IoS letters, emails & online postings (7 June 2009)

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In "After the fiddle come the freebies"(31 May), you state that in August 2008, five MPs were taken to Sweden to visit nuclear facilities. All expenses were met by E.ON, who at the time were lobbying the Government to introduce a new generation of nuclear power. In August 2007, five MPs were taken to the United States to visit nuclear facilities, all expenses being met by Westinghouse, who were then lobbying to have their nuclear reactor design included, if the Government approved new nuclear.

In this way, the nuclear industry has encouraged this government and Parliament to reintroduce a long discredited, dangerous, expensive technology.

I doubt that the nuclear industry is the only one that is using freebies to smooth the path for changes in policy and law that suit its business. This is an anti-democratic practice that should be stamped on immediately.

Steve Outhwaite

via email

Almost all the trips whose details you published were paid for by the government of the visiting country or by a sponsoring company, not the British taxpayer.

Stories published over the past fortnight have concentrated on where MPs have bent or broken the rules governing the claiming of expenses. There has been little about the important work that many MPs do on, for example, the Commons select committees, which scrutinise the work of major companies and departments of government.

The public may well be left with the impression that being an MP is a dishonourable job with no relevance or value to society. Hence no one will wish in future to be an MP, or even serve as a locally-elected councillor.

Do we want a public arena in which debate and discussion is dominated by corporations, bureaucrats and well-endowed think-tanks? Do we wish for a relentlessly privatised society in which the words "public service" are little more than terms of abuse?

Shouvik Datta

via email

You suggest that UK cases of swine flu are likely to be 300 times higher than the Health Protection Agency's published figures for confirmed cases ("UK swine flu toll is really 30,000, says leading scientist", 24 May). The estimate is based on the belief that people with symptoms are tested only after travel to Mexico and the US, or contact with the disease.

In fact, a network of more than 100 general practices across the country is testing patients with flu-like illness, irrespective of travel or person-to-person contact. Samples from hospital patients with severe acute respiratory illness are being tested for H1N1, and a proportion of callers to NHS Direct with cold/ flu symptoms will be sent "self-swab" kits to return. Clinical reporting schemes also send an early warning signal when more people start reporting flu-like symptoms.

These systems are not reporting a significant increase in cases of flu-like symptoms, and are working well. While these surveillance systems show some wider presence of the H1N1 virus in our population, they do not indicate that transmission within Britain is continuing and increasing. The watchword, of course, is vigilance.

Justin McCracken

Chief Executive, Health Protection Agency, London WC1

Tim Lott should look over his list of non-English novelists whom he sees as great political and social commentators ("Britain changes by the hour, but our novelists have nothing to say", 31 May). Almost all have mixed the fantastical with hoary realism, satire, surrealism, postmodern textual games, etc.

There are many fine writers, as he points out, who are working on the boundaries of realism and fantasy – Mark Haddon, Susanna Clarke, and the brilliant Ali Smith, whose The Accidental for a trenchant critique of surveillance society.

British culture has a terrible disdain for the fantastical, surrealist and magical. And yet the literary canon is rife with celebratory rites, equivocal ghosts, haunted trees, transmuted creatures, crumbling castles, and green men. More engagement with the fantastical and allegorical, not less, is needed to infuse British literature with ethical and political seriousness.


posted online

The polo you describe is not in the grounds of the Hurlingham Club but in nearby Hurlingham Park ("Polo for the plebs seeks to shed sport's elitist image", 31 May). This public park was compulsorily purchased from the club after the war, and is part used for council housing, the rest for public sports, cricket, football, running, walking and relaxation. The World Polo Association is giving away 200 tickets for a kind of polo fun day today, not the tournament itself.

Patricia Hicks

via email

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