27 January 2015 Clinic
Mary manages to get to Clinic, just. We meet Jill and Nonny rings.
Professor John Hibbs, transport economist – obituary
Creator of the academic discipline of Transport Studies who inspired the Conservatives’ deregulation of buses
Professor John Hibbs, who has died aged 89, was instrumental in establishing Transport Studies as a credible and important academic subject and as a highly professional discipline; he effectively created the subject of transport economics, encouraged a whole new cadre of transport specialists and served as a government adviser.
A long-time Liberal, Hibbs was transport adviser to the party, and a constituency activist, though in fact his “small-l” liberal economic views found a readier audience in the Conservative Party. In particular he was influential in formulating the 1980 Transport Act, which deregulated long-distance coach services, and the more controversial 1985 Transport Act introduced by the transport secretary Nicholas Ridley, which partially deregulated the local bus market through franchising.
Hibbs regretted that the government had not bitten the bullet and gone for complete deregulation – a move which was viewed as a step too far by many Tories, worried about the future of commercially unviable rural bus services.
Later, Hibbs advised John Major on railway privatisation, recommending that the government should identify a series of viable companies that could be placed on the market, having “vertical integration” of track and train services.
In the event, though, the government decided, in the light of a Brussels directive to separate the finances of operation and infrastructure, and to split the business of running trains from that of maintaining the track, leading, as Hibbs put it in 2002, “to the mess we are in today”.
John Albert Blyth Hibbs was born in Birmingham on May 5 1925, but spent his childhood in Brightlingsea, Essex. His father, a Congregationalist minister, died just 10 days after he was born and he was brought up by his mother, supported by two aunts and his grandmother. He was educated at Colchester Royal Grammar School and Haileybury. By the time he was 18, Hibbs was a committed pacifist. Registered as a conscientious objector, he spent the time when he would otherwise have been on National Service working in agriculture and in hospitals.
He took a Birmingham University degree in Social Studies at Woodbrooke, a Quaker college in Selly Oak. During his second year he secured a placement with Premier Travel, a Cambridge bus and coach company, an experience which helped informed a dissertation on “The place of the motor bus in the rural economy”, and led to a job as personal assistant to the managing director.
In 1952 he returned to academe as Rees Jeffreys Research Student at the London School of Economics, where he embarked on an MSc research project on the economics of the road transport (ie bus) licensing system. Then, after two years as a transport consultant and technical journalist, he and a colleague acquired a coach company in Suffolk, but the increase in rural car ownership and the stifling effect of bus licensing meant that it was difficult to make ends meet and the business had to be sold.
In 1961 Hibbs was appointed traffic survey officer at British Railways’ Eastern Region headquarters at Liverpool Street. There he undertook a wide range of projects involving computerised traffic analysis, costing, market research, demand forecasting, and assessing the market for specific passenger train services.
But, increasingly frustrated at conservative attitudes to change within the industry, he accepted the challenge of creating the first British undergraduate course in Transport Studies at what was then City of London College (now London Metropolitan University).
He remained there until 1973, when he took up a post at Birmingham Polytechnic (now Aston University), where he became director of Transport Studies and developed new courses, including a postgraduate diploma in Transport Management, supervising students to MBA, MSc, MPhil, and PhD degrees. In parallel he gained his own PhD in 1983 with a thesis in which he compared different bus licensing systems around the world. In 1986 he was appointed professor of transport management.
Hibbs was in great demand as a conference speaker and external examiner. He was also active in professional bodies including the Chartered Institute of Transport, whose Proceedings he edited, and as vice-president of the Omnibus Society. He founded the Organisation of Teachers of Transport Studies (later, the Transport Teachers’ Association), and also the Roads and Road Transport History Conference/Association. He was appointed OBE in 1987.
Hibbs’s first marriage, to Constance, was dissolved. He is survived by his second wife, Paddy, by two sons and a daughter of his first marriage and by five step-children.
Professor John Hibbs, born May 5 1925, died November 7 2014
The new government being formed in Greece places people at the heart of its programme of change. The crippling bailout package imposed through the EU/IMF memorandum has created huge increases in unemployment – especially for the young. There is a consequent loss of health insurance and therefore access to health services for nearly one in five, as well as severe homelessness and energy disconnections. This has created what The Lancet has reported as a public-health tragedy. Wages and pensions have been drastically cut while living costs have soared. There has been an erosion of basic rights such as collective bargaining. As well as damaging society, these policies have failed to reboot the Greek economy, and the public debt in relation to GDP is now far greater than it was before the programme started in 2010.
The people of Greece have chosen a new path. They have chosen a government committed to ending the austerity programme. They have voted for immediate debt renegotiation. Repudiation of some and repayment of the rest linked to economic growth, to give creditors a stake in growing the economy. German postwar debt was managed like this in 1953. The Greeks have voted in a new sort of government that has placed addressing the humanitarian crisis at the top of its priorities. The government is taking immediate steps to support those suffering the most under the austerity programme.
The Greek election results have implications for the UK and the whole of Europe. Austerity policies have been a choice by those in power, and they have failed. Greece reminds us that different economics and politics are possible. Undoubtedly there will be pressure on the new Syriza government from the EU, the banks and their friends not to deliver their promises. We applaud the courage of the people of Greece in choosing hope – and a new direction in policy that can start to rebuild a sustainable Greek economy and faith in politics. It is in all of our interests to defend them. Solidarity with Greece at this time is an imperative.
