5 December 2014 Home

I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get to the post box

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up gammon for tea and her tummy pain is still there. We go to see the GP


Jeremy Thorpe was a charismatic leader of the Liberal Party who fell from grace in one of the most spectacular political scandals of the 20th century

Thorpe outside the House of Commons after being elected the new leader of the Liberal Party in 1967

Thorpe outside the House of Commons after being elected the new leader of the Liberal Party in 1967 Photo: GETTY/HULTONARCHIVE

6:02PM GMT 04 Dec 2014


Jeremy Thorpe, the former leader of the Liberal Party who has died aged 85, suffered a fall unparalleled in British political history when a long-drawn-out chain of scandal dragged him into the dock at the Old Bailey, charged with conspiracy and incitement to murder.

For once the cliché “trial of the century” did not seem misplaced. Thorpe had been a sparkling and successful politician who had come tantalisingly close to realising the Liberals’ dream of holding the balance of power. In 1974, indeed, he was invited by the prime minister, Edward Heath — whom he had once described as “a plum pudding around whom no one knew how to light the brandy” — to lead his party into coalition with the Conservatives; he himself was offered the post of foreign secretary.

It was understandable, therefore, that five years later, at Thorpe’s trial, even prosecuting counsel should have spoken of a “tragedy of truly Greek and Shakespearean proportions”. Tragedy, however, is a large word, implying the destruction, if not necessarily of virtue, at least of some outstanding merit. Only in the context of a man’s entire life can its just application be decided.

John Jeremy Thorpe was born on April 29 1929 into a highly political family. He would claim descent from Sir Robert de Thorpe, who was Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1356 and Chancellor in 1371.

More to the point, both of Thorpe’s parents were staunch Conservatives. His father John Thorpe, born in Cork, was a KC and, for a few years after the First World War, MP for Rusholme in Manchester. His mother was the daughter of Sir John Norton-Griffiths, 1st Bt, another Conservative MP and one who gloried in the epithet “Empire Jack” — even if he owed his baronetcy to Lloyd George.

Jeremy Thorpe, however, thought of himself as “three-quarters Celt”; and in keeping with this bias, it was from his mother’s friend Lady Megan Lloyd George that, rather to Mrs Thorpe’s disapproval, he imbibed a romantic attachment to Liberalism.

The boy had two sisters, both older; he was brought up as the cynosure of his parents’ eyes. “It never occurred to him,” his mother remarked of his early days in Kensington, “that anybody might not be glad to see him.”

Young Jeremy adored his father, but it was his mother who exerted the most powerful influence. A formidable woman, who affected an eyeglass, Ursula Thorpe nursed the highest ambitions for her son. “That monocle!” Thorpe recalled in later life. “We were all frightened of her. I have overcome the domination, and I am damn well not going to be dominated again.”

Thorpe was only six when tubercular glands were diagnosed in his stomach. For seven months he had to lie on his back in a spinal carriage; he suffered back pains for the rest of his life.

The Second World War caused a hiatus in what promised to be a conventional English education. In 1940 Thorpe and the younger of his sisters were sent to stay with an aunt in America, where he attended the Rectory School in Connecticut, by contemporary English standards a decidedly easy-going establishment.

Thorpe loved it. His histrionic gifts — and in particular his talent for mimicry — began to flourish. He played Miranda in The Tempest, became an accomplished violinist, and showed precocious assurance as a public speaker.

In 1943 he returned to England to go to Eton, where the more rigorous discipline proved less agreeable. He was also greatly upset by the death of his father, after a stroke, in 1944. This misfortune left the family in dire financial straits, so that an uncle had to stump up the funds to keep the boy at Eton. It also, inevitably, increased the sway of Mrs Thorpe.

After Eton, Thorpe joined the Rifle Brigade for his National Service, only to be invalided out of the Army after six weeks as “psychologically unsuitable”. It has been alleged that he became a bed-wetter to prove the point.

At Trinity College, Oxford, by contrast, the military reject flourished outrageously. His flamboyant dress — frock coats, stove-pipe trousers, brocade waistcoats, buckled shoes, and even spats — received all the attention they demanded; his penchant for Chinese vases suggested aesthetic sensibility; his witty persiflage kept the mockers at a distance.

Theoretically, Thorpe was reading Law; in reality he was laying the foundations of his political career. But though he became in turn president of the Liberal Club, the Law Society and the Union, he attracted criticism from contemporaries for the ruthlessness he showed in the pursuit of these offices.

Thorpe scraped a Third in his Finals. Afterwards, in 1954, he was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple, and built up a modest practice on the Western Circuit. He also, later in the 1950s, worked for commercial television, appearing regularly on current affairs programmes such as This Week, and sending back reports from Africa and the Middle East.

But politics was always his master passion. In 1952, with the help of Dingle Foot, whom he had befriended when at Oxford, he was adopted as Liberal candidate at North Devon which, though it had been a Liberal seat in the early 1930s, had a 12,000 Tory majority in the 1951 General Election.

Thorpe, at his very best on the stump, had no rival as a vote-gatherer. He could put any argument with skill and panache; his astonishing memory for faces persuaded voters that they were intimate friends; his brilliant gifts as a mimic kept the audience in stitches; his resourceful mind afforded quips and stunts for every occasion.

At the same time he built up a formidable organisation in the constituency, and drove it with unflagging energy. In the 1955 general election the Tory majority was slashed to 5,226, and four years later he captured the seat by 362 votes. Thorpe would hold North Devon for 20 years, narrowly at first, but in February 1974 with a thumping 11,082 majority. Yet he was never tempted to appeal to wavering Tory voters by trimming his Liberal views on issues such as South Africa or capital punishment.

In the House of Commons he made an immediate impression. A sketch-writer remarked of his maiden speech that “it seemed as though Mr Thorpe had been addressing the House for the past 10 years, and got rather tired of the exercise”. But the young MP knew how to draw blood, as with his jibe after Harold Macmillan sacked several of his Cabinet in 1962: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his own life.”

Thorpe appeared somewhat to the Left of the party, a mouthpiece for impeccable Liberal sentiments, especially on African affairs. He received the distinction of being banned from Franco’s Spain.

In 1966 he advocated that Britain should cut off the oil supplies to Ian Smith’s Rhodesian regime by bombing that country’s railway system. The Liberal conference enthusiastically applauded the idea, but Harold Wilson inflicted permanent damage by coining the phrase “Bomber Thorpe”.

Thorpe flanked by Edward Heath and Harold Wilson at Westminster Abbey in 1970 (HULTON ARCHIVE)

Meanwhile, though, the young MP had been working energetically to fill the organisational void left by Jo Grimond’s leadership. Thorpe’s charm made him especially effective as a fund-raiser, and in 1965 he captured the party treasuryship.

When Grimond retired in 1967, the 12 Liberal MPs elected Thorpe in his place. The new leader immediately gave a foretaste of his style by holding a rally in the Albert Hall, at which he promised “a great crusade that will set Britain alight for the vision of a Liberal society” — a performance relayed by closed circuit television to three other city centres.

Nevertheless, in his first years at the helm the showman for once misjudged his act. “He felt he had to move away from the image of the sharp and witty debater to being grave,” David Steel remembered. “It was disastrous.”

Yet Thorpe did not altogether abandon frivolity. Colleagues found, to their frustration and fury, that important policy discussions had to wait upon the leader’s gossipy anecdotes about the prime minister or royalty. Nor did Thorpe’s continuing addiction to outmoded dress and eccentric headgear — notably the brown bowler hat he wore when electioneering — do anything to allay the growing suspicion that he was all style and precious little substance.

His critics acknowledged that he loved the game of politics — indeed he took a fiendish delight in its Machiavellian plots and manoeuvres — but they wondered if he knew why he was playing it.

Thorpe’s Liberalism was essentially romantic and emotional. He reacted strongly against bone-headed Establishment snobbery, arrogant management or racial injustice, but showed scant interest in formulating any coherent political philosphy.

On the other hand there was no doubting Thorpe’s quick mind or his keen antennae. He was to the fore in predicting the 1967 devaluation crisis and in identifying the mounting crisis in Ulster; he also showed himself a consistent supporter of Britain’s entry into the Common Market.

Thorpe did not suffer fools gladly. Erring subordinates were treated to the sharp rebuke or the snappish aside; and in the face of any challenge to his authority the mask of the jester quickly gave way to a fixed, distant and icy stare. He was at his most formidable under pressure, as the Young Liberals discovered when they attempted to mount a coup in 1968.

The unsatisfactory opening years of his leadership culminated in the 1970 general election. Thorpe campaigned with his accustomed zeal, sweeping about the country in helicopters and cutting an impressive figure on television, but the results were disastrous.

