Ankle

5 Febuary 2015 Ankle

A quiet day my right foot is very sore arthritis.

Obituary:

Sir Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin Gilbert Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty

Sir Martin Gilbert, who has died aged 78, was a historian of authority and meticulous scholarship, whose output was dominated by his official biography of Sir Winston Churchill: six narrative volumes, 11 companion books of source material, a 981-page popular precis and 13 spin-offs.

Equally authoritative as a historian of Judaism, the Holocaust and the sweep of the 20th century, Gilbert was renowned for his ability to ferret out precisely what had happened, though some critics felt he paid too little attention to the “why”.

A committed Zionist and a proudly observant Jew, Gilbert’s writings about the travails of his people drew their force – to the annoyance of some co-religionists – from the enormity of the facts rather than an emotional involvement. Writing in support of Jewish “refuseniks” in the Soviet Union, however, he let his feelings go.

Gilbert was an Oxford graduate student when, in 1962, Sir Winston’s son Randolph – commissioned to write the biography – engaged him as a researcher; Lady Diana Cooper introduced him. Randolph had delivered only the first two volumes (an immense task in itself) when he died in 1968, leaving Gilbert £250.

Churchill’s grandson, Winston, and Lord Birkenhead, the son of F E Smith, were keen to take over, but the Chartwell Trust stuck with Gilbert. He undertook to complete the outstanding six volumes for a flat fee of £80,000 – out of which he would finance research – instead of royalties. By the time the final volume of the main series appeared in 1988, the project had taken Gilbert 26 years and generated nine million words over 25,000 pages. The precis, Churchill: A Life, appeared in 1991, and the most recent companion volume, covering the year 1942, in 2014. Six more were originally planned.

Gilbert – a Fellow of Merton College for 32 years, then from 1994 an honorary fellow – continued his own research alongside his work on Churchill, initially with Randolph in Suffolk. His first task on taking over was to shepherd into print the companion volumes to those Randolph had completed; these appeared under Randolph’s name.

Gilbert’s first narrative volume, Winston S Churchill: Volume Three: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916, appeared in 1971. Serialised in The Sunday Telegraph, it sold out in a fortnight. The reviews were enthusiastic, Michael Foot declaring: “Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill’s biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice.”

Maj-Gen Edward Spears wrote of the same volume: “From its pages emerges a living Churchill who towers above his fellow politicians and whose courage is that of a paladin whom nothing can dismay, yet whose fundamental tenderness peeps out in the letters to his wife.”

Research for that single volume (on which Randolph had started him in 1963) took Gilbert from Flanders to Turkey. His inquiries were exhaustive: Churchill’s resignation telegram to Asquith was not among the official records or in either man’s papers, and he eventually tracked it down in the Beaverbrook Library. The first draft of that volume was two million words, cut down to 300,000.

Sir Martin Gilbert (NEIL DRABBLE)

Gilbert’s non-judgmental portrayal of Churchill led to disputes with other historians. His thoroughness, too, aroused comment, notably when he ascertained from a 1930s laundry list that Churchill had paid a hitherto unknown visit to Beirut. Not content with editing all Churchill’s correspondence in parallel, he even compiled brief biographies of every one of the hundreds of people mentioned in the text.

In 1971 Churchill College, Cambridge, built a special air-conditioned home for Sir Winston’s papers, to which Gilbert had sole access. When, in 1995, the Heritage Lottery Fund purchased them from Churchill’s grandson to keep them in Britain, Gilbert welcomed the step.

Alongside Gilbert’s other output – he wrote some 90 books in all – further instalments of the Churchill biography appeared at regular intervals: Volume Four: The Stricken World, 1917-1922 (1975), Volume Five: Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939 (1979), Volume Six: Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (1983), Volume Seven: Road to Victory, 1941-1945 (1986) and Volume Eight: Never Despair, 1945-1965 (1988).

Volume Six brought Gilbert the Wolfson award; the publication of the final volume a snub from Margaret Thatcher. She barred her Cabinet from the launch because Heinemann was also publishing Peter Wright’s Spycatcher, which she had tried to ban. When funding for the companion volumes ran out in 1982, an American benefactor financed their publication.

Martin John Gilbert was born in London on October 25 1936, the son of Peter Gilbert, a jeweller, and his wife Marian. All his grandparents were born in Tsarist Russia. Nine months after war broke out, he was evacuated to Canada. Vivid memories of the crossing from Liverpool to Quebec sparked his later interest in the war.

After returning to Britain he attended Highgate School, where he was taught history by the Balkan expert Alan Palmer, and politics by the redoubtable Fabian T N Fox. After National Service with the Intelligence Corps he went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, taking a First in Modern History; one of his tutors was A J P Taylor.

In 1960 Gilbert was appointed a senior research scholar at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and two years later Merton made him a Fellow. He was already assisting Randolph Churchill when his first book was published, in 1963: this was The Appeasers , written with the Marxist Richard Gott, then at Chatham House. The Roots of Appeasement, casting its net wider, followed three years later. To Gilbert, the villain of the piece was Sir Horace Wilson, the government’s chief industrial adviser and Chamberlain’s emissary to Hitler.

Gilbert attracted criticism for the way he presented the case against Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and R A Butler; decades later, he would say that a lifetime of research had shown them to be even more culpable.

Without lessening his academic rigour, Gilbert found time to be the recent history correspondent for The Sunday Times, help research the BBC’s British Empire series (1968) and look through the draft of Harold Wilson’s book on the 1964-70 Labour government. “Sir Harold asked for comment,” said Gilbert. “I’ve never known anybody quite so receptive to suggestion.” He declined an invitation to be Anthony Eden’s official biographer .

Gilbert’s interest in Jewish history first showed in his Jewish History Atlas (1969), and his first major work was The Emergence of Jewish Statehood (1978). While researching his Atlas of the Holocaust (1982), he found a distant cousin in a Polish village who had been hidden from the Nazis in Warsaw as a child – and was now one of 50 Jews where there had been 30,000.

He took up the cause of the refuseniks with passion, writing the biography Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time (1986) and appearing before the UN Commission on Human Rights, where he clashed with Soviet delegates over the Kremlin’s refusal to let them leave.

John Major brought Gilbert to Downing Street as an adviser and “court chronicler”, and he helped to draft several speeches, also telling Tory rebels that Major was “a doughty fighter and a successful negotiator in a world where leadership counts”.

He was a member of the prime minister’s delegation to Israel – advising on the history of the Holocaust – and to Jordan, and sat in on Major’s talks with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Major confessed: “I do not know what I would have done without Martin Gilbert to keep me briefed on the Middle East.” In Washington with Major in 1995, he charted the progress of the “special relationship” after friction with the Clinton administration.

In 2009 Gilbert was appointed to Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq War and made a Privy Counsellor to give him full access to the evidence. Several MPs criticised the choice because Gilbert had once compared George W Bush and Tony Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill, but he proved a meticulous questioner of Blair about his motives and decisions.

Gilbert advised on the script of the Oscar-winning documentary Genocide (1982). He was historical adviser to Southern Pictures’ Winston Churchill: the Wilderness Years (1980-81), BBC television’s Auschwitz and the Allies (1981-82) and Yalta 1945 (1982-83). He also wrote and narrated the BBC’s four-part series Churchill (1989-91).

Over the years he held visiting professorships and fellowships at universities around the world . In 2002 President Bush invited him to lecture at the White House. In 1999 Oxford University conferred on Gilbert an honorary DLitt for “the totality of his work”. Churchill College made him an honorary fellow in 2008, and since 1978 he had been a governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He was appointed CBE in 1990 and knighted in 1995.

Martin Gilbert married first, in 1963, Helen Robinson, with whom he had a daughter. In 1974 he married Susan Sacher, great-granddaughter of Lord Marks, the founder of Marks & Spencer; they had two sons. In 2005 he married, thirdly, the Holocaust historian Esther Poznansky.

Sir Martin Gilbert, born October 25 1936, died February 3 2015

Guardian:

Campaigners march on City Hall to demand solution to housing crisis
Tenants, housing campaigners and trade union activists demand solutions to London’s housing crisis on the March for Homes on 31 Janaury. Photograph: Mark Kerrison/Corbis

While the stupidity of the Tory government’s change in relation to affordable housing is obvious to all – even Tories dealing with the issues, such as planners at Westminster council – who is going to even try to deal with the house-price madness (Property forms profit as home rules change, 2 February)? Average house prices in London are now far beyond even bankers and others on £100,000-a-year salaries: an average flat in north-west London costs over £900,000. Who let this happen and, more important, who is going to do anything about this ludicrous situation?

Not the Tories, since Brandon Lewis, the Conservative housing minister, talks about requirements for “affordable” flats in new developments as “a stealth tax” that hindered regeneration and encouraged empty properties. And that is in relation to the developers’ notion of affordable, at 80% of local prices. The crude mansion tax from Labour might have some impact on prices at the top end, but even a complete revision in council tax will not affect these prices without hitting every householder equally hard. We did nothing to earn the increased values of our flats, this is just a side effect of all the funny money looking to London for a safe haven for their mostly ill-gotten gains, rich Greeks included.

Is there an economist in the house (or House), the Treasury, the Bank of England with any idea what to do about this insanity? Apparently not.
David Reed
London

Congratulations to the Guardian for exposing the loss of affordable housing that has resulted from the government’s successive changes to planning law.

The latest changes to planning law are in a series that have progressively created major loopholes to excuse developers from providing affordable housing. Just south of Sutton station, in south London, there is an office building, empty for some years, which the developers propose to convert to 128 luxury flats. The day before Sutton council’s planning committee was to approve the scheme, which included a significant number of affordable homes, the developers withdrew the scheme. They had spotted the advantages to them if they followed a newly created route called “prior approval” that has now forced the council to accept the application with zero affordable homes included.

On one calculation, our borough may have lost up to 500 affordable homes due to that legislation. The latest changes you highlight are further steps on a path that is seriously undermining the efforts of local authorities to help those in dire need of better housing.
Councillor Richard Clifton
Chair of planning committee, London borough of Sutton

It is good to see the Westminster Property Group, with its big ticket property club members, supporting more social housing in central London. But central London’s affordable homes shortfall is a special case, which has no general case application on a nationwide basis.

Brandon Lewis, the housing minister, is nearer the mark elsewhere. Excessive section 106 tariffs and the affordable homes burden do push many projects into the non-viable basket. Simply look at the numbers; that is to say the house sale proceeds from which these public benefits are funded. Central London sale values, as a rough and ready average, are £1,500 per square foot. Put differently, a modest, 1, 000sq ft three-bed town house or flat will cost the buyer £1.5m, or more with stamp duty on top. Put 15 of them on to an acre, and the gross receipts are £22m. After building costs, profit margin and land, there is still scope to fund some affordable homes.

Apply the same model in the home counties, for example in Reading, where the sale price for the same home will be nearer £350psf. What is more, density will also be about one third lower. The gross receipts in this case are £3.5m, less than 20% of the value generated by an acre in central London. Far less margin left over here, particularly if developers overpay for their land. Then they will just wait.

Until local authorities with supplies of unrestricted, white land challenge the vested interests, and decide to release far more of it for housebuilding, the affordability crisis will continue. This initiative is near impossible for Tory authorities in rural area, where the nimby lobby has the final veto.
Ian Campbell
Richmond upon Thames, Surrey

The dearth of genuinely affordable homes to buy or to rent can only be made worse by the rule changes that allow property firms to reduce, or even avoid, making contributions to build affordable housing. Recent data from London’s Poverty Profile – independent research carried out by the New Policy Institute and funded by us – reveals that only seven London boroughs met their target for affordable home completions from 2010 to 2013. This lack of affordable housing is creating serious problems in the capital; after housing costs are taken into account, 28% of Londoners are now living in poverty. We need to build more homes that people can actually afford.
Mubin Haq
Director of policy and grants, Trust for London

In the early 1970s, we took out a mortgage two and a half times my salary to buy a home to live in. That same home is now valued at 60 times that amount. One reason for huge increases in the prices of homes is that when final salary pension schemes were scrapped people looked to property as an alternative nest egg to supplement their pension. A shame then that John Lewis is adding fuel to that fire (John Lewis scraps final salary pension, 3 February).
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

Man Using an Inhaler
A man using an asthma inhaler. ‘Last year, the National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed that two-thirds of asthma deaths were preventable with routine care.’ Photograph: Corbis

Your report claiming that “1 million people in the UK may have been wrongly diagnosed with asthma” (29 January) is unhelpful and, arguably, irresponsible. In reality, asthma diagnosis is complex, and many people who do have it may not show clear signs on clinical testing. Reporting otherwise means that millions of people with asthma who do need treatment have been left with uncertainty about their diagnosis and care. What is in no doubt is that care must improve. Only last year, the National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed shockingly that two-thirds of asthma deaths were preventable with routine care. This is supported by even more recent findings from Asthma UK, which revealed that eight out of 10 people in the UK are not receiving care that meets even the most basic clinical standards. Asthma is serious and the complacency that leads such to headlines has to stop.
Dr Robert Niven
Senior lecturer in respiratory medicine at the University Hospital of South Manchester
Dr Mark Levy
General practitioner with an interest in asthma
Ann-Louise Caress
Professor of nursing at the University of Manchester and University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust
Andrew Woodcock
Professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester
Dr Angela Simpson
Professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester
Monica Fletcher
Chief executive, Education for Health

Gordon Brown
Former prime minister Gordon Brown in Scotland this week. ‘His devolution settlement created the tensions and conflicts that are placing such a strain on the union today,’ writes David Davis. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

It is an act of extraordinary political gall for former prime minister Gordon Brown to criticise William Hague’s proposed English votes for English laws (Scotland didn’t kill off the United Kingdom – but Cameron would, 4 February) when it was his devolution settlement, designed to shore up Scottish Labour’s vote, that created the tensions and conflicts that are placing such a strain on the union today.

As chairman of the public accounts committee, I raised directly with Mr Brown the problems that would be caused by denying the Scottish parliament a sufficient tax base to fund its legislative programme, relying instead on drawing from general UK taxation. Mr Brown, with characteristic hubris, rejected these concerns out of hand, and we are now trying belatedly to patch up his mistakes.

He complains that the current proposals will leave us with two classes of MP. This is the fault of the system he helped to create. Now, either we have two classes of MP, so feared by Mr Brown, or we have two classes of citizen, where some are afforded greater representation than others.

Of course, in reality the only way to fully address the rising tensions within our union would be to move towards a more federal style system. It is a shame that this choice is not being presented to the public by either party.
David Davis MP
Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

In the report about William Hague’s proposals (3 February) I see no indication of how members of the upper house will be allowed to vote. Will they have to declare their allegiance beforehand to England or Wales or Scotland and so on? Or will all those with a name beginning Mc or Mac be presumed to be Scottish and all others English?
Revd Barry Parker
Leeds

Labour leader Ed Miliband: detractors are only helping the Tories, says W Stephen Gilbert. Photograp
Labour leader Ed Miliband: detractors are only helping the Tories, says W Stephen Gilbert. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Straight after the 1997 election, Tony Blair held meetings with backbenchers at Downing Street. In the course of the exchanges, the incoming prime minister said to me that he hoped any criticism I might have in the future would be put privately. Would it not be useful if those who held the most senior jobs in that government did the same over any differences with the position the party is now taking – all the more so with under 100 days to the election?
David Winnick MP
Labour, Walsall North

Yet another supposedly left-sympathising commentator airs his disdain of Labour’s electoral chances in good time to be able to say “told you so” on 8 May (Labour under Miliband failing on bigger scale than in 1992, says Hare, 31 January). Do these people not perceive that there is little honour in self-fulfilling prophecies? Rather than hugging to themselves their brilliance at foresight – and Sir David Hare (he accepted the knighthood from the Blairites) loses no time in telling us how on-the-money his plays always are – it would be more useful if all those who want an end to Cameron’s premiership were to keep their self-indulgences to themselves and row in the same direction as those of us who want Miliband to have the opportunity to prove himself.
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

There have been many complaints about the essentially cosmetic changes to the Guardian’s website (Open door, 2 February). Yet in a change that coincides with the launch of the general election campaign and may have to do with the Guardian’s heart and soul there has been plenty of disturbing silence. I refer to the arrival of one regular Tory guest columnist, Matthew d’Ancona, and one intermittent, Anne McElvoy, both normally to be found rubbishing Labour in the right-of-centre London Evening Standard, but now carrying on their business in the Guardian.

With the entire might and circulation of the national press, aside from the Guardian, Independent and Mirror, already rampantly Conservative, what on Earth explains the decision to import these unlovely, predictable cuckoos into your nest?
Nicholas de Jongh
London

 


Tom Clark is right (Society, 28 January) to highlight the need for young people to vote. With 4 million under-25s not registered it is no wonder the major political parties tend to favour policies that support older voters. But that is starting to change, with many politicians now openly courting the votes of young people. The question will be whether young people wake up to the importance of May’s general election in time. The Centrepoint Parliament is working with other young people supported by Centrepoint through our You Got a Problem campaign to show how decisions made at Westminster have a direct impact on young lives. And, more important, their views can make a difference. On 5 February we’ll be working with Bite the Ballot as part of National Voter Registration Day to try to register 250,000 people in a single day. If we can achieve this aim then it will be impossible for politicians of any parties to ignore the voice of young people during the election campaign.
Ben Wardlaw
Chair, Centrepoint Parliament

What's that all about? A doctor writes … Photograph: Dmitriy Shironosov/Alamy
What’s that all about? A doctor writes … Photograph: Dmitriy Shironosov/Alam

Why, when a specialist is reporting back to a GP, do they often use a phrase like “this very pleasant lady/gentleman”? Is it some kind of code, and if so, what for?

Janet Fraser, Twickenham

Post your answers – and new questions – below or email them to nq@theguardian.com. Please include name, address and phone number

Independent:

 

Times:

Sir, In arguing about whether tuition fees should be capped at £6,000 or £9,000 a year, both the Labour party and Universities UK miss the point (“Labour presses ahead with plan to cut fees”, Feb 3). The real issue is value for money — and the big number here is the increase in the proportion of graduates still in non-graduate level employment more than five years after graduating — up from 28 per cent in 2001 to 34 per cent in 2013. The jobs market has changed, and an over-regulated, poorly incentivised university system has not adjusted.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, says he is a fan of a graduate tax, but this would do nothing to improve teaching quality unless the revenue flows back to each graduate’s alma mater. Only if this happens is there is a nexus between the fortunes of the graduate and the university, aligning their interests over many years.

Peter Ainsworth
London SE1

Sir, Your leader (Feb 3) misses the obvious truth about who should pay for the survival of the English higher education establishment. While an army of young graduates will soon be hitting the streets, each with a £50,000 debt — or £100,000-plus for a couple possibly thinking of bringing up a family — the real beneficiaries are those lucky enough to have graduated 15 years ago or so, who are enjoying all the benefits of a free education leading to large salaries, but who have been relieved of the burden of providing a similar benefit to those who followed them. What justification can there be, if it is acknowledged that an educated population is a benefit for our whole society, for excusing these people from sharing in its ongoing cost?

A graduate tax is a sensible suggestion only if it applies to all graduates, irrespective of generation. The current system is unfair, especially when one considers the current emphasis on apprenticeships, in which participants are paid to be educated, and the large number of new working-class graduates with few family assets to fall back on.

Phil Clement
Horsham, W Sussex

Sir, The views expressed by a group of vice-chancellors (letter, Feb 2) do not align with those of many members of the academic community. On the contrary, a large body of academics, of all political persuasions, welcomes the fact that the proposed policy challenges the idea that the current system is inevitable or set in stone.

The urgent need to query the existing system is, furthermore, backed up by the Higher Education Commission’s report Too Good to Fail, in which the advantages and disadvantages of various scenarios are evaluated. The commission noted that a major drawback of the current model of funding is that it exacerbates intergenerational inequality by withdrawing from a generation which had most or all of its tuition fees paid by an older generation of taxpayers the burden of passing on the same advantage to the younger generation.

Gordon Campbell, University of Leicester

Dorothy Bishop, University of Oxford

Tim Horder, University of Oxford

Howard Hotson, University of Oxford

Sir Peter Scott, UCL Institute of Education

Sir Keith Thomas, University of Oxford

Rowan Tomlinson, University of Bristol

on behalf of the Council for the Defence of British Universities

Sir, Ideally, the state should subsidise students that it wishes to see educated, and not institutions, for reasons well understood by those concerned to see universities free to question whatever they choose to question. The state may have an interest in ensuring that there is no differentiation in fee between subjects, but university autonomy would benefit if there were no cap at all. An implicit subsidy through unredeemed student debt is far less dangerous to academic freedom than direct subsidy.

John Barnes
Co-author, Strategies for Higher Education, Etchingham, E Sussex
Sir, Peter Brookes’s cartoon showing Labour figures as a University Challenge team (Feb 3) has Ed Miliband out on the left and Chuka Umunna in the captain’s seat. Does Mr Brookes know something?

Andrew Maywood
Twickenham

Pupils should have the option for the systematic study of humanism in GCSE, AS and A-level religious studies, these religious leaders say

Sir, As religious leaders we wish to express our support for proposals to allow students to have the option for the systematic study of humanism in GCSE, AS and A-level religious studies, and for detailed content on humanism to be added alongside that which exists for the principal world religions. Such a change would not compel anyone to systematically study non-religious worldviews or make it possible to do so for the whole of a qualification, but it would allow young people to study a more representative sample of major worldviews common in Britain today.

Baron Williams of Oystermouth

Baron Harries of Pentregarth

The Rev Professor Keith Ward Regius Professor Emeritus of Divinity, University of Oxford

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain Maidenhead Synagogue

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers Movement for Reform Judaism

Plus a further 23 signatories whose names are at thetimes.co.uk/letters

For a true picture of the character of Thomas More, you have to go back to the history books

Sir, Hilary Mantel’s first novel in the series was published six years ago, so why are two Roman Catholic bishops complaining about her portrayal of Thomas More only after seeing Wolf Hall on television (report, Feb 3)? The bishops might console themselves with the rosy picture of More presented by Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons (1966). However, neither Bolt nor Mantel are accurate about how Tudor theologians actually thought and spoke; you need to read history books for that.

Ralph Lloyd-Jones

Nottingham

A closer precedent for HMS Victory than the Vasa is the Mary Rose, now housed brilliantly in its new museum

Sir, A closer precedent for HMS Victory than the Vasa (letter, Feb 4) is the Mary Rose, now housed brilliantly in its new museum alongside Victory.

Had both projects been combined, the prospect of truly unique world-class conservation, learning and architectural experiences would surely have guaranteed both their futures.

Peter Saunders

Curator emeritus, Salisbury Museum

When, and why, did the British start using the term ‘frogs’ to describe the French?

Sir, Patrick Kidd (Times2, Feb 2) says that the British started to mock the French as “frogs” after the publication of an anonymous print in 1799. However, the scholar Diana Poulton, remarking on the popular tune of the 16th century, the Frog Galliard, observes: “It is a well-known fact that Queen Elizabeth often referred to the Duc d’Alençon (later Duc d’Anjou) as ‘her frog’, and it could be that the tune . . . was named after the last and most persistent of her suitors.”

Graham Wade

Withernsea, E Yorks

 

Telegraph:

Britain's spending on defence will fall to 1.88 per cent of GDP

Britain’s spending on defence is predicted to fall to 1.88 per cent of GDP Photo: ALAMY

SIR – Con Coughlin asks: “Can Britain still defend itself?” The simple answer is: “No.”

During the last days of the Falklands conflict our ground troops were stretched to the limit. I joined the British Army in 1986 and the total land forces strength was then 176,000 men. We currently stand at 100,000, if that. We have more admirals than vessels, little more than a token air force and an apparent lack of will to defend our interests effectively.

Almost none of our visible politicians have any experience of military service, or, therefore, an appreciation of the importance of preparedness for conflict.

Simon Crowley
Kemsing, Kent

SIR – We have seldom been in so dangerous a predicament. With historical hatreds lurking in the background and new threats coming to the fore, we approach a general election in the same spirit as if we merely had to say to the children that we could not afford to give them any more soldiers to play with.

Harry Leigh-Dugmore
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire

SIR – None of the main political parties is interested in the needs of the Armed Forces. All three of them place third-world interests above the defence of the realm. A century ago that would surely have been tantamount to treason.

Only Ukip is committed to restoring defence expenditure to pre-2010 levels.

Mark Harland
Scarborough, North Yorkshire

SIR – On reading Mr Coughlin’s article I was reminded of a visit to Timna, the ancient capital city of Qataban, in what was to become South Yemen.

In its time it had been the centre of one of the oldest and most advanced civilisations in the Arab world. Now all that remains are some impressive outer ramparts and some foundations of buildings. Trade along the spice route, which the city dominated, brought such a level of prosperity that, over time, the need to maintain a strong defence force was ignored. It was then unable to defend itself from attack by the Himyarites, who razed the city to the ground.

Mike Anderson
Bathpool, Cornwall

SIR – The duty of a government is to make the necessary provision to defend the country and to protect its people. Is no politician ready to speak up for our superb Armed Forces and the police?

David Binsted
London SE21

SIR – If we awoke tomorrow morning to find ourselves surrounded by the combined navies of Andorra, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, do we have the capabilities to hold off an attack?

Alan Mosey
Over Kellet, Lancashire

Winterbourne freeze

SIR – We, the families whose loved ones were patients at the Winterbourne View private hospital (where systematic abuse by staff members was uncovered in 2011) or are currently patients at other similar assessment and treatment units, are bitterly disappointed by the lack of a clear plan to move people away from these units and into their communities.

The Government assured us and the charities supporting us that places like Winterbourne View would be closed down, but nearly four years on we are seeing more people going into these kinds of units than are coming out. For so many of us, what kept us going was the hope that the suffering of our loved ones would lead to change and stop the suffering of others. However, the scandal continues.

NHS England’s recent report recognised the scale of the problem, but this is not enough. We need this inappropriate system of care to be ended and we must be told when this will happen.

Jan Tregelles
Emma Garrod
Steve Sollars
Veronica Dunn
David Jack
Jill Jack
Helen Cherry
Wendy Fiander
Ann Earley
Sue Battin
Rachael Torrance
Lynne McCarrick
Luke McCarrick
Phillip Wills
Shahana Hussain

Family members of patients at Winterbourne View or other assessment and treatment units
Jan Tregelles

Chief Executive, Mencap
Vivien Cooper
Chief Executive, The Challenging Behaviour Foundation

Mystery ‘bird strike’ leaves pilot spitting feathers

it a bird? A flock of Canada geese and a formation of jet planes during an air show (ALAMY)

SIR – Ian Dick’s near miss with a fish (Letters, January 31) reminded me of an incident while I was co-pilot of a helicopter in Northern Ireland in the Seventies.

We were unloading some troops and their kit in a field near the border when one of them managed to hurl a sleeping bag through the turning rotors. My boss, who was at the controls, looked up to see an explosion of feathers. He was convinced that we had just hit a bird – a highly unlikely event for a stationary helicopter.

The soldiers were despatched to pick up the remains of the unfortunate “bird”, which was then sent off to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for analysis. Their reply did little more than question the sobriety of the pilot.

Paul Luker
Hook, Hampshire

SIR – On operations during the Second World War, my father used to fly at very low level up enemy estuaries. On his return, the station commander, seeing salt and mud splashes on the aircraft, would comment: “I see you’ve been boating again, Smales.”

Peter Smales
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Employing ex-prisoners

SIR – Timpson, the cobbler and key cutter, is an impressive company for many reasons, particularly its programme of employment of ex-offenders.

Government figures show that the cost of reoffending by recently released prisoners is between £9.5 and £13 billion per year. The average cost of convicting a prisoner is £65,000 and the average cost for each year in custody is £40,000. Employment drastically reduces reoffending. Having attended a presentation by John Timpson, the chief executive of Timpson, I understand that former prisoners are among the company’s most hard-working and successful employees. They are no doubt grateful to be given the opportunity.

What is clear is that companies enlightened enough to provide that opportunity can find that it is a win-win-win situation: for the employee, the employer and for the country.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

Waste of energy

SIR – I recently contacted Ofgem to complain that a certain supplier was charging me 45 per cent more than other suppliers of liquid petroleum gas while claiming to pride itself in offering a competitive price.

Ofgem suggested that after taking the issue up with my supplier, which I duly did to no avail, I should contact Ombudsman Services: Energy and they would help. Imagine my surprise when Ombudsman Services told me that as the supplier did not subscribe to their service they could not help me.

What is the use of a monitoring body if a supplier is not obliged to subscribe to it?

Rowan Simmonds
Marlborough, Wiltshire

Schools’ corporate focus undermines core values

Mrs Morgan said ‘No school should be exempt from promoting fundamental British values’ (EDDIE MULHOLLAND)

SIR – British values are under attack from more directions than Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, seems to think.

With independent schools increasingly adopting corporate models in order to make headlines in the global market, it seems that capitalism is our new idol, and heads are no longer head teachers but chief executives. Such a shift places values such as honesty, trust, loyalty and altruism in precarious positions.

Susan Wigmore
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

SIR – I can’t help feeling that the targets for 11-year-olds being set by Nicky Morgan are not particularly ambitious: well behind what was required for the 11-plus, well behind the syllabus in the private sector and quite patronising.

Charles Pugh
London SW1

SIR – On being asked what he’d done at school one day, my brother, then aged six, replied he’d liked the shouting lesson best.

It emerged that the class had been chanting the times tables. My brother later took a degree in electrical engineering and did not become the town crier.

Dinah McIlroy
Lesbury, Northumberland

SIR – I would love to see a front-page headline reading: “Cameron: We’ll take control of mediocre power companies.”

John McWhan
Nantwich, Cheshire

Road to disaster

SIR – I agree with the letter from Professor Keith Day (Letters, February 2) about the inefficient use of potato peelers on television.

I get more steamed up by the length of time that car drivers in soaps and the like spend looking across at their passengers while talking. In real life they would be involved in a crash very early on in the conversation.

John D Bland
Littleover, Derbyshire

SIR – Another agonisingly slow activity in television dramas and historical documentaries is writing with a quill pen.

This featured frequently in David Starkey’s Magna Carta last week, where the scribe appeared to be still struggling with lesson one in his calligraphy course. At that speed I shudder to think how long it would have taken to write out even one copy of Magna Carta, let alone entire books.

Karin Proudfoot
Fawkham, Kent

Karate chopped

Varsha Vinod, five year-old karate blackbelt (CATERS)

SIR – The Department for Education is proposing to remove a number of popular sports, including judo and karate, from the GCSE physical education syllabus (report, February 2).

My grandson started training with a local karate group when he was nine. The physical and mental benefits were apparent almost immediately and included improved concentration, growing self-discipline and vastly increased confidence.

He had to follow instructions in Japanese and the sport encouraged the appreciation of a different culture, which, unlike some of our national sports, actively promotes courtesy and respect for others. Training sessions also include both girls and boys.

Judith Hicks
Birmingham

Brotherly love

SIR – In order to address any possible jealousy when I was born, my parents told my brother that they would choose the first name of his new brother but he could choose the second name.

Christopher Robin Berry
London SE21

Good honest grub

SIR – Pub menus seem to abound in unintended humour of the artesian cheeses” sort (Letters, February 2).

One of our locals features a dish including “candid beetroot”. Another rather nice hotel bar in the area has a wine described as having “exotic notes of melon and leeches”.

Mike Cooper
Market Harborough, Leicestershire

SIR – Last Christmas our local pub was advertising aborigines on the menu.

They did mean aubergines. I hope.

Mary Eveleigh
Parkgate, Cheshire

 

Globe and Mail:

Charles Wright

Why is CPR being used for end-of-life care?

Irish Times:

Sir, – The alcohol policy proposals announced yesterday and covered extensively in The Irish Times (“Government moves against cheap drink sales”, February 4th) are identical to those announced by the Government on October 24th, 2013; they are also broadly the same as the proposals accepted by Government on foot of the National Substance Misuse Strategy of February 2012. Indeed, they have much in common with previous public health proposals on this issue stretching back over the past 20 years.

Maybe the Government is finally going to do something on this matter, but is it a coincidence that this week’s announcement was made the day after Groundhog Day? – Yours, etc,

SHANE BUTLER,

School of Social Work

and Social Policy,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – With regard to the Government’s proposal to introduce restrictions on the sale of cheap alcohol, might I suggest that these restrictions be introduced on a sliding scale for first-time drinkers? It would be a shame to see this demographic locked out of the alcohol market. Or not locked, as the case may be. – Yours, etc,

RONAN GLYNN,

Rathmines,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – I note that the “creeping prohibition” of alcohol is to begin, much as it did with tobacco 10 years ago. Prices will rise, availability will be curtailed and advertising will be restricted. Doubtless that is only the beginning.

However the term “cheap alcohol” is a relative one. The supermarket pricing for alcohol may seem cheap to a TD or the chief executive of a national charity, but to those we are told are availing of these offers, it is still expensive. Rigging the price even higher will only ensure that the better-off can continue to buy as they please while the poor and middle classes will be priced out.

More importantly, however, nobody is asking why sections of society are seeking solace in affordable alcohol. Are they searching for a temporary break from a stress-filled life? Could it be the one bit of happiness they can look forward to in a week?

However, those addicted to alcohol will need it rather than want it so they will pay the higher price and other obligations may be neglected, causing problems elsewhere.

The reaction of young people to this move will be fascinating to see as well. According to some reports, we are awash with all sorts of dangerous illegal drugs aimed squarely at the young. Will expensive alcohol lead them to explore an alternative “buzz”? Perhaps affordable alcohol could, in fact, be keeping the lid on simmering resentments all over the country and soothing frayed nerves. As humans, we need our moments of escapism.

I suggest that maybe we should be looking instead at “why we over-drink?” not “what we pay for it?” Irresponsible drinking is a symptom of a problem to be addressed, but not the problem itself. Are we not looking at the hole and not the doughnut? – Yours, etc,

JOHN MALLON,

Mayfield,

Cork.

Sir, – While welcoming the proposed introduction of minimum pricing, one unwelcome outcome may be a huge increase in profit margins for brewers and off-licences.

It would be infinitely preferable if a mechanism could be devised whereby the Government imposed the increased cost as a health levy, which should be ring-fenced for health and alcoholism treatment purposes.

This, after all, is predominantly a health issue and such a levy can be logically justified. – Yours, etc,

PETER MOLLOY,

Glenageary,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – The letter on alcohol and sport sponsorship by Dr Michael Loftus (January 31st) is extreme in language, does not fully represent the situation and does not serve his argument well.

It is incorrect to say the industry has enormous profits. Many in the drinks industry are craft distillers and brewers eking a living to break even, creating countless hundreds of jobs across rural and urban Ireland. The industry in Ireland is saddled with the most penal excise taxes on alcohol in the OECD, and a bottle of Irish whiskey is now $15 less expensive in Manhattan than it is in Dublin.

As a result there have been several hundred job losses, particularly by the multinationals who have downsized their domestic Ireland operations or exited in response to the significant falls in domestic alcohol sales.

But for the growth in export markets where a more balanced and responsible attitude to the drinks industry prevails, there would be no industry in Ireland.

Exaggerated and prohibitionist agendas are not what the people want and certainly do not serve the promotion of reasoned argument.

Yes to responsible alcohol consumption. And to more reasoned arguments by the anti-alcohol activists, – Yours, etc,

PATRICK J RIGNEY,

Drumshanbo,

Co Leitrim.

Sir, – I applaud Dr Michael J Loftus in his justified condemnation of the Government climbdown in refusing to ban the alcohol industry’s sponsorship of sports. I cannot understand how associating alcohol and sport can be seen as acceptable. Surely it is evident that alcohol and sport are incompatible? Anyone seriously interested in advancing in a sporting career will not be advised to indulge in alcohol.

As Dr Loftus rightly points out, from his experience as a doctor and a coroner, and having over very many years seen the effects of alcohol abuse, it is unbelievable that Ministers for Health, Children, Social Protection and Justice can continue to permit this sponsorship. Their spinelessness is something to observe. – Yours, etc,

MARY STEWART,

Ardeskin,

Donegal.

A chara, – Brian Tobin references “an abundance of research since the 1970s” which allegedly shows that children do not require “dual-gender parenting” (“Why ‘child welfare concerns’ are not a valid reason to oppose same-sex marriage referendum”, Opinion & Analysis, February 2nd). It is a pity that he did not decide to examine any of these studies in greater detail, as the majority of them suffer from serious methodological flaws.

In a study entitled “Nontraditional Families and Childhood Progress through School”, published in the journal Demography and available on the website of the US National Institute for Health, Michael J Rosenfeld gives an overview of 45 studies on same-sex parenting and outcomes of children prior to 2010. Some of the problems with this research include “universally small sample sizes of children” (the studies look at on average only 39 children raised by same-sex couples) and a tendency in many of the earlier studies and some of the later ones to rely upon convenience sampling, often focusing mainly on same-sex parents from a higher socioeconomic bracket. In some cases, the studies even lacked a married heterosexual control group for comparison, making the results utterly meaningless.

Some of the more recent surveys have been shown to have similar flaws too. As such, these studies do not provide a sound basis for arguing for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum. – Is mise,

RYAN CONNOLLY,

Ranelagh,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Dr Brian Tobin’s implied assertion that same-sex parenting is not detrimental child welfare is not in fact substantiated by research since the 1970s, as he claims. Data on the long-term outcomes of children placed in same-sex households are sparse and do not bear out Dr Tobin’s contention.

The study by the Australian Psychological Society that Dr Tobin seemingly relies on has critical design flaws. For instance, whereas the heterosexual parents were sampled at random and the sample varies in the quality of parenting for analysis, the same-sex parenting sample was based on applications from same-sex couples. The temptation to report positive assessments could be elevated in this self-selected sample. There is a risk of “social desirability bias”, the tendency to portray oneself as better than one actually is.

The issue of child welfare in the context of gay marriage is more complex than Dr Tobin’s article proposes. Katy Faust, who serves on the Academic and Testimonial Councils of the International Children’s Rights Institute, was raised by her mother and her lesbian partner. She writes: “Talk to any child with gay parents, especially those old enough to reflect on their experiences. If you ask a child raised by a lesbian couple if they love their two moms, you’ll probably get a resounding ‘yes!’ Ask about their father, and you are in for either painful silence, a confession of gut-wrenching longing, or the recognition that they have a father that they wish they could see more often. The one thing that you will not hear is indifference.” – Yours, etc,

NEIL BRAY,

Cappamore,

Co Limerick.

Sir, – David O’Brien (February 3rd) states that “it is not possible to redefine marriage”. However this is exactly what has taken place in California, where, to make everyone feel more equal, all mention of the words “husband” and “wife” has been removed from state laws. Is the wording of the marriage referendum a precursor to the same thing happening here? – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS O’CALLAGHAN,

Carlow.

Sir, – The controversy over “marriage” seems rather absurd in the light of history. State oversight of marriage is relatively modern – 1753 in England (later still in Ireland) – primarily in order to bestow rights on women and children, and incidentally to clarify exactly which “wife” of a Royal Navy sailor was entitled to draw down his pay whilst at sea. Prior to that only the wealthy indulged in formal marriage, which comprised an exhaustive legal contract regarding dowries, inheritance and a widow’s rights. Indeed the Catholic Church itself only adopted marriage as a sacrament in 1563. Meanwhile the vast majority of ordinary couples simply lived together despite attempts by government to promote recorded marriage via the established church.

Whilst churches have administered the sacrament of marriage, the state has confined itself to extending the rights of wives and children, especially to financial support. As far as the state is concerned, the marriage ceremony merely triggers a range of rights aimed at ensuring children and family are protected, particularly from errant fathers.

What gay couples are seeking is apparently the confirmation that their relationships are sacred to them. Ironically, however, a state redefinition of marriage would merely trigger rights which in nearly every case are bizarrely irrelevant to their situation, and incidentally confirm that politics is the refuge of the ridiculous. But it does not undermine the sacrament of heterosexual marriage unless religious authorities choose to do so.

In order to cater for the modern age we really need to revert to the pre-1753 position – couples living together and producing or legally adopting children are de facto married. They should be required to register their status and thus ensure that facts, not ceremonies, determine the rights and responsibilities and of children and parents. Other couples of all descriptions neither require nor merit special treatment. – Yours, etc,

BILL BAILEY,

Ballineen,

Co Cork.

Sir, – In response to Jim Cosgrove (February 4th), does anyone seriously think that an assessment of an adult citizen’s competency based solely on age is an appropriate argument? It is a total nonsense. – Yours, etc,

RICHARD SCRIVEN,

Ballinlough, Cork.

Sir, – There is a place for political stunts as we witness the death throes of an increasingly clueless Government. But the Constitution is not one of them. And why 21, by the way? Why not 18, while we’re at it? Or is that a gimmick for another day? – Yours, etc,

JAMES O’KEEFE,

Crumlin,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – Carl O’Brien states that more than 8,000 cases of child abuse, neglect and welfare concerns over children at risk are waiting to be allocated a social worker (“Concern over child protection backlog”, February 2nd).

Surely this state of affairs makes a mockery of the passing of the children’s rights referendum: “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights”.

This neglect will undoubtedly come back to haunt us as a society. – Yours, etc,

EILEEN McDERMOTT,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Every time a potential buyer places a bid against a property with an estate agent, this has the effect of increasing the actual price of the property for the eventual successful buyer. However there is no legal legislation in place that regulates this process of bidding against a property which is up for sale. This has the effect that all such offers are only accepted in good faith by the estate agent.

It is generally accepted that the purchase of our homes is the most expensive financial transaction for most people, barring serious illness of course. So why is there no current legal framework in place to protect the actual bidding process for all mutual parties to the sale? Perhaps your readers feel as I do that this current process is also a contributor to the high cost of property transactions here in Ireland and should now be examined by the Government. – Yours, etc,

ANDREW DOGGETT,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.

Sir, – I was disappointed to read that Senator John Crown (Independent) and Senator Averil Power (Fianna Fáil) are introducing a Bill to ban e-cigarettes from the workplace (“E-cigarette regulation proposed in new Bill”, January 30th). I am surprised at this knee-jerk reaction to what is probably the most invaluable aid yet developed to helping people stop smoking. And all on the basis that their long-term effects cannot yet be shown to be safe.

I have just researched the long-term safety aspects involved in handling sheets of paper. As of this time there is no evidence that this practice involves no untoward side-effects. It is for this reason that I am sending you this missive via email rather than letter. Just to be sure. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN MADDEN,

Carndonagh, Co Donegal.

A chara, – Dr Daire Keogh, president of St Patrick’s College, is quoted as saying of the new St Patrick’s campus of Dublin City University: “There will be nothing in the British Isles and practically nothing in Europe that would compare to us in terms of scale” (“Churches unite at St Patrick’s teacher training college in Drumcondra”, February 2nd). It is surprising that Dr Keogh uses the dated term “British Isles”. British and Irish diplomats studiously avoided the term in the complex Anglo-Irish negotiations. The British Lions tours have become an embarrassing memory. Even that High Tory, Sir John Biggs-Davison, recognised the political implications of the term and proposed the use of “Islands of the North Atlantic” as a substitute. I would suggest that Dr Keogh should confine himself to the happy compromise of “in these islands”. – Is mise,

PEADAR Mac MAGHNAIS,

Baile Átha Cliath 5.

5 Febuary 2015 Ankle

A quiet day my right foot is very sore arthritis.

Obituary:

Sir Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin Gilbert Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty

Sir Martin Gilbert, who has died aged 78, was a historian of authority and meticulous scholarship, whose output was dominated by his official biography of Sir Winston Churchill: six narrative volumes, 11 companion books of source material, a 981-page popular precis and 13 spin-offs.

Equally authoritative as a historian of Judaism, the Holocaust and the sweep of the 20th century, Gilbert was renowned for his ability to ferret out precisely what had happened, though some critics felt he paid too little attention to the “why”.

A committed Zionist and a proudly observant Jew, Gilbert’s writings about the travails of his people drew their force – to the annoyance of some co-religionists – from the enormity of the facts rather than an emotional involvement. Writing in support of Jewish “refuseniks” in the Soviet Union, however, he let his feelings go.

Gilbert was an Oxford graduate student when, in 1962, Sir Winston’s son Randolph – commissioned to write the biography – engaged him as a researcher; Lady Diana Cooper introduced him. Randolph had delivered only the first two volumes (an immense task in itself) when he died in 1968, leaving Gilbert £250.

Churchill’s grandson, Winston, and Lord Birkenhead, the son of F E Smith, were keen to take over, but the Chartwell Trust stuck with Gilbert. He undertook to complete the outstanding six volumes for a flat fee of £80,000 – out of which he would finance research – instead of royalties. By the time the final volume of the main series appeared in 1988, the project had taken Gilbert 26 years and generated nine million words over 25,000 pages. The precis, Churchill: A Life, appeared in 1991, and the most recent companion volume, covering the year 1942, in 2014. Six more were originally planned.

Gilbert – a Fellow of Merton College for 32 years, then from 1994 an honorary fellow – continued his own research alongside his work on Churchill, initially with Randolph in Suffolk. His first task on taking over was to shepherd into print the companion volumes to those Randolph had completed; these appeared under Randolph’s name.

Gilbert’s first narrative volume, Winston S Churchill: Volume Three: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916, appeared in 1971. Serialised in The Sunday Telegraph, it sold out in a fortnight. The reviews were enthusiastic, Michael Foot declaring: “Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill’s biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice.”

Maj-Gen Edward Spears wrote of the same volume: “From its pages emerges a living Churchill who towers above his fellow politicians and whose courage is that of a paladin whom nothing can dismay, yet whose fundamental tenderness peeps out in the letters to his wife.”

Research for that single volume (on which Randolph had started him in 1963) took Gilbert from Flanders to Turkey. His inquiries were exhaustive: Churchill’s resignation telegram to Asquith was not among the official records or in either man’s papers, and he eventually tracked it down in the Beaverbrook Library. The first draft of that volume was two million words, cut down to 300,000.

Sir Martin Gilbert (NEIL DRABBLE)

Gilbert’s non-judgmental portrayal of Churchill led to disputes with other historians. His thoroughness, too, aroused comment, notably when he ascertained from a 1930s laundry list that Churchill had paid a hitherto unknown visit to Beirut. Not content with editing all Churchill’s correspondence in parallel, he even compiled brief biographies of every one of the hundreds of people mentioned in the text.

In 1971 Churchill College, Cambridge, built a special air-conditioned home for Sir Winston’s papers, to which Gilbert had sole access. When, in 1995, the Heritage Lottery Fund purchased them from Churchill’s grandson to keep them in Britain, Gilbert welcomed the step.

Alongside Gilbert’s other output – he wrote some 90 books in all – further instalments of the Churchill biography appeared at regular intervals: Volume Four: The Stricken World, 1917-1922 (1975), Volume Five: Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939 (1979), Volume Six: Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (1983), Volume Seven: Road to Victory, 1941-1945 (1986) and Volume Eight: Never Despair, 1945-1965 (1988).

Volume Six brought Gilbert the Wolfson award; the publication of the final volume a snub from Margaret Thatcher. She barred her Cabinet from the launch because Heinemann was also publishing Peter Wright’s Spycatcher, which she had tried to ban. When funding for the companion volumes ran out in 1982, an American benefactor financed their publication.

Martin John Gilbert was born in London on October 25 1936, the son of Peter Gilbert, a jeweller, and his wife Marian. All his grandparents were born in Tsarist Russia. Nine months after war broke out, he was evacuated to Canada. Vivid memories of the crossing from Liverpool to Quebec sparked his later interest in the war.

After returning to Britain he attended Highgate School, where he was taught history by the Balkan expert Alan Palmer, and politics by the redoubtable Fabian T N Fox. After National Service with the Intelligence Corps he went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, taking a First in Modern History; one of his tutors was A J P Taylor.

In 1960 Gilbert was appointed a senior research scholar at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and two years later Merton made him a Fellow. He was already assisting Randolph Churchill when his first book was published, in 1963: this was The Appeasers , written with the Marxist Richard Gott, then at Chatham House. The Roots of Appeasement, casting its net wider, followed three years later. To Gilbert, the villain of the piece was Sir Horace Wilson, the government’s chief industrial adviser and Chamberlain’s emissary to Hitler.

Gilbert attracted criticism for the way he presented the case against Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and R A Butler; decades later, he would say that a lifetime of research had shown them to be even more culpable.

Without lessening his academic rigour, Gilbert found time to be the recent history correspondent for The Sunday Times, help research the BBC’s British Empire series (1968) and look through the draft of Harold Wilson’s book on the 1964-70 Labour government. “Sir Harold asked for comment,” said Gilbert. “I’ve never known anybody quite so receptive to suggestion.” He declined an invitation to be Anthony Eden’s official biographer .

Gilbert’s interest in Jewish history first showed in his Jewish History Atlas (1969), and his first major work was The Emergence of Jewish Statehood (1978). While researching his Atlas of the Holocaust (1982), he found a distant cousin in a Polish village who had been hidden from the Nazis in Warsaw as a child – and was now one of 50 Jews where there had been 30,000.

He took up the cause of the refuseniks with passion, writing the biography Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time (1986) and appearing before the UN Commission on Human Rights, where he clashed with Soviet delegates over the Kremlin’s refusal to let them leave.

John Major brought Gilbert to Downing Street as an adviser and “court chronicler”, and he helped to draft several speeches, also telling Tory rebels that Major was “a doughty fighter and a successful negotiator in a world where leadership counts”.

He was a member of the prime minister’s delegation to Israel – advising on the history of the Holocaust – and to Jordan, and sat in on Major’s talks with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Major confessed: “I do not know what I would have done without Martin Gilbert to keep me briefed on the Middle East.” In Washington with Major in 1995, he charted the progress of the “special relationship” after friction with the Clinton administration.

In 2009 Gilbert was appointed to Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq War and made a Privy Counsellor to give him full access to the evidence. Several MPs criticised the choice because Gilbert had once compared George W Bush and Tony Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill, but he proved a meticulous questioner of Blair about his motives and decisions.

Gilbert advised on the script of the Oscar-winning documentary Genocide (1982). He was historical adviser to Southern Pictures’ Winston Churchill: the Wilderness Years (1980-81), BBC television’s Auschwitz and the Allies (1981-82) and Yalta 1945 (1982-83). He also wrote and narrated the BBC’s four-part series Churchill (1989-91).

Over the years he held visiting professorships and fellowships at universities around the world . In 2002 President Bush invited him to lecture at the White House. In 1999 Oxford University conferred on Gilbert an honorary DLitt for “the totality of his work”. Churchill College made him an honorary fellow in 2008, and since 1978 he had been a governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He was appointed CBE in 1990 and knighted in 1995.

Martin Gilbert married first, in 1963, Helen Robinson, with whom he had a daughter. In 1974 he married Susan Sacher, great-granddaughter of Lord Marks, the founder of Marks & Spencer; they had two sons. In 2005 he married, thirdly, the Holocaust historian Esther Poznansky.

Sir Martin Gilbert, born October 25 1936, died February 3 2015

Guardian:

Campaigners march on City Hall to demand solution to housing crisis
Tenants, housing campaigners and trade union activists demand solutions to London’s housing crisis on the March for Homes on 31 Janaury. Photograph: Mark Kerrison/Corbis

While the stupidity of the Tory government’s change in relation to affordable housing is obvious to all – even Tories dealing with the issues, such as planners at Westminster council – who is going to even try to deal with the house-price madness (Property forms profit as home rules change, 2 February)? Average house prices in London are now far beyond even bankers and others on £100,000-a-year salaries: an average flat in north-west London costs over £900,000. Who let this happen and, more important, who is going to do anything about this ludicrous situation?

Not the Tories, since Brandon Lewis, the Conservative housing minister, talks about requirements for “affordable” flats in new developments as “a stealth tax” that hindered regeneration and encouraged empty properties. And that is in relation to the developers’ notion of affordable, at 80% of local prices. The crude mansion tax from Labour might have some impact on prices at the top end, but even a complete revision in council tax will not affect these prices without hitting every householder equally hard. We did nothing to earn the increased values of our flats, this is just a side effect of all the funny money looking to London for a safe haven for their mostly ill-gotten gains, rich Greeks included.

Is there an economist in the house (or House), the Treasury, the Bank of England with any idea what to do about this insanity? Apparently not.
David Reed
London

Congratulations to the Guardian for exposing the loss of affordable housing that has resulted from the government’s successive changes to planning law.

The latest changes to planning law are in a series that have progressively created major loopholes to excuse developers from providing affordable housing. Just south of Sutton station, in south London, there is an office building, empty for some years, which the developers propose to convert to 128 luxury flats. The day before Sutton council’s planning committee was to approve the scheme, which included a significant number of affordable homes, the developers withdrew the scheme. They had spotted the advantages to them if they followed a newly created route called “prior approval” that has now forced the council to accept the application with zero affordable homes included.

On one calculation, our borough may have lost up to 500 affordable homes due to that legislation. The latest changes you highlight are further steps on a path that is seriously undermining the efforts of local authorities to help those in dire need of better housing.
Councillor Richard Clifton
Chair of planning committee, London borough of Sutton

It is good to see the Westminster Property Group, with its big ticket property club members, supporting more social housing in central London. But central London’s affordable homes shortfall is a special case, which has no general case application on a nationwide basis.

Brandon Lewis, the housing minister, is nearer the mark elsewhere. Excessive section 106 tariffs and the affordable homes burden do push many projects into the non-viable basket. Simply look at the numbers; that is to say the house sale proceeds from which these public benefits are funded. Central London sale values, as a rough and ready average, are £1,500 per square foot. Put differently, a modest, 1, 000sq ft three-bed town house or flat will cost the buyer £1.5m, or more with stamp duty on top. Put 15 of them on to an acre, and the gross receipts are £22m. After building costs, profit margin and land, there is still scope to fund some affordable homes.

Apply the same model in the home counties, for example in Reading, where the sale price for the same home will be nearer £350psf. What is more, density will also be about one third lower. The gross receipts in this case are £3.5m, less than 20% of the value generated by an acre in central London. Far less margin left over here, particularly if developers overpay for their land. Then they will just wait.

Until local authorities with supplies of unrestricted, white land challenge the vested interests, and decide to release far more of it for housebuilding, the affordability crisis will continue. This initiative is near impossible for Tory authorities in rural area, where the nimby lobby has the final veto.
Ian Campbell
Richmond upon Thames, Surrey

The dearth of genuinely affordable homes to buy or to rent can only be made worse by the rule changes that allow property firms to reduce, or even avoid, making contributions to build affordable housing. Recent data from London’s Poverty Profile – independent research carried out by the New Policy Institute and funded by us – reveals that only seven London boroughs met their target for affordable home completions from 2010 to 2013. This lack of affordable housing is creating serious problems in the capital; after housing costs are taken into account, 28% of Londoners are now living in poverty. We need to build more homes that people can actually afford.
Mubin Haq
Director of policy and grants, Trust for London

In the early 1970s, we took out a mortgage two and a half times my salary to buy a home to live in. That same home is now valued at 60 times that amount. One reason for huge increases in the prices of homes is that when final salary pension schemes were scrapped people looked to property as an alternative nest egg to supplement their pension. A shame then that John Lewis is adding fuel to that fire (John Lewis scraps final salary pension, 3 February).
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

Man Using an Inhaler
A man using an asthma inhaler. ‘Last year, the National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed that two-thirds of asthma deaths were preventable with routine care.’ Photograph: Corbis

Your report claiming that “1 million people in the UK may have been wrongly diagnosed with asthma” (29 January) is unhelpful and, arguably, irresponsible. In reality, asthma diagnosis is complex, and many people who do have it may not show clear signs on clinical testing. Reporting otherwise means that millions of people with asthma who do need treatment have been left with uncertainty about their diagnosis and care. What is in no doubt is that care must improve. Only last year, the National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed shockingly that two-thirds of asthma deaths were preventable with routine care. This is supported by even more recent findings from Asthma UK, which revealed that eight out of 10 people in the UK are not receiving care that meets even the most basic clinical standards. Asthma is serious and the complacency that leads such to headlines has to stop.
Dr Robert Niven
Senior lecturer in respiratory medicine at the University Hospital of South Manchester
Dr Mark Levy
General practitioner with an interest in asthma
Ann-Louise Caress
Professor of nursing at the University of Manchester and University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust
Andrew Woodcock
Professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester
Dr Angela Simpson
Professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester
Monica Fletcher
Chief executive, Education for Health

Gordon Brown
Former prime minister Gordon Brown in Scotland this week. ‘His devolution settlement created the tensions and conflicts that are placing such a strain on the union today,’ writes David Davis. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

It is an act of extraordinary political gall for former prime minister Gordon Brown to criticise William Hague’s proposed English votes for English laws (Scotland didn’t kill off the United Kingdom – but Cameron would, 4 February) when it was his devolution settlement, designed to shore up Scottish Labour’s vote, that created the tensions and conflicts that are placing such a strain on the union today.

As chairman of the public accounts committee, I raised directly with Mr Brown the problems that would be caused by denying the Scottish parliament a sufficient tax base to fund its legislative programme, relying instead on drawing from general UK taxation. Mr Brown, with characteristic hubris, rejected these concerns out of hand, and we are now trying belatedly to patch up his mistakes.

He complains that the current proposals will leave us with two classes of MP. This is the fault of the system he helped to create. Now, either we have two classes of MP, so feared by Mr Brown, or we have two classes of citizen, where some are afforded greater representation than others.

Of course, in reality the only way to fully address the rising tensions within our union would be to move towards a more federal style system. It is a shame that this choice is not being presented to the public by either party.
David Davis MP
Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

In the report about William Hague’s proposals (3 February) I see no indication of how members of the upper house will be allowed to vote. Will they have to declare their allegiance beforehand to England or Wales or Scotland and so on? Or will all those with a name beginning Mc or Mac be presumed to be Scottish and all others English?
Revd Barry Parker
Leeds

Labour leader Ed Miliband: detractors are only helping the Tories, says W Stephen Gilbert. Photograp
Labour leader Ed Miliband: detractors are only helping the Tories, says W Stephen Gilbert. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Straight after the 1997 election, Tony Blair held meetings with backbenchers at Downing Street. In the course of the exchanges, the incoming prime minister said to me that he hoped any criticism I might have in the future would be put privately. Would it not be useful if those who held the most senior jobs in that government did the same over any differences with the position the party is now taking – all the more so with under 100 days to the election?
David Winnick MP
Labour, Walsall North

Yet another supposedly left-sympathising commentator airs his disdain of Labour’s electoral chances in good time to be able to say “told you so” on 8 May (Labour under Miliband failing on bigger scale than in 1992, says Hare, 31 January). Do these people not perceive that there is little honour in self-fulfilling prophecies? Rather than hugging to themselves their brilliance at foresight – and Sir David Hare (he accepted the knighthood from the Blairites) loses no time in telling us how on-the-money his plays always are – it would be more useful if all those who want an end to Cameron’s premiership were to keep their self-indulgences to themselves and row in the same direction as those of us who want Miliband to have the opportunity to prove himself.
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

There have been many complaints about the essentially cosmetic changes to the Guardian’s website (Open door, 2 February). Yet in a change that coincides with the launch of the general election campaign and may have to do with the Guardian’s heart and soul there has been plenty of disturbing silence. I refer to the arrival of one regular Tory guest columnist, Matthew d’Ancona, and one intermittent, Anne McElvoy, both normally to be found rubbishing Labour in the right-of-centre London Evening Standard, but now carrying on their business in the Guardian.

With the entire might and circulation of the national press, aside from the Guardian, Independent and Mirror, already rampantly Conservative, what on Earth explains the decision to import these unlovely, predictable cuckoos into your nest?
Nicholas de Jongh
London

 


Tom Clark is right (Society, 28 January) to highlight the need for young people to vote. With 4 million under-25s not registered it is no wonder the major political parties tend to favour policies that support older voters. But that is starting to change, with many politicians now openly courting the votes of young people. The question will be whether young people wake up to the importance of May’s general election in time. The Centrepoint Parliament is working with other young people supported by Centrepoint through our You Got a Problem campaign to show how decisions made at Westminster have a direct impact on young lives. And, more important, their views can make a difference. On 5 February we’ll be working with Bite the Ballot as part of National Voter Registration Day to try to register 250,000 people in a single day. If we can achieve this aim then it will be impossible for politicians of any parties to ignore the voice of young people during the election campaign.
Ben Wardlaw
Chair, Centrepoint Parliament

What's that all about? A doctor writes … Photograph: Dmitriy Shironosov/Alamy
What’s that all about? A doctor writes … Photograph: Dmitriy Shironosov/Alam

Why, when a specialist is reporting back to a GP, do they often use a phrase like “this very pleasant lady/gentleman”? Is it some kind of code, and if so, what for?

Janet Fraser, Twickenham

Post your answers – and new questions – below or email them to nq@theguardian.com. Please include name, address and phone number

Independent:

Times:

Sir, In arguing about whether tuition fees should be capped at £6,000 or £9,000 a year, both the Labour party and Universities UK miss the point (“Labour presses ahead with plan to cut fees”, Feb 3). The real issue is value for money — and the big number here is the increase in the proportion of graduates still in non-graduate level employment more than five years after graduating — up from 28 per cent in 2001 to 34 per cent in 2013. The jobs market has changed, and an over-regulated, poorly incentivised university system has not adjusted.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, says he is a fan of a graduate tax, but this would do nothing to improve teaching quality unless the revenue flows back to each graduate’s alma mater. Only if this happens is there is a nexus between the fortunes of the graduate and the university, aligning their interests over many years.

Peter Ainsworth
London SE1

Sir, Your leader (Feb 3) misses the obvious truth about who should pay for the survival of the English higher education establishment. While an army of young graduates will soon be hitting the streets, each with a £50,000 debt — or £100,000-plus for a couple possibly thinking of bringing up a family — the real beneficiaries are those lucky enough to have graduated 15 years ago or so, who are enjoying all the benefits of a free education leading to large salaries, but who have been relieved of the burden of providing a similar benefit to those who followed them. What justification can there be, if it is acknowledged that an educated population is a benefit for our whole society, for excusing these people from sharing in its ongoing cost?

A graduate tax is a sensible suggestion only if it applies to all graduates, irrespective of generation. The current system is unfair, especially when one considers the current emphasis on apprenticeships, in which participants are paid to be educated, and the large number of new working-class graduates with few family assets to fall back on.

Phil Clement
Horsham, W Sussex

Sir, The views expressed by a group of vice-chancellors (letter, Feb 2) do not align with those of many members of the academic community. On the contrary, a large body of academics, of all political persuasions, welcomes the fact that the proposed policy challenges the idea that the current system is inevitable or set in stone.

The urgent need to query the existing system is, furthermore, backed up by the Higher Education Commission’s report Too Good to Fail, in which the advantages and disadvantages of various scenarios are evaluated. The commission noted that a major drawback of the current model of funding is that it exacerbates intergenerational inequality by withdrawing from a generation which had most or all of its tuition fees paid by an older generation of taxpayers the burden of passing on the same advantage to the younger generation.

Gordon Campbell, University of Leicester

Dorothy Bishop, University of Oxford

Tim Horder, University of Oxford

Howard Hotson, University of Oxford

Sir Peter Scott, UCL Institute of Education

Sir Keith Thomas, University of Oxford

Rowan Tomlinson, University of Bristol

on behalf of the Council for the Defence of British Universities

Sir, Ideally, the state should subsidise students that it wishes to see educated, and not institutions, for reasons well understood by those concerned to see universities free to question whatever they choose to question. The state may have an interest in ensuring that there is no differentiation in fee between subjects, but university autonomy would benefit if there were no cap at all. An implicit subsidy through unredeemed student debt is far less dangerous to academic freedom than direct subsidy.

John Barnes
Co-author, Strategies for Higher Education, Etchingham, E Sussex
Sir, Peter Brookes’s cartoon showing Labour figures as a University Challenge team (Feb 3) has Ed Miliband out on the left and Chuka Umunna in the captain’s seat. Does Mr Brookes know something?

Andrew Maywood
Twickenham

Pupils should have the option for the systematic study of humanism in GCSE, AS and A-level religious studies, these religious leaders say

Sir, As religious leaders we wish to express our support for proposals to allow students to have the option for the systematic study of humanism in GCSE, AS and A-level religious studies, and for detailed content on humanism to be added alongside that which exists for the principal world religions. Such a change would not compel anyone to systematically study non-religious worldviews or make it possible to do so for the whole of a qualification, but it would allow young people to study a more representative sample of major worldviews common in Britain today.

Baron Williams of Oystermouth

Baron Harries of Pentregarth

The Rev Professor Keith Ward Regius Professor Emeritus of Divinity, University of Oxford

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain Maidenhead Synagogue

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers Movement for Reform Judaism

Plus a further 23 signatories whose names are at thetimes.co.uk/letters

For a true picture of the character of Thomas More, you have to go back to the history books

Sir, Hilary Mantel’s first novel in the series was published six years ago, so why are two Roman Catholic bishops complaining about her portrayal of Thomas More only after seeing Wolf Hall on television (report, Feb 3)? The bishops might console themselves with the rosy picture of More presented by Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons (1966). However, neither Bolt nor Mantel are accurate about how Tudor theologians actually thought and spoke; you need to read history books for that.

Ralph Lloyd-Jones

Nottingham

A closer precedent for HMS Victory than the Vasa is the Mary Rose, now housed brilliantly in its new museum

Sir, A closer precedent for HMS Victory than the Vasa (letter, Feb 4) is the Mary Rose, now housed brilliantly in its new museum alongside Victory.

Had both projects been combined, the prospect of truly unique world-class conservation, learning and architectural experiences would surely have guaranteed both their futures.

Peter Saunders

Curator emeritus, Salisbury Museum

When, and why, did the British start using the term ‘frogs’ to describe the French?

Sir, Patrick Kidd (Times2, Feb 2) says that the British started to mock the French as “frogs” after the publication of an anonymous print in 1799. However, the scholar Diana Poulton, remarking on the popular tune of the 16th century, the Frog Galliard, observes: “It is a well-known fact that Queen Elizabeth often referred to the Duc d’Alençon (later Duc d’Anjou) as ‘her frog’, and it could be that the tune . . . was named after the last and most persistent of her suitors.”

Graham Wade

Withernsea, E Yorks

Telegraph:

Britain's spending on defence will fall to 1.88 per cent of GDP

Britain’s spending on defence is predicted to fall to 1.88 per cent of GDP Photo: ALAMY

SIR – Con Coughlin asks: “Can Britain still defend itself?” The simple answer is: “No.”

During the last days of the Falklands conflict our ground troops were stretched to the limit. I joined the British Army in 1986 and the total land forces strength was then 176,000 men. We currently stand at 100,000, if that. We have more admirals than vessels, little more than a token air force and an apparent lack of will to defend our interests effectively.

Almost none of our visible politicians have any experience of military service, or, therefore, an appreciation of the importance of preparedness for conflict.

Simon Crowley
Kemsing, Kent

SIR – We have seldom been in so dangerous a predicament. With historical hatreds lurking in the background and new threats coming to the fore, we approach a general election in the same spirit as if we merely had to say to the children that we could not afford to give them any more soldiers to play with.

Harry Leigh-Dugmore
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire

SIR – None of the main political parties is interested in the needs of the Armed Forces. All three of them place third-world interests above the defence of the realm. A century ago that would surely have been tantamount to treason.

Only Ukip is committed to restoring defence expenditure to pre-2010 levels.

Mark Harland
Scarborough, North Yorkshire

SIR – On reading Mr Coughlin’s article I was reminded of a visit to Timna, the ancient capital city of Qataban, in what was to become South Yemen.

In its time it had been the centre of one of the oldest and most advanced civilisations in the Arab world. Now all that remains are some impressive outer ramparts and some foundations of buildings. Trade along the spice route, which the city dominated, brought such a level of prosperity that, over time, the need to maintain a strong defence force was ignored. It was then unable to defend itself from attack by the Himyarites, who razed the city to the ground.

Mike Anderson
Bathpool, Cornwall

SIR – The duty of a government is to make the necessary provision to defend the country and to protect its people. Is no politician ready to speak up for our superb Armed Forces and the police?

David Binsted
London SE21

SIR – If we awoke tomorrow morning to find ourselves surrounded by the combined navies of Andorra, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, do we have the capabilities to hold off an attack?

Alan Mosey
Over Kellet, Lancashire

Winterbourne freeze

SIR – We, the families whose loved ones were patients at the Winterbourne View private hospital (where systematic abuse by staff members was uncovered in 2011) or are currently patients at other similar assessment and treatment units, are bitterly disappointed by the lack of a clear plan to move people away from these units and into their communities.

The Government assured us and the charities supporting us that places like Winterbourne View would be closed down, but nearly four years on we are seeing more people going into these kinds of units than are coming out. For so many of us, what kept us going was the hope that the suffering of our loved ones would lead to change and stop the suffering of others. However, the scandal continues.

NHS England’s recent report recognised the scale of the problem, but this is not enough. We need this inappropriate system of care to be ended and we must be told when this will happen.

Jan Tregelles
Emma Garrod
Steve Sollars
Veronica Dunn
David Jack
Jill Jack
Helen Cherry
Wendy Fiander
Ann Earley
Sue Battin
Rachael Torrance
Lynne McCarrick
Luke McCarrick
Phillip Wills
Shahana Hussain

Family members of patients at Winterbourne View or other assessment and treatment units
Jan Tregelles

Chief Executive, Mencap
Vivien Cooper
Chief Executive, The Challenging Behaviour Foundation

Mystery ‘bird strike’ leaves pilot spitting feathers

it a bird? A flock of Canada geese and a formation of jet planes during an air show (ALAMY)

SIR – Ian Dick’s near miss with a fish (Letters, January 31) reminded me of an incident while I was co-pilot of a helicopter in Northern Ireland in the Seventies.

We were unloading some troops and their kit in a field near the border when one of them managed to hurl a sleeping bag through the turning rotors. My boss, who was at the controls, looked up to see an explosion of feathers. He was convinced that we had just hit a bird – a highly unlikely event for a stationary helicopter.

The soldiers were despatched to pick up the remains of the unfortunate “bird”, which was then sent off to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for analysis. Their reply did little more than question the sobriety of the pilot.

Paul Luker
Hook, Hampshire

SIR – On operations during the Second World War, my father used to fly at very low level up enemy estuaries. On his return, the station commander, seeing salt and mud splashes on the aircraft, would comment: “I see you’ve been boating again, Smales.”

Peter Smales
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Employing ex-prisoners

SIR – Timpson, the cobbler and key cutter, is an impressive company for many reasons, particularly its programme of employment of ex-offenders.

Government figures show that the cost of reoffending by recently released prisoners is between £9.5 and £13 billion per year. The average cost of convicting a prisoner is £65,000 and the average cost for each year in custody is £40,000. Employment drastically reduces reoffending. Having attended a presentation by John Timpson, the chief executive of Timpson, I understand that former prisoners are among the company’s most hard-working and successful employees. They are no doubt grateful to be given the opportunity.

What is clear is that companies enlightened enough to provide that opportunity can find that it is a win-win-win situation: for the employee, the employer and for the country.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

Waste of energy

SIR – I recently contacted Ofgem to complain that a certain supplier was charging me 45 per cent more than other suppliers of liquid petroleum gas while claiming to pride itself in offering a competitive price.

Ofgem suggested that after taking the issue up with my supplier, which I duly did to no avail, I should contact Ombudsman Services: Energy and they would help. Imagine my surprise when Ombudsman Services told me that as the supplier did not subscribe to their service they could not help me.

What is the use of a monitoring body if a supplier is not obliged to subscribe to it?

Rowan Simmonds
Marlborough, Wiltshire

Schools’ corporate focus undermines core values

Mrs Morgan said ‘No school should be exempt from promoting fundamental British values’ (EDDIE MULHOLLAND)

SIR – British values are under attack from more directions than Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, seems to think.

With independent schools increasingly adopting corporate models in order to make headlines in the global market, it seems that capitalism is our new idol, and heads are no longer head teachers but chief executives. Such a shift places values such as honesty, trust, loyalty and altruism in precarious positions.

Susan Wigmore
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

SIR – I can’t help feeling that the targets for 11-year-olds being set by Nicky Morgan are not particularly ambitious: well behind what was required for the 11-plus, well behind the syllabus in the private sector and quite patronising.

Charles Pugh
London SW1

SIR – On being asked what he’d done at school one day, my brother, then aged six, replied he’d liked the shouting lesson best.

It emerged that the class had been chanting the times tables. My brother later took a degree in electrical engineering and did not become the town crier.

Dinah McIlroy
Lesbury, Northumberland

SIR – I would love to see a front-page headline reading: “Cameron: We’ll take control of mediocre power companies.”

John McWhan
Nantwich, Cheshire

Road to disaster

SIR – I agree with the letter from Professor Keith Day (Letters, February 2) about the inefficient use of potato peelers on television.

I get more steamed up by the length of time that car drivers in soaps and the like spend looking across at their passengers while talking. In real life they would be involved in a crash very early on in the conversation.

John D Bland
Littleover, Derbyshire

SIR – Another agonisingly slow activity in television dramas and historical documentaries is writing with a quill pen.

This featured frequently in David Starkey’s Magna Carta last week, where the scribe appeared to be still struggling with lesson one in his calligraphy course. At that speed I shudder to think how long it would have taken to write out even one copy of Magna Carta, let alone entire books.

Karin Proudfoot
Fawkham, Kent

Karate chopped

Varsha Vinod, five year-old karate blackbelt (CATERS)

SIR – The Department for Education is proposing to remove a number of popular sports, including judo and karate, from the GCSE physical education syllabus (report, February 2).

My grandson started training with a local karate group when he was nine. The physical and mental benefits were apparent almost immediately and included improved concentration, growing self-discipline and vastly increased confidence.

He had to follow instructions in Japanese and the sport encouraged the appreciation of a different culture, which, unlike some of our national sports, actively promotes courtesy and respect for others. Training sessions also include both girls and boys.

Judith Hicks
Birmingham

Brotherly love

SIR – In order to address any possible jealousy when I was born, my parents told my brother that they would choose the first name of his new brother but he could choose the second name.

Christopher Robin Berry
London SE21

Good honest grub

SIR – Pub menus seem to abound in unintended humour of the artesian cheeses” sort (Letters, February 2).

One of our locals features a dish including “candid beetroot”. Another rather nice hotel bar in the area has a wine described as having “exotic notes of melon and leeches”.

Mike Cooper
Market Harborough, Leicestershire

SIR – Last Christmas our local pub was advertising aborigines on the menu.

They did mean aubergines. I hope.

Mary Eveleigh
Parkgate, Cheshire

Globe and Mail:

Charles Wright

Why is CPR being used for end-of-life care?

Irish Times:

Sir, – The alcohol policy proposals announced yesterday and covered extensively in The Irish Times (“Government moves against cheap drink sales”, February 4th) are identical to those announced by the Government on October 24th, 2013; they are also broadly the same as the proposals accepted by Government on foot of the National Substance Misuse Strategy of February 2012. Indeed, they have much in common with previous public health proposals on this issue stretching back over the past 20 years.

Maybe the Government is finally going to do something on this matter, but is it a coincidence that this week’s announcement was made the day after Groundhog Day? – Yours, etc,

SHANE BUTLER,

School of Social Work

and Social Policy,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – With regard to the Government’s proposal to introduce restrictions on the sale of cheap alcohol, might I suggest that these restrictions be introduced on a sliding scale for first-time drinkers? It would be a shame to see this demographic locked out of the alcohol market. Or not locked, as the case may be. – Yours, etc,

RONAN GLYNN,

Rathmines,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – I note that the “creeping prohibition” of alcohol is to begin, much as it did with tobacco 10 years ago. Prices will rise, availability will be curtailed and advertising will be restricted. Doubtless that is only the beginning.

However the term “cheap alcohol” is a relative one. The supermarket pricing for alcohol may seem cheap to a TD or the chief executive of a national charity, but to those we are told are availing of these offers, it is still expensive. Rigging the price even higher will only ensure that the better-off can continue to buy as they please while the poor and middle classes will be priced out.

More importantly, however, nobody is asking why sections of society are seeking solace in affordable alcohol. Are they searching for a temporary break from a stress-filled life? Could it be the one bit of happiness they can look forward to in a week?

However, those addicted to alcohol will need it rather than want it so they will pay the higher price and other obligations may be neglected, causing problems elsewhere.

The reaction of young people to this move will be fascinating to see as well. According to some reports, we are awash with all sorts of dangerous illegal drugs aimed squarely at the young. Will expensive alcohol lead them to explore an alternative “buzz”? Perhaps affordable alcohol could, in fact, be keeping the lid on simmering resentments all over the country and soothing frayed nerves. As humans, we need our moments of escapism.

I suggest that maybe we should be looking instead at “why we over-drink?” not “what we pay for it?” Irresponsible drinking is a symptom of a problem to be addressed, but not the problem itself. Are we not looking at the hole and not the doughnut? – Yours, etc,

JOHN MALLON,

Mayfield,

Cork.

Sir, – While welcoming the proposed introduction of minimum pricing, one unwelcome outcome may be a huge increase in profit margins for brewers and off-licences.

It would be infinitely preferable if a mechanism could be devised whereby the Government imposed the increased cost as a health levy, which should be ring-fenced for health and alcoholism treatment purposes.

This, after all, is predominantly a health issue and such a levy can be logically justified. – Yours, etc,

PETER MOLLOY,

Glenageary,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – The letter on alcohol and sport sponsorship by Dr Michael Loftus (January 31st) is extreme in language, does not fully represent the situation and does not serve his argument well.

It is incorrect to say the industry has enormous profits. Many in the drinks industry are craft distillers and brewers eking a living to break even, creating countless hundreds of jobs across rural and urban Ireland. The industry in Ireland is saddled with the most penal excise taxes on alcohol in the OECD, and a bottle of Irish whiskey is now $15 less expensive in Manhattan than it is in Dublin.

As a result there have been several hundred job losses, particularly by the multinationals who have downsized their domestic Ireland operations or exited in response to the significant falls in domestic alcohol sales.

But for the growth in export markets where a more balanced and responsible attitude to the drinks industry prevails, there would be no industry in Ireland.

Exaggerated and prohibitionist agendas are not what the people want and certainly do not serve the promotion of reasoned argument.

Yes to responsible alcohol consumption. And to more reasoned arguments by the anti-alcohol activists, – Yours, etc,

PATRICK J RIGNEY,

Drumshanbo,

Co Leitrim.

Sir, – I applaud Dr Michael J Loftus in his justified condemnation of the Government climbdown in refusing to ban the alcohol industry’s sponsorship of sports. I cannot understand how associating alcohol and sport can be seen as acceptable. Surely it is evident that alcohol and sport are incompatible? Anyone seriously interested in advancing in a sporting career will not be advised to indulge in alcohol.

As Dr Loftus rightly points out, from his experience as a doctor and a coroner, and having over very many years seen the effects of alcohol abuse, it is unbelievable that Ministers for Health, Children, Social Protection and Justice can continue to permit this sponsorship. Their spinelessness is something to observe. – Yours, etc,

MARY STEWART,

Ardeskin,

Donegal.

A chara, – Brian Tobin references “an abundance of research since the 1970s” which allegedly shows that children do not require “dual-gender parenting” (“Why ‘child welfare concerns’ are not a valid reason to oppose same-sex marriage referendum”, Opinion & Analysis, February 2nd). It is a pity that he did not decide to examine any of these studies in greater detail, as the majority of them suffer from serious methodological flaws.

In a study entitled “Nontraditional Families and Childhood Progress through School”, published in the journal Demography and available on the website of the US National Institute for Health, Michael J Rosenfeld gives an overview of 45 studies on same-sex parenting and outcomes of children prior to 2010. Some of the problems with this research include “universally small sample sizes of children” (the studies look at on average only 39 children raised by same-sex couples) and a tendency in many of the earlier studies and some of the later ones to rely upon convenience sampling, often focusing mainly on same-sex parents from a higher socioeconomic bracket. In some cases, the studies even lacked a married heterosexual control group for comparison, making the results utterly meaningless.

Some of the more recent surveys have been shown to have similar flaws too. As such, these studies do not provide a sound basis for arguing for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum. – Is mise,

RYAN CONNOLLY,

Ranelagh,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Dr Brian Tobin’s implied assertion that same-sex parenting is not detrimental child welfare is not in fact substantiated by research since the 1970s, as he claims. Data on the long-term outcomes of children placed in same-sex households are sparse and do not bear out Dr Tobin’s contention.

The study by the Australian Psychological Society that Dr Tobin seemingly relies on has critical design flaws. For instance, whereas the heterosexual parents were sampled at random and the sample varies in the quality of parenting for analysis, the same-sex parenting sample was based on applications from same-sex couples. The temptation to report positive assessments could be elevated in this self-selected sample. There is a risk of “social desirability bias”, the tendency to portray oneself as better than one actually is.

The issue of child welfare in the context of gay marriage is more complex than Dr Tobin’s article proposes. Katy Faust, who serves on the Academic and Testimonial Councils of the International Children’s Rights Institute, was raised by her mother and her lesbian partner. She writes: “Talk to any child with gay parents, especially those old enough to reflect on their experiences. If you ask a child raised by a lesbian couple if they love their two moms, you’ll probably get a resounding ‘yes!’ Ask about their father, and you are in for either painful silence, a confession of gut-wrenching longing, or the recognition that they have a father that they wish they could see more often. The one thing that you will not hear is indifference.” – Yours, etc,

NEIL BRAY,

Cappamore,

Co Limerick.

Sir, – David O’Brien (February 3rd) states that “it is not possible to redefine marriage”. However this is exactly what has taken place in California, where, to make everyone feel more equal, all mention of the words “husband” and “wife” has been removed from state laws. Is the wording of the marriage referendum a precursor to the same thing happening here? – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS O’CALLAGHAN,

Carlow.

Sir, – The controversy over “marriage” seems rather absurd in the light of history. State oversight of marriage is relatively modern – 1753 in England (later still in Ireland) – primarily in order to bestow rights on women and children, and incidentally to clarify exactly which “wife” of a Royal Navy sailor was entitled to draw down his pay whilst at sea. Prior to that only the wealthy indulged in formal marriage, which comprised an exhaustive legal contract regarding dowries, inheritance and a widow’s rights. Indeed the Catholic Church itself only adopted marriage as a sacrament in 1563. Meanwhile the vast majority of ordinary couples simply lived together despite attempts by government to promote recorded marriage via the established church.

Whilst churches have administered the sacrament of marriage, the state has confined itself to extending the rights of wives and children, especially to financial support. As far as the state is concerned, the marriage ceremony merely triggers a range of rights aimed at ensuring children and family are protected, particularly from errant fathers.

What gay couples are seeking is apparently the confirmation that their relationships are sacred to them. Ironically, however, a state redefinition of marriage would merely trigger rights which in nearly every case are bizarrely irrelevant to their situation, and incidentally confirm that politics is the refuge of the ridiculous. But it does not undermine the sacrament of heterosexual marriage unless religious authorities choose to do so.

In order to cater for the modern age we really need to revert to the pre-1753 position – couples living together and producing or legally adopting children are de facto married. They should be required to register their status and thus ensure that facts, not ceremonies, determine the rights and responsibilities and of children and parents. Other couples of all descriptions neither require nor merit special treatment. – Yours, etc,

BILL BAILEY,

Ballineen,

Co Cork.

Sir, – In response to Jim Cosgrove (February 4th), does anyone seriously think that an assessment of an adult citizen’s competency based solely on age is an appropriate argument? It is a total nonsense. – Yours, etc,

RICHARD SCRIVEN,

Ballinlough, Cork.

Sir, – There is a place for political stunts as we witness the death throes of an increasingly clueless Government. But the Constitution is not one of them. And why 21, by the way? Why not 18, while we’re at it? Or is that a gimmick for another day? – Yours, etc,

JAMES O’KEEFE,

Crumlin,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – Carl O’Brien states that more than 8,000 cases of child abuse, neglect and welfare concerns over children at risk are waiting to be allocated a social worker (“Concern over child protection backlog”, February 2nd).

Surely this state of affairs makes a mockery of the passing of the children’s rights referendum: “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights”.

This neglect will undoubtedly come back to haunt us as a society. – Yours, etc,

EILEEN McDERMOTT,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Every time a potential buyer places a bid against a property with an estate agent, this has the effect of increasing the actual price of the property for the eventual successful buyer. However there is no legal legislation in place that regulates this process of bidding against a property which is up for sale. This has the effect that all such offers are only accepted in good faith by the estate agent.

It is generally accepted that the purchase of our homes is the most expensive financial transaction for most people, barring serious illness of course. So why is there no current legal framework in place to protect the actual bidding process for all mutual parties to the sale? Perhaps your readers feel as I do that this current process is also a contributor to the high cost of property transactions here in Ireland and should now be examined by the Government. – Yours, etc,

ANDREW DOGGETT,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.

Sir, – I was disappointed to read that Senator John Crown (Independent) and Senator Averil Power (Fianna Fáil) are introducing a Bill to ban e-cigarettes from the workplace (“E-cigarette regulation proposed in new Bill”, January 30th). I am surprised at this knee-jerk reaction to what is probably the most invaluable aid yet developed to helping people stop smoking. And all on the basis that their long-term effects cannot yet be shown to be safe.

I have just researched the long-term safety aspects involved in handling sheets of paper. As of this time there is no evidence that this practice involves no untoward side-effects. It is for this reason that I am sending you this missive via email rather than letter. Just to be sure. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN MADDEN,

Carndonagh, Co Donegal.

A chara, – Dr Daire Keogh, president of St Patrick’s College, is quoted as saying of the new St Patrick’s campus of Dublin City University: “There will be nothing in the British Isles and practically nothing in Europe that would compare to us in terms of scale” (“Churches unite at St Patrick’s teacher training college in Drumcondra”, February 2nd). It is surprising that Dr Keogh uses the dated term “British Isles”. British and Irish diplomats studiously avoided the term in the complex Anglo-Irish negotiations. The British Lions tours have become an embarrassing memory. Even that High Tory, Sir John Biggs-Davison, recognised the political implications of the term and proposed the use of “Islands of the North Atlantic” as a substitute. I would suggest that Dr Keogh should confine himself to the happy compromise of “in these islands”. – Is mise,

PEADAR Mac MAGHNAIS,

Baile Átha Cliath 5.

Irish Independent:

Sir, – Hugo MacNeill is being selective in his homage to the inclusivity of the Irish Rugby Football Union (February 3rd). “Rugby has always played an invaluable role in bringing all parts of the island of Ireland together while other forces were tearing them apart”, he writes. Really? I recall joining thousands of fellow citizens protesting against the appearance of an apartheid South African rugby team at Lansdowne Road at one time. This is the same IRFU that blithely ignored the wishes of the people of Ireland as they accepted invitations to tour apartheid South Africa. On another infamous occasion in 1987, it proceeded to present a James Last version of the Rose of Tralee as our national anthem to the bemused people of New Zealand. – Yours, etc,

JAMES CONNOLLY

HERON,

Ranelagh,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Anyone pondering possible shapes of the next government need only take a look at the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin on the plinth at Leinster House. They certainly appear to be able to “work together”. – Yours, etc,

MARGARET LEE,

Newport, Co Tipperary.

Irish Independent

The Government does not want to borrow additional money to upgrade and operate the water system of the country.


So, a separate entity is established at enormous cost and constructed in such a way that it will be able to borrow money to carry out the essential work required.

Citizens will pay charges to meet the cost of the work required and any interest charges on the borrowings.

It is not clear at this stage if the charges will also be used to ultimately repay the borrowings. If they are, then the percentage of the charges used to service this debt will be higher than if only the interest is to be repaid.

If there is no plan to repay the borrowings then these will constitute a proportion of the charges indefinitely and this proportion will change in line with the changes in interest rates.

As citizens will pay water charges, including the cost of borrowings, these water charges are no more nor less than an additional tax to meet the cost of provision of this essential service. What’s next?

The HSE was established as a separate entity, in a different way to Irish Water, to manage the health service in the country. Universal Health Insurance is being touted as a way to improve health services in the country. The HSE was established to improve hospital services which had been run by health boards. It would be hard to get anyone to argue that this objective has been achieved even partially.

Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that with the introduction of Universal Health Insurance that the HSE will be restructured to enable it to borrow money on the financial markets? Or will Universal Health Insurance be described for what it is – an additional tax.

Democratic governments are elected to look after the interests of the citizens of the state. Financial markets are designed to facilitate those in the private sector looking for profitable ways to invest wealth.

Is it heresy to ask – with the benefit of hindsight and experience of recent financial crises – if democracy and financial markets can ever have a relationship that truly serves the needs of the vast majority of people who subscribe to the notion of a democracy?

Fred Meaney, Dalkey, Co Dublin

 

Adoption law in Ireland

Colette Browne (Comment, February 3) wrote that the case law on adoption in Ireland to date would suggest that the rights of natural parents exert a disproportionate influence and usually take precedence, even over the rights of the child. That statement is incorrect.

In his judgement of the Baby Ann case, Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman wrote that the Constitution prefers the rights of parents not over the rights of children, but over the rights of third parties.

Furthermore, Article 42.5 of the Constitution, which remains in force pending the Supreme Court’s decision on the result of the children referendum, gives the State the power to intervene in cases in which parents fail in their duty to their children.

Ciarán Masterson, Cavan, Co Cavan

 

Country’s young left behind

I write specifically on behalf of my daughter and, I believe, more generally on behalf of a whole raft of young, intelligent, hard-working people who are forced to seek and accept work on repeat short-term contracts or contract terms of various forms with the State and the private sector.

My daughter is highly educated and works for our Republic of Ireland as a teacher on a contract basis, and has done so for some years into her third decade.

When I say she works for our Republic of Ireland, she does so via the Department of Education and whatever school and principle she is lucky enough to find work with for any one year.

I know that my daughter has many young temporary contract accomplices who are equally highly educated, energetic and idealistic. They are working in various equally essential roles in the State and private industry where fixed contract, temporary contract, rolling contract, zero-hours contract and Job Bridge are the “in thing”.

The paymaster in my daughter’s case is our Republic of Ireland. We are great little Europeans though – look at the growth rate. We can take such a good kicking and bounce right back – Christine Lagarde couldn’t resist patronisingly complimenting the Irish people. What stomach-churning eloquence.

My daughter – like so many young people – did everything in her young life in a manner consistent with a model young citizen.

She did her studies, excelled at her exams, worked her summers, kept it going year on year and qualified in her chosen career. Topped it up with a masters as added insurance.

Now she hopes to buy a home. Ah, but the mortgage companies have been to Damascus and seen the error of their ways and learned a new financial rectitude. Universally they either considered and refused or refused to consider at all on the basis of my daughter’s terms of employment. Terms of employment in her case operated by the Department of Education of our great country. End of aspiration.

But the State employer is not the only employer playing the contract game. Successive governments of our great little Republic have been asleep at the wheel – or looking the opposite direction for several years – as these contract practices have taken root across the economy.

But, of course, it suits our great little Republic in her supine relationship with Europe and in her efforts to cover up the failed political system that has made us penniless.

Employers have raced to the bottom with a reformist’s zeal and contract services companies have sprang up equally energetically to facilitate it by offering suitable surrogate employer services.

Our great Republic is just thriving on it. To hell with our young people and their expectations of a career and settling .

Name and address with editor

 

The meaning of blasphemy

Now I know what blasphemy is. I sat and listened to Stephen Fry’s outburst of criticism and hatred against God (‘The Meaning of Life’, RTÉ One).

He had uninterrupted time for his claims without ever having to justify what he said about the character and existence of God. He insulted and hurt the majority of Irish people who still believe in God. This is blasphemy of the highest order.

Yes, the belief of an ever-burning Hell must be revisited, and the need to examine the reason why so many bad things are happening – and not just blame all on someone that you don’t believe exists.

Did he hope to entertain us? I am sorry to say, many were utterly shocked.

Evelyn Wilson, Stratford-on-Slaney, Co Wicklow

 

Time for a political change

In his response (Letters, February 3) to my recent letter re gender quotas (Letters, January 27) A Leavy asks if the Dáil which helped to bankrupt the country was elected on the basis of merit and expertise. I believe the answer is self-evident.

I can think of nothing better than what Mr Leavy mentions to make the case for giving first priority to merit and expertise, irrespective of non-merit-related factors such as gender, etc., when candidates for Dáil elections are being selected. And for giving priority to changing the way in which our political system seems to work.

Hugh Gibney, Athboy, Co Meath

Irish Independent

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