'Fashionable' university courses, Inheritance tax and others

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Fashionable or no, media studies is essential in today's world

Fashionable or no, media studies is essential in today's world

Sir: Professor Alan Smithers' comments about charging more for university courses "which are not considered essential for our future" (" 'Fashionable' courses may attract higher tuition fees", 20 August) generated significant outrage in me, and I suspect many of my media studies colleagues. Yet again colleagues from subjects that can't attract students pour ignorant scorn on those that can.

Modern democracy could not function without the media, and the complex relationship between politics and the media, as demonstrated by the Hutton inquiry amongst other events, is a very important area of study. Whether the centre and right-wing like it or not, the mass media dominates people's leisure time, with a recent OfCom report showing television viewing alone accounting for an average of around 26 hours per person per week. Media companies are among the most significant in the global economy, and the need to study things like the $350bn takeover of Time Warner by AOL in 2001, the biggest in history at the time, is simply common sense.

To suggest that media studies is a trivial subject which should be regarded as an expensive luxury is absurd. That the person offering such a view is a senior adviser to government is quite frightening.

Senior Lecturer in Media Studies
De Montfort University, Leicester

Sir: As a psychologist, I feel that many people have a real misconception of the subject. Alan Smithers states his belief that psychology is not "essential for the future of this nation" and that more people should be encouraged to take up medical and scientific subjects instead.

Psychology is a scientific discipline and a large portion of professional psychologists work alongside doctors and medical researchers to combat mental and physical illnesses. I myself work with stroke patients, using the latest functional imaging (brain scanning) techniques to try to discover how the damage to their brains is affecting them and what we can do to help them recover. As stroke is the biggest cause of disability in the Western world I don't consider my work to be superfluous.

Surely the nation would like us to continue our research into these such debilitating conditions. Why should people be discouraged from following in our footsteps?


Don't slap the rich with inheritance tax

Sir: Once again you are advocating that taxes on the "wealthy" should go up and so spare "ordinary people" their fair share of the tax burden (editorial, 23 August). However, a fact you never mention is that the top 11 per cent of earners already contribute 50 per cent of the income tax take.

Now you suggest even fewer "ordinary people" should pay their fair share through inheritance tax - despite the fact that "ordinary people" benefit from increased provision of social goods - and that the rich should be targeted ever more stringently. This is not "fair" taxation, it is vilification and victimisation of a small, despised and envied minority in order to protect "ordinary people" from the full costs of the services they demand.

And it is not harmless. I now work abroad and thus deny the UK economy skills, income tax revenue and VAT revenue from my purchases simply because I spent enough time being vilified for being gay in the UK by the Tories and the Daily Mail without then being vilified for being a high earner by Labour and The Independent.

High earners contribute a fortune to "ordinary people"; we deserve better than a spit in the eye and another smash and grab on our wallets. Recognition of how much we already contribute would be a nice start, but something other than the degenerate debate on what constitutes "fair" would be better.


Sir: Your leader about the unfair effect of inheritance tax on middle income people is overdue. The Government is trying to encourage people to save more for their old age. It is not much of an incentive to realise that a prudent approach resulting in an over-provision would be taxed at 40 per cent. Most middle-income estates will have been created from earnings or interest which will already have been taxed once! As for the proposal for a band of £25,000 at a lower rate, who are they trying to kid? The value of an average house could rise by this amount in a year.


Sir: I support the principle of an inheritance tax, but what I do not support is the passion we have for defining it in "bands".

There may have been some logic in doing this in the days of quill pens and tax tables, but nowadays there is no such necessity; a changing tax level can be defined by a smooth curve (defined by a formula) that can be of any shape the Chancellor likes, to provide the total amount he wants.

This could be supported if required by a tax table, but this should be in say, 1,000 increments rather than in just 3 "bands". All this does, just as with income tax, is to provide a thriving opportunity for financial advisers, insurance companies and accountants to make money by encouraging people to adopt schemes to avoid getting into some higher tax "band", notwithstanding that in many instances the actual amount of tax reduction is minimal.

Lytham, Lancashire

Sir: Rather than adjusting the current thresholds, the key reform which would make inheritance tax fairer would be to shift taxation from the donors' estate to the recipient, by abolishing inheritance tax and replacing it with a capital receipts tax on unearned windfalls of wealth.

This approach would take into account the financial circumstances of the beneficiary, and the level of tax would depend on the size of each individual bequest rather than that of the overall estate. Reform is long overdue of a tax which is currently paid by moderately affluent home owners but avoided entirely in practice by the very wealthy.

Fabian Society
London SW1

Soldiers' duties

Sir: No newspaper has taken the Cabinet appeal by the Gentle family - following their son and brother being killed in action on 28 June in Iraq - so seriously as The Independent ("A war of words", 20 August). Fusilier Gordon Gentle died in Basra, aged 19.

We are given a list of 31 British dead since hostilities ended. Of those, eight were in their thirties and eight were younger than 22. We are told a Labour MP's opinion: "The tragedy is that [Fusilier Gentle] died for a war not of his making." But what signed-up soldier ever did go to a conflict of his making?

