19 November 2014 Fluff

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get to do the housework and take Fluff to the vet to have five teeth out.

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


Lucien Clergue – obituary

Lucien Clergue was a photographer known for his friendship with Picasso and his images of bullfighting and nudes

Lucien Clergue with his first camera at Montmajour Abbey in Arles in 2004

Lucien Clergue with his first camera at Montmajour Abbey in Arles in 2004 Photo: AFP

6:41PM GMT 18 Nov 2014


Lucien Clergue, who has died aged 80, was a French photographer whose friendship with Pablo Picasso helped forge a passion for bulls in the ring and women on the beach.

A short, sharply dressed man with a clipped beard, Clergue was a true Mediterranean. He lived in the Arles area for most of his life, photographing its bullfights, circuses and local beauties.

The last were the subject of a series of nudes taken in the dunes and surf along the coast of the Camargue. He treated a nude as if it were a landscape: his models were generally photographed in part, mostly with faces out of frame, and with their contours striped with shadows or, as he put it, “dressed in light”. They often appeared more like Henry Moore’s amorphous sculptures than real women.

However, Clergue’s impact on the photographic community was perhaps more pronounced away from the lens. In 1968 he co-founded the Rencontres d’Arles festival in his home town, now one of the most important dates in the photography calendar; 96,000 people visited in 2013.

Enamoured by the legacy of Vincent van Gogh, who had lived with Paul Gauguin in the city during the late 19th century, Clergue acknowledged that the artist’s “presence was all over Arles, his shadow is in every corner”. Picasso was his other great inspiration. The pair met in 1953 outside the city’s bull-ring, where Clergue had photographed the toreadors and baying crowds.

The teenage photographer accosted Picasso, then 52, and showed him his photographs.

“I don’t know what gave him the feeling that I had something,” recalled Clergue, “but he said: ‘I’d like to see more.’ ” The pair collaborated on several projects and their friendship lasted until Picasso’s death in 1973. “Clergue’s photographs are from God’s own sketchbooks,” declared Picasso.

Lucien Clergue was born in Arles on August 14 1934. His parents divorced when he was seven, and the young Lucien worked at his mother’s grocery shop, running deliveries to the neighbourhood brothels. “It was my first impression with not exactly nudity but of the femininity of women in their beauty and their charm,” he recalled.

Portrait of Pablo Picasso taken by Lucien Clergue (AFP)

At 18 he returned as a customer. “I went to the prostitutes myself. It was like a celebration. I remember always climbing this little staircase and closing the window in the boudoir, thinking van Gogh did the same thing, imagining him maybe looking out at the river and saying to himself: ‘Maybe I should do a painting from here.’ ”

Clergue’s first enthusiasm was for music, which remained a pivotal influence. “When I heard a J S Bach piece for violin, Ciaccona, I was 14, and I entered into another world,” he said. “I was studying violin but because I had no money I turned to photography.” At 19 he encountered Picasso, at that time living close by in Vallauris, and his career took off. Picasso introduced him to Jean Cocteau and Max Ernst and designed a cover and poster for his first book.

Clergue’s work embraced esoteric Provençal characters, including the Saltimbanques, the region’s travelling acrobats and harlequins. He also worked on a series of photographs of Gipsies that helped to bring the flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata to a larger audience. But mostly he was known for his nudes, which drew heavily on the work of the American photographer Edward Weston. “Really, you couldn’t get any better than that,” said Clergue. “I decided I will do the nude like him.” The lack of heads in his photographs evolved from the fact that his earliest models were often his friends and requested anonymity.

Lucien Clergue in Paris in 1981 (AFP)

In 1959 the photographer and curator Edward Steichen bought 10 of Clergue’s prints for MoMA’s permanent collection. Two years later he included a selection of Clergue’s pictures in his exhibition “Diogenes with a Camera”, at the New York museum, alongside the work of Bill Brandt.

Founding Rencontres d’Arles with the writer Michel Tournier placed Clergue fully at the heart of the international photographic community. The festival became renowned for introducing new photographers and staging unusual exhibitions in the city’s historic sites, such as medieval chapels or 19th-century industrial buildings.

Clergue was made a knight of the Légion d’honneur in 2003 and elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts three years later. He was chairman of the academy for 2013.

He published numerous books, including Picasso My Friend (1993), a memoir of his time with Pablo. Other volumes concentrated on his favourite themes: erotica (Practical Nude Photography, 2003) and bullfighting (Tauromachies, 1991). A retrospective, Lucien Clergue: Poésie Photographique – Fifty Years of Masterworks, was published in 2003.

Provence remained his muse. Breakfasting on “fruits, cookies and tea of thyme”, he continued to roam the area until late in life, photographing its beauty and drama. “Mediterranean countries are the beginning of civilisations,” he said earlier this year. “So my roots are full of these civilisations of the South, the theatre in particular, the tragedy, and also the sculptures of women naked. We have in Arles the Venus of Arles. She is my favourite.”

Lucien Clergue’s wife Yolande, the founder of the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles, survives him with their two daughters.

Lucien Clergue, born August 14 1934, died November 15 2014


Nigel Walker Nigel Walker’s lectures were considered Oxford’s best

As an Oxford student in the 1960s, I thought the lectures by Nigel Walker the best in the university. He was the first lecturer to ask the audience to rate his performance. After analysing the questionnaires, he announced that our only complaint was the screech his chalk made on the blackboard. He promised to go for further training.

Intermingling identities

Timothy Garton Ash provides a valuable and timely exposition of victims becoming victimisers in Poland as well as in Israel (A little miracle lightens Warsaw, 7 November). I observed this myself as a (Christian) visitor in Poland six years ago. But he could advance the “better place in the relations between … Poles and Jews” if in his terminology he were to avoid the grievous disjunction of mutually exclusive terms Poles and Jews, and so acknowledge their “intermingling”. Many Jews are Poles, just as many can now be called “Germans”.

Garton Ash himself recognises that 20,000 Israelis have taken Polish citizenship. All the Polish Jews are Poles, which is surely the message of that Yiddish “spine-tingling refrain” he will never forget: Mir zaynen do! “We are here!”
Ren Kempthorne
Nelson, New Zealand

Beware repressive laws

As a Canadian, I was most concerned to read your editorial Canada under attack (31 October). It appears to many of us that you have been reading our conservative press, who echo our official Canadian government stance, which is slanted in order to give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service greater powers over our democratic freedoms. This approach is nothing short of hysteria and we would certainly not call it a proper response.

The young men who committed these terrible acts felt they had no place in Canadian society, and targeted official representatives of our society. Canadian Muslim leaders have officially condemned their actions.

We do appreciate your conclusion that many (most?) of us, including all three opposition leaders, wish our political leadership would pause before drafting legislation which limits civil liberties in the name of national security, as this seems to be totally unnecessary.
Christine Johnston
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Advancing a western agenda

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s new foreign policy chief (7 November), relishes her “firefighter’s role” too much. By denouncing the elections in Donetsk and Luhansk last month and declaring her commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, she is presenting a recipe for disaster.

The borders of Ukraine are not inviolable and a European-oriented Ukraine without the eastern oblasts (and Crimea) is very possible and maybe perhaps even desirable.

Such intransigence encouraged by her declarations sends the new government in Ukraine a message that cannot lead to anything but more unrest and violence. Negotiations with the separatist groups, who represent real concerns of the Russian-speaking majorities in eastern Ukraine, need to be undertaken based on the principle of national self-determination.

Mogherini is using Ukraine to advance a western agenda aimed at the so-called imperialist Putin, meanwhile ignoring the very real problems of the Ukrainian people. The EU should be encouraging peaceful dialogue between the conflicting parties with the goal of a settlement of outstanding issues, even it means boundary changes.
Robert Milan
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Population pressures

Three interlinked pieces in your 7 November issue brought home the destructive realities of the Anthropocene. Lost Mayan civilisations are being uncovered in Campeche’s forests (Rescued from the jungle); we will have a human population of over 10.4 billion by 2100 (Not even WW3 will save us); and we are now having to irrigate our crops with saline water (Spud poised to launch revolution).

Mayan civilisation collapsed because population growth imposed the need for greater harvests, which in turn led to unsustainably intensive agriculture, soil degradation, falling yields and starvation. Mankind had succeeded in destroying its own habitat.

