6 December 2014 Joans books
I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get to the post office, Chemist and Co op. And Collects some books and Cat lit from Sandy at Joan’s house.
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up trout for tea and her tummy pain is still there.
Sally Hardcastle – obituary
Sally Hardcastle was a seasoned BBC journalist noted for her fair-minded presentation of Woman’s Hour and The World Tonight
5:37PM GMT 05 Dec 2014
Sally Hardcastle, who has died aged 69, was a newspaper journalist, a BBC television and radio reporter on programmes such as Nationwide, Tonight and The World Tonight and a presenter on the BBC World Service; her journalistic career embraced Britain’s accession to the EEC, the rise and fall of Thatcherism, and several economic recessions.
Sally Hardcastle was a consummate all-rounder, hard-working and focused in pursuit of her story, but fair-minded in its presentation. In office politics, by contrast, she said what she felt and what she believed, an attitude that often encouraged other more timid souls to speak out as well.
One of three children of William “Bill” Hardcastle, the founding presenter of BBC Radio 4’s World At One, Sally Turton Hardcastle was born in London on April 22 1945 and as an infant lived in Washington, DC, where her father was correspondent for the Reuters news agency. In the early 1950s the family returned to Britain, where her father became editor of the Daily Mail. The family settled at Carshalton, Surrey, where Sally and her sister Susie attended St Philomena’s convent school.
Her parents’ marriage broke down, and at the age of 15 Sally moved to Cornwall with her mother and siblings and attended Cornwall Technical College, where she gained her A-levels. As she grew up, however, she became determined to follow the father she idolised, and in 1962 she moved to Hedley in Surrey to live with him, taking a journalism college nearby. After stints on the Croydon Advertiser and the South Wales Echo, she joined the Sunday Express. In the late 1960s she had a spell on the New York Tribune.
She worked for the BBC in the mid-1970s as a reporter on BBC South before joining Roger Bolton’s reincarnation of Tonight, where colleagues included Vincent Hanna, Bernard Falk and a young Jeremy Paxman.
Her big break came when she joined Frank Bough and Sue Lawley at Nationwide, on which her intelligent questioning drew praise. By the 1980s she was making a name for herself at Radio 4 with such series as The 20th Century Remembered; she presented many of the station’s Profiles programmes, reported for and occasionally presented The World Tonight, and, in 1988, delivered a six-part series on the United States, From Sea to Shining Sea. She also presented Woman’s Hour.
What she really enjoyed, however, was on-the-ground work; so she found a home at The World Tonight reporting on party conferences, elections at home and abroad, and European politics, compiling a remarkable list of contacts in politics, business, industry and social services. These were people she could count on to perform in front of the microphone or camera at short notice.
Sally Hardcastle was popular among producers, editors and fellow reporters. Her infectious laughter, warm, smoky voice and illuminating conversation enlivened many an editorial conference as well as the bars around Fleet Street and Strasbourg. In the 1990s she moved to the BBC World Service at Bush House, where she presented programmes for the business news division; colleagues fondly remember her puffing a quick cigarette before the late-night broadcast in the Bush House car park.
The most self-effacing of broadcasters, she retired from the BBC quietly in 2008.
She was unmarried.
Sally Hardcastle, born April 22 1945, died November 10 2014
Judges of the European court of human rights enter the hearing room. ‘The universal declaration of human rights gave us all hope after the horrors of the second world war.’ Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters
When we consider human rights in Europe (The case against human rights, 4 December), we are concerned with the existing and constantly developing jurisprudence through the living instrument of the European convention on human rights. As with the improvement in safety standards in all walks of life, we can see the benefits of its application; it is statistically determinable. As a human rights lawyer, I have lived through the changes, and I have seen the safety, security and sense of justice it has brought to many people, including some of my clients, and including myself as a member of a long-suffering persecuted race, the Jews.
The fundamental aspects of European human rights law that, for me, appropriately manage the balance between the two opposing positions are that the European court of human rights is completely independent of political institutions and that it has no mechanism to enforce judgments. Interestingly enough as regards the latter, while governments may strongly disagree with its judgments, in most cases they comply with them, albeit on occasions grudgingly and doing the minimum. Importantly, it also requires aspiring members of the EU, such as Turkey, to demonstrate their commitment to the fundamental principles of human rights.
Of course, it is not perfect, particularly in the grey areas where collective morality is still developing and there are strong arguments on opposing sides. But it is a robust system that has proved its worth in Europe. There is still torture and extrajudicial killings by individual states on occasions, whether of their own citizens or others in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. But there is little disagreement today that torture and extrajudicial killings are culpable.
The problem with the global environment is that the United Nations is constrained by vetoing countries whose financial, political or strategic interests are inevitably at odds with each other. There is also constant political bargaining going on behind the scenes to influence its investigations, decisions and outcomes. So Russia will veto anything concerning the Syrian conflict and the US will veto anything concerning the Palestine-Israel conflict. Morality gives way to the interests of powerful countries and corporations – and it has always been thus. Until there is the political will to give the UN independence, it will continue to undertake vital work in the field of conflict, but be limited to clearing up the destruction and chaos and unable to prevent or minimise damage.
• Is Professor Eric Posner really arguing against human rights and aspirations after the Holocaust and genocide of last century? One might argue that development economics, which he obviously believes in, will only lead to an increase in global warming and will therefore be a threat to everyone’s right to life (article 3 of the universal declaration of human rights).
