28 November 2014 Peter Rice
I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get to the Post Office and Co OP do the housework. Peter Rice turns up
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down rabbit for tea and her tummy pain is still there.
Baroness James of Holland Park – obituary
‘Queen of Crime’ who as P D James delighted millions with her poet-sleuth Adam Dalgliesh and wrote a sequel to Pride and Prejudice
PD James in 2009 Photo: Andrew Crowley
2:31PM GMT 27 Nov 2014
Baroness James of Holland Park, better known as P D James, who has died aged 94, was among the most celebrated in a long and distinguished line of women crime writers stretching back to Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie, with neither of whom she cared to be compared.
During more than 50 years as an author, her books showed an elegance of characterisation and an aptitude for capturing atmosphere that blurred distinctions between classic detective stories and the conventional novel. She admitted that she had started writing crime fiction because she thought it would be easier to have a story published in that genre before going on to produce “proper” novels.
She stayed with what she called “traditional English detective fiction” because she found she could still explore human behaviour within the formal structure of the crime genre. Even her final novel, Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is a mystery story that opens with a brutal murder.
A vigorous, beaming woman who described herself as “grandmotherly”, P D James had a frank and sociable exterior that belied a fascination with pain and death, often graphically described in her books. “Murder isn’t pleasant,” she explained. “It’s an ugly thing and a cruel thing. Let those who want pleasant murders read Agatha Christie.” She also admitted that if she were reading one of her own books, she would feel that she was reading “a woman with such a strong love of order and tradition that she is obviously covering in her own personality some basic turbulence and insecurity”.
Any insecurities of James’s were well disguised. A long and illustrious career in the Home Office led to a period as a magistrate, appointments to various cultural bodies, including the British Council and the BBC (as a governor), and finally to a place in the House of Lords, where she took the Conservative whip and lobbied for the arts.
Becoming a pillar of the literary establishment rather late in life — she set up as a full-time writer only after retiring from the Civil Service in 1979, shortly before turning 60 — P D James threw herself into literary life with remarkable zest. She became chairman of the Society of Authors at 64, joined the board of the Arts Council at 68, and in 1987 chaired the judging panel for the Booker Prize; on television in 1990 she chaired her own books programme, Speaking Volumes, with characteristic shrewdness and wit, becoming perhaps the first television presenter to describe herself, at 70, as “an old woman”.
In these and her other public roles she proved both fluent and forceful, and perennially good-humoured. While guest editor of the Today programme in 2009, she memorably took the BBC director-general Mark Thompson to task over the corporation’s failings. She was awarded the Nick Clarke journalism prize for the interview.
Her private life, in its middle years at least, was cruelly hard. But she retained her great capacity for friendship and was splendidly clubbable.
Phyllis Dorothy James was born on August 3 1920 in Oxford. When her father, an ill-paid tax officer, was transferred to the Inland Revenue in Cambridge, she enrolled at Cambridge High School for Girls. Although she became a star pupil — excelling at English — there was never any question of her education continuing beyond the age of 16. Hopes of a university degree ended when her father, “a man not disposed to educate girls”, told her he could not afford the fees.
Instead, at 17, she went to work in a dreary tax office at Ely; more than 50 years later she would still wince at the memory and lament the sheer waste of time. During the Second World War she was in Cambridge, engaged in the no less dreary chore of issuing ration books, and in 1941 she married Connor Bantry White, a medical student, with whom she had two daughters. Later in the war, White qualified as a doctor but was badly affected by his wartime experiences and returned in 1945 suffering from schizophrenia. He never recovered and spent the rest of his life in and out of various hospitals until his death in 1964.
In 1949 Phyllis White and her husband moved in with his parents. Faced with the responsibility of being the family breadwinner, she took a job keeping medical records. In the evenings she studied for a diploma in hospital administration. For the next 10 years she worked for the North West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board, eventually becoming principal administrative assistant. Meanwhile, she was not only nursing her husband but also bringing up her two girls.
As she approached 40, Phyllis White began to fear that she would never fulfil her ambition of becoming a writer. “It was a now or never situation,” she recalled. “I didn’t want to end up saying to my children and grandchildren: ‘I always thought I’d be a writer.’ ”
In 1959, as P D James, she began to plot her first novel, Cover Her Face, which introduced her master detective (and poet), Adam Dalgliesh. James endowed him with the qualities she most admired in men: “courage, compassion, high intelligence and sensitivity”. She agreed that it would be unusual to find a senior detective who was also a successful poet, but argued that “we do tend to stereotype people. Why shouldn’t a policeman write poems?”
Working for two hours each morning before leaving for work, P D James completed the novel in 1961. Her agent approached Faber and Faber and suggested that they needed a new crime writer to replace Cyril Hare, who had recently died. James recalled that she fully expected to be rejected, but Faber accepted her book immediately and Cover Her Face was published in 1962. It was an instant success. “She would get reviews in the Times Literary Supplement which were like love letters,” her agent remembered.
Although Cover Her Face was set in a country house and dealt with the death of a parlourmaid, her second novel A Mind To Murder (1963) saw James on (for her) more familiar ground. This story was set in a psychiatric practice and gave James the opportunity to explore the device of the “closed community”, a setting which she favoured in her later books.
PD James examining a razor blade, 1987 (SYGMA/CORBIS)
A Mind To Murder also gave P D James the chance to draw on her experience of hospital administration, providing an accurate sense of realism. Hospitals featured again in Shroud for a Nightingale (1971), set in a nursing school where a student nurse is poisoned. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972) was set in the microbiology department of a Cambridge college; The Black Tower (1975) dealt with a home for incurables, and Death of an Expert Witness (1977) with the murder of a forensic scientist.
Meanwhile, following the death of her husband, P D James had resumed evening classes and in 1968 her studies led to her passing exams for a senior post at the Home Office. She worked as a principal in the police department until 1972, when she moved to the department responsible for criminal policy, specialising in what was then known as juvenile delinquency. There she acquired detailed first-hand knowledge of forensic science, juvenile offenders and other subjects which she drew on in her subsequent career as a novelist.
Her experiences in the National Health Service and Whitehall were also instrumental in teaching her how to chair a committee with an almost feline mixture of briskness and cunning. Certainly, P D James enjoyed the contrasts in her working lives. “I am a writer who needs the demands of an outside job,” she noted.
During her time at the Home Office she took advantage of her access to so many experts to check the authenticity of methods used in her books. For Death of an Expert Witness, James checked every aspect of forensic analysis of criminal evidence. But reviewers were more impressed with her characterisation. “James’s insight into sexual fears and needs is profound,” wrote one critic. “She makes of even her murderers and victims human beings we can pity.” As for her hero Adam Dalgliesh, she always insisted that he was not the man she would have liked to marry, but the man she might like to have been. As the burden of work grew, she used to complain, only half-jokingly, that what she really needed was a good wife.
For most of her writing life P D James was saddled with the sobriquet “Queen (or First Lady) of Crime”, a crown which the media had handed to her following the death of Agatha Christie in 1976. But she was at pains to point out that she differed from Christie (“such a bad writer”) in that she cared about the victim and thought that treating the corpse as simply part of a puzzle “trivialised death”.
Following her retirement from the Home Office in 1979, P D James increased her writing output. Innocent Blood (1980), which dealt with an adopted child who discovers her real parents were child-murderers, was followed by The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982) and A Taste for Death (1986), dealing with the murder of a politician in a south London church.