Fusilier Gentle's mother and sister sought public redress from the Prime Minister, demanding that British soldiers be withdrawn forthwith from Iraq operations. Why? Because Fusilier Gentle had been sent to a war zone a month after completing training, while "still young, with the rest of his life to live". Well, in 1941 my 20-year-old uncle in the SAS died with all his platoon of 30 on David Stirling's first desert drop. His elder brother, also in the SAS, was about to marry: their mother kept the telegram even from her husband till the wedding was done.


Sir: Congratulations to Bruce Anderson on his article on war casualties (23 August). It flies in the face of the anti-war brigade, who as the article states undermine the morale of our servicemen and women. We should take a lesson from what happened in America during the Vietnam War when servicemen and women back home on leave were forced to discard their uniforms for fear of insults and other attacks.

I joined the Royal Navy in the Second World War at the age of 17, I volunteered as many thousands did and took part in Russian convoys and when I came home on leave I always felt most welcome. It helped a lot.

Chippenham, Wiltshire

Sir: The smugly sanguine attitude with which rich and powerful old men such as Bruce Anderson (23 August) despatch poor and powerless young men off to die in their wars is nauseating.


Sir: While I may share the sentiments of Andy Harvey (letter, 23 August), and I am sure he is entirely correct when he says many impoverished young people join the army as economic conscripts, he is surely talking nonsense when he suggests that it is not implicit in recruitment posters that those signing up might have to fight. Even the least educated private of the lowest IQ knows what job a soldier does.

There are many worrisome reasons why an individual may choose to join the armed forces but no one could argue with any validity that they did not expect that, one day, they might have to fight and kill or be killed. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous or patronising.

Northwood, Middlesex

The first marathon

Sir: James Lawton ("The familiar nightmare had once again come to the darling of British athletics", 23 August) repeats the commonly accepted story that Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens with news of the Athenian victory over the Persians.

The only near contemporary account of this event that I am aware of is Herodotus, and he details Pheidippides as running before the battle from Athens to Sparta and back again. This is a run of some 280 miles, the first leg of which he did in a day.

There is no account of Pheidippides dying as result, or of him or any other messenger running from Marathon to Athens. Presumably the shorter marathon of 26 miles has been selected as it is more of an acceptable distance to modern athletes.

Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Sir: I was surprised that James Lawton described Paula Radcliffe as having a "basically modest natural talent". I would be very interested to learn what other world record holders Mr Lawton thinks fall into this same category.


Sir: Now that the coxless fours has ended satisfactorily, may we hope that you will arrange for a photograph of "The Four Oarsmen on the Acropolis"?

Robertsbridge, East Sussex

Global leadership

Sir: You commented in an editorial (13 August) on optimistic research by a couple of American scientists into the chance of avoiding global warming. Only the calculations indicating that we can avoid the worst of it are new: environmentalists and scientists gave us the same warnings and strategies 30 years ago.

Over that 30 years the only change in personal lifestyles has been markedly increased consumption despite the dire warnings. The Prime Minister makes the occasional high-minded speech, editors compose editorials, journalists write well-researched articles, but as far as giving a lead on changing behaviour is concerned we have a vacuum at the top. Politicians don't discuss or decide issues in a stated context of the environment, they don't set a personal example, and our-votes-at-any-price government lacks the moral fibre to send the gentlest of lifestyle messages. Tony Blair is certainly not noted for putting his personal family choices where his environmental mouth is, illustrated again this year in the number of air pollution miles covered by his family in pursuit of holidays.

Everybody takes limits of other sorts for granted. We all prioritise our spending within the limits of what we can afford, but most people would be staggered to be required to spend from an environmental account which limits carbon spending.

Information is fine but it makes no changes. People in public life must lead.

London N14

Put a Cork in it

Sir: Mike Nolan (letter, 23 August) is perhaps also lacking some geographical knowledge. The British Isles is a geographical term for a group of islands lying off the north-west coast of mainland Europe. It is as appropriate to include Cork in any heading "Britain" as it is Douglas (Isle of Man) or Newport (Isle of Wight). Is it possible that he is muddling geography with politics?

Thames Ditton, Surrey

Lost in the post

Sir: Simon Fairlie (letter, 23 August) hasn't realised that the post has already suffered the fate of the railways. Royal Mail and Parcel Force are separate and mutually-loathing organisations. The Post Office has lost any sense that its core business is to provide a portal to delivery services. This week its management has decided that its core business is selling car insurance. Last week it was foreign exchange. Unsurprisingly, more and more post offices are closing. The solution is simple: re-create a unified organisation, primarily devoted to mail-handling.


Rwandan response

Sir: Aid budget support to Rwanda is completely transparent and is closely monitored by all development partners, Bretton Woods institutions and our parliament. Allegations that aid money to Rwanda is used to fuel the war in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo ("Are their guns paid for with British aid?", 10 August) are completely unfounded. The DRC has found it impossible to control its borders and territory and Rwanda is paying the price.

Secretary General and Secretary to the Treasury, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Government of the Republic of Rwanda, Kigali

Savoy grilling

Sir: With A-level pass rates nearing 100 per cent, surely it is time to ponder the words of W S Gilbert: "When everyone is somebodee/ Then no one's anybody!"

Longfield, Kent