But the Maya are not the only example; many other civilisations have foundered on the rocks of soil destruction and loss due to poor agricultural practices and failed land husbandry. And we still continue to batter the natural resources of our poor planet.

Human-induced climate change is now causing sea level rises that are contaminating fresh water supplies and obliging us to adapt our crops to the new saline reality. Meanwhile, there seems to be no end in sight as the global population continues to burgeon, thus putting intolerable pressure on the planet’s few remaining resources.

Was Private Frazer of Dad’s Army fame right to observe, whenever possible, that we’re all doomed?
Brian Sims
Bedford, UK

We’re not really that free

For Natalie Nougayrède, the conflict between east and west is between them and us (Two angry men harangue the west, 7 November): “They concentrate power, repress opposition, restrict media freedom, control the internet and have cowed the judiciary.” But Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan must see us as concentrating wealth among a few bloated billionaires who are empowered to control almost every aspect of our lives, who then tell us through the media they own that we’re leading a free and fortunate life, and that our system generously rewards the daring few.

As for the internet, I thought Edward Snowden demonstrated how free that is.
Chris Rezel
Rosebery, Northern Territory, Australia

Flag debate is a distraction

New Zealand’s referendum on a new flag is a distraction from initiatives that will render our national identity meaningless (World roundup, 7 November). The secretly negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is a cynical power grab by multinational companies that will prevent local responses to climate change, and enforce use of toxic chemicals and GM crops.

Destroying our brand will suit competitors well, yet there is extraordinary local media acquiescence to the TPP agenda. Our newspapers need to give more space to nationwide protests against the TPP than the Guardian Weekly gave to the false flag debate.
Jon Carapiet
Auckland, New Zealand

Insurgency and resistance

While I enjoyed George Monbiot’s article on the corruption of language for political ends (31 October), he missed the most gratuitous and damaging example. When one country invades another and its citizens fight back, they are properly called “the resistance”, but when we invaded Iraq and some Iraqis fought back (as they were perfectly entitled to do under any conceivable international law), they somehow became “the insurgency”.

An insurgent is defined as one who surges in, so since the US army surged into Iraq, the word is properly applied to them. I am reminded that during the second world war the Germans referred to the French resistance as “terrorists”.
Graham Andrews
Spokane, Washington, US

• I would like to give my appreciation and commend George Monbiot for his most excellent article. It was terrific: a pleasure to read and digest.
Allan Cameron
Christchurch, New Zealand


• There were recognisable aspects to the story about a prime minister who “divides and rules”, who is “a very polarising person”, and who “needs enemies and is always creating them” (Hollowing out democracy via ‘endless cynicism’, 7 November). So are accounts that “all decisions are made by him”, a prime minister for whom “control is the key word” and who uses “advertising money to intimidate” critics. Hungary and Canada have a lot in common.
André Carrel
Terrace, British Columbia, Canada

• If the figures of the CIA World Factbook are to be believed, then the “significant oil strike” of 50m barrels found in the North Sea (31 October) should satisfy the UK’s million-barrel-a-day oil habit for about a month and a half. Surely this underlines the need for us to ease ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels sooner rather than later.
Michael Dees
São Paulo, Brazil

• Commemorations of the first world war have already started with Remembrance Day here in Australia (7 November). In spite of the pain and sorrows wars have caused, we still engage in them.

But thanks to the designer of the display of poppies around the Tower of London called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, we still remain cognisant to the beauty of nature and life. Many thanks for the article and photograph.
Rosemary Kornfeld
Mittagong, NSW, Australia

Please send letters to

Joseph Boughey

19.10 GMT

Sonia Rolt was one of the most significant early members of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA), and part of its ruling council between 1948 and 1951. She was the only council member who was actually employed in carrying by boat, as opposed to enthusiasts who organised small carrying businesses, or others like Tom Rolt, who were very knowledgable in varied manners.

She understood not only the problems of many boatpeople but also that trade possibilities were confined to limited routes. This did not meet with the approval of Robert Aickman, who chaired the IWA and succeeded in forcing out members who did not agree to campaign for the revival of carrying on all inland waterways. Sonia, along with Tom, found this intolerable and chose to be expelled.

After Tom’s early death, Sonia’s efforts ensured that his works mostly remained in print, and she brought his final volume of autobiography, renamed Landscapes With Figures, to publication in 1992. Without her influence, the extensive commemorations of Tom’s centenary in 2010 would not have come about.

British Prime Minister David Cameron David Cameron has warned that ‘red lights are flashing on the world economy’. Has he finally been persuaded that the Labour government wasn’t to blame for the crash?’ asks Ken Vines. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty

David Cameron’s article (Red lights are flashing on the world economy, 17 November) starts: “Six years on from the financial crash that brought the world to its knees … ” I don’t normally welcome people of Cameron’s persuasion writing for the Guardian but, if it has finally persuaded him that the Labour government wasn’t to blame for the crash, perhaps readers can look forward to articles indicating Damascene conversions from George Osborne, Danny Alexander et al, who rarely miss an opportunity to prattle on about the “mess that Labour left us”.
Ken Vines
Yelverton, Devon

• So David Cameron is warning about the world economy. One hopes he and Osborne will not use this as an excuse for insufficient progress on paying down the deficit despite all the suffering their austerity measures have caused. Just as the Brown government faced financial meltdown, Cameron’s government may now face events beyond its control: they expected Labour to apologise for events not of its making so I am hopeful the Conservatives will be apologising for continued problems. I’m also hoping that they may learn from Labour that one does not just talk about being all in this together, but actually takes action to reduce inequality.

I am not a Labour supporter but have been amazed at how the party has been prepared to let the Conservatives blame it for the economic crisis, which was international and which it handled better than most other governments. If there was any blame specific to the UK it goes back to Margaret Thatcher and her deregulation of the banks and other financial institutions.
Eunice Hinds

• At last, Dave Cameron has admitted that austerity is a failure. The austerity measures implemented across Europe and the globe have failed. The only economies that are succeeding globally are those that did not implement the “slash and burn” policies that we now see having a devastating effect. Austerity measures have devastated society and communities across the UK. Now a report by the London School of Economics and the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex has shown the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Austerity is not working, we need a change.
Duncan Anderson
Immingham, Lincolnshire

• David Cameron wants to put rocket boosters behind the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). In doing this he is following the advice of the then governor of the Deutsche Bundesbank, who in 1998 praised governments for preferring “the permanent plebiscite of the global markets” to “the plebiscite of the ballot box”. We seem to be leaving democracy floundering. Karl Popper in The Open Society and Its Enemies wrote: “If we wish freedom to be safeguarded, then we must demand that the policy of unlimited economic freedom be replaced by the planned economic intervention of the state. We must demand that unrestrained capitalism give way to economic interventionism.” Perhaps the rocket boosters should be placed behind Cameron.
Alec Murdoch

• When David Cameron warns of a second global crash, what he really means is that we haven’t fixed the causes of the first one. The banks are still playing double or quits with international financial flows. The wealthy are still removing vast sums from national economies and from consumer markets. Bleeding chunks of the general population have no viable work environment. Consumption is still dependent on low-wage, outsourced exploitation. TTIP demonstrates Cameron is as gullible as was Gordon Brown. Our political leaders sit around larger and larger tables, making promises they have no idea how to keep. In a era of mass communication, established politicians get so much information every day they cannot get their heads around any of it: so ideology becomes a life raft. Technology is making “monkey see, monkey do” of all of us.
Martin London
Henllan, Denbighshire

• It’s a bit rich that Cameron is talking about red lights flashing over the economy when world experts have been warning for at least the last four years that the policies of his chancellor and those of the same political persuasion as our PM throughout the world would lead to just this.
Peter Collins
Bromley, Kent

• The warning lights that have flashed at David Cameron suggest he is playing Hilaire Belloc’s 1907 strategy from Cautionary Tales for Children: “Always keep a hold of Nurse, / For fear of meeting something worse”. It worked for Margaret Thatcher but is the present PM such good casting?
Iain Mackintosh

• No wonder the red lights are flashing. If we go into economic meltdown, how will all those hedge funds be able to finance his election campaign?
Brian Morris

