20 November 2014 Recovery
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 Fluff seems to be quietly recovering.
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
Alan Smith – obituary
Alan Smith was a long-serving Tory stalwart who organised the ill-fated 1984 Conservative Party Conference in Brighton
Alan Smith Photo: MONITOR PRESS FEATURES LIMITED
5:53PM GMT 19 Nov 2014
Alan Smith, who has died aged 93, was for nine years secretary of the Conservative National Union, the grassroots wing of the Party; his most public responsibility was organising party conferences – his last being the bomb-ravaged Brighton conference of 1984.
Smith died two days after the 30th anniversary of the bombing, several Tory activists having called to thank him again for the help he gave them in its wake.
The device on the sixth floor of the Grand Hotel exploded at 2.54 am on October 12, the final day of the conference. Collapsing the front of the building, it left five dead and many more injured; Margaret Thatcher had a narrow escape.
From their first-floor room Smith and his wife made for the fire exit with dozens of other senior Tories. As a former Army officer he could not help thinking that “had there been an IRA gunman following up the explosion, he would have had a field day”.
The conference was due to resume in six hours, but there was no talk of cancellation, Smith agreeing with Mrs Thatcher that it must be business as usual.
He was allowed back into the building to retrieve the conference files, plus his watch and ring left on the dressing table. Guests’ other belongings were retrieved several days later .
The party treasurer Sir Alistair McAlpine, Smith noted, “called in some business favours and got M&S opened for fresh clothing and hot drinks. Conference opened on time, and continued amid whispered enquiries about the Tebbits and John Wakeham.” Norman Tebbit, trapped beneath the rubble, was seriously injured and his wife Margaret left paralysed; Wakeham sustained serious injuries, but his wife was among the dead.
“If the applause was a little more fervent and prolonged than usual,” Smith wrote, “it was a reflection of the pride representatives felt in their party, which could shrug off this disaster and get on with the job.”
He had always planned to retire at the end of 1984, “but to finish my political career in such sadness over the death and injury of so many people I had worked with was a traumatic ending I had never expected.”
John Alan Smith was born in Cambridge on February 16 1921. From Cambridgeshire High School for Boys he joined the Cambridgeshire Regiment TA as war broke out. Becoming a colour sergeant in the Sherwood Foresters, he was commissioned into the Suffolk Regiment in 1942, then fought with 1st Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers in North Africa and Sicily. He later became a staff captain in GHQ 2nd Echelon and GSO 2 Intelligence Organisation, AFHQ Italy.
Demobilised as a major in 1946, he was appointed Conservative agent for South-West Norfolk , and later for Huntingdon. In 1968 he moved to London as deputy Central Office agent for the South East.
In 1975 Smith was appointed secretary of the National Union. His tasks included organising the party’s October conference, which then alternated between Brighton and Blackpool – though even before the bombing Smith had arranged for the 1986 event to be held in Bournemouth.
Organising the conference was a fine art. “Fitting ministers, party officers, executive committee members and staff into the 250 bedrooms we reserved was a continual problem for me,” Smith recalled. On the conference agenda, Smith was caught between the National Union, who wanted motions with bite, and the leadership which was set on blandness. Observing one of Smith’s conferences, a Soviet diplomat remarked: “This is just how we do things in the Kremlin. We don’t organise a conference so the delegates can tell us what to do.”
Under Smith’s auspices the party started charging constituency representatives to attend the conference, introduced commercial displays as a money-raiser, and deployed a mechanically operated speaker’s rostrum christened the “Maggie rose”. During these years the conference “fringe” expanded rapidly.
He was appointed OBE in 1984.
Alan Smith married Pamela Hoskin in 1945; she died earlier this year. Their son and two daughters survive him.
Alan Smith, born February 16 1921, died October 13 2014
Derek Robinson was an external adviser to South Africa’s presidential labour market commission. Photograph: Magdalen College, Oxford
Derek Robinson was proud of having been the first economic adviser to an employment minister, Barbara Castle, whom he idolised. At the dinner to mark Derek’s retirement from Magdalen College, Oxford, a seat was left vacant next to him. As the meal started, in walked the frail lady; the college had arranged for her to be chauffeured there.
In the 1990s, Derek was an external adviser to South Africa’s presidential labour market commission, of which I was the research director. In our report to the cabinet and then to Nelson Mandela, we advised that unless there was a strong redistributive strategy from the outset, growth would be sluggish, inequality would grow and labour absorption would be negligible. On the day we presented our findings, the minister of finance, guided by the IMF and the World Bank, proposed structural or supply-side initiatives, and our recommendations were not taken up. Inequality and mass unemployment grew, prompting more social tensions and violence. Derek shared our anger.
George Healy writes: Before the 1992 general election, Derek Robinson set up a meeting involving John Smith, the Labour leader, and Tony Blair, the shadow employment minister. A serious disagreement between Blair and Derek about the role of trade unions may well account for Derek never having been called on to advise the Blair administration.
Your piece (Why do we only worship ‘real’ works of art?, 14 November) refers briefly to Walter Benjamin’s analysis of infinitely reproducible art but doesn’t mention his worry that modern mass reproduction could eventually erode the historical authority of an artwork, jeopardising its traditional testimony as part of a time-tested canon. Indeed, he feared a wider decline of the value of human experience, as once passed between generations through careful storytelling. With today’s instant internet access to countless images and information, a serious debate over a related loss of historical memory and understanding is now growing at last. Great art is not immune to this erosion. It forms a key part of our social memory.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
• The piles of glossy art books on sale show that many people enjoy looking at good-quality reproductions of their favourite pictures, even though they would not find it acceptable for the same reproductions to be framed and hung in an art gallery for an exhibition. Many would, however, be happy to hang a good quality reproduction on their walls at home. This surely relates to how we value objects and what we think is worthy of our attention. The bottom line is that we place a much higher value on things that are rare or unique, provided they speak to us in some significant way.