The Liberals polled only 2.1 million votes and retained only six seats. And then, less than a fortnight after the election, Thorpe’s wife Caroline was killed in a car crash.

For a while Thorpe appeared to lose interest in politics. But in 1972 and 1973 the widespread dissatisfaction with the Heath government found expression in a remarkable series of Liberal successes in municipal and by-elections.

Thorpe’s style was undoubtedly a factor in attracting discontented Tory voters. But his animadversions against the “bloody-mindedness” of British life were undermined, at the end of 1973, by his involvement in a shoddy financial disaster.

Thorpe had become a director of Gerald Caplan’s London & County Securities to boost his meagre parliamentary salary; in his delight at the sudden flush of income, however, he failed to heed numerous and reiterated warnings about the company’s viability.

In 1972 the Liberals, and Thorpe himself, put on a notable display of piety over Reginald Maudling’s involvement with the Poulson affair. It was therefore more than a shade embarrassing when it transpired that the leader was involved in a company that was charging 280 per cent on second mortgages, and when, at the end of 1973, the collapse of London & County revealed a tangled skein of financial misdemeanour.

British voters, far from being concerned, were apparently impressed by Liberal promises to tackle the national crisis with increased public spending and state control of incomes. At the February 1974 general election Thorpe, though largely confined in his marginal North Devon constituency, reached his political apotheosis. The Liberals nearly trebled their vote to six million; the only fly in the ointment was that this total translated itself into but 14 seats.

Rumour had it that Thorpe was responsive to Heath’s offer of a coalition, with the promise of a Speaker’s conference to consider electoral reform. His colleagues, however, have gone on record that the decision to reject these terms was “unanimous”.

The ensuing months exposed the flaws in the Liberal revival. The party activists were radicals; many of its new-found supporters were dissatisfied Tories. Moreover, the exquisite Thorpe seemed far removed from the community politics advocated by Trevor Jones (“Jones the Vote”) and his chums.

In the October 1974 general election, the Liberal leader left his North Devon constituency to its own devices and once more whisked about the country in helicopters and hovercraft. All to no avail: the Liberal vote fell by 700,000.

Thorpe was severely disillusioned. But the most remarkable thing about his political career was not that he ultimately failed to storm the heights, but that he managed to retain the sang-froid to lead the Liberals when, all the while, a large part of his energies was concentrated on repressing a significant element of his personality.

That Thorpe, in his youth, had homosexual tendencies was admitted at his trial. Nor was it in dispute — though he always emphatically denied any physical relationship — that in 1961 he had befriended a young man named Norman Josiffe, who later changed his name to Norman Scott.

Though Mr Justice Cantley’s conduct of the trial was widely criticised, no one argued about his description of Norman Scott. “He is a fraud. He is a sponger. He is a whiner. He is a parasite.” Scott claimed to have had an affair with Thorpe between 1961 and 1964, and there can be no question whatever that, as their meetings dwindled and finally ceased, he conceived a grievance that nothing but the ruin of Thorpe could assuage. (It should be remembered that homosexual acts between consenting adults were not legalised until 1967.)

In pursuit of his vendetta Scott seized every possible occasion, public and private, to advertise his sexual connection with Thorpe. As early as December 1962 he blurted out the story to the Chelsea police, and gave them two letters he had received from the MP, one of which contained the phrase — “Bunnies can (and will) go to France” — that would become notorious when, 14 years later, it finally reached the public domain.

During that time Scott bore the menace of a time-bomb ticking away in the shadows of Thorpe’s career. The fuse was unpredictable, but intermittent splutters constantly portended some vast explosion.

Thus in 1965 Scott took it upon himself to write to Thorpe’s mother setting out the details of his homosexual relations with her son. This missive prompted Thorpe to make the cardinal error of confiding in Peter Bessell, a fellow Liberal MP.

Thorpe in his office at the Houses of Parliament, 1970 (GETTY)

One of the most striking features of the affair was that Thorpe, for all his public glamour, seemed to have no upright friend to whom he was prepared to turn for counsel. Bessell was a Methodist lay preacher; he was also, as he himself would all too willingly confirm under cross-examination, amoral, hypocritical and untruthful.

Bessell tried to contain the danger to Thorpe by going to see Scott, by purloining compromising letters, and subsequently by paying Scott small weekly sums which Thorpe refunded. He also sought, and appeared to receive, assurances from the home secretary, Sir Frank Soskice, that the police were not interested in pursuing Scott’s allegations.

But Thorpe’s anxiety could not be assuaged as long as the possibility remained that Scott would one day succeed in finding a newspaper to print his story. And after the Liberal leader had married Caroline Allpass in 1968, he had even more to lose — though the best man, David Holmes, wrote that Caroline Thorpe “knew about Scott” before they were married.

In May 1969 Scott himself married; and his son was born that November. The marriage soon broke up, but not before the experience of connubial penury in a Dorset cottage had lent a hysterical edge to Scott’s importuning of Bessell. Worse, there was the threat — never, in fact, realised — that Scott would use the divorce proceedings as an opportunity to blurt out his accusations about Thorpe under the protection of court privilege.

Another crisis developed in 1971. Scott, now living in North Wales, became the lover of a widow, Mrs Gwen Parry-Jones, who, treated to the usual accounts of Thorpe’s iniquities, duly reported them to another Liberal MP, Emlyn Hooson. A Liberal Party inquiry into the affair ensued.

Thorpe fought like a tiger, denying the allegations point blank and enlisting the help of the home secretary, Reginald Maudling, to confirm a somewhat misleading summary of police dealings with Scott. It was Thorpe’s word against that of his tormentor, and the Liberals chose to believe their leader.

Next year, 1972, Mrs Parry-Jones died, and at the inquest on her death Scott at last had the opportunity to tell his story in court. But no editor cared to print his wild ravings; nor did a South African journalist, Gordon Winter, find any takers when he gathered material from Scott.

It might have seemed that Scott had done his worst, and been repelled. In 1973 Thorpe announced his engagement to Marion, Countess of Harewood, previously married to the Queen’s cousin.

About the same time Scott moved to Thorpe’s North Devon constituency, where he proceeded to inflict the history of his relations with the local MP upon bemused rustics in pubs. He also told his tale to the Tory candidate, who decided not to touch it.

Just before the first general election of 1974, David Holmes succeeded in purchasing some letters from Scott for £2,500. Nevertheless, Scott the persecutor now appeared in the role of victim.

In February 1975 he was beaten up by two men in Barnstaple market. And in October, when an AA patrolman discovered him weeping beside the corpse of his great dane, Rinka, he claimed that only a jammed pistol had prevented the assailant from shooting him as well as the dog.

In January 1976 Scott, charged with defrauding the DHSS, declared under the privilege of court that he was being “hounded by people” because of his affair with Jeremy Thorpe. This time, at last, the press did take notice. Thereafter rumour blew so loud that by March Thorpe felt compelled to defend himself in The Sunday Times, specifically denying both that he had hired a gunman to kill Scott, and that he had had any knowledge of Holmes’s purchase of the letters in 1974.

Despite support from the prime minister, Harold Wilson, who appeared to believe that the accusations had been fabricated by the South African secret service, Thorpe was unable to hold the line. After the “Bunnies” letter was published in The Sunday Times in May 1976, he resigned the Liberal leadership.

Thorpe leaving the Liberal Club in 1977 (REX FEATURES)

There could scarcely have been any criminal charges against him, however, if Bessell, who had long been exiled in California, had not decided to turn Queen’s evidence. He believed, with good reason, that Thorpe would not hesitate to throw him to the wolves in order to save his own skin.

Bessell alleged that in 1968 and 1969 Thorpe had incited Holmes and himself to murder Scott, helpfully suggesting that the body might be chucked down a Cornish mine shaft, or cemented into a motorway bridge. “It’s no worse than killing a sick dog,” Thorpe is supposed to have remarked, before recommending research into slow-acting poisons.

The second charge associated Thorpe with Holmes and two others on a charge of conspiracy to murder in the years 1974 and 1975; this also depended partly on Bessell’s evidence, though in this case the diversion of Liberal funds through Holmes’s hands to the hitman, Andrew Newton, was also germane.

Thorpe behaved with marked courage in the face of the cataclysm, observing with his accustomed brio that a man who had the prime minister, Lord Goodman and MI5 on his side could hardly lose.

Even after his committal to trial at the Old Bailey Thorpe insisted on contesting North Devon at the 1979 election, where his opponents included Auberon Waugh, standing for the Dog Lovers’ Party. Though Thorpe lost the seat (he remarked laconically to a television interviewer that Scott’s allegations had “hardly helped” his campaign), his vote fell by less than 5,000 compared with October 1974.

