No Answer

27 October 2014 No Answer!

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweep the lawn some trouble over a ‘Servas’ visitor won’t answer the phone!

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


Sir Ronald Grierson – obituary

Sir Ronald Grierson was a banker and public servant who served with the wartime SAS and became an international networker par excellence

Sir Ronald Grierson, banker, public servant and international networker

Sir Ronald Grierson, banker, public servant and international networker Photo: RICHARD YOUNG/REX

5:12PM GMT 26 Oct 2014


Sir Ronald Grierson, who has died aged 93, was a German-Jewish émigré who built a distinguished and exceptionally long career as a soldier, merchant banker, public servant and international networker par excellence.

Even as a young banker at Warburgs in the 1950s, Ronnie Grierson was celebrated for knowing everyone in Europe who mattered; as his career advanced he became ubiquitous on both sides of the Atlantic. His debut in British public life came in 1966, when he was asked by the Labour prime minister Harold Wilson and his minister for economic affairs George Brown to become managing director of the newly announced Industrial Reorganisation Corporation.

Based on an Italian model, the IRC was intended to drag British industry into the modern era by writing blueprints for industrial sectors and promoting mergers to create “national champions”. Grierson’s private income enabled him to accept the job unpaid, but he did his best to conceal his scepticism towards the concept of state-led industrial restructuring, and to reassure the CBI and the City that he was not about to trample on them. The IRC chairman, Frank Kearton, was less subtle, however, announcing on television: “Now the boot goes in.”

Machinations over the fate of the Rootes car company brought Grierson into collision with Tony Benn, then minister of technology. But it was the merger of General Electric Co with the troubled Associated Electrical Industries in 1967 that brought Grierson’s IRC tenure to an early end. The GEC bid for AEI was hostile, and it was Grierson’s view that IRC should remain neutral; but ministers and civil servants were adamant that IRC should give GEC its public blessing. Grierson refused to compromise, and resigned.

He was nevertheless on close terms with GEC’s managing director, Arnold Weinstock, and took up a vice-chairmanship of GEC. From 1971, he was also (at the invitation of David Rockefeller, of Chase Manhattan) chairman and chief executive of Orion Bank, a venture owned by a consortium of international banks which aimed to rival Warburgs in the Eurobond market. But in late 1972 he was diverted by an invitation to become director-general for industry in the European Commission in Brussels.

This placed him subordinate to the Italian commissioner for industry, Altiero Spinelli, a veteran communist and fanatical federalist whom Grierson described as having “both feet planted firmly on the clouds”. Though amicable relations were established, there was no meeting of minds. Grierson’s efforts were dedicated to reducing trade barriers and impeding what he regarded as the dirigiste fantasies of his colleagues; but he found himself frequently bypassed, and was particularly incensed by anti-Americanism within the Commission. It was a row over plans to attack IBM that prompted him to resign again.

Sir Ronald Grierson with Esther von Salis-Samaden in April 2014 (GETTY)

When he returned to London in 1974, his next job surprised the City: he became senior partner of the stockbrokers Panmure Gordon, despite his own inexperience in broking and the depressed market following the crash of late 1973. The choice, said one commentator, “might seem a little too like a death wish”. Against the tide of opinion, Grierson was upbeat about the prospect of a revival of the Stock Exchange as a source of capital for industry — but again stayed less than two years.

Thereafter he concentrated on his role at GEC and a portfolio of other directorships. He maintained a connection with Warburgs throughout his later career, observing that “all my conflicts of interest are on the table”. He also took on a huge range of extra-curricular commitments, notable among which was his position as chairman and part-time managing director of the South Bank arts complex from 1984 to 1990. This involved creating a new management structure to replace the controlling hand of the Greater London Council, which was about to be abolished; at a farewell bash for the ancien regime, GLC leader Ken Livingstone lamented that the centre would henceforth be run by “third-rate merchant bankers”.

Undeterred by hostility from the Left, scarcity of funding and eruptions of artistic temperament, Grierson found himself enjoying the South Bank job more than he had enjoyed either the IRC or Brussels. There was, he concluded, “not a scrap of evidence for the fashionable and gloomy belief that arts organisations cannot be run on sound business lines”.

A man of huge energy and charm, full of amusing stories and fluent in half a dozen languages, Grierson exhausted less ardent networkers: the comedian Barry Humphries, with whom he worked on charity events, described him affectionately as “that appalling social bulldozer and card-carrying menace”. He was also prone to impatience and histrionics. In his memoir A Truant Disposition (1992), he wrote: “My wife frequently tells me that the lack of an early English education accounts for my inability to bear frustrations and to be what the Establishment admiringly calls ‘a good loser’. She is probably right.”

This propensity manifested itself in serial resignations and a habit (particularly unfortunate in a frequent flier) of blowing his top with airline staff. His book displayed a photograph of a contretemps with two constables at Heathrow in 1956; and in 1995 he attracted tabloid headlines after being escorted off a flight to Frankfurt for shouting at stewardesses about his seat allocation. It was said that Concorde’s departure would be delayed if he checked in late, to avert ugly scenes.

He was also annoyed by being asked, in old age, whether it might not be time to slow down: “Are you still skiing?” particularly irritated him. Though governance codes obliged him to retire from his last public company board, Daily Mail & General Trust, at 79, he maintained a full set of non-executive roles, including chairing advisory boards for the private equity group Blackstone and the management consultants Bain & Co, long into his ninth decade. “Age doesn’t matter when what you’re looking for is common sense,” he observed.

Grierson with Frances Osborne, wife of Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, at the Royal Academy in 2012 (RICHARD YOUNG/REX)

Grierson’s family, originally Griessmann, came from Bamberg in Bavaria, where in 1902 his grandfather invented soft lavatory paper and proposed to manufacture it — but was told by the mayor that this was not a suitable enterprise for a town with strong religious connections. So the factory was built in Nuremberg, where Rolf Hans Griessmann was born on August 6 1921 and began his education at the Realgymnasium.

At 11 he moved with his parents to Paris, where he attended the Lycée Pasteur, and in 1936 they moved again to London, where his father opened a factory in Walthamstow and Rolf was enrolled at Highgate School.

He went up to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1939; and in July 1940 — while he was labouring with other undergraduate volunteers, including the future Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, in a forestry camp in Shropshire — he was arrested and interned. But three months later he was cleared by an aliens tribunal and joined an Army Pioneer Corps unit which was commanded by the Marquess of Reading, a friend of his father, and included the Hungarian-born writer Arthur Koestler. For two years they were engaged in digging drains in the West Country, until intensive lobbying secured Rolf a transfer and commission in the Army Air Corps.

Trained as a parachutist, he saw action with airborne and SAS units in North Africa, Italy, France, the Low Countries, Germany and Norway. He was mentioned in despatches and briefly captured in 1945. The War Office equipped him with papers stating his place of birth as Christchurch, New Zealand, but left him to pick his own Anglicised name: a girlfriend with whom he dined at the Berkeley Hotel on the eve of his embarkation for North Africa helped him settle on “Ronald Hugh Grierson” with the aid of a telephone directory.

His parents and sister also became Griersons, and the change was formalised in 1947. The family business was sold to Proctor & Gamble at about the same time, making Grierson independently wealthy for the rest of his life.

The end of the war found 24 year-old Major Grierson — by then with the Black Watch, and proud to wear the kilt — at the British Embassy in Paris. His next posting was to Berlin as an officer of the four-power Control Commission, responsible for liaison with the French; and lastly to Cologne, where (though he “felt not the slightest kinship with the ruined Germany I encountered”) his most sensitive task was to befriend the deposed mayor and future chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Grierson was demobbed as a lieutenant-colonel in October 1946, but recommissioned from 1948 to 1952 to command the newly-formed territorial 21 SAS in London.

Meanwhile he completed a shortened degree at Balliol, and with the help of another émigré, his Economics tutor Tommy Balogh (later eminence grise of the Wilson government), found work as an editorial assistant at The Economist. This took him to Sweden to interview the trade minister Gunnar Myrdal — who was promptly appointed secretary of the UN economic commission for Europe, and asked Grierson to be his assistant. The pattern was set for Grierson’s life in a succession of roles which connected him with all the political and business leaders of post-war Europe.

After eight months with Myrdal in Geneva, he returned to London to join the merchant banking firm of S G Warburg & Co, where his cosmopolitanism and wit made him a favoured protégé of the founder: one colleague called Grierson “Siegmund [Warburg]’s confidant and jester”. It was widely assumed that, having become a director in 1958, Grierson would one day run the firm. But from 1966, when he took up the IRC post, his path lay in other directions.

Among the companies of which he was later a director were several in the US, including Chrysler, the chemical giant W R Grace and the food and tobacco conglomerate R J R Nabisco. British directorships included British Aircraft Corp, the engineering group Davy International, National Bus, and the state-backed computer maker ICL — though Tony Benn vetoed him for the ICL chairmanship.

