4 November 2014 Clinic
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I take Mary to the Clinic Hae, 98 up from 84
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
Lord Barnett was a former Labour cabinet minister who devised the formula for distributing spending to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Lord (Joel) Barnett at home near Manchester in 2014 Photo: PAUL COOPER
1:52PM GMT 03 Nov 2014
Lord Barnett, who has died aged 91, was the son of an impoverished Jewish tailor who became Labour’s chief secretary to the Treasury; his name lives on in the Barnett Formula, which since 1978 has determined how much proportionally the four nations of the United Kingdom receive from the Treasury. It gives Scotland, in particular, more to spend per capita, and over time has come under heavy fire — not least from Barnett himself, for whom it had been a temporary fix.
A diminutive 5ft 4in, with a puckish smile and twinkling eyes, Joel Barnett was a moderate socialist and a passionate pro-European. As chief secretary from 1974 to 1979, he proved one of the ablest holders of a post that carries the unenviable task of imposing priorities between conflicting claims on the public purse. Barnett once told Reg Prentice, the education secretary: “Your arguments are overwhelming. You’re obviously right — and the answer is No.”
As he explained in an interview in September with The Telegraph this was the context in which the formula that bears his name was born: “As chief secretary, I was having a terrible time doing what I didn’t go into politics to do — cutting public expenditure. And I was having meetings with every departmental minister about their budget. They all wanted more money — Tony Benn and Barbara Castle more than most. I decided that I could get rid of three Cabinet ministers — the secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — if I could settle on a formula for their budgets. So I set up this method for allocating public expenditure that the Cabinet then agreed to.”
The formula allocates a lump sum for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland then, for every additional pound spent in England, approximately 10p is allocated to Scotland, 5p to Wales and 3p to Northern Ireland, based, theoretically, on their populations. However, the original calculation significantly overestimated Scotland’s population and therefore gave Scots a disproportionate slice of UK tax revenues. Public spending per capita is now 19 per cent higher in Scotland than it is in England.
Barnett had always assumed the use of his “fundamentally flawed” formula would be temporary and became increasingly concerned at the perceived unfairness to English taxpayers. Although he was a staunch supporter of the United Kingdom, he felt that had the Scots voted for independence, one potential gain would have been the end of the formula. As it is, however, to head off a “Yes” vote all three main party leaders lined up to extol the Barnett Formula as a central plank in their promised new “Devo-Max” settlement for Scotland.
“The real problem,” Barnett admitted, “is that now no politician wants to tackle it. The Barnett Formula saves people trouble. It saves prime ministers worrying. That’s the way with politics… Here we are, about to make the wrong decision again.”
In Inside the Treasury (1982) — an invaluable guide to the working of that department — Barnett concluded that the task of the 1974-79 Labour government had been “rendered impossible by pledges foolishly made without any thought as to where the money would come from”.
Joel Barnett was born in Manchester on October 4 1923, the son of Louis and Ettie Barnett. From the Badkindt Hebrew school he won a scholarship to Manchester Central High School, but his father’s business fell on hard times and his family desperately needed the wages Joel could earn. They thought they did well to get him a job in a warehouse at 10 shillings a week.
Manchester’s Jewish quarter in those days looked inward. Barnett’s first experience of the non-Jewish world was his wartime service in the Royal Army Service Corps, and then the British military government in Germany.
His introduction to Labour politics came though his future wife, Lilian, whom he met at the Maccabi Club in north Manchester. She also encouraged him to study accountancy after leaving the Army. He started at J C Allen in 1953 as a clerk, and became senior partner with a staff of dozens.
Joining the Fabian Society in Manchester, he met two future colleagues, Robert Sheldon and Edmund Dell. They founded the Left-wing Coffee House off Albert Square, and Barnett became treasurer of the Manchester Fabians. In 1956 he was elected the first Labour member of Prestwich council. He contested Runcorn in 1959, then in 1964 won Heywood and Royton from the Conservatives by 816 votes.
At Westminster, he blotted his copybook with Harold Wilson by declaring that the pound was over-valued, at a time when the prime minister was adamantly against devaluation, but impressed with his defence from the back benches of James Callaghan’s 1965 Budget, and was recruited to the Public Accounts Committee.
In opposition from 1970 he proved an effective questioner of Tory ministers, and soon joined Denis Healey’s team of Treasury spokesmen. As Heath took Britain into the Common Market, Barnett — a passionate European — accused Wilson of splitting the party by opposing it. He immersed himself in the details of the legislation to introduce VAT — it was on his initiative that children’s clothes were exempted — and he became Healey’s undisputed deputy.
When Labour returned to power after the snap February 1974 election, Barnett was installed as chief secretary, Wilson warning him it was the most unpopular job in government. While Healey concentrated on bringing down the soaring rate of inflation, Barnett busied himself with the detail of tax policy — including the new Capital Transfer Tax and the abortive Wealth Tax to which the Left had committed Labour. In 1975 he became a privy counsellor.
Joel Barnett arriving at 10 Downing Street in 1976
When Mrs Thatcher was elected Conservative leader that February, it fell to Barnett to congratulate her as she entered the Finance Bill committee to cheers from both sides. “We know that you have a very arduous duty ahead of you,” he told her. “We hope you enjoy the best of health; if you go on looking as attractive as you do tonight, it will be very beneficial.”
When Wilson stood down in the spring of 1976, Barnett ran Healey’s leadership campaign. The victorious Callaghan faced a sterling crisis, and sidelined both Healey and Barnett by sending Harold Lever, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to Washington to seek support for sterling. The mission failed, and Healey had to go to the IMF for a £2.3 billion loan in return for further cuts, policed by Barnett.
Barnett joined the Cabinet in February 1977. As the unions chafed increasingly against pay restraint, he took a steadily higher profile. Though the economy improved enough by early 1978 for Healey to deliver a mildly reflationary Budget, Barnett spent ever more of his time in the Commons defending sanctions against employers who broke ranks on pay. The “Winter of Discontent” saw him immersed in fruitless talks with the public sector unions. It was a tribute to Barnett’s energy that when the Conservatives came to power in 1979, his workload was divided between two ministers, John Biffen and Nigel Lawson.
Barnett disliked the direction Labour was taking from the mid-1970s, but he refused friends’ appeals to defect to the SDP when it was formed in 1981. He decided not to stand for the shadow cabinet, and returned to the PAC as chairman. As Mrs Thatcher’s policies began to bite, Barnett became a severe critic of her government’s “obsession with monetarism”. As Treasury ministers struggled to match his reputation as a cutter, he asked: “Is there anything left to cut? Yes. Should anything else be cut? No.”
Barnett now finally joined the Manchester rag trade, becoming chairman first of Arthur Henriques, then also of S Casket and Top Value Industries. He went on to chair the finance house Dominion International and the Children’s Medical Charity Investment Trust, and serve on the international board of Unisys.