As her literary output increased, so did other calls on her time. In 1985 she was asked to lecture on detective fiction at Boston University and in the same year produced her first play, Private Treason. Two years later P D James was appearing on the literary television programme Book Choice. Also in 1987, when she helped to judge the Booker Prize, she recalled being interviewed for the newspapers and their being very eager to have her photograph taken “clutching a dagger or carving knife”.
Having been appointed OBE in 1983, she became a magistrate while writing Devices And Desires (1989), and in 1991 was created a life peer.
The death of her husband when she was only 44 caused her great and abiding distress. Death out of sequence — and particularly the death of a child — remained for her “the most awful thing that can happen to a human being”. She was sustained not only by a remarkable inner strength, but also by her two daughters (and, later, grandchildren) to whom she remained devoted. She was also a committed Anglican: she was horrified when no one seemed to realise that the title of her novel Devices and Desires came from the Book of Common Prayer.
P D James was never a prolific writer, unlike many of her contemporaries, notably Ruth Rendell, her friend in the House of Lords with whom she was often compared and who averaged two books a year. For the first decade of her writing life, James averaged one every two years. This was partly because she was an author who took infinite pains; there was nothing slapdash about her prose, and although the earlier novels were, in the classic English tradition, comparatively short books, her later ones such as Devices and Desires and The Murder Room (2003) were more than 400 pages long.
While never neglecting the disciplines of plot, which she relished, she liked to take time exploring character in depth and, in particular, creating a sense of place. She used to say that all her novels began with the setting. Ideas often came to her when she was out walking. She was especially good on Suffolk, which she had known since family camping holidays near Lowestoft and where, in later years, she bought a cottage at Southwold.
Her descriptions of English country churches were both loving and evocative, reflecting her interest in church architecture and her passion for the language of the Authorised Version of the Bible. “Clerics have debased the Authorised Version,” she complained, “presumably on the basis that they are better writers than Cranmer or that God is unable to appreciate the more subtle rhythms of 17th-century prose.”
In her later years her fellow authors awarded her the coveted Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger for a lifetime’s achievement. Her books were filmed and televised and she travelled the world lecturing, signing and taking on visiting fellowships in Boston, California and Toronto. She published A Time to Be in Earnest, her “Fragment of Autobiography”, in 1999, and the final Dalgliesh novel, The Private Patient, about the murder of a journalist at a plastic surgery clinic, in 2008.
More than almost any other crime writer, P D James transcended the genre to produce novels which stood on their own as works of literature. She herself observed that “a first-class mystery should also be a first-class novel”.
Having made a late start in the literary stakes, by the end she was as grande a dame as any, although she never gave herself airs and was ultimately as happy with her cats and her grandchildren as she was at the House of Lords with the great and good.
Lady James is survived by her two daughters.
Baroness James of Holland Park, born August 3 1920, died November 27 2014
Broken glass on ground where ‘I love Ferguson’ is written. Ferguson, Missouri. Photograph: Yin Bogu/Xinhua Press/Corbis
Gary Younge sets out in chilling detail (The nation of laws, but no justice, 26 November) how the structural disadvantage of African Americans is rendered concrete in specific acts including being shot dead in the street. Regrettably he offers no indication as to how this situation might begin to be remedied. In 2003 Brown University of Providence, Rhode Island, set up a steering committee on slavery and justice, its purpose being to locate the university’s historic role in relation to slavery and to make recommendations accordingly. The published report – as well as offering a sophisticated analysis of the repercussions of slavery in America – made a series of recommendations (eg on hiring protocols and the acceptance of monetary legacies) which the university set in train. The Brown University project is the obvious model for a Senate, Congressional or joint committee of inquiry on the legacy of slavery. There are, for example, 21 Senate committees currently sitting, including ones on ageing, ethics and Indian (Native American) affairs, but the screaming absence at the heart of the US governmental committee system remains slavery. It is not altogether clear how particular committees come into being, but if the president has any influence on the process, Barack Obama has the chance to bolster his somewhat threadbare legacy. Would it not be wonderful if his last act as president was to force the instruments of the US state to confront the great unspeakable in American culture?
• The human rights protests in the US draw attention to a great deal that’s wrong with our own media. US human rights abuses have gone largely unreported by journalists. It’s not just the killing with impunity of black Americans that is the problem. The US has only 5% of the global population but its often privatised prison system incarcerates 25% of the world’s prisoners. A disproportionate number of these are black – as are the death row inhabitants. African Americans make up around 12.5% of the US population. Yet, according to academic Michele Alexander, in some US cities the proportion of African American males with some form of criminal record approaches 80%. Also some of the worst abuses of the post-slavery era are still largely intact. Brutal post-civil war “disenfranchisment” which forced African Americans out of the public sphere and persisted into the 1960s in the practice of murdering voter registration activists now continues in the form of semi-legal “voter suppression”. Lynching culture has metamorphosed into “stand your ground, shoot-first laws”, now legal in 30 US states. These norms are being imposed across the globe and imported into our own society.
Dr Gavin Lewis
• Surely, no police officer anywhere in the world needs to shoot to kill when attempting to disarm a potentially dangerous person? Putting a bullet in an arm or a leg is quite sufficient to disable a possible criminal. Furthermore, a white police officer putting a killing bullet into a black suspect in a country with a long history of racism must inevitably lead to riots.
Hove, East Sussex
A young person’s arms covered in scars as a result of self harm. ‘Applied behaviour analysis would have instituted an assessment that explains why the behaviour is occurring and put in place a plan of action for her self-harm.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind
It is deplorable that a young woman with autism died after gaining 10 stone in weight during the seven years she was detained – mainly alone in a padded room – at a private assessment and treatment centre (Patient with autism put on 10 stone during years alone in padded room, coroner rules, 25 November).
The misconception that some people with autism behave in a way that is so challenging they cannot be supported to change their behaviour resulted in a tragic outcome for Stephanie Bincliffe and her family. We believe every person with autism deserves to be supported in a way that helps them to thrive and achieve. Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation have called for the Department of Health to order an independent inquiry into the death of inpatients with learning disabilities. In the case of Stephanie Bincliffe, we echo the need for an independent inquiry to investigate her death and to address her family’s concerns about her treatment.
Chief executive, Ambitious about Autism
• We read with great sadness about Stephanie Bincliffe. There is a science much underused in the UK – yet in mainstream use elsewhere in the world – that might perhaps have helped. Applied behaviour analysis would have instituted a functional analysis (ie an assessment that explains why the behaviour is occurring) and put in place a plan of action for her self-harm. Nice guidelines recommend such functional analyses for behaviour that challenges: behaviour analysts are the professionals trained to carry them out. ABA is much used in the early years for children with autism, but can have application at any age. There are 160 masters-level board certified behaviour analysts in the UK – perhaps this tragic case will prompt such establishments to seek out their expertise in the future.
Dr Neil Martin, Dr Jenn Austin, Dr Mecca Chiesa, Kate Grant, Suzy Yardley, Mandy Williams, Jane McCready, Shelley Swain, Richard May
Board of the UK Society for Behaviour Analysis
• I am a “hospital manager” at a low-secure inpatient unit specialising in treatment of people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour (Society, 26 November) – despite the title an independent panel with the power to discharge a patient against the advice of the responsible psychiatrist). I have just come back from hearing a case concerning someone with very low IQ who prior to admission had been uncontrollably aggressive and dangerous to family and others, and had not responded to treatment. Now under intensive care of staff at the unit he is experiencing a much better quality of life.