He emphasises the failures in dealing with human rights violations, but why the surprise? Tackling a global phenomenon such as war crimes and genocide is never going to be easy. But we all need hope and that is what the universal declaration of human rights gave us after the horrors of the second world war.
Can we now hear from the Guardian an argument for human rights ?
Mary Jean Bowles (social worker)
• Eric Posner makes a compelling case that, in terms of concrete deliverables, international human rights law has largely failed. But it is, nevertheless, the core, formal, global expression of two very welcome and not at all hubristic ideals: the notion that, prima facie, individuals have equal intrinsic worth and that their interests are best served by their participation in the exercise and legal regulation of public and private power. This particular genie is out of the historical bottle and, though we may agree with Posner that a humbler approach is overdue, it would be a big mistake to try to put it back.
Professor of human rights, University of Bristol Law School
• I was struck by the sentence “Westerners bear a responsibility to help poorer people living in foreign countries.” Given that that concept is a right and a proper thing, why are there so many poor people in our own areas?
• The notorious blasphemy law in Pakistan is mainly used to settle scores and punish and torture the weakest members of society (Report, 5 December). The UK government should not sit on the fence, and should demand its repeal. The Pakistani ruling elite and party officials have invested billions of pounds of dubious origin in the UK. Our government is well aware of these investments and should hit them where it hurts by questioning the source of these funds – and, while the investigations are in progress, demand the repeal of the blasphemy law in Pakistan.
The continuing US embargo on Cuba (Cuba’s extraordinary global medical record shames the US blockade, 4 December) says much about diplomacy and democracy in the world. The US’s only ally at the UN regarding the embargo is Israel (three Pacific islands abstained), as monolithic in the Middle East as the US is in the world. That Britain refuses to condemn Israel on Gaza yet votes with the 188 to remove the embargo, then lauds our special relationship with the US, says something else. That Cuba quietly leads the world in medical assistance to west Africa is hardly surprising. If it results in closer relationships between the US and Cuba that can only be good. An opportunity for British diplomacy?
• More than 160 Cuban health workers were already in west Africa by early October at a time when western countries were just beginning to consider what support to offer in the Ebola crisis – and the remainder of the promised total of 461 have been arriving in the weeks since then. The scale of Cuban support has been impressive both in terms of absolute numbers and in proportion to its own population of 11 million. And yet we hardly hear about their presence there or the impact they are having. Perhaps western media can’t stomach the fact that “the west” en bloc doesn’t have a monopoly of good intentions in relation to humanitarian intervention.
• During a recent visit to Cuba, I encountered people openly opposed to the regime, but who in a crisis would rally round Fidel and co because they have stuck two fingers up to the US for 50 years. So not only is the blockade cruel and vindictive – it is also counter-productive.
It’s not at all self-evident that linking Jews with sharpness about money constitutes antisemitism, let alone racism (Antisemitism is racism and merits equal contempt, 3 December). A character in the film Kes was accused of “throwing his money about like a Scotsman with no arms”. This kind of stereotyping – Italians with cowardice, Irish with stupidity, French with licentiousness, Americans with cultural shallowness, English with snobbery or emotional constipation – is mostly associated with rather coarse or lazy habits of mind, but it isn’t generally called antiScotsism, antiItalianism, or antiIrishism etc.
It isn’t always very nice, perhaps, but shouldn’t we at least equally challenge any assumption that generalisations about cultural differences between peoples and nations are always wrong? Remember, if it were so, positive qualities – of which so many and so significant are also attributed to the Jewish people and culture – would in logic have to go out with negative ones. True, history makes more slighting, perhaps uglier, references to Jews than those other examples. But for Jewish people to be so quick to be thin-skinned is not good either, and is in danger of seeming coercive.Baddiel’s throwaway parenthesis on Israel’s being “deemed the nutcase pariah-state du jour”, is frankly disreputable, and gives the impression that he is “playing the antisemitism card” with more in mind than the banal misspeakings of a few footballers.
• David Baddiel suggests that “the left” has become even “more ambiguous” about Jews, because it has deemed Israel the “nutcase pariah state du jour”, thereby implying that it is antisemitic. The ambiguity lies more with David than “the left”, because those who criticise Israel do so from consistent anti-racism. They criticise Israel for its racist treatment of Palestinians through a policy of ethnic cleansing that began in 1947-8, and continues to this day. Just as “the left” opposed apartheid in South Africa on the grounds of racism, so today Israel has made itself the “pariah state” for many, who are not even on the left.
I’ve received a card in aid of an emergency rescue scheme for Scottish terriers. Difficult to imagine this will be bettered as the most ludicrous cause encountered this Christmas or can other Guardian readers disabuse me of this uncharitable thought?
• Landlines to buildings may be quaint (Letters, 5 December) but at least they mean that we don’t have to listen to your telephone conversations in public.
• How does Nigel Farage expect breastfeeding women to sit in a corner while they’re cleaning behind the fridge (Report, 5 December)?
Chris Mullin writes: In 1970 I stood against Jeremy Thorpe as the Labour candidate in North Devon. He impressed me for several reasons. North Devon was a classic rural constituency with all the prejudices one might expect of such a seat. It was also highly marginal (he was up against a very rightwing Conservative and held on by only 369 votes). Yet he refused to pander. Most of his constituents were opposed to what was then known as the Common Market; he was in favour. They were strongly anti-immigrant (though there were virtually no foreigners), but he was liberal on immigration. Most of his constituents were keen on the death penalty (though there were few if any murders in North Devon); he was opposed.
At the count, when I was found to be a few votes short of holding on to my deposit (which in those days required 12.5% of the total votes cast) he graciously insisted on a recount to see if the extra votes could be found.