At the 1983 election Heywood and Royton was split three ways. Barnett lost the nomination for Heywood and Middleton to his Left-wing colleague Jim Callaghan (no relation) and Oldham Central and Royton to James Lamond, another sitting MP further to the Left. He accepted nomination for less promising Littleborough and Saddleworth, before deciding a younger man would do better; he then tried for Sedgefield, which instead chose the young Tony Blair.
Made a life peer that July, Barnett became Labour’s Treasury spokesman in the Lords. He joined forces with the SDP’s Lord Diamond, another former chief secretary, to savage Conservative financial policies, and caused hilarity by suggesting that samples of inflatable sex toys be placed in the Lords’ library when they debated a Customs and Excise decision to ban them as indecent.
In 1986 Barnett joined the BBC governors as vice-chairman, succeeding Sir William Rees-Mogg. He was reappointed for two years in 1991. He was outspoken in defence of the BBC’s integrity in the face of sniping from supporters of Margaret Thatcher. In a Lords debate in 1990 he rounded on one of the corporation’s most prominent critics, Lord Wyatt, declaring: “Impartiality is in the eye of the beholder, and what he (Wyatt) would consider balance in a programme would be considered by millions of people elsewhere to be totally unbalanced.”
Joel Barnett married Lilian Goldstone in 1949; they had a daughter.
Lord Barnett, born October 14 1923 , died November 1 2014
‘Statelessness is inhumane’: UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie, second left, hears the story of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, September 2012. Photograph: Jason Tanner/AP
Across the world today more than 10 million people are told they don’t belong anywhere. They are called “stateless”. They are denied a nationality.
And with it, they are denied their basic rights. Statelessness can mean a life without education, without medical care, or legal employment. It can mean a life without the ability to move freely, without prospects, or hope. Statelessness is inhumane. The main reason people are stateless is because of discrimination. Because of their ethnicity. Because of their religion. Because in some countries women cannot pass their nationality on to their children.
We believe it’s time to end this injustice. With enough courage we know it is possible. Governments can change their laws and procedures, and give stateless people their rights and a place to belong. Within 10 years, we can ensure everyone has a nationality. Because, if we don’t, this injustice will only get worse.
A child is born stateless every 10 minutes. By the time you finish reading this letter another person may have started life without a nationality. We are ready to make our voices heard. We believe that if we take a stand, others will join us. And if enough of us stand up we will end this inhumanity. That is why UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is launching the Campaign to End Statelessness in 10 years. Sixty years ago, the world agreed to protect stateless people. Now it’s time to end statelessness itself.
António Guterres UN high commissioner for refugees
Angelina Jolie UNHCR special envoy
Surin Pitsuwan Former secretary-general of Asean
Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu
Barbara Hendricks UNHCR honorary lifetime goodwill ambassador
Carla Del Ponte Former chief prosecutor of two UN international criminal tribunals
Louise Arbour Former UN high commissioner for human rights
Lakhdar Brahimi Former UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein UN high commissioner for human rights
Anthony Lake Executive director, Unicef
Helen Clark Administrator, UN Development Programme
Fernando Henrique Cardoso Former president of Brazil
Hina Jilani Former special representative of the UN secretary-general on human rights defenders
Khaled Hosseini Writer and physician
Leymah Gbowee Nobel peace laureate
Juan E Méndez UN special rapporteur on torture
Adama Dieng Special adviser of the UN Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide
Nils Muižnieks Commissioner for human rights, Council of Europe
Astrid Thors High commissioner on national minorities Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
Alan Miller Chair, European Network of National Human Rights Institutions
Kenneth Roth Executive director, Human Rights Watch
Alek Wek Model and designer
Jesús Vázquez Television presenter
Muazzez Ersoy Classical music singer
Aidos Sagat Singer/composer
Osvaldo Laport Actor
George Dalaras Singer
Ahmed Kathrada Human rights activist
Hugh Masekela Musician/composer
George Bzos, SC Human rights lawyer
From the moment of her choosing as chair of the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse, Fiona Woolf’s departure (Report, 1 November) was as foreseeable as her dinner party links with Leon Brittan (Head of abuse inquiry’s letter rewritten to mask Brittan links, 31 October). The next chair will depart in similar ignominy if Mrs May and the victim groups don’t use their imagination when choosing for this inquiry into our capital city’s dirtiest secrets.
This is about a place where former/current politicians, bankers and civil servants share boardrooms; politicians and tabloid editors share horses; and tabloid editors share drinks with senior policemen and senior criminals. From the start of their training, London’s lawyers eat dinners wherein they learn to aspire to enter the same set of relationships, and while I truly admire many, there is no detergent made that could wash those plates clean, in these circumstances.
I suggest Mrs May look to the many supremely clever lawyers whose only aspirations are to pay the mortgage while teaching the next generation of lawyers to seek justice, and whose only sin was to occasionally inhale when at uni. In the more than 90 law schools in the country, there is a collection of caring, true, and honest women and men who know more law than most, and know far better than most how to investigate what is going on.
Professor Stephen Whittle
School of Law, Manchester Metropolitan University
• Fiona Woolf suggested that the only person not connected with the establishment would be a hermit, which came across as facile and thoughtless. Presumably, the government is looking for a figure with the appropriate intellectual and personal abilities to command the respect of the victims, and who will be able to pursue the inquiry without fear or favour. We have a great university tradition of liberal and radical thinking in this country: why not appoint a senior academic? Alternatively, what about an international human rights lawyer from Europe or the US?
Crispin Read Wilson
• Fiona Woolf says she’s not a member of the establishment. If the mayor of the City of London, a former president of the Law Society and a CBE can’t join the establishment, what chance the rest of us?
• The failure to appoint a chair to the independent panel inquiry is indeed “a shambles” (Editorial, 1 November). The delay is highly insensitive to those who have already suffered greatly – and another example of the insularity and arrogance of the London-centric Westminster establishment – no consultation with the victims considered necessary. It is a culture that has extended to MPs fiddling their expenses, the dilatory response to the flooding in the south-west of the country, the unfair distribution of infrastructure funding to the regions, and the failure of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband to understand and respond to Scotland’s post-devolution narrative. All of which contributes to disillusionment with the established political parties. It may be, as your leader column suggests, that an independent inquiry with a sharper focus will serve the victims of historical abuse better – although only if it had statutory clout. But addressing the wider agenda of enhancing local democracy and funding beyond Westminster, including the extension of user involvement in the governance of services and institutions that have so badly failed those they were meant to care for, has the potential to prevent the need for future inquiries.
Emeritus Professor Mike Stein
University of York
• One of the most depressing aspects of the whole saga is the view now being promoted that anyone suitably qualified for the role will, of necessity, be a member of the establishment. That very mindset that only the inner elite could carry out the role is part of the problem.There are many individuals outside the charmed circle capable of chairing the inquiry. My initial suggestion would have been the solicitor Gareth Peirce. Her representation of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six stands as proof of her resolute integrity. She shuns the media limelight and does not appear to frequent the glitzy dinner party circuit. She spurned attempts to award her the CBE. I have no idea if Ms Peirce would be interested in the role but did Theresa May even consider asking her? If not, is it because Ms Peirce is firmly not of the establishment?