Norman Scott in 1979 (PA)

At the Old Bailey the charges failed after the defence, with the help of Mr Justice Cantley, had annihilated Bessell’s character. Thorpe opted not to give evidence in his own defence, thus avoiding cross-examination.

Even so, his reputation was badly damaged by the exhibition of the financial sleight of hand which he had shown in directing funds given to the Liberal Party by the millionaire “Union Jack” Hayward towards David Holmes. He was also revealed as a blustering bully in his attempt to dissuade his friend Nadir Dinshaw, the Pakistani financier, from telling the truth.

Dinshaw, acting on Thorpe’s command, had innocently passed on money to Holmes. Before the trial Thorpe told him that if he reported the fact, “It will be curtains for me, and you will be asked to move on.”

In short, the trial bore out the impression created by Thorpe’s political career, that he was essentially a fixer and an operator. Far from being a tragic hero — a noble nature ruined by a single mole of nature — he appeared, whether innocent or guilty, amply provisioned with common human flaws, cast by his gifts and ambition into most uncommon relief.

Yet this man, who spent so many years trying to avoid imputations of homosexuality, won devoted loyalty from both his wives. “I saw an emotional cripple take up his bed and walk,” someone remarked of his first marriage.

For a while after the trial Thorpe seemed to nurse the dream of rebuilding his career. In 1981 he applied unsuccessfully for the job of race relations adviser to the BBC, and the next year he was actually appointed director of Amnesty, only to resign the post after complaints from within the organisation.

Thorpe with his wife, Marion, in 1999 (REX)

Thorpe remained chairman of the political committee of the United Nations Association until 1985, but in the world of the haut monde that he loved to adorn there would be no redemption. By the middle of the 1980s, moreover, he was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease.

The North Devon Liberals, however, remained faithful to the last, electing him as their president in 1987.

Jeremy Thorpe’s second wife died in March of this year; he is survived by his son, Rupert, from his first marriage.

Jeremy Thorpe, born April 29, died December 4 2014


Chancellor George Osborne and chief secretary of the Treasury Danny Alexander George Osborne (l) leaves the treasury to deliver his autumn statement to parliament with chief secretary of the treasury Danny Alexander. Photograph: Alastair Grant/Getty

I don’t often feel despairing or angry enough to write to the Guardian. Now I feel both (Lean, mean and extreme, 4 December). Not just at Osborne and his desperate, inept pre-election giveaways but at the whole course of the debate. The question being asked of party leaders is what they would cut after the next election. No commentator suggests that they might consider raising more in taxes. In this country of disgusting personal riches, rampant corporate tax evasion contrasted with government-fuelled poverty, it can’t be difficult to raise money. It could even be a vote-winner if properly explained to the electorate. We are many, they are few.
Jenny Woodhouse

• George Osborne promises to curb public spending but in fact he will inflict swingeing cuts on local government, reducing most spending in councils to a mere fraction of their 2010 levels. Councils provide social care to older people and children, and must provide these services as a priority, leaving all other services to take the brunt. Most of our income comes from government grant. Councils are the “budget of last resort” too. So, as this government transfers the responsibilities of social security – now renamed welfare – to local authorities; we have to pick up the tab – by law. Those with the least, those needing essential services, are staring at the precipice. It’s not only the squeezed middle but the crushed bottom we need to worry about.
Alan Hall
Leader of Labour’s non-executive councillors, Lewisham council

• So George Osborne is promising to eliminate the government’s deficit in the next parliament. Does he realise that, given the stubbornly large hole in the balance of payments, this will be impossible? A balance of payments deficit logically requires that one or more parts of the economy must be running up debts or digging into balances. If it is not the government, then it will have to be the private sector. Is this possible or desirable? There must be a limit to the extra borrowing that consumers can take on. Equally, the corporate sector will be loth to run up losses and is unlikely to indulge in a sustained borrowing spree to finance investment. Unless the balance of payments shows a miraculous improvement over the next few years, “putting the public finances right” can only be achieved by imposing such a massive dose of austerity that the private sector takes on the losses. But we would call that ruining the economy.
John Critchlow
Bedale, North Yorkshire

• The focus to “drive the country into a surplus of £23bn by 2019-20” misses the point that a budget surplus per se is not desirable. A budget deficit per se is not deplorable. Deficits and surpluses have to be judged not for their own sake but for what they imply for output and employment. The public sector borrowing requirement was sharply brought down in the 1980s and the public finances were in surplus by 89/90. The borrowing requirement was nil in 90/91, but there was a massiverecession soon thereafter. Output started to decline in 1990.
SP Chakravarty

• I do not see much cheer for first-time homebuyers trying to get on to the property ladder or anything to motivate or encourage developers to build more houses. I do, however, see a tax giveaway to landlords as buy-to-rent will now be cheaper because of the changes to stamp duty.
Duncan Anderson
Immingham, Lincolnshire

• George Osborne may claim to have paid off £70bn of the deficit. However, at the same time, largely as a result of his governments’s policies, the total student debt is now approaching £70bn. According to the government’s own statistics, student debt is growing by more than £9bn a year, while less than £1.5bn is being paid off. The taxpayer will eventually have to foot this bill, and it is likely to be far more than the deficit which led to unprecedented austerity. The baby-boom generation is simply transferring its debts to a younger generation. Only a realistic wealth tax can defuse this financial timebomb.
Dr Mark Ellis
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• Having just had my sight saved by the NHS, I can see clearly enough to detect the bias in your picture caption (page 10, 4 December): “As the NHS is a constant drain on public finances, welfare budget faces big cuts.” To say constant drain is pejorative and negative – the NHS is a world-leading service which is no more a drain than spending on any other public services. The public spending cuts are political choices, they are not caused by the NHS as implied.
Michael Fage

• Mr Osborne has made it clear that tackling the budget deficit would be the over-riding and defining objective of this government. With oil prices tumbling and inflation low, surely you’d raise fuel duty to help plug some of the revenue gap? With scientists saying this year will be the hottest on record (Report, 4 December), there’s also a strong environmental case for measures to curb fossil fuel demand. With this and several other measures in his autumn statement, the chancellor showed there’s one thing more important than the deficit: Conservative re-election.
Russell Wallis
Banbury, Oxfordshire

• The autumn statement will have done nothing to change public opinion regarding the government’s commitment to reducing tax avoidance (Osborne on the offensive over tax and deficit, 3 December). Nothing was said that contained even the simplest of deterrents, like hugely increasing business rates for tax avoiding companies, or removing honours from their CEOs. Instead, giving more freedom to Northern Ireland to set its own level of corporation tax, presumably at 12.5% to match that of the republic, will cause more problems, especially when the finance ministers of Germany, France and Italy are stressing that the “lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning” (Pressure on Juncker grows despite vow to fast-track EU tax legislation, 3 December).

The last time Osborne tried to create tax advantages for companies investing in Britain with the “patent box” scam, Germany forced him to back down. It seems he never learns. Are other countries in the EU expected to sit back and quietly watch businesses move their HQ to Belfast, thereby depriving their treasuries of much needed revenue? Only when all EU members cooperate fully, agree tactics and avoid “advice” from the “big four” accountancy firms will tax avoidance by the multinationals be reduced.
Bernie Evans

• The fundamental dishonesty about the deficit (The economic dishonesty is the deadliest deficit of all, 2 December) is that governments that cannot raise enough tax revenue have to borrow from the banks. As the Bank of England confessed in its recent bulletin “Money Creation in the Modern Economy”, banks don’t lend existing money: they create new money. Why don’t governments just do it for themselves, as the Green party is proposing with its quantitative easing policies?
DBC Reed
Thorplands, Northamptonshire

• So George Osborne wants to cut spending levels to those of the 1930s. He read history at Oxford but presumably his studies did not cover this period. It was a time of endemic poverty, low wages, no NHS (a hint of the future, perhaps), rickets, huge differentials in wealth, levers of power in the hands of a few, low job and life prospects for women, and fragmented education. You could say he was halfway there.
Tony Roberts
Penwortham, Lancashire

• Why is George Osborne allowed to get away with his misleading information? Before the financial collapse brought about by the banks and other large-scale financial players the UK deficit was 5% of GDP (all figures from the OECD) and the gross national debt was £0.53tn. In 2013, after the destruction of many poorer people’s lives, the deficit was still at 6.9% of GDP (38% higher) and the gross national debt was £1.19tn (124% higher). Austerity isn’t working and in fact academic studies have shown it has not worked in the last 100 years. Osborne always compares his performance with the peak of 10.9% of GDP brought about in 2009 by the rescue of his banker friends. This had no connection with benefits, housing and other useful activities.