In those far-off days, before misfortune overtook him, Thorpe had galvanised political life in North Devon, holding meetings in every village, sometimes as many as four or five a night in addition to a gruelling daytime schedule of national events. The electoral turnout was 85%, and a crowd of thousands attended the final hustings and the declaration of the result. Much of that was down to his extraordinary magnetism.
I may have been young and impressionable, but I prefer to remember Thorpe as I knew him when he was at the height of his powers, rather than the tragic figure he later became.
By far the biggest tax hike of recent times for most people was the increase of VAT, by one-seventh, imposed in 2010. This has had a much bigger effect on most people’s standard of living than minor tinkering with tax thresholds.
Tax avoidance by multi-nationals has increased as the result of a number of other Coalition measures, in particular the 2012 Controlled Foreign Company rules which massively widens opportunities to gain from tax exemptions and which the Government shows no sign of repealing
Corporation tax has now been cut from 28 to 21 and soon to 20 per cent under this Government, and exemptions expanded.
The result of all this is that the UK Government now raises substantially more from indirect tax than from tax on income and capital. Hence the current discussion of income tax is really beside the point.
Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby
University of Kent, Canterbury
Fears have been expressed that stamp duty could become a “stealth tax” (5 December). It has long been a stealth tax. When first introduced in its modern form in the 1950s the threshold was set so that only the most expensive houses would attract the duty. At a time when a three-bedroom house in London cost in the region of £5,000, the threshold for stamp-duty liability was £30,000 – the equivalent of a £3m house now. As house prices rose, successive governments left the threshold as it was, so that virtually all house sales attracted the duty.
The introduction of banding goes some way to redress the balance but stamp duty is now seen as a revenue stream rather than a redistributive mechanism to transfer wealth from the mega-wealthy to society as a whole.
A projected £55bn or more of cuts in government expenditure is likely to hit “welfare” hardest (the disabled, unemployed, and those unable to pay rising rents). Either that or there will be a huge increase in personal debt, leading to another disastrous financial collapse, like that of 2008.
Meanwhile, a totally useless project sails on, immune and protected – the £50-£100bn Trident missile project. No political party has the guts to confront this obscenity.
Instead they are all quite happy to ruin people’s lives, the economy and the very future of the United Kingdom in attempts to pay off the government debt mountain. We are insane to stand for this.
One realises that we remain a deeply socially divided society when even a writer in The Independent (Andy McSmith, 5 December) can say of Jeremy Thorpe, vis à vis Harold Wilson and Edward Heath: “Intellectually he was their equal, while socially he was a cut above them”.
This is a sorry attitude in this day and age. Socially he may have been very different, but to imply that this difference means better goes a long way to explaining the problems with this country.
Witness an Autumn Statement that essentially takes from the poorer sections of society and gives to the better-off as a solution to our mainly banker-created debt.
With his insistence on off-balance-sheet PFI (private finance initiative), Gordon Brown loaded what is effectively the nation’s credit card. Now George Osborne hopes that we will emulate the ex-chancellor’s imprudence in our personal finances and thus make him appear competent.
pupils suffering over a-level uncertainty MP Graham Stuart’s contribution to the debate surrounding A-level reform has added further confusion to the educational landscape (“Senior Tory’s U-turn on proposal to scrap AS-levels, 4 December).
The situation we find ourselves in is somewhere between Pythonesque and Kafkaesque; during the course of one night next May, the entire educational landscape will be shaped. As of now, a Labour government will retain A-levels in their current form, whereas a Conservative government will implement reform for some subjects but not others, against the advice of teachers, universities and now, it seems, their own party.
Right now, we have pupils and parents in the position of choosing A-levels without knowing what they will look like; teachers choosing between syllabuses that may not come into existence, and careers staff who are unable to give proper guidance on how universities will go about admitting youngsters in less than two years’ time.
Next year’s election is unlikely to be won or lost on A-level reform. But – though it sounds melodramatic to say it – we are playing politics with pupils’ futures. It is in the national interest to remove the chaos and uncertainty of the current position.
Can both parties and Ofqual not come to a sensible arrangement and agree on a common timetable for A-level reform so that pupils and teachers can plan for the future properly?
Headmaster, Durham School, Durham
Graham Stuart’s revised view of the value of AS- levels was fascinating if only for his reported statement: “My instinct originally was the same as [Gove’s] until I talked to headteachers in my constituency”. Well, that would have been a good place to start, wouldn’t it, rather than relying on instinct or, worse, on the hectoring Gove rhetoric?
Rosie Millard’s call for a halt to the prescription of paracetamol (29 November) initially seems attractive. But things are not so simple.
As a former GP, I sometimes prescribed paracetamol, most often in liquid form for children with distressing conditions such as earache. Done with clear explanation that the child required pain relief rather than antibiotics, this has several benefits. Avoidance of unnecessary use of antibiotics both saves money and decreases the risk of the worrying spread of antibiotic resistance.
Prescription validates rather than dismisses the symptoms and the concerns they engender, but gives an opportunity to demonstrate that in the future similar illness can be safely managed at home with identical medicine (with the usual warnings to seek help if the pattern of illness is unusual or prolonged).
The prescription can only be dispensed by a pharmacy, where advice on the management of minor illness is readily available and from where the identical medication can be purchased for similar episodes in the future. Prescription is an endorsement of paracetamol as a real and effective medicine used by professionals. These are all steps that encourage people’s self-reliance and help limit demand on overstretched primary care services in the future.