Dr Chris Morris
• Theresa May is allegedly finding it hard to locate someone who is not of the establishment to chair her inquiry. Can I suggest she look north of the border? Scotland is still part of the UK, and an eminent Scottish lawyer has recently relocated to England. To someone like Elish Angiolini – former solicitor general of Scotland, now principal of St Hugh’s College Oxford, and currently scrutinising the Met’s handling of rape allegations (Report, 10 June)?
• Alison Millar (the lawyer representing some of the child abuse victims) says that the head of inquiry must be a high court judge, so as to be able to punish those who are in contempt when giving evidence to the inquiry. Is it not possible for Mike Mansfield (or another intellectually able lawyer who is not part of the establishment) to be made a high court judge for the purpose?
Andrew Wylie’s attack on Amazon (Top literary agent likens Amazon’s ‘brutal’ tactics to Isis, 31 October) portrays an opinion of the company that is directly contrary to my experience as an author.
My specialist non-fiction book (Dentist on the Ward: An introduction to the General Hospital for Core Trainees in Dentistry, by Andrew Sadler & Leo Cheng) has a list price, which I have set, of £24.50 and which Amazon sells at a variable discount; today of £17.23 – 30%. By publishing via Createspace, Amazon’s print publishing platform, I receive £5.90 royalty (24%) regardless of the discount Amazon is offering to the buyer. This is more than three times the industry norm for author royalty.
The digital version is published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. I decide the selling price but by choosing to keep it below $9.99 I get 70% royalty, otherwise 35%. The book is therefore sold in the UK for £8.04 and I am paid £5.20 per sale.
My book is never out of date, as I upload new files to Createspace and Kindle each year, and the new printed version is available for sale in under a week and the digital version within two days. I can allow purchasers of the print book to have a heavily discounted or free digital copy.
Mr Wylie, and probably many more in the traditional publishing industry, are understandably bitter. Of course they will be supported by their loyal authors who have grown up in the old ways.
However new technology and methods, to which Amazon has been a major contributor, mean that while Mr Wyllie will continue to provide services to those who want them, they are not necessary. The future belongs to authors and readers who benefit from improved service and efficiency and the financial benefit of losing the middlemen who have hitherto taken most of the cake.
I’m glad that Jonathan Jones liked AJP Taylor’s The First World War: An Illustrated History (History and all its grisly facts are worth more than the illusion of memory, 1 November). I collected the pictures for that book’s first edition in 1963 and pay tribute to Taylor’s visual perspicacity. When I presented my collection to the board of directors, he was the only person who unerringly pointed out the telling, the powerful, occasionally even wacky picture. All the other top brass went for the cliched or buttoned-up, stodgy portrait. He became my instant hero – until we received his captions, which were dreadfully meretricious, facetious even. (The editor and I had to trick him into toning them down, pleading lack of space etc.)
Catherine Boswell Fried
I hate to ride to the rescue of Cameron and his government (Merkel warns UK heading for ‘point of no return’ on EU, 3 November), but I wonder whether the solution to his problem with immigration from the EU might be found in the treaty of Rome itself. According to the European commission, Article 45 of the treaty on the Functioning of the European Union says free movement is “subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health”.
• The poppy installation (Letters, 3 November) is not the significant phase. It is the worldwide dispersal after 11 November. Each poppy will be discovered and even revered for years to come and the true memorial aspect of this project will become obvious.
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
• Barely a week before mourning the dead on Armistice Day, it’s two-faced how people will get together on bonfire night to celebrate religious oppression, betrayal, torture of prisoners and death. Britain should stop making light of the execution of a scapegoat. Fawkes isn’t the bad guy behind 5 November.
• Paul Mason (G2, 3 November) says whenever he wants to stop himself being too Marxist he thinks about Shakespeare. Small world – whenever I want to stop myself being too Shakespearean I think about Marx.
Professor Keith Graham
Author, Karl Marx – Our Contemporary
• The fact that a pop singer had a spider living in her ear is worthy of a story on page five of the Guardian precisely why (Report, 3 November)?
• If, as you report (Feminist T-shirt campaign in trouble over claims garment workers paid 62p an hour, 3 November), those T-shirts cost £45 surely they should read, “This is what a mug looks like”?
The British government nominated Lord Turnbull as its representative to Zambia’s celebrations of 50 years of independence last month; people were disappointed that the British were once again sending someone with a low profile and they wondered why. In the event, Lord Turnbull missed a connection and decided to go home rather than arrive late. The snub was noticed.
A party of retired colonial civil servants and other remnants of the empire who had paid for themselves to travel to Lusaka for the celebrations found themselves feted by the Zambian government, invited to official functions and mentioned by the vice-president – the bus allocated bore a sticker saying “UK Delegation”. We tried very hard to look official, but probably failed dismally.
Soon there will be a state funeral for President Michael Sata (Zambia British immigrants’ son named interim leader; Obituaries, 30 October). Perhaps Britain could spare someone of some status to demonstrate that it values its old ties to this peaceful democracy (with a burgeoning economy).
Your editorial supporting the BBC World Service (3 November) recognises the difficulties it faces as a result of being brutally merged into the BBC administratively, editorially and financially. These should have been faced at the time of the charter renewal in 2010, but were not. The World Service was always an effective fighter over budgets with significant support in the Commons and Lords when it was free-standing within the BBC. Such campaigns are no longer possible, reduced as they are to a footnote in the BBC’s overall case for charter renewal. The post of the head of the World Service, now a mere director within a directorate, has been diminished for almost two decades. It will not be restored to its former authority. A loss of the World Service’s distinctive character and function is inevitable.
Put simply, the BBC covers international news some of the time; the World Service covers it all the time. That is why it is and must remain different, for listeners’ sake and for the BBC’s. There is a solution to the question of World Service needs in the face of growing international competition. If say, £100m annually were diverted from the significant development ministry annual underspend, it would do wonders for Britain’s international voice, reputation and for international development. But the BBC must argue for it.
Former managing director, BBC World Service
• Your editorial did not go far enough. The World Service has demonstrated our values by putting them into daily, fallible yet persuasive practice. Its carefully husbanded principles have let the UK punch way beyond its weight. In a hard-to-fathom global world it has sensitised us to how the world thinks and feels. But to go on doing this it needs money, independence and will. Detached from national purposes (by the casual inattention of ministers), will it become just another world commercial station? As part of a larger BBC, will it be held to the right kind of account? Fran Unsworth has BBC values in her DNA, but she needs our help. I feel a campaign coming on – the World Service may be too important to leave to the politicians and the BBC.