However, what does frustrate members of our panel is the fact that when the therapy is successful, and patients have learned to control their aggression and/or self-harming behaviour, so few commissioning authorities have community sheltered facilities to which they can progress. This is a real scandal. We often cannot release a person from section because we cannot be certain that he or she will be safe once in the community. So we must not create the idea that there is no need for intensive care in secure settings. But we owe it to the people concerned, and to their families, to campaign for many more places where they can come off section, but with proper care in place to enable them to live safely.
As an individual member of YHA, and a member of the U3A’s only affiliated youth hostelling group, I was delighted to see the YHA was being celebrated (The YHA gets a bunk up, Travel, 22 November). But it became a wry kind of delight when I realised the featured hostel was Stow-on-the-Wold. The U3A group liked it so much, we’ve stayed there twice, and are planning a third visit soon. But alas, if any readers wish to follow us to this “majestic double-fronted townhouse”, they’d better not leave it too long, as the YHA has decided that Stow is a dispensable part of its portfolio, and the hostel has been sold.
The Georgian mansion that is Stratford hostel, another group favourite, is still in the YHA, but the Regency mansion on the shores of the lake that was Derwentwater hostel has also been sold, as has nearby Elterwater. Yes, this is a “realm of modestly priced self-catering accommodation known only to the few”, but what Rachel Dixon perhaps did not realise is that it is a fast-shrinking realm. So if your readers felt tempted to sample a medieval banquet at St Briavels, yet another group favourite, or to watch a magnificent sunset from Poppit Sands, I advise them to go sooner rather than later, while these splendidly located hostels remain in the YHA.
Paul Mason, discussing whether graphic portrayal of its gruesome reality is an effective tactic in opposing war (The closer I get to conflict, the more I think showing gruesome images can never deter war, G2, 24 November), refers to Ernst Friedrich’s famous anti-war museum in Berlin, which was closed by the Nazis in 1933. Friedrich’s grandson, Tommy Spree, reopened the museum in 1982; he and the museum are still there today, at Brüsseler Str 21 (in Berlin’s Wedding district). For those readers who are interested in the gruesome side, Friedrich’s shocking 1924 book War Against War! – which Paul Mason also describes – is available in print again in English. It was republished by Spokesman Books earlier this year.
Editor, Housmans World Peace Database
The news that the Guardian is to adopt US spellings for some American proper nouns is to be commended (Mind your language, 21 November, theguardian.com). Generally speaking, US spellings represent the spoken sound to a slightly greater degree than the British. However, it should be remembered that this development originated largely from the initiatives of Noah Webster, whose more ambitious plans for English spelling modernisation were halted abruptly by the US Congress. In the interests of ease of learning and greater literacy, it is surely time to revisit that initiative.
Chair, English Spelling Society
• Even before the supreme court decides, are we to hear the prince’s 27 letters have somehow “gone missing” from the ministerial files (Report, 26 November)?
• Notwithstanding the merits of Tony Blair’s award (Report, 26 November), how can Save the Children justify spending not an insignificant amount, out of its scarce resources, on such a superfluous event like the glittering “Illumination Gala” at New York’s Plaza Hotel no less. When I’ve donated money to this charity it was in the belief that the money would be spent on caring for children in places like Gaza, Iraq, Syria and west Africa. I shall never give it another penny in the future.
• Just checked back out of interest the books I have read over the past few months (Woolf is for women – and Mailer’s for men? How readers favour authors of own gender, 26 November). John Keegan, Andrew Martin, Benjamin Black, Peter Ackroyd, David Kynaston, Robert B Parker, CJ Sansom, Richard Flanagan. But no, I am not male. I did read Middlemarch earlier in the year…
• Facebook is criticised for failing to stop the plot to kill Lee Rigby. I await the inevitable bad press that MI5 and MI6 will face for their lamentable failure to provide us with a place to share our photos with friends.
Britain’s international development secretary Justine Greening talking to medics at RAF Brize Norton prior to them flying to Freetown, Sierra Leone, to help tackle the Ebola crisis. Photograph: Cpl Richard Cave/AFP/Getty Images
We are a network of UK-based organisations and individuals working to improve health in Sierra Leone. The Ebola outbreak is the greatest humanitarian threat the country has faced since its devastating civil war and we welcome the highly committed response to the crisis from both the secretary of state for international development, Justine Greening, and from the UK government as a whole.
To ensure as much benefit is gained from these commitments as possible, we the undersigned members and friends of the UK-Sierra Leone Health Partners Network would like to bring to the UK government’s attention our following concerns, and call upon the secretary of state for international development to raise them further with relevant cabinet ministers:
First, the withdrawal of Gambia Bird flight permits. The decision by the UK government to halt direct flights between London and Freetown was ill advised and contradicts travel advice from the WHO and the Foreign Office. Forcing people from the UK to travel to west Africa via Europe significantly impedes efforts to deliver humanitarian aid and monitor returning travellers. This knee-jerk response is putting UK nationals on the ground at risk by leaving them under-equipped and understaffed, putting our own population at greater risk by undermining efforts to tackle Ebola at its source, and having a devastating impact on the Sierra Leonean economy. We call upon the UK government to reinstate direct flights between the UK and Sierra Leone.
Second, slow scale-up of bed numbers and coverage. A recent paper in The Lancet claimed we face a “rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of Ebola cases and deaths”. The 1,700 beds pledged by the US to Liberia are less than half the 4,800 required by mid-November to rapidly control the disease, and requirements rise exponentially as each week passes. The large treatment centres being built in permanent structures by the UK in Sierra Leone are essential, but alone are insufficient as they are time-consuming to erect and offer limited coverage. The deployment of low-tech treatment centres in local areas is the only way to achieve the rapid scale-up of capacity required. We understand the UK is beginning to adopt this approach which is encouraging, but much more needs to be done to avoid further catastrophic loss of life. We call upon the UK government to increase the use of low-tech facilities in local areas.
Third, expensive transportation costs. Many of our network organisations, including diaspora groups and charities, have significant resources at their disposal that they struggle to deliver because of extortionate logistical costs. The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs can provide a cost-effective and efficient humanitarian relief supply chain via companies such as DHL when called upon to act by member states. This has yet to be done and is a significant barrier to relief efforts. We call upon the UK government to lobby the UN to provide logistical support for the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Fourth, fragile health systems. This unprecedented outbreak is the result of a “perfect storm” of several underlying conditions, the most critical of which is the weakness of local health systems. Sierra Leone has about 120 doctors for 6 million people. The UK has supported ambitious government health reforms in the past and impressive progress has been made, but Ebola has pushed the health system to breaking point. Unless a comprehensive response to this crisis is adopted, health services will collapse entirely, resulting in a public health disaster that will eclipse the Ebola outbreak itself and provide the perfect incubator for further outbreaks. As the leader of the international response in Sierra Leone, the UK must ensure the unprecedented international attention and resources support long-term efforts to strengthen all aspects of the health system, in collaboration with the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health and Sanitation. We call upon the UK government to support long-term, sustainable efforts to strengthen Sierra Leone’s health system to avert an impending public health disaster.
