Concorde, Tory leadership and others

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Concorde was beautiful, but a supersonic money-burner

Concorde was beautiful, but a supersonic money-burner

Sir: The adulation being heaped on Concorde is overblown in the extreme and borders on necromancy. One would think it was some sort of high-speed, high-passenger version of the Skytrain that had flown millions of people.

Anyone with half a memory will recall the furious debate in the UK in the late 1960s, the thrust of which held that an aircraft seating no more than 120 (figures varied at the time) and consuming more fuel than a Boeing 747 to cross the Atlantic could never be a commercial success. Before the decade was out the first 747, flown by Pan American Airways, was launched, followed by orders for dozens more from the leading carriers. Within a few years, the smaller jumbos, the DC-10 and Lockheed TriStar joined the lineup, while the Concorde launch date continued to be put back.

In 1971, the International Air Transport Association began to sound alarms about the rising cost of aviation fuel, then around 12 cents a gallon and pushing towards 14 cents if not higher. In 1972, Air Canada, with whom I was then employed, became the first big airline to cancel Concorde orders, axeing orders for four. Pan Am, TWA and a host of other airlines, having thrown in their lot with jumbo jets, followed suit. Boeing, in the meantime, scrapped construction of a prototype of a 220-seat American version of Concorde as being uneconomical, after signals from Washington that the government could not support the Boeing programme.

The collapse of Concorde as a commercial enterprise, beautiful looking though it was, preceded the 1973 Yom Kippur war in the Middle East, which put oil prices through the ceiling. It was clear that it would only carry fare-paying passengers if the British and French governments wrote off the manufacturing costs and gave the aircraft to the national airlines, which eventually they did.

There was a chance in the 1960s to scrap the programme before billions of dollars were thrown at it, money which could have been better spent on accelerating the Airbus programme or advancing other forms of subsonic technology.

Richmond, Surrey

IDS's leadership in the balance

Sir: If Conservatives wish to continue on a trajectory similar to that of the old Liberal Party - that is from power to irrelevance - then Iain Duncan Smith makes an ideal leader. However, should they wish to become an effective Opposition, or even hope to form a future Government, then another leader is required.

Whilst IDS had in the leadership election the overwhelming support of the constituencies, and still may have, the changes in the method of electing a new leader have not proved a success.

IDS was previously an officer in the Guards. Had the troops been responsible for electing the officer in charge one wonders just how effective a force they would have been. Far better a system where those whose jobs will ultimately depend upon the performance of the leader, namely MPs, are the ones who select the leader.


Sir: The current leader of the Conservative Party, chosen by rank and file constituency party members, is under threat from those members' own parliamentary representatives. Amazingly, the leadership crisis was heightened when a couple of millionaire party members, who presumably only have one vote each, decided to withdraw their financial support because the person the majority of their fellow party members voted for is not to their liking. Money talks.

Hales, Norfolk

Sir: I have never met Michael Howard (Profile, 25 October), but I have formed an opinion about him based largely on his time in the Cabinet and also on the way he comes across on television. If Bruce Anderson imagines that by letting us all know that the former Home Secretary is a Beatles fan these opinions might change, I am afraid he's in for a shock.

It reminds me of the time when IDS went to Sunderland and, on the advice of someone that they love their football in the North-east, spent a good part of his speech lauding the praises of Newcastle United and Sir Bobby Robson, thereby alienating the entire population of Sunderland.

In a race for Britain's most discredited politician, Mr Howard would be beaten by Peter Mandelson, but not by much. However, he's a Beatles fan. So that's all right then.

Southport, Merseyside

Sir: If the Tory Leader was "never up to the job", I am left wondering where that leaves the Tory Party which voted him in to it.

Twickenham, Middlesex

Four-letter words

Sir: "The Secret Policeman" performed an important service in its exposure of racialism in trainee police officers in Greater Manchester, but it raised another issue. Yes, it started at 9pm, right on the watershed, so the F-words, which peppered almost every utterance of the police officers being filmed, were heard in full, with the throw-away casualness, or the vehement emphasis, adding to the horror of what was being said.