Manuel Cortes President Greece Solidarity Campaign, Frances O’Grady General secretary, TUC, Ken Loach, Katy Clark MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Len McCluskey, General secretary, Unite, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Matt Wrack General secretary, FBU, Paul Mackney Chair, GSC, Leslie Manasseh President, TUC, Peter Pinkney President, RMT, Ian Davidson MP, Diane Abbott MP, Kate Hudson National secretary, Left Unity, Rachel Newton Secretary, GSC, Steve Turner Assistant general secretary, Unite, Lutfur Rahman Mayor, Tower Hamlets, Salma Yaqoob, Imran Khan civil rights lawyer, John Hendy QC, Jude Woodward Stand Up To Racism, Lindsey German Stop the War Coalition, Sam Fairbairn National secretary, People’s Assembly, Louise Irvine National Health Action party, John Rees Editor, Counterfire, Andrew Burgin Coalition of Resistance, Gerry Gable Editor, Searchlight magazine, Mike Davis, Editor,
You are correct that Syriza’s victory represents a widespread rejection of austerity (Editorial, 26 January), but I think mistaken about the party being far-left. It has attracted new members extremely quickly, most coming from the centrist Pasok (the majority of new Syriza MPs resemble, if anything in UK politics, someone like David Owen), although conservatives and those on the right have been welcomed too. It might well be that, despite having spent the past few years implementing troika measures, the new MPs have now realised the error of their ways. But it might also be that Syriza has become a convenient bandwagon on which to jump.
There is one genuinely far-left Greek party – KKE, which got around 7% of the vote – and is implacably opposed to membership of the EU and the euro. The fact that Syriza did not contemplate a deal with KKE, but did a deal with a rightwing party, might be illustrative of how far Syriza is actually willing to push back against the euro, the EU and the troika, despite the appalling humanitarian crisis caused by the conditions attached to the “bailout” (which on a bad day simply looks like the looting of a nation). Whatever happens next, it won’t be driven by a coalition dominated by the far-left.
Dr Scott Anthony
• The victors in Greece – the “radical left” Syriza – have formed a coalition with the rightwing, anti-immigrant Independent Greeks. Betraying its voters’ hopes before the celebratory champagne has gone flat is something of a record even by the shabby standards of European reformism. The real answer to austerity doesn’t lie in parliament – it’s in the struggle in workplaces and the streets. In the words of Rosa Luxemburg: “Where the chains of capitalism are forged, there must the chains be broken.”
• The success of Syriza springs from the electoral death of Pasok, Greek sister party of the British Labour party. Given that Labour is also committed to austerity, it is high time that it followed Pasok into the dustbin of history.
• It is perhaps ironic that on the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death, the chickens have finally come home to roost on one of his most disastrous postwar adventures: the imposition on Greece, after the liberation, of a monarchist neo-fascist government.
West Kirby, Wirral
Left-right distinctions fail to get to the heart of the Syriza phenomenon. Like so many, Zoe Williams misunderstands the rise of Syriza in Greece and, as a consequence, its significance in the context of British politics (Syriza stood up to the money men – the UK left must do the same, 26 January). Syriza is in reality the anti-corruption party – a response to an endemic problem in Greek society, brought to a head by the financial crisis – that of the oligarchs, a small group of families in whose interests Greek society and economy is run, and whose network of patronage and vested interests has effectively stifled any productive development in the country. A matter made worse by austerity.
The more meaningful comparison is with the liberal political economists of the late 18th century onwards – Adam Smith and David Ricardo, for example – who stood against aristocratic Old Corruption and for “business”, rather than lining Syriza up with the radical left. We need to look for the prime sites of corruption in contemporary Britain. One would be the way in which policymakers have allowed the London property market to be turned into an asset class in the interests of home-grown and foreign plutocrats seeking a safe-haven for their virtually boundless wealth. And another would be the way that much of that wealth has been generated through the operation of the remuneration committees, where effectively one group of executives determine the pay of another, with the roles reversed in due course.
Dr William Dixon and Dr David Wilson
London Metropolitan University
Jeffrey Sachs is persuasive (Let Greece profit from German history, Opinion, 22 January): Greece should be granted substantial debt relief. As he points out, Germany rightly enjoyed debt relief under the 1953 London agreement and the Marshall plan, after everyone learned the lessons of the draconian Versailles Treaty. This is now somewhat ironic, especially since Angela Merkel announced in Davos that Greece should repay its debts in full, despite obviously being in no position to do so.
But perhaps the troika (EU, ECB, IMF) ought to go further and cancel the debts altogether. There is a precedent for this, to be found in Athens itself, some 2,500 years ago. The Greek sage Solon enacted the great “Shaking off of burdens”, cancelling the debts the poor owed to the rich. The wealthy landowners – the eupatridai or “well-born” – regularly enslaved peasant and tenant farmer alike if any failed to pay up a sizeable chunk of their annual earnings. This exacerbated an already appalling inequality, until Solon, to quell the rioting, intervened. Unfortunately, many of the eupatridai got early wind of his plan and, true to form, borrowed massive sums to buy up huge tracts of land with the sole purpose of seeing their own debts cancelled along with those of the poor. Solon is a great object lesson in political and economic forgiveness, even if, in the end, it didn’t all turn out as well as was expected.
In visiting Athens in 2013, I was deeply saddened by the sight each morning of dignified, elderly citizens, sitting on blankets spread on the pavements, quietly selling off their possessions, simply in order to buy food. These people, victims of a punitive system not of their own making, need a new Solon, not another Draco.
Dr Paul Grosch
• I am a Hungarian German. Under article 12 of the Potsdam agreement, ethnic Germans all over Europe were basically asset-stripped without any compensation. We are talking about approximately 10 million people of German ethnic origin. If we were legally allowed to claim compensation for all of our property, how much could we claim for? Also, how much compensation should we be able to claim for our forced labour in camps in the former Soviet Union? So much for Germans being generously treated after the second world war. The British, the Americans and the Russians have never accounted for their crimes against us, let alone offered us any compensation. Never mind compensation, even an apology would be nice.