Lewes, East Sussex
• We shouldn’t be dismissive of reproductions of great works of art, which might make them more accessible to the public and are art in their own right. What we should dismiss are cheap imitations of iconic designs. The government is yet to implement legislation it passed 18 months ago and so it is legal to replicate iconic designs for the likes of furniture. These replicas are often made overseas but their manufacturers use the UK as a shop floor, conning consumers and devaluing the work of talented designers. A great replica of Michelangelo’s David has its own artistic merit. But there are many examples of duplications that are not art. They are only poor-quality forgeries. There should be a stigma attached to them.
Managing director, Vitra
• I feel the capacity of even the most up-to-date techniques to reproduce original pieces has been exaggerated. I have a screen print by the late Terry Frost on my wall which uses 11 different colours very carefully selected and prepared by the artist. I also have a reproduction of the same work in the complete catalogue of his prints. Even with high-quality scanning and printing processes, the colours in the book are nowhere near the original and lack the brio so characteristic of his work.
Producing a run of 150 prints of an 11 screenprint image is not like pushing the print command and setting a laser printer going. All colour reproductions are reproduced by electronic processes that are essentially a compromise. Any other artistic medium could generate similar caveats.
West Grimstead, Wiltshire
• If virtually identical replicas of works of art can now be made, this points to a way of resolving the dispute over the Parthenon marbles: commission the best reproductions money can buy, install them in the British Museum, and send the originals back to Greece. It could be done the other way round; but it seems entirely understandable that the Greeks should want to restore the marbles’ links with a particular historic place and national history. The British Museum, on the other hand, could discharge its wider cultural mission just as well with replicas, as the V&A’s cast display (of objects left where they belong) so well demonstrates.
• I once heard Umberto Eco speaking on forgeries. It was about the time that psychiatrist Graziella Magherini was describing Stendhal syndrome. Eco described his own severe bout of it: “I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence.” Stendhal syndrome is hyperkulturemia, manifest in the forms of rapid heartbeat, dizziness, swooning, confusion and even hallucinations when face-to-face with great works of art. Magherini was even providing treatment for it at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital. Given that there are several versions of Michelangelo’s David in Florence: most notably the original in the Accademia and the 20th-century copy outside the Palazzo Vecchio, I asked Eco which was responsible for the greatest number of swoons. His response: “It’s about the same.” So there is a definitive answer to Polly Toynbee’s question.
Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Broadbent
• If we removed everything that was not painting from the galleries and museums around the world, there would be a lot of empty space. Photography is the art of the 20th century and the fact that the Tate now has a curator of photography, even though it took until the 21st to get one, proves it, to me at least. There is bad art everywhere. But well-made vintage prints by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston or Irving Penn as well as being wonderful inspiring images are also objects of great beauty.
• An even better idea is to fill the London museums and galleries with reproductions, distribute the originals throughout the UK and let the “fetishistic” Londoner visit Inverness to see those original Rembrandts for a change.
I joined the protest outside the town hall against Ched Evans being reinstated at Sheffield United Football Club on Saturday. Since the protest hit the news, I have seen comments from the public that I have found to be truly infuriating. From “bunch of rug munchers” to “I bet none of them know the offside rule”, the comments have ranged in both wit and distance from the truth. Many people have asked why we hadn’t protested outside the club’s ground. The abuse that Jessica Ennis-Hill has received since taking her stance on the issue is evidence enough of verbal abuse and worse that would have occurred if we had protested outside the club’s ground (Ennis-Hill sent rape tweets in footballer row, 15 November). Sheffield United have since announced that any fan found abusing protesters will be banned from the club for life. While not the exact outcome I was hoping for, it demonstrates that SUFC have, in fact, heard us. I’d like to set the record straight about why exactly I protested. For me, the protest was not about further condemning a potentially innocent man. The fact is that, rightly or wrongly, Ched Evans is a convicted rapist and until such time as this verdict is overturned, I believe that he should not be allowed to play for the club. I did not protest to invite argument about his conviction, but rather to demonstrate my opinion that convicted rapists should not be allowed to continue in a public and influential role.
• The key fact is that Evans is unrepentant. If he was to admit and turn away from his wrongdoing, allowing him to return would send a very different message, to “lads” in particular. It would also underline that true rehabilitation of offenders requires remorse and repentance as otherwise the punishment has not served it’s underlying purpose; it could be argued that the offender has not really paid the full price for their crime and so forfeits their entitlement to rebuild their life without restriction.
• A football club has stated it will bar for life any Twitter troll threatening rape. The same club invites for training a convicted rapist who maintains he is guilty of nothing more than “infidelity”.
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire
• Even if some of Amnesty’s recommendations are belatedly implemented (Report, 12 November), the World Cup in Qatar will still be played over the blood of the hundreds of migrant workers who have died, having been forced to work in appalling conditions. In contrast to the outrage over Ched Evans, I am not aware of patrons, sponsors, players, and management of the British football teams protesting strongly at this human rights abuse and suggesting that the tournament be held elsewhere. If such a demand was made it might restore my belief in the morality of the football industry. I have yet to be convinced.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Russell Brand at a protest to save social housing on the New Era estate in east London, which was bought this year by the US-based company Westbrook Partners. Photograph: Jules Annan/Barcroft Media/Jules Annan / Barcroft Media
The New Era housing estate is owned in New York; army recruitment is run by Capita (Reports, 18 November). I seem to remember that the army’s theatre equipment servicing is being sold off. I can’t keep track of how much public provision is now delivered by A4E, G4S, Serco etc, and the various shadowy outfits running probation or schools, or receiving lucrative NHS contracts. What I’d like for Christmas is a Guardian booklet identifying everything that used to be a public service or utility, or social housing or care home, that is now a nice little earner for some private company – along with an assessment of how much public money goes into these “providers”, how well they function, how much they donate to the political parties, which MPs or ministers are sponsored by them, or sit on their boards, or are married to their CEOs, and by how much we subsidise their low-paid employees. We need to know who owns Britain, who sold it, and how much it is costing us.