NHS hts ospital ward reception ‘In terms of reducing adult deaths and money spent, the evidence is that the NHS is one of the most effective and efficient services in the world.’ Photograph: Pulse/PA

Cutting the NHS staff bill (Report, 13 November) ignores a truth that successive health ministers prefer not to tell. Compared to the other 20 main developed nations, the UK is joint bottom of the league table on GDP health expenditure. Over past 30 years only Ireland, Japan and Spain have on average spent as little. All developed nations face the same demographic pressures, but most spend proportionately more on health than we do. If the public understood that we get our NHS relatively cheaply, most would accept 2p on income tax. In terms of reducing adult deaths and money spent, the evidence is that the NHS is one of the most effective and efficient services in the world. We can’t go on demanding more from a frontline staff facing continued pay restraint without providing more resources across the system.
Professor Colin Pritchard
University of Bournemouth

• I am a consultant health economist and recently found myself working on the better care fund for a clinical commissioning group. I was not remotely surprised by the National Audit Office assessment (£1bn NHS savings plan is unrealistic, 11 November). The savings associated with different components of the scheme were simply being made up. This is a part of a culture in the NHS where it is acceptable to tell NHS England you are going to make savings, even though you do not expect to do so. Challenging the evidence is too much like negative thinking, while going along with the game at least buys time for the NHS. But there was no clear evidence to support the figures I saw. In one case, there might have been some savings to the NHS, but not to the public sector. Part of a hospital was to be redesignated as a residential building so long-term patients would be able to live on housing benefit and other social security payments.
Peter West

• The Quality Care Commission’s findings on Colchester hospital (Report, 15 November) are very worrying, but we should also put some of the spotlight on the North East Essex clinical commissioning group. This is the group of GPs set up to commission care for their patients. Surely the CCG which set up multimillion-pound contracts with the Colchester hospital has a responsibility to monitor those contracts and the quality of care? A good indication maybe that the Governments expensive NHS reforms are not working.
Peter John Boileau

Man waving Islamic State flag in Syria A man waves an Islamic State flag in Syria. ‘The government’s latest proposals for dealing with people suspected of going to fight in Syria would extend punishment without trial.’ Photograph: Reuters

The government’s latest proposals for dealing with people suspected of going to fight in Syria (Jihadis face ban from Britain, 14 November) would extend punishment without trial, typical of “anti-terror” powers since the Terrorism Act 2000. A senior police officer could withdraw a passport simply under reasonable suspicion that the person might carry out terrorist activity abroad. As preconditions for citizens returning to the UK, the home secretary could require them to accept prosecution and restrictions on their movement. They would surrender their right to challenge accusations from the state and it would avoid any requirement for evidence that could be tested in a criminal trial. These powers easily substitute racist stereotyping for evidence.

Suspects would face imprisonment or curfew for years, thus plausibly deterring their return home. These powers would offer no way out for those who change their minds. Some British fighters in Syria are horrified and disillusioned about what they have got involved in. They want to return home but fear jail.

The underlying statutory basis is as dangerous as ever. Terrorism encompasses any actions which may pose the threat of “serious damage to property”, in ways “designed to influence the government” for a political cause anywhere in the world. This would include any support for political movements disliked by the UK’s allies. As became clear in the David Miranda case, “suspects” include anyone exposing UK state actions which threaten justice and democracy. The new proposed powers would not protect us from violent attack. They threaten democratic rights, bringing us even closer to a police state.
Jenny Jones Green party, Liz Davies Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Arzu Merali Islamic Human Rights Commission, Les Levidow Campaign Against Criminalising Communities

We have joined nearly 300 groups from across Europe to serve a lawsuit against the European commission at the European court of justice, challenging the commission’s rejection of our right to have a formal petition – a European Citizens’ Initiative – on the controversial EU-US trade deal known as the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership). The TTIP threatens public services, environmental and food protection, workers’ rights and online privacy. The commission refused to sanction even the collection of signatures, arguing that an ECI can only be directed at a legal act being introduced and not work against one that is being negotiated. Our legal challenge disputes this reading of EU legislation. Given that ECIs were conceived as a method of bringing the work of the EU closer to the people of Europe, this decision makes a mockery of their original intent. We call once more for the TTIP to be stopped, for transparency in trade negotiations and for the EU bureaucracy to start listening to its citizens.
Nick Dearden Director, World Development Movement
Christine Blower General secretary, NUT
John Hilary Director, War on Want
Mark Serwotka General secretary, PCS
Paul Kenny General secretary, GMB
Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite
Ron Singer People’s NHS
Diarmaid McDonald Advocacy manager, Stopaids
Blanche Jones Campaigns director, 38 Degrees
Saoirse Fitzpatrick Restless Development
Hannah Lownsbrough Sum of Us

06.02 GMT

Your article on Alan Turing (Turings triumph, 15 November, page 7) mentions Lorenz and Colossus. The Axis developed a more powerful machine, Lorenz, to replace Enigma. Although the Lorenz code was broken at Bletchley by Bill Tutte, the solution was so complicated that it took days to translate a message, by which time the message was out of date. Bletchley attempted to construct a machine to translate a Lorenz message more quickly, but failed to do so. A General Post Office engineer, Tommy Flowers,, seconded to Bletchley from the Post Office Research labs at Dollis Hill, volunteered to construct a machine but was rebuffed by those in charge at Bletchley. Flowers, on his own, then designed and had built a machine to translate Lorenz messages at the Post Office labs at Dollis Hill. Flowers paid for many of the parts out of his own money and Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, was built at Dollis Hill. When Colossus, about the size of a room, was transported to Bletchley they were amazed to find that it could translate messages in minutes rather than days. Bletchley then commissioned Flowers to build other versions.

Colossus did extraordinary valuable work in translating Axis messages until the end of the war. It was regarded as so secret that Flowers was not allowed to mention its existence, and when the war ended could not get funding to proceed further – he had no proof that he had developed anything. For his pains, Flowers was given £1,000 in (part) recompense for his outlay in building Colossus, which he divided among his team at Dollis Hill. And that was all. There is a street named Flowers Close in NW2 and a Tommy Flowers building in Tower Hamlets, but I doubt that there are many who connect these with the man who designed and built the world’s first electronic programmable computer and who helped to shorten the second world war. So why no mention of Tommy Flowers?
Michael H Abraham

• As much as Benedict Cumberbatch gives an award-winning performance as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (Reviews, G2, 14 November), again history and fact are left wanting. No mention of the genius of Tommy Flowers, who built the world’s first programmable computer, Colossus (named Christopher in the film). No mention of the Lorenz cipher, which was more complicated than Enigma. And nothing about HMS Bulldog, which by forcing U-110 to the surface and capturing the code books enabled the Enigma to be deciphered quickly. Films such as Enigma and U-571 (where the Americans capture the Enigma machine before they actually entered the war) have been made about the Bletchley Park codebreakers, but none do all these geniuses and unsung heroes justice. It’s time to put the record straight.
Alan Quinn

The 67P comet as seen from the Philae lander ‘Fantastic achievement’ … The 67P comet as seen from the Philae lander. Photograph: ESA/Getty

Landing Philae on Comet 67P from the Rosetta probe is a fantastic achievement (One giant heartstopper, 14 November). A tremendous scientific experiment based on wonderful engineering. Engineering is the turning of a dream into a reality. So please give credit where credit is due – to the engineers. The success of the science is yet to be determined, depending on what we find out about the comet. Engineering is not the handmaiden of physics any more than medicine is of biology – all are of equal importance to our futures.
Emeritus professor David Blockley, Professor Stuart Burgess, Professor Paul Weaver, University of Bristol

• Surely the comet is too small to be measured in units of Wales; Olympic-sized swimming pools or football pitches would be more appropriate.
John Bailey
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• Having noticed that the successful All Blacks team had players called Bird and Thrush (not to mention McCaw), I think England needs to get the cassowary (Birdwatch, 17 November) to take up UK nationality. This bird is able to kill a human being, and should get across the gain line. Failing that, has Angela Eagle got any relations who could play rugby?
John Richards

• I can’t be the only one to smile at the news that workers from Hungary are making us something to eat (Report, 15 November).
Andy Harris
Brough, East Yorkshire

• Like John Dobson (Letters, 15 November) a few years ago I made two batches of sloe gin using pricked and unpricked sloes. While the pricked sloes made a darker drink, the batch made from unpricked ones had the better flavour.
Dave Headey
Faringdon, Oxfordshire

• I’m not surprised Alan Pearson’s recently picked blackberries tasted “a little winey” (Letters, 17 November). In Cornwall we are warned not to eat blackberries picked after Summercourt fair (25 September) as the devil has pissed on them.
Martin Courts
Newquay, Cornwall


David Cameron is lying by omission when he says that “the NHS will remain free at the point of use” even if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) goes ahead. The fact that the services behind the point of use will have been privatised courtesy of TTIP seems to bother him not one jot.