I’m delighted the Greeks have taken a brave decision to elect a new government which appears to them to offer hope and change. As a frequent visitor to Greece, my wife and I have seen at first hand the impact the austerity measures have had on the vast majority of people in towns and cities. Public sector workers – teachers, nurses et al – have seen swingeing cuts in salaries, making everyday life desperately difficult. The Greeks are a proud, welcoming and hospitable people, and that welcome and openness – philoxenia (a love of strangers) – has remained to visitors despite their huge problems. I hope and expect that a sensible compromise, which will regenerate Greece within the EU family, can and will now be worked out. I wonder if the UK democratic system could facilitate the voice of the people in a similar way?
The Greek people have spoken but will anyone listen? After controlling our lives for the past 35 years the money markets now blame austerity on the poorest and most vulnerable and will be doing their utmost to upstage Syriza’s honeymoon. We need an urgent debate which goes beyond the election of one government. That is, how can elected politicians and the people take back control from themarkets and the super-rich? This is now the burning question of our age.
Horsham, West Sussex
• In her new book, Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy, Kerry-anne Mendoza, the one-time senior banker and management consultant, puts it succinctly: “Austerity is not a short-term disruption to balance the books. It is the demolition of the welfare state – transferring the UK from social democracy to corporate power.” If Labour cannot see that then we need our own anti-austerity coalition to Labour’s left.
• How is it that when David Cameron refuses to pay British dues to the EU, proposes to renegotiate our membership and promises a referendum for withdrawal, that is fine, but when a potential Greek prime minister makes similar promises, he is a “leftwing militant radical” threatening the EU and European civilisation?
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
• Since it’s clear austerity does not apply to all and the people of Greece are leading the way in rejecting it, isn’t it time other countries, including ours, sent a clear message to our politicians that we really are not “all in this together” and that it’s time for a rethink on the fundamental parameters around which our society is based?
• Syriza’s victory has undermined Mr Blair’s recent claim that electoral victories can only be won from the centre and thoroughly annoyed the ruling elites of Europe. Small victories those may be, but still ones worth celebrating.
• Surely the solution to the Greek problem is for the rest of Europe now to form a coalition of the unwilling.
Syriza’s thrilling win in the Greek elections highlights a gap at the heart of Europe – how we, as EU citizens, can engage politically across national frontiers. What can we do – apart from signing petitions on change.org – that will influence Europe’s decision-makers to respect the outcome in Greece, and place people’s wellbeing ahead of this dangerous obsession with cuts and debt reduction? Instead of Greece being “put on collision course with Europe” (Report, 26 January), it is surely time for Europe to change course. A start would be a version of the Marshall plan, with debt-restructuring in line with growth and public investment to improve infrastructure and sustainability. Politicians in Britain might even see the advantage of such a course of action, if it was to demonstrate the benefits of staying in the EU. Is there a movement I can join to make this happen?
• The lesson of the Greek elections is that European rulers are sleepwalking into a collision with their electorate because the core premise of their economic model is faulty. The electorate has been asked to put up with pain for years with the unfulfilled promise of better things around the corner. It is always the fault of the poor and the sick, not the fault of the predictive power of a discredited economic model.
The best the leaders can offer is economic growth and job creation on an American scale. The mantra of labour flexibility translates into income growth for the bottom 90% of the population lagging behind productivity growth, as it has done in America and in many of the countries in Europe.
In the US as in many other countries including the UK, fruits of growth are appropriated by a kleptocracy that passes on a disproportionate share of the pains of decline to the masses. Average income, including capital gains, for the bottom 90% of Americans fell by 14% from its peak in 2007 until 2012, the latest year for which data are readily available. The top 5%-10% took a hit of only 6%.
• Greece, the cradle of European democracy is once again leading the way. Austerity measures have been applied asymmetrically and have disproportionately effected the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Over the past 30 years, the distorting consequences of financial deregulation have led to a rising Gini coefficient and the emergence of an unhealthily influential oligocracy. In the interests of peace and harmony, the time has come for democracy to reassert itself and address the grotesque financial imbalances that the previous generation of politicians, of all parties, have allowed to develop. I wish the Greek people well.
• Your news, editorial and speculations about Syriza’s victory might now be followed by an analysis of where Greece’s past decades of wealth, present revenues, EU grants, loans and gifts have gone. Such investigation will rapidly conclude that VIP Greeks have bankrupted their nation through persistent tax-evading capital flight. The government-suppressed Lagarde list of 2,059 Greek accounts at HSBC, Zurich, is a small indication, as is tax exemption for shipowners. Until these immense capital outflows are repatriated, pouring in euros just adds to the swamp of offshore corruption. Will Syriza plug the drain?
• Jon Henley’s excellent article (24 January) describes Syriza’s programme for government as being to ensure “that no family is without water or electricity; that no one can be made homeless; that the very lowest pensions are raised and that urgent steps are taken to relieve child poverty”. For weeks I have heard this party routinely described as extremist, a threat to the stability of Europe. Who are the true extremists here? Could it be the financiers and rightwing politicians who persist in advocating the austerity programme that led to such hardship in the first place?
Chichester, West Sussex
• Twice in your editorial on the election result Syriza is referred to as “far-left”. In this way, wittingly or not, you collude in the characterisation of anti-austerity positions and perspectives as somehow “extreme” and thus illegitimate. And yet what is so extreme about rejecting a failed policy responsible for impoverishing millions and for unnecessarily prolonging recession throughout Europe? Support for this long-overdue demonstration of popular protest has included leading Keynesian economists in Europe and north America. Are their voices “far-left” as well? If what Syriza stands for is “far-left” (perhaps better described as conventional social democratic politics), why isn’t the Guardian “far-left” too?
Plumbridge, Co Tyrone
• Your editorial says the Greek election result is “astonishing”. When a country pays itself more than it can afford and is riddled with corruption, thus building enormous debts; cheats its way into the euro and runs up further debts; then promises to pay back but has to accept the consequent austerity, and is then told by a populist that it doesn’t need to pay, it’s not surprising such a country votes for an easy way out.
Sir, I am following the initiative of General Sir Nick Carter with interest (“Top brass gear up for battle against army cuts”, Jan 26).
As a young officer on the army staff course in 1986, my commandant shared with me a “green guide”, which focused on the memoirs of JFC Fuller, a chief instructor at Camberley from 1923 to 1926. Fuller held that the “yes men” were/are the fools of the army. He called on young soldiers “to liberate your thoughts from customs, traditions and shibboleths; learn to think freely, not imitatively”.
Over the next 23 years of military service I found that most senior officers fitted Fuller’s critique to a chilling degree. Needless to say, the army didn’t like it being pointed out that its system of selection for senior staff was at fault. I was told that my independent views were not “received wisdom”.
That said, I was fortunate to have seen senior officers of the highest calibre. At the risk of accusations of bias, most of these were from the Parachute Regiment, Royal Marines and special forces, the connection being that all underwent selection, as officers, prior to appointment.
Sir, You report that General Carter is seeking to break a “culture of loyalty” by senior officers, who put the interests of their regimental “tribe” before the wider force. I find this disturbing. The regimental system is a familial one and, although it has been almost destroyed over recent years, the many thousands of officers and men who have gone through this process looked to their extra-regimental senior officers to protect them from the excesses by successive heads of the army who want to make their mark.
Sir, The military attract talented officers who, if asked to do nugatory work, will deploy their skills to win the paper battles that cross their desk. When one hears that General Sir Nick Parker was stopped from appointing an information officer that he thought essential, (“Lions led by penpushers”, Jan 24), you wonder at the time spent by those opposing him — and the cost of their actions.
One hopes that the chief of general staff is listening not just to his majors but also to his contemporaries who took their second careers earlier and will explain how in the public, private or third sectors CEOs make good decisions in the absence of MoD-style staffing.
Sir, Similar problems exist in the RAF and Royal Navy, so I hope there will be a clean sweep there, too. Such failings have occurred throughout military history. I suspect the Romans had the same problems.
Sir, The size of the military hierarchy is a function of the essential tasks to be completed in the preparation, direction and control of a modern fighting force rather than the size of that force. As such, the present staff could probably manage a force several times the size of the existing British Army, but could not itself be allowed to fall below a level necessary to compete with these tasks for the efficient operation of smaller forces, give or take the marginal efficiencies due to progress.
Framingham Earl, Norwich
Sir, One memory seems particularly apposite given General Carter’s intention to “stop the rise of yes men”. As a 19-year-old officer I was the only one on duty at RAF Biggin Hill 50 years ago. On receiving a telegram, a little after 0800hrs, advising of the death of Sir Winston Churchill, I had the RAF ensign lowered to half-mast.
Some three hours later I was asked by a senior officer if I had received an official order to lower the ensign. I hadn’t, so it was a chastened youngster who was told to stand and salute the ensign being raised to the full as people strolled by on their way to the RAF church. The official order to lower the ensign arrived at 1510hrs.
(Sqn Ldr retired)
Bridlington, E Yorks
Sir, That Churchill was a political colossus is not in doubt, but the claim (letter, Jan 26) that the diameter of his waist was 54in would have given him a 169in waist: a colossus, indeed.
Sir, I have met the Ukip donor Arron Banks on two occasions. On no occasion did the issue of switching parties arise (“Tory MEP ‘in talks on defecting to Ukip’ ”, Jan 26). I have made clear that I support the Conservative party: a referendum is our best chance to leave the declining EU and rediscover our global vocation.
Conservative MEP for South East England, Brighton
Sir, The approval of the anti-hepatitis drug Sovaldi by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence is to be welcomed, but Stephen Whitehead (letter, Jan 23) is wrong with his claim that such cures “free up hospital beds and GP time, and shorten waiting lists”. Unfortunately the reverse is true. The more diseases we cure in middle age, the more expense we store up for later, with the pharmaceutical industry reaping the profits. Currently, our increasingly elderly population is queueing up with complex problems; in the past many of these people would have had a “cheap” and early death.
Sir, The issue surrounding skills tests for trainee teachers (News, Jan 24) is not that they are too difficult to pass. It is right that we expect high levels of numeracy and literacy from our prospective teachers. The main problem is that it is becoming too difficult to take the tests. Mismanagement has meant that people have been unable to book places at skills test centres or even, in some cases, find out where the centres are located. The country is faced with a shortage of qualified teachers. Adding to the problem through administrative incompetence is inexcusable.
Executive director, Universities Council for the Education of Teachers
SIR – Contrary to what Amjad Bashir says, Ukip does not lack policies. Its policy of leaving the EU is more than enough for most people, as Syriza has shown.
SIR – How is it that when David Cameron refuses to pay British dues to the EU, proposes to renegotiate our membership, and promises a UK referendum for withdrawal from the EU, all that is fine?
But when a Greek politician promises his people something similar, he is described as threatening the EU and European civilisation?
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
SIR – No one seems to have noticed that Europe has two nearly failed states in Ukraine and Greece. How many more states will fail before we get a referendum on membership of the EU in 2017?
SIR – Amjad Bashir has said that switching his allegiance from Ukip to the Conservative Party was a principled decision. If so, as he was elected as a Ukip MEP under a party-list system, should his principles not extend to standing down and allowing the next candidate on the Ukip party list to take his seat representing the voters of Yorkshire and the Humber?
SIR – If David Cameron hopes his vaunted EU referendum promise is going to propel him back to No 10, it is time he told us exactly what he intends to renegotiate in order to campaign for us to stay in it.
His fudging over the Lisbon Treaty is still raw in the minds of voters, who will not be hoodwinked twice. So Mr Cameron should put up, and be sharp about it: I’m developing a taste for fruitcake.
Tilton on the Hill, Leicestershire
SIR – Parties choose their leaders. I hate the opportunism of David Cameron; I despise the stance of Nick Clegg; I detest the policies espoused by Ed Miliband; I dismiss Nigel Farage. I see little future for the Greens.
Are any proper independents standing? I should like to vote for someone.
Bembridge, Isle of Wight
SIR – I was pleased to see Natalie Bennett of the Greens on The Andrew Marr Show last week. His opening question to her was about the Green policy for an immediate referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU. Mr Marr described this policy as “the one thing you have in common with Ukip”. For reasons I do not understand, this policy is seldom associated with the Greens.
Nigel F Boddy
Darlington, Co Durham
Driven off the road
SIR – I sympathise with the difficulties of Martin Hughes (Letters, January 24) in getting his driving licence back after surgery.
I have multiple sclerosis, and luckily I am not too badly affected. But I still have to surrender my licence every three years and apply for a renewal. That’s fine.
This year I sent my licence in to the DVLA at the end of July after seeing my doctor and making sure all would be OK to receive a new one.
In September I had one of the forms sent to me again saying: “You may have filled in this form before but please do so again.” It asked about medication I was taking, and I told them again I take no medication and had seen my doctor in July.
I then had a letter in December saying they had written to my doctor (giving the name of the wrong doctor in the practice that I use) but had heard nothing after eight weeks. On ringing my doctor’s surgery, I was told it was not high priority, but they would see what was happening. Now it is the end of January, seven months since my initial request and I have heard nothing.
Just what is to be done? I am quite willing to have a medical, and actually think one should routinely be given.
Why this terrible hold-up? What a waste of time and energy. Are persons employed just to return forms and do nothing?
SIR – Your excellent obituary of Lord Brittan did not mention the strange name of his constituency, Langbaurgh. He was the first to represent it when it came into being, in 1979. Langbaurgh had apparently been named after an Anglo-Saxon wapentake, although few local people had ever heard the name.
The late Richard Holt held Langbaurgh for the Conservatives in 1983 and 1987. He would challenge anyone in Westminster to give the location of his constituency (pronounced “Langbarf”), and then how to spell it. Few rose to either challenge.
The last MP for Langbaurgh was Michael (now Lord) Bates. After boundary changes it was renamed South Middlesbrough and East Cleveland.
SIR – Eating a good fresh croissant with my morning coffee creates quite a mess (“Manners maketh coffee, Letters, January 24). When I am out it takes some effort to tidy the flakes of pastry. So perhaps the effort to do this is indicative of good manners.
If anybody can give me details of a course on the art of croissant-eating, preferably to degree level, I’d appreciate it.
East Grinstead, West Sussex
Flop for Wolf Hall
Mark Rylance plays Cromwell in Wolf Hall and voiced Flop (right) Photo: BBC/Acamar Films
SIR – I enjoyed the first episode of Wolf Hall, only slightly put out by the voice of Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) being that of Flop (pictured far right) from the CBeebies animated cartoon Bing, which I watch with my grandson Vincent.
SIR – Ivan Hewett (“Stephen Sondheim – too clever for America?”) is right to note that his work has its roots in the worlds of both showbiz and the intellectual arts.
In that respect, Sondheim is like David Bowie, someone who produces artistically challenging and innovative work within the confines of a popular, commercial medium.
British theatre can take great pride in its role in increasing awareness of Sondheim’s musicals, but with eight Tonys, eight Grammys, an Oscar and a Pulitzer Prize in his locker, I would hesitate to suggest that America is not fully aware of his worth.
It’s sad if the “too clever, not enough tunes” argument puts people off sampling his work. They may not become Sondheim addicts, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t find it well worth the effort. Start with Company, which has enough tunes for a lifetime.
Standing up to Putin
SIR – This Government (and its successors) must endeavour to obtain justice for the Litvinenko family, and Vladimir Putin must be shown in strong terms that the days of vassal states and subjects died with the collapse of the Soviet system in 1989.
As an ex-KGB operative, it seems impossible for him to grasp democracy or to reject thuggish and corrupt ways to attain his goals. He is dragging Russia down into anarchy, and he and his cohorts will not be those who suffer. It will be the man in the street, whether he supports Putin or not.
SIR – I have considerable sympathy for Russell Payne (Letters, January 23), who was bombarded by online pop-up advertisements for funerals after searching for information about a heart condition.
I used the search term “infanticide” on the internet while researching an essay on Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. For months afterwards, I was offered the chance to “buy infanticide cheaper” from either eBay or Amazon.
Scrapping helmets reduces the standing of the police
SIR – Few would disagree that public respect for the police has decreased in recent years, and part of this is due to the shabby appearance they have adopted in most parts of the country with “leisure wear” and flat caps. Therefore the decision of West Yorkshire Police to abandon the traditional helmet is a cause of great regret.
The helmet is the symbol of the British police and should be treasured. It protects the head, can be secured with the chinstrap, boosts confidence by adding a foot in height and identifies the wearer as a police officer from a distance.
Its disappearance is not just an operational issue. The public should have its say – after all we do pay for the police.
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
Churchill’s enduring power to command respect
SIR – Any who seek to belittle Churchill (Leading article, January 24) would do well to read the words of Roy Jenkins at the end of his biography: “In the course of writing it I have changed my mind. I now put Churchill, with all his idiosyncrasies, his indulgences, his occasional childishness, but also his genius, his tenacity and his persistent ability, right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful, to be larger than life, as the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street.”
SIR – What is the BBC doing, scheduling the Churchill commemorative programme at 9pm next Wednesday – the same time as the second instalment of Wolf Hall?
SIR – At the time of Churchill’s last illness I was a policeman with the Port of London Authority. On January 24, a quiet, sunny Sunday morning, I was walking past an East German ship laid up in Millwall Dock. When I saw a lone crew member walk aft and lower the East German flag, I knew at that moment that the great man had died.
SIR – As a student nurse at St George’s, Hyde Park Corner, I was keen to pay my respects to Sir Winston Churchill, lying in state in Westminster Hall. I requested time off from the matron and was refused, as the wards were busy. But I was advised to go to Westminster in full nurse’s uniform.
To my dismay there were queues of people stretching as far as the eye could see. But I was plucked from the queue by an official and ushered to a side door. I will be forever grateful to whoever made the special dispensation for nurses. Attending Sir Winston’s lying in state was a defining moment in my life.
Globe and Mail:
Sir, – Breda O’Brien writes, in relation to the Children and Family Relationships Bill and the upcoming marriage referendum, “These provisions are quite possibly unconstitutional now but, by redefining marriage, we will stamp these new provisions with a seal of constitutional approval, and they will be impossible to change back”.
The constitutionality of a marriage contract, which is what we are voting on, implies nothing about what factors can or can not be used as qualifiers or discriminating factors in the adoption process. Religion, for example, is something that the Constitution is blind to when it comes to marriage, but it is a factor that requires highlighting during the consent process for domestic adoption in some circumstances. That is despite religion enjoying broad protection from discrimination in our Constitution. Other discriminating factors in adoption, income levels and poverty, are ones that the Constitution is blind to with regard to marriage. I could go on.
If the Children and Family Relationships Bill doesn’t contain enough qualifiers or constraints around the gender mix of a couple to suit Breda O’Brien, she is free to lobby for its amendment. However, I imagine she’ll need to bring more than red herrings to the table. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Breda O’Brien writes about what she considers to be the “inconvenient truth” about the upcoming marriage equality referendum. She reiterates her position that providing equal access to civil marriage will redefine the family. There are a number of inconvenient truths for Ms O’Brien which she omits in order to frame her arguments.
When referring to the upcoming Child and Family Relationships Bill, Ms O’Brien gives us a stark yet vague warning that allowing same-sex and cohabiting couples to adopt may be unconstitutional. This Bill is a different issue from the referendum yet she attempts to link them by saying that voting Yes in the referendum will rubber-stamp this legislative change and make it impossible to challenge. Why would this be unconstitutional anyway? The current situation allows for single people to adopt; if allowing single people to adopt is constitutional, then why would allowing same-sex or cohabiting couples to adopt be unconstitutional?
When discussing assisted reproduction, she uses the example of Dr Joanna Rose, a woman who was conceived by sperm donation, as someone who had the right to a parental relationship taken away from her.
This is of no relevance to the marriage equality referendum as same-sex couples are already allowed to avail of assisted reproduction and voting Yes or No in the referendum will not change this.
In any case, if Ms O’Brien is worried that children born of donors will be denied information about how they were brought into the world, it might be worth considering how heterosexual couples who avail of sperm and egg donations handle this. Currently there is no law requiring heterosexual couples to inform their children they were created using a donor. In contrast, every same-sex couple who avail of a donor will one day tell their child where they came from because they will need to once that child develops a curiosity about fundamental concepts of biology.
Throughout her piece, Ms O’Brien attempts to link the marriage equality referendum to having children despite the fact that gay parents already exist and that the referendum will give them no additional parental rights if passed. In fact she even confirms this herself, stating that “to give a legal and financial link to the non-biological guardian does not require constitutional change, or redefinition of marriage”. It is clear that parenting rights are a matter for the Child and Family Relationships Bill, not the referendum. Voting Yes or No in the referendum will neither allow nor prevent gay people from becoming parents. They already are parents. This is the “inconvenient truth” which Breda O’Brien chooses to ignore. In ignoring it, she is misdirecting the debate away from the basic question – should two people who love each other have an equal right to civil marriage, regardless of their gender?
Finally, as a teacher, I would ask that those who have decided to frame this debate around family rights consider the impact their words may have on children, especially those from “non-traditional” families. A child’s family is the basic unit from which they construct their self-identity and if that family is described as being of lesser value it may have an adverse effect on that child’s sense of self. – Is mise,
Parnell Square, Dublin 1.
A chara, – The marriage equality amendment referendum is not about allowing people to choose whom to love or with whom to make a lasting mutual commitment. People do this anyway. The referendum is about the kind of official recognition afforded those who wish to make such a commitment.
The right to enter into marriage in Ireland is restricted. There are 28 prohibited degrees of kindred and affinity for each party. Marriage may be invalid due to minimum age (18); or where either party is already validly married; or if either is incapable of understanding what marriage is; or if both parties are of the same sex.
We want to eliminate discrimination, so it is proposed that “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”. Marriage equality must mean that conditions for all are equal. Yet the circumstances are distinctly unequal. Prohibited degrees of kindred have a biological basis for a man and woman. Do same-sex couples want the same status? Then there will be restrictions with no sound basis.
Is that justice? Prepare for a legal or constitutional challenge. If we remove those restrictions for same-sex marriage, we must do so also for opposite-sex marriage. – Is mise,
Sir, – Gay people already have the right to adopt and raise children in Ireland. Voting No in the upcoming referendum will not change this; rather, it will – among other things – have the effect of clarifying any potential legal issues surrounding guardianship, should anything happen to one of the parents. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”Only two? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The case for same-sex marriage is often promoted as a rights initiative. That’s understandable, but claiming something as a right doesn’t necessarily make it so. Last July the European Court of Human Rights found that there is no right to same-sex marriage under the European Convention on Human Rights, and found that article 12 of the convention, which deals with marriage, “enshrines the traditional concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman [and] cannot be construed as imposing an obligation on the contracting states to grant access to marriage to same-sex couples”.
It further found that no European consensus on same-sex marriages exists, as only 10 of the 47 countries bound by the treaty allow such designations. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I couldn’t agree enough with the sentiments of Mary Burke (January 24th). What child would chose to be reared with poverty-ridden, drug-addicted, alcoholic or homeless parents? Which child would prefer to be hungry or abused, happy in the knowledge their parents are heterosexual?
This dire future, of course, will never be suffered by children who will be raised by homosexual couples as they obviously live in the land of milk and honey. Not for homosexual couples will there be the constant daily struggles that traditional parents and families have had to overcome, such as poverty or addiction. How no-one thought of this safeguarding measure previously is beyond me. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Frank Murphy (January 21st) declares any talk of “marriage equality” to be “dishonest and deliberately misleading” because anyone “with even a modicum of intelligence will see” that marriages between heterosexual and gay couples “could never be ‘equal’”. Circular arguments are circular because they go around in circles. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The involvement of teachers in assessing their own students for national certification will change the nature of the student-teacher relationship. While concerns about educational standards and fairness can be addressed by a robust system of cross-moderation and appropriate teacher development programmes, the possible impact of the proposed changes on teacher-student relationships is at the heart of the teacher unions’ disagreement with the Minister for Education.
If the present stand-off is to be overcome, the belief that teacher-based assessment would automatically damage such relationships deserves careful scrutiny. The experience of teachers in systems such as Queensland, Finland and Northern Ireland suggests that such fears are ill-founded.
City of Dublin VEC Humanities teachers who, with the blessing of the TUI, were happy, subject to cross-moderation, to assess their own students’ work in the 1970s and 1980s did not experience such problems.
Strong relationships are built on truth and mutual respect and this is exemplified by assessment practices in higher education. Underperforming students who have just been “testing the boundaries” simply accept their grades and, where necessary, sit the repeats. Those who are genuinely unhappy with their grades exercise their natural right of appeal. Appellants’ work may be reviewed by a third party and those with a valid case are upgraded.
Alternatively, once the reasons for their grade are explained, many students realise that their original grade is based on the fair and professional application of transparent and reasonable criteria. This teaches them to take greater responsibility for their own learning and they become more accepting of professional judgments based on meaningful standards.
In such a respectful environment, student-teacher relationships are normally enhanced rather than damaged. Educators have a responsibility to build professional relationships grounded on respect and truth and the capacity of secondary school students to respond positively when these principles are extended to the assessment of learning should not be underestimated. The earlier they are treated like adults, the sooner they will become independent learners! – Yours, etc,
Prof JIM GLEESON,
Sir, – As a current student about to sit my Junior Cert, I believe that the continual assessment of students by their teachers is a terrible idea. If it is not a cost-cutting measure, and most teachers in Ireland oppose it, then why go ahead with it? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It’s time secondary teachers joined the real world. Self-assessment, self-certification and light-touch regulation have been utilised in our financial, banking and construction sectors for many years and haven’t caused any problems whatsoever. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Your editorial (“More milk and water”, January 23rd) is a simplistic portrayal of the Government’s approach to the climate challenge. This is a similar position adopted by the environmental NGOs.
Ireland is not obliged to introduce climate legislation. Indeed, the country is only one of five EU member states that has decided voluntarily to introduce climate law. Second, the impression that sectors such as agriculture are not playing their part is misleading.
You recognise correctly Ireland’s sustainable model of food production – which is a significant national economic asset. The agri-food sector supports 300,000 jobs right across the country, is the largest exporter of beef in Europe and produces 15 per cent of the world’s infant formula and has overall food exports of over €10 billion. This is being achieved sustainably by national, EU and international standards.
However, as farmers we are not resting on our laurels. Thousands of farmers are members of the Bord Bia Quality Assurance scheme, the beef technology adoption programme, the sheep technology adoption programme, the Better farm programme and the resource efficiency initiative Smart Farming. Each of these initiatives has a strong environmental focus which leads to emission reduction.
Simple targets are not the answer. A silver bullet to emission reductions from agriculture does not exist. Agricultural emissions are organic, naturally occurring gases. Addressing the climate challenge requires a mosaic of responses. Ireland produces food more sustainably than most; this is a very important point at a time of increased demand for the food we produce in this country. Climate policy at EU level has evolved to recognise this. Similar thinking is required at international level.
Government’s climate legislation is pragmatic. It recognises the myriad of complex issues when addressing the climate challenge and seeks to chart a low carbon path for the country. This is in line with our legal obligations, while supporting the sustainable development of the agri-food sector in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
and Rural Affairs Chairman,
Irish Farm Centre,
Sir, – Further to Diarmaid Ferriter’s article (“Kenny should confront State-funded schools insisting on baptism certificates”, Opinion & Analysis, January 24th), the country’s national schools are places of diversity and inclusivity. In general, pupils of all races and religious beliefs are not only welcomed but celebrated by the various schools which they attend.
Certainly most primary schools retain and uphold a Catholic ethos, but there is a big difference between having a Catholic ethos and imposing Catholic beliefs on people who have a different faith or none at all.
As a principal I have never looked for a baptismal certificate as a condition of entry to my school. I have, however, requested them prior to pupils making their first confession at the request of the local clergy just to ensure that the first sacrament has been made prior to receiving the second.
The one statistic that Prof Ferriter did not mention was that in the last census in 2011, 84 per cent of the population defined themselves as Roman Catholic.
In my local town, this is borne out by the fact that our local Educate Together school is very much undersubscribed in relation to its large capacity.
I understand that the point of Prof Ferriter’s argument may be the desire for all schools to be secular. This seems to me to be quite a time away but, in the absence of that, our primary schools, in the main, are providing equally for children of all beliefs and none. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The reaction of western leaders to the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia highlights yet again their double standards and hypocrisy when it comes to human rights and freedom. They recently marched on the streets of Paris to defend the right to free speech and yet now they are falling over themselves to praise a tyrant. This man oversaw the subjugation of women, terrible human rights abuses and applied zero tolerance to dissent, as evidenced by the treatment of Raif Badawi. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In your item headed “New Irish Writing – Hennessy Literary Awards: Winners through the decades” (Weekend Review”, January 24th) it is stated that Brian Friel was a judge with James Plunkett for the awards of 1972. This is in error. The short-story writer VS Pritchett, who died in 1997, was the other judge with Plunkett in that year. I recall meeting him, as I received the Hennessy for prose in 1972. – Yours, etc,
Regarding Liz O’Donnell’s enthusiasm for quotas and gender balance (Irish Independent, January 24) in various fields including politics, etc., surely the most rational and common-sense model to adopt in these and other fields is a gender mixture, but with the emphasis on ability and expertise rather than gender per se and so not tied to rigid gender balance and quotas?
By the way, the term “gender balance,” which Ms O’Donnell uses rather loosely, implies a male/female ratio of 50:50.
Now, however persuasive arguments about “critical mass” may sound, it remains a fact that quotas are contrary to equality of opportunity (correctly defined), and introduce a restrictive practice into a selection process that will inevitably shift the main focus onto filling the quota, most likely by whatever means are easiest for all concerned. This is not a recipe for choosing the best candidates on the basis of merit. However, as the main purpose of the exercise seems to be ideological, this probably doesn’t matter much to proponents of “equality.”
In any case, our current political system does not encourage the best and brightest of either sex to enter politics – the brief and unfortunate political career of top economist George Lee (who was one of those who warned against the excesses of the Celtic Tiger when that phenomenon was at its height, only to be ignored by the political establishment) comes to mind – and tacking a gender quota onto this system won’t improve matters.
Another aspect of Ms O’Donnell’s article is that she – like almost all proponents of “equality” – focuses exclusively on the position of women. This prompts the question: what about the large and growing gender imbalance in the teaching profession – with its implications for the academic performance of boys – which has widened from a male/female ratio of 40:60 in 1971 to 26:74 today (at primary school level the ratio is 14:86 – no “critical mass” there)? It would be interesting to know the views of Ms O’Donnell and other proponents of “equality” and gender balance on this matter.
Athboy, Co Meath
We’re victims, not heroes
Last week the hard-pressed Irish people had to endure another session of patronizing and nauseating back-slapping codology when the IMF chief Christine Lagarde hailed the Irish people as heroes while being cheer-led by her tea boys and girl, Enda, Brendan and Joan, along with her “good friend Michael”.
Unfortunately, the Irish people are not heroes but victims of an inept banking system and financial treason aided by developers, speculators and a self-serving, uncaring political class, whereby their debts were undemocratically foisted onto the shoulders of present and future generations. This has resulted in widespread social deprivation, increased taxes and cuts to vital services, along with massive emigration.
Far from being welcomed with open arms and treated like royalty, Ms Lagarde and her fellow travellers of austerity should have been turned back at the airport.
In reality, Ms Lagarde, with her €7,000 handbag, is a financial hit-man for the IMF and its cohorts.
On enquiring how women in Irish society are doing at the moment, instead of asking Joan Burton, Ms Lagarde should have vacated the luxurious surroundings of Government Buildings and gone among the real people of this country.
That experience could have given her food for thought before she jetted off to the Davos version of the Galway tent, where she was meeting up with the wealthiest people in the world. The ones who probably lost their bets in Ireland but who got bailed out by the Irish people as a result of the policies pursued by Ms Lagarde and the IMF, helped by our past and present governments.
In essence, the Irish people are victims of selective austerity and betrayal, whereby those in the golden circle were protected.
Templeglantine, Co Limerick
State’s hard choices on Aer Lingus
One of the top ten safest airlines to fly with, healthy profits and route expansion – Aer Lingus is flying high! The Government has some serious thinking to do on the latest IAG offer.
Aer Lingus provides much-needed connections to London Heathrow from Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Shannon. If IAG were to take over, naturally assurances would be given that the slots would be maintained for their current use. However, IAG would only be obliged to do this for a three-year period, similar to when it took over BMI British Midland.
IAG could possibly then deploy those slots on more lucrative routes, such as to the US, China or to the Middle East. Where would this leave our island nation? What effect would this have on inward investment? What effect would this have on jobs, not to mention the job losses that would surely occur at Aer Lingus itself?
The Government shareholding could net the State some €348m at €2.60 per share. This might cover an overspend in the HSE for one year at best (though estimates put this at €510m). Short-term gain could lead to some long-term pain. Caution is advised because once the shareholding is gone, it is gone.
Malahide Road, Dublin 17
Varadkar’s U-turn on family
Just over four years ago, Leo Varadkar told the Dáil, “Every child has a right to a mother and a father and as much as possible, the State should vindicate that right. That is a much more important right than that of two men or two women having a family.”
That was a very clear and profound statement which left no room for ambiguity on the matter. Fast forward to last Sunday morning and his interview with Miriam O’Callaghan and the subsequent chorus of chirps and tweets, mostly in his favour, from all the usual quarters.
Surely the minister must realise, however, that his determination to push through this referendum has very serious and negative implications for children as a whole. The debate is, after all, about the value or lack of it which we attach to motherhood and fatherhood and the preferential treatment which should be due to the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman as opposed to what in my view, is the artificial concept of same-sex marriage.
It seems to me at any rate that his misguided notion of equality cannot be achieved without deliberately inflicting the loss of a mother or father on innocent children.
M O Riada
Tralee, Co Kerry
People are born gay
As a retired primary teacher who taught junior classes for many years, I am amazed that it has taken so long to recognize the fact that we are not all born with the same sexual tendencies.
In the early 90s, I attended a course given by a well-known education psychologist. At the end of that course, I asked him some questions regarding some students I reckoned were born gay.
These were children aged from four years upwards. The psychologist questioned me about these children’s backgrounds, place in family, parents’ personality, whether there was a domineering father and docile mother, etc. As far as he was concerned, these children were products of their upbringing. I didn’t agree with him.
Life has moved on for us all. Three of these young men are openly gay, one is married.
These young men were born different. Neither I, nor the educational system under which I taught, could help them. But as their teacher, I could only encourage them to be themselves.
Name and address with Editor