The efforts of the NHS to improve patient safety through greater candour have been hit by the reluctance of trainee doctors to report failings because their anonymity can’t be guaranteed (“Trainee doctors ‘too scared to blow the whistle’”, 19 November).
There are also thousands of NHS professionals without an effective means to report concerns. And this further undermines the NHS’s efforts to improve patient safety.
It’s a travesty that thousands of specialist NHS professionals remain unregulated despite performing procedures and tests on patients that could cause harm.
All staff are able and should raise any concerns they have. But if regulated professionals with a duty to report mistakes and concerns are afraid of speaking out, where does that leave unregulated practitioners or those on voluntary registers to whom the NHS’s duty of candour does not apply?
Chair, Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists
Steve Richards’ excellent article on the problems at the Colchester hospital fails to mention the responsibility carried by the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, set up under the Government’s NHS reforms to commission care for its local population and alongside that given the responsibility to monitor the multimillion-pound contracts placed with its local hospital. If, under government reforms, an NHS commissioning body cannot monitor what it buys from an NHS hospital, what chance do we have when these clinical commissioning groups are placing contracts with an increasing number of private-sector providers?
Shame on those who side with terror
Four rabbis and a policeman are murdered in a place of prayer in Jerusalem using knives, guns and hatchets and some members of our political class are unable to condemn this terror attack without reservation.
If murdering innocent civilians was not enough, there were then celebrations by Palestinians giving out sweets and calling for more killings.
The Liberal Democrat MP David Ward tweets that the attack is a result of Palestinians “driven to madness by the failure of the international community to deal with Israel”. On the same day, Baroness Warsi also equated Israelis wanting to pray at a holy site, the Temple Mount, to terrorists killing people in a synagogue.
Such distortions only give succour to those whose aim is not only the destruction of Israel but the wider goal of the spread of fanatical Islamic fundamentalism throughout the world.
The Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps rightly tweeted that Baroness Warsi was speaking for herself and not the Tory Party. Nick Clegg also needs to distance himself from David Ward. Both of them should lose the backing of their respective parties.
To be seen on the side of terror is not acceptable for any mainstream British politician and is completely irresponsible.
On Tuesday, BBC News gave extended coverage to the murder of four Israelis in Jerusalem at the hands of Palestinians. When would the killing of four Palestinians by Israelis last have been considered worthy of such coverage?
On Wednesday, they reported, with little commentary, that the Israeli Prime Minister had ordered the demolition of the homes of the murderers, where their families still live. If any Palestinian leader had ordered any such thing the international outcry would have been deafening.
Why is this institutional imbalance so entrenched?
Lack of dining car is food for thought
Simon Calder’s views on Eurostar are extraordinary (“Why I am a Eurostar sceptic”, 12 November). I cannot imagine going back to the hassle of air travel to Paris after the convenience of Eurostar. Nor does he seem interested in the green debate about whether we should still be flying polluting planes when we have high-speed clean-energy trains.
This ought to be one of the main justifications for a more extensive network of high-speed trains within the UK instead of all this stupid negative debate about HS2.
As ever, the Brits think that they know better than our often more successful Continental friends.
My only objection to Eurostar, and one hopefully that Deutsche Bahn may resolve if and when it starts running from St Pancras, is the lack of a proper dining car.
Eurostar offers standard passengers croissants and pot noodles in a miserable snack bar; and first-class passengers get not much more appetising airline-style packaged meals.
Right from the start this seemed odd, especially when the French pride themselves on their cuisine, and Britain had a worthy tradition of dining-car service on long-distance trains.
It used to be one of the great joys of longer journeys to be served good-quality meals while whizzing through the countryside. I do not believe the demand no longer exists.
National Express axed the much-loved London to Norwich dining car before losing the franchise, and Abellio has shown no interest in reviving it. There used to be a nightly stampede at Liverpool Street to the dining car because there were always fewer places than the number of would-be diners.
In an age when companies are falling over themselves to provide luxury goods and services, why are no enterprising rail companies trying to reinvent the dining car?
Comparing Saudi with Isis is unhelpful
Saudi Arabia’s beheading of those it condemns as criminals may be barbaric (Brian Parkinson, Letters, 18 November). However, the barbarism of Isis is of a completely different order, including “ethnic cleansing” on a large scale; cruel religious persecution; the massacre of prisoners of war; and (without respect of age or sex) of the members of a tribe that resisted its tyranny.
Most international opinion has understandably condemned the gruesome murders of Western hostages, some of whom had undertaken humanitarian work in Syria, and one of whom, Alan Henning, had been found innocent of any crime by an Islamic court before his murder.
We may judge Saudi Arabia’s reliance on capital punishment abhorrent, but to compare its actions with those of Isis is unhelpful.
Western media have certainly “in general” said little about Saudi executions compared with their coverage of Isis’s atrocities, but they have certainly not been silent on the subject.
Unlike Brian Parkinson, I am very much in favour of capital punishment and find that I can quite easily spot the difference between the illegal killing of innocent hostages and the legal killing of convicted criminals.
Saudi Arabia, it is true, brings the death penalty into disrepute (by including victimless crimes among its capital offences) but then the Saudi regime simultaneously manages to bring prisons, courts, Islam, politics, education and money into disrepute. I hear no one using moral equivalence to attack any of those.
TTIP would stop us taking back railways
Contrary to Alan Gent’s letter (19 November), many of us are immensely concerned that, alongside the wholesale destruction of the NHS, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will contain legislation that will prevent privatised companies from ever being renationalised.
Given that every poll I’ve ever seen has suggested that an overwhelming proportion of the UK voting public believes that the railways should be renationalised, and I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t think that the water companies would be better in our hands, it seems astonishing that the Labour Party isn’t shouting their opposition from the rooftops.
Except they aren’t in opposition. If they wonder why those of us who used to support them no longer do, they might look at that.
PR gets my vote to improve democracy
The best way for politicians to get people to vote (“Make polling days Bank Holidays so more people vote, say MPs”, 14 November) is the way they least like.