Why the fuss about arms sales to Israel?
Such a show of heart-searching that the UK should be selling arms to Israel (report, 24 November). And to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Iran, China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and countless other paragons of human rights – 45 repressive states in all.
The bottom line is: we sell arms! So why single out Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East with a free press and universal suffrage and under an existential threat for the past 70 years? Benjamin Netanyahu said that if the Arabs were to lay down their arms, peace would break out, but if Israel were to lay down hers, she would be obliterated. It certainly looks that way.
Brighton, East Sussex
I am angry and ashamed that a luxury dinner for arms dealers was held at the Tower of London, just days after the ending of the poppy display (report, 28 November). It will be followed by an arms fair in London next September, promoting sales of arms, bombs and torture equipment. How many exhibitors would be willing to show us how “good” their products are by giving a personal demonstration, as a victim?
You report (5 December) that the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical commissioning group will be providing only one hearing aid to people with hearing difficulties. I have worn two hearing aids for 20 years and I also wear spectacles. How would most people manage if their optician prescribed a monocle?
Women get a dressing down
Men do have dress-code challenges, but are they really equivalent to women’s? (Letters, 5 December.) Are men told to take responsibility for their own sexual assaults, sometimes by the police, because of their choice of clothing? Or that their female colleagues’ poor behaviour towards them is caused by their choice of trousers?
Sir, Your extensive coverage of the loan to the Hermitage Museum from the British Museum of one of the works from the collection of my forebear, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, omits one item of family history that makes the loan even more significant.
A generation before Thomas, his cousin Robert Bruce served Peter the Great as the first commandant of St Petersburg, twice driving off Swedish attacks on this new city. His brother, James Daniel, Count Bruce, was the highest-ranking foreigner in the Russian Empire. He led the Russian delegation to the Congress of Aland, which concluded the Great Northern War. The Count was the first president of the Colleges of Industry and Mines, set up in St Petersburg as part of Tsar Peter’s modernisation of the Russian state. These colleges were in part the intellectual predecessors of the Hermitage.
James Daniel was a creature of his age, introducing to Russia many of the ideas and thinking of the West, including those of the nascent Scottish Enlightenment. He left a library of more than 1,500 works, and gifted the tsar a copy of his own Russian translation of the Scots laws of inheritance, most likely those of the great Scottish jurist, Lord Stair.
Neil MacGregor writes that the figure on loan to the Hermitage is an ambassador of European values. How fitting that it is moving between cultural institutions that were shaped by two members of the same family. It is a moment of great importance for the museums, and a moment of great significance for the family of these enlightened men.
Sir, Predictably, the (good) news, amply reported yesterday, that “Ilissos” is being loaned to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, has already re-ignited the contretemps between the UK and Greece, and rightly moves us to reflect on Athens’ legacy for our common European and indeed global cultural heritage.
But for all the eulogistic chorus of acclaim for Athens’ incalculable achievements — exemplified by Neil MacGregor’s article and your leader column yesterday — we should not forget that this was a society that zealously restricted political rights to a small minority of the population, in which even “free” women had no public voice, which in Pericles’ own time was proud to “rule over” other Greek states (and vigorously suppressed those which did not comply), and which was blighted throughout its history by the scourge of slavery.
Lindsay GH Hall
(former head of classics, St Aloysius College, Glasgow) Theale, Berks
Sir, It was with some incredulity I read the British Museum’s comment that the Greek government should be delighted that the Elgin Marbles were being loaned to the Hermitage in St Petersburg. The assumption that somehow only we know how to preserve such antiquities is breathtaking, and our Greek friends should rightly feel outraged at such a haughty attitude.
How would we feel if the Athens City Museum decided to “loan” Stonehenge to the Russians after having “acquired” the stones 200 years ago? Surely all the great art institutions of the world — in conjunction with national governments — should organise a mass amnesty of treasures, and repatriate these markers of our civilised origins to where they belong. At home.
Sir, Rather than our saying “no” to Greece, should we not say that we would be happy to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens, once they can be put back on the Parthenon (and not in a museum) and when the surrounding atmospheric conditions are as good as those in the British Museum. The Marbles are not art objects but part of the decoration of the finest Greek temple ever built.
Sir, The marbles in London are in better condition now than those in Athens, if only thanks to 200 years of indoor storage. The British Museum is the current trustee of art which has directly influenced all of the western world. There is no chain, even on an emotional basis, running back an unbroken 2,500 years to give anyone title to the sculptures. Preservation and public access, not nationalistic concepts of ownership, must be the duty of anyone acting in the interest of these remarkable survivals.
Charles R Peck
Friston, E Sussex
Sir, In a world where so many peoples of so many different beliefs are at war with each other, how wonderful that the curators of two of the world’s leading museums have risen above all this, thereby allowing many to see these extraordinary treasures.
Sir, I note the positions of Bill Murray, Matt Damon and George Clooney on the return of the Elgin Marbles and wonder if the US government will support their view.
I’m sure many Native Americans will be hoping for similiar altruism over the repatriation of assets lost under dubious circumstances in the 19th century.
Honley, W Yorks
Sir, Nobody is being fooled here. Later this month George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon will undoubtedly launch a clever heist, and the artwork will magically appear in Greece.
All this will be filmed, of course.
Sir, Glad as we are that the Russians are getting the chance to see the Elgin Marbles, we should spare a thought for those having the immense responsibility of getting these treasures there and back without damage. I am reminded of the sculpture deliverer who observed with nostalgia: “It was easy with ’Enery Moore — you could get yer ’ook in the ’oles.”