Professor Jean Seaton
Professor of media history, University of Westminster
• Do you actually listen to the World Service? The “romantic Bush House days” have certainly gone with the end of the cold war, but the English-language service has been replaced by a 24-hour diet of trivia and endless sport, with an almost total absence of expert analysis. The possibility that this pale shadow of what once was might be revived as a radio station worth listening to is, sadly, a pipedream.
Yet again, in a rush to get in on photo shoots and show just how “right on” they are, politicians have ended up with egg on their faces (“This is what embarrassment looks like”, 3 November).
Harriet Harman, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg must be kicking themselves over that silly £45 Fawcett Society/Whistles T-shirt and their ignorance of its source.
Perhaps, from now on, they will concentrate on doing their jobs soberly, beyond the influence of pressure groups.
However, those who are outraged and pointing the finger over recent sweatshop revelations should consider the origin of their own clothes. So many clothing items are still made for nearly nothing and then sold, with labels stitched into them, for hundreds of times more.
Major supply factories will always deny being sweatshops, but the truth is that in developing countries any codes of conducts are hard to monitor, and will frequently be disregarded because such places are under pressure by the sourcing companies to produce garments quickly and cheaply.
Deprived nations offer the world’s cheapest labour and that appeals greatly to Western conglomerates, whether they choose to admit it or not.
The appalling thought of foreign workers close to slavery is overlooked in Britain but it clearly taints the human conscience. We as consumers must demand answers from all retailers as to how their goods are produced to confront this issue – and look more carefully at how we spend our money too.
The purchases of T-shirts by politicians has revealed what nonsense the concept of a living wage is, especially to those who advocate it.
It means that every time a person buys an item, he should inquire whether or not the seller is getting a living wage. If the answer is “no” then he should offer more for it. Presumably £45 was regarded by the purchasers of the T-shirts as sufficient to provide a living wage for all those in the supply chain.
If we all demanded to know whether or not our buying price covered this wage for everyone involved, trade would come to a stop. It’s silly.
G D Morris
Merkel is bound to lose patience with us
Ukip is a dangerous embarrassment to this country both at home and abroad. Its simple solutions for complex problems are nonsense. Unfortunately, rich, equally absurd Establishment figures and media barons back it.
Ukip does not acknowledge the following terribly inconvenient facts: the EU budget costs the treasury less than 1 per cent of the taxes we pay; immigration does not cost this country dearly, but rather it offers the UK treasury a net gain; the vast majority (98 per cent) of people who come to these shores do so to work and to work hard.
Why, then, have all major UK parties (including, shamefully, Labour) decided to portray themselves as somehow Ukip-lite? Where are the counter-arguments against isolating ourselves from the rest of Europe? Two World Wars began as a direct consequence of European countries’ inability to co-exist. Is going backwards really the best way to go forwards?
Most of Europe appears happy to boot us out if necessary (“Merkel warns Cameron is at point of no return on EU”, 3 November) and I don’t blame them. We are not, as many would have us believe, a major world player, and haven’t been for decades. We are a deluded people happy, it seems, to be fed untruths and sabre-rattling hyperbole.
Our attitude to the EU will only isolate us yet further, not just in Europe but across the globe.
This is the 21st century, where the very ideas of national identity and borders are becoming increasingly fluid. Just as the onset of social media and the march of technological advances are serving to shrink the world, we are looking to remove ourselves from it.
What an excellent idea from Chris Sexton (letter, 1 November): restoring to Britain the territories lost in the Hundred Years War would make us a true European nation. What’s more, with a land frontier we should be more likely to understand our European neighbours.
We could even have Nantes or Bordeaux as our capital, with London as a sort of European Hong Kong and the rest of Britain as the sort of insignificant off-shore island it is threatening to become in the 21st century anyhow.
In addition, Francophiles and Europhiles such as myself could go and live among the ‘natives’, leaving the island to all the Ukippers and assorted other Little Englanders.
Surely Angela Merkel is aware that, if Britain leaves the EU, the destination of choice for most European immigrants will be the most successful economy: Germany.
Beware Labour’s talk of ‘family values’
Be very wary when a Labour party commits itself to “traditional” families in the 21st century (“Labour to espouse family values”, 3 November).
There are few political parties more vacuous than the current Australian Labor Party. Its obsession with “working families” led it to embrace the conservatives’ various tax and welfare policies that effectively punish mothers when they return to work.
When they say “traditional” they mean “patriarchal”. When they say “family” they mean punishment for single parents.
Why vote for conservative-lite when the conservatives are much more efficient at playing xenophobic games?
We’re pushing Syria to never-ending war
We are giving non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels, who are well supplied with lethal aid by our allies (“Islamists ready for Mediterranean battle”, 3 November).
At the same time, if young British men leave this country to go out and fight alongside the rebels, we punish them.
Our policy of half-hearted support for Syrian rebels seems utterly confused and is condemning Syria to war with no end in sight. It is time for a radical change of direction.
The real trick’s on us at Halloween
I asked a group of trick or treaters on my doorstep what they would do if I opted for a trick, and was told they would “egg” my windows. Isn’t it time to make this protection racket of demanding treats with menaces a criminal offence before it gets any worse?
Keighley, West Yorkshire
Honest praise can motivate pupils
There are two points about praise if it is to be effective: it must be honest and it must be specific (“Teachers warned that praise can make pupils complacent”, 31 October).
Saying “well done” or “good” is of little benefit, whereas praise such as: “The first two points you make here are well described,” or “Your handwriting on this page is improving,” will inspire and motivate pupils.
Don’t blame The ‘shooting community’
Your caption for the photograph “Birds of prey under threat” (30 October) was misleading. The “shooting community” is not slaughtering them. Through its representative organisations, it has unanimously and publicly condemned the illegal killing of birds of prey.
In my own organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, any member involved is liable to disciplinary action, expulsion and the loss of shooting insurance in addition to the penalties of the law.
It would be quite wrong to blame the overwhelming majority who are law-abiding for the offences of a small number of criminals.
Chief Executive, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation
Drug reform doesn’t fit PM’s world view
When David Cameron opposes reform of drug laws, he is being entirely consistent. Cameron’s problem is that he sees the world as it appears to someone with a privileged background.
Druggies, the workless, the homeless, the destitute, the hopeless, are all part of the same community that has no place in the society to which Cameron believes he belongs. As Prime Minister, Cameron only represents those in society who share his sentiments.
SNP and UKIP should start getting friendly
With Conservatives likely to receive a bloody nose in England from Ukip, and Labour on a slippery slope in Scotland, perhaps it’s time for Ukip and SNP to start coalition talks in preparation for the next government.
Sir, Patrick Kidd reminds us that after one or two drinks judgment goes out of the window (Times2, Nov 3). That’s why — to paraphrase James Thurber — one may debate the wisdom of a second martini but have no doubt about a third.