In the Scottish referendum the turnout was around 80 per cent because everyone knew they had a voice. I first voted 63 years ago and my vote has never counted. I have always lived in a constituency in which one party had clear dominance.
Proportional representation is the only way to give every person a voice. I look forward (with regret) to my vote not counting next May.
Darley, North Yorkshire
Will Cupid’s dart hit the bullseye?
I hope that the search is now on for another gay bull to be Benjy’s civil partner.
Sir, Matt Ridley’s piece (“Hurrah for the little-changing face of Britain”, Nov 17) highlights the political traditions that separate Britain and Europe. The history of modern Europe has been obsessed with rationalism, a belief that an ideology dreamt up by political philosophers can be transposed word for word into reality by the implementation of projects from the top down.
Britain, however, has followed a pragmatic and traditionalist approach: change has been adapted and the institutions around us have evolved in order for the status quo to be preserved. This is best illustrated by Professor Michael Oakeshott’s analogy of the ship sailing though the sea “neither starting-place nor appointed destination . . .” and where “the enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel”.
These two distinct traditions will be majorly important in the debate over our continued membership in what is known on the continent as the “European project”.
James A Paton
Sir, I noted with pleasure Matt Ridley’s ironic nod to Britain’s traditional suspicion of European super-sovereigns. As he points out, Defoe — if he were to time-travel into 21st century Britain — would be “appalled at the degree to which we are subjects of an alien and unelected European nomenklatura”. As I’m sure he is aware, Defoe’s surprise would be all the more given that the monarch of his day was none other than the sturdily Germanic child of the Holy Roman Empire, Georg Ludwig of Hanover, who acceded to the throne following a series of backroom deals by cosmopolitan proto-Eurocrats only ten years earlier.
Sir, Matt Ridley tells us that there have been no battles in this country since 1714 except Culloden and the Blitz. Once, every grammar schoolboy would have written notes on the 1745 rising and possibly have read Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, and be familiar with Prestonpans: a real battle with infantry, cavalry and artillery deployed, and significant casualties.
Sir, One thing that Defoe would find little changed is class hierarchy, with people oddly proud to call themselves working or middle class (the upper classes don’t trumpet their status). Until we rid ourselves of these terminologies to insult those seemingly in differing strata, we will not advance, the “us and them” society being perpetuated. Countless obituaries remind us of many people’s accomplishments, their backgrounds not hindering them from achieving remarkable goals. Wallowing in class warfare was not something Defoe did. But then, he did have at least 198 pen names.
Sir, Matt Ridley’s suggestion that very little has substantially changed in Britain since the time of Defoe is nonsense. Britain’s population has increased ten-fold; its urbanised proportion has changed from 20 per cent to 80 per cent; the slave trade has been abolished and child labour outlawed; and capital and corporal punishment no longer exist. We have the NHS, a welfare system, universal suffrage and a multicultural society, with all their imperfections, and we are unrecognisably tolerant compared with the time of Defoe.
Sir, Defoe would find a very familiar country. Jonathan Swift I’m sure would feel the same especially about the shenanigans of the present-day financial industry. One only has to read his poem Upon the South Sea Project, describing the disgraceful conduct of financial brokers over the South Sea Bubble, to realise that “plus ça change” applies.
Old Windsor, Berks
Sir, Matt Ridley reveals perhaps more than he intends when he, a Northumbrian viscount, suggests that Defoe would find “working women” mind-boggling. The economy of 1724 relied just as much on the work of women as does today’s, although, of course, viscountesses might not have been quite so busy.
Sir, In the circumstances, “Mix” seems entirely appropriate.
Halesowen, W Midlands
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Sir, I covered the origin of the tuxedo in my book, Wedding Bells and Chimney Sweeps (letter, Nov 14). Griswold Lorillard, who introduced the jacket to the New York elite, lived on land acquired from the Algonquin Indians that they called P’tauk-seet-dough, meaning “home of the bear”. Phonetically this is “tuxedo”.
Hove, E Sussex
Sir, After the G20 summit it should be clear that the Russian takeover of the Crimea is a fait accompli, but that the Russian position in the Ukraine is not, and must not be allowed to be. Crimea, historically part of Russia, could be restored to Russia as part of a bargain with Moscow. The Russians should then remove themselves from all activities in Ukraine. The present crisis is one where “do nothing” is not an option, the history of Georgia proves that.
Sir, Putin’s propaganda is much more effective than that of the Soviets Union. This is a media war, and we should be pumping money into the BBC Russian Service.
Sir, While it may be true that authors benefitfrom the wisdom of a “ruthless reviser”, this was not the case with the original The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope (News, Nov 17). Being the last of the Palliser novels, Trollope seems to have intended this work to be a fitting conclusion for the series in the same way that The Last Chronicle of Barset brought together the threads of the Barchester novels. He wrote it as a four-volume novel and it was with disappointment that he learnt that the publisher was only prepared to risk three volumes. There was no editor on hand and Trollope had to tackle the disagreeable task himself. Words, sentences and paragraphs had to be removed. It is, therefore, greatly to his credit that the result should have been so well regarded.
The traditional The Duke’s Childrenis undoubtedly a fine book. However, the extended version, painstakingly re-created by Professor Steven Amarnick and his colleagues, is a revelation that strengthens characterisations and helps us to understand Trollope’s intentions.
As we approach next year’s bicentenary of his birth, I am sure that all Trollope enthusiasts will be looking forward to enjoying this “Lost Chronicle of Omnium”!
Michael G Williamson
Chairman, the Trollope Society
CQC rankings can’t be relied upon; prosecuting British jihadists; Britain’s economic prospects; and one very confused gardener
7:00AM GMT 19 Nov 2014
SIR – I would urge the public to be wary of the Care Quality Commission’s assessment of GP practices.
General practice is a vocational art – it is family medicine and should be practised by kind, experienced doctors. The care provided cannot be quantified and is difficult to assess objectively. Does it really matter if rigid protocols are not in place, notices not laminated, or that there are employees – often staff with years of experience, well known in the community and employed by word of mouth – who do not have formal references?