Grierson was a goodwill ambassador for the UN Industrial Development Organisation, an occasional adviser to the secretary-general, and undertook several overseas missions for the British government. He was also chairman of the European Organisation for Cancer Treatment Research, though his principle charitable involvements were in the arts and humanities.

He was a member of the Arts Council and a trustee of the Royal Academy, the Prince of Liechtenstein Foundation (one of the world’s largest art buyers), the Phillips Collection in Washington and the North Carolina School of the Arts. With his friend the publisher Lord Weidenfeld, he promoted initiatives for international dialogue, including the European Studies Foundation at Oxford University.

Grierson was knighted in 1990, and was also decorated in France, Germany, Italy and Austria.

He married Heather, Viscountess Bearsted (née Firmston-Williams) in 1966; their romance blossomed while he was on sabbatical at Harvard to study international relations at the invitation of Henry Kissinger. They were married in Washington D C, had a son (she also had a daughter by her previous marriage, to the 3rd Viscount Bearsted) and maintained homes in London, New York and Tuscany, where they owned a small Chianti vineyard. Lady Grierson died in 1993.

Sir Ronald Grierson, born August 6 1921, died October 23 2014


Gordon Brown Takes The Labour Campaign To Oldham ‘Remember, during the last election campaign, Gordon Brown was publicly vilified for instinctively associating fears over immigration with “bigotry”,’ writes Mike Allott. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

There are three compelling arguments in favour of maintaining the fundamental principle of EU freedom of movement. First, a people-inflow satisfies short-term demand in an imperfect labour market, and offers a long-term solution to the actuarial uncertainties of an ageing population. Second, a people-outflow allows the opportunity for personal growth and a broader choice over quality of life. Third, a people-interflow broadens mutual understanding.

If these economic and cultural arguments are passionately articulated by our professional politicians, there is no rational, graceful counter-argument. So when John Harris panders to Ukip (Don’t dismiss public fear of migration as mere bigotry and prejudice, 22 October), he bridges the faultline that separates those supporting the principle of EU solidarity and those against.

Surely, if populism defeats our own political principles, it is primarily because our own politicians and own party manifestos seek to follow, rather than shape, such opinion. And it does not matter if John Harris presents a splinter argument that the “modern left” should challenge freedom of movement on the grounds that it primarily benefits “laissez-faire” capital. In the real world of party politics, he is presenting an invalid argument.

Remember, during the last election campaign Gordon Brown was publicly vilified for instinctively associating fears over immigration with “bigotry”. His judgment then, albeit insensitive, was intellectually reductive: we perhaps need to translate Gordon’s clunking instinct for fairness and decencies into a new, logical and more persuasive narrative.
Mike Allott
Chandlers Ford, Hampshire

• John Harris is correct. Debates about cheap labour practices cant just be left to the opportunist “right”. Neoliberal immigration – particularly from outside the EU – is very different from previous manifestations of the phenomenon. My father’s generation’s arrival here from the Caribbean and the rest of the black Commonwealth was partly an apology for the many evils of imperialism and partly a thank-you for the massive war effort of Britain’s colonies. The work they and the Irish did here was – under near-socialist conditions – either contributing to nationalised, not-for-profit public services in education, health, transport and natural monopoly energy utilities and/or sharing in their communal bounty.

That’s very different to being brought here to force down labour costs for foreign tax-dodging corporations. This raises the question: why are migrants coming here? Often it is either because their home countries are impoverished as a legacy of imperialism and/or because tax-dodging western corporations are not allowing them to keep and use the wealth their own labour power generates. Tellingly, some immigrants are even arriving from countries where, in order to subvert our employment standards, western corporations have exported British jobs.

Neoliberal immigration is an aspect of globalisation. It involves the exploitation of immigrant workers, their home countries, British workers and ultimately the planet. Astoundingly, in an era when the west fights “wars for oil”, its environmental footprint – like the global movement of goods – is not even properly costed.
Dr Gavin Lewis

• John Harris points out fears about free migration in towns like Wisbech, where east European immigrants are living five to a room and working long hours. He says that current polling shows 46% of UK people opposed to free movement of labour in the EU. It would be interesting to see the equivalent figures for those who oppose unscrupulous employers who pay way below the minimum wage, or greedy landlords who profit from overcrowding. Where I live, in one of the poorest London boroughs, we experience large-scale migration from the EU and beyond. Left concerns here, even “fashionable metropolitan” ones, tend to be about too little money spent on overcrowded health and education services, and the privatisation of housing, which is helping the greedy landlords. Surely we should be targeting them, and not poor people from abroad?
Lindsey German

• John Harris rightly suggests that the current Brownite leadership of the Labour party is incapable of viewing migration or any other issue from the point of view of labour rather than capital. Nor are they likely to change, since their internal battle with continuity Blairites is merely one for control of the machine, not the agenda.

But it’s not true to say that they don’t get it. Like other neoliberals, they know exactly what’s at stake. As Jean-Claude Juncker told the BBC, “[if] we change rules on freedom of movement today, tomorrow others will try to change freedom of movement of capital”.

The point the left needs to make to those cut adrift by Labour is that controls on migration would be useless without controls on capital. Get that across – which will have banker Farage spluttering into his pint – and we can follow up later with the point that controls on migration are redundant if capital is properly disciplined.
Dr Julian Wells
Principal lecturer in economics, Kingston University

• The key phrase in John Harris’s insightful piece on EU migration refers to the “laissez-faire conditions” under which it operates. Traditionally, the left’s response to the importation of cheap labour has been to address the imbalance of power through trade union or regulatory pressure on wage rates and labour conditions. This is still the best approach – though, given the enfeebled state of the labour movement (including the Labour party), action on regulation seems more feasible in the short term than increased union power.

At the same time, there is surely a missing element in the EU model of free movement. In any quasi-federal system, free movement of labour should go along with a capacity for financial transfers designed to help with social costs that arise (housing, education, healthcare etc). This could be funded by a levy on the capitalist interests that benefit from the movements – in the case of East Anglia, large food processors and supermarkets.
Richard Middleton
Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway

• At last, a piece on immigration that does not patronise the readers. I’ve had enough of those who repeat that “immigrants contribute more to the economy than they take out”. But of course they do; it is not a special characteristic of immigrants. Anyone who works contributes more to the economy than he or she takes out, and there are more than a million workers in the UK who will jump at the chance of being able to contribute to the economy more than they get out, if only they can get a job. As for the argument that immigrants do the jobs that British workers do not want, apart from its racist undertones associating immigrants with menial, low-paid jobs, the solution is simple: pay those who do these “menial” jobs, be they fruit pickers or office cleaners, £10, £15 or £20 an hour and there would never be a shortage of takers.
Fawzi Ibrahim

• Perhaps I should be honoured that you devote an editorial (23 October) to attacking the recent announcement of my peerage. It certainly marks a change in your editorial policy, which for 13 years appears to have been to avoid any mention of MigrationWatch.

Despite your boycott, often mimicked by parts of the BBC, our reputation has grown steadily. Of course we accept that a modern dynamic economy benefits from properly managed migration and that the UK is no exception. The issues are about who and how many. By sticking to a factual approach we have, as has often been remarked, made it possible for immigration to be discussed in public without people any longer feeling deterred by false accusations of racism. Given its importance for the future of our society, many would regard that as a significant public service.

On your specific points, I should make it clear that I would not have accepted a party whip as I am not, and never have been, a member of any political party. I think I should also make it known that I was first sounded out about a peerage for public service last January – long before Ukip had acquired their present prominence.

The delay, I understand, was to permit a widening of the criteria to “encompass a range of individuals with a proven track record of public service, not solely public servants on retirement”. The number has remained limited to 10 in any one parliament.
Andrew Green
Chairman, MigrationWatch UK

mature couple walking on shingle beach. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown. The brief nature of the Guardian survey left this couple with plenty of time to enjoy the beach. Photograph: Alamy

Suzanne Moore comments that the killers of women receive a shorter sentence than those convicted for killing rhinos (G2, 23 October). She misses a point. The criminal syndicates who recruit poachers are also running prostitution and money-laundering rackets, and running drugs and guns. Clamp down on wildlife crime and you tackle these problems too. We’re on the same side.
Cathy Dean
Director, Save the Rhino International

• We shouldn’t just blame Facebook and Amazon – which political party will promise to root out each tradesman who doesn’t charge VAT in return for a cash payment (Loose canon, 25 October)? The return could fill the NHS spending hole in no time.
Aled Owen

• A popup within a Guardian webpage asked whether I would complete a survey, saying you’d like to change your paper to better suit your readers’ tastes. OK. What age group? 65+. Thank you for your time. Finish.
Michael Cadoux

• This is not the first time the Guardian has discussed the class status of curly kale (Cook, 25 October). Some 35 years ago, Wendy Weber, Laura Ashley-dressed Earth mother, advocated cheap and nutritious kale for the working classes, although it did require cooking for a very long time to make it palatable. Bring back Posy Simmonds and the Silent Three.
Eileen Davis
Wokingham, Berkshire

• Mass extinctions, runaway global warming, endemic human strife and violence. Could it be the Finalscene (Letters, 25 October)?
Bill Cook
Eynort, Isle of Skye

Martin Kettle must be exceptionally naive if he believes it’s unthinkable that MI5 would be interested in the surveillance of historians today (Being a communist was all it took, 24 October). He backs his case by listing a group of contemporary historians with unimpeachably conventional views, equivalent, let’s say, to the Trevor-Ropers, Veronica Wedgwoods and even Toynbees of an earlier generation. Does he seriously think that, in today’s climate of manufactured fear, infiltration and snooping, our “security services” are uninterested in academics with links to environmental or anti-globalisation campaigns, let alone anyone with an interest in the affairs of the Middle East? History doesn’t repeat itself, as we know, but it does have a habit of just keeping on going.
Jane Caplan
Emeritus fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford

• Martin Kettle rightly points out that the historian Eric Hobsbawm’s continued, lifelong membership of the Communist party after the 1956 exposures of Stalinism was greatly valued by the more intelligent CPGB leaders, despite their many arguments with him.