Can we be clear about what TTIP represents? Yes, it includes legislation to ensure the inability to renationalise any privatised industry – some people may shrug their shoulders at that. Far more sinister though is the right of companies to sue governments who bring in legislation which may damage those companies’ interests.

Far-fetched? It’s happening in South America right now, where Philip Morris is threatening to sue Uruguay if the country enacts legislation which the company feels will damage its profits.

Make no mistake, Cameron, in trying to push TTIP through, is representing vested interests and not mine or yours. It is less a piece of legislation, more a full assault on democracy. Get involved, people, before it’s too late!

Alan Gent

Cheadle, Cheshire

Cameron may indeed wish to “fire rocket boosters under TTIP” (report, 17 November) but it’s looking increasingly as if the controversial EU-USA trade deal will be a damp squib.

On Monday, the French government announced that it wouldn’t be signing the deal if it included the mechanism that would allow corporations to sue member states in secret courts for introducing legislation to protect public services, the environment or labour rights. Across Europe, almost a million people have signed a petition calling for the deal to be scrapped.

While Cameron claims that the deal could enhance food and environmental standards, not everyone in his party agrees with him. Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has said he finds it “hard to imagine that the process will involve any key standards going up. On the contrary, I suspect that we will see a spiral downwards.”

The £10bn benefit that Cameron claims TTIP will bring to the economy is based on research that has been widely criticised.

A more recent peer-reviewed study from Tufts University has suggested that the deal could bring about the loss of more  than half a million jobs across Europe on top  of lower wage growth  and exports.

Polly Jones

Head of Campaigns, World Development Movement, London SW9


This university is brought to you by…

 It can only be a matter of time before the looming debt crisis in higher education leads to the financial meltdown of a number of universities (“Tuition fees: three quarters of students won’t be able to pay off their debt”, 18 November).

Fortunately, vested interests exist in every university town which depend for their very survival on the fresh inflow of thousands of new students each September. The prospect of seeing their milch cows going to the wall will compel property magnates to dig deep into their pockets to rescue the local citadel of learning.

This magnanimity is bound to involve considerable renaming and rebranding. So look out for the emergence of the Buy-To-Let Business School, the Property-R-Us Academy, and the University of Platonic Landlord Studies.

Ivor Morgan


It’s lucky men don’t have any feelings

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (17 November) comments on Julien Blanc, an American who “promises to teach men to pull, manipulate and (allegedly) ravage women at will”. She writes: “An internet petition has gathered more than 140,000 signatures calling for this ban [on allowing him into Britain]. I can’t be absolutely sure of this but I expect most of those who have signed up are females.”

In a few minutes of watching the signatures scroll by, I saw that about one third of them were male names. While two-thirds does count as “most” it’s a long way from the 95 per cent-ish her column seemed to imply she expected. It would probably have been easy for you to get the signature list and check the first 1,000 or so for a better figure, rather than going along with her assertion that “men are too scared to do anything about it”.

Oh, well. It’s not as if her misandry can hurt my feelings. As everyone knows, men don’t have feelings.

Chris Newman,

Boroughbridge,  North Yorkshire

It is a shame when respected feminists such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown come out with generalised rallying calls to men. It shows how little acknowledgment there is for the men who are actively trying to embody gender equality and about the huge movement of women and men who are bringing into existence the most level ground between the sexes in modern history.

In my world, both young men and women are appalled by and condemn the actions of these “sexual villains” such as Julien Blanc and Ched Evans.

The point of gender equality is that we rally together, not separately. We don’t need to have a male only “not in our name” parade; we need to have a human “not in our name” parade.

Henry Gibbs

London SW4

Deciding not to vote is a democratic right

The proposals by a group of MPs to address the issue of voter turnout (report, 14 November) make depressing reading. They devalue voting.  What would the chartists and suffragettes, not to mention those living in less benign regimes, make of the suggestion that the civic ritual of going to the polling station is too much for people?

The idea that the answer is to make voting physically easier has already been tried with postal voting on demand. This has led to fraud and corruption, and online voting would only worsen the debasement of democracy. People will vote if they feel inspired and perceive the options would make a big difference to their lives. How do the MPs account for the high turnout in the Scottish referendum?

As for compulsory voting, this really does look like saying we have the wrong electorate. Deciding not to vote is an expression of opinion and an important democratic right.

Rupert Fast,

Esher, Surrey

Plain words should apply to all killings

Laurence Williams (letter, 18 November) is surely right that plain words should be used to describe killings like those by the Isis jihadists: “murderers,” he suggests, or “terrorists”. What words, though, would he suggest to describe the US personnel who killed at least 40 wedding guests in a drone strike in Pakistan a couple of years ago? Are they not equally murderers or terrorists?

This is not a trivial point of nomenclature, but raises the much wider issue of the nature and status of killings organised by the state and, indeed, of warfare itself in the 21st century.

Dr Richard Carter

London SW15

Christmas comes early for some pensioners

Christmas comes but once a year, and once again the Department for Work and Pensions has today dropped £200 into my bank account to remind me to get started with the shopping.

If it really was a “winter fuel payment” they would hang on to their money until February or March. It must be the flimsiest cover story in the world for a feelgood benefit.

It’s untaxed and so worth more to higher-rate taxpayers: if you pay a marginal 40 per cent, then you would need to earn £334 to buy the £200 of Christmas gifts now being paid for you.

Mr Duncan Smith,  thank ’ee, kind sir!

Trevor Pateman


Ukip don’t want to stop NHS privatisation

Edward Thomas (letter, 15 November) thinks that the Ukip leaflet on what they would do in government shows that they are against privatisation of the NHS. It shows nothing of the kind.

I have read it, as I am sure has Ed Miliband. Nowhere in it does it say that Ukip would stop the privatisation currently being imposed by the Coalition Government.

Indeed, previous statements from Ukip suggest that they might be even more enthusiastic than the Conservatives.

David Bell

Standon, Hertfordshire

Why don’t fatal car crashes matter?

You are not alone in this, but why was the death of five people only worth a small paragraph on page 14 (17 November)?

Had this been a train crash the line would be closed for a week with massed ranks of media present and politicians calling for a public inquiry. Why don’t car crashes matter?

Rob Edwards

Harrogate, North Yorkshire


Don’t get shirty with scientist

Poor Matt Taylor, being pilloried for his colourful shirt. All the guy did was display a certain lack of gravitas, which seems highly appropriate for a slow-motion near-weightless landing on a comet. Perhaps all the criticism will just bounce off him.

Hilary Sternberg

Weymouth, Dorset


Is Libby Purves right or wrong about the need for older workers and army reservists over the age of 50?

Sir, It is a forlorn hope for David Cameron to pin his defence legacy on a pledge to increase the number of reservists by 10,000 to 30,000 within four years (Nov 14). The annual wastage rate in many reserve/territorial units has been running at 30 per cent for decades. To maintain establishment strengths, every unit has had to have an annual recruitment and retention plan. Furthermore, the best recruiters are reservists themselves, not some detached bureaucracy.

A further surprise is that the army, while seeking additional recruits, jettisoned the brand, the Territorial Army, which was known and understood by the public. As many territorials have served with loyalty and distinction in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, there was little point in changing the name to the Army Reserve.

John Baron’s description of the reserve recruitment plan as a “shambles” seems to be right. Perhaps the government should review the whole undertaking rather than reinforcing failure.

In this time of uncertainty it might also be wise to remember the words of Winston Churchill: “I longed for more Regular troops with which to rebuild and expand the Army. Wars are not won by heroic militias.”