Sir James Mellon
Former high commissioner of the UK to Ghana, Vice-president, St Andrew’s Clinic for Children (STACC)
Professor John Rees
Emeritus professor of medical education, King’s College London
Professor David Lloyd
Chair, The Waterloo Partnership, Emeritus professor, University of Liverpool, Past-president, British Association of Paediatric Surgeons
Professor Peter Holmes
Emeritus professor, University of Glasgow, Chair, St Andrew’s Clinic for Children (STACC)
Professor David Crompton
Emeritus professor, University of Glasgow
Chair, UK Sierra Leone Ebola Taskforce
David M Holmes
Retired chair, Kambia-Gloucestershire Hospitals NHSFT Link
Dr Danny McLernon-Billows
Dr Edward Cole
Chair, Masanga Hospital International Board, CEO, Sierra Leone Adventists Abroad
Chair, The Organisation of Sierra Leonean Health Professionals Abroad
Trustee, Masanga UK
Co-founder and trustee, UK Friends of The Shepherds Hospice, Sierra Leone
Dr Mary Hodges
Vice-president, St Andrews Clinic for Children-Sierra Leone
Dr Matthew Clark
Co-founder, Welbodi Partnership
Trustee, Kambia Appeal
Hon sec, Hastings Sierra Leone Friendship Link
Chair, UK Friends of the Shepherd’s Hospice, Sierra Leone
Chair of trustees, The Kambia Appeal
President of board of trustees, The Construction and Development Partnership, SL
Country manager, IPAS Sierra Leone
Medical student, King’s College London
Surgical practitioner, Hinchingbrooke NHS Trust
Options Consultancy Services Ltd
Hastings Sierra Leone Friendship Link
Programme manager, Sound Seekers, UCL Ear Institute
Dr Frederick Nye
Physiotherapy coordinator, King’s Sierra Leone Partnership
Trustee, Better Lives Foundation
Research consultant, Sierra Leone
Senior clinical pharmacist, NHS
Director, BartleyHealth Ltd
Administrator, King’s Sierra Leone Partnership
Lead pharmacist, Better Lives Foundation
Dr Natalie Gulliver
King’s Sierra Leone Partnership
Dr Natalie Nairi Quinn
Career development fellow in economics, University of Oxford
Dr Peter Baker
Public health speciality registrar, Volunteer epidemiologist for King’s Sierra Leone Partnership
Ronald G Smith
Retired fellow, American College of Dentists, International Association of Oral Maxillofacial Surgery
Technical specialist reproductive and sexual health, Options Consultancy Ltd
Dr Shona Johnston
Paediatric registrar and VSO volunteer
Nursing student, King’s College London
Dr Tom Pearson
General practitioner, NHS
Pharmacist, Better Lives Foundation
South Wales-Sierra Leone Cancer Care
So this was what we’ve been waiting for? Sadiq Khan’s great plan to deal with the Green Party: “Waste your vote on the Green Party – or choose a green Labour government” (26 November). He may be charged with plagiarism, as he’s nicked the Tory strategy for dealing with Ukip. They say: “Vote Ukip, get Ed”. He says: “Vote Green, get Cameron”. Wow, what searing political insight.
Mr Khan mentions “reducing inequality” and states his and Ed Miliband’s opposition to the Iraq War, even though they both served in government under the last Labour administration that oversaw an increase in the gap between rich and poor, and went to war in Iraq.
For many disaffected former Labour members, the war in Iraq and the increase in inequality under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were tipping points. Khan and Miliband need to explain why, if the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and a widening gap between rich and poor weren’t tipping points for them, tucked up with their well-paid jobs in safe Labour seats, what on earth would be?
Mitcham, Greater London
“Vote Labour for a green radical government”? Methinks thou jest, Mr Khan. The Labour Party has not been radical since the 1980s when it lost its nerve and its purpose in the face of Thatcherism. Today’s Labour Party is ungrounded in principle and seems to have only one desire – to get into power by aping the Tory party.
I have a suggestion for all Labour Party members still holding on to the belief that somehow their party will one day become a socialist/social democratic party again: look at the Green Party manifesto as I did when I had my Russell Brand moment a year ago and was considering never voting again. Therein you will find the policies and principles that you believe in and thought the Labour Party believed in but no longer does. Join us and create a mass movement that opposes the vested interests of the rich and powerful and the subservient politicians in the three main parties who feed their greed.
It’s a bit rich Labour MP Sadiq Khan saying that, “Like it or not, under the first-past-the-post system, every vote for the Green Party only makes it one vote easier for the Conservatives to win the election.” In the run-up to the 2010 election Labour’s leadership supported the introduction of the Alternative Vote system; but come the 2011 voting-reform referendum, Labour MPs were conspicuous by their absence when it came to speaking up for the reform.
Since then the political system has had to accommodate even more “minor” parties, but the voting system is still stuck in the 1950s, when over 90 per cent of people voted for just two parties.
Labour is part of the problem and is certainly not the solution.
Anyone who imagines that Labour is a “truly radical party again”, as Sadiq Khan claims, clearly missed Mr Miliband’s own essay in The Independent in April of this year. In the lead-up to the Euro elections, and with time and space to set out his own thoughts, young Ed concluded that “the party I lead is building a One Nation agenda to tackle the cost-of-living-crisis: the greatest challenge of our age”.
St Albans District Green Party
May I congratulate you for presenting a comprehensive and accurate view of the Greens this past week. The Green surge is happening; Labour has even set up a separate unit deliberately to discredit us. The recent poll by Lord Ashcroft posed the question: “If you thought that a party could win, who would you vote for?” and 26 per cent of those asked said Green.
Voters need to remember that if they don’t vote for what they believe in, they are never going to get it. So be brave – tactical voting is only half of a vote.
South-east targeted by ‘mansion tax’
It is increasingly clear that the proposed mansion tax is all about politics and not about policy. It has nothing to do with fairness, and instead is all about raising easy money from a minority of the population.
I have no quibble with the argument that the current Council Tax bands are outdated and unfit for purpose and would have no objection to paying a new top band. The proposed mansion tax, however, deals with the wrong problem and, what is more, deals with it in a way that is inequitable.
Our house was bought with money on which considerable amounts of tax have already been paid. Its value has increased since then, largely as a consequence of being on the outskirts of London. If we had the same income but lived in Norfolk or the Isle of Wight we could live in a far bigger property and never be in any danger of paying the mansion tax. On this basis, the tax is not a tax on property but on London and the South-east – and someone has to live and work here.
It is completely iniquitous that Russian oligarchs and others buy properties for considerably more than £2m and then don’t live in them or contribute in any way while there is a chronic housing shortage in London.
If this tax really is about fairness then how about this: you pay mansion tax if you own a property worth more than, say, six times the regional average for where you live – this would raise far more money, which could then be spent on new affordable housing.
Sol Campbell, among others, has criticised Labour for proposing a mansion tax. I quite agree that this is an unfair tax that penalises aspiration. Obviously if we want to get rid of the deficit we should rely on the 5.2 million on less than £7.70 an hour, on the disabled and on those who have been made redundant to pay for it. It is only fair that they do so since they clearly have no aspirations. Anyway they don’t seem to be complaining as much as the high-profile rich, so that’s all right then.
Dr Ian Robertson
Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire
Why I can’t support Independent campaign
I’m afraid I cannot support the idea of this year’s Independent fundraising campaign. Why? Because when people fight for this country, it is the Government’s responsibility to thank them by ensuring that they are well cared for when they return to civvy street. It is patently doing nothing of the sort, except for a very few men and women who might be getting good prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation.