But he should not persist in the oft-repeated myth that Hobsbawm was one of the “critics of the Soviet invasion of Hungary” in that year.

What Hobsbawm actually wrote – to the Daily Worker on 9 November 1956 – was that “the suppression of a popular movement, however wrong-headed, by a foreign army is at best a tragic necessity … While approving [my emphasis], albeit with a heavy heart, of what is now happening in Hungary, we should … also say frankly that … the USSR should withdraw its troops … as soon as this is possible.”
Terry Brotherstone
Honorary research fellow in history, University of Aberdeen

• The fact that MI5 spied on some of the most prominent post-1945 British intellectuals such as Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm tells us something unpleasant about how liberal our democracy actually was in the cold-war era. One hopes that in these austere times MI5 is not still at it. If they want to know what modern-day socialist historians are thinking and doing they can read the Guardian and check our Twitter feeds.
Dr Keith Flett (@kmflett)
London Socialist Historians Group

• Martin Kettle rightly draws attention to the difficulty MI5 would have had in trying to decipher Christopher Hill’s notoriously illegible handwriting. The only writing known to me that was worse than Christopher’s was my own. I remember taking back to him a start-of-term “collections” essay for him to tell me what he had written on it. (This was the 1960s.) “What I’ve said,” he explained, “is ‘I can’t understand your writing’.” Great man, great historian.
Professor Gareth Williams
University of South Wales

• Your headline, “Being a communist was all it took”, was exactly right. MI5 wasted time and taxpayers’ money keeping tabs on rank-and-file members of the Communist party like us in addition to well-known ones like Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill. In the early 1950s, when we were involved in campaigning on behalf of Franco’s political prisoners, our letters were opened and read, and private conversations were bugged. Even a public speech Chris made at a political demonstration outside the Spanish embassy was carefully recorded.

All this and more is now on public display at the National Archives at Kew, but our personal files, we were told, are exempt from disclosure under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act. No one, not even the clowns working for MI5, could have seriously believed that we were a threat to national security. We were merely members of a legal political party whose aims and policies were anathema to the establishment.

Unfortunately, undercover police officers did not sleep with either of us, so we are unable to claim compensation from the Met.
Chris and Betty Birch


Janet Street-Porter is of course correct (The Independent, 25 October) that any mansion tax could hit hard those people who bought a house that has risen greatly in value many years ago, but who do not have a large income.  This could in its way be as cruel as the “bedroom tax” in forcing people to move. However there is a way of dealing with this by basing the tax on the price when the house was last purchased. This figure should be readily available from the Land Registry and would save a vast exercise to try and identify and  value homes in the mansion tax bracket.

By using older prices the revenue coming in would be lower unless the price threshold is lowered. This could, at least in part, be made up by introducing a capital gains tax surcharge on the sale of homes  that are not a primary residence. This would also be useful in discouraging the keeping of empty homes, or rarely used second homes, simply as an investment. Indeed the threat of the introduction of such a tax at a future date would be enough to generate a large number  of properties for sale lowering prices for new buyers particularly in holiday areas.

N J T Long


Taking action against domestic crime

I was pleased to be able to help contribute to the recent article in The Independent about  dowry-related violence.

Further to that, I would like to reassure victims that the police take their plight very seriously.

Although dowry-related violence does not have a separate category in police databases and is, for various reasons, something of a hidden crime in our communities, I am keen that the police service does all it can to help those caught in its grip.

All domestic violence is wrong – whatever the reason – and the police will brook no cultural sensitivities in pursuing perpetrators.

The best route to finding out the true scale of  dowry-related violence is for victims to feel confident to report it. However you can, please come forward and let us help you. You will be believed, your complaint will be investigated thoroughly and, where we have enough evidence to satisfy the CPS, we will prosecute your abuser to the fullest extent of the law.

I will, in the coming months, be approaching colleagues around the country to inquire as to whether they have noted any cases of dowry-related violence and to look at ways of addressing it as part of the national honour-based violence strategy which  I have the honour of leading on behalf of the police service.

My message is very clear: where this pernicious form of violence infiltrates our homes – which should be the safest spaces in our lives – we will act with all the powers open to us to protect victims.

Commander Mak Chishty

National Policing Lead on Honour-Based Violence

Recreation and the issue of health

Robert Tuck (letter, 25 October) suggests that people who deliberately risk damaging their health should be charged for all medical treatment they receive. I assume he also includes those who indulge in potentially hazardous activities such as skiing, climbing, horse riding, parachuting and many more “middle class” pastimes which carry risk.

It is easy to blame other people for damaging their health by doing things that one does not do oneself, but one man’s recreation is another man’s vice.

Patrick Cleary

Honiton, Devon

I spent many years starving myself in a useless attempt to stop gaining weight. Realising I was ill I would try to get a diagnosis only to be told that all that was wrong was that I was overweight. I had to give up work, I couldn’t think and I became more and more depressed. I began to  think I was actually going mad and was eating  without knowing I was doing it. Knowing that Robert Tuck (letters, 25 October) would regard  me as morally deficient didn’t help.

After about 20 years a severe metabolic illness  was diagnosed, and at last  I got the treatment I needed. But it was not before my career and many relationships had been destroyed. If Mr Tuck had had his way I would have been made to pay a  financial penalty in  addition to my loss of income. People do not  often become obese from living an “idiotic lifestyle”

Sara Neill

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Keeping Farage in a safe place

John Dakin is puzzled as to why The Independent gives Nigel Farage a weekly column (letter, 25 October). I sympathise, but – if I may be allowed a leap to this great organ’s defence – it is a long-standing newspaper tradition to employ a columnist or two whose opinions are teasingly at variance with editorial policy and readers’ likely views, to spice up the mixture and encourage lively responses to the Letters page.

Moreover, consider this: Mr Farage won’t win many converts among Independent readers. His efforts are far more likely  to be counterproductive, since they will doubtless  be met mostly with scorn and derision. If, however, he were to resume his regular column in the  Daily Express, he would  be far more dangerous. Contracted to  The Independent places  him where he can do the least harm.

Bob Gilmurray

Ely, Cambridgeshire

The legality of police relationships

In her article (25 October), Alice Jones writes that  for a man to get a woman  to have sex with him by “trickery” is tantamount  to abuse.

Unless legislation has removed it from the definition, it is rape if a man gets a woman to have sex with him by “force, fear or fraud”. It would be an interesting legal discussion as to whether police officers who pass themselves off to women as sharing their views and activities in pursuit of a particular issue and form a sexual relationship with them can be tried for rape.

One assumes that a defence would argue that the sex was consensual but if that consent was obtained by the kind of “trickery” to which Alice Jones refers, surely that is, in fact, fraud.

Over to you DPP/CPS.

John Crocker


European Commission is deaf to pleas for reform

David Cameron has angrily denounced the European Commission for demanding an extra £1.7bn contribution from British taxpayers. Last year, the UK’s net contribution to this undemocratic organisation was £8.5bn.

The UK is now being penalised because its economy has performed better than expected while countries like France and Germany, whose economies have under-performed, will receive multimillion-pound rebates. France will receive €1bn and former industrial power-house Germany will get €779m.

The Brussels behemoth and its gravy train thunders along immune to austerity and deaf to pleas for reform.

Staff are far too numerous, overpaid with gold-plated pensions, led by unaccountable mandarins who send out directives like confetti and who are about as useful. This unelected, unaccountable, overstaffed organisation has never had its accounts signed off by the auditors.

Cameron must act decisively and freeze further payments especially with Ukip now a force to be reckoned with.