Roger Lowans
(Former TA Commanding Officer)
Bradley, N Yorks

Sir, I am surprised that the army is wasting so much money on recruiting. It has long been known that only two things bring in more recruits: rising unemployment and a new war. Thank goodness we have neither at the moment.

Tom Foulkes
Fleet, Hants

Sir, Nowhere are the services of the over-50s needed more than in the IT industry (“Every Office should have its own Dad’s Army”, Libby Purves, Nov 17). We sit in our allotment deckchairs with our newspapers, fuming about the latest IT disasters, knowing precisely what went wrong, why and how to fix them. Moreover, with the benefit of the education system of the 1960s we are eminently capable of documenting our views in plain words.

We can see, for example, how data processing activities are more and more being automated by consultancy organisations and offered, at great expense, as off-the-shelf customisable apps, only barely accessible through the internet. We can see how IT managers are selected from management school rather than from those on the shop floor with programming skills and computing acumen — the ones derided these days as nerds rather than software engineers. And we can see how computer users — games players, data-entry staff and users of those customisable database apps — mistakenly see themselves as computer experts.

David Jackson
Milton under Wychwood, Oxon

Sir, Libby Purves has seemingly missed the point about older workers. Nicholas Parsons might well give the youngsters at the Edinburgh Fringe a run for their money, but could he do it every day even if he wanted to? How many shopping trolleys could he push across a supermarket car park four or five days a week, a task many pensioners are obliged to do?

Those in the world of entertainment are so far removed from the grinding everyday world of work as to be totally irrelevant to the argument. Short stints of highly paid work which they enjoy doing bear no relation to low-paid and repetitive occupations which sap body and soul alike.

Andrew Harrison
Holmfirth, W Yorks

Sir, As always, Libby Purves talks sense in her article, arguing for the need for flexibility in the workplace when dealing with ageing. Yet we have a government which claims to have abolished default retirement ages, but which still forces all tribunal members (and others) to retire at 70, regardless of an individual’s capability and the value of their contribution.

Clive Fletcher-Wood
Redland, Bristol

Sir, With his many years of military experience, Major-General Scott (letter, Nov 17) might well be offered the Lance Corporal Jones role. But would any current banker be willing to fill the boots of Captain Mainwaring without the inducement of an eye-watering bonus?

Bryan Marshall
Enfield, Middx

A 16-mile tailback caused by a pothole on the M25 is good reason not to expand airport capacity in London

Sir, The Airport Commission (letter, Nov 14) need look no further for a reason why Gatwick should not expand given the 16-mile tailback that occurred after a large pothole appeared on the M25 (report, Nov 15). Why force even more people to endure the misery of this motorway to catch their flights? Encouraging even more passengers to travel from distant parts of the UK to Sussex cannot be sensible. More use should be made of regional airports, which are popular and create jobs where they are needed.

Alan Morriss

Pippingford Park, E Sussex

Sir, Much of the distress suffered by motorists trapped in the M25 incident could be alleviated if detachable barriers in the central reservation could be removed. Why are they not installed every mile or so?

Professor Bob Spence

Whyteleafe, Surrey

Sir, In France when there is a similar problem they divert traffic into a lane in the opposite direction, giving two lanes each way. Why can’t we do that?

Jac Martin

London SW18

My father always said he was the codebreaker sent to see Churchill because he was ‘the most easily spared’

Sir, It is a little harsh of Sir John Dermot Turing (Arts, Nov 14) to refer to the “gang of four” codebreakers at Bletchley Park as “consummate cowards” for sending their youngest member to London with the letter to Churchill asking for more resources.

As my father Stuart Milner-Barry had been born in 1906, he was hardly a put-upon youth at the time. He always said that he was sent because he was the most easily spared.

Alda Milner-Barry

London SW15

The Prince of Wales, and not New York’s Tuxedo Club, invented the dinner jacket

Sir, The DJ was not invented by New York’s Tuxedo Club in 1886 (letter, Nov 14). One of the club’s members, James Potter Brown, was introduced to it in England by its creator, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. The aim was to enable him to dispense with full evening dress while at sea during the first royal visit to India in 1875. There was no relaxation of other formalities. Sweating in temperatures of 100F, the party rose to toast Queen Victoria at the end of each meal while the band played the National Anthem.

Lord Lexden

House of Lords

The BBC looked in vain for a replacement for Dick Barton — until it found The Archers

Sir, Dick Barton was not replaced by The Archers (letter, Nov 17). There were two series in between: the adventures of Jackson the explorer, and a circus-based drama. Neither caught on. In the Midlands region the BBC was broadcasting an everyday story of country folk. In desperation Broadcasting House turned to this programme to fill the gap left by Dick Barton, as a temporary measure.

Professor Garel Rhys


The thinking behind sending your children to boarding school — and for having three offspring

Sir, Mike Dyer-Ball (letter, Nov 18), asked why parents bothered to have children they hardly ever saw. For years, I, my brother and sister saw our parents in Palestine and later Israel, only in the summer holidays. When I inquired about the thinking behind producing three children, a number I did not consider ideal, my mother said that at the time it was the thing to do in order to keep the Empire populated.

David Miller

Ilminster, Somerset


Matt Taylor’s ‘sexist’ T-shirt; violence on television; method in the ‘Leafgate’ madness; human rights risks; and ceremonial applause

The future's so bright: from left; Morwenna Cory, Casey Brill, Sky Dennis, Chloe Yip, Samara Villion, Yemisi Osunsami and Sarah Purdy at the RIGB's L'Oreal Young Scientist Centre

Morwenna Cory, Casey Brill, Sky Dennis, Chloe Yip, Samara Villion, Yemisi Osunsami and Sarah Purdy at the RIGB’s L’Oreal Young Scientist Centre Photo: PAUL GROVER

7:00AM GMT 18 Nov 2014


SIR – This week Matt Taylor, the Rosetta mission scientist, was criticised for wearing a T-shirt that many viewed as objectifying women. Boris Johnson was outraged at the reaction, but he should note that the bulk of the criticism came from individual scientists who were concerned that incidents of this kind may put off women and girls from entering science.

The physical sciences have a skewed gender ratio, largely because they are seen as “boys’ subjects”, but also because scientific establishments are often hostile work environments for women.

Dr Taylor appears sincere in his contrition and, more generally, has himself presented a welcome counterbalance to the unfortunate and inaccurate image of the dull, lab coat-clad scientist.

Dr Niall Deacon
St Albans, Hertfordshire

SIR – The reason for the shortage of engineers and scientists in Britain is that applied maths was replaced by pure maths at secondary level in the Seventies.

Applied maths uses maths to solve problems. It is essential to teaching and learning engineering and the sciences. Pure maths is the study of mathematical conundrums, with no practical application.

This short-sighted policy destroyed Britain’s engineering and scientific tradition and expertise and has produced two generations of mathematically illiterate adults. The skill shortages have had to be made up by migrant workers.

Applied maths should be reintroduced at secondary level and pure maths offered only at A-level and above.

Peter Wedderburn-Ogilvy
Froxfield, Hampshire

SIR – Margaret Stamper makes a valid point. In the late Sixties, when I was reading engineering at university, a lecturer expressed his opinion that most grammar school headmasters’ understanding of engineering was that each student, upon graduating, would receive a blue boiler suit and a chromium-plated oil can.

However, a far worse problem is the proliferation of people who describe themselves as engineers when they are nothing of the sort. The media and public’s exposure to this confuses people’s understanding of what it takes to become an engineer and what they actually do.

This often influences young people to avoid engineering, to the detriment of our nation.

John Farquhar
Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire

SIR – My brother, a professor of engineering, was attending an EU conference. His German counterpart, who was introduced as “Herr Doktor Professor”, asked him how his students referred to him. My brother’s reply was: “Bob.”

Claire McCombie
Woodbridge, Suffolk

Tackling abuse in sport

SIR – It is unfortunate to see discrimination appearing in the arena of sports again, after homophobic abuse was hurled at referee Nigel Owens during the England v New Zealand rugby match at Twickenham.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has an obligation to ensure that any such behaviour is swiftly dealt with. A person fearful of being subjected to abuse cannot enjoy equal opportunities, since it puts them off wanting to participate in the game. The RFU must send a clear message that abuse will not be tolerated at any level.