Sir, A second lingam, or part of one at least, on the front page of The Times within the space of a lunar month (Dec 5, and Michaelangelo’s David, Nov 11). Is this a record?
Sir, Your report “Troops spent truce plotting sniper’s death” (Dec 5) reminded me of a story my father told. The minimum distance between opposing trenches was always greater than a grenade throw. There were smaller trenches dug at right angles to the main lines, projecting towards the enemy lines. These had a protective metal shield, pierced with an observation slot. At stand-to, before last light, and before dawn, observers manned these posts to give early warning of attacks. In one area in which he served, men on dawn duty took tins of jam and bully beef with them, which they hurled into the enemy trenches and received back sausage and bread, on a daily basis.
Brigadier WP Bewley
Sir, More than 60 years ago pupils at Felixstowe Central Junior School were informed by our excellent but formidable music teacher, Miss Williams, that it was unforgivable to cough in public (“Violinist’s return hits sour note with upset over coughing child”, Dec 4).
She taught us to concentrate on swallowing the cough, a technique which has stood me in good stead ever since. How I wish Miss Williams’ advice could be universally heeded.
Sir, I was amused by the “vestigial tail” of Janice Turner’s accent (Notebook, Dec 4). I was also born in God’s Own County and, as a student teacher in Chelsea, was often ragged about my provincial accent. I scarcely modified it until one day in my first teaching post in Wimbledon, when I was teaching Tudor history to a class of nine-year-old boys. They were hysterical with laughter at the thought of Henry VIII having an “ant”. I resisted the urge to tell them that he was interested in insects and had a collection to be proud of at Hampton Court.
Sir, If having a personal numberplate, a hot tub, and a TV in every room meant that I had arrived, I would be forced to turn around and go back (“The ‘made it’ list”, Dec 4).
Bradford on Avon, Wilts
Sir, Soon after the story had broken involving Jeremy Thorpe (obituary, Dec 5) and Norman Scott’s dog Rinka, my father (Andrew Roth, obituary Aug 13, 2010) and I were walking down the ramp into the House of Commons car park when the Liberal MP Clement Freud (obituary, April 17, 2009) happened to drive out.
I had our family dog on a lead; my father was holding a tin of dog food. Freud stopped his car and my father apologised that we were using the wrong kind of dog food, not the brand Freud had been advertising on TV.
Freud responded with a grin: “I’ve a gun in the boot, if you want me to shoot your dog.”
High rents encourage property purchases by foreigners, who let them out. Photo: GETTY
7:00AM GMT 05 Dec 2014
SIR – 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.
High rents are encouraging property purchases by foreigners, who let them out and take the returns out of the country. Others are prevented by rising house prices from becoming house owners in the process.
The reduction in stamp duty will only make these trends worse. It should be restricted to those who buy property to occupy.
A B Crews
SIR – Stamp duty reform will give the housing market a much needed boost as it ambles along its traditional pre-election slowdown. Indeed, these changes should have been introduced earlier this year at the Budget. With the average cost of a house now £272,000 (and £514,000 in London), easing the stamp duty bill for people at the bottom of the ladder should get the market moving.
Managing Director, Bishop’s Move
SIR – The Chancellor is to be applauded for his alterations to stamp duty. This contrasts with the coming introduction of penal rates of stamp duty in Scotland. These are deliberately designed to hit hard-working families with significant increases on even modest property purchases.
Harry L Barker
North Berwick, East Lothian
SIR – How naive can people be? Within weeks, the price of houses will have adjusted to take account of the stamp duty changes.
SIR – The tax raked in through stamp duty is pernicious, and for most people is levied on money already subject to income tax.
Combined with the repayment of student loans, stamp duty is condemning the next generation to being Generation Rent.
The total raised by stamp duty matches the overseas aid bill. If charity begins at home, it would be good to be able to afford a home.
SIR – Why is it the purchaser who has to pay the stamp duty on a property?
The vendor makes the profit and is therefore the one who has the means to pay the tax.
At least vendor and purchaser could share the payment.
SIR – If all the resources the Government devotes to devising ever more tax-raising schemes were put into first reducing its thoughtless expenditure, we would have a balanced budget like most ordinary British taxpayers.
SIR – Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has again repeated the statement that “families are paying £450 more a year in higher VAT”.
This is economic illiteracy. The rate went from 17.5 to 20 per cent, so if that £450 is a direct result of the 2.5 per cent increase, this represents a gross spend of £21,600.
However, the biggest items in a family budget are not subject to VAT – including mortgage payments or rent, food (with some exceptions), public transport, council tax and water bills.
The average salary in the United Kingdom is around £26,000, so where does Ed Balls get his figures from?
Carers paying for care
SIR – I am a registered disabled OAP. My wife receives a carer’s allowance (report, December 2). On becoming of pensionable age, this benefit ceases and she will be required to put her pension towards my care. This, understandably, she objects to.
When this time arrives we are pondering what to do with me. I have suggested she deposit me at our local hospital with an overnight bag to allow Social Services to spring into action.
Any other ideas of what to do with me? We have ruled out the one-way trip to Switzerland and, although ex-military, I am not eligible to become a Chelsea Pensioner.
Dr Adrian Greaves
Who joins the Forces
SIR – The pages showing our war dead in Afghanistan paid fitting tribute (“We will remember them”, December 2).
I was surprised to see that, of the 453 people shown, there were only three British blacks and no British Asians. This, if representative, suggests that they are very poorly represented in the Services.