Chalfont St Giles, Bucks
Sir, Brian Aldiss understates his own prescience (letter, Nov 3). His 1969 novel Barefoot In The Head predicted chemical weapon attacks on Europe following a war with Kuwait.
Dr John Burscough
Hibaldstow, N Lincs
Sir, You report that the First World War led to the adoption of “scarper” (report, Nov 1). The word, a corruption of the Italian scappare,meaning to flee, dates back to the late-1800s, after Italian immigrants settled in London. The anglicised form was merely popularised in the First World War with the help of Cockney rhyming slang: Scapa Flow = Go.
Sir, David Aaronovitch is to be commended for his piece on the Naked Rambler (“A naked man isn’t shocking. Locking him up is”, Oct 30). Nevertheless, most naturists wish Mr Gough would stop “rocking the boat”. They want only to relax while taking reasonable care not to cause offence. If they require legal protection, it’s less from the police than from prudes peering through binoculars in the hope of being offended.
Public and school libraries encourage young people to read for pleasure
A quarter of all children left primary school last year unable to read to the level required Photo: ALAMY
6:56AM GMT 03 Nov 2014
SIR – Cross-party commitment to tackling low literacy levels in Britain is laudable, but to argue that this might be achieved while ignoring the closure of public libraries and the widespread axing of school library services illustrates a glaring inconsistency in critical thinking.
It is to be hoped that Nick Gibb at the Department for Education will discuss that issue with his colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Public and school libraries give the young a trusted starting point for inculcating a love of reading for pleasure, thus ensuring that no one misses out on the opportunity to be literate. These institutions are key to our long-term investment in learning and young people.
Illogical rail fares
SIR – The absurd fares charged by railway companies are not a recent phenomenon.
In Victorian times, the London and North Western Railway charged more to deliver goods from London to Crewe than it did for longer journeys from London, via Crewe, to towns in Lancashire.
The reason generally accepted was that the railway company did not want other industries to settle in the town as they could tempt staff away from railway employment. The higher transport costs generally kept other manufacturers out of Crewe, thereby ensuring that the company had a monopoly of the local workforce.
The ice-cream war
SIR – There was ice cream during the Second World War.
Ice cream was made by J Lyons and Co, the catering and food-manufacturing company, during and after the war. I worked in its laboratory, which was responsible for quality control and inventing new products.
The minister of food, Lord Woolton, had urged food manufacturers to keep the nation’s diets as near to pre-war standards as possible in order to keep up morale, and this took considerable skill and ingenuity.
Lack of sugar was overcome by heating flour, which was not rationed, with the enzyme maltase, which modified the starch in the flour to maltose, a sugar. This gave the ice cream a malted taste, which was quite acceptable.
Scattered to the winds
SIR – When I had my old will updated last year the lady solicitor was baffled at my previous request for my ashes to be “scattered at the New Road [Worcester Cricket] ground, right on the length where Norman Gifford used to pitch it” (Letters, October 31).
Now that the event is 35 years closer I don’t give a toss where I’m spread.
John H Stephen
SIR – I have just been in the first shop of the season playing Christmas music. The staff were dressed as witches and there were fireworks on sale.
The only product missing was Easter eggs.
Churchill and the Admiralty had warned Cradock against engaging with the enemy
6:57AM GMT 03 Nov 2014
SIR – Steve R Dunn writes (Letters, November 1) that Admiral Cradock and the crew of the Good Hope were doomed at the Battle of Coronel by Winston Churchill’s order to engage the superior German squadron against hopeless odds.
In fact Churchill and the Admiralty specifically warned Cradock against taking any such action. He had been instructed to coordinate operations with the battleship HMS Canopus, which would have tipped the scales in favour of the Royal Navy in any battle with Germany’s Pacific fleet. For some reason Admiral Cradock dispatched the Canopus for collier escort work while he proceeded up the west coast of South America, with only the ageing HMS Monmouth and the light cruiser HMS Glasgow for support.
It is quite wrong to blame Churchill for Coronel. He was horrified to learn that Cradock had dispatched the Canopus but by the time that news reached London it was too late: Good Hope and Monmouth had already been lost with all hands.
SIR – Mr Dunn asks us to remember those who died at sea in the Battle of Coronel.
Your readers will be pleased to know that on Friday a Chilean naval patrol vessel visited the recently discovered site of what is thought to be the wreck of Good Hope. A service was held on board. On Saturday, there was a service and wreath-laying ceremony at Coronel. Our daughter and her husband are there to remember a relative who died in HMS Monmouth.
Andrew J Peile
Old Malden, Surrey
Transport for London has plans to introduce an ‘ultra-low emission zone’
6:58AM GMT 03 Nov 2014
The idea is that this zone will operate along the same lines as the congestion charge but will be applicable 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Although there is intended to be a cooling-off period that will give you until 2023 to acquire such a low-emission vehicle if you are a resident within the zone, in little over five years thousands of motorists will find that it is hopelessly uneconomic to drive their cars in central London. While technological advances in the industry are hugely significant, owners of cars they have purchased and used properly for years will be forced to realise that their vehicles are no longer practical.
My Aston Martin is not a museum piece, but a classic piece of British engineering and beauty. I respectfully invite all car enthusiasts resident in London and beyond to do all they can to challenge this imminent charge.
Advances in genetic screening will not banish autism
The condition is complex and those affected must receive the right support
6:59AM GMT 03 Nov 2014
SIR – I was delighted to read Sarah Knapton’s excellent report about autism screening. As chief executive of a charity that supports hundreds of children and adults with a range of learning difficulties and complex needs, I feel there is much more to be said on this issue.
This study verifies the long-assumed belief that there is a genetic element associated with autism and opens up the exciting possibility of gene therapy in the future. While we welcome the implications of these findings, they do not lessen the daily challenges faced by those people who are affected by autism, and it is essential that they get the right level of support. I also speak as a mother of a child with complex learning needs, and understand how the impact of such conditions can affect the whole family.
Genetics is only one of the contributing causes of autism. The condition is not going away. The challenge for society, therefore, is to ensure that fully qualified help is available.
Dr Beverley Jacobson
Chief Executive, Kisharon
Ed beggars belief
SIR – Begging is an offence. What was Ed Miliband trying to prove by giving to a beggar with cameras around?
SIR – In the pre-plastic Fifties we student midwives were taught to stand our pristine dark blue bags on the front page of the previous day’s Daily Telegraph during home visits (Letters, November 1).
The inner pages were fashioned into a receptacle for swabs soaked in Dettol, and eventually the placenta. These neat packages were then deposited in the incinerator at the local hospital. Cross-infection was rare. Your paper was prized for its near-waterproof qualities.
SIR – Fashion tip: a decidedly outdated onesie, filled with past issues of The Daily Telegraph, makes the perfect guy.
Tested over the weekend.