Clark Cross

Linlithgow, West Lothian

If Mr Cameron is not going to pay this £1.7bn EU demand, why not take the political initiative and make a desperately needed gesture to the Ebola catastrophe and divert these very funds, on behalf of both the UK and EU, to this tragedy. This really would leave the European Commission shame-faced if anyone dare raise an objection.

Peter Gibson

Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

If the non-binding pledges announced by European governments in Brussels on Friday morning are an indication of the global response to climate change, the world and its inhabitants are in big,  big trouble.

Members of the European Commission and European Council championed the commitments for emission reductions, energy conservation, and the increase of renewable power sources that were contained in the agreement, but the targets simply are not strong enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the rate demanded by the science of climate change.

To describe 40 per cent emissions cuts as adequate or ambitious, as EU leaders are doing, is dangerously irresponsible. 40 per cent is off the radar of climate science. This deal does nothing to end Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels or to speed up our transition to a clean energy future. It’s a deal that puts dirty industry interests ahead of citizens and the planet.

Alan Hinnrichs


Groucho Marx (1895-1977) once said: “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

Our Prime Minister David Cameron could well say the same of the EU in an angry response to the shoddy treatment being handed out by a club that  is now in many ways far  too expensive to be a member of.

Dennis Forbes Grattan

Bucksburn, Aberdeen


Sir, One aspect that is overlooked in the NHS England Five-Year Forward View (“Crisis in the NHS”, leading article, Oct 23) is the significant role that digital technology can — and must — play in providing sustainable and affordable care. Targeted use of a range of social media and other low-cost technologies (such as apps to monitor diet and exercise) can be used to change behaviours and encourage healthy lifestyles. Further investment in telecare technology can immediately support the provision of sustainable at-home care to our ageing population. In the long term, technology such as wearable patches that monitor vital statistics will enable practitioners to provide significantly better focused care. With smart use of digital technology, a better NHS is possible without blowing the budget.
Andy Vernon
PA Consulting Group, London, SW1

Sir, Another reorganisation of the NHS may help to cut costs, but it will do nothing to solve the underlying problem with the health service, which is that the country simply cannot afford it. There is not the remotest possibility that we can go on providing medical care for all patients and all conditions, free of charge; we will either have to cut demand or cut supply. Attempts to limit, let alone cut, demand have proved useless. Nor is there much likelihood that preventive measures will do much to lessen demand. So we must cut supply. Perhaps the NHS can only be free for emergency treatment, and all routine treatment paid for by insurance or through means testing.
Professor Tony Waldron
London N11

Sir, The assertion by the chief executive of NHS England Simon Stevens’s of a rigid barrier between primary and secondary care is true of today’s NHS and is one of the major failings in the patient journey. In the days before market forces were introduced there was a healthy relationship between local GPs and their consultant colleagues. I could pick up the phone and be able to talk to a specialist with whom I had developed a personal relationship over several years. In the present system, both primary care and secondary care are separate entities, both fighting for their share of a diminishing pot of cash. The only way I can talk to a consultant colleague nowadays is on the golf course at the weekend, and even this route of access is now threatened by Mr Cameron’s plan for seven-day working.
Dr AW Cairns
Swan Surgery, Petersfield, Hants

Sir, The solution to NHS funding (“NHS: the £8 billion black hole,” Oct 23) is a hypothecated tax. Rename National Insurance as “NHS Tax”. NI revenue is at a level close to NHS spend. The rate is set annually and increases to reflect the country’s projected NHS expenditure for the following year, including overspend for the previous year.So that everyone feels ownership of our National Health Service, contributions start at the minimum wage threshold and are paid on every pound of income above that.
Adrian Cartwright
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs

Sir, Reading about the plans of NHS England leaves me deeply concerned. What is worrying is the acceptance of of privatisation, with its emphasis on personalisation, local flexibility in rules and regulation and a focus on efficiencies.The key issues facing the NHS are chronic underfunding, wasteful internal markets and bankrupting PFI deals. We pay at least £5 billion annually on an internal market that does not improve patient care. We have just seen an unnecessary £3 billion top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The answer to the health of our nation is manifestly not efficiency savings and use of the private sector.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action Party, Worthing, W Sussex

Sir, In the same way that charges were introduced for dental treatment and prescriptions, charges of £10/£20 must be introduced for every visit to a GP. This will eliminate most of the unnecessary “casual” visits which take up far too much of the GP’s time. Also, as the result of the absurd agreement which the last Labour government concluded with the BMA, GPs’ salaries are the highest in Europe and should be frozen for at least the next five years in order to make them realistic.
W Anthony Pike

Sir, “Treatment Centres” are nothing new. Twenty-odd years ago, tired of years of ineffectual treatment for my chronically ingrown toenails, I asked my GP about removing them. No problem. He phoned another local practitioner who specialised in such matters, made me an early appointment, and within a few weeks the job was done.
Laurence Payne

Sir, Simon Stevens would like consultants in GP surgeries to “consult” with patients. Just imagine the number of hours consultants would spend in a car or train or bus. This would amount to a huge waste of specialist skills, of time spent doing no useful skilled work instead of operating on patients at their tertiary base hospital. Thousands of hours would be lost to reducing waiting lists lost at the cost of increasing pollution. What we need is a more efficient referral system to the centre.
David E Ward
Consultant in cardiology and electrophysiology, London SW17

Sir, It is disappointing that your editorial repeats the falsehood that the British Medical Association opposed the formation of the NHS. It was in the 1930s that the BMA produced plans for general medical, hospital and maternity services for the nation. Many of these themes were revisited in the 1942 Beveridge Report that looked at providing a national health service. Doctors’ opposition to parts of what was proposed at the time was related to the detail of the government’s initial plans for how the system would operate, not to the principle of a publicly funded and comprehensive service that was free at the point of use for all patients.
Dr Mark Porter
Chairman, BMA Council,
London, WC1

 An installation of clocks by French artist Arman outside the Saint-Lazare train station in Paris

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Published at 12:01AM, October 27 2014

Sir, Why must we change the clocks to bring forward the consequences of winter gloom (reports, Oct 24 & 25)? Why can’t we instead let summer time (GMT+1) run on during the winter months as a three-year experiment, or switch permanently to Single/Double Summer Time (SDST)?

Statistics provided at the end of an experimental period would prove whether lighter winter evenings reduced the number of children and cyclists killed on the roads. We could also gauge the impact on electricity bills, tourism receipts, children’s health and so on.

If the statistics proved generally positive then a balanced decision could be made to improve the quality of life across the nation by supporting any future bill on daylight saving. Will any party be bold enough to include this idea in their election manifesto?

Lord Tanlaw
House of Lords

Sir, The annual campaign to introduce double summer time is upon us once again but I’m not convinced its proponents have considered all the consequences. For example, sunset in June would be at about 10.30pm, so it would mean many of us having to go to bed while it is still daylight, even in the south. This would be a waste of daylight, not a saving of it, and would be particularly detrimental to thousands of schoolchildren who would be in the middle of the exam season. At the other end of the day, it would mean the dispiriting prospect of getting up in the dark for probably an extra two months of the year, with the additional heating and lighting costs that this would entail.

Christopher Allanson
Haywards Heath, W Sussex

Sir, Lighter evenings rather than darker mornings are cited in your leading article (Oct 25) as an outcome of the proposal to put our clocks one hour ahead of their current setting in both summer and winter. The benefits of doing so are far greater than this statement implies. The extra hour of daylight in the evenings would be enjoyed on every day of the year, but the gloomier hour in the mornings would only have to be put up with on the days of winter. At present, for most of the year the great majority of the population in effect wastes 200 to 300 daylight hours because they are still in bed — even in Scotland.

Dr Mayer Hillman
Senior fellow emeritus, Policy Studies Institute

Sir, There appears to be an avoidance of a simple fact: it is darker in winter than in summer. As Jacob Rees-Mogg has pointed out, we experimented with BST in winter in 1968-71. I remember those dark, dreary mornings, characterised by road accidents involving children. Nowadays most schools finish by 3.30pm which leaves plenty of time for them to get home before dusk, even in late December and early January. I agree that changing the clocks is a nuisance so why not leave them on GMT, our natural time, throughout the year? Prior to 1914 GMT was standard throughout most of western Europe: CET was only met by travellers east of the Rhine.

FR Julian G Shurgold
Sutton, Surrey

Sir, Anna Goodman is right to say that introducing additional daylight saving measures “would affect every child in the country, every day of the year”. But, believe me, it would bring enormous joy to us oldies — and to all those in between.

Henrietta Napier

Sir, There are convincing arguments for shifting clocks forward in Britain, though perhaps not by a whole two hours in summer and one in winter, as advocated by Rebecca Harris MP. The main objection has always been that in Scotland it would force people to leave home in the morning in the dark. This problem can surely be met by a decision, under devolved powers for Scotland, to adopt a later starting time there for work, schools and everything else, while accepting the change for clocks.