By accepting that their care is a matter of charity and not governmental duty, you put their future (and that of those who follow them) more, not less, at risk.
The stories of those you have featured clearly illustrate how they have been abandoned by the people who called on their service. I find that despicable and fear your efforts will be horribly counterproductive.
The real EU problem is not immigration
Even if the UK was able to close its borders to European migrants, the EU would still be expensive, badly managed, wasteful, interfering and undemocratic.
When we gave our support for continuing membership of the Common Market in 1975, we were not aware that European law would have primacy over the laws of member states.
It’s not immigration that is the greatest concern; it’s the treacherous self-interest that turned the Common Market (a perfectly laudable project) into the European Union (a job-creation scheme for politicians and lawyers).
Without intending it, we have found ourselves being governed by judges who have created an organisation that was never in the minds of our elected representatives. As long as that continues the EU will always attract deep mistrust and wisdespread criticism.
A cartoonist at the top of his game
Wow, Dave Brown is on fire this week! First, yesterday’s laugh-out-loud cartoon in the style of Ronald Searle, a multi-layered jab at Labour’s proposed public-school bashing, lovely warm humour with serious under-layers. Then today’s savage dig at the jaw-dropping award to Tony Blair by Save the Children, which does infinitely more to dramatise this awful absurdity than any of my letter-writing bleatings could possibly hope for.
Well done, Dave!
East Molesey, Surrey
Voluntary black-cab banishment?
If David Mellor finds taxi drivers so irksome (Letters, 27 November) perhaps he should become a taxi exile.
Government hears Mi6 when it chooses to
Why is it that when the intelligence services ask for more anti-terrorism powers, the politicians obey; but when the same agencies warn that Britain’s involvement in foreign wars increases the terror threat at home, they are completely ignored?
Sir, The chairman of the intelligence and security committee, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, believes that because one of the killers of Fusilier Lee Rigby wrote of his intentions on Facebook then the internet company knew he did this and could have told the authorities (News, Nov 26).
His ignorance of how language search on the web works and its approximate nature appears to be almost total; on the BBC’s Newsnight he seemed to think it consisted of looking for the word “terrorist”.
No, Facebook is not reading our messages. Banks of computers, some working for Facebook, some for GCHQ and the US National Security Agency, are indeed processing virtually everything in social media, but at present their ability to find what they are looking for is limited.
It would be far more relevant to blame GCHQ, though politicians seem not to understand what their own security agencies are doing, with or without their permission; the whistleblower Edward Snowden has made this clear to everyone.
Professor of Artificial Intelligence, University of Sheffield
Sir, The furore around what Facebook knew about the intentions of the killers of Lee Rigby comes as no surprise to many of us who have been highlighting online hate on that website for several years. Sadly, there are many pages and groups on Facebook that are inciting hate on a daily basis. Facebook hosts pages including “Jewish ritual murder”, “Death to Islam” “The white race” and “The Holocaust is a lie”. The company says it will not tolerate hate speech, but in reality it responds only to user reports and reacts only to the volume of reports, not to actual content.
As we have seen with Lee Rigby and other cases, words can lead directly to actions. All social media have a duty of care to ensure such pages and comments are reported to the authorities and removed. With more than 1.2 billion Facebook users worldwide, the amount of traffic must be huge — but the company must scale up its response and take action.
If the tragic death of Lee Rigby leads to governments and social media taking hate speech more seriously, it will be a positive outcome.
Facebook — say no to Hatebook
Sir, The government castigates internet service providers (ISPs) for failing to alert the security services to extremist messages, but what is the computational definition of “extremist”?
The question can be seen as a practical example of entscheidungsproblem (the question of whether there exists a definite method which, at least in principle, can be applied to a given proposition to decide whether that proposition is provable). This was studied by Alan Turing and found to be insoluble. You would need a perpetual motion machine to do it!
Should we not stop wasting time and energy on an insoluble problem?
Formerly a professor of computer science, York
Sir, My company monitors what is being said about our corporate clients on the internet and we process millions of posts a day to find a few hundred significant mentions of a brand name. Our security services would be swamped with data if internet companies handed over every mention of a terror-related word posted on Facebook. Finding needles in haystacks is easy by comparison.
Managing director, UKNetMonitor
Sir, It seems it is unacceptable for Scotland Yard to examine the phone records of 1,700 employees of News UK for criminal activity (News, Nov 25), but ISPs must monitor everyone’s emails for evidence of terrorism. What’s more intrusive?
Sir, Why is it that when the intelligence services ask for more anti-terrorism powers the politicians obey, but when the same agencies warn that Britain’s involvement in foreign wars increases the terror threat at home, they are ignored?
Sir, I wonder whether the makers of Janice Turner’s new washing machine, which plays a tune when it finishes a cycle (Opinion, Nov 27), have been canny enough to program snatches of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau during periods of malfunction.
Dr Nicholas Marston
University reader in music theory and analysis, King’s College, Cambridge
Sir, Your diarist (TMS, Nov 27) says that 20 years ago New Scientist coined the term “nominative determinism” for people with apt names for their jobs. I call it Happy Families.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir, Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air but is wrong about grandmothers when he says: “We encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe that is now a ‘grandmother’ ” (News, Nov 26). Grandmothers are hard working, useful and fulfilled. They are loved and needed. Most are generous with their time and emotional support. They do not mourn past fertility as they have passed on this gift. The EU is much more like a grumpy, single old man suffering a crisis. The Pope is surrounded by such men.
Sir, I write with regard to the death of cricketer Phillip Hughes (obituary, page 82). During the years I played county cricket, helmets were not worn and I was only aware of one cricketer who received a blow to the head, and that was the captain of Essex. What happens today is that the batsman, seeing the ball approaching his head, points his helmet towards the ball and lets it hit him, presumably hoping his helmet will protect him. However, in many cases I have seen the ball get through the grille. I would suggest a trial in which helmets are not worn. Batsman will then do as we did: duck out of the way. Incidentally, one West Indian cricketer wears only a cap and never seems to have been hit.
Yorks and Glos (1949-56),
Tarring, W Sussex
Sir, A year ago to the day you published my letter about the behaviour of Australian cricketers in the Ashes series. I referred to reported comments from players, such as: “We aim to hit and intimidate”, and “Give Clarke the message to go and bust some heads”. It is to be hoped that the death of Phillip Hughes informs the approach to intimidation, but my fear is that in a few months it will be forgotten.
Sir, By admitting the use of “bouncers” within the canon law of cricket, bowlers are encouraged to target the batsman’s head. It would be better to mark a red line across the wicket; any bowler pitching within the prohibited area should receive a call of “no ball” and a red card, debarring him from the game.
James W Neville
Sir, Matthew Hancock, the business minister, describes as “bonkers” requirements for oven gloves to be heat-resistant and washing-up gloves to resist detergent (“EU bureaucrats in lather over kitchen safety”, Nov 24), and claims that prices “could rise by a fifth” and that the move “would place a huge weight on businesses”.
The only businesses that may incur extra costs are those that currently offer inadequate products. The revision of the EU directive on personal protective equipment is timely, and the principle is simple: if a product is meant to protect you it should do so. Our record of ensuring that people go home safely after a day at work continues to improve. Why should anyone expect lower levels of protection outside the workplace?