James Todd (aged 13)
Alexander Todd (aged 10)
Undermining of the Climate Change Act is deeply unhelpful and creates uncertainty
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that countries must act swiftly to mitigate the risks posed by climate change Photo: NASA
7:00AM GMT 03 Nov 2014
SIR – Yesterday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its latest assessment of the science, showing that swift action is by far the best route to mitigating the significant risks that climate change poses.
However, in recent weeks there have been questions raised about whether Britain can afford to be at the forefront of these global efforts. Our businesses are convinced that Britain can and should be a world leader, and that far from being a burden to UK Plc, clear commitment to tackling climate change will open up opportunities for businesses both at home and abroad.
Fundamental to this is the Climate Change Act, which commits the United Kingdom to reducing its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, and sets a clear direction for business.
Undermining of the Climate Change Act is deeply unhelpful, and creates uncertainty. For any government, now and in the future, the Act should continue to be the central framework against which to deliver clear and consistent policy.
Chief Executive Officer, Aggregate Industries
Managing Partner, Argent
Founding Director, Atelier Ten
Chief Executive Officer, Balfour Beatty
Chief Executive Officer, BAM Construct
Chief Executive Officer, BAM Nuttall
Group Chief Executive, Barratt Developments
Director, Bennetts Associates Architects
Head of Responsible Property Investment, Deloitte Real Estate
Chief Executive, GVA
Managing Director, Knauf Insulation Northern Europe
Chief Executive, Land Securities Group
Managing Director, Legal & General Property
Managing Director, Rockwool
Senior Vice President for Sustainable Habitat, Saint-Gobain
Chief Executive, SEGRO
Chief Executive Officer, Willmott Dixon
SIR – Britain is no longer out ahead of other nations in its commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, but with the Climate Change Act we have something that is admired and emulated abroad.
It is designed to allow Britain to adjust its decarbonisation programme according to changing circumstances at home and abroad, and to decide the details of its energy mix over time.
As such we should be celebrating it.
SIR – For me, the key phrase in Emily Gosden’s article (“UN climate change report to warn of ‘severe, pervasive’ effects of global warming”) was “if the computer model projections are right”.
Science is founded on two pillars, theory and data. If the data does not support the theory, then the theory is wrong.
In 2007 the Met Office published its model prediction for the decade up to 2014. It predicted an increase in temperature of 0.3C with 95 per cent confidence limits of 0.2C. This means that they were 95 per cent confident that the temperature increase will be somewhere between 0.1C and 0.5C. According to recent Met Office data, average global temperature decreased very slightly during this decade (0.01C).
In any other branch of science, if the data fell outside the 95 per cent confidence limits, the theory would be rejected, or at least require substantial modification.
Short-term political concerns are affecting politicians’ decisions on infrastructure Photo: AP
12:47PM GMT 03 Nov 2014
SIR – Calls from both the Confederation of British Industry and the manufacturers’ trade association EEF to restructure the way Britain’s major infrastructure projects are delivered are welcome. Upgrades to rail, road, airports and broadband access should certainly never be used as political footballs – these are vital developments that help better connect people and regions.
While we support the suggestion from the CBI and EEF to set up an independent infrastructure body, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors believes the Government should first focus on creating a National Infrastructure Framework and within that a National Infrastructure Delivery Plan, which would ensure that Britain gets the right infrastructure investment, in the right place, at the right time.
A National Infrastructure Delivery Plan would set out regional hubs, as well as a central base in Whitehall and give regions the ability to identify, initiate and deliver projects. We’re implementing a “bigger than local, smaller than national” method, which gives the current approach to infrastructure the insight and vision that it currently lacks.
Only by doing this can we ensure that there is a strategic focus to infrastructure investment, which maximises jobs, impact and economic growth, rather than the “taxi rank” system of projects which has prevailed for too long.
Senior Vice President, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
Sir, – In view of its vast and frequent expenditure on consultants – with catastrophic consequences in the case of Irish Water – should we now expect the Government to call in further consultants to review the work of their colleagues? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It seems that people do not really object to paying for water. Rather they object to paying for Irish Water. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It is interesting that the Government’s reaction to people’s fundamental dislike of Irish Water and the water tax is a muttering about a failure of communication. They don’t seem to think it is anything to do with a tax that the general population believes it already pays, a new entity that is massively overstaffed, cost millions to set up and already is looking to pay bonuses. The fact that it is the worst kind of quangoism doesn’t seem to matter.
One wonders if the Government has too many special advisers and spin doctors and not enough “normal people” who reflect the general populace’s views. Maybe they should get rid of a few of their current advisers and take on some people more in touch with the population. They could call them “hearing aides”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I write regarding the fiasco that is Irish Water. I agree completely that we should pay for our water. However, I have no interest in funding another unnecessary and expensive quango that exists solely for the purpose of squeezing ordinary people to enrich those who already have more than enough. Our county councils should be capable of administering this service. Until Irish Water is disbanded and the water charges collected by the councils, I will not be paying water charges. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In this country we are being squeezed and squeezed, with no let-up in sight. Young and old are rightly fed up. Would the Government not consider deferring the water charges for at least five years? That way we would have a breathing space and hopefully the economy might have recovered somewhat. The water charges right now are the last straw for many who are almost on the breadline. It’s just too much coming on top of all the other taxes, restrictions and savings. A little compromise might help reduce the anger, which is at boiling point. Are the authorities listening? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Your front-page article on Saturday (“Coalition braced for protests over water charges”, November 1st) appeared on the day that so many Irish people, throughout the country, chose to march in protest against the charges. However, my concern was that on this very serious topic the second half of the article was little more than your newspaper facilitating the spinning of comment made by unidentified people to further their own ends. The following phrases were used by the writers: “many within Fine Gael have privately complained”, “some complained”, “but others complained”,“one Cabinet Minister said”, “one source said”, “sources said”, “a Government spokesman said”, “the prospect was dismissed by senior Government figures”, “a source said”. Is it not ironic that when your readers pen a letter to you, on any subject, there is the sensible requirement to provide full name, address and contact number?
If The Irish Times decides to continue using so much unattributed comment, you might consider publishing it in a regular column called “Dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It is a wonder how the Government has managed to make a complete mess out of the setting up of Irish Water and making the argument that clean water needs to be conserved by some system of metering and costing. The lack of credible leadership has resulted in many thousands losing faith in this Government and has given an opportunity to modern-day political pied pipers to lead many of us unwittingly to support a position of opposition without any realistic solution to the fact that we are still living on borrowed money. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We were battered into submission over the last seven years by endless austerity measures. The attempt to burden us now with the unintelligent and shambolic establishment of Irish Water and to extract every last cent we have in water charges is the final insult.
What have we received in return for our forbearance and stoicism? Zilch.