Michael Goitein
London EC2

Television violence

Jamie Dornan as killer Paul Spector in ‘The Fall’

SIR – Michael Deacon’s defence of the BBC drama The Fall justifies the portrayal of sexual violence towards women by saying that it happens in today’s society, so it is acceptable to show it.

Dramas are for entertainment; they are not documentaries. We might also question to what extent the graphic depiction of these crimes stimulates and encourages those with the potential to commit them.

Tim Nixon
Braunton, Devon

Women’s right to choose

SIR – Why is it that some women cannot wait to attack other women over their child care decisions?

The issues are not simple. I do admire those women who stay at home with their children, but I would probably have had a breakdown. Neither path is easy, but as my wise health visitor said to me, “It is good that you know yourself”. We need to stop vilifying each other and work towards a society that can truly offer women a choice.

Jacky Maggs
Chelmsford, Essex

Thanking you kindly

SIR – Having been in the hospitality industry all of my working life, I can confirm that Bernard Powell is indeed in the minority in thanking hotel staff he had never seen.

That said, last week I received a letter from a client of my hotel, thanking “those we never see in the kitchen and those who make our beds”. Perhaps he had read Mr Powell’s letter?

Eric Marsh
Hathersage, Derbyshire

There is method in the ‘Leafgate’ madness

Pruning upper branches helps to maintain trees at a certain height (Photo: Alamy)

SIR – Horticulture is being portrayed as both unskilled and frivolous as regards the pollarding of lime trees in New Palace Yard.

This is a necessary part of the trees’ maintenance in order to keep their shape and size. As a professional horticulturist it saddens me to see such a negative response to the craft.

Andrew Hellman
Tollesbury, Essex

SIR – While I have every sympathy for Annabel Honeybun, the poor “Westminster stripper” employed to remove the leaves, I’m not surprised if the choice of planting isn’t to everyone’s taste.

An avenue of mature lime trees may have a sonorous effect, but a pleached lime allée has long been regarded as a labour-intensive foreign import. Popularised in this country by Sir Walter Scott, it’s a rather grand garden feature that has gone in and out of fashion ever since.

Sadly, there’s no sign of oak outside the House of Commons. Keats’s “green-robed senators” have been relegated back to the forest, it seems.

Carol Lofthouse
London W4

Prison assaults

SIR – Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, promises longer sentences for those who are involved in assaults while in custody.

Surely this will only add to the problem of overcrowding. A far better approach would be to question why such violence occurs. It could be due to pure frustration at the long hours prisoners are locked up, or because courses are continually cut.

Prisoners should have the chance to learn new skills so that they leave with some sense of purpose. Lengthy confinement in a small space only results in boredom and resentment.

G H Crampton
Kingsbridge, Devon

Human rights risks

SIR – Failure to manage human rights issues in complex supply chains could pose significant risks to investors.

Consequently, we call on the Government to ensure that the Modern Slavery Bill, which is being debated this week, makes certain requirements of those who manage supply chains. They must provide evidence of a process for identifying human rights risks, highlight which parties have been involved in this assessment, and detail the actions taken to address those risks, alongside appropriate sanctions. Listed companies should consider the issue as part of their annual reports to shareholders.

Philip Howell
Chief Executive, Rathbone Brothers PLC

Colin Melvin
CEO, Hermes

Abigail Herron
Head of Responsible Investment Engagement, Aviva Investors

Katherine Garrett-Cox
CEO, Alliance Trust

Helen Cadbury
Chair, The Barrow Cadbury Trust

Lauren Compere
Managing Director, Boston Common Asset Management

Helena Viñes Fiesta
Head of Sustainability Research, BNP Paribas

Bennett Freeman
Senior VP for Sustainability Research and Policy, Calvert Investments

Julie Tanner
Assistant Director of Socially Responsible Investing, Christian Brothers Investment Services, Inc

Michael Quicke
Chief Executive, CCLA Investment Management

James Bevan
Chief Investment Officer, CBF Church of England Funds

Andrew Brown
Chief Executive, Church Commissioners for England

Bernadette Kenny
Chief Executive, Church of England Pensions Board

Neville White
Head of SRI Policy & Research, Ecclesiastical Investment Management

Anthony Marsden
Head of Governance & Responsible Investment, Henderson Global Investors

Nick Perks
Trust Secretary, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Sandra Carlisle
Head of Responsible Investment, Newton Investment Management

David Adkins
Chief Investment Officer, The Pensions Trust

Niall O’Shea
Head of Responsible Investing, Royal London Asset Management

Seb Beloe
Partner and Head of Sustainability Research, WHEB Asset Management

Stephen Linder
Secretary, Worcester Diocesan Investment and Glebe Committee

Young linguists

A French lesson at Two Waters primary school in Hemel Hempstead

SIR – I could not disagree more profoundly with Professor Krashen’s letter on language learning among older children and adults.

The greatest weight of evidence suggests that if children do not acquire a language in their early years, it is much more difficult to do so later on. The Department for Education has recently added credence to this by reducing the age for learning a foreign language in the national curriculum to seven (Key Stage 2). My concern is that even this is too late.

Unfortunately the current policy is already under threat, due to a lack of sufficiently well qualified language teachers at Key Stage 2.

Dr Carol Hayes
Staffordshire University

The Government must sort out its aid priorities

SIR – I agree wholeheartedly with William Pender that enshrining overseas aid in law is ludicrous. However, I disagree equally with his contention that such aid ought to be provided only when “it is in Britain’s vital interest”.

While many estimable British charities do a superb job across the globe, there are some situations – the latest being the dreadful Ebola crisis – where government resources are essential. I am proud that our government has sent experts from the British military to assist and I do not begrudge a penny of the taxpayers’ money involved. Indeed, I would be happy to see far more spent in this area.

What I do not want is any of my tax going in “aid” to countries whose governments spend billions on nuclear weapons and space programmes; and I certainly do not want a fixed percentage of Britain’s GDP spent on overseas aid purely for the sake of attaining an arbitrary target.

John Waine
Nuneaton, Warwickshire

SIR – Mr Pender does not go far enough.Instead of sending funds overseas, they should be made available to the industrial and commercial markets in Britain to construct and supply that which is needed by recipient countries, such as hospitals, housing, water treatment and roads.

Thus British workers, British taxpayers and the overseas countries will all be satisfied and the problems of the current system reduced considerably.

Howard Rigg
Ponteland, Northumberland


SIR – Our health service is struggling, there’s a shortage of housing, the roads are congested, the electricity supply is just about coping, schools are full to bursting; and Greencore wants to import 300 people to make sandwiches.

Neil Matthews
Portishead, Somerset

The final curtain

SIR – I sympathise with Jon Petcher in his dislike of inappropriate clapping.

I recently attended a cremation service when, after the curtain had been drawn and Sinatra had entertained the assembled, there was an outburst of applause. I’m not sure whether it was for Ol’ Blue Eyes or in the hope that the recently departed would oblige with an encore. The curtain remained closed.

Hugh Batkin
Whixall, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Your front-page report on November 17th quotes Enda Kenny as saying the protests are “not about water”. It has finally dawned on him. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, a leading suffragette, was once arrested for throwing rocks at the windows of Dublin Castle. I wonder if this great lady were alive today, would she too be labelled a “thug” or a “sinister element”? – Yours, etc,


Listowel, Co Kerry.

Sir, – I understand people’s anger with how outrageous the water charges are, but realistically, if the Government doesn’t tax our water, it will tax something else. The Government will make money from any taxable excuse it can find. If the water protests succeed, this will only lead to the Government imposing an identical amount of taxes on something else or an increased percentage on an already existing tax.

Although I agree with the other hundreds of thousands of anti-water activists, I would hate to witness an unnecessary outbreak of violence from both the Garda­and protesters due to a tax that inevitably will be imposed on the population, regardless of where it is targeted. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – The media storm caused by events in Jobstown and Coolock, and the now daily Government vilification of the parties and individuals involved in any public demonstrations, only serve to show how tame our public response has been to the incessant austerity programme since 2009.