Edmund Gray
Iffley, Oxford

Sir, Norway and Sweden share the same time zone as France with the necessary adjustments for winter/summer times. Their farmers and schoolchildren cope perfectly well. There is no logical reason for the UK not to do the same thing.

Ingemar Lundegard
West Kingsdown, Kent

Sir, David Cameron says of the European Union’s demand for more money: “We are not going to write a cheque for €2 billion — it’s not happening” (reports, Oct 24 and 25). He must be relieved that the EU does not have the power his government has granted HMRC to demand and take from a taxpayer’s bank accounts whatever amount of tax it believes it is owed. In that case EU would be able to take the £1.7 billion whether he wrote a cheque or not.

Richard Tweed


Sir, My concern over the EU’s “demand” that the UK pays an additional £1.7 billion is whether Brussels is comparing like with like.

Our revised GDP figures contain allowances for illegal activities such as prostitution and drug-dealing, but do the GDPs of all the other member states include them? And precisely what allowances have been made in the Italian figures for activities by the mafia?

Until the bureaucrats explain the basis of their calculations, David Cameron is right to refuse to pay this additional impost.

W Anthony Pike


Sir, Our government should withhold payment of the £1.7 billion surcharge until the European Court of Auditors can give the European accounts a clean bill of health, which it has consistently failed to do since 1994.

Who, other than we taxpayers, would invest in an organisation whose accounts have not been signed off by an independent auditor for nearly 20 years?

John H Rosier

Wyre Piddle, Worcs

Sir, In advocating a new runway at Gatwick, Stewart Wingate (Business, Oct 23) perhaps unwittingly makes a powerful case for expansion at Stansted. He rightly states that truly global cities have a network of airports. What could be more logical than three major London airports: Heathrow to the west, Gatwick to the south and Stansted to the northeast?

Stansted is also more accessible to the neglected north and Midlands.

Mike Keedwell

Chelmsford, Essex

Sir, The government should think again about cutting access for ordinary people to the remedy of judicial review which lets people who are affected by government and other public authority decisions to ask the court to review their lawfulness. There is potentially deep injustice in their proposed changes.

Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, says that this remedy is abused by campaigners who want to use the process to challenge the government, cause delays or generate publicity for their cause at the expense of taxpayers. He says he is making change, in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, to “drive out meritless applications”.

The government intends to deny access to legal aid until a court has determined whether a judicial review is permissible. Applicants for judicial reviews will be exposed to the cost incurred in the pre-permission stage, which can be thousands of pounds. Clearly, lawyers may not be prepared or able to take on a case which carries the risk of receiving no funding.

Grayling also proposes to raise the level at which permission for judicial review will be granted, requiring more detailed deployment of the facts at permission stage. This will increase the financial risk for litigants because more work will be required without funding.

Why does the government intend virtually to deny to ordinary people the right to ask the courts to protect them from the impact of poor public authority decisions, including poor decisions by the government itself?

Signed by Police and Crime Commissioners: Olly Martins (Bedfordshire); Barry Coppinger (Cleveland); Alan Charles (Derbyshire); Ron Hogg (Durham); Tony Lloyd (Greater Manchester); Clive Grunshaw (Lancashire); Jane Kennedy (Merseyside); Vera Baird (Northumbria); Paddy Tipping (Nottinghamshire); David Jamieson (West Midlands); Mark Burns-Williamson (West Yorkshire)

Sir, I was somewhat amused to see Wilton described as a “sleepy Wiltshire village”(report, Oct 25). Wilton is a vibrant town that was once the capital of Wessex; it has had a royal charter since 1100. It is also home to Wilton House, where 70 years ago the D-Day landings were planned at the then home of Southern Command.

Councillor Phil Matthews

Mayor of Wilton


Fossil fuel is still required to manage and maintain wind farm equipment

Britain wind farms generated more power than its nuclear power stations last Tuesday due to freak weather conditions

6:56AM GMT 26 Oct 2014


SIR – Has anyone calculated how much fossil fuel is used in installing a wind-powered electricity generator?

The metal ores have to be mined, transported and smelted. The metals have to be made into suitable alloys and fabricated. The components are transported to the site, which has to be prepared and several hundred tonnes of cement poured to make stable foundations.

Once the generator is connected, more fossil fuel is then used in the management and maintenance of the equipment, which does not function continuously.

Keith Ferris
Coxheath, Kent

SIR – The BBC got excited last week over the news that – thanks to the present freak spell of windy weather – wind power broke its own records.

What they failed to mention was that, as there is no way of controlling the torque produced by a wind turbine, certain steam-driven turbines had to be throttled back to maintain the grid at 50 hertz.

What the BBC should be telling us is not how much electrical power wind is providing, but how much fossil fuel (if any) it is saving.

Brian Christley
Abergele, Conwy

Vision of the future?

SIR – Every year I watch The Apprentice in the hope that at least one member of the group may prove to possess some vaguely likeable quality.

But once again the show’s producers seem to have gone out of their way to gather together a bunch of unappealing, deluded, anti-social misfits.

The candidates are billed as being the brightest young entrepreneurs in the country. If that is true then it does not bode well for the future.

Robert Readman
Bournemouth, Dorset

Voices from the West

SIR – Scottish and Northern Irish accents seem ubiquitous on radio these days, but there are few regional English accents.

As a Bathonian myself, I struggle to think of any West Country accents on national radio or television news.

Robert Parker
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

Hairy economy

SIR – Robert Peston, the BBC’s economics editor, seems to be growing his hair.

Does its new length say anything about the future of interest rates, in the same way that hemlines are said to rise during boom times?

Jonathan Selby
Kew, Surrey

Judge Thokozile Masipa reads her sentence of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius  Photo: Themba Hadebe/AP

6:58AM GMT 26 Oct 2014


SIR – With criticisms aimed at the verdict of culpable homicide and some confusion over the manner in which Judge Thokozile Masipa prolonged its announcement in September, there was a sense leading up to last week’s sentencing of Oscar Pistorius that the High Court of South Africa still had things to prove. Rarely is a sentencing exercise subject to such intense international scrutiny in any jurisdiction.

The relative importance of the three fundamental issues of offence, offender and public interest – known in South African jurisprudence as the “triad of Zinn” (after the 1969 case in which they were articulated) – has been the topic of fierce debate by academics, media commentators and the public for the past month.

With the handing down of a five-year sentence, which will equate to a much shorter time in custody, these debates will continue. Yet one of the most significant aspects of the events in Pretoria was the reaction of the victim’s mother, June Steenkamp. On leaving the court and being confronted with the suggestion that the sentence was lenient, she replied: “It doesn’t matter, he’s going to pay something.”

This is an important reminder that those most closely affected by even the most heinous crimes are often seeking less a sense of retribution and more a degree of recognition, by the offender and the state, for the harms suffered along with a sense of closure – in so far as closure is possible in such tragic circumstances.

Professor Matthew Hall
Professor of Law & Criminal Justice
University of Lincoln

Going nowhere

SIR – Although I’m often bottlenecked in traffic on the A303 at Stonehenge, I’ll not rush to give my vote to the Conservatives, even if George Osborne’s Autumn Statement promises an infrastructure upgrade there (“Autumn spending spree that Tories hope will be road to voters’ hearts”, report, October 19).

In 2003 the Labour government announced plans for a tunnelled dual carriageway, only to abandon them following the general election.

Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Make chips not war

SIR – I can endorse Peter Myers’s comments about fish and chips (Letters, October 19).

In the late Fifties Professor Asa Briggs came to Leeds University as a guest lecturer. His subject was the socioeconomic effects of the Great Depression in the Thirties and he stated: “But for the widespread availability of fish and chips, we could have descended into civil war.”

In contrast to the “dirty rooms with primitive equipment and doubtful frying oil” referred to in Mr Myers’s letter, today we are fortunate to have many superb fish-and-chip outlets operating to the highest standards.

Tony Rogers
Bolton, Lancashire

Dr Beeching’s legacy

SIR – David Pearson (Letters, October 19) has raised the spectre of Dr Richard Beeching, chairman of British Railways from 1961-65, and outlined the present difficulties of travel between parts of West Yorkshire and Manchester.

The problems identified have been multiplied over the whole country since Dr Beeching’s “Reshaping of British Railways” report came out in 1963. Conservative and Labour governments were both to blame for carrying out a mass cull, when only some thinning-out of the system was required.

Excessive rationalisation removed so many important cross-country lines. By the late Sixties, whole areas of the country had either no railway or just minimal provision. Giant stations, like Birmingham Snow Hill and Nottingham Victoria, simply disappeared. One of the unfair results is that today’s railway network is focused much more upon London.

At least Mr Pearson can enjoy the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway where he lives.

The Revd Robert Weissman
London E18

Airborne nuisance

SIR – Oliver Pritchett (“The reality of having mobiles on planes”) hits the nail on the head. I am not a frequent flier but I dread the day that mobile phones may be used in passenger aircraft.