That is the opposite of the American armed forces, where blacks and Hispanics have a representation higher than in the total population.
So it seems that young blacks and Asians are missing a great opportunity for a proud career contributing to their country, with good training for civilian work afterwards.
SIR – Travelling in rural Uganda, we stopped to refuel. On the forecourt a man was selling paper cones of fried grasshoppers. I asked our driver what they tasted like. “Oh, a bit like locusts,” was his reply.
SIR – Dr Michael Young bemoans the vast pig farm to the south of the A303 at Stonehenge.
However, on a recent trip we passed tourists taking photos of the pigs and ignoring the stones. A “great free spectacle” indeed.
Powntley Copse, Hampshire
Bins vs rubbish bags
SIR – We in the Sevenoaks district council area can only marvel at the generosity of councils that give out free bins. We get none at all, just two different types of plastic bag, one for recyclables, the other for everything else.
It will be interesting to see if new regulations make any difference.
SIR – I long for just six bins, having eight: non-recyclables; garden waste; plastic; cardboard; paper; recycling (tins, glass etc); food bin (large); food bin (caddy).
SIR – Having a baby is indeed hazardous, and even delivery in hospital cannot guarantee safety.
Some years ago I was having a baby in a London teaching hospital when my husband, a doctor, noted that the baby’s heart rate was slow – something the overworked midwives had missed. He raised the alarm and within minutes I was in theatre.
After my son had been safely delivered, the surgeon explained that the blood supply to my unborn baby had failed and a delay in delivery could have caused death or irreversible brain damage.
SIR – The Church of England is concerned that attendance at Sunday services is falling because of competing demands. It should follow the Roman Catholic Church, whose Saturday evening Masses are often crowded.
Seaford, East Sussex
SIR –The assumption that everyone pours themselves a large glass of wine on returning home is reinforced by lazy directors of television crime programmes, soaps and comedies who constantly use this hackneyed device.
To demonstrate that the character is now at home relaxing, they could get them to make a cup of tea or switch on The Archers – or for heightened excitement, both.
Good Christians rejoice in the Christmas story
From Orient to the fields of home: three kings, shepherds, Mary and child gather in Dorset
SIR – Is there now no room for the traditional nativity play (Comment, December 3)? If we ignore the reason for the season, we will let the next generation believe Christmas is all about worship at the shopping mall.
SIR – I have been the writer and producer of the Wintershall nativity play for over 20 years. Each year, we have 10 performances, either at the BBC piazza in London, or at Wintershall, at a barn on a hill just south of Guildford. In each, our team of 60 adults and children perform the play. There are donkeys and horses (we cannot afford camels any longer). A great flock of sheep and shepherds round bonfires are dazed in wonder at the appearance of an angel high in the trees who tells them that their Saviour has been born. Herod and his rough soldiers appear, as do the Wise Men and a beautiful Mary with a real baby of just a few weeks.
Each year the audiences are amazed: children adore it and the volunteer cast finish the run exhausted but overjoyed.
Watching the nativity, children see a different slant on Jesus and learn about love. It’s a happy story that must never be forgotten.
Bicester doesn’t need new houses, it needs roads
SIR – Is there really such a clamour for housing in Bicester (report, December 2)? More than four years ago, building began on an estate on the western edge of the town: almost 1,600 dwellings, two schools, commercial and community facilities are planned. Four large construction companies are involved. The estate is far from complete.
Despite this tardiness, another large housing project is under way. On the northern outskirts of Bicester, there’s development on the former US Air Force base in Upper Heyford, and many villages in north Oxfordshire have planning applications for several acres apiece of new housing.
Is there really a demand for all these houses?
SIR – Is the Conservative Party hell-bent on losing the next election? The building of houses in Bicester, Witney, Carterton and Abingdon without the necessary infrastructure has resulted in near gridlock at busy periods each day.
Before a tunnel is built under Stonehenge (Letters, December 4), the A40 and the A34 require upgrading, and the roundabouts need flyovers.
Old Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire
Sir, – I have read and closely observed Irish politics for over 40 years. Over this period the term “sophisticated electorate” has been ascribed to the Irish voting public by media commentators, analysts and opinion formers on many poccasions.
I have never subscribed to such a flattering description of ourselves. Nor am I about to change my mind given the results of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll.
We have a well established penchant for being taken in and being bought by populist rhetoric and facile solutions to current problems which themselves are the result of such past cynicism.
Hence I believe successive cycles of boom and (mostly) bust and our failure to build real sustainable prosperity for our people, notwithstanding our enormous riches in human capital and natural resources.
It is natural to fulminate and rail against the politicians but we mustn’t forget it is we who elect them. For reasons for our condition we should look in the mirror. Casting one’s vote is an important responsibility not to be taken without thought and reflection. The next general election will provide us with yet another opportunity to demonstrate how really sophisticated we are. – Yours etc, PJ McDERMOTT, Westport, Co Mayo. Sir, – The results of the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll are nothing short of sensational. For the first time, probably in history of this State, the establishment parties which have been running the State from its inception cannot even muster the support of half the electorate: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour combined now have only 46 per cent of support.
Rather than a recognition of the Independents as the new white knights, the results indicate the level of disillusionment with “the politics as usual” the current Government has continued to pursue after its predecessors were voted out of office.
Will the Government take more note of these findings than of previous ones which show the same unmistakable trend?