There is something wrong with a world where doctors are chosen by looking online as one might search for a computer or washing machine.
I would think that practices falling short of the CQC’s requisite standards may in fact be better practices where, in these days of increasing pressure, the staff care more about patients than paperwork.
Dr Kate Mash
SIR – Having read your article regarding the rating of GPs, I decided to look up my own surgery on the CQC’s website. I was surprised to find the surgery listed under the names of two partners who retired many years ago. If the CQC has inspected this practice, how can they have missed this?
SIR – In the Nineties, our practice was advised by the administrators of the Family Practitioners’ Committee to emulate Harold Shipman. According to their statistics, he was an excellent GP.
Dr Thomas L Cooksey
SIR – According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain currently has 30.76 million people in work, out of a total population of 64.1 million. The NHS employs 1.7 million workers, according to its website. Therefore, the NHS employs 5.5 per cent of the country’s working population, or just under 2.7 per cent of the entire population. To put it another way, one in every 18 of the working population, or one in every 37 of the entire country works for the NHS. That seems quite a lot to me.
South Wonston, Hampshire
SIR – The last thing the NHS needs is to have its money spent putting patients’ medical records online. I suggest that patients who want to read their medical records online should obtain copies from their doctors – at a modest charge to cover administrative costs – and then post their details on Twitter. This would circumvent any privacy concerns and prevent further financial waste on another vainglorious IT white elephant.
British Isil fighters
SIR – Any citizen of this country who, in any way, helps or takes up arms for an enemy of ours is by definition a traitor.
There have always been the strictest laws against this most serious of offences and jihadists returning from Iraq or Syria should be prosecuted under them. New laws to deal with them are not required.
SIR – Under the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 it is an offence for any British subject to accept any commission or engagement in the military or naval service of any foreign state at war with any foreign state at peace with Her Majesty.
Anyone guilty of an offence against this Act shall be punishable by fine and imprisonment, or either of such punishments, at the discretion of the court before which the offender is convicted.
This law is still in force, and we are currently at peace with the states of Iraq and Syria.
Say a little prayer
SIR – During bedtime prayers recently my two-year-old daughter and I were saying the Lord’s Prayer together and I was supplying the first part of each line. It was going well until we got to “Give us this…”
“ …day,” she answered.
“ …our daily…”
“Telegraph”– at which point I was unable to suppress a laugh.
It seems she has spent too much time doing the crossword with Grandma.
MasterChef judges: Gregg Wallace, Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti. Photo: BBC
SIR — I am used to unsuccessful competitors on MasterChef describing themselves as feeling “gutted”.
However, I was alarmed to hear one of the judges exhorting them to “cook their hearts out”.
SIR – Have any of your readers noticed how many restaurants now charge for “side” orders which used to be included in the price of the main course?
They cannot honestly think that I am going to eat a steak on its own.
SIR – With reference to the shirt worn by the Rosetta scientist, Dr Matt Taylor, it might be worth noting that his shirt was made voluntarily by his (female) friend.
This is in contrast to the “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirts worn by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and other politicians, which were produced in Third World conditions in exchange for shockingly low wages.
SIR – David Cameron has warned that a major European slowdown, along with a Japanese recession and China coming off the boil, mean trouble for Britain.
I take issue with this analysis. It is rooted in the ongoing drought in taxable income going to the Treasury, which exaggerates the excessively high level of government borrowing in relation to gross national product.
This is happening because the upsurge in employment has resulted in the utilisation of low-paid workers who are earning below the tax threshold. But this is good news. We can expand the economy without long-term overheating and without putting interest rates up. This prospect gives a long-term opportunity to rectify our debt imbalance.
British politicians of the Eighties and Nineties would have given their eye teeth for problems like ours today.
SIR – Labour has always claimed the immense deficit wasn’t their fault because there was a global crash while they were in power.
Yet now that our economy is at risk of declining because the world is heading towards recession, Ed Miliband says the current government would be to blame in such an event.
You can’t have it both ways – either the government is responsible or it isn’t.
SIR – How right R K Hodge is about Singapore.
The place just works – the traffic flows, it’s clean, people are law-abiding and I found it a joy to be there last week among such friendly and helpful people.
My previous visit was as a child in the Fifties, when Britain also had those qualities. Why have we lost them?
A L Knight
SIR – The verges and lay-bys on the highways in America are generally free of litter, unlike those of Britain.
In America there are regular small signs on highways warning that jettisoning litter will result in a substantial fine.
A few similar signs on British highways would serve as a reminder to both the litterbugs and their families, who could help to enforce the law.
Hillsboro, Ohio, USA
Gone to pot
SIR – I am not sure whether we have global warming, cooling, wetting or drying; but in my garden at the moment I have roses out, a narcissus blooming and artichokes that will soon be ready for the pot.
I am rather at a loss as to what to plant, and for when.
Not enough has been done to hold back the flood
Two Somerset residents survey their house during the last bout of flooding . Photo: Alamy
SIR – The Met Office now predicts another exceptionally wet winter in southern Britain.
While much dredging has been undertaken since the floods of last winter, I am far from sure that the same effort has been put into maintaining, repairing, replacing or even introducing for the first time sluice gates at the seaward end of these waterways. It is all very well improving the flow of water into the sea but unless means are in place to prevent the inflow of tidal water, all such efforts will be in vain.
I should welcome confirmation from the Environment Agency that all necessary work on sluice gates has been completed – confirmation that I know would be equally welcome to the residents of the Somerset Levels.
Is Band Aid designed to help Africans or Geldof?
SIR – Bob Geldof has been painted as a saint but, as Bryony Gordon writes, in reality he has not given much out of his own pocket – it’s ordinary people who have made the sacrifices, not the exceedingly rich Mr Geldof.
It seems that everything Mr Geldof has done has been primarily to promote Mr Geldof. If this means making snide and incorrect statements about other artists, such as Adele, who preferred not to be involved with his project but made a private donation to Oxfam, so be it.
