Bush, student fees and others

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The Independent Online

Bush is not concerned with the suffering of the world's poor

Sir: I could not agree more with Johann Hari's comments on Bush's agricultural policies and their effects on the developing world ("I support Bush on Iraq - but I'll join the protests", 19 November). It is clear that such policies contribute to starvation and misery on a global scale. However, given Hari's views on these issues, I do not understand how he claims not to "doubt Bush's sincerity about the Iraqi people's freedom".

If a government can show such unashamed self-interest with regard to agricultural policy, then how are we expected to believe that their motives for the war in Iraq were good-hearted?

The reason agricultural subsidies are so high in the US and the EU is not political, in the sense that farmers represent a crucial portion of the electorate. Food manufacturers and retailers only represent a small proportion of the economy. However, without the products they provide we would starve. Therefore food production is an issue of national security.

Depending too heavily on imported food (which is what would happen if subsidies were abolished because the third world have a comparative advantage in producing food) makes a country vulnerable in the eventuality of a war. That is why subsidies will continue: because the security of the West will always be deemed to be more important than the suffering of the world's poor.

Just as with food, oil is an issue of national security. Without it, economies grind to a halt. However, unlike food, the supply of oil is finite. Thus, control over this equally vital resource cannot be exercised through subsidies. That is why the war was inevitable. It had nothing to do with the alleged suffering of the Iraqi people. Knowing that Bush is not in the least bit concerned with the suffering of the world's poor, then why would he be concerned with the suffering of the Iraqi people? This war was fought purely out of self-interest.

London SW20

Parents who pay fees pay taxes too

Sir: For Frank Dobson "it doesn't make sense" that students whose parents have paid for them to attend independent schools should have access to universities on the same financial basis as their state-educated contemporaries ("Make private school pupils pay to go to university", 25 November). Let me try to make sense of it for him. The sums are really quite simple.

Even cautiously estimated, the 350,000 or so families with children in independent schools at present contribute at least £2bn annually, through their taxes, to the maintenance of the nation's education system. Their children should, therefore, have exactly the same rights of access to publicly-funded institutions - schools or universities - as those of any other taxpayers.

The fact that those parents have chosen to relieve the state of the financial burden of some part of their children's schooling - probably somewhere in the region of another £2bn a year - could just as easily be argued to give their children concessionary rights when it comes to higher education. The Independent Schools Council doesn't argue that any more than it has supported the case for tax relief on school fees: the price of full parental choice is an adequately resourced state education system. But the state must keep its side of the bargain too.

Joint Director
Independent Schools Council information service
London SW1

Sir: Frank Dobson is out of touch with education if he thinks it is only the rich who now pay for schooling. His arguments are class-biased, with a nonsense about "avoiding the rough children" and joining the "network of influential people". He appears unaware that the "one size fits all" education system is failing many children from ordinary families who impoverish themselves to help their children. Whereas there may be elements of "anti-social engineering by which private privilege is built into our society", one would have hoped for a more complete picture from Mr Dobson.

My own three children went to local primary schools, comprehensive secondary and university, at the expense of the state. They fitted the mould and their passage through state education was free and seamless. My three grandchildren, however, go to private school largely because the state system could not cope with their needs. The eldest is a bright Asperger child, who experienced years of trauma trying to fit into a system that could not bend. The state pays his fees, being unable to educate him within the system. His brother, an extremely able child, assessed by his state school to be ready for secondary school at the age of eight, was floundering in boredom because no one was in a position to educate him to his needs within the state system. He has a scholarship. The youngest child joins them because of transport issues.

State schooling is a lottery for children both in poor areas and where children have special needs. Instead of floating ideas about all private school children paying for university, or of using the the lottery for funding, Frank Dobson should first push his government into ensuring that education is provided appropriate to the needs of all children - and fund it to the hilt. Income tax is the only fair way to avoid social advantage. Frank Dobson should be above creating yet another hidden tax.
Name and address supplied

Sir: Frank Dobson is mistaken. Even if all young people enjoyed the same school, children will never enjoy equality of opportunity. The single biggest determinant of academic success is not ability to pay but parental aspiration - something over which his government has no control. What they must do is to ensure that all pupils have the best possible start in life. This is not done by penalising the parents of private school pupils.

Social engineering cannot be allowed to interfere with the higher education system. Universities have to be meritocratic. They must push the most capable and reward the most able. This is how employers can discern quality at graduate employment level and how universities can maintain high research standards.

However, all those parents who struggle to afford private schooling for their children in areas where the state system is failing should not be punished. Instead energies should be spent on improving those failing schools. Were the whole population of the UK to live near the Oratory, fee-charging schools would surely wither and die.

London E1

Sir: I am one of those parents who sent my children to private school. I taught in comprehensive schools and it was my experience of these - disruptive pupils, truancy, absent teachers, unmarked homework, insolent, violent pupils - that drove us into the independent sector. Why should a child sit through 13 years of education and come out at the end with nothing to show for it? Why does Frank Dobson so resent children working hard? Would he set the same low standards for, say, rugby players?

Monmouth, Monmouthshire

America at war

Sir: David McNickle (Letters, 25 November) says the US were persuaded to join in two European wars by Britain.