Chief executive, British Safety Industry Federation
The real impact of independent schools; terrorists on Facebook; working families in poverty; the man who recruited Bletchley’s codebreakers; wheely annoying cases
Charitable relief on business rates saves the fee-paying sector just under £150 million a year Photo: ALAMY
7:00AM GMT 27 Nov 2014
SIR – The headmaster of University College School, Hampstead, has missed the point. The short-term revenue consequences for the Exchequer are incidental. The real impact of independent schools is that, by sending their children to these over state schools, the most demanding, influential and articulate parents have only a passing interest in the education of the vast majority.
Were their children to attend the same schools as most of our children, rest assured that all schools would be funded adequately and the highest possible standards assured for all.
The long-term social and financial consequences of all our children receiving the education now reserved for just 7 per cent would be incalculable.
SIR – Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, wants to use the threat of higher tax rates to force independent schools into a closer partnership with the state sector. I invite him to visit my school to explain how we could add to our already extensive support for local schools – through shared teaching, coaching and facilities.
He clearly believes that all independent schools are awash with the children and cash of oligarchs. We are not (the headmaster of King’s in Wimbledon is welcome to send me an oligarch or two). Our fees are high because they reflect the (rising) cost of running a good school.
Of necessity, and because we believe it is the right thing to do, we offer bursaries to many families who otherwise could not afford our fees.
Our parents already pay two school bills – for state education through their taxes, and the fees at this school. I would find it hard to explain to them why we should divert more teacher time and more of our resources away from their children.
Headmaster, King’s College Taunton
SIR – Approximately 625,000 children are educated privately in Britain, which their parents pay for out of personal income which has been fully taxed. This relieves the state of the cost of educating those children – more than £1 billion each year.
Mr Hunt’s attack on private schools is spiteful class-war politics, and has nothing to do with either raising standards in state schools or correcting unfair treatment in public finances.
SIR – The Labour Party believes that only qualified teachers should be allowed to stand in front of a class. Labour would like teachers from the independent sector to help raise standards in state schools. Many independent school teachers do not have a teaching qualification.
Has Tristram Hunt spotted the paradox here?
Wootton Bridge, Isle of Wight
SIR – I was not surprised to learn of the discovery of a First Folio Shakespeare in the public library in Saint-Omer.
The presence of Catholic English schools and seminaries in what is now northern France, as well as in Spain and Italy, left evidence of an exiled community anxious to keep their English roots, both religiously and culturally. There was also a considerable tradition of drama in these institutions.
It is very likely that this new discovery originally came from the library of the English Jesuit college at Saint-Omer, which was closed and its contents seized during the French Revolution.
The English College at Valladolid, Spain, retained its own copy of the Second Folio (duly censored by the Inquisition) until the Twenties when, through the offices of Maggs Brothers in London, it was acquired for the Folger Shakespeare Library in America.
Both the Royal English College at Valladolid and the Venerable English College in Rome are extant. I sincerely hope that the rector of the latter is a Telegraph reader and is now searching his library with due diligence.
Father Peter Harris
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire
Terrorists on Facebook
SIR – People post all sorts of rubbish on Facebook and Twitter. MI5 would be drowned in information if much of this was passed on.
It is those on Facebook who are “friends” with these people who should accept responsibility. If they suspect such threats are serious, they should seek psychiatric help for their “friends”.
The police also need more recruits from ethnic minorities. This would help to remove the “us and them” culture, both within the police force and in Britain’s cities.
SIR – The advent calendars you review may be delicious, but none has any relevance to Christian Advent.
It is almost impossible to find an advent calendar, edible or not, that has any portrayal of the true representation of the Christmas season.
Families in poverty
SIR – The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest study exposes the record number of working families living in poverty in Britain.
While employment levels are increasing, the reality behind the figures is not so positive. Millions are working in low-paid and insecure jobs, and being hit by the rising cost of food and energy.
As a charity helping people in financial hardship, we find that most of our users are struggling to cope on a low income. More than half have annual household incomes of less than £10,000. Two thirds rely on financial support from friends and family, more than three fifths have been forced to cut back on food and heating, and more than a fifth have turned to payday lenders.
It’s clear that many families have yet to see the benefits of economic recovery, and more needs to be done to address low pay and the high cost of living.
In the meantime, anyone who is struggling can use our free search tool at turn2us.org.uk to identify grants and funds that may be able to provide financial, practical or emotional support.
Machines have not yet learnt to speak human
Legless in Burma: from ‘The Mad World of Sign Language’ (Telegraph Books, David Drew)
SIR – Machine translation is vastly overrated (“Learning a language is never a waste of time”).
All internet software I’ve tried to use, when translating into a foreign language, cannot differentiate between the imperfect tense (“I was looking”), the perfect tense (“I have looked”) and the preterite (“I looked”). They consistently fail to understand homonyms – for instance, perché in Italian means “why” as well as “because”.
Neither do they always understand nuance: for example, in Italian, speakers include personal pronouns with verbs only for clarity or emphasis.
SIR – One can get interesting results when something is translated into another language, then back into the original.
During my time working in the Middle East, I was puzzled by an item in a building bill of quantities for “wayaround”. It turned out to be skirting.
The man who recruited Bletchley’s codebreakers
SIR – While the much-acclaimed film The Imitation Game rightly acknowledges Alan Turing’s vital role in the war effort, it is sad that it does so by taking a side-swipe at Commander Alastair Denniston, portraying him as a mere hindrance to Turing’s work.
We, his descendants, prefer to remember his extraordinary achievements in the First and Second World War, as well as his unstinting devotion to Britain’s security for more than 30 years. Cdr Denniston was one of the founding fathers of Bletchley Park. On his final visit to Poland in the summer of 1939, he was briefed by Polish mathematicians on the electrical equipment they had developed to break the German cipher machine, Enigma. The Enigma machine that Denniston took back to Bletchley ultimately allowed Britain to read the German High Command’s coded instructions. Such was the secrecy surrounding his work that his retirement in 1945, and death in 1961, passed virtually unnoticed, and he remains the only former head of GC&CS (the precursor to the intelligence agency GCHQ) never to have been awarded a knighthood.
It was he who recruited Turing and many other leading mathematicians and linguists to Bletchley, where he fostered an environment that enabled these brilliant but unmanageable individuals to break the Enigma codes. The GCHQ of today owes much to the foundation he created there.
Dr Susanna Everitt
SIR – The ouija board may be this year’s must-have gift for Christmas. In 1942-1945 it was in constant use in hut 112 at Stalag Luft III, the Luftwaffe-run PoW camp, by my father and his fellow prisoners.
The most popular question was: “When will the war end?” The answer was always: “Next week.” Eventually, that was true.
Bosham, West Sussex
Far from strict
SIR – Strictly Come Dancing is not strict at all. It is entertainment thinly disguised as ballroom dancing. Even the magnificent professionals have been reduced to show ponies.
Like classical ballet, ballroom dancing has a technical structure and established rules. Unlike ballet, its function is not to tell a story but to interpret the music. That interpretation at the highest level is what moves ballroom dancing closer to art than sport. Non-believers should watch videos of Luca and Loraine Baricchi performing a waltz or Bryan Watson and Carmen Vincelj performing a cha-cha.
J T Twyford
SIR – As a recent visitor to Venice, I have some sympathy for the residents’ dislike of wheeled suitcases that cause noise and obstruction.
However, shouldn’t the locals’ alleged plan to impose a ban on wheeled luggage be referred to the EU Commissioners? They might have a view on what is essentially a case for free movement of goods through a member state.