Forget the Celtic Tiger. It’s a sleeping tiger this Government is dealing with now. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Enda Kenny’s mention of an increase in the higher rate of income tax as an alternative to water charges is far more likely to encourage protest and resistance than to deter it. The vast majority of protesters probably pay little or no tax at the higher rate and would welcome this outcome with open arms. Not exactly a potent threat. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Your front-page report referred to Paul Murphy as the “Anti Authority Alliance TD” (“Senior Coalition figures seek rethink on Irish Water”, November 3rd). Was this a simple error, or perhaps circumstances have blurred the distinction between authority and austerity? If, as Wittgenstein wrote, “the meaning of a word is its use in the language”, then perhaps these words are now indeed interchangeable. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – On the streets and shops of Dublin and Wicklow, I have come across numerous people wearing the poppy.
Is this a sign that we, as a nation, are at long last remembering to remember? – Yours, etc,
A chara, – There is a long-running misunderstanding in this country as to the meaning and purpose of the poppy appeal.
On its website the Royal British Legion, which organises the appeal, sets out the purpose of wearing the poppy: “The poppy is a powerful symbol. It is worn to commemorate the sacrifices of our [British] Armed Forces and to show support to those still serving today and their loved ones. Money raised through the poppy appeal goes directly to our welfare work providing through-life care to anyone who is currently serving in the British Armed Forces, who has previously served, and their families.”
The poppy is not to commemorate the war dead of all nations. Much less is it a symbol of peace. This is a partisan British Army charity. The British Army has not been free of war crimes and outrages, even in recent times.
We have our own Army of which we can be proud and our own veterans who need support. Support a foreign army if you will, but be honest about it. – Is mise,
DÁITHÍ Mac CÁRTHAIGH,
Baile Átha Cliath 7.
Sir, – Anyone who wants to honour fallen British soldiers should do so. Maybe in some rarefied parts of Ireland, where the BBC is the first channel on the list, and the latest exploits of the British royals are discussed with glee, it seems like a perfectly normal thing to do. But I would ask that people consider the offence they might cause to those who have lost loved ones to British Army bullets and bombs. – Yours, etc,
Dromiskin, Co Louth.
Sir, – The poppy, as used and sold by the Royal British Legion, is only to remember British military war dead. It is not sold to remember the war dead of any other country, nor of any civilians anywhere. It has strong links with the British state and establishment; the poppy appeal this year was launched at GCHQ Cheltenham, the British high-tech intelligence and spy centre. It also has strong links with the British military-industrial complex as a lot of funding comes from arms companies. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The National Museum of Ireland is responsible for curating, conserving, exhibiting and collecting our material past; the costs associated with this can only ever grow due to an expanding collection.
This is dictated by law as the National Museum is the repository for all archaeological finds in the country and must accept these no matter what financial pressure it is under.
Madrid’s Prado charges a €14 entrance fee, the Louvre €14 and the Uffizi €9.59. The Berlin Historical Museum charges €8, with free entry on Thursday evenings – so locals can easily visit for free. Even the National Museum of Sweden charges nearly €11 to visit. Typically children, pensioners and the unwaged are granted a concession.
The notable exception to this is the British Museum, which has free entry but generates a healthy income from high entrance fees to fantastic temporary exhibitions and serves a comparatively massive population base.
Our free entry policy is an anomaly and a postcolonial anachronism that ill-serves our heritage. It is irresponsible to forego the valuable income stream of entrance fees that would create employment, fund urgently required conservation projects, facilitate a lively programme of temporary exhibitions and educational services, and contribute to a “war chest” ensuring the National Museum can bid on important pieces that come up for sale and save them for the people of Ireland. The “greasy till” argument serves no cause. – Yours, etc,
Sandycove, Co Dublin.
Sir, – In the new junior cycle programme, the Government has presided over the theft from the nation’s children of their entitlement to know the history and geography of the land they inhabit. It now looks like the Government will preside over another theft in the form of an additional charge for people to see their historical and geographical heritage in the National Museum of Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The editorial “Taxing the self-employed” (October 24th) stated that the divide between PAYE workers and self-assessed workers has “widened further with the Government’s decision to make the self-employed pay an 11 per cent rate of universal social charge on earnings over €100,000”. To suggest the divide has widened as a result of changes introduced in Budget 2015 is simply not true.
The marginal tax rate for the self-employed earning over €100,000 has not altered with the changes introduced in Budget 2015. In 2014 self-assessed workers earning over €100,000 face a 55 per cent marginal tax rate comprised of 41 per cent income tax, 10 per cent USC and 4 per cent PRSI. Following the introduction of the measures introduced in Budget 2015, a self-assessed worker earning over €100,000 will continue to pay 55 per cent tax; however it will now be comprised of 40 per cent income tax, 11 per cent USC and 4 per cent PRSI.
These changes to rates will result in an increase in net income for the self-employed taxpayers at all income levels.
The factual position is that a single PAYE worker and a single self-assessed worker earning €100,000 will see an increase of €747 in their net income in 2015, as a result of the Budget 2015 changes. – Yours, etc,
Department of Finance,
3rd) criticises Fintan O’Toole, amongst others, for daring to question the leadership of Sinn Féin on the basis of “no evidence, no proof”.
In his recent article, Mr O’Toole identified a series of eight contradictions in statements made by the three most senior members of that party in relation to child abuse (“Never mind the evidence, feel the ‘truthiness’ of what Gerry Adams says”, Opinion & Analysis, October 28th).
Your corespondent did not address the substance of the O’Toole article or seek to explain the apparent contradictions.
Instead he seems to believe that Sinn Féin and its members have an inherent right to sanctuary from any criticism or question, no matter how well founded.
It would be reasonable to accept such a course if Sinn Féin did likewise and abandoned its attempts at colonising the high moral ground to the exclusion of all others. – Yours, etc,
Sir – While your recent coverage on prostitution is correct in acknowledging that laws targeting the buyers of sex exist in Sweden, it has failed to mention that many other jurisdictions are either already successfully implementing such measures or taking steps to adopt them.
Laws targeting demand, or the men whose actions fuel prostitution, are commonplace in major US cities. They also exist in Norway and Iceland, are supported by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, were passed at the French National Assembly and more recently in Canada’s House of Commons as well as Stormont.
In addition, similar proposals are being put forward as part of the debate on a new Slavery Bill at Westminster.
The international move towards these laws is clear and something which readers should be aware of before forming their own conclusions on how to best to end the crimes associated with prostitution. – Yours, etc
Sir, – As a primary schoolteacher, I would ask why confine philosophical teaching to second-level students? My sixth-class girls are constantly questioning and would embrace the expansion of philosophical thought. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Presenting schoolchildren with the boring “bearded cranks of yesteryear” (Patricia O’Riordan, November 1st) would not be philosophy. Philosophy, if not living, is worth little. We have been teaching this subject weekly to all pupils in John Scottus School since 1986. Philosophy questions everything – the attitudes, actions and beliefs of both ourselves and of others. The outcome of this is to take us closer to who we really are and to understand better the nature of the world in which we live. The proof that it works is in the feedback from past pupils who say how much philosophy has helped them in their later lives.