Let us stop pretending our problems are economic. They are political with the ultra-right of the Conservative party pushing through the abolition of our welfare state and transferring that common wealth to the rich.
Michael McLoughlin
Wallington, Surrey

• My increase in untaxed income announced in the autumn statement will be £120 in 2015/16 due to the rise in the personal allowance. My council tax is frozen. But my fellow residents receiving means-tested benefits, and their incomes increases frozen at 1% a year, will carry every penny of the 10% reduction in central government funding of council tax benefit. Their capped and cut benefit incomes, in work and unemployment, will be taxed by £200 to £400 a year by most councils, to which enforcement costs of at least £125 can be added.

That wipes out the rise in personal allowance of the poorest residents announced by the chancellor. When I ask the council the moral question: “Why are the poorest residents bearing the heaviest burden of austerity?” I get the financial answer: “Because we are short of money.”
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• Instead of the eye-wateringly cruel cuts in public services inherent in the chancellor’s obsession with rapid deficit reduction, the pre-election debate should radically change direction to one that has at its heart a Plan QE. This time, instead of giving £375bn to the banks to waste, e-print £70bn for every year of the next parliament to build the homes we need and make every building in the UK energy efficient. If all the jobs involved were paid an adequate wage then the tax take across the country would soar and help return the economy to a balanced recovery. Just like the first round of QE, the e-money would not have to be repaid so wouldn’t affect the deficit.
Colin Hines
Convenor, Green New Deal Group

• George Osborne missed a golden opportunity to slash fuel bills with his stamp duty reforms. For years campaigners have been calling for a stamp duty rebate for house-buyers who undertake energy efficiency measures in their new homes. People are more likely to install insulation shortly before they move in – along with other building and decorating work – and a rebate would encourage many more to do so.

This measure would not only help hard-pressed families with fuel bills, it would also create jobs and cut carbon emissions from Britain’s heat-leaking housing stock.
Sophie Neuburg
Energy campaigner, Friends of the Earth

• Hoorah for George’s reduction in stamp duty! For example, if we take the average house price for the UK at February of £250,000 the previous tax was at 1% on the whole amount or £2,500. With George’s adjustment, the first £125,000 is at nil and the second £125,000 is at 2% or £2,500. Oh. He was surely not trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
Roy Hogg
Westbridgford, Nottinghamshire

• Your editorial (3 December), which suggests that local authorities should have the power to raise funds locally to address local priorities, makes sense, particularly in addressing a deficit in local democracy. However, with what one hopes will be the chancellor’s final autumn statement with us, we cant just swerve around his austerity-obsessed vision of Britain’s future. A government that was constructed after the indecisive 2010 election has spent the last five years determinedly making the least well-off in society pay for the mistakes of the best-off in 2008/9. Change is needed at the centre as well as the peripheries of the system.
Keith Flett

• In the aftermath of the autumn statement very little is being said about the adverse effect high rents are having on the economy. They are substantially increasing the amount the chancellor has to provide for housing benefits and are diverting earnings away from the purchases that should be supporting the economy. The high rents are encouraging purchases by foreigners, who take the high returns out of the country, and by buy-to-let owners, who make excessive returns. This deprives would-be house owners from acquiring property in the process. The reduction in stamp duty will only accelerate these practices and should be restricted to would-be purchasers to occupy.
AB Crews
Beckenham Kent

• It’s not clear from your coverage whether George Osborne’s changes to stamp duty apply to Myleene Klass’s garage?
David Gerrard
Hove, East Sussex

Rosa Parks Rosa Parks pictured in 1999. The campaigner was trained by a black women’s organisation formed to stop white men raping black women, and went on to help propel Martin Luther King to prominence after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Photograph: William Philpott/Reuters

Hugh Muir’s account of Martin Luther King in London (G2, 3 December) recalls the lunch I and my husband CLR James had at our home with Coretta and Martin Luther King in 1957. It occurred after CLR met them at the celebration of Ghana’s independence. Also present besides George Lamming, the distinguished Caribbean novelist, was Dr David (later Lord) Pitt, the renowned campaigner against racism in Britain. He was also our family doctor. Eight years later, as Hugh relates, King and Bayard Rustin, a long-time campaigner, addressed a meeting of anti-racists here. The question of forming an organisation was raised. CLR said: “We are together, let us arrange a meeting now to form it.”

But, quiet as it’s kept, women were central. CLR had left the country to report on cricket by the time a few of us formed the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination. Ranjana Sedhanta became recording secretary and I was organising secretary. We, with women volunteers, built the organisation under Pitt’s chairmanship.

As to the Montgomery bus boycott that propelled King to prominence, it was a black women’s organisation formed to stop white men from raping black women with impunity that trained Rosa Parks among others to campaign. Ms Parks displayed her training by refusing to move to the back of the bus. Those who walked rather than ride the racist buses were principally black domestic workers. King acknowledged the education he got from women, including black welfare mothers who opposed the Vietnam war and influenced his boldest action – the Poor People’s Campaign.
Selma James

• Hugh Muir’s otherwise excellent piece omits to pay tribute to the army of race relations activists during the dozen years before the birth of the Commission for Racial Equality in 1976. He rightly acknowledges the excellent work of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (Card), lasting three years from 1964. He ought, however, to have mentioned the UK’s first ever Race Relations Act, passed in 1965, and the formation of the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants, chaired by Michael Ramsey, archbishop of Canterbury.

Three years later the second Race Relations Act established the Race Relations Board and the Community Relations Commission, which I joined in 1973 as senior information officer. As a descendant of Huguenots, the first major wave of immigrants to flood into England in the 1680s, and married to a black Jamaican, I have always had a deep personal commitment to good race relations.

The commission established a network of local community relations councils across the UK and ran an energetic public relations campaign under its chair, Mark Bonham Carter, to spread public awareness of the contribution of immigrants to this country’s culture and prosperity. The merger in 1977 of the Commission and the Race Relations Board following passage of the third Race Relations Act in 1976 brought the Commission for Racial Equality into existence.
Jane Hammond
Rochester, Kent

• Eric Posner argues against human rights (Journal, 4 December). He begins with a story about extreme police brutality in Brazil. The story borrows its force, however, from precisely those human rights principles that Professor Posner claims to reject. He concludes with a call to promote wellbeing in foreign countries in a way that is empirical rather than ideological. But promoting wellbeing would almost certainly involve improving the enjoyment of human rights. Professor Posner fails to make “the case against human rights”. The case he makes is that implementing human rights is often very difficult and that empirical understanding of the difficulties is necessary. All human rights supporters should agree with these propositions. Posner also relies on his right to free speech to make his argument against human rights. Nothing in his article suggests that everyone everywhere should not have the same right as Posner enjoys. Indeed, we cannot even know what “wellbeing” is in the absence of free debate about its meaning and the means to achieve it.
Michael Freeman
Colchester, Essex

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown Former prime minister Gordon Brown announces he is standing down as an MP, 1 December 2014. Photograph: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Jonathan Freedland (Without winning an election, Brown has left a greater legacy than Blair, 2 December) misses the main point. Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were content to maintain the neoliberal policies initiated by Margaret Thatcher and embraced the dubious delights of the free market and its destruction of industry, welfare, hard-won freedoms, trade unionism and social solidarity. The sorry state of the nation today is their legacy.
John Cunningham
Adlington, Lancashire

• The direct consequence of Brown’s tortured premiership was the alienation of the electorate, giving us the most rightwing government in modern British history and the worst result ever for the Labour party. As a result, millions of the poor and the disabled have had to endure this vile government.

In the Scottish referendum Brown boasted he would never let Scotland’s health service be privatised, but his outsourcing policies opened the floodgates in England to private rip-offs of healthcare, as did his enthusiastic endorsement of public/private financing.

In 1981 he signed the Scottish Claim of Right, pledging himself to the welfare not of the union, but of Scotland. He voted for university fees and foundation hospitals in England, not in Scotland. He drove through the devolution legislation whose outcome has been the near-extinction of the union. He voted for the Bush/Blair invasion of Iraq which has led directly to the death and suffering of thousands upon thousands.

