Letters: A clash of stereotypes

Race, riches and a clash of stereotypes
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The Independent Online

What a fantastic example of inverted snobbery Robert Hanks's TV review entitled "Outclassed by a much superior social animal" (14 November) was. So 15-year-old rich Alice is implicitly criticised for not turning right towards council estates when she leaves home "presumably because she would meet rough girls like Natalie".

Well, perhaps, her fear of certain people and certain areas was justified as she ended up being mugged – though this violent crime is brushed over by Hanks as if it is a trivial matter (rather than a frightening and defining moment that no doubt confirmed her fears). And mugged by whom I wonder – people like herself who live in a "privileged little bubble", or maybe the kind of "superior social animals" from those very council estates?

When Alice asks Natalie how she did in her GCSEs Hanks remarks how Natalie answered with "an entertainingly sly sidelong glance". Oh how stupid of this little rich girl to assume Natalie would have been in school – shame on her innocence, her naivety!

The best bit of his piece came when he smugly remarks "Spot on" after quoting Natalie's prediction of Alice's appearance – that "she's white, she has blond hair, and she wears a lot of foundation to cover up pimples." (Er, just like most 15-year-old girls, from all social backgrounds.)

I can imagine Hanks's outrage if Alice predicted how poverty-stricken Natalie would be – "she's black, she has black hair, she's fat and she lives off benefits in a cesspit." She would have been accused of racist snobbery – but she would also have been "spot on".

M Clarke

Leigh on Sea, Essex

Sam Mason's remarks about Asians were objectionable, but they were made privately, not broadcast, put in a pamphlet or given from a soapbox. Ms Mason holds views which you and I very much dislike. But expressing them in one-to-one conversation ought not to be grounds for dismissal. Unlike Philip Hensher (17 November), I think that prescriptive liberalism is a fascinating contradiction in terms.

Edward Pearce

Thormanby, North Yorkshire

Roots of violence against children

It is a harrowing experience to read your account of the documents which trace the short, tragic life of Baby P (18 November). But this tragedy will be repeated if the media, governments and society generally concentrate only on the short-term issues which they expose.

We need to examine the long-term factors which induce people to create families and households in which children suffer neglect, abuse and violence, and which are too often repeated through succeeding generations. It is vital to include such examination in the terms of reference of the inquiries arising from the death of Baby P. We might then be able to identify early intervention policies which offer vulnerable children a better hope of safety and nurture, rather than devise another well-intentioned but ultimately limited set of bureaucratic or procedural remedies.

Graham Allen MP (Nottingham N, Lab)

House of Commons

The Rev Michael Davies is quite correct that the Government is obsessed with targets (letter, 18 November). If you look at the schematic for a Children's Trust put out by the DfES in about 2003 (the apparatus that Ed Balls is now set to fiddle with again), you will see it represented as a target.

It has concentric rings. From the outside inwards they are: Integrated Governance, Integrated Strategy, Integrated Processes, and Integrated Front-Line Delivery ; in the middle, where you'd expect A Child, there is, instead, Outcomes for Children and Young People.

The document that contained this diagram never mentions "child" except in the phrase "Every Child Matters" and it does not mention boy or girl, or hope, compassion, love, understanding or listening. It does mention "Nurture a vibrant and active community", "A process of response business re-engineering", "Successful multi agency working" and a host of other buzzwords designed to create the impression of action.

Colin Standfield

London W7

Whatever the rights and wrongs in the case of Baby P a vulnerable child was again let down by those who should have protected him, including his mother. Limited resources should surely be used to ensure the safety of those most at risk, so imagine my surprise when I found out that as of January 2009 I and my husband will have to undergo CRB checks if we offer to host a child under 16 as part of a school language exchange.

I have already been CRB checked twice, at the enhanced level, in the last year: once as a volunteer with a local organisation and once on my return to teaching. Unfortunately checks are "non-transferable" so a third verification would have to be undertaken. How much will this have cost and what guarantee does it provide that I will not mistreat any teenage visitor to my home?

The logical conclusion is that I should not allow my children to visit their friends' homes until I have checked out the parents. It is hard enough arranging foreign language and cultural exchanges as it is: this will just make the whole thing prohibitive. The powers that be really do need to get a grip. When did we last read of a child on a school exchange being tortured, starved and beaten to death by their host family?

Kathy Moyse

Cobham, Surrey

Whenever there is a tragedy involving the death of a child supposedly in the protection of our Social Services, there is invariably an inquiry which recommends improvements to internal systems, inter-agency information sharing and action. Social workers seem to be the target of criticism from both the media and public when similar events invariably recur.

Can I point out that social workers do not go into potentially dysfunctional and unpredictable homes equipped with radios, truncheons, body armour, CS sprays or Taser guns? Usually they are young females fresh out of education armed only with their courage dedication and wits.

Malcolm Wild

North Shields, Tyne & Wear

It seems to me that if we are to avoid the errors of judgement apparent in the case of Baby P we must change the way in which social workers operate. The remedy lies not in raising levels of pay that might attract bright but inexperienced graduates, but in the recruitment of working-class parental figures who are willing to confront and be more judgemental. For this to work we would of course have to shed the national inability to tell anyone that they are wrong.