If not, could they at least stop repeating that worn-out cliché of that latter-day Irish saint, Bill Clinton, that it is only “the economy, stupid”. Quite clearly, it isn’t. – Yours, etc, JOACHIM FISCHER Ballina, Co Tipperary Sir, – When it comes to getting elected, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour appear to accept without question Bill Clinton’s slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid”. For the sake of a questionable Thatcherite philosophy, the Irish people are expected to accept reductions in taxation for people on higher incomes, and at the same time have water charges applied to 300,000 Irish people who are close to, or are, living in poverty.
It appears obvious to me that the Irish people have a philosophy which is totally at variance with the Thatcherism of these three parties, and this is why they are doing so badly in the polls.
Our politicians need to learn that we have decided “It’s the society, stupid”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It is hard to know what purpose Nail Ginty (December 5th) was seeking to serve by comparing homeless figures in Dublin and Edinburgh, but it had all the appearance of trying to make a case that the Dublin crisis is somehow okay on the basis that the problem is worse elsewhere.
I am sure that the Scots are well capable of addressing any problems that they may have. Given the protracted history of the problem in Dublin, it is safer to conclude that the will to tackle the crisis may not exist here, and seeking to emolliate the extent of the problem with spurious comparisons will do nothing to get the relevant authorities off their backsides and deal with this shameful issue once and for all. – Yours, etc,
Sligo. Sir, – The key cost in providing new homes is the price of land. In particular in Dublin city centre and its immediate area which is “suffering” from spiralling inflation.
In every major city globally, in which land is at a premium, the closer to the city you get, property has gone in one direction. Towards the sky. If we want to house people in an affordable manner, in close proximity of the city centre, we simply have to go up and beyond the maximum four storeys we allow for residential buildings. We need to learn from the past with no repeats of building high-rise slums, which happened in the 1960s in the UK and Ireland.
We need to build quality, with a mix of family units and single-person units. We cannot leave this in the hands of developers to create expensive high-rise apartments for privileged classes who want a city pad, and we must not build social housing which can be speculatively sold off in a social-housing sell-off, another error of the past we need not repeat.
To fit the housing we need on the footprint of land we have in Dublin, we have to think beyond what we have now and look to the sky. – Yours, etc, BRENDAN QUINN Enniscrone, Co Sligo.
Sir, – I see the cross-Border bid for Ireland to stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup has received the enthusiastic backing of Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Could Mr McGuinness’s fervent support for the splendid initiative be regarded as a tacit acceptance by him and his party that the Border will remain in existence for some time yet? – Yours, etc, PAUL DELANEY, Dalkey, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I would have thought that second level teachers would be up in arms about their professional integrity being called into question by their own union executive.
Apparently teachers cannot be trusted to be impartial when correcting pupils’ work.
Third-level lecturers have been marking their own students since time immemorial, and hand out grades from first-class honours down to fail. Assessment mid-cycle in secondary school is very useful to both pupil and teacher, but few would argue that Junior Cert results would be as significant to a career path as would those at Leaving Cert or degree level.
I have been a member of the TUI for over 30 years. My union’s position in the matter of correction now seems to be quite discriminatory. Third-level teachers are trusted whereas second level are not.
The only issues I have ever heard discussed in TUI in relation to our “self-correcting” have been to do with work load or rates of payment. Neither bias nor lack of professionalism has ever been an issue.
I am just coming to the end of three weeks’ assessment of essays, debates and written tests. The feedback emanating from these is extremely useful to both my teaching and my students. I am utterly impartial in my marking, and in all other dealings with my students. If I was not I could not call myself a professional, and therefore should not be teaching. – Yours etc, BRIAN MORRIS Dundalk Institute of Technology, Co Louth Sir, – The article by Dr Tom Collins (“Junior Cert reform vital to building level playing pitch”, December 3rd) reminds me of an opposition politician’s speech at election time.
All the faults of the past are highlighted with some exaggeration and the good points ignored with studied indifference. There is, however, a more frightening similarity.
There is a vague promise that reform of the Junior Cert, and in particular school-based assessment, will solve one of life’s most intractable problems – inequality.
Two unproven assertions are made. The first is that external assessment sustains inequality in the education system and the second is that school-based assessment will remedy this.
This level of discussion might be acceptable coming from politicians whose promises and policies we have come to suspect. A more thorough and nuanced response to the debate might be expected from an expert in the field.
If Dr Collins is correct then he should produce the evidence where this has happened or is happening and outline the inequalities which have been eradicated. Yes reform, but not a political campaign which owes more to the usual than to rigorous intelligent research and debate. – Yours, etc, DAN MALONEY Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin. A chara, – Does the proposed reform of the Junior Cert make a mockery of the “mock exams”?
If I get a C in my mocks, and an A in the State exams, which is most correct? For parents and pupils, does external assessment not serve a useful quality assessment of the teachers, and for the teachers, does it not serve a useful appraisal of their performance? – Is mise, etc, CORMAC O’CULAIN Blackhorse Avenue, Dublin 7
Sir, – Michael Redfern (Letters, December 3rd) rightly pointed to anomalies between the falling price of crude oil and the cost of transport fuel.
In the past, when oil prices rose, utility providers were sharply out of the blocks demanding increases to utility charges, while during the months of falling prices they have been remarkably quiet. But then so too has the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).
One of the duties for the CER is to ensure that prices charged to consumers are fair and reasonable. It is now time for the CER to act on behalf of the people it is supposed to represent and force these companies – some of which make huge annual profits – to reduce their utility rates. We all could do with a little austerity respite. – Yours, etc, JOHN BELLEW Dunleer, Co Louth.