As our Greek brethren have showed, sometimes physical public resistance gets results. Their social and political opposition to the troika’s privatisation drive, which operated at a different level to our water balloons and eggs, has been so fierce that the Greek government has already had to scale back its projected austerity proceeds from €50 billion by 2015 to a “mere” €11 billion by 2016.

While this doesn’t constitute a victory for their anti-austerity alliance, it does reveal the hostile social and political terrain there on which the troika and the Greek government have had to navigate.

In recent months, the grassroots campaign in Greece against the privatisation of the public water utilities, spearheaded by veteran activists from the 2011 Movement of the Squares, has also made major strides in rousing public opinion.

In late May, the movement was aided by a favourable court ruling that blocked the privatisation of the Athens water utility. This ruling marks the first significant victory in a collective public pushback that may yet set a precedent and cause the EU/IMF-enforced privatisation drive to come undone at the seams.

Too little, too late perhaps for us to undo our austerity measures. But the courage shown by the Greeks in the face of a more muscular government than ours shows what can be done. We must stick to our campaigns, keep them within the law, and keep the pressure incessant on our elected representatives and Government parties. – Yours, etc,


Midleton, Co Cork.

Sir, – The recent water protests have been described by some politicians as acts of “bullying and intimidation”. Enda Kenny has said that what happened to Joan Burton “almost amounted to kidnapping” (“Treatment of Tánaiste was effectively ‘kidnapping’, says Kenny”, November 17th).

When Mr Kenny states that what happened to Joan Burton “almost amounted to kidnapping”, I do wonder if he thinks that implementing Fianna Fáil policies almost amounts to standing up to the bond holders, or if he thinks that a flat rate water tax without a corresponding decrease in general taxation to reflect the removal of water services from the central budget almost amounts to a usage-based charge.

Maybe he also believes that the way he runs the country through the Economic Management Council almost amounts to a democracy?

The politicians have ignored the will of the people for so long, they are in shock when the people say “enough is enough”.

These protests have been a long time coming and are the direct result of very bad political leadership for many, many years. – Yours, etc,


Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Sir, – I wonder if a large march will make any difference? I cannot help thinking back to the marches in London when over one million citizens protested the invasion of Iraq – they had no effect. However, if the organisers of the water charges protest on December 10th got each marcher to sign a pledge promising to vote in the next general election and not to vote for either Coalition party, then we would be speaking the language politicians understand. Just a thought. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The water protesters in Tallaght threw a water balloon at the Tánaiste. The Government responded by throwing the media at the water protesters. Game over. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The Government seems surprised at the level of protesting at the water charges. I am extremely surprised that it has not happened sooner. – Yours, etc,


Dunshaughlin, Co Meath.

Sir, – With Paul Murphy TD’s apparent blindness to Tánaiste Joan Burton being subjected to loutish behaviour in the guise of legitimate condemnation of water charges, perhaps it is time some of our public representatives were ushered into Leinster House and given some firm lessons in how Mahatma Gandhi defined peaceful protest. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir – Many international workers in the self-proclaimed “Silicon Valley of Europe” will be stunned that they are forced to join archaic and chaotic queues outside the Garda National Immigration Bureau on Burgh Quay in Dublin (“Our broken immigration system”, Editorial, November 18th).

The scenes belong to a difference era. It is time the Government used new technology and the knowledge base it is so fond of boasting about to introduce a modern, clear and fair immigration system.

It is clear from your editorial and the excellent coverage by your correspondent Carl O’Brien (“A day in the life at the State’s immigration offices”, November 17th) that the policy of forcing the equivalent of the population of Cork city through a single public office has failed. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The scenes outside the Garda National Immigration Bureau are just one symptom of the failure of successive Governments to honour commitments to bring forward comprehensive immigration legislation.

It is now over a decade since the first consultation took place on an Immigration Residency and Protection Bill; this has been followed by drafts and redrafts but no actual reforms. The Bill remains off the current Government’s list of promised legislation.

Given that there is little possibility of legal measures before the next election, the Immigrant Council of Ireland is attempting to secure changes which do not require laws.

We would like to see the use of new technology to introduce online processes for routine applications and extra resources for frontline staff at Burgh Quay to ease the queues immediately, and perhaps learning from the experiences of the reform of the Passport Office.

There are measures too which could make the system easier to navigate, such as including the introduction of clear rules and guidelines, where often there are none. Such a move would not only benefit applicants but also officials who are caught in a system that is overdependent on discretion.

It remains unacceptable that clients of the immigration system do not enjoy the benefits of the protection of the Office of the Ombudsman. We would like to see this extended or the some other independent appeals mechanism for those whose applications have been rejected.

Our proposals make sense for those on both sides of the counter at Burgh Quay. We continue to work with politicians from all sides to try and ensure the queues will quickly be confined to history. – Yours, etc,


Integration and Support

Service Manager,

Immigrant Council

of Ireland,

Andrew Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – I read the comments of Dr James Reilly in relation to a tax credit scheme for childcare with absolute dismay (“Government officials rule out tax relief for childcare”, November 17th, 2014).

Dr Reilly and his departmental officials contend that any tax credit scheme for childcare may unfairly discriminate against stay-at-home mothers. Dr Reilly and his officials appear to live in a parallel universe where working parents do not face burdens and discrimination in relation to childcare costs. I am a working mother of one. I have a second child on the way. A full 39 per cent of my income goes to cover childcare costs. I have made the difficult decision to be a mother and work to progress my career. For this decision I am financially penalised and discriminated against. I would not face such discrimination if I stayed at home, which, incidentally, I cannot afford to do.

Can Dr Reilly and his officials please look at how they can tackle existing discrimination against working parents so that all parents face a genuine choice as to whether or not to work? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – Carl O’Brien writes that Minister for Children Dr James Reilly is not prepared to introduce tax breaks for parents in relation to the cost of childcare, ruling it out as a measure which seems to favour parents at work over parents at home.

So what is the Minister and his fellow Ministers in Government ruling in to make quality childcare accessible and affordable in Ireland?

Parents can’t pay any more given that they are currently paying up to 35 per cent of their net income if they have two children in centre-based services, in comparison to their European counterparts who are paying on average 10-12 per cent. The solution that is staring this Government as well as previous governments and future governments in the face is real investment in childcare. We can’t have these great expectations for quality, affordable and accessible childcare without the investment to make it happen. According to the OECD, Ireland invests only 0.2 per cent of GDP annually in early childhood education services (when primary schools are excluded) compared to the OECD average of 0.7 per cent.

We know that quality childcare is worth the investment, but we are not willing to make the investment and Ireland is still bottom of the European league table for investing in the provision of early childhood education.

There is huge pressure on early childhood education services to provide a quality service and to meet strict standards, as it should be. But the investment needed is just not there and we must wake up and realise that only quality counts for children in their earliest years, and quality costs. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

Hainault House,

Belgard Square South,


Dublin 24.

A chara, – James O’Reilly (November 17th) highlights the increasing casualisation of the teaching profession. While it is a common assumption that all teachers are in full-time, permanent, pensionable employment, the reality is quite different. OECD studies show that just 73 per cent of Irish second level teachers are in permanent positions (compared to 96 per cent in Denmark and 90 per cent in Norway). This is one of the lowest levels in Europe. The remaining 27 per cent survive on temporary contracts and are often scraping by on part-time hours. Younger teachers such as Mr O’Reilly are in an even more difficult position. OECD statistics show that the majority (52 per cent) of secondary teachers under 30 years of age are on non-permanent contracts of a year or less. They are being offered insecure part-time contracts rather than a dedicated career and risk becoming a highly qualified spailpín class. Far from a “job for life”, these teachers have no guarantee that their job will even exist in the next school year. The implications for teaching and learning in our classrooms are obvious. Schools will have to deal with a high turnover of teachers and the difficulties with continuity that this will inevitably cause. Highly qualified teachers will take their abilities elsewhere and new graduates will be less likely to consider teaching as a career. In this context, Mr O’Reilly’s call for the small number of retired teachers still in the system as substitutes to gracefully step aside and enjoy their retirements is a valid one.

Let a new generation of teachers gain the skills, experience and employment that they so badly need. – Is mise,



Killarney, Co Kerry.