My only hope is that airlines will banish phone users to the rearmost seats of the cabin, as they used to do with smokers.

A J Laughton
Coxheath, Kent

Unhappy numbers

SIR – Can someone please tell me the best way to deal with the numerous and regular calls to my home and mobile with a recorded message from “Number Withheld”, offering to handle refunds on my payment protection insurance?

Keith Hewitt
Bollington, Cheshire

SIR – If I fell and injured myself while rushing to answer a telephone call that turned out to be an unsolicited cold call, could my hospital bill the cold call company for my treatment?

Ann Valerie Shepherd
Sarisbury Green, Hampshire

SIR – Raymond Blanc, the French chef, believes the demise of many varieties of English apple has been caused by our country’s sugar addiction.

The real reason stems from the requirement of supermarkets for apples that are uniform in size and which can be supplied in sufficient quantity to be displayed on the shelves of every branch in the country.

The growth of supermarkets led to the decline of the traditional greengrocer and wholesale fruit merchants who were happy to offer a variety of English apples. Supermarkets had no interest in procuring fruit from small orchards, irrespective of the superb quality of much of what was grown. The administration and hassle of dealing with small suppliers did not suit their business models.

With fewer outlets willing to sell their fruit, hundreds of apple-growers were forced to sell their land. Where trees laden with Cox’s, Russets and Bramleys once stood, now stand rows and rows of houses.

Supermarkets, and their insistence on a 12-month supply programme, have destroyed the pleasure and anticipation of new-season produce, and their fresh produce departments are bland and boring. The displays of fruit and vegetables seldom change and give the impression of having been manufactured, not grown.

The Loire Valley – one of Raymond Blanc’s preferred holiday destinations – was among the first areas outside Britain to benefit from the demand for quantity before quality. Their tasteless Golden Delicious apples fitted British supermarkets’ requirements to perfection.

George Wilkie
Hemingford Grey, Huntingdonshire

SIR – Janet Daley’s article resonated with me.

My frail 90-year-old aunt is expected to struggle to her GP’s surgery. Her GP had agreed to a home visit but then phoned up to cancel. One one occasion my aunt was told by the out-of-hours GP that a severe headache resulting in very little sleep for a couple of weeks “did not constitute an emergency”. The GP’s complete lack of empathy has been staggering.

The NHS is not the envy of the modern world. It operates a postcode lottery and has an ageist agenda. This bureaucratic monolith is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Don Bailey
Helsby, Cheshire

SIR – I am an expat living in Greece. In the past, I have always had an annual appointment with my GP in Britain to check on my diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

A year ago, I was denied an appointment as I had been taken off the register by the GP practice manager without any consultation with my GP. The reason: I live outside the United Kingdom for more than six months of the year.

I have lived and worked in Britain all my life, paid all NHS contributions for over 30 years and I am now denied my basic right to NHS health care because I chose to live in another EU country when I retired.

I am a British passport holder: I pay tax on my pensions and can vote in British elections. Why is it that an immigrant who has not contributed tax has access to the NHS but I do not?

David Cavalier
Gaios, Paxos, Attica, Greece

SIR – An American friend on a visit fell and injured himself in our house last week.

Thus ensued two consultations by terrific paramedics and one trip to Frimley Hospital, where he received expert consultation, three X-rays, and an offer of crutches – all for free, much to his, and our, surprise. My treatment wouldn’t be free in America. When my wife required orthopaedic attention a few years ago in South Africa, we paid.

It was demoralising for us to see NHS staff providing their expertise and facilities on these terms. At least our doctor’s surgery charged for the necessary prescriptions and medication.

Mike Knight
Ascot, Berkshire

SIR – There will always be human error in the NHS but many mistakes happen because of management’s emphasis on paperwork rather than patient care. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, must realise that if nurses were allowed to do what they are trained to do rather than satisfying management demands, there would be fewer mistakes and more people willing to enter the profession.

Jacky Ellinger
Southampton, Hampshire

SIR – On a recent cruise I was presented, in microcosm, with the problems facing the NHS.

Of the 2,000 passengers present, the great majority of whom were British, about 50 per cent were overweight. Approximately 15 per cent of passengers were obese, and about 25 per cent of the passengers required a wheelchair or other mobility aid, mainly due to problems caused by being overweight.

It may be time for politicians to consider enabling the NHS to charge people who refuse to accept responsibility for their own health and well-being.

Alan Moss
Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire

SIR – The Labour Party is hoping to provide more funding for the NHS. Shouldn’t we look to tax that which puts the greatest burden upon health services?

As a retired dentist, I am referring to sugar. The greatest number of admissions among children is for the extraction of decayed teeth.

By raising tax on sweets, biscuits, cakes, puddings and sugary drinks, those who choose to buy these products will also help to fund any treatment that they might require due to excessive consumption of them.

Dr Clare Z Jackson
London SW1

The Local Government Authority has recommended that head teachers should allow parents to take their children on holiday during the school year without fear of a fine. Yay! Photo: Alamy

6:12PM GMT 26 Oct 2014


SIR – In the debate over whether parents should be able to take children on holidays during term-time (Judith Woods: “School rules on half-term breaks are crippling me, Features, October 25), one issue is regularly overlooked: Ofsted heavily penalises schools for absences, and will downgrade because of this.

Schools are under enormous pressure to improve standards, and this is a particular challenge when many parents do not value education.

Ofsted relies on heavy-handed tactics; perhaps it should be the target rather than pressured head teachers?

Barbara Pierce

SIR – Having a holiday is not a right; having children is a life-choice that requires sacrifices, one of which may be fewer holidays. I can only remember two outings in my entire childhood that did not involve visiting family; both lasted less than one week. What’s wrong with having just one holiday a year – or even missing a year to save up for the next summer?

A child’s education is far more important than a holiday – and before any parent tries to say that holidays are educational, visit a “family holiday” destination yourself and see how much children are learning from swimming in the hotel pool, looking for restaurants serving familiar British food, or sitting near the bar so their parents can enjoy themselves.

Marcia MacLeod
London NW6

SIR – I have every sympathy with parents who want to avoid paying the higher prices charged by travel companies once school holidays begin.

Why not penalise these companies for putting up their prices, or introduce some form of price controls during this period?

Rowan Simmonds
Ham, Wiltshire

SIR – Dental disease is entirely preventable. Prevention works long-term, whereas every other form of treatment is prone to long-term failure.

The cheapest and most effective public health measure would be to fluoridate Britain’s water supply. This combined with a dental health-care programme aimed at children should be the limit of taxpayer-based funding, with the poor alone being offered subsidised treatments.

This kind of provision would be highly effective, as it is in many other countries, and cost a fraction of the current system, in which funding is aimed mostly at reparative treatment.

Why should thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money be used to bribe new dental graduates to work for the NHS, as it has been in Scotland?

Dr Eilert Eilertsen

SIR – While on a visit to a primary school in Osaka, Japan, a couple of years ago, I was surprised to hear the familiar strains of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” being relayed over the school’s Tannoy. This signalled “tooth cleaning time”, and I saw rows of children brushing their teeth vigorously in time to the music. It was a regular part of the children’s day, just as washing hands at the appropriate time was. Why should that not be the case in Britain?

Rosalind Hallett

Blades on the ground

SIR – During the Second World War, the RAF in the Middle East sent a message to London requesting 600 airscrews. The message was misread as aircrews and 600 airmen were sent out round the Cape. A later signal read: “For airscrews read propellers”.

Adrian Holloway
Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire

A classic request

SIR – I am a former Radio 3 listener. This is what I want as I wake up: a posh girl or boy introducing classical music. Some time later, the exercise is repeated. That’s it.

What I don’t want is the news every 15 minutes, members of the public droning down the phone, the BBC advertising itself, the presenter telling me what I might hear 15 minutes hence and frequent encouragement to contact the programme by all possible methods.

Edwin Prescott
Kingston Gorse, West Sussex

Irish Times:

Sir, – Robert Grant (“Philosophy in our schools is a necessity”, Education Opinion, October 21st) argues his case well. He is not the first to argue it. But there is absolutely no hope of his wish being implemented. How could it happen when contemporary Irish culture resolutely values only one kind of creative writing, namely fiction?

Aosdána is the living proof of this. This state-sponsored encouragement of creativity admits even photographers to membership but excludes philosophers. The recent institution of a Laureate for Irish Fiction awarding €150,000 to the winner is merely the latest evidence of this resolute cultural bias.

Week in, week out, the absence of books by Irish philosophers at home and abroad from the book-review pages hammers home that the administrators of Irish culture have no regard for such work (if truth be told, they fear it). They have brought about that in common parlance “Irish writing” means only Irish fiction.