The key is to have it as a regular part of the school curriculum for all the primary and secondary years. Developing the simple but effective tools of reason, attention, stillness and inquiry are the key. Philosophy works equally well for children who come from faith-based or non-faith-based families. It is fascinating and instructive for all, beards or no beards! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I accompanied my very ill, elderly mother to the emergency department in St Vincent’s hospital, Elm Park, on last Monday afternoon as the Dublin marathon was coming to an end. I was horrified to see that the emergency department was swamped with casualties from this allegedly healthy activity. Several marathon runners were in a serious condition requiring urgent treatment.
Should there not be a health warning attached to this activity? Surely our excellent and overburdened emergency teams should not have this unnecessary workload inflicted on them? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We note Conor Pope’s excellent article advising readers on how to save €5,000 per year by making certain adjustments in regard to shopping and the avoidance of food waste (“The five-grand challenge”, November 3rd).
In this same context, smokers could consider quitting. The annual saving or the 20-a-day smoker who manages to quit is €3,650 a year at current prices. – Yours, etc,
Dr ROSS MORGAN,
Sir, – Caitriona Burke (November 1st) is absolutely right to reject the militant atheism of Richard Dawkins and others as unrepresentative. Most of us are non-practising atheists. – Yours, etc,
Blackrock, Co Dublin.
May I address a number of myths concerning the Irish Water debacle.
1) It’s about conservation. With 42pc wastage in the delivery system, if conservation is the primary focus then upgrading the infrastructure should have been done before a single meter was installed.
2) Where would we get the money to upgrade the pipes? Let Michael Noonan make the short trip from Kildare St to Dame St and have a chat with Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan.
This year, the legacy of Noonan’s Promissory Note ‘deal’ and the bailout of the European big-bank creditors of Anglo Irish Bank (yes, that’s still very much a ‘live’ issue) means Honohan will take in and then destroy a full €500m. He will take in and destroy a full €28bn over the next decade and more, destruction which will cost the people of this country an average of nearly €2bn a year for the next 40 years. Burn those bonds, not the billions, and rather than continuing to pay for this dead bank, invest those billions in the country.
3) It’s about discouraging and punishing those who run taps, wash cars daily or water their gardens weekly. To discourage the few, you legislate to punish the entire population, imposing a charge on everyone? Yeah, right.
4) If there isn’t a dedicated tax/charge to pay for the water supply, the Government will have to impose an extra 4pc on the higher income tax rate. We already pay for the water supply through general taxation so perhaps Noonan could explain what the extra taxation is for and where it’s really going?
5) Farmers and businesses already pay for water. That’s commercial use. This proposed charge is for private homes, where those same business owners enjoy the same usage as everyone else.
6) Water is merely another utility like gas and electricity and should be charged for on the same basis. You can survive without gas or electricity, difficult though this would be; you will not survive without water, a fact recognised by the UN and the EU and a right thus enshrined.
7) Irish Water is a public company, so it can’t be privatised. Irish Water is actually a private company; though all shares are currently held by the Government and this public ownership is protected in law.
That same law can be changed overnight and the company sold before we wake in the morning (let no one be under any illusion of how quickly this can happen – think ‘blanket bank guarantee’).
8) You are legally obliged to apply to Irish Water (the pack is an application, not a simple registration). No you’re not, confirmed time and again by a variety of legal experts.
10) Water doesn’t just fall from the sky. Look, we’ll just leave it at that!
Diarmuid O’Flynn, Ballyhea, Co Cork
Proud to be among protesters
In all my 71 years I had never been on a protest march until last Saturday in Arklow. In spite of the heavy rain, it was a wonderful, highly emotional experience to be among hundreds of decent Irish people finally standing up to our shamelessly self-serving governmental system.
However, the protest was not because this new water tax is badly managed (which it is), or because it means more jobs for the boys (which it clearly does), or because the charges are already paying some of the boys’ bonuses before any of them have achieved anything at all, but because the tax is utterly wrong, unjustifiable and immoral.
One of the more ludicrous justifications was put forward by Michael Noonan, when he said water was similar to electricity and should be paid for as such.
Is he unaware that humans lived without electricity for over a million years but no human can live without water for more than a few days? The decent workers of Ireland pay their taxes and it is obvious to every decent, intelligent person that one of the Government’s very highest priorities with all that money must be to give taxpayers drinking water. Otherwise, what are they there for?
There is not enough space here to suggest all the areas where they could free up a billion or two without hammering the lower paid even more. Enough is enough.
Richard Barton, Tinahely, Co Wicklow
Control of our natural resource
The Government has responded. It has changed tack following the weekend protests. Instead of dismissing the legitimate concerns of the people it is now threatening tax increases on the unappreciative electorate. Who said the Government did not respond to the electorate?
Instead of persuading or assuaging they resort to threats.
Originally, water charges were spoken of as essential for conservation purposes and not as a revenue-gathering exercise. Enter the Troika and the conservation rationale is dropped.
There is no legitimate argument against the installation of meters so as to ensure an essential resource is not being wasted – and if the resource is being wasted then the waster should pay.
But, it is a fundamental right that every family home should have a free supply of water appropriate to the number of people living in the house. Second homes should be charged at a commercial rate. There may be economies of scale in creating Irish Water but only for the purpose of managing the resource across the country in partnership with the county councils. The resource should not be controlled by them as it gives rise to legitimate fears that it could be privatised in the future.
Sean Mahon, Knockcroghery, Co Roscommon
Expecting too much of politics
In Ireland, politics has been weakened by taking on a life of its own without adequate reference to its moral grounding in the will and sensibilities of the people, fuelling a growing disaffection with those who rule on our behalf. We must continue to ask ourselves: ‘Are we living in a vibrant, thoughtful society, fired by the will to develop a rational consensus about how to direct our energies for the future, or are we just making it up as we go along?’
Perhaps, we have placed too much on the shoulders of our politicians who have to battle with the tension between politics and principle.
Politicians cannot be blamed for all our ills; surely, we bear some responsibility for the way things are.
Our common sense awareness of our needs and desires has been subverted by the more powerful imperatives of money and markets; the cut and thrust of living our lives has been colonised by considerations that are rooted in various forms of seductive materialism.
The greatest gift we have as humans is the capacity to engage with one another, seeing one another not just as a means to our own purposes.
We all have a responsibility not just to exercise our vote but also our voice in order to halt the continued undermining of civil society by artificially manufactured market forces that work to the advantage of the few.
Our way of life cannot be transformed through dreams of another age but through disinterested reflection on today.
Sadly, much that has been done in our name has been driven by less noble sentiments arising from systematic inattentiveness to people’s growing sense of hopelessness.
It is sometimes said that in Ireland the inevitable never happens, but the unexpected often occurs.
The Irish imagination remains gifted with the capacity to carve out a more promising future from the way things are; perhaps an elected second chamber would provide a more effective check on the workings of government.
Philip O’Neill, Oxford, England