Mr Geldof’s disregard for the public was best demonstrated by his refusal to stop swearing during a recent radio interview.
Miss Gordon should be praised for bringing this sham to our attention, yet I wonder if the marketing machine that Mr Geldof has in place will do everything it can to discredit her as it has tried to do with Adele.
W R Zeller
Groomsport, County Down
SIR – As a pensioner, I have no spare money; I have problems finding money for the upkeep of the house, and body and soul.
Bob Geldof is worth £32 million. One would have thought that, rather than get the common man to give money on his say-so to charity, he could give away millions of pounds to charity and still remain very rich.
J H Moffatt
SIR – An unwanted side-effect of the re-recording of the charity single by Band Aid is the confrontation of age and the passage of time. I clearly remember watching the original 30 years ago, and smirking at the sad middle-aged among us who claimed not to recognise a single performer in the group. That sad middle-aged man is now me.
Benjamin L C Smith
Hedge End, Hampshire
Sir, – The Irish people have shown incredible restraint over the six years since the emergence of austerity government in the wake of financial irregularities in the Irish banking system and we need to recognise this as tempers threaten to run out of control in the political struggle over water charges. There are two parties to such disputes in any democracy and two parties against which accusations of blameworthiness can be directed.
Dignified protest about the bailout has been present from the beginning, particularly in the inspiring Ballyhea campaign. I believe that there have now been no fewer than 194 serious but entirely law-abiding protests. But what is the attitude of the political establishment to Ballyhea? Little more at its best, it would seem, than benign neglect or indifference. A government has a duty to respond to peaceful protest. A failure to do so in the long run will lead to protests that are far from peaceful.
In the general election of 2011, the Irish people placed their trust to an unusual degree in Labour on the basis of a manifesto which, for example, opposed water charges.
The receipt of water charges that cannot be paid because of previous austerity measures is a threat in itself to people who try to live without debt. This threat seems to have escaped the notice of political elites that are themselves cushioned from such debts.
Finally, Irish taxpayers are not responsible for the debts of foreign bankers or indeed of Irish bankers. It is a failure of democracy to impose these debts upon them. And indeed they are unsustainable as well as intolerable. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – For the last few months hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland have protested about the water charges and the handling of the issue. The Government and politicians duly ignored them. I believe that out of a sense of frustration some people have resorted to violent protests. I don’t condone violence, in particular the violence of the protests experienced by the Tánaiste in Jobstown and the Taoiseach in Sligo.
However, the Government and our elected representatives need to hang their heads in shame at what they have driven the people to. Listening, engaging with and treating the people with common courtesy would have had a much better effect than totally disregarding the more than 100,000 peaceful protesters. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Stephen O’Byrnes’s article is rather odd (“‘Peaceful protest’ over Irish Water is truly a charade”, Opinion & Analysis, November 19th). If there has been such a radical revision of the water scheme, is it not right to assume that protest was justified, and necessary, and that the Government is now acknowledging that its original plan was flawed?
As for his “iPads and iPhones” comment, is it that journalists may use them, but not the demonstrators they are covering? Mr O’Byrnes may as well say that the protesters were “well fed” or had “homes to go to”. As for the lead statement “fomented by extreme left-wing factions . . . to undermine democratic politics”, is that not an adage used by any establishment under pressure?
As for the Joan Burton incident, yes, of course it is bad stuff, inappropriate for this dimension of agitation, and invalid, not least because she clearly has been the most sympathetic voice inside Government of those opposed to the water blunder. Yet if people “lose it” in response to what is felt as unjust, it may be shocking, but isn’t that an occasional feature of politics, and of history? – Yours, etc,
Rathmines, Dublin 6.
Sir, – Capped water charges and deferred bonuses for a fixed period. Can people not see through this ploy? The charge will have to go up at some stage. How else are we going to pay a monopolistic Irish Water’s costs, which include excess staff, gold standard salaries, lucrative bonuses and increments, and all before a drop of water is treated? Surely rationalisation of Irish Water should have been the Government’s priority. At least that way most of the money raised would go to water treatment and delivery. It seems like this is all just a quick fix to get them through the next election. – Yours, etc,
Dalkey, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Unlike a significant number of water protesters, I have no issue with paying for water or indeed providing my PPS number, but I do have major concerns that this Government has set up a behemoth to address the infrastructural problems with our water system. The setting up of Irish Water, with its substantial workforce and vague pay structures, nearly guarantees domestic water charges will be considerably higher in the years to come. Why couldn’t water charges just be included in the property tax, distributed to the local authorities and used to improve the infrastructure?
How much will Irish Water cost to run each year? With the new charges now being proposed, will there be any funds remaining to update the water infrastructure? – Yours, etc,
Donabate, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I am sure that Enda Kenny regrets the “Paddy likes to know” remark (along with many other comments) but he continues to stumble from crisis to crisis.
I understand that Fine Gael finds it galling to be regarded as Fianna Fáil-lite but it took Fianna Fáil a lot longer to lose touch with the people. I don’t mind paying for water but I do mind paying for Irish Water. Irish Water is the manifestation of everything that is wrong with politics and public administration in Ireland and will cause Fine Gael (and its willing partner) to drown. – Yours, etc,
Castleknock, Dublin 15.
Sir, – In the 6th century BC, Pisistratus built the first aqueduct in Athens, allowing a reliable water supply to sustain the large population. He wrote, “Every citizen pays a tithe on his property to a fund for defraying the cost of public sacrifices or any other charges on the state”. He would have fitted meters if they were available! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Can Phil Hogan’s “triumphant ride into the sunset” (Michael Harty, November 19th) be further classified as a not-before-time escape (for us), a brain drain (for the government), or an accident waiting to happen for Europe? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In “What’s the big idea? It’s time for the State to consider a real democracy” (Opinion & Analysis, November 18th), Fintan O’Toole suggests that the State should consider real democracy. Yet at no stage does he articulate how this “real democracy” would be delivered and what specific aspects of the current process he would change and how he would change them.