As a Labour man I look back upon the Blair/Brown years with shame, especially regarding the NHS and Iraq. They carried on the work of Thatcher; they welcomed that lady to tea at No 10. I am very glad to see the back of Brown.
Michael Knowles
Congleton, Cheshire

• Jonathan Freedland is spot-on. The only criticism I have is that he doesn’t point out that in behaving as he did earlier, Brown’s mistake was believing that the City was acting honestly rather than on stupidity and greed. Brown did not cause the collapse of Lehman Brothers; cupidity did. As it turned out, he was the only one with the brains and bottle to suggest a solution.
Geoff Eltringham
Stockton on Tees

19.37 GMT

Has the Turner prize-winning Marxist Duncan Campbell (Politics seeps into everything, 3 December) read Marx’s notebooks and his hero’s riff to the effect that under capitalism the worker is debased, degraded and “reduced to the level of the Irish”? When railing against the British Museum, is he aware that Marx (who worked for much of his life in the museum’s former reading room) could not complete his great intended meta-system because he failed to account for the fact that the classical art produced in the backward, slave-owning society of ancient Greece remained superior to that of the more modern and technically “advanced” societies of his day? Does he think that Marxian economics expired with the collapse of communism or is he of the opinion that it is yet to be applied and tested? Does he have plans to take his film to North Korea?
Michael Daley
Director, ArtWatch UK

In equating jihadists with those who went to fight fascism in Spain, Michael Leeder (Letters, 3 December) somehow can’t see the crucial difference between them. Ralph Fox and his colleagues did not intend to return home in order to blow up people in this country.
Adam Czerniawski

• Michael Dixon of the NHS Alliance proclaims that general practitioners are on their knees (Letters, 4 December). It was revealed earlier this year that over 16,000 GPs earn more than £100,000 a year and that more than 600 have annual salaries in excess of £200,000. One wonders how many members of the public would like to adopt a posture like that of Dr Dixon and his colleagues.
Colin Armstrong

• I was also, like Tim Dowling (2 December), plagued by vishing, although I didn’t know it was called that. I found an even easier solution than not answering the landline; I had it removed. After all, how quaint it seems now to telephone a building and hope that the person to whom you wish to speak might actually be there.
Ian Churchill

• The government announces £15bn to be spend on roads (Hold on to your ley lines, 1 December). “Clegg pledges £200m to encourage cycling” (27 November) “in an attempt to make Britain a nation that loves its bicycles”. The discrepancy is stark, and puts paid to any notion that the government wants to make us a healthier nation.
Raymond Fisher
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

• Intrigued by the proposed Belfast Urban Motorway (Why coalition’s planned roads may go nowhere, 2 December). Even more fascinated to hear that the Bum project would have “created a large ring of free-flowing traffic”. Now that’s one 1970s project I’m glad they didn’t follow through on…
Sebastian St John Clarke
Diss, Norfolk

15.19 GMT

The changes within higher education introduced by the government in 2011 acknowledged that educating students at a university level is not exclusively the public sector’s role; private provision can make an equally positive contribution.

This week’s report by the National Audit Office highlights dropout rates (Report, 2 December), which it suggests are higher in the private sector. However, when private colleges give mature students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to return to education, a completion rate of over 80% is surely a positive outcome. This stands comparison with other publicly funded London institutions where the non-continuation rate on similar courses can be up to 24.5%, according to government figures.

This school is working to establish statistical comparisons between private and public colleges on a like-for-like basis and benchmarks similar to those developed for public colleges by the Higher Education Funding Council. Without that information, comparisons such as the NAO’s of the performance of students on private HND courses with those on public undergraduate degree courses are like comparing apples to oranges.

The NAO report will be valuable if it stimulates debate about what matters in education. It’s about empowering individuals, regardless of their ethnicity, age or background, and giving them the best opportunities. When students tell me that they never imagined they would be able to go to college, it fills me with confidence that this private college is doing something important and right.
Professor Maurits van Rooijen
Rector and chief executive officer, London School of Business and Finance



Sir, Daniel Finkelstein (“Good riddance to Gordon the incredible sulk”, Dec 3) was too kind to this man and too forgiving towards Tony Blair. Brown’s most reprehensible characteristic was his disdain for our armed forces, especially in the early days of the Iraq/Afghanistan operations. Brown presided over the erosion of military equipment programmes which included cancelling or delaying procurement of items such as fully capable support helicopters.

One result of his parsimony is portrayed in Kajaki: the True Story, a film that has gone on general release, which shows men of 3 Para trapped in a minefield in Afghanistan. The British evacuation helicopter had no winch to rescue a casualty, and an attempt to land triggered more explosions, leading to more casualties. In the end, our soldiers had to be extracted by US aircraft. The men of 3 Para will for ever blame Brown for that day. As for saying that Blair’s “only failing was tolerating Brown’s impossible antics”, it speaks volumes about Blair that he was not man enough to sack Brown for his dissent and refusal to implement cabinet policy. The Blair-Brown era was a lamentable time for our nation.

Lt-Col (ret’d) Paddy O’Connell
London SW17

Sir, Daniel Finkelstein’s three lines on Gordon Brown’s achievements and five columns on his alleged defects is disproportionate. Each of the three achievementsis major and would justify him a positive place in history: his stance on the euro against the mood of the time, recognising that increasing international aid was a moral issue and doing something about it, and mobilising the G20 to deal with the credit crisis. It is also arguable that his intervention saved the Union — for now.

A balanced assessment of Brown’s career would surely major on what he did achieve, while recognising that he was an honest man who, like all of his predecessors, had character defects, colleagues who let him down, and made mistakes. But perhaps Finkelstein sees no need to be balanced.
Peter Mackay
Kincraig, Highland

Sir, How refreshing to see Daniel Finkelstein and Matthew Parris refusing to join the normal fawning pack when a politician, however disastrous he or she was, departs the scene.
Jim Howard
Newton Abbot, Devon

Sir, Daniel Finkelstein should remember that Labour does not have a monopoly on “incredible sulks”. Ted Heath was quite a rival for Gordon Brown. Margaret Thatcher knew all about that.
Alan Watt
Pontyclun, Mid Glamorgan

Sir, As a Conservative, I was shocked by your “incredible sulk” headline on Daniel Finkelstein’s comment piece. It was vitriolic, discourteous and unnecessary. Gordon Brown was the man who kept Scotland in the Union.
Ian Watkins

Sir, Your leader “The Rusty Chancellor” (Dec 2) was diplomatic. We all wish Gordon Brown health and happiness in his retirement, but we have to ask: how much better off would the UK be if he had not become an MP? Not his fault alone, but, the sale of gold, the debt . . .
David Bedford

Woking, Surrey

Sir, Figures in your Business section (Dec 2) show that the ratio of national debt to GDP is now more than double that before the global crash in 2007, a ratio that had fallen over Gordon Brown’s decade as chancellor. Such facts sit uneasily alongside the views of Daniel Finkelstein and Matthew Parris, who are usually admirably fair.
Ken Pounds
Oadby, Leics

Sir, Daniel Finkelstein asserts that Gordon Brown “doubtless cares” but members of private-sector pension schemes might disagree. The withdrawal of tax relief on dividends in such funds caused deep and lasting damage. Gordon Brown’s assault — without consultation — on the sector has, it is estimated, reduced their assets by £100 billion.
Christopher Donald

Hexham, Northumberland

Sir, Daniel Finkelstein’s and Matthew Parris’s commentaries were apposite. Innumerable British people had their lives ruined by Gordon Brown’s bad judgment, especially on pension schemes. Fortunately my retirement came before the impact was felt, but many of my younger colleagues and, indeed, future generations have been cruelly abused.
Alfred Hagerman
St Albans

Sir, Of those who Gordon Brown let down, the worst affected was his own core vote. The rich will always be such; the middle classes will cope, but the “working man” is suffering most from the expansion of the economy on borrowed money, the lax regulation on banking and the complexity of the tax system to confound business. Canvassing on “free sweets for all” is unsustainable. A lesson perhaps for May?
Gerald Russell
Weybridge, Surrey

Sir, I am all for traducing politicians, but for all of Gordon Brown’s faults, and they were manifold, his intentions were in the most part to the good. If Daniel Finkelstein thinks that his cohort can still get away with blaming the previous administration for our present woes, they are in a fools’ paradise.
Murdo MacLeod MacKenzie
Corfe Mullen, Dorset

Sir, Pithily and concisely, Matthew Parris sums up the career of Gordon Brown. I do have one caveat, however: we must be grateful that he had the good sense to keep us out of the disaster that is the euro.
Larry Spence
London NW11

Sir, Gordon Brown exhibited challenging conduct but I am not convinced that the explanation lies only in the intrigue and paranoia. His decision to substitute bananas for his favourite confectionery, the squandered coffers and his banishment of Sybil the No 10 cat, all took their toll. The triple whammy of no KitKats, no kitty and no kitty-kitty might equally have contributed to his behaviour.
Daniel Confino
London SE4

Sir, We will still be falling down the same potholes despite extra government spending, says Phil Willan of Blackburn (letter, Dec 3). Do they still have 4,000 there?
Steve Eaton
Witney, Oxon

Sir, Apropos bad art (letter, Dec 3), the artist Angus Lordie in Alexander McCall-Smith’s novel 44 Scotland Street takes his dog Cyril for a walk, points at the ground, and gives the command “Turner Prize!”.
Anne Nethercott
Godalming, Surrey

Sir, Your presentation of facts and figures on immigration (Nov 28) was excellent. It was a reminder that, as we approach the general election, discussions should be based on facts not guesswork or fear. It was a surprise that net migration includes 50,000 returning British citizens, and revealing to see that net migration includes 170,000 overseas students; also that there were more immigrants from China, Spain, India and Australia than from Poland.