The words were also spelt out in full, throughout the programme, in the captions under the pictures. I didn't count, but the word must have been used at least a hundred times, and now seems to be the norm, especially in serious programmes.

But when it came to the C-word things were different. The sound of the word from the police officers was bleeped, and in the captions it appeared as C---. How long before the bleep goes, and the dashes or asterisks disappear, and the C-word becomes OK?

London SW15

Exciting education

Sir: I once attended a GCSE English and English Literature coursework moderation meeting where the attending teachers were told that the tasks they set were becoming repetitive and jaded (report and leading article, 27 October). Presumably the board felt that using the same coursework tasks with subsequent year groups was boring for their regular moderators, despite the advantages it offered to a classroom teacher.

That summer, the board's higher tier examination writing task was simply: "Describe the room you are in."

Perhaps those who create and set examinations need to have the same sense of imagination and creativity that they demand from teachers and pupils?

St Helens, Merseyside

Care home abuse

Sir: There is one important aspect of the Longcare Homes abuse saga (article, 14 October) which appears to have attracted little attention.

The independent Longcare Inquiry Report (1998) contained express recommendations that the registration and inspection regime for care homes involving vulnerable, mentally incapacitated, persons be considerably tightened. Subsequently, however, several hundred residential care homes, including those for people with severe or profound learning disabilities, have been quietly de-registered, and effectively taken out of the new, independent and more robust system for regulating care homes under the Care Standards Act 2000.

This is an extraordinary situation, which does little to illustrate that real lessons have been learned from the Longcare inquiry, or to allay the concerns of families (such as my own) with severely mentally disabled relatives in care.

Statutory guidance issued by the Department of Health and the Welsh Assembly in August 2002, reflecting enthusiasm for the supported living concept has arguably accelerated the trend towards deregistration of residential care homes for people with learning disabilities.

The alternative system of domiciliary care regulation under which some deregistered care homes may now fall is a singularly unsatisfactory substitute for several reasons, not least of which is the absence of any statutory requirement for independent inspection of individual care settings.

A few pounds extra housing benefit per week is no compensation to a mentally incapacitated service user who regularly suffers physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse in a home that is excluded from the statutory system for regulating residential care homes. Has the Government learnt nothing from the independent Longcare inquiry?

Brecon, Powys

Passport to prison  

Sir: The Home Office has decided to jail asylum-seekers entering without papers. I advise an asylum-seeker who is destitute because he is not allowed either to work or to claim benefits. He cannot return to his country after the failure of his case, because the Home Office has lost his passport. Should Mr Blunkett be jailed?

Bladon, Oxfordshire

Islamic 'democracy'

Sir: Aly-Khan Satchu is of course right in principle to advocate democracy on a one man, one vote basis for countries such as Iraq and Algeria (letter, 27 October). The practical problem is that the almost certain return of Islamist parties would mean that the election that brought them to power would be the last one held. At the very least secular parties would be banned.

Bromyard, Herefordshire

Personality politics

Sir: Unfortunately C A Taylor (letter, 25 October) will have to wade through Hansard to see the substantial contribution currently being made by the Liberal Democrats. The media are far more interested in the squirmings of IDS and the Brown baby to bother with real matters of state. Perhaps if Charles Kennedy were suddenly to embrace Islam, or Baroness Williams announce her engagement to Prince Philip, the party would receive more coverage.

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Divide by 10

Sir: I too used to rail against "decimated" (letter, 24 October), but now I am giving in gracefully. Words change their meaning and following how they change over the years can be fascinating. We seem to need a word meaning "reduced hugely, even as far as to a tenth" where we do not seem to need one meaning "reduced a bit, maybe as far as to 90 per cent". So be it.

Tullibody, Clackmannanshire

Golden buffers?

Sir: Now that Connex has been stripped of its franchise, can we look forward to reading about huge payoffs for the directors in the next few months?

Redland, Bristol