G Barlow

Knutsford, Cheshire

Time for drastic action to save bees

There has been much in the press about the plight of honey-bees and petitions to the Government for taxpayers' money to be spent on the problem. As a simple countryman and third-generation bee-keeper, it seems to me that the remedy may lie with bee-keepers themselves.

My grandfather's bees died as he went to France in 1914. Some said it was a portent of the war, others a virus. Ninety-nine per cent of British black bees died, but a remnant survived. These bees were well acclimatised, having been here since before Roman times. But since then, these islands have been flooded with bees imported from around the globe. What we have today are largely the mongrel descendants of those bees. Perhaps the experiment has run its course and it is time for drastic action.

If bee-keepers stop medicating bees and allow them to stand or fall we would be a step nearer a solution. Recolonising these islands from the survivors may take time but could work in the long run.

In the 1950s, 99.9 per cent of rabbits died in Britain and, within 10 years, had re-established themselves over the whole island.

Forget the selfish commercial interests; give the bees time to recover under their own steam; it will pay dividends in the end. All species suffer setbacks from time to time but medication is not the answer.

Ken Pickles


Put terrorism suspects on trial

Your editorial is right to call on Barack Obama to close Guantanamo (12 November). The detention facility has marred America's reputation, providing a propaganda gift to terrorist recruiters. But your suggestion that the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried by "some kind of hybrid, even paramilitary court in the US" is misguided.

Such a court, like President Bush's military commissions, would have one primary purpose: to admit coerced testimony into evidence. Furthermore trial in "paramilitary" courts would allow terrorists to glorify themselves as combatants rather than bear the opprobrium of being convicted as criminals.

Even individuals like Mohamed can be given fair trials in regular federal courts. Under the Classified Information Procedures Act, federal courts have long experience setting the proper balance between a suspect's due process rights and the need to safeguard intelligence sources. Such prosecutions are the best way to deal with terrorism suspects while allowing America to regain the moral high ground that is so important for the long-term success of the fight against terrorism.

Tom Porteous

London Director, Human Rights Watch, London N1

How boys and girls learn in school

As Vicky Tuck points out, there is mounting evidence indicating that boys' and girls' brains are, statistically, "wired" differently ("Single-sex schools 'are the future' ", 18 November). Ms Tuck seems to be unaware, however, that a large minority of boys have "feminine" brains and a larger minority of girls have "masculine" brains (as Simon Baron-Cohen's recent pioneering research on the effects of foetal testosterone has indicated).

When investigating whether single-sex or co-education results in higher academic achievement, the major problem is that a far greater proportion of single-sex schools in the UK are selective on the basis of academic ability. A direct comparison of the schools' results will conclude that single-sex schools achieve more highly, but it is not as easy to conclude that the cause of the disparity is the single-sex element.

The evidence provided by controlled studies is mixed. A 2006 report by Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at Buckingham University, concluded that research "has not shown any dramatic or consistent advantages for single-sex education".

Paolo Canonica

Head of Psychology, Ibstock Place School, London SW15


First bomb 'martyr'

Robert Fisk (15 November) writes: "The cult of the suicide bomber in the Middle East began its life in Lebanon." The first modern reported suicide bombing was in Iran by Iranian teenager Hossein Fahmideh in 1980. Hailed and renowned as a "martyr" for halting an invading Iraqi tank advance, he apparently inspired suicide attacks by Shia militants in Lebanon against Iraqi and American targets.

Jim Roland

London NW11

Pay restraint

Stephen O'Brien, the shadow health minister, says: "New Labour have presided over a culture of soaring salaries for top civil servants as frontline staff have been squeezed. There seems to be one rule for hard-working nurses, and quite another for top bureaucrats at the Department of Health." I thought that the Tories were in favour of the public sector emulating the private sector. I look forward to his condemnation of over-paid bosses in large private-sector companies, screwing down the pay rises on the hard-working staff.

John Hall

Telford, Shropshire

Looking back

My electricity and gas supplier notified me at the beginning of November that its prices increased from 2 October, 2008. Does that mean that we must expect letters from supermarkets and oil companies, telling us that prices have risen for food and petrol which we bought and consumed in October, and that our cards will be debited accordingly?

Janet Greaves

London E13

Euro in a crisis

The financial crisis seems to have given new life to enthusiasts for the euro (letter, 18 November). Its strength against the pound is unsustainable. With the eurozone in recession, the European Central Bank is likely to cut interest rates again soon. Britain's position outside the eurozone provides us with the flexibility to ease and tighten monetary policy to fit the fluctuations in our economy. We would not have any freedom to do so within the eurozone. That alone is a good enough reason to maintain the status quo.

Martin Callanan MEP

(C, North East England)

Newcastle upon Tyne


How many more times? Long John Silver can't "buckle his swash", (First Night, 18 November) he must "swash his buckle". A "buckle" is a small shield and to "swash" it means to wave it around extravagantly. There should be some kind of agreed penance for journalists who repeat this error.

Stan Broadwell