Clarity demands that the Office for National Statistics separates returning British citizens and overseas students from the figures, which would give a much more accurate picture.
The Right Rev Patrick Lynch

Office for Migration Policy

Sir, As the mother of a 13-year-old boy who tried to hang himself after years (unknown to us) of “banter” from his peers, I applaud Mike Stuchbery’s stand (Education, Nov 28). Comments meant to cause offence or discomfort are not banter but bullying. We are bringing up a generation who either think it is fun to humiliate and hurt, or who are so psychologically scarred they can barely function.
Michelle Gent


Legacy of the Aghan conflict; Thatcher’s stance on Europe; human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo; calendars for dogs, and a poem for Herman van Rompuy

Afghanistan 2001—2014:  We will remember them

7:00AM GMT 04 Dec 2014


SIR – Not one of the 453 men and women who were killed in the Afghanistan conflict died in vain. They gave their lives in the continuing war against terrorism, which will be with us for many years to come.

The majority of humanity, be they Christians, Muslims, from many other religions or none, want the same things: to be left in peace and free to worship or not, as the case may be, without interference or intimidation.

Extremists will eventually realise that their version of a deity does not condone extreme barbarity to further their aims. All of us, no matter what age or sex, would fight to protect our families and freedom and these 453 were our front line. There are billions who appreciate them and applaud their colleagues in other parts of the world fighting against terrorists who will not prevail.

In addition, there are many Afghans and Iraqis, particularly women, in less volatile areas of their countries, who are very grateful for the ultimate sacrifices made on their behalf by Western forces as well as by their own courageous countrymen and women. We must never forget the sacrifices made for us, continuously since 1914, up to the present day and no doubt beyond.

John Davies
Oswestry, Shropshire

SIR – Your wonderful tribute to the fallen of the Afghan War should be sent to every current MP and to those elected for the next Parliament in May 2015.

John Tilsiter
Radlett, Hertfordshire

SIR – Their lives were wasted. We meant to crush al-Qaeda. We dented the Taliban. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant now succeeds al-Qaeda.

Brian Gilbert
Hampton, Middlesex

SIR – When so many young lives are given for the country, their memory should be honoured. It is therefore sad that the National Arboretum has no memorial dedicated to the 371 British servicemen who lost their lives in the Cyprus Emergency, 1956-1959.

Perhaps as we approach the 60th anniversary, this could finally be achieved.

David Littlemore
Borth-y-gest, Caernarvonshire

SIR – The total number killed in the 13 years of the Aghan conflict – 453 – is the same as those killed on operations by 514 Squadron operating from Waterbeach, Cambridge from October 1943 until mid 1946: a period of less than three years. The memorial erected in their honour at the airfield is likely to be destroyed when the site is developed as a housing estate.

I appeal to the developers to find some way to incorporate this memorial into the development.

E L Humes
Worksop, Nottinghamshire

Osborne’s mansion tax

SIR – While the Autumn Statement’s abolition of the slab-rate system for stamp duty is to be welcomed, it is surprising to see the rates for higher-value properties increased. A £3 million property will now incur stamp duty of almost 10 per cent – a rise of nearly three percentage points, or 38 per cent in the amount of tax paid.

By introducing his own mansion tax, the Chancellor is playing politics to try to neutralise the issue ahead of the election.

Simon Malcolm
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

SIR – I am surprised to hear that the Funding for Lending Scheme has been extended for another year after failing to spark a recovery in small business lending since it was launched.

Schemes like Funding for Lending are redundant in a market where solid, collateralised start-ups can’t raise the funding to match.

As the owner of a fast-growing, financial tech start-up, I was repeatedly refused funding by all the major British banks, despite my business passing due diligence in every instance. At Sonovate, we provide contract finance to the recruitment industry, meaning we require finance in order to expand – it’s fundamental to our business model. The fact that we have since received funding from an American bank, which means we’ll be able to finance up to £250 million in the British contract recruitment market within the next three years, shows that we have more than enough security to satisfy a lender’s requirements.

British banks have an over-traditional and conservative approach to lending which does not sit well with the innovative tech start-up scene in particular.

If banks insist on making lending decisions based on credit alone, they will continue to stifle the growth of the British start-up scene.

Richard Prime
London EC4

Thatcher’s Europe

Margaret Thatcher at the end of the European Economic Summit, 1984 (AP)

SIR – Ninety Liberal Democrats argued yesterday that Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech was pro-European. But the authors conflate being “pro-European” with favouring a European Union.

Thatcher explicitly said in the speech they quote that Britain and other nations should not be forced to submit to the idea of the federalist “European Project”: “The Community is not an end in itself. Nor is it an institutional device to be constantly modified according to the dictates of some abstract intellectual concept.”

That “abstract concept” is in direct conflict with Thatcher’s ideal of a “community” of nation states trading and working together, based on pragmatism rather than ideology.

In my mind, the late prime minister herself would now be questioning Britain’s continued involvement in the EU, and would consider another arrangement with our friends in Europe.

James A Paton
Billericay, Essex

Poetic appreciation

SIR – Perhaps your newspaper might start a haiku competition, in honour of the retirement of my charismatic and well-rewarded fellow poet, Herman van Rompuy. Here is my initial entry, the fruits of at least 30 seconds of hard poetic toil:

Half a mil, low tax,

Nice “work”, if you can get it,

Or, rather, “non-work”.

Dr David Money
Wolfson College, Cambridge

Stonehenge’s neighbours welcome a tunnel


SIR – Philip Johnston eulogises the glorious location of Stonehenge, which provides him and other motorists with a free view of the stones. He fails, however, to mention the vast pig farm to the south of the A303, which is a significant blot on that landscape. At least a tunnel would avoid the need to savour that part of his “great free spectacle”.

Stonehenge already receives over one million visitors a year, the majority of whom are not foreign. Building a tunnel is unlikely to reduce that number. Most long-suffering local residents and those who have to use the road daily welcome the Government’s solution to the current traffic problems. It is possible to see the stones from angles and viewing spots other than the A303 – though, of course, this means a small diversion.

Dr Michael Young
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Any improvement to the country’s buckling road system is to be welcomed but, yet again, the part of the A303 that is crying out for a dual carriageway will not be getting one.

The length from the west end of the Ilminster bypass to the east end of the Honiton bypass, which also includes a short length of the A30, is to receive only some nips and tucks. Instead, the A358 is to be made into a dual carriageway as a shortcut to the M5. All this will do is create another bottleneck for M5 traffic. I predict queues from the M5 all the way down to Ilminster.

John Deards
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – George Osborne’s £15 billion for roads appears to ignore the plight of Wales.

The capital city of Cardiff is virtually cut off from the north. Both social and commercial communications are diabolical. We would love just a decent A-road: a dual carriageway would be bliss.

Tom Jones
Croydon, Surrey

Abuse of British aid

SIR – Thank you for your report highlighting recent horrific abuses by the police force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

While the British Department for International Development’s commitment to improving the police and security sector in the DRC is commendable, this can only be meaningfully achieved if accompanied by pressure and scrutiny from the British Government to ensure beneficiaries comply with international human rights obligations. Every year we provide psychological treatment for dozens of women from the DRC who have been subjected to rape – including gang rape and multiple rape – by police and prison guards in official detention facilities. We published research earlier in the year concluding that these forms of sexual torture are routinely used by state officials to “punish” politically active women, including in the capital Kinshasa.

It is essential that British aid be dispersed with adequate checks and balances to ensure it is used to eliminate the practice of human rights violations, rather than fund them inadvertently.

Susan Munroe
Chief Executive Officer, Freedom from Torture
London N7

Hong Kong ban

SIR – If a select committee of MPs is denied access to Hong Kong by the Chinese government on the grounds that this is interference in the internal affairs of China, then the Foreign Office should reconsider the proposed visit to China early next year by the Duke of Cambridge.

It would put the Duke in an impossible position of appearing to condone the Chinese stance on the Hong Kong protests.

Elizabeth Cleghorn
Galashiels, Selkirk

SIR – During the hand-over of Hong Kong in 1997, three million its people were issued passports for life by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. To prevent the Commons committee from visiting them is simply wrong.

