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Saturday 9 February 2013
Letters: After Huhne, who would be an MP?
Paul Connew is correct to say that newspapers uncovered the truth about Chris Huhne's reallocation of speeding points (letters, 7 February), but the story did not begin there. Huhne's fall was precipitated by the News of the World's discovery that he was having an affair: its threat to expose him caused him to end his marriage.
Proponents of press freedom will argue that the News of the World did us a service by exposing an adulterer who had earlier broken the law to evade a driving ban (though the newspaper did not know this at the time). Prominent people are no more or less fallible than anyone else, yet their foibles are ruthlessly exposed for pecuniary gain by others and they are held to higher standards than the average citizen. If my next-door neighbour is having an affair, it is unlikely that this will be widely reported.
If there is corruption and criminal behaviour, exposure is justifiable, but do we really want to live in a society where people are afraid to enter public service in case details of their personal life become front-page news? Huhne made many wrong calls in his Hardyesque decline from grace and he will now be punished for his crime, but the real story here is that the tabloid press polices the private lives of famous people.
The hysterical reaction in some quarters over Chris Huhne's serious (but not life-endangering) offence of perverting the course of justice shows the UK at its most hypocritical.
Huhne's case contrasts with those of senior people in the financial sector who, having recently been found out – for Libor-fixing or PPI scandals – are merely invited to "step down". Bankers, currency speculators, and hedge-fund managers are guilty of enriching themselves massively while damaging the UK economy. Thus we – and future generations – are all victims of their misdemeanours, and will be paying more tax and receiving fewer benefits for the foreseeable future. These are surely not "victimless crimes". Can I suggest that Parliament establish a new crime, that of "Perverting the course of the economy"?
What I utterly fail to understand about Chris Huhne is why on earth he made such a big deal about the speeding ticket in the first place. He is a millionaire who could well have afforded the hire of a chauffeur in the event of losing his licence.
It says something about the arrogance of the man that he would rather persuade his wife to take his ticket for him, thus breaking the law for a second time, than face the consequences of the initial lawbreaking.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Gove confuses history with propaganda
The Education Secretary is fond of applying the word "rigour" to his proposals for reforming school curricula. Yet he can speak without embarrassment of teaching "British heroes and heroines" in history lessons, as well as "fighting for liberty" (report, 7 February). In the past he has expressed a wish for history lessons to "celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world" and to portray Britain as "a beacon of liberty for others to emulate".
Surely to retain any academic rigour the teaching of history must insist on an attempt at objectivity, neutrality and balance. Anything less is propaganda. The current approach to history teaching, which encourages scepticism and critical engagement with evidence rather than imposing a pre-conceived nationalist narrative, is essential to academic freedom, a form of "liberty" denied to many societies both today and in the past, and one that is too precious to toy with so glibly.
Michael Gove's proposed reforms are the latest in a long series of attempts to drive up educational standards. One that met with more general approval was the initiative to encourage graduates with good degrees, especially in mathematics and science, to go into teaching. It is therefore disheartening to see in 4 February's edition of The Independent an advertisement sponsored jointly by the Institute of Physics and the Teaching Agency telling potential recruits that they should consider teaching as a career because "you are twice as likely to be in management after four years if you choose teaching". Are we to understand that a stint in the classroom is but a necessary stepping stone to greater things and, presumably, that those who choose to stay as educators of the young are the unambitious losers?
Why do education secretaries persist in the belief that they know better than those who are professionally involved in education? Michael Gove's humiliating U-turn over exam reform is, fortunately, an example of a failure by him to introduce a change which has been widely criticised; but he will undoubtedly continue to press ahead with other "reforms".
There are numerous instances of interference in professional matters by secretaries of state in successive governments: prescribing the method of teaching reading, intervening in universities' admission arrangements, specifying the subjects included in the national curriculum are a few examples. Why are ministers so arrogant?
Angela Crum Ewing
Having been born in England and saved by the Scottish educational system of many years ago, I find it increasingly depressing to see English authorities going through endlessly repeated policy contortions. So we are now back to Gove's Commandments for Secondary Education (GCSE). How many more experiments do English schools have to go through? None of the changes have been allowed to settle for long enough to see their true effect: basic experimental procedure.
Dr E V Evans
Regeneration, not social cleansing
The redevelopment of Heygate estate in Southwark is not "social cleansing", as you report (5 February); it is the regeneration of a run-down and tired estate into a place where people will genuinely want to live, work and visit.
Any change, even one that creates 5,000 new homes, 6,000 jobs, a new park, a new leisure centre, and vast improvements to transport and traffic, will face some opposition. I expect that, but I do not expect to have to constantly challenge lies that are spread about this essential work.
Elephant and Castle, when the regeneration is complete, will have at least 1,625 new affordable homes, many more than in the existing Heygate estate. They won't all be concentrated in one place, but spread across neighbouring streets to create a mixed community – something that is widely seen as a successful way of avoiding the problems that can occur in low-income monotenure estates.
I challenge anyone who questions the wisdom of our plans to come down to the Elephant & Castle. They should look at the sad housing blocks that film-makers choose to illustrate despair and decay, and then speak to many residents already enjoying new, warm, dry, modern affordable homes in the area.
The only cleansing that Southwark Council is interested in is the positive and inclusive transformation of Elephant & Castle into a sparkling, vibrant neighbourhood, where everyone is welcome.
Cllr Fiona Colley
Cabinet Member for Regeneration at Southwark Council, London SE1
The complex joys of Test cricket
Your correspondent Michael Rosenthal (7 February) is clearly not a cricket lover, when he asks what he fondly imagines is a rhetorical question – "Who could prefer Test cricket when offered the thrills of 20/20?" Almost anyone with a measurable attention span, is the answer.
I have watched test cricket all my life, but have never been able to sit through a single 20/20 game (except those involving my pre-teenage children). I suspect that the reason is the same reason that I prefer Beethoven to boogie – I appreciate and enjoy complexity; in particular I like the way that classical music and test cricket reveal themselves over time, with the application of concentration and attention on the part of both player and spectator.
Arrogant Tories' war on gay unions
The House of Commons votes 400:