Cheating in numbers
(Paul Mckenzie / Barcroft Media)
SIR – On a recent trip to a game reserve in Africa, I was surprised to learn that the collective noun for cheetahs is a “coalition”.
Etchingwood, East Sussex
Sir, – The way for some people to denote organisations or groups coming together from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, to represent the island of Ireland, has increasingly taken on a curious description, that is, “all-island”.
This term was used again for the recent all-Ireland (described as all-island) Choirs Festival which took place in Belfast and also in the announcement of the “All-Island Schools History Competition” (Cog Notes, November 25th).
Is this ridiculous trend going to continue?
Why are we so afraid to use the description “all-Ireland”? Are we afraid of offending certain sections of the Northern Ireland population?
Would these sections in Northern Ireland refuse to take part in these worthwhile and important activities, unless the description “all-island” is used?
Are we not all living on the island of Ireland, that is, all-Ireland? – Yours, etc, DAVE KAVANAGH Clontarf, Dublin 3.
Sir, – There are many technocratic bodies at home and abroad such as the only recently formed Fiscal Advisory Council, as well as the OECD, the IMF and the EU, which have a duty to warn us what we ought to be doing, such bodies have not always been right or far-seeing, and may in some instances be overcompensating for past omissions before the crash.
Democratic leadership has to balance what they have to say with the need to maintain the consent of the people for what requires to be done.
In the context of rising pre-election pressures, caution is needed, and the electorate would be wise in the light of experience to be sceptical of sweeping and unfulfillable promises and of those that make them.
One of the most important lessons of the crisis, and one of the least disputed in general terms, is the danger of allowing the tax base to become too narrow.
Where the reduction or abolition of a tax quickly becomes eaten bread soon forgotten, it is much more difficult to persuade the public of the need to supply an alternative source of revenue as part of a more rational re-configuration of the tax system, if a new tax, charge or rise is involved.
Leaving aside the necessity of eliminating the budget deficit and the desirability of reducing our dangerously high debt exposure, there are many crying social needs which need some of the increased resources that growth can provide. The resort to devices such as off-balance sheet financing, which usually involves deferred but higher spending, should not be overused.
Given that the Government has adopted the policy in recent years that downward budget adjustments should consist of two-thirds expenditure reductions and one-third tax increases, should not the reverse apply in the recovery, with extra resources divided into two-thirds expenditure reinstatement to one-third unwinding the more explicitly temporary and emergency tax increases?
It would be a pity if the tax-base broadening reforms of the last few years, that were long advocated, were to be lost in the clamour to abolish water charges, property tax, and the universal social charge, whatever mitigation may be required in the interests of fairness or where there is a genuine inability to pay. – Yours, etc, MARTIN MANSERGH Friarsfield House, Co Tipperary.
A chara, — Your headline in The Irish Times (November 27th) stating that unemployment has reached its lowest level since 2009 should be balanced by the statistics relating to emigration. When the figure of 250,000 plus of our citizens who have emigrated during the past five years is taken into account, it will be seen that, far from showing an improvement, the statistics reveal a dismal picture indeed. The economy has a long way to go yet before we can take heart from our employment figures. – Is mise, etc, NIALL Ó MURCHADHA An Spidéal Co na Gaillimhe
A Chara, – Had East Derry MP Gregory Campbell, directed his bigoted outburst at the immigrant or gay and lesbian communities, rather than at the Irish-speaking community (“DUP’s Campbell denied speaking rights for ‘mocking Irish’”, November 4th) cries of racism or homophobia would have been heard before now.
However, because his intolerant outburst was directed at Northern Ireland’s Irish-speaking community there is, for the most part, an uncanny silence.
The UK has signed and ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML).
The Westminster parliament, in 1967 and in 1993, enacted legislation to facilitate the official use of the Welsh language.
The National Assembly for Wales followed suit in 2012. The Scottish Parliament in 2005 enacted the Gaelic Language Act to facilitate and promote Scottish Gaelic.
The Council of Europe has recommended the enactment of similar legislation in Northern Ireland. But all we get from Mr Campbell are his “toilet paper” remarks.
European and British standards are seemingly fine in Britain itself but, as with flag-flying, British standards are not British enough for certain people in Northern Ireland.
Language rights are an integral part of human rights. The Belfast Good Friday Agreement is “subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interests of all sides of the community”.
The kind of intolerance articulated at the DUP Annual Conference is in clear violation of this and can have no part in Northern Ireland if we are to have peace and progress. – Is mise, etc, DÓNALL Ó RIAGÁIN, An Nás, Co Chill Dara
Sir, Fr John McCallion (Letters, November, 27th) writes on the subject of the cross on Carrauntoohil, “what is so offensive about a structure which you can see only if your up close at it or through the viewing of binoculars? What next: a bill in the Dáil for the removal of . . . the Papal Crosses at Phoenix Park and Drogheda?”.
Well now that Fr McCallion mentions it – yes, a bill in the Dáil for the removal of the Papal Cross in the Phoenix Park most definitely.
No need for “up close” or “binoculars” here.
This chunk of steel is 35.3m (116 ft) high and a blight on a beautiful landscape, which happens to belong to the people of Ireland and not the Catholic Church. People enter this park to escape from such monstrosities, only to have this thing stare them in the face.
Fr McCallion has every right to his religious symbols but he must learn to appreciate that size is everything. – Yours, etc, DECLAN KELLY, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14. Sir, Colm O’Brien, who describes himself as “. . . a recent climber of Carrauntoohil”, welcomed the anti-democratic act of vandalising the cross at the summit of Carrauntoohil (Letters, November 25th). Mr O’Brien’s attitude is contemptuous, disrespectful and reeks of metropolitan condescension.
The cross is recognised as an important navigational aid for inexperienced or “recent” climbers as well as the more experienced climber. There has been a cross at the summit of Carrauntoohil since the 1950s so the structure is exempt from any planning process Mr O’Brien cares to advocate.
All of the local people I have encountered have expressed sorrow about the incident. These people are a typical range of Irish people who have a diverse range of religious beliefs or no religious beliefs at all. The Irish countryside is more than a mere playground for metropolitans. – Yours, etc,
Institute of Technology,
Sir, – David Clarke is somewhat confused (Letters, November 27th). I know of no 1916 relative that believes that they have any special place in events marking the Centenary of the Rising.
It would, of course, be absurd were that to be their position.
Relatives are, however, concerned at the fact that, to date, the Government has no definite centenary programme in place to mark the pivotal event in our nation’s history. The purpose of commemoration is to remember and pay tribute. The “Ireland Inspires” event at the GPO did neither. Not an image, mention or reference to any of the men and women of 1916 in an unprecedented airbrushing out of history in the very place where they made history.
There is a hereditary principle at the heart of this matter – those present at that now infamous gathering occupy their positions as elected representatives and office holders as a result of the great sacrifice that others made on their behalf. Freedom did not fall from the sky. It was fought for and won by a golden generation of our people who deserve to be remembered forever.
If the Government of the day are not cognisant of that fact or choose to ignore it does Mr Clarke seriously suggest that descendants of those who made that supreme sacrifice cannot as citizens comment and should remain silent?
I can think of no greater insult to our forebears – other than the “Ireland Inspires” event that is. – Yours, etc, JAMES CONNOLLY HERON, 1916 Relatives Centenary Initiative, Dublin 6.