I was led to believe that, in the case of the Great War, the loss of American lives on the Lusitania and the revelation in the Zimmermann telegram of German help for Mexico to recover their lost territories were more persuasive than British entreaties. In the case of the Second War, I thought Japan, Germany's ally, was quite persuasive at Pearl Harbor, far more than Britain could ever have hoped to be alone.

Littleover, Derby

Sir: David McNickle is far wide of the mark suggesting that Britain persuaded the US to join in two world wars, despite the best efforts of Lloyd George and Churchill's first-rate propaganda machines and persuasive arguments.

Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were both undoubtedly appalled by nationalist aggression and aided Britain economically despite having to lead a nation that was, at least initially, ambivalent to distant conflict. Yet neither ultimately went to war on Britain's say-so. Both presidents, in 1917 and 1941, led the US into global conflict for two reasons - first, to protect the worldwide interests and American citizens that were undeniably and tangibly threatened by outside forces and, second, because both believed they could, in victory, achieve a just peace.

Lessingham, Norfolk

Marchers hit back  

Sir: I was interested to read Keith Gilmour's report (letter, 25 November) on the anti-Bush protests. Clearly, his excellent vantage point in Glasgow provided an insight into those attending that I missed out on, sandwiched as I was between poets, priests, Labour activists, British Muslims and old-age pensioners.

His is a letter in support of the "war against terrorism". Going solely by what we hear from US reports from Kabul and Iraq, there are plenty of terrorist attacks going on there. Turkey, also, seems to have a bigger terrorism problem at the moment than it did before.

Mr Gilmour makes the point that "terrorists such as al-Qa'ida target the innocent ... President Bush, by clear contrast, targets the guilty". On the assumption that this is true, there is the unhappy problem that al-Qa'ida are very accurate in their targeting, whereas Bush fails miserably. Recently, we heard that 20,000 people, or so, have died in Iraq since the beginning of the recent invasion. How many of these were the guilty ones that Mr Gilmour claims were targeted? Almost half were civilians; many of the rest were conscripted.

Trinity College, Cambridge

Sir: I am a dim, unkempt anti-globalisation type and a naive bleeding-heart (as described by Keith Gilmour) who demonstrated in London last Thursday. The "lecture-shy students" and "skiving sixth formers" in our group got up at about 6am, missed a day's television and an evening in the pub and arrived home at 3am the following morning.

I do not take for granted my right to protest; it is the result of a long struggle and was not won by people who stayed in bed.

North Yorkshire

Sir: Ten thousand demonstrators march in Tbilisi, and the government falls. Two million demonstrators march in London, and absolutely nothing changes. Isn't freedom a beautiful thing?

Chesham Bois,

Safe as houses

Sir: Jeremy Warner omits the key point (Outlook, 25 November) when he attributes the "bubble" rise in house prices only to low interest rates and shortage of supply.

The principal reason for the high percentage of our wealth that we put into our houses is that there is no other unlimited medium for saving that is free of tax. The best game play is to trade up your house all your working life and then to downsize. Other savings will be taxed on any gain; with the exception of an official pension - but that has to be put back into the pot via an annuity.

Which does the nation greater good: money tied up in bricks, mortar and land or money invested in enterprise through a pension fund? Sorting this out is a perfect task for New Labour and needs to be done before we join the euro.


Rugby rituals  

Sir: Vaughan Thomas ("A Welsh welcome", Letters, 25 November) must be either very young or somewhat selective of memory. As a supporter of English rugby (a tragic accident of birth, I know) in the 1970s my "little English" throat was ritually rammed every spring with indigestible crowing over yet another Welsh win. Of course the pain of such humiliation was leavened by the absolute certainty that I was one of the "world's rightful rulers", a topic which was debated long into the night in the hostelries around Twickenham and Cardiff Arms Park.

Lindfield, West Sussex

Sir: The rugby was great. But why the British national anthem for the English team? I for one loathe an anthem that I (as an athiest republican) and the Windsors (for other reasons apparently) cannot sing. Time for new words to be written to "I Vow to Thee My Country"? Then we can all sing with tears of pride in our eyes.

Egham, Surrey

Istanbul bombings

Sir: Betty Harris (letter, 24 November) states that the "MPs who voted in favour of war against Iraq are responsible for the deaths and injuries suffered in Istanbul." That's a revelation to those of us who foolishly imagined that responsibility for the atrocities lay with the terrorists who carried them out.

Sevenoaks, Kent

Career change

Sir: I wish to correct the urban myth repeated by your article "Why not do something lastminute, like change your career?" (21 November). I was not "ousted" as chairman of easyJet, nor did I "over-stay my welcome". I decided to leave of my own accord, believing that what skills I may possess are those of a serial entrepreneur rather than chairman of a FTSE-250 company.

Chairman, easyGroup
London NW1

Mobile moments

Sir: In the changing room of a local gymnasium, I have just seen a man having a conversation on a mobile phone which he held in one hand while trying, not very successfully, to pull on his tracksuit trousers with the other hand. Hopping and phoning simultaneously will probably not be permitted after 1 December and I wonder if your readers can suggest any other activities that should not be carried out while using a mobile phone.

Andover, Hampshire