Ned Donovan
Pinedale, Wyoming, United States

The bitter truth

SIR – Patrick Fossett (Letters, December 2) will be disappointed when he reads the label on his Angostura bitters bottle and discovers that his Januarys are far from “dry”.

Peter Fineman
Warminster, Wiltshire

Christmas comes but once a year for dogs, too

Deck the paws: an early 20th-century Christmas card rings in the festive season (bridgemanart.com)

SIR – Well, I have seen it all now – Advent calendars for dogs.

Presumably it’s thought that they’ll understand the meaning of Advent when eating their treats each day.

Cynthia Crocker
Devizes, Wiltshire

SIR – If there are to be no traditional Nativity plays how will children learn what we are celebrating at this time of year?

Sarah Gilliat-Smith
Tonbridge, Kent

SIR – I’ve just received a voucher for money off hot cross buns. There can be no clearer indication that it’s nearly Christmas.

Michael Donovan
Gravesend, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – 2014 has been a remarkable year for Irish writing by any standards.

Writers in all genres have produced work that has gained attention and recognition at home and internationally. And Irish publishing continues to produce poetry, non-fiction, fiction for children and adults of the highest quality. This newspaper recently published a profile of Michael O’Brien whose O’Brien Press celebrated 40 years of publishing this year. “Down the years, the company has broken new ground for the domestic trade in the fields of culture, conservation and environment, true crime and, most strikingly, children’s literature,” Mick Heaney commented in his profile.

How disappointing then to learn that the Arts Council has chosen to reward this 40 years of achievement by handing the press an 84 per cent reduction in its grant – from €63,000 in 2014 to a mere €10,000 in 2015.

It achieved this drastic cut by moving the publisher from regular funding to the Title-by-Title Scheme, a scheme designed to support the costs of individual titles by publishers not in receipt of any other funding.

Of the 14 titles submitted by O’Brien Press, a mere two were funded. The clear signal from the council is that Ireland’s leading publisher of children’s books, and one of Ireland’s leading publishers of adult books is undeserving of serious support.

Perhaps it feels that Irish writers are best served by UK or US publishers and that publishing, unlike music, dance, theatre or film, is a relatively low priority.

We would argue that, on the contrary, Ireland needs a strong publishing industry, exactly as it needs other forms of creative endeavour, unless we’re to return to the bad old days of cultural cringe when all validation had to be external and we didn’t trust or support our own creativity.

We therefore urge the Arts Council to reconsider its almost total cut in O’Brien Press’s funding and to restore it immediately to regular funding at a level at least equal to its 2014 grant. – Yours, etc PETER SIRR Greenville Avenue, Dublin 8 FRANK McGUINNESS, JOHN BOYNE, ÉILÍS NÍ DHUIBHNE ROBERT DUNBAR MARITA CONLON-McKENNA DERMOT BOLGER ALICE TAYLOR MARY MORRISSY SUSAN LANIGAN

Sir, – In response to Anthea McTeirnan (“Good God, Hozier. What were you thinking?” December 3rd) , I would imagine that Hozier was thinking that being a feminist resides in considering women as equals to men. That being a feminist includes supporting a conscious decision to have a career in lingerie modelling as much as it does supporting the rights of women to achieve the same level of education as men, to achieve the same positions in the highest board rooms and as world leaders.

I would imagine that he thought being a feminist is more than just being vehemently opposed to the “objectification” of the female body but maybe being in support of ownership of that body. Not hiding that body. Just like not hiding an opinion in a board room. Or in a university lecture theatre.

But maybe I’m speculating, because surely it is considered a loss of one’s morals to have sang at, participated in or attended a show like the Victoria’s Secret one.

Maybe we should just ensure that women dress head to toe in black and cover up. That they aren’t seen in public. Because no society has ever done more for feminism than the one that tells women “no, you may not wear what you like and no, you must cover your skin”.

An independent decision by a woman about how she controls her own body, is surely not what Anthea McTeirnan is in favour of? – Yours, etc.


Spears Road,


Sir, – The recent study published by the Irish Medical Journal and reported in The Irish Times (“Sexually confused young people more vulnerable”, November 26th) clearly shows that young LGBT people are hurting.

Young people with concerns around sexual orientation, it says, are “14-times more likely to attempt suicide” and “16-times more likely to have been sexually assaulted” than their peers.

These figures are appalling and show urgent action is needed to ensure that these young people have every support they need from church and state to help them navigate what is an extremely difficult time in their lives.

One of the practical supports that we as LGBT people need is legal recognition for our longterm relationships. A recognition which will be put to a vote next year in the referendum on marriage equality.

It is therefore disappointing to read that Bishop Kevin Doran (“Bishop says opposition to same-sex marriage not about homosexuality”, November 28th) has stepped into the national arena to oppose such a legal recognition.

This opposition mistakenly suggests that the primary issue from a Catholic perspective is a legal one. It’s not. The primary issue here for the Catholic Church is not legal, it is pastoral.

The question is, do we as a church care about LGBT people who are suffering greatly as the study mentioned above, and others like it suggest? Have we put in place any pastoral care plan to respond to the needs of these vulnerable young LGBT people?

The fundamental question for the Catholic Church is: “Do we love our LGBT people?” What the LGBT community needs from Bishop Doran and the other bishops in the run-up to the referendum is a witness to the love that God has for the LGBT community and not instructions on how to vote in a referendum. – Yours, etc, DAVE DONNELLAN Secretary Gay Catholic Voice Ireland, Rialto, Dublin 8 .

Sir, – In Dáil Éireann yesterday Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald used the cover of parliamentary privilege to name a number of individuals said to be listed in an official report prepared by an official of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation dealing, inter alia, with allegations of tax evasion.

The naming of private individuals who have no opportunity to defend their good name is a privilege that should be used sparingly and only when the matter is one of the utmost seriousness and where there is no alternative means of having allegations properly investigated.

It is far from clear that the present case meets these criteria. One wonders why Ms McDonald or her leader have not felt that a similar resort to parliamentary privilege is not justified in the case of the allegations made by Máiria Cahill about sexual abuse perpetrated by senior IRA figures in Northern Ireland as well as the cover-up of these crimes by the wider republican movement.

It would appear that Sinn Féin applies a separate and tighter regime of privileged protection to the “good name” of IRA paedophiles. – Yours, etc, PADDY BARRY, Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Which is the greater wrong? That individuals have had their good names impugned by being named in the Dáil, or that allegations of tax evasion by senior politicians and members of the elite made 10 years ago had not been thoroughly investigated with the findings made public.

The reputation of the political system has been damaged. The reputation of politicians, the political system and many state agencies has been confirmed – self-serving and corrupt. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15. Sir, – I hold no brief for Sinn Féin. However, the naming of alleged Ansbacher account-holders by Mary Lou McDonald is to be applauded.

There is still a horrible culture of secrecy and cute hoorism in Ireland. Time to sweep away the dusty net curtains and let the sunshine in.– Yours, etc, PATRICIA R MOYNIHAN Castaheany, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Edinburgh, with a population of less than half a million people ( less than the population of Dublin) had at the latest official count, between April 2013 and March 2014, four hundred and thirty eight people sleeping rough on city streets, before they applied for assistance from the council.

According to new Scottish Government statistics, 363 people slept rough on the streets of its capital in just one night. In Dublin the latest and highest figure stands at 168.

While I don’t wish to excuse the lack of facilities for homeless people sleeping rough on Dublin’s streets, I do think a bit of perspective is needed. Ongoing lectures from holier-than-thou leaders of numerous advocacy groups are counter productive and much of the rhetoric one hears seems self indulgent.

Dublin for all its faults, and indeed the country as a whole, has a much better record in its dealings with the ever present scourge of homelessness and deprivation than most of the globes capitals. Credit where credit is due, please. –

Yours, etc,

NIALL GINTY Killester Dublin 5

Sir, – I refer to Paul Cullen’s article, “Cost of delaying dental care will be felt in the future” (December 2nd). I too have some concerns about the costs which will be paid in the future due to lack of dental screening for children.

In April 2013 The Irish Times published a report based on a Europe-wide study which found that people who drank sugar-sweetened drinks were at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

For every additional regular can-sized, sugar-sweetened drink per day there is a 22 per cent increased risk of developing the disease.

The medical profession regularly warns of the impending “epidemic” that is diabetes.

Dental screening is a simple and effective method of determining potential risks of future diseases such as diabetes which are not otherwise easily detected.

Cullen’s article refers to the financial costs of remedial dental work, thankfully this is possible even at a price; we enjoy no such luxury with diabetes.

The main political interest in dentistry in this country is on state provision of orthodontic services.