Firstly, I want to pass on my deepest condolences to the family of the late Jonathan Corrie on his sad and tragic passing – may he rest in peace.
Are we to wait until our children start dying on our streets before the homeless situation is dealt with in any meaningful way? This will happen if the relevant authority doesn’t act immediately and make homes (not emergency accommodation) available to all who – for whatever reason – find themselves living on the streets.
Emergency accommodation is important in the short term, but it’s not the answer to this crisis. Having children put out of their hotel rooms on these bitterly-cold winter mornings and not allowed to return until the evening must not be allowed continue.
There are many, many other downsides to emergency accommodation – far too many for me to cover here. Yes, it is a start, but my fear would be that once all of our homeless are accommodated in emergency accommodation then the urgency on homelessness will not be urgent any more.
Let’s face it – it wasn’t the night that Jonathan Corrie died alone on a freezing-cold winter’s night on a street of our capital city that homelessness became an emergency.
There was never a plan in place to deal with the situation. It wasn’t taken in hand and dealt with before it reached crisis situation. The homeless didn’t matter to the authorities responsible for providing social housing – that is obvious. The homeless do not have a vote – need I say more?
Let’s hope that the death of Mr Corrie is a wake-up call to all. We took to the streets in our thousands to protest about water charges and, prior to that, did likewise when the old-age pension was in danger of being cut.
Perhaps now we should all look deep down into our hearts and ask ourselves if maybe we might just have our priorities all wrong.
Please God, there will be nobody living on the streets soon and certainly not by Christmas Day. If we cannot provide that basic right to which all citizens of this state are entitled – doesn’t that speak volumes of what sort of society we have become?
Phyl Mhic Oscair
Baile Atha Cliath 9
Sign of Enda times
The Christmas season has cranked up a few gears, with a regular dose of seasonal songs now being audible. Perhaps a modern version of an old favourite might be appropriate at the FG sing-song for Enda.
“Enda the Red’ will reign dear. He has a very smiley pose .
“And if you want a selfie , put the iPhone to his nose .
“All his Santa’s little helpers, would like to give him the heave-ho.
“But ‘Enda the Red’ will reign dear. The Mayo-master just won’t go.
“Then one foggy Christmas Eve , Merkel came to say,
“‘Enda, don’t you give rebates. Charge the peasants water rates’.
“Then all the helpers shoved him, as they mouthed-off with glee,
“Enda the Red won’t reign dear. He’s consigned to history.”
Actually on a serious note, what this country needs is someone who knows what this country needs!
A happy and cheery Christmas to all the witty/humorous contributors who grace this page.
Tramore, Co Waterford
Our water needs to remain ours
A recent report shows that the 19 British water firms made profits of more than £2.05bn in 2013, handed out £1.86bn to shareholders, but paid just £74m in tax. Seven of them paid no corporation tax at all.
As water bills for British customers steadily increase, the most common utility people have arrears on is water. Just over two million people are in water arrears. Private water firms know that they can continue to ratchet up charges, as water is the one service no one can ever do without. Ireland has been a world leader in progressive legislation, such as the smoking ban and the plastic bag tax. We now have an opportunity to lead by example in facing down the predatory power of the multinationals, by enshrining our inalienable rights to ownership and control of our natural resources through a constitutional referendum.
Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Age of austerity should end
The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, the international Monetary Fund, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are all in favour of continued austerity. Do they have any idea how it is affecting people? Do they even care?
People can barely manage as it is, with costs rising and salaries, pensions and unemployment benefit all static. The plan for the immediate future needs to change direction and give people some breathing space.
Portmarnock, Co Dublin
Santa Claus for thought
For many hard-pressed parents this season is surely a case of ‘dear’ Santa…?
Beaumont, Dublin 9
Being an art lover, I was horrified when a Claude Monet painting was damaged in the National Art Gallery. It seemed malicious. But, bloody hell, six years in prison? It’s a bloody painting. We live in a country where white-collar crime is rampant .
We have people living on our streets and children going hungry – and yet it’s appropriate to send someone to prison for six years for damaging a piece of art. I wonder what Monet would say.
Sandyford, Dublin 18
Giving something special
I am a senior person – very much so – not particularly well-off, just getting by without any frills, but lucky enough to have a small roof over my head, for myself, and for passing to my family.
In all my years, despite at times feeling great frustration and fury at how my beloved country was being mismanaged, I have never once written to a newspaper to complain/to give vent to my anger, feeling, “what the hell, it won’t do any good anyway”.
But now, looking at TV images showing the misery our poor homeless people are enduring on our freezing streets, I feel that I have to give expression to my thoughts, by at least making a suggestion which, if taken up, will, I fell sure, do some good, in even a small way.
Suppose, if instead of giving each other gifts at Christmas – continuing a custom supposedly started by three wise men a long time ago – we were to forego giving our family and friends gifts, and instead donate the value of what those gifts would have been to the charities (like say, the Simon Community, Focus Ireland, and others) working to help the poor unfortunates on our streets?
I have explained to my own family that instead of giving them gifts this year, I will be donating their monetary value to the above named charities.
I also requested that monies to the value of gifts intended for me should, likewise, be donated for this charitable purpose – for my part, I will feel “a happier Christmas” because of this, rather than whatever pleasure I would have derived from receiving a gift. The monetary value of the intended gifts should not be disclosed.
If one believes the family story from times past of the couple who could not “find room at the inn”, at least they had the roof of a stable over their heads and the breaths of the animals to keep them warm – a lot more comfort than very many people living on our streets have today.
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