”.
When stripped out for variables such as family and class background, there is no particular evidence that these schools add much educational heft to their customers. Their essential raison d’être is to supply narrow socio-economic ghettos, where PLUs (“people like us”, à la Ross O’Carroll-Kelly) won’t have to mix with hoi polloi.
While Dr O’Neill’s academic emphasis is on Roman Catholic schools, it should be noted that Protestant schools in the Dublin catchment area have benefited considerably from this rush towards the snobbish. Without it, many of these institutions would have simply run out of their traditional customers. As Catholicism as a religious force has weakened, Roman Catholics who seek out PLUs have increasingly turned towards these “Protestant” schools – to the point where their “Protestant” ethos is close to a puzzling anachronism, given that so many of their students, and a very significant proportion of their teachers, are not Protestant, whatever else they may be.
The schools, incidentally, are very coy about making public the breakdown of students and staff by religious denomination, or none. What does that tell us?
Private secondary education is a pernicious purveyor and perpetuator of hereditary class privilege. It should have no place in a modern republic. If it’s good enough for the Finns to do without, it should be good enough for us.
But even if we accept its existence as one price for liberty and freedom of choice, let’s stop the hypocrisy that it has some purely educational value. In that context, it should not be the function of the State to offer it financial support at the expense of citizens who cannot access it. Yours, etc, –
Sidney Sussex College,
Sir, – It is convenient for Facebook if women delay having children, and that is what makes their new policy so unethical (“Facebook offers to freeze eggs of employees”, October 18th). Once employees have children, priorities change and the most important thing in life becomes their child, not their job. By offering to pay $20,000 to freeze eggs, Facebook is sending the message that a woman’s career might be hindered if she decides to have a child earlier rather than later. Multinational corporations should never be involved in the decision about when to start a family. Facebook has been criticised for not having enough female employees, but asking women to freeze their eggs is not the way to keep some of their most valuable workers. A better way to spend $20,000 would be offering better onsite childcare or, maybe more importantly, introducing paternity leave for their male employees. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Olivia Mitchell TD is reported to have claimed that expanding our gene pool through immigration in the Celtic Tiger years has resulted in taller children (“Celtic Tiger gene pool expansion has made us better-looking”, Front Page, October 20th). I think she must be confused because over the same period our politicians have clearly become smaller. – Yours, etc,
So, now we know! The problem with water charges has nothing to do with the exorbitant cost of establishing a new utility to collect additional taxes. The problem has nothing to do with reduction in wages, the property tax, the USC and the general austerity experienced by citizens of this State.
The problem is communication.
Is it beyond the comprehension of government ministers that patient tolerant Paddy may have had enough of political spin.
The management of our economy and society is entrusted to them.
Waste after waste after waste, from electronic voting machines, decentralisation to the HSE, there is little or no control over the cost of capital projects and the general disregard for the stresses and strains imposed on large sectors of society cannot and should not continue.
Management at the higher levels of the public service appear to rely more and more on commissioned reports and to use these, when convenient, to justify their analysis of what needs to be done.
Why bother employing the heads of management at high salary levels when invariably they rely on contracted reports rather than furnishing their own ideas and solutions?
Have our leaders become so impotent that they cannot serve society without the input of ‘independent’ consultants.
‘Yes Minister’ was a comedy programme; but when applied to day-to-day reality it is truly a tragedy.
The transparency of political discourse designed only to minimise losses at the ballot boxes has become so overt that one can only despair at the quality of leadership on offer.
Dalkey, Co Dublin
Enough is enough
Well, the fat is well and truly in the fire now. And the enforcer who did Enda’s bidding is well and truly enjoying his reward in Europe.
There is no doubt that the protest meeting of two weeks ago on Dublin’s O’Connell Street has not only spurred the people on, but has frightened the daylights out of the Government.
But, be careful – our politicians are cute and they know that complacency is easily slipped into.
There is a follow-up protest jamboree arranged for November 1, and this has to be the occasion that ensures the Government is convinced that the people mean business.
In 1979, the famous PAYE march on a Thursday was so successful that a super march was arranged for the following Sunday.
Unfortunately, that march had to be cancelled – due to lack of interest.
Make sure that lack of interest is dead and buried and that the Government is left in no doubt as to where the people stand.
This issue has nothing to do with politics.
It is simply the people saying: enough is enough.
Screen, Co Wexford
Irish Water – the hard sell
The Government must now be considering the situation of Irish Water.
The demonstrations by the people who elected them speaks volumes.
Equally, the conduct of this entity, Irish Water, must be in question.
The costs associated with its establishment were approved without any consideration of marketing the service to the consumer.
The decision to introduce water costs at the beginning of winter beggars belief, when all it seems to do at this time of year is to rain.
What new start-up would attempt to sell something without a promise of providing a better service.
Irish Water has failed to sell the idea of why there should be water charges of any description.
I, for one, believe that if the Government wishes to proceed with this project, let it place it out to tender as it should have done at the start and stop this insult to the people of Ireland.
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Tough choices this winter
I am a disabled person. As winter approaches I find myself in the unhappy position of having to choose between food, water, heat or light.
According to my lease if I allow any of these utilities lapse my landlord has the right to turn me out of my privately rented flat, thus plunging me into homelessness. What kind of cruelty prompts government TDs to cross that lobby and vote for one regressive budget after another?
Bray, Co Wicklow
Time can only tell
For those of us old enough to remember – in 1970, we moved from a centralised health system to one of Regional Health Boards. We were told it would take some time for the new system to work properly. It never did.
In 2005, we were told the new centralised HSE would replace the health boards. It too was to improve the system. Has it?
In the Dail, last Thursday, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said that it would take time for the water-management functions of the local authorities to become embedded properly.
Is that a threat or a promise?
John F Jordan
Killiney, Co Dublin
If the tap fits . . .
“This isn’t a company, it’s a monster!”
I’m reminded of the comment by Deputy US Marshal Samuel Gerard (a memorable Tommy Lee Jones) in the 1993 movie ‘The Fugitive’ on discovering the financial turnover of the fictional pharma corporation, Devlin MacGregor.
Emerging behemoths please note. If the tap fits . . .
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Stranger on a train
The female ticket inspector on the Connolly to Belfast (Enterprise) train on Monday had a smile and manner to brighten any morning. Indeed, just the ticket!
Beaumont, Dublin 9
Return of the chamber pot
The return to popularity of the pot under the bed in order to save water – as predicted by so many – may have one positive consequence.
It will, at last, justify referring to the Seanad as the upper chamber!
Thoughts for the homeless
Winter is coming our way, its frosty fingers will soon be sending shivers through the country.
These are tough times for most, but for the homeless there are no words to describe the helplessness and loneliness of a night on the street.
We should remember people like Brother Kevin and Fr McVeigh, who actually try and do something for those the State has either forgotten about or failed. Their efforts could be the difference between survival or a bleak end as the dark cold nights close in.
Dalkey, Co Dublin