For the lucky few who receive state-funded orthodontic treatment, there is no provision of follow-up care and maintenance. The result is that it is now a regular occurrence for dentists to extract decayed teeth for patients for whom the state has provided orthodontic treatment a few years earlier.

The title of Cullen’s article may indeed be prophetic for more reasons than he describes. –Yours, etc,


Dental Surgeon,

Castle Street,


Sir, – I want to reply to comments made by Prof Jim Gleeson in relation to my letter on Junior Cycle changes (Letters, December 2nd).

Jim suggests that the changes mooted for the Junior Cycle are “necessary and progressive” and that my suggestion that the changes are “motivated by financial considerations is wide of the mark”.

While the changes in themselves might be “progressive”, and there is no shortage of evidence from the rest of Europe to question this claim, their mode of introduction was far from progressive and involved no debate with stakeholders in the context of Ireland and no effort was made to relate with teachers as progressive curriculum makers – it was presented as a straightforward top-down reform by former minister for education Ruaírí Quinn.

All I can say to the suggestion that the changes are not in any way related to “financial considerations” is that a quick re-read of the Lisbon Agreement and GATS agreement might remind Jim that education has been singled out as a lucrative public service for exploitation by corporate interests and that Ireland is a signatory to this. – Yours, etc, GERALDINE MOONEY SIMMIE Lecturer in Education, University of Limerick. Sir, – As any teacher worth their salt knows, student assessment is an essential part of the job, and it serves many purposes. Determining whether or not the individual “passes” or “fails” is only one, and arguably the least, of these.

Assessment allows the instructor to give the student feedback and suggestions for improvement; it lets both the student and the teacher gauge progress, and can alert to potential problems or difficulties before they become critical; it can offer encouragement and additional incentive to work that bit harder where needed; and it is thus a core part of the dialogue that all educators engage in with their students.

Like the proverbial iceberg, the public perception of the teacher’s roles tends to focus on the more visible parts.

The numbers of pupils who gain university places is often seen as an indicator of our own professional abilities, ignoring the often harder-won achievements of getting less promising students to achieve better than they might otherwise have done.

Perhaps if there was more explicit recognition of the broader role of student assessment, the contribution it makes to pedagogy as a whole, and the responsibilities it places on the part of the instructor to get it right, then at least some of the causes of the present dispute could be alleviated. – Yours, etc. DARIUS BARTLETT Department of Geography University College Cork.

Sir, – Tom Collins (Opinion & Analysis, December 3rd) argues how it is standard practice for third-level teachers to design their own course, teach and examine it and why should second-level teachers fear the same process.

Perhaps it hasn’t struck him that maybe it’s not fear at all, but the realisation that Irish universities languish in the lower strata of top colleges in the world .

Maybe rigorous external examination is exactly what our universities need to ensure that current standards will increase and they can hobnob with Harvard et al! – Yours, etc, AILEEN HOOPER, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7.

Sir, – Rosita Boland’s interview with Kay Maloney Caball about her book, The Kerry Girls’ (December 1st) was a fascinating insight into a little-known aspect of transportation to Australia during the Famine years. But unfortunate female paupers from all corners of Ireland suffered a similar cruel fate.

In Banbridge, Co Down we are particularly proud of our girls, 17 of whom travelled on the first sailing arriving in Sydney on October 6th, 1848. While the Belfast girls on the ship were described as “notoriously bad in every sense of the word,” in evidence before a committee of inquiry, the matron on The Earl Grey praised the Banbridge girls for their exemplary behaviour! – Yours, etc. DAVID GRIFFIN Banbridge, Co Down

Irish Independent:

December 10 is intended to be the biggest eruption of popular anger in recent Irish history. With the assistance of Government ineptitude this popular anger will gradually destroy the Coalition’s electoral strategy. It will prevent this Coalition’s re-election and – quite possibly – make the post-general election formation of a new coalition of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the rags of Labour very difficult.

The protest phenomenon is understandable. Even justified. But it offers no possibility of an agreed constructive alternative programme outside the realms of fantasy.

So what happens? Particularly if the Coalition’s economic strategy goes pear-shaped in the context of European and global realities.

Like most of your readers I need an assurance for which I can vote – that the incoming Government and Oireachtas might have what was absent from Kennyism: common sense, communication, proportionality of burden-carrying and European and global vision.

In the next Dail and Seanad we need to have a cohesive group of voices (however few can be mustered in the limited time available). These figures need to be articulate and organised enough to have some influence on what increasingly looks like being a mad house of discordant fragments.

The once-bitten twice-shy scepticism of the lenders and investors we will still need to put food on the national table.

There is the real possibility of an acute dysfunction of politics and governance from which the only ones to profit are those organised and ready to take over.

When Joan Burton was given a Gilmore-sent opportunity to bring Labour back into the 21st century, she threw back the ladder and continued digging frenetically at the hole to oblivion. The current Coalition may still break out of its cocoon of denial.

Alternatively, a new politics is still possible. Pioneered by a necessarily small but effective new grouping. Something for which we could vote. Maybe even campaign .

Maurice O’Connell

Tralee, Co Kerry


McDonald goes too far

In the 1700s the Age of Enlightenment writer and philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet (better known as Voltaire) is reputed to have said “With great power comes great responsibility”. This is as relevant today as it was all those years ago. It should be written in large letters over the doors of our parliament so all our parliamentarians could read and take notice as they enter the Dail chambers.

To stand up, as Sinn Fein deputy party leader Mary Lou McDonald did and refer to past and current members of Dail Eireann as possible tax evaders is a total abdication of her responsibilities as a parliamentarian and flies in the face of what any ordinary person would consider natural justice. Innocent until proven guilty.

Many of these men and women have given a lifetime of service to this country and deserve a fair hearing, not a political stunt designed to deflect the public gaze away from Sinn Fein’s troubles.

I would ask you, Ms McDonald, to stand up and immediately apologize to all of those whose reputations you have undoubtedly damaged. You should also consider your position on the public accounts committee, as it is apparent the weight of responsibility that comes with your position is too heavy of a burden for you to carry.

Eugene McGuinness

Kilkenny city


Action needed on homelessness

Groups like Simon, Threshold and the SVP have done great work in supporting those homeless or at risk of homelessness, but the issue needs urgency and serious debate in the Dail, which is there to represent all the people and to encourage the government to take quick action on crisis issues of the day.

The death of a homeless man in a doorway in Molesworth Street, 50 metres away from the Dail gates made RTE’s Six One News. It came at a time when rent supplements or low salaries not being enough to meet increasing high rents in Dublin was also in the news. I heard of a case where a lady and her children will have to leave their home soon, because the landlord will no longer accept rent allowance. The landlord explained the rent supplement was no longer high enough to help them meet their bills.

There is a need to bring in some form of rent control regulation, such as that that exists, I think, in Canada.

Homelessness is a serious issue and can happen to anyone when things go wrong in life. It isn’t always due to alcohol or drug addiction. It is affecting families and single parents with children and has been at crisis point all this year.

The media have done great work in highlighting this and the Government could perhaps bring in flexible rent control for starters. It is not a perfect solution, but it could help.

Mary Sullivan



Carrauntoohil cross

Statements by various, prominent atheistic individuals and groups that the culturally iconic cross on Carrauntoohil’s summit that was recently cut down and rightly re-instated “does not represent the whole community” are total red herrings.

Has anything in the grand entirety of human history ever represented the whole community that erected it? Moreover, are we now to destroy everything that doesn’t meet that impossibly arduous standard?

Killian Foley-Walsh

Kilkenny city


A new way of assessing students

Since the two major teachers’ unions have suggested that parents may bribe teachers to give their child a good grade and teachers basically cannot be trusted to be fair in their accessing of children, permit me to make the following suggestion.

I taught in the California secondary school system for over 35 years and graded/assessed my students twice a year – January and June. I assigned grades to approximately 160 students on seven subjects taught each day – in my case American Politics and Economics.

There were two major problems that resulted from this system. First, if any teacher gave too many failing grades many of his peers and administrators believed there was something lacking in that teacher’s ability to teach. Second, if, on the other hand, the teacher gave too many A grades, the same people believed that that teacher was “too easy and a pushover for students”.

So my suggestion to the Irish assessing of students goes like this. For example, on May 30 students in School A take the French exam beginning at 10am and ending at noon. At noon the students’ papers are picked up with their assigned exam number and are taken to School B for grading.

Within 96 hours – more or less depending on the amount of time needed to grade the particular subject – the papers are returned to school A for distribution to the students. And vice versa.

Advantages: Students get their results within seven days and the taxpayer is saved millions of euro over the school year.

Vincent J Lavery

Dalkey, Co Dublin

Irish Independent


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