Sir, – The issue of upward only commercial rents won’t go away, and suggesting that retailers simply “move on” (Cantillon, 25th November) appears to be pandering to the wishful thinking of a property sector in denial.
There seems to be broad agreement that the Irish upward-only rent clauses are bad for the economy, hence the reason they have now been outlawed by legislation. As a uniquely Irish mechanism they epitomised the worst excesses of an out of control property market. Given they are now outlawed by public policy, it seems hard to reconcile that they should be allowed to stand in existing leases.
In reality, present-day buyers of retail schemes – many of them foreign – will be well used to looking past the rent-roll financials and assessing the underlying health of the tenants contained within.
In cases where landlords have a “head in sand” approach what will buyers find? So there’s the rub. Property values are underpinned by the viability and vigour of the businesses that operate from them.
To be fair, some landlords of a more pragmatic nature have understood this, and deals have been done. But the music will stop for the rest, there will be more retail closures, a continued handbrake on some retail park values, and more jobs lost in Ireland.
Ironically those hurt most by these clauses were small but otherwise viable independent retailers, who are now either gone or circling the drain due to crippling rents. Sadly, their departure will further accelerate the demise of already suffering town centres.
Perhaps tomorrow you will use the same logic to write the companion article, “Negative equity costing homeowners, not the economy”.
This issue has not gone away, despite the hopes in some quarters that it will. – Yours, etc, BLAINE CALLARD CEO, Harvey Norman (Ireland), Brent House, Swords Business Park, Co Dublin.
Sir, – “I just put my arms out like a rugby ball. She started smiling at me when she came down. She just started giggling. I handed the baby to someone else . . .” ( “Young man praised as baby rescued from Dublin fire,” November 25th).
Who does one see to recommend Mr Mark Furlong as Man of The Year? – Yours, etc, JOE McPARTLIN, Mount Brown, Dublin 8.
Dearbhail McDonald’s article – ‘Without justice for the Hooded Men the spectre of torture still looms over peace’ (November 25) – discusses the call by the surviving men, Amnesty International and Northern Ireland NGOs for Ireland to ask the European Court of Human Rights to revise its 1978 judgment in Ireland v UK on the basis of new evidence the UK had withheld, and find the men were tortured.
The article poses an important question, “But will any re-trial of the Hooded Men case help heal the past?” We are convinced the answer is yes.
In our recent research on dealing with the past in the North, Amnesty canvassed the views of victims of abuses during the three decades of political violence. They came from both ‘sides’ of the conflict. Almost all felt that 16 years after the Good Friday Agreement, they still have not had their rights to truth and justice vindicated. This, they felt – and we agree – is a serious block to the ongoing search for peace and reconciliation in the North.
Therefore, 43 years after Jack Lynch’s government took the courageous step of bringing the UK to the European Court, we are appealing to the current one to follow this through. It must not shirk its moral duty by suggesting it would be to the benefit of lasting peace to let this case drop.
The North is haunted by the past because it has not been dealt with honestly. Amnesty’s research in countries emerging from conflict around the world has shown that it is those societies which have fully faced up to past abuses which are most able to move into the future with confidence. There can be no stable and lasting peace without truth and justice.
Trying to resolve the past around conference room tables without addressing the past traumas still blighting lives cannot work. The harm people suffered needs to be acknowledged if they are to rebuild their lives and their communities.
The article concludes by observing that “truth, like peace, can come with a heavy price tag”. We strongly believe that not achieving truth and justice in this case will carry a much heavier price. The clock is running down and we seriously hope the Government makes the right call – not only for those 14 brutalised ‘hooded men’ but for generations to come.
Amnesty International Ireland
Time for Kenny to go
Enda Kenny has to go. It’s not really all his fault. Tough. But there has to be a signal from this Government that things will be different.
Elements of Fine Gael guessed in 2010 that Enda might not be the man for the moment. But the amateurish failure of their heave ensured that Enda’s was the only name on the list when Brian Cowen and John Gormley went down the waste pipe. This ensured that the key positions in the new Cabinet were held by the heavies who had saved Enda’s Party skin. He let them loose to wreak political havoc and, with bizarre irony, sabotage the survival and re-election of ‘their’ (sic) Government.
Enda was unable (maybe unwilling) to establish a relationship of confidence and trust with us, the people whom he had been chosen to lead in what was nothing less than a war of national survival on global and European battlefields.
He was unable to monitor what was going on (or not going on) in the various Departments. Unable to hear warning bells. Unable to discipline or guide the big beasts. Unable to resist the old-style temptation to attempt to buy the next election before the economy was ready to ease the austerity.
His Government has been unable to function without the guidance of the Troika. What new own-goals are waiting to be scored?
Grotesquely, we find ourselves – after nearly four years of our ‘Revolutionary’ Government – politically no better off. In fact, things are worse. His failure to consult and to lead (rather than cajole) has driven a significant proportion of our population into a happy-clappy politics of unreason within which reality and common-sense have no oxygen.
If the turkeys do not arrange an early Christmas, they will lose the chance to shift the menu to geese and quails.
Tralee, Co Kerry
Flying the Banner for Fr Mathew
Yesterday’s story on the removal of the Fr Theobald Mathew statue from O’Connell Street, Dublin stated Fr Mathew was a Kilkenny man. Far from it.
He was born in Thomastown, Golden (not Thomastown, Kilkenny). The Cats have taken enough from us of late, but Fr Mathew remains a proud Tipperary man.
Clonmel, Co Tipperary
Water metering costs
Martin Glynn (‘Water meters: get the facts right’, November 26) is concerned that there is widespread ignorance, including on the part of RTE’s ‘This Week’ program, about the differences between estimates, budget cost, tender price and contract price.
Our report on the projected €431.56m water metering costs (a figure arrived at by external UK consultants) used the same terminology as that used in the official correspondence between the Department of Environment and Bord Gais Eireann.
“Budgeted Metering Programme Costs” is the description used in a detailed appendix to the correspondence and are described elsewhere as part of the “overall budget”.
Colm O Mongain
RTE, Dublin 4
Work smarter, not harder
I recently read a headline ‘the grey brigade won’t take much more pain’, economically speaking that is. Sadly the grey and the dark and the blond and every brigade that exists will be forced to take a great deal more pain as policies concocted and enacted since this recent economic crisis burst on the horizon lead nowhere but to ever increasingly pain on the way to economic collapse. They fail to understand or address what is really wrong with economics in the 21st century.
The world is in denial: pretending that historic economic policy is adequate to manage and administer an utterly changed economic situation.
Old economic certainties like always producing more (growth) and working harder have crumbled. Instead of growing and producing more we need restraint and limitation of the enormous power to produce technology has placed within our grasp.
Otherwise we continue a mad frenzy of overproduction that is already crippling commerce and turning business failure into an epidemic.
And instead of working harder and longer we must generate a lot more jobs from a lot less work, with many more people working less. I fear the present euphoria of job creation will be a short-lived mirage if we refuse to acknowledge an enormous elimination of work by automation.
Technology has changed the world: invention and innovation will not go away, so rather than be destroyed by them we must adapt.
Very influential people do not want us to think of these things. Very powerful institutions do not want such matters discussed. But it is the grey and all other coloured brigades who will pay the price squeezed by diminishing income and disappearing services to prop up a failed ideology.
The 21st century is an entirely different economic situation to any that existed before.
Until the denial stops and we embrace abundance with much less work there will be no avoidance of ever increasing pain everyone.
Tubbercurry, Co Sligo