There are failings in the current process, but the primary failing has been in how the system has been used by the voters to make choices that they then deny all responsibility for. We hear much of the failure of the political system to curb the mistakes of the governments from 1997 to 2011 yet little about the failure of the electorate to deliver any electoral admonishment to those same governments.
He says that we should have “a real, vibrant, engaged, republican democracy that is capable of using the energies and ideas – social, political, economic – of all its citizens”. As a road map to how this “real democracy” would be achieved, this is as much use as a faded black-and-white picture of an unidentified beach is in planning a summer holiday.
Democracy is the means by which we can exercise the power to make choices about our present and future as a nation and take the responsibility to live with the consequences of them and to learn from them. We have democracy; what we lack are enough people who are interested in exercising it, in stretching it to its full potential, to make it work for the nation and not just themselves. – Yours, etc,
DANIEL K SULLIVAN,
Sir, – The Céifin Centre has been promoting debate on values-led change since 1998, and in this time it has published papers from 80 speakers, national and international. As founder and chairman of the centre, I want to concur with Fintan O’Toole’s suggestion that the next big idea needed to transform Ireland might be democracy itself.
The current protests are clearly not just about Irish Water. They are more about a people who have had enough of the failures of top-down leadership. These amount to a systemic failure which we can see not just in the present controversy, but in our hospitals, in our banks and in the church.
Surely the time has come for a movement that will facilitate local leadership to drive the next, necessary transformation that Irish society so clearly needs. As Mr O’Toole so rightly says, “The evidence is piling up that if the people don’t own the system, they’ll break it.” – Yours, etc,
Fr HARRY BOHAN,
The Céifin Centre
for Values-Led Change,
Sir, – Last week we were in the public gallery of Dáil Éireann to lend our support to Maíria Cahill during the debate on her rape by a member of the Provisional IRA. Maíria is a brave young woman who is being subjected to a campaign of demonisation which we know only too well.
It is a strange world when those who made victims of the innocent can then claim that they are now the real victims.
Our son Paul was battered to death seven years ago by a gang who told him exactly who they were. When we said exactly who they were, we were accused of political attacks on Sinn Féin, whose name we had never even mentioned. Worst of all, Sinn Féin spokesmen from their president down publicly accused our son of being a criminal before we even had a chance to bury him. They have never withdrawn those slanders.
The campaign of demonisation against our son, our family and our support group has clearly impeded the Garda investigation and reduced the chances of bringing his murderers – more than a dozen of them – to justice. There was no reason for Sinn Féin to get involved in Paul’s case or in Maíria’s case; it chose to do so for its own reasons.
Truly decent people can figure out who the real victims are in these and many other cases. We hope Maíria and those who support her will stand firm and continue to pursue justice. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Minister for Justice should be encouraged and supported in her legislative efforts to criminalise the buying of sex. Shifting the focus to the buyer, of whom the vast majority are men, allows society to confront the realities surrounding the commodification and the demeaning of sexual relations between women and men.
It also sends a powerful message to a highly lucrative criminal network based on the exploitation of women’s and girl’s bodies. I agree with the statement made recently in the Dáil by the Independent TD Thomas Pringle when he said that “gender equality is not achievable as long as women are for sale”.
Alongside the passing of this important legislation, the Government needs to offer alternatives to women who engage in prostitution by the provision of appropriate health, and social services and opportunities for second-chance education and employment. – Yours, etc,
Dr DES McGUINNESS,
Sir, – The Minister of State for Equality Aodhán Ó Riordáin tells us that Travellers are to be declared a distinct ethnic group (“Traveller ethnicity will be reality in six months, says Ó Riordáin”, November 19th).
One strong reason for not doing this is that those who declare themselves to be Travellers are not a distinct ethnic group – they could not be more Irish.
The Census 2011 reveals that self-declared Travellers belong to the lowest socioeconomic category as measured by life expectancy, health, education and workforce participation. To declare them a distinct ethnic group risks perpetuating disadvantage. The Government should promote upward social mobility, equality and integration for all citizens.
Countries such as India that struggle to shed the legacy of a caste system will be shocked by a developed country about to introduce one.– Yours, etc,
Sir, – Frank McNally (An Irishman’s Diary, November 15th) references “Cut-Throat Lane East”, “Cut-Throat Lane West” and “Murdering Lane” in his piece on Dublin life and conditions in the late 1700s and early 1800s. My research indicates Brookfield Road and Old Kilmainham as their modern counterparts.
On this theme, I would add “Hangman’s Lane” (now Hammond Lane), “Gallows Road” (now Lower Baggot Street), and “Gibbet Meadow” (now Mespil Road). – Yours, etc,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Sir, – The case between Dr Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington and NUI Galway has highlighted, once more, what has been patently obvious in the Irish university sector for many decades now (“NUI Galway ordered to promote lecturer overlooked over gender”, November 18th). Female academics holding permanent senior positions such as senior lecturer, professor or dean are rare in Ireland. Female academics who are parents of young children occupying permanent senior positions are rarer still. What does this communicate to the student population, which, by contrast, displays an equal male-female balance from undergraduate through to post-doctoral levels when overall university intake figures are considered? – Yours, etc,
Dromahair, Co Leitrim.
Sir, – Minister for Children Dr James Reilly apparently believes that no provision can be made through tax credits or tax returns for tax relief on childcare costs because it discriminates against stay at home parents (“Government officials rule out tax relief for childcare”, November 17th, 2014).
There is tax relief on bicycle purchases and public transport through employment schemes. This discriminates against those not in employment.
Did it not occur to Dr Reilly or his officials that the families on one income while one parent is at home are the very families in dire need of tax relief? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Frank McNally (An Irishman’s Diary, November 19th) uses a light-hearted approach while raising the important issue of prostate screening. His message is clear and succinct. The late Prof John Fitzpatrick – professor of surgery at the Mater Hospital, Dublin, and a world leader in prostate cancer research – continuously advocated for digital rectal examination (DRE) over blood testing and thankfully, as GPs, we are now in an environment to follow this advice and recommend a DRE in the first instance.
It is a well-tolerated, brief and hugely revealing examination that men should discuss openly with their friends and GPs alike. No embarrassment or comic relief is necessary when considering it. – Yours, etc,
Dr HUGH Ó FAOLÁIN,
Strandhill, Co Sligo.
Sir, – So the Government has published proposals for the 1916 commemoration ceremonies and the relatives don’t like them so they propose to have separate ceremonies of their own (November 15th)?
Oh dear, the irony of it. What better way to remember the men of 1916 than with a split! – Yours, etc,
I was taken aback to see representatives of Childline on the ‘Late Late Show’. The reason they were on the programme was because they are in danger of not being able to keep their telephone lines – and staff to man them – going beyond January 2015, due to the lack of funds.
Childline is not funded by the Government and is the only organisation of its kind in Europe that does not have government funding.
Childline is a vital service for children who are being raped, abused and bullied to telephone and connect with an adult who will listen to their pain and be there for them and encourage them to speak to other adults who may be able to help them.
Is this the same Government that is recently taking abuses, rapes and the suffering of adults who were abused as children with such seriousness that they are speaking out about it every other day in Dail Eireann?
The same Government that is meeting with abused people and speaking of their suffering with such eloquence and seriousness?
Is this the same Government that is withdrawing funding from Rape Crisis Centres where people are now on waiting lists for their services?
I find it very difficult to add these two governments together. The one that speaks so seriously about the damage and pain caused to people when they were children, the one that talks the talk but when it comes to walking the walk – by providing services for today’s children – they are cutting funding and, in Childline’s case, not funding them at all.
If only they would act with the same passion by putting their money where their mouths are, then today’s children would have such a better chance of growing into adulthood less troubled and traumatised.
They should all be ashamed of their lack of action. For God’s sake, give Childline the funding it requires.
Callan Co Kilkenny
So what else can go wrong?
The attempted introduction of water charges in its present form was wrong. The type of protest in Tallaght last Saturday was wrong. The point scoring re the Mairia Cahill case is wrong.
The eviction of people from their homes by order of the courts is wrong. The attempt by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to have a friend elected senator was wrong.
The present Government’s continued adherence to agreements signed by the last government with the IMF/EU/ECB is totally wrong.
The present medical card system is not just wrong, it is bordering on a criminal offence against the old and the sick – the poorest members of our society.
The salaries paid to ministers is wrong and disgusting, especially when they attempt to tell the citizens that “we know how you feel”. They then ask our youth to go out and work for nothing while at the same time telling us that we have fully recovered from austerity.
If our country is run by what we see and hear in Dail Eireann then it’s no wonder we are in the mess we are in. Many years ago, during times of poverty, we all escaped and laughed at the antics of the Three Stooges – Curly, Moe and Larry
The patriots of 100 years ago fought hard to relieve us from a foreign power to rightfully allow us to govern ourselves. We’ve repaid them by handing back that power for the sacredness of the mighty euro.
I wonder what the Three Stooges’ next picture will be?
Split over Rising celebrations
So the Government has published proposals for the 1916 commemoration ceremonies and the relatives of those who fought in the Rising don’t like them. So they have proposed to have separate ceremonies of their own.
Oh dear, the irony of it.
What better way to remember the men of 1916 than with a split!
No bull, life is great these days
It seems the only one that is happy in Ireland these days is Benji the gay bull.
Westport, County Mayo
Every baby’s life counts
We are families whose children were diagnosed with life-limiting conditions, such as anencephaly, or Trisomy 18 or 13.
Because of this, our children have been labelled as ‘incompatible with life’, a medically meaningless, cruel and hurtful term. We call on all medical, legal and media professionals to immediately cease the use of the phrase ‘incompatible with life’, which is not a medical diagnosis, and which is used to deny the humanity of our children and the value of their lives.
Some of our children’s lives were all-too-short, but they never knew anything but love. We had the chance to hold them in our arms, to meet them and surround them with love, even if only for a brief time, and that meant everything to us. Our children are carved in our hearts forever.
We have listened with concern, then, to the debate on legalising abortion for children with profound disabilities.
We understand, better than most, that receiving a diagnosis of a limited life for your child is a hugely upsetting experience, and that parents need better care at this time.
Most of all, parents need to be given factual information and support. Too often, they are nudged and pushed towards abortion and are denied the precious time that we experienced with our children; a time which helped us to heal.
In particular, we have recently seen commentators claim that we caused our children pain because we did not abort them, while others have insisted that our children were ‘incompatible with life’, and were dismissive of the view that their lives had value.
The first allegation is simply dreadful and has caused huge distress to parents who have already lost their children. Children born with a life-limiting condition are entitled to the best care possible. Our babies were made comfortable after they were born, and those who passed away did so peacefully in our arms. In sharp contrast, abortion ends the life of a child with a profound disability in the same manner as it does for any unborn child, and in this case these are often late-term abortions. Secondly, the truth is that there is no condition, none whatsoever, where a medical professional can say that a child will certainly die before birth.
Some of our children spent just hours or days in their parents’ arms before they passed away. Others defied all expectations and lived for much longer. Kathleen Rose Harkin has just celebrated her eighth birthday with Trisomy 13, often described as a ‘fatal foetal abnormality’, while Elaine Fagan made medical history living for 25 years with Trisomy 18, or Edwards Syndrome.
Over 90pc of Irish parents facing a life-limiting diagnosis continue with their pregnancy. The phrase ‘incompatible with life’, must cease to be used immediately, since it is unhelpful, misleading and hurtful. Our children’s disability may have been profound, but they were alive and kicking in the womb.
These are our most special children. They deserve better than abortion. Their families, like ours, deserve better care and support, following the model of perinatal hospice care. Most of all, families deserve not to be misinformed, and to have their children’s lives respected.
Every Life Counts,
41 Dominick St Lower, Dublin 1