Sir, – The culture of entitlement in this country goes from bad to worse. The “Right to Water Campaign” is correct – we are indeed entitled to water but if we want clean, treated water in our taps, someone has to pay for it. Our temperate climate ensures that there are streams and rivers in abundance into which they can dip their buckets if it’s “free water” they’re after. – Yours, etc,



Co Tipperary.

Sir, – I congratulate the Government on their wise decision to simplify water charges by introducing a fixed payment per head, unrelated to the volume of water used.

To better communicate the radical nature of this policy change, perhaps a snappy new name for the charge is in order. Might I suggest “poll tax”? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – The likely new Irish water charges feel like one of those financial packages one is regularly warned about, designed to suck people in with a low entry charge but which are then subsequently increased once the person is hooked.

The fact remains that for Irish Water to pay its way, charges need to be closer to €500 per year and this is presumably where charges will go with time.

The real issue with Irish Water is that it has been set up with too high a cost base because politicians felt it was easier to hoodwink the ordinary person rather than face up to vested interests by ensuring Irish Water was efficient with a break-even point as low as possible.

In addition, Phil Hogan’s triumphant ride into the sunset on the back of a job supposedly well done is typical of the lack of accountability in our political classes. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I seem to be living in a confused country. There is trouble on the streets over the water tax. Yet the TV tax is now exactly the same amount of money and if you complain about that people think you’re a little odd.

Plus there’s silence from both right and left on the merit of a State-owned, hugely subsidized and inefficient broadcaster charging people €160 for a service that’s far less important to life and health.

Whether you agree with the water tax or not, it’s hard to disagree that you’ll get a lot more value from the water tax than you do from the Tubridy-Finucane tax. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – After painstakingly explaining to us that fewer than 1 per cent of babies are born with ambiguous sexual identities, Ralph Hurley O’Dwyer (November 17th) then makes the extraordinary statement that “nature doesn’t draw a line between male and female”. Is 99 per cent clearly identifiable male or female children not clear enough for him? How too does he cope with the fact that those babies (all of them) are products of the contributions of genetic material from identifiably male and female persons?– Yours, etc,



Sir,– Patrick Treacy ( November 5th) used the word “truth”, in relation to marriage, 13 times. If “truth demands” that same-sex couples are to choose a different word and different concept to “marriage”, should couples who choose not to have children, or couples who do not marry for love, or couples who do not share a bed, also choose an alternative word? Perhaps an alternative “truth” is that there are as many marriages as there are couples. Why should one such marriage not be same-sex? – Yours, etc,


Leixlip, Co Kildare.

Irish Independent:

So if the thing is falling apart, why not consider a National Government? Preceded by the Members of Dail and Seanad meeting as a consultative Convention for a maximum of a fortnight? With a fixed deadline? All but the most essential ‘normal’ business suspended? Party blunderbusses outside door?

Such a plan will never happen. Or not until it is too late. Because it would break all the most fundamental and unalterable rules of conventional politics. The most important of which is: That rule which says that you do not deal with a crisis – however predictable – until the water is actually sloshing around the kitchen floor.

It may be that the current Government may come up with an interim plan for water which kicks that can down the road. Even as far as the election.

Another plan would have those members of the Government who see themselves participating in politics (and even governance) in the rest of this decade and beyond, arranging a sacrificial retirement junket for Enda and Joan. Well before Christmas.

But it may well be, for better or worse, that public opinion (and common-sense evaluation) have already gone beyond the point of no return. British Prime Minister David Cameron is hammering the economic doom-and-gloom button. But he is not alone. Either in Europe. Or worldwide. What ‘growth’? Many of our own commentators have expressed their unease at the Government’s determination to prematurely sign the death cert for ‘austerity’. Not a popular stance. Certainly not ‘populist’. But maybe the bitter truth.

We have had an electorally-slanted gambler’s budget. What if the grand national recovery strategy goes pear-shaped? How would any Government handle such a situation – politically?

When former Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore (with a patriotism almost heroic) fell on his sword last May, he offered his heiress presumptive the opportunity to re-write the script for Labour. Nothing too ideological to frighten the old Blueshirts. Just a nuanced gesture towards the possibility that we live in a different world. A world in which there have to be global and European solutions. In which the lead-lined parish pump is not enough.

Maybe – as sometimes happens with toxic addictions – our political culture and those who sail in its decaying hulk have got to hit bottom before they can recover. But as the late great Spike Milligan, or some such iconic figure, may have said about his own mortality, I do not want to be there when it happens.

Over to you, O youth of Ireland! Make my last days happy days!

Maurice O’Connell, Tralee, Co Kerry


Irish Water

The hysteria over water charges is a sight to behold, with no attempt to examine how damaging the effects of giving in to this hysteria are.

The reality is that in November 2010 this country needed an €80bn bailout. That was a result of the country going bust due to the decisions of a small number of its most powerful citizens.

The scale of the problem thus created is highlighted by the fact that, as a consequence, this country needed to reduce its deficit from 32pc of national income to 3pc by 2014. Most of that plan has been implemented. The economy is growing. There are high levels of foreign investment.

Yet there is a group of people who want to use the water charges issue to reverse all that. They want to default on the bail-out. They want to leave the EU and they want to get rid of multinational investment.

The problem is aggravated by much of the Irish media aiding and abetting the hysteria over water charges.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13

I seem to be living in a confused country. There is – almost literally – war on the streets over the water tax. Yet the TV tax is now exactly the same amount of money and if you complain about that people think you’re a little odd. Plus there’s silence from both right and left on the merit of a state-owned, hugely subsidized and inefficient broadcaster charging people €160 for a service that’s far less important to life and health.

Whether you agree with the water tax or not, it’s hard to disagree that you’ll get a lot more value from the water tax than you do from the Tubridy-Finucane tax.

Hugh Sheehy, Sandymount, Dublin 4


Please, Roy, don’t go!

Don’t go, Roy.

May I – through your newspaper – appeal to Roy Keane not to leave Aston Villa before the end of the season. I have a nice bet to win a substantial five-figure sum that Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich (currently flying high) will win the Championship and Roy’s Aston Villa (inevitably hurtling towards the bottom of the Premier League) will be relegated.

My plea is because in 2008/09 I had a similar double (25/1) that Mick’s Wolves would win the Championship and Roy’s Sunderland would be relegated. Wolves duly won, and Sunderland languished at the bottom when Roy resigned. The little-known Ricky Sbragia took over, galvanised the Black Cats for a few matches and helped them to safety.

For God sake don’t leave again, Roy, or I’ll not get over it.

Brian Morris, Blackrock, Co Louth


Laws must be obeyed by all

“…what did she expect? Garlands, red carpets and flowers?” So said Ruth Coppinger, an ELECTED representative in response to the detaining for two hours of the deputy leader of this country, Tanaiste Joan Burton. I’m no supporter of Ms Burton or her acquiescent Labour Party, but I think any elected representative has to be subject to the law of the land. As far as I know, detaining someone against their will is a criminal offence.We seriously are in new territory where people can think they can take the law into their own hands and still claim moral righteousness is on their side.

There are plenty of laws – water charges being one of them – I don’t agree with, but my only options are to obey them or leave Dodge toute suite. The behaviour in Tallaght was a downright disgrace, pure and simple.

Frank Buckley, Tullamore, Co Offaly


Martin’s Labour leanings

We got an insight – if we needed it – into the mindset of Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin on the Saturday Night show with Brendan O’Connor.

He said he was slow to speak out about what was wrong in the Fianna Fail government when in power. He acknowledged that the tax cut was an issue he should have spoken out on; this for me was incredible – no mention that expenditure had got out of control, with Micheal the big spender in those years.

Expenditure had, of course, gone totally out of control in that period, ending with the special increases for all senior civil servants and politicians. Mr Martin and the establishment paid themselves some of the best salaries in the world. Mr Martin was Minister of the largest-spending departments in those years – ie health and education.

He should join the Labour Party because his philosophy is similar to that party – ie represent the interests of the public sector before all else and favour raising taxes before cutting expenditure.

John Murphy, Glasnevin, Dublin 9


A red letter day

Bravo, Mr Editor!

Monday’s letters page is back. A good decision. A good day’s work.

So, on behalf of myself and all my fellow contributors to the page – and all your readers – a warm and genuine heartfelt thank you!

Brian Mc Devitt, Glenties, Co Donegal

Irish Independent


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: