9 Febuary 2015 Joanna
Joanna and Anna from Edinburgh ring.
Lord Gavron, who has died aged 84, was a printing tycoon and one of the more cultivated members of the new Blairite aristocracy which entered the House of Lords after the Labour victory of 1997.
Small but muscular with woolly white curls, perma-tanned face and a wolfish smile, Gavron made his fortune by founding St Ives, the magazine and book printer, with £5,000 in 1964. Under his leadership the company became Britain’s largest independent printer, with a reputation as one of the most efficient operations in the industry. When Gavron stepped down as chairman in 1993, the company was worth £400 million and Gavron’s personal fortune was estimated at £40 million. Afterwards he served as chairman of the Guardian Media Group, parent firm of the company which publishes the newspaper, from 1997 to 2000.
In 1996 Gavron, who had previously expressed admiration for Margaret Thatcher and had been courted in the 1980s by the SDP, made a donation to the Labour Party of £500,000, on the grounds that Tony Blair was “transforming” the party’s relations with business and industry and that the Tories had lost their claim to be the automatic party of business. Gavron was credited with persuading Blair, while in opposition, not to scrap Tory trade union reforms. He also gave money to the blind trust that bankrolled Tony Blair’s private office when he was Leader of the Opposition. The trust was later wound up after criticism from the public standards watchdog. In 1999 he made a further donation to the party of £500,000.
Following the announcement of his elevation to the peerage the same year, cynics speculated about what the Guardian’s line would have been had Gavron been a Tory newspaper chairman, eliciting an entertaining defence from Polly Toynbee who regretted that though the Guardian was “a newspaper that prides itself on being better than the rest” her words would sound “exactly like the apologies for many far more dubious titles given out over the years”.
Yet in fairness there was nothing new or secret about Gavron’s commitment to the Labour Party or his generosity to it (and to many other causes) over many years. Besides, he was not a man who craved baubles and in person he was the antithesis of stuffy respectability.
Robert Gavron was born on September 13 1930, the elder son of a patent lawyer. The family was Jewish and lived in that heartland of intellectual socialism, Hampstead Garden Suburb. The Mandelsons were neighbours and young Bob attended Michael Foot’s old school, Leighton Park, at Reading, from where he won a place at St Peter’s College, Oxford, to read Law.
At Oxford Gavron played Buttons to Ned Sherrin’s Fairy Queen (Nigel Lawson was a chorus boy), became literary editor of Cherwell, and joined the Labour Club, though he later claimed not to have been very passionate about politics.
After graduation he trained as a barrister and was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1955 but, “to delay the life-sentence of a career”, he took an executive traineeship with a jobbing printer in Soho.
The same year he married his first wife, Hannah Fyvel, the daughter of TR Fyvel, the literary editor of Tribune, a great influence on Gavron. Hannah, who had trained at RADA, took a degree at Bedford College after the birth of the first of their two sons, and her doctoral thesis, published as The Captive Wife, became a feminist tract. It was about an intense Hampstead feminist and intellectual who finds it difficult to adjust to mere wifehood. In her preface she paid tribute to her husband for his “invaluable help, encouragement and support.” Sadly she did not live to see the book’s publication. In 1965 she took her own life – aged just 29. Gavron was devastated.
For nine years in the printing industry, Gavron observed how “most printers regard customers as a nuisance”. Convinced he could do better, in 1964 he borrowed £5,000 and took over an ailing printing company which he named St Ives as one of its factories stood in the Cambridgeshire town. Over the next 30 years it would grow into an international company, producing 100 million books annually and 600 magazines, of which the glossiest is The World of Interiors. The company came to the stock market in 1985 with a value of £18 million.
In 1967 Gavron married his second wife, Nicky Coates, with whom he had two daughters. A Labour activist, she became a long serving councillor and, after their divorce in 1987, was elected to the London Assembly and became the Deputy Mayor of London under Ken Livingstone.
Lord Gavron (centre) being introduced to the House of Lords in 1999, alongside Baroness Blackstone and Lord McIntosh of Haringey (UPPA/Photoshot)
In 1989 he married Katharine Gardiner (née Macnair), who had worked in publishing and who later came to public attention as vice chairman of the commission on the future of a multi-ethnic Britain (she suggested that Prince Charles should have married a black woman in the cause of racial harmony and ethnic progress). After their marriage she became chairman of Carcanet, Gavron’s poetry imprint. In 1995 Gavron made her chairman of Virago, the feminist publishing house founded by Carmen Callil, which Gavron had backed and later part-owned. The appointment led to a massive row with Carmen Callil and the end of a 30-year friendship.
Gavron first met Tony Blair in the early 1990s at a birthday party given by Charlie (now Lord) Falconer and later invited Blair to a dinner at the Institute for Public Policy Research of which he was a trustee and treasurer. Blair, then employment spokesman, spoke of his plan to reverse some Tory union reforms. Gavron, who had given £100,000 to Neil Kinnock’s election campaign, invited Blair to meet him privately and is thought to have persuaded him to change his mind.
Bob Gavron combined an engaging personality with a strong dash of hedonism. He never spent longer in the office than he had to and always took long holidays and time off for tennis and squash, opera and jazz, ballet and books. A very physical man, he had little time for bourgeois notions of modesty. Guests wanting to use the swimming pools at his homes in Highgate or Provence would be told that naked bathing was the rule.
Lord and Lady Gavron in 2012 (Nick Harvey/WireImage)
Although Gavron stepped down as chairman of St Ives in 1993, he remained a director and maintained many other interests, serving, variously, as chairman of the Folio Society from 1982, director of the Royal Opera House (1992-98) and as trustee of the National Gallery (1994-2001) and chairman of its publishing arm.
He was chairman of the Open College of the Arts (1991-96) and a trustee of the Scott Trust (1997-2000) and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation (1987-2005). He was a governor of the LSE from 1997 and chaired his own charitable trust which dispensed millions of pounds to good causes.
Bob Gavron was appointed CBE in 1990.
He is survived by his wife, along with his daughters, lawyer Jennifer Gavron and film director Sarah Gavron.
Lord Gavron, born September 13 1930, died February 7 2015
Your article (‘I will not back down’ – Miliband, 7 February) quotes a Tory spokesman as saying: “People should judge Ed Miliband by his record, not his rhetoric. For 13 years Labour … did absolutely nothing to tackle tax avoidance.” Please note your article of 18 February 2009 which began: “A worldwide crackdown on tax havens … will be spearheaded by Gordon Brown”, and pointed out that “Britain’s biggest companies have enjoyed secretive tax arrangements to reduce [their tax] liability … HMRC estimates the size of the tax gap between £4bn and £13bn”. After coming into government in 2010, the Tories ended progress on Brown’s work and, on 7 February 2011, you published George Monbiot’s comment that the coalition’s changes to the law allow that “all the money that has passed through tax havens remains untaxed when it gets here”. Should we not judge the Tories on their record, not their rhetoric?
• It’s about time someone asked: “What did the Tories do during their 18 years from 1979 to 1997?” In the case of tax avoidance and evasion, the answer is not “nothing” but the very antithesis. The Tories set up mechanisms that gave an enormous boost to tax dodging. One of Thatcher’s first acts as PM was to abolish exchange controls, followed by the Big Bang in the 80s that deregulated so much of domestic and international finance, setting up the conduits for such antisocial if not criminal behaviour. Banks, accountants, investment advising firms and assorted others fastened on to these conduits at great profit to themselves and their customers but detriment to millions of other citizens. The inclusion of these dubious people in the wealth-creating class is a bad joke perpetrated by much of the media but notably the Tory toadying tabloids, the Times and the Telegraph.
Well done, Ed Miliband. They said they wanted some leadership.
Nigel de Gruchy
Labour parliamentary candidate, Orpington, Kent
• “The new Jerusalem gets built only if the company that supplies the bricks and mortar is on side: that is the hard truth confronting any idealist” (Opinion, 2 February). For the writer, Matthew d’Ancona, the solution is simple: Labour must be more pro-business than it appears to be, and more explicit in relation to spending plans. But if Labour tries to please business, it alienates its core supporters, who have suffered enormously from job and service cuts, as well as an 8%-10% fall in real wages.
At a time of economic expansion it was possible to please to different degrees all sections of society at the top and bottom. That leeway has gone. For example, businesses like BP are demanding tax relief due to falling profits from lower oil prices. Tax relief means a fall in government income and therefore pressure to cut public spending even more, in order to reduce the budget deficit.
For Labour to succeed it has to decide who it represents – those at the top or the rest. To use d’Ancona’s language, if those who supply the bricks withhold that supply, or even stop producing them through a strike of capital, Labour must grasp the bull by the horns and take those companies into public ownership. If it doesn’t, it risks losing even more support from those who look to Labour to meet their needs. Such losses in electoral support and party membership could see Labour following its European partners like Pasok and PSOE into electoral oblivion.
• It shows how bizarrely out of touch with the people national election politics has become when Ed Miliband makes what should be an uncontroversial comment that all should pay their share of taxes and every rich Tom and Dick and Harry wades in to complain. I lost interest in this election because all the parties spent ages reassuring business and finance that they were safe to govern – and no one was reassuring us, the people, except with standard Tory and Lib Dem bribes. But a politician insisting on a tiny bit of fairness for us! Not enough, perhaps, to stop me voting Green but enough to think that if Miliband carries on speaking to and for the people a little more, progressives may regain enough respect to consider a loose coalition.
• Lord Noon (Millionaire donor urges Labour not to alienate business, 6 February) needs reminding that it is business, particularly the large corporations and the international conglomerates, that is alienating the general public with its greed and tax avoidance.
• Heather Stewart (7 February) suggests at least three reasons for Labour’s “calculated” gamble in “picking a fight with big business”. There is at least one more. I have the same number of votes at the general election as one of our corporate bosses. Not sophisticated political analysis, maybe, but true in a democracy.
The founders of the EU wanted to ensure that through mutual dependency and support wars that led to so much devastation in the first part of the 20th century could no longer happen, while allowing Europe to continue as a force on the world stage with the rise of continental powers such as China and India. Such fundamental principles of common cause will be totally undermined if the eurozone powerhouses, as Nils Pratley terms them (5 February), continue to demand austerity from Greece, regardless of the economic and social consequences or the democratic will of its people.
The reason most of the British favour retaining EU membership is trade. Countries like the UK not in the eurozone already sit on the sidelines as the European economy stagnates. However, if the eurozone “powerhouses” continue to bully Greece and punish its electorate for daring to vote against austerity – or worse, force a Greek exit from the euro or even the EU – how long will it be before eurosceptic voices suggest that a simple free trade area such as Efta is the best way to ensure that national sovereignty and European democracy are sustained? The break up of the EU will follow. A monetary union without a fiscal union was always a step too far. Now eurozone countries should either make it work for all the countries or accept it is a failure and get rid of it.
• It is a commonplace that every German has memories of the hyperinflation of the 1920s embedded in their DNA. Unfortunately, the Germans appear to have forgotten that the hyperinflation was a direct result of the crushing burden of war reparations imposed on them by Britain and France. The German economy was crippled by the obligation to transfer real resources to the victorious countries on a massive scale – exactly the position Greece finds itself in today. They also seem to have forgotten that the burden of reparations and the ensuing hyperinflation created a fertile breeding ground for extremists and propelled Hitler into power.
Department of economics, University of Warwick
The murder of the Jordanian pilot captured by Isis is starkly shocking, barbaric, sickening. But sadly not, as Ian Black suggests (4 February), exceptionally cruel. What Isis has done is no more cruel, no more ugly and no more acceptable than the incineration of thousands in Hiroshima, the civilian deaths caused by the firebombing of Dresden, the slaughter that followed the invasion of Iraq and the elimination of small enemies and their friends by drone.
David Cameron and others are keen to support our arms trade. But this is what modern weapons do. They blast bodies apart, incinerate, pulverise, maim, blind, destroy. They steal life and know no mercy. And they do it ever more efficiently, ever more expensively. And they do it obscenely profitably. The only real difference is that the “civilised” world tries to keep its barbarities safely out of view. Perhaps, Isis has given us an opportunity to reflect on whether our moral high ground is awash with blood and also how our hi-tech cruelties are seen from a different perspective.
• If the video of a prisoner being burned to death displays “a level of brutality shocking even by the standards” of Islamic State, how should we describe the actions of the US and UK around the world? According to a 2012 joint report from the NYU and Stanford University law schools on US drone strikes in Pakistan, “the missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration”. Similarly barbaric, in 2008 the Sunday Times reported British forces were using Hellfire missiles in Afghanistan, creating “a pressure wave which sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies”.
Your offer of commemorative badges in support of journalistic freedom highlighting “Je suis Charlie”, prompts me to suggest a degree of caution following my experience. Tongue in cheek, I asked my helpful newsagents to obtain a copy of the edition of Charlie Hebdo issued after the dreadful massacre in Paris, if indeed a copy was ever available in north Wiltshire. To my surprise, a copy arrived last Wednesday week and although the standard of content in no way matches that of the Guardian I will cherish it. However, two days later a member of Her Majesty’s police service visited said newsagent, requesting the names of the four customers who had purchased Charlie Hebdo. So beware, your badges may attract police interest in your customers.
Sir, Is the visit of Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande to see President Putin going to be a re-run of Chamberlain’s visit to Munich in 1938? In both cases the separate affinity, in language and political orientation, of a part of an independent country which a nationalist leader wanted to occupy or control, if necessary by force, has given rise to contention. Both leaders would claim some justification because of the vulnerability of their border areas under the status quo. In one case as a result of the excessively harsh Treaty of Versailles, and in the other by the steady encroachment of Nato eastwards.
In a natural desire to solve the problem by diplomatic means, as the alternative would be too horrendous to contemplate, the European leaders might accept a de facto separation or even observation of the disputed area in return for, as Chamberlain did, a promise of no further territorial acquisitions; but can Putin be trusted? We can only hope that any appeasement this time does not end up like the last one did.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall
House of Lords
Sir, Putin’s end game is obvious. He will achieve his objectives within Ukraine, and when/if the economic sanctions imposed reach the point at which he considers his survival is in question the West will be given the option of lifting them or facing military conflict. The West will blink first because it has no other choice.
Preserving peace costs money, effort and strategic thought and, just as importantly, adequate size of military forces to achieve the aim, which is to avoid conflict. Nato has to be conventionally capable and credible. Given the underfunding throughout the alliance over the past 30 years, that is not the reputation that Nato now enjoys.
PP Gilroy (Sqn Ldr, RAF, ret’d)
Sir, General Sir Richard Shirreff’s comments lamenting David Cameron’s absence from the shuttle diplomacy were inappropriate (report, Feb 6). Ukraine is not a member of Nato, and Nato countries have no obligation to involve themselves. Sabre-rattling can only inflame the situation.
Sir, It seems obvious that the United States has reservations about the Hollande/Merkel initiative and is holding back. It would not be surprising therefore, if this is the case, that the British government should be taking a lower profile than some would wish.
Brigadier Nicholas Cocking
Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Sir, Putin is not alone in dubious moves (leader, Feb 6). It is clear that the window of opportunity was opened early last year by the EU’s ham-fisted moves on the EU-Ukraine association agreement, which, though scarcely mentioned now or then, contained a raft of military as well as economic proposals that precipitated the origins of the present situation. The naive ambitions of the EU are significantly to blame for the current situation, and even now Ukraine is not engaged in sufficient reform.
Sir William Cash, MP
House of Commons
Sir, Perhaps those advocating leaving the EU would explain how Britain’s exit from the EU, or the prospect of it, would help to deal with the situation in Ukraine, and our vital interest in finding a satisfactory outcome to it.
Sir Peter Marshall
Sir, Russia’s peace offer is, as you state, an attempt to secure military gains, but it is hardly “cynical” (leader, Feb 6). If the army representing the Russian population of eastern Ukraine is to maintain its foothold, it is surely preferable for this to be managed via diplomacy than through further bloodshed.
Putin’s overture to Hollande and Merkel is far less cynical than his sponsorship of violence to date.
Dr Richard Braithwaite
Pondwell, Isle of Wight
Sir, In reply to Roger Boyes’s article (“Arming Ukraine will stop Putin in his tracks”, Feb 4), we in Russia have a saying: “Gamble but don’t try to win back what you have lost.” OK, the West bet on Ukraine and lost, with a civil war now raging there. Under the circumstances, would arming Ukraine not look like throwing good money after bad?
Besides, Putin knows how to stop Nato encirclement in its tracks: a buffer state with a territorial dispute.
Sir, The man in the street had a more down-to-earth etymology for the French (letter, Feb 5). J Broom, a recruit to the Exeter Militia in 1803, declared that he “will crip the wings of the French frog-eaters”
(Emeritus Scottish editor, Burke’s Peerage), Winchester
Sir, If Google is to use native speakers to determine the most accurate pronunciation of place names, then the pronunciation of Greenwich that you have shown in your graphic (Feb 7) would be incorrect. I was brought up there and it is pronounced Grin-ij.
Sir, Further to your report (Feb 6) on Myleene Klass and the mothers who requested contributions to their children’s birthday gifts, it is good manners to have no expectation of a present at all. Should one be received, it should be acknowledged promptly with thanks, whatever it may be and whatever the monetary value.
Chichester, W Sussex
Sir, I always enjoy Derwent May’s column but I should point out that the track left by a fox in the snow is readily distinguishable from a dog’s (Nature notes, Feb 4). The fox walks with immense precision, leaving a perfect single line of clearly cut impressions, almost as if it had hopped on one leg. A dog’s paw prints, by comparison, are clumsy: the edges are blurred and fall to either side of a central line.
National Gamekeepers’ Organisation
Sir, At last the King’s Fund (Feb 6) has said what most NHS employees have known for some time about the recent NHS reorganisation. Will the government now urgently address the squandering of many thousands of years of clinical experience due to the early retirement of “reform weary” clinical staff (of which I am one). Will all political parties contesting the general election agree to taking the NHS out of party politics and start a process of dialogue with patients and staff to determine exactly what UK residents want from a health service and, more importantly, how it can be afforded and reasonably provided.
Dr John Harris-Hall
(Ret’d GP) Knapton, Norfolk
Sir, The UK has the fifth largest area of ocean in the world under its jurisdiction when its overseas territories (UKOTs) are taken into account. More than 94 per cent of the UK’s unique biodiversity is found in the UKOTs, which support a large number of rare and threatened species and habitats found nowhere else on Earth. It makes good economic and environmental sense for the UK to work with its territories to establish effective networks of marine protected areas throughout all waters under UK jurisdiction.
We urge the British government to protect over 1.75 million km² of the world’s oceans by creating large-scale and fully-protected marine reserves in three of the UKOTs — the Pitcairn Islands, Ascension Island, and South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands. This would make a globally significant contribution to ocean conservation, leaving a historic legacy for people and wildlife at very little cost.
Prof Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation, Zoological Society of London
Mike Clarke, Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Charles Clover, Chairman, Blue Marine Foundation
Sir, Back in the 1980s the base of the director of public prosecutions was a small office in 4 Queen Anne’s Gate in Westminster, and I was one of the lawyers dealing with the cases there (letter, Feb 7). I still remember the cabinet in which the pink folders of guidance were kept containing QCs’ opinions and internal memorandums on a variety of situations that might confront us. There were no grand declarations of policy or agenda to be followed. Each case depended upon its facts. A detached view was taken as to whether there was sufficient evidence to give a reasonable prospect of a successful prosecution. Only if that hurdle was cleared would one consider whether the prosecution was in the public interest.
You cannot start off, in advance, with the declared intention to prosecute something, or somebody. Leave that to the politicians. Dry as it sounds, careful reflection on whether you have sufficient evidence, or how you might lawfully obtain it, is all that should matter to the DPP.
Sir, Further to the comments by the Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone about men’s influence on FGM (“Sexual bias has allowed FGM to flourish, says minister”, Feb 7), the reality is — certainly in the tribal area in northeast Kenya where my charity works — that it is the women (grandmothers and mothers) who persist in perpetuating this cruel practice. This is not only on the grounds of the deeply embedded tribal culture of circumcision being a major and obligatory rite of passage, but also because they had to endure it to “become a woman”, and so, therefore, should their daughters.
Chairman of trustees, St Peter’s Life-Line
SIR – I am glad that Elizabeth Truss, the Environment Secretary, has highlighted the madness of the Common Agricultural Policy “Three-crop rule”, which affects small farmers (report, February 1).
I am a retired dairy farmer and I now have just 100 acres of land. Thirty acres is permanent grassland, which doesn’t count as a crop for EU grant purposes, so my other 70 acres (all in a single field) has to have three crops – winter wheat, spring wheat and grass – in one year.
I can’t make any money under this system and, if I don’t comply, I get no subsidy on any of my land. If I ask my landlord to reduce the rent he will just offer the field to a big farmer, who will plant one crop on my 70 acres, and use his existing fields for the other compulsory crops.
It is very sad to think that European leaders, who were not elected by us, are going to destroy the backbone of British farming.
SIR – In marked contrast to Mrs Truss, I welcome the overwhelming support shown by the farming community for Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Most farmers I speak to in my area welcome continued funding from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which benefits both British food production and the preservation of our countryside.
Some members of the Conservative Party and Ukip call for Britain to withdraw from the EU, and lose all the associated benefits, although agricultural spokesmen for their parties admit that farmers would still need a watered down version of the CAP to support their current production levels.
Leaving Europe would also be highly damaging for British farm trade, as Britain would have to renegotiate its World Trade Organisation tariffs with the remaining 27 member states.
Dr Alan Bullion
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
SIR – Mrs Truss makes no reference to the meltdown in dairy farming, an omission symptomatic of government indifference to rural affairs.
There is little doubt her dynamic predecessor, Owen Paterson, would have taken more decisive action, just as he did when tackling the flooding on the Somerset Levels last year.
His sacking by David Cameron has to be one of the worst political misjudgments of modern times.
SIR – The Environment Secretary is incorrect when she says “We are doing all we can on ash dieback” (report, February 1).
This fungus was responsible for killing virtually all the ash trees from Lithuania right across mainland Europe, including Denmark, between 1990 and 2010. For the past 25 years nobody in Britain seems to have made any effort to find a treatment for the disease or, until recently, to stop diseased trees being imported. The predictable consequences of this negligence is now evident across Britain.
By 2025, almost all of the nation’s 126 million ash trees will be dead. The effects, in terms of trees lost, will be 10 times worse than those of Dutch elm disease, and with far more dreadful consequences for dependent wildlife and the environment.
If Britain had not neglected to address the problem for so many years, this predictable disaster could almost certainly have been avoided. Even now, were the private sector encouraged to take action by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it is still possible that a useful antidote could be found.
Sir Richard Storey Bt
Malton, North Yorkshire
SIR – Elizabeth Truss is MP for South West Norfolk and claims to love the county. She trots out the old Noel Coward line
about Norfolk being “very flat”.
The North Norfolk coast I visit is far from flat. As soon as you walk inland from just about any part of it, you are going uphill, sometimes quite steeply. To get flat you need to visit the fen country – but that’s mostly in Lincolnshire.
NHS on the road to privatisation
SIR – Janet Daley (“Ed tried to ‘weaponise’ the NHS – it ended with a bang”, Opinion, February 1) omits one important point: the NHS is being privatised in compliance with the EU Services Directive.
The former health secretary , Frank Dobson, once said that this represented privatisation by stealth, and was “about putting multinational companies in the driving seat of the NHS”.
Worthing, West Sussex
SIR – Was it not Andy Burnham who, as health secretary in the last Labour government, reduced GP working hours to five days a week, while at the same time granting them a not inconsiderable pay rise?
The result: a massive increase in patients visiting A&E (“ ’Tis the season of misty memories and Labour forgetfulness”, report, February 1).
When yes means no
SIR – I was alarmed to read your report on the new guidelines issued by Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to police dealing with date rape accusations (“Men must prove a woman said ‘Yes’ under tough new rape rules”, telegraph.co.uk, January 28).
Guidelines suggesting that an accuser saying “Yes” while intoxicated can legally be saying “No”, and therefore not be held responsible for their actions while drunk, appear totally unjust when the accused is considered responsible for their actions, even if in a similar (or worse) state of intoxication.
Any loving person engaging in romantic sexual activity with another person may find themselves publicly accused of and charged with rape if drink was involved or the word “Yes” wasn’t specifically used.
Value of new GCSEs remains to be seen
SIR – When the Blair government dumbed down national GCSEs by stages during the 2000s, my heads of department in science and maths, then history, geography and modern languages begged me to let them move to IGCSE qualifications, demonstrating to me their comparative rigour and depth.
If the new national GCSEs (report, telegraph.co.uk, January 27), which are being introduced gradually from September 2015, prove to be equally rigorous then it is highly likely that my school will gladly return to them – but not instantly. The proof will be in the pudding of the exam specifications and outcomes.
Truly independent schools like mine are mercifully able to choose the right exams for their pupils. It is an independence that we cherish and upon which we can build our high standards of education, evidenced in many places, not just in league tables.
Headmistress, St Catherine’s Bramley, Surrey
Broadchurch blunders: is the show losing the plot?
SIR – When watching Broadchurch I am totally confused as to whether I am presented with a comedy, a soap opera or a murder mystery. The programme appears to be in the middle of an identity crisis with so many sub plots that we need to keep notes on the unfolding events.
The courtroom drama seems to trivialise the due processes of law, the pained expressions would make good subjects for portrait artists, and the haunting music could benefit from the odd change in tempo.
Stunning backdrops of the Jurassic coast and some excellent acting unfortunately fail to camouflage the show’s weaknesses.
SIR – The actors in Broadchurch should forget about trying to adopt a Dorset accent – it comes across more like a mixture of Welsh and Irish.
SIR – There was a glaring inconsistency in a recent episode of Broadchurch when Andrew Buchan returned home and told his wife he had been watching the sunrise. He had in fact been sitting on the Dorset coast looking out to sea with the sun low in the sky on his right.
J H K Reeves
SIR – Boredchurch.
Lindfield, West Sussex
SIR – As regards peculiarities found in television dramas (Letters, February 1), I find it extraordinary that only the top drawer in a filing cabinet is ever used.
SIR – I enjoyed Kate Chisholm’s spirited defence of The Archers (“Why The Archers keeps drawing us back”, Opinion, February 1) but I cannot agree with her.
Having listened to the programme from the earliest days, and finally recovered from the demise of Dick Barton, the time has now come to say goodbye.
Too many story lines, too many new characters and too many old characters with new voices. Anything familiar has been done away with and it has become a cross between EastEnders and Emmerdale.
SIR – I had always wondered why a restaurant I go to in Stirling always describes its haggis as: “Fresh Scottish haggis”.
The proprietor was a little taken aback when I asked if he ever served “Stale Welsh haggis”.
SIR – In the Eighties one of the smarter restaurants in Damascus, the Versailles, prided itself on its French connections.
We were never tempted to confirm just what the final offering on a small selection of desserts – “Crap Suet” – was.
King’s Lynn, Norfolk
SIR – I recently went to a very nice Thai restaurant, where I ordered crispy duck topped with “cautiously fried” vegetables. You can’t be too careful.
Alderley Edge, Cheshire
SIR – I read with alarm the concerns expressed by our fellow countrymen and women from the Jewish community (Letters, February 1).
The Jewish community’s integration within British society has been total, and its the contribution to politics, art, science and humour immense. They are as British as any Angle or Saxon immigrant.
Tingley, West Yorkshire
SIR – My late husband, who was Jewish and lost his parents and brother to the gas chambers, always said religion was the cause of all misery.
(David Hartley / Rex Features)
SIR – Regarding your excellent leader (“Heir to the throne and a man of compassion”, February 1), no constitutional law forbids a sovereign from showing independence of mind or becoming involved in politics; this convention has been established during the Queen’s happy reign.
Queen Mary showed that royal convention may be disregarded when she openly supported her diffident second son, George VI, by attending his coronation in 1937, despite a tradition (thought to date from Plantagenet times) that no British queen dowager had ever attended the coronation of her husband’s successor.
SIR – There is no evidence that Prince Charles would reign with the title Charles III (report, February 1). Regnal names frequently have been different from first names.
In view of his affection for his grandmother, it is much more likely that Prince Charles would choose the title George VII.
Dr John Newbery
Hayling Island, Hampshire
SIR – Tony Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev are the first to have crossed the Pacific by gas balloon (report, February 1), but theirs was not the first gas balloon to cross this ocean.
From November 1944 until April 1945, the Japanese launched more than 9,000 gas balloons, under the code name “Windship Weapon”, to bomb America. The intention was to ignite forest fires or kill at random and at least 285 reached America, Canada or Mexico.
The balloons – 33 ft in diameter and made of paper and silk – rode 6,000 miles in the transpacific jet stream in three days.
In May 1945 a pregnant woman and five children found a balloon in Oregon and accidentally triggered its bomb. They were the only people killed on the entire American continent as a result of enemy action during the Second World War.
SIR – A contestant on a recent episode of the ITV quiz programme The Chase was asked: “Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey is the story of Odysseus’s journey home from which war?”
Her answer: “The First World War.” I almost wept.
Globe and Mail:
Sir, – There is a strong anti-fluoridation campaign targeting city and county councillors throughout the State. This campaign seeks to have motions passed calling for the fluoridation of water to end in the area of the relevant council.
The benefits for oral health of adding fluoride to water are well established. There is no scientific evidence that fluoride, at the rate at which it is added to Irish water, is a threat to any aspect of the health of our citizens.
We are asking councillors to review the published scientific information before supporting a motion, which if implemented by Government, would damage people’s oral health for years.
The 2002 North South Survey of Children’s Oral Health showed measurable benefits in oral health among those aged five and 15 in areas with fluoridated water in the Republic of Ireland when measured against the oral health of children in Northern Ireland where the water is not fluoridated. The only negative demonstrated by the research was a slight increase in mild discolouration of teeth, which resulted in a decrease from 0.9 parts per million to 0.7 parts per million in the rate of fluoridation.
If you remove fluoride from water, even allowing for the presence of fluoride in toothpastes, our citizens will suffer from increases in tooth decay with all its associated pain and financial cost. At a time when the Government provides almost no support for the oral health of our citizens, and when the public dental service is severely strained because of cutbacks and the moratorium on recruitment, the removal of fluoride would be a retrograde step. – Yours, etc,
Dr PETER GANNON,
Prof LEO FA STASSEN,
Irish Dental Association,
Irish Dental Union,
Leopardstown Office Park,
Sir, – A Leavy (February 6th) is wrong if he thinks that the euro crisis was caused by domestic mismanagement. The euro zone crisis was caused in no small part by the decision of the Irish government to transfer the debts of the private sector banking system over to the Irish taxpayer, in addition to the burden we were facing as a result of domestic issues.
Both Greece and Ireland have applied sufficient austerity so that both have a primary surplus in terms of the fact both raise more in tax to cover the cost of running the country. The problem arises when you then add back the cost of servicing the element of national debt solely related to the banking sector. In Ireland’s case it comes to over €3.5 billion a year in interest alone, while in Greece the cost of the banking part of its national debt is over €6 billion a year.
If that portion of national debt was Europeanised, the way it should have been from the start, then Greece and Ireland could continue to focus on domestic reforms to get their economies working again.
It is incorrect to use the term “Greek debt” and not understand that Greece is not seeking to avoid paying the debt incurred to run the country, nor is the new Greek government in denial about the decades of cronyism and tax avoidance by the self-employed, professional and middle classes, or the endemic cronyism and corruption within Greece.
All it seeks is the basic fairness that other euro zone member states also face up to the role they played by encouraging their banks to continue reckless lending.
Let’s not forget either that for all the patronising talk from Germany about living within your means, it was Germany itself that was the first EU country to breach the terms of the growth and stability pact and when the EU attempted to apply the sanctions for breaking the rules, it was Germany, aided by France, that forced the rules to be changed so it could avoid being held to account.
So a bit less superiority from Germany and a bit less denial about the role it played in creating this crisis wouldn’t go amiss either. – Yours, etc
Sir, – I am writing to you as a former child protection social worker in response to the article by Carl O’Brien about young people in care (“We’re not asking for the impossible – we just want what other kids have”, February 2nd).
I want young people in care to know that it was my involvement with them that kept me in the job for as long as I stayed. I didn’t mind the sleepless nights, agonising over decisions I made about their futures.
It was the impossible, bureaucratic, under-resourced system that broke my heart day after day and made me want to leave and go to chop tomatoes in a cafe somewhere.
Frontline social workers should be consulted regularly about the types of solutions that would enhance the lives of children and young people in care and aftercare.
Children and young people in care and aftercare deserve and need much more than they are getting.
Their lives, as a result of being in care, are more complicated and turbulent, and surely that merits care and attention and increased resources to transition them safely into adulthood.
I spent 4½ years as a child protection social worker. I could never do it again. I take my hat off to the amazing social workers who are still working within that system, trying to find solutions and be creative with very limited resources.
It is a wearing battle. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) welcomes the recent focus on energy prices and competition (“Electricity bills should reflect falling gas price”, January 27th; “Those most at risk of energy poverty least likely to shop around”, February 2nd).
The CER has a strong consumer protection mandate and has ensured a supplier switching process for customers which is fast, free and simple.
Irish switching rates are high by international standards, with over 15 per cent of customers switching electricity supplier in 2014 alone. Strong competition has enabled energy prices to be deregulated. In addition to price reductions, competition also delivers choice and innovation. Suppliers now offer alternative metering, billing or payment options, which help customers manage costs, as well as energy efficiency options which reduce consumption and lower bills.
Noticeably lower international gas costs in recent times, combined with competition among suppliers, has fed through to announcements of reduced energy prices by four suppliers since November. If the gas cost remains low for a sustained period, we expect further price reductions in the coming months.
In the interim, we encourage all energy customers to “shop around” among suppliers to see if a better tariff is available, including approaching their current supplier. Price comparison websites, such as bonkers.ie and uswitch.ie, are useful for customers in this regard.
Latest independent Eurostat data for the first half of 2014 show that average prices for typical Irish residential electricity and gas customers are at – or in some cases below – the euro zone average.
The CER commits to continue to monitor energy markets and, should it feel that customers are not benefitting from price deregulation, will use its regulatory powers to take action and improve matters. – Yours, etc,
Director, Energy Markets,
Commission for Energy
Sir, – I very much enjoy Joe Humphreys’s weekly column on philosophy.
However, I was puzzled by the interview with Prof Peter J Bowler (“Unthinkable: Why Charles Darwin is a threat to religion”, February 3rd).
In the article, Prof Bowler states that “Christians would have been more accepting of evolution had Darwin not explained it through natural selection”.
This seems a rather strange statement, given that the hypothesis of natural selection formed a crucial part of Darwin’s theory of evolution (it remains a key component of evolutionary biology today).
It seems to me that it makes very little sense to speculate about the possible reception of a hypothetical “Darwinian” theory that did not feature natural selection – rather like asking whether Rutherford’s nuclear model of the atom might have been more easily accepted had it not involved the difficult concept of the nucleus.
Indeed, while Prof Bowler’s book has received rave reviews from historians, his “counterfactual” approach to the history of science seems quite peculiar to this scientist.
Prof Bowler’s key suggestion is that a different mechanism for evolution might have been more palatable to the church, but how can we know this for sure? It seems unlikely that any theory resembling evolution would have been welcomed by Christian authorities.
In any case, my understanding is that history is the study of what happened – not what might have happened under different circumstances. – Yours, etc
Sir, – Alcohol should not be compared to tobacco when it comes to prohibitive taxation. Unlike tobacco, alcohol has a complex role to play in our social lives, our nation’s tourism industry and our economy.
The taxation proposals are simply a continuation of the prohibitive practices that have helped create problematic attitudes toward alcohol.
Instead of the “Nordic model” of prohibitive taxes, we need a “continental model” of a more nature, relaxed and responsible attitude towards alcohol consumption. – Yours, etc,
Westport, Co Mayo.
Sir, – If Peadar Mac Maghnais (February 5th) gets upset with the use of British Isles, imagine how Filipinos feel at being named after a Spanish king, or Romania being named after Rome, and Scotland from the land of the Irish. If the term “British Isles” is an issue, why not follow the pattern of Macedonia and rename our island “the Former British Isle of Ireland”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I sincerely regret that the BBC has lost the exclusive rights to screen the British Open, this great golfing event. I shall miss the superb commentary by Peter Allis and also the fact that the BBC coverage is in high definition, unlike Sky, which charges extra for the privilege. And then there are the ads. Oh woe is me. – Yours, etc,
Moate, Co Westmeath.
Sir, – So sorry to read of Frank McDonald’s retirement (“Reflections on Dublin”, Magazine, January 31st). I wish him a well-earned and happy retirement. He has been such a marvellous ambassador for preserving Dublin’s character and I am sure I speak for many when I say perhaps we did not appreciate him half enough. I hope he continues to keep an eye on things! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I am researching the life of Pearse Hutchinson (1927-2012), poet, translator and broadcaster, with a view to writing a critical biography. I would be grateful if you would allow me to ask readers to contact me at the address below if they have any information, correspondence, photographs, or other information that might be useful. – Yours, etc,
Dr PHILIP COLEMAN,
School of English,
Trinity College Dublin,
The Government says it can’t, for constitutional reasons, support Clare Daly’s Bill to allow for terminations in circumstances where an unborn child has no prospect of life outside the womb.
One can understand and fully appreciate that position, based on a clearly stated legal concern. But what I find deeply disturbing is that the Government, and indeed the main opposition parties too, seem loathe to allowing a free vote on this Bill that seeks to address the heart-rending condition of Fatal Foetal Abnormality and its impact on women.
OK, the Bill won’t become law, but it affords TDs the opportunity to vote for the principle of not obliging any woman in this country to proceed with a pregnancy when the baby cannot be born alive.
This cruel and inhuman obligation is a relic of our darker and horribly shameful past, of the same stultifying oppressive era when Magdalene punishment centres (Ireland’s Gulags) dotted the land, of an insidious political culture that shielded the barbarity of the crude and brutal symphysiotomy procedure.
By refusing to act decisively on the FFA issue, the Government is demonstrating that its well choreographed expressions of regret for past wrongs, in what Taoiseach Enda Kenny called a “cruel time in Ireland”, were all but meaningless.
It was wrong to confine women guilty of no crime in virtual slave camps to wash other people’s dirty laundry for weeks, months, and years on end.
It is equally wrong for this State to compel a woman to proceed with a pregnancy when she knows that a child cannot be born alive…to subject even a single human being to such a form of legalised torture.
If the leaders of Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin, and Fianna Fáil have a shred of decency, they ought to put aside their political differences and, for once, remove the whips and let every member of the Dáil vote freely, openly, and honestly on this issue of conscience and fundamental human rights.
John Fitzgerald, Callan, Co Kilkenny
Slapping children is never right
A slap on the child’s hands is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.
A slap on the back of the child’s legs is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.
A slap on the child’s bottom is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.
A slap on the back of the child’s head is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.
A slap on the child’s face is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.
A slap on any part of the child’s body is corporal punishment, and will, without doubt, leave its violent mark on the child.
Believe me, and I speak from experience, you will humiliate a child, no matter what part of the body you slap them.
I believe, that Pope Francis, a good man, was very unwise to enter this particular debate in the first place.
I congratulate Mary McAleese on her eloquent and measured letter on this subject in your paper.
Any kind of corporal punishment of children, no matter how tame, should be banned, both in the school and in the home. End of story.
Brian McDevitt, Glenties, Co. Donegal.
Is laughter not proof of God?
Without a shadow of doubt in my mind, an Irish atheist is a very sensible person.
Who would believe in a God that is preached by an organisation such as the Catholic Church ?
Not as preached by those within the Church, both lay and clergy, who are genuinely striving to make the world a better place – but those elements within it that are hell-bent on fracturing society through inflicting pain and suffering on our most vulnerable – elements that have been ordained and those who attach themselves to those elements that do the very opposite of what they preach.
Are atheists correct ? Who genuinely knows in one sense, but perhaps a question for atheists that I cannot answer without God popping up as its source … Where did music and laughter come from, for are they not the very proof of Divine Inspiration?
Perhaps Mr Fry, an absolute expert on one of these topics, may like to offer his views, for after all he has brought much laughter, light and happiness to the world in his long and wonderful career in comedy, has he not?
Dermot Ryan, Attymon, Athenry, Co. Galway.
Matter can’t produce morality
The idea that matter could, of its own volition, produce ‘sentient beings capable of morality, love and philosophy’ (Conor Faughnan, February 7) is preposterous.
Fr. Georges Lamaitre SJ, who, at a scientific conference in 1933 and at the specific invitation of Albert Einstein, presented his ‘Primeval Atom hypothesis’, now colloquially referred to as the ‘Big Bang Theory’, had a far more reasonable and all-embracing comprehension of primeval existential realities.
‘Should a priest reject relativity because it contains no authoritative exposition on the doctrine of the Trinity? Once you realise that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes … The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to St Paul or to Moses … As a matter of fact neither St Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.’
Colm Ó Tórna, Co Dublin
Equal rights for all families
The referendum is not about you, and it should not become about whether we are gay, straight or otherwise. It is about taxpayers being afforded the same rights as other people and citizens who pay equivalent taxes. Your argument seems to be heavily based on assumptions surrounding the future endangerment of the hetero-normal family.
Why not instead show us solid evidence where gay parents, today, cannot provide a suitable environment in which to raise children. In reality, society cannot favour a particular type of family unit in a culture which is already enriched with the types of families you wish to prevent. These existing children deserve to be legally recognised as do the people, their parents, who are raising them.
Just because something is traditional does not mean it cannot be enhanced and improved upon. Consider how in Ireland tens of thousands of children were handed over to a lifetime of institutional, State-sponsored, abuse by a perfectly respectfully mother and father. States like Ireland can evolve and improve, so too can families.
Caitriona Coen, Castleknock, Dublin
A winning strategy on booze
The Minister for Health has decided that access to reasonably priced alcohol in the shop is to be stopped. Our health police deem that such access is bad for the proletariat; we have an “unhealthy relationship” with alcohol, so price hikes will solve this problem.
The demand will diminish, especially amongst the younger proles. Just like it has for cannabis, cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, LSD, ecstasy. Since these drugs were subjected to similar regulation, nobody uses them anymore.
Sure it’s a winner of a strategy, so it is. A winner.
Larry Dunne, Rosslare Harbour, Co Wexford