Our acquiescence in this bias, unique in Europe and reflected in the shallowness of Irish public discourse, shows that it accords with our nature as a nation loving the artful creation of made-up stories, fearful of minds probing and presenting the realities of the human condition and the present-day world. To introduce such minds to our schoolchildren would in the Irish case be offensively anti-cultural; simply too much against the grain to be practically possible.


Dublin 4.

Sir, – Various reporters and commentators in The Irish Times have, rightfully, pointed out that the Ebola outbreak in west Africa contains lessons for all of us, beyond the obvious immediate need of containing the disease.

Those lessons are that we can no longer afford to treat social and economic problems abroad as of little relevance to us here in Ireland.

If the world had not ignored the inadequacy of healthcare and public services in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the situation would not have snowballed into a major global crisis, with ramifications for us here. Furthermore, if the global community had acted sooner, the response to the Ebola outbreak would have required far less resources.

It is accepted wisdom that prevention is always better than a cure. Yet, when it comes to global crises, the public and our politicians prefer to act only in the face of (media covered) disaster.

This week 30 years ago, the world was alerted to the famine in Ethiopia. Michael Buerk’s broadcast of a “biblical famine” went viral and galvanised celebrity-led action of an unprecedented scale – obscuring the fact that aid agencies had alerted the world months earlier, but, in the words of BBC correspondent Mark Doyle “famines are sexy, predicting them is not”.

It is high time that we as citizens and policymakers accept the fundamental interdependence of our societies and lives. We cannot continue to treat our economic and social challenges here in Ireland as somehow divorced from realities in other parts of the world.

An investment in the type of structures and initiatives that build resilient societies is clearly preferable to “fire-fighting” after poverty and insecurity have erupted into a full-fledged crisis.

Ebola, Ethiopia, climate chaos and Rana Plaza in Bangladesh remind us that as citizens of Ireland, we must acknowledge that we are citizens of a global village, where situations of injustice, poverty and institutional weakness are a problem for all of us. – Yours, etc,




1-2 Baggot Court,

Lower Baggot Street,

Dublin 2.

A chara, – Michael Jansen suggests that among the solutions to the horror taking place in Syria is a programme of “re-education” (“Islamic State is a cult that cannot be bombed out of existence”, October 20th). Possibly even as she was writing these words, an unnamed 17-year-old boy was entering into his final moments of agony in Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital. He died after enduring an excruciating three days on a metal cross in the town square. His crime? Apostasy, leaving Islam to become a Christian, along with an accusation of espionage. His killers proudly posted images of his battered body on social media.

I am sure I am not alone in longing and praying for a peaceful solution to the barbarities taking place under this regime.

Ms Jansen’s programme of education needs to begin now; could she please provide some concrete examples as to how it might take place? There is no time to wait – Islamic State has many more crosses of metal and wood standing in the public squares of Raqqa and other towns. These are part of their own educational programme; to teach all who see them of the fate that awaits those who oppose them in any way. – Is mise,


Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald announced additional terror offences in the Seanad on October 7th and expressed concern about the “recruitment and training for terrorist activities” (“Three new terrorism offences introduced in Bill”, October 7th). This decision is to be welcomed.

Terrorising people is a very serious crime, especially when the tools of terrorism including horrific killings, torture and most serious abuses of women and children. The Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria is guilty of all these crimes but it is not alone.

The state of Saudi Arabia is reported to have executed at least 26 people in the month of August 2014 by publicly beheading them. Drone strikes by the US have killed over 2,400 people over the past five years, almost half of whom were innocent civilians, causing widespread terror in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, in clear breach of international laws.

Ms Fitzgerald stated that the Irish terrorism legislation was to combat terrorist activity and ensure that “there were no gaps in Irish laws by dealing with more subtle and indirect aspects of modern terrorism”. The Minister also said that “there is considerable concern across Europe and elsewhere at the phenomenon of individuals travelling to conflict areas in the Middle East”. We should expect then that the new anti-terrorist legislation will include sanctions against Islamic State and states such as Saudi Arabia, as well as steps to prevent recruitment of Irish citizens into foreign armies that have been fighting unjustified wars causing terror in the Middle East, including the UK and US.

Should we also expect that armed “individuals travelling to conflict areas in the Middle East” through Shannon airport will be arrested and tried under this new Irish legislation? – Yours, etc,


Castletroy, Limerick.

Mon, Oct 27, 2014, 01:06

First published: Mon, Oct 27, 2014, 01:06

Sir, – David McConnell (October 13th) should be commended not just for bringing a number of the major issues into clearer focus, but for his tolerance towards Christians. It is indeed refreshing to see such a prominent member of the Humanist Association allow that Christianity is itself a humanism; all the more so given the tendency of some humanists to assume that the very word “humanism” is commensurate with “atheism”.

Nonetheless, it is understandable that Patrick Davey (October 20th) should find in Prof McConnell’s attitude that “limitation of allowable evidence” that some would apply not only to science but to the empirical philosophical tradition as a whole.

A famous comic stage routine, now of venerable age, which emerged, I believe, in the closing years of the Austro-Hungarian empire, has achieved a certain longevity because it has been interpreted as a satire on positivism (or science in its most assertive form). On the stage is revealed a man walking around in circles under a street-lamp, apparently searching for something he has lost, with the benefit of the limited illumination the lamp affords. He is joined by a second man, who asks: “Have you lost something?” To which the first man replies: “Yes, a valuable coin”. So the second man joins the first in his circular quest. Nothing is found. The second man then asks the first: “Are you sure you lost it here?” To which the first man replies, pointing to the surrounding darkness; “No, I lost it over there – but there’s no light over there . . .”

Rather than spell out the allegory, it seems more appropriate, given the context, to let this stand as a parable. Readers are well able, one assumes, to join the necessary dots. One might further add the pithy admonition given by Blaise Pascal: that there are not one, but “two extremes” – not only “to exclude reason”, but “to admit reason only”.

The interpretation of our existential situation requires the application of the full range of our faculties; and there are those, not only Christians, who feel that a strict reliance on reason and empiricism will not disclose all we feel the need to know. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – I find it ironic that most of my godfaring friends believe in only the god or gods of one religion and not in the gods of all religions. There is much documentation on the number of deities that have been documented since the beginning of recorded history. (I am basing this on the invention of writing by the Sumerians 6,000 years ago but other measures are possible.) Records put this number somewhere between 2,870 and over 12 million. The current Hindu religion records more that 300 gods at present.

Using the lower number here, then most of the Irish monotheistic religious would agree with atheists on at least 2,869 of the documented gods and all 300-plus of the Hindu gods. The only difference between the sides is the tiny increment of extending that agreement to one further god. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – On a recent blustery morning, a large contingent of Mallow people and friends paraded through the grounds of Trinity College Dublin to honour one of the college’s most illustrious alumni, Thomas Davis. The occasion was the launching of a commemorative stamp by An Post.

Marching through the main gates on to one of the busiest junctions in Dublin they processed to the Davis monument on College Green to lay memorial wreaths to commemorate the bicentenary of their fellow townsman.

The event recalled another time in September 1945 when tens of thousands attended a full week of commemoration events to Davis and the Young Irelanders. President Seán T Ó Ceallaigh dedicated the site at College Green on which a monument would be erected to honour this 19th-century hero who preached a gospel of multicultural respect and Irish nationality. In the early 1960s, one of Ireland’s foremost sculptors, Edward Delaney, was commissioned to create the long awaited monument. The sculpture was not without its critics, a Dublin Opinion cartoon declared “sixpence to see its inner beauty”, the same price as a trip to the top of Nelson’s Pillar before it was blown to oblivion.

Pranksters occasionally embellished the fountain in front of the monument with soap powder, a tradition that continues to this day.

But Davis stands magnanimous above it all. He believed that the purpose of politics was to work for all the people and not just the privileged few. He was a nation-builder whose enduring legacy was to articulate the ideals and ambitions of our country.

The town of Mallow is immensely proud of its connection. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – May I add a Dublin dimension to Patrick Freyne’s account (“A day rehearsing an opera for farters and drunks”, October 17th) of the lowbrow origins of The Magic Flute ?

With the opening night fast-approaching and the opera not finished, Mozart was locked in the summer house of Vienna’s Freihaus Theater until it was completed. A ready supply of wine, oysters and sopranos increased Mozart’s productivity – the overture being completed with two days to spare. Whether this frenetic activity contributed to his early death just two months later is not known.

Mozart conducted the premiere of The Magic Flute from the fortepiano with his sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer, in the demanding coloratura role of the Queen of the Night. The polyglot, German polymath, Carl Ludwig Giesecke, the stage manager, took the part of the First Slave.

Giesecke was later appointed professor of mineralogy at the Royal Dublin Society.

After settling in Ireland, where he lived for 20 years until his death, Giesecke claimed that he, not Emmanuel Schickaneder, wrote the libretto of The Magic Flute. Though the claim has never been fully substantiated, the accurately described alchemical allegories in the opera would have come easily to a trained scientist.

Giesecke lived in Hardwicke Place in Dublin and was buried in the adjoining churchyard of St George’s Church, where a memorial plaque, making no mention of his operatic career, was erected in his honour.

I write this letter on the site of the Freihaus Theater; at the door of my apartment a charming stained-glass window, “Dedicated to the Genius Mozart”, marks the spot where he wrote his greatest opera. – Yours , etc,



Sir, – A review of the efficiency and extent of bus lanes in Dublin similar to that carried out in Liverpool as suggested by Frank Greaney (October 18th) sounds like a useful exercise. I’m certainly aware of several locations where their presence and times of operation is now questionable. However, there is another aspect of Dublin traffic movement that also needs urgent review – traffic lights.

Dublin, compared to similar UK and continental cities, has an extraordinary amount of traffic light locations; and at some of these locations an even more extraordinary number of individual light fittings.

Recently, while stopped at red lights at a Dublin quays junction, I counted 11 displays where two had successfully maintained order for decades.

Furthermore all these were on stainless steel poles and brackets which are seriously expensive compared to traditional galvanised or painted ones – and more suited to Dubai’s budget than Dublin’s.

Occasionally one encounters traffic light failures, with common sense and courtesy keeping the traffic moving. Perhaps it would be worth seeing what would happen to traffic if some lights were turned off as an experiment? Chaos or improvement?

I think we may be surprised and save a fair bit of electricity as a bonus.

Something else that happens in the Liverpool area is the operation of some sets of traffic at rush hour only or as required.

Maybe our 33rd county is pointing the way to move? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – In her article “Tech sector needs to dig far deeper in philanthropy field” (October 23rd), Karlin Lillington writes: “Multinationals are part of their local community and should be involved in giving back to it”. The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland could not agree more. That is why we commissioned independent measurement of our members’ social impact in Ireland. The study found that our member companies support over 4,000 community-based projects in Ireland and they support the donation of 160,000 volunteer hours by their employees to these projects every year. This is in addition to the very significant financial and non-financial donations made by our companies and their employees.

Our member companies are very proud to have created 130,000 direct and 100,000 indirect jobs in Ireland. We are equally proud that, every day, we are enhancing lives in communities throughout our country. – Yours, etc,



American Chamber

of Commerce Ireland,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Winter is closing in and footpaths have become dangerously covered in wet leaves. Most road-sweeping nowadays, particularly in suburban areas, is undertaken by sweeper trucks that have little impact on footpath clearance.

I would appeal to the local authorities to make the clearing of leaf-covered footpaths at this time of year a priority.

Footpaths in this condition pose a particular risk to elderly pedestrians. A fall on these slippy paths can have life-changing consequences for some elderly victims. For others, the fear of a catastrophic fall can confine them to their homes, depriving them of much-needed pedestrian mobility.

Local authorities have not been addressing this very real problem in recent years. Perhaps budgetary constraints were to blame. Now that local authority funding has been put on a more solid basis, it is hoped that the necessary resources will be allocated. I would ask that the Minister for the Environment would encourage the local authorities in this regard.

Individual businesses and households can also assist by keeping their footpath frontage clear and safe. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Mahatma Gandhi once said “recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him”.

Gandhi’s words – in a world torn asunder by conflicts, wrestling with urbanisation, climate change, income and wealth inequalities, diseases, chronic poverty, food insecurity and water scarcity – are more pertinent now than at any other time. It is not that we were unaware of the landing of Ebola on our doorsteps – this is, after all, the 25th outbreak in our contemporary history. We simply were unprepared at best and indifferent at worst.

We are in the grip of fear, bewilderment, indecisiveness and rambling thoughts fed by private pharmaceutical companies interested in commercialising their stockpiles of vaccinations. I wonder where were the millions of doses of Ebola vaccines during the past outbreaks?

We knew Ebola is like cancer – a remorseless, merciless and unrelenting disease. We knew Ebola was bound to ravage countries emerging from decades of civil strife with broken health systems.

Why then did we fail to read the writing on the wall? The answer is simple and straightforward: underestimating the value of human rights is what brought us to this grim set of affairs.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London, England


Water charges

In ‘Real dangers to lives if meter protests escalate’ (Editorial, October 23) the author says the following in relation to the recent alleged attacks on water meter installers in parts of Dublin city: “if true, these attacks represent even more damning evidence – if such evidence were required – of the extent of the failure of the Government to adequately explain and implement one of its key priorities”.

I agree that the peaceful rallies in recent days are demonstrative of strong public disillusionment and confusion about the water charges. However, I cannot accept that a physical or verbal attack on any person could ever be a manifestation of frustration at a Government for inadequate clarity and implementation of a new measure.

People who spit at water meter installers whose work they disagree with and at whom – entirely illogically – they shout the word “paedophiles” are not expressing their frustration at the water charges. Their behaviour is merely symptomatic of their own ignorance and lack of engagement with their fellow citizens, it symbolises nothing more.

They do not deserve to be recognised as ‘protesters’ in the same way as those who peacefully make their frustrations known by walking down streets holding placards or by writing to newspapers. Including those people in the same category is disrespectful to the majority who wish to protest on issues by speaking their truth without causing undue harm to others.

Sinead O’Loghlin

Portobello, Dublin 8

Could the Government have thought up of a more difficult, controversial and inefficient way to introduce another tax as they have done with water charges? It defies any sense of respect to the people of this country. They are prepared to bully us into paying yet another tax, this one on a commodity that is a basic human right.

Of course it costs to produce water. I’m well aware of that, but I should think that somewhere in among paying income tax, VAT and property tax, that a basic right is covered. Evidently not with this latest extortion.

What is equally galling is that we fund the wheels of this rollercoaster with monies gleaned from the property tax, which we paid on their good word as being for local services. Are we foolish or were we conned?

I, for one, will not pay it. I won’t pay it as I cannot pay more, in financial terms and in principle. Taxpayers are becoming fish in the proverbial barrel for this government. We have already been asked to pay for the barrel, now we must pay for the water.

Name and address with editor


Ungrateful ‘Scorpion’ banks

Your editorial piece on Friday – suggesting that Irish banks must never forget that they wouldn’t have a business if it wasn’t for the Irish taxpayer bailing them out – was admirable, if not simply academic.

I don’t doubt that the boards of banks across Europe know to whom they owe a huge thanks. However, like the scorpion from the fable, it is not in a bank’s nature to be grateful. A bank is a living, eating, drinking, all-consuming organism that’s only philosophy is making money.

It is the job of legislators to legislate against the type of mess the financial world has endured in the recent past. It would also be funny, if it wasn’t for the fact that how we deal with white-collar crime in Ireland is so tragic. In Ireland if a person is killed and a suspect is charged and convicted of murder, the guilty person goes to prison.

However, if an anomaly is discovered in relation to an account and somebody’s pension or savings are stolen then it is described as a system error and the State picks up the bill.

Darren Williams

Sandyford, Dublin 18


Kenny should look to the future

I had to catch my breath while viewing ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’. About five minutes into the show Vincent starting complimenting Enda Kenny. I was shocked (in a good way). Vincent said he found Mr Kenny very impressive, he got the hang of the job and was more than able to deal with the job and was becoming quite capable and spoke knowledgeably about many things without notes.

This is the same Vincent Browne that a couple of years ago suggested that Enda Kenny should go into a dark room with a gun and a bottle of whiskey. How the times have changed.

I personally think that Enda Kenny is doing a good job as Taoiseach. I agree with a lot of his decisions. One negative is still blaming the old government for today’s troubles.

May I suggest he forgets what happened in the past and make it happen in the present for a better future.

Kevin Devitte

Westport, Co Mayo


Cumann na mBan

Kate Casey’s contention that Cummann na mBan supported regime change that “denied them their basic rights” (Letters, October 20) is based on two misconceptions.

The Free State that developed out of the dust of the Anglo-Irish treaty and subsequent Civil War, was not “the regime change” that most Cummann na mBan members struggled for. In many cases Cumann na mBan were even more vociferous opponents of the Free State than their IRA brothers, fathers and sons.

Their opposition was based on the grounds that it was not the republican ideal they had fought for, but a different form of state imposed on this country under threat of “terrible war”. This significant fact is overlooked by most critics of Ireland’s republican roots.

It was a Free State government that removed women from juries in 1925. Secondly, to assume that Cumann na mBan members considered contraceptives “a right” is to project one’s own feminist politics onto a very different type of early 20th-century feminist movement.

Lastly, Ms Casey’s assertion that “all significant innovations were Anglo-American” is breathtaking in its Anglocentrism. One could point out the litany of examples to the contrary, eg – Louis Pasteur (French) – pasteurisation and germ theory; Marie Curie (Polish) – radiology; Gregor Mendel (Hungarian) – genetics. Or one could add for balance that Anglo-American ‘innovations’ have included the tank and atomic bomb.

Nick Folley

Carrigaline, Co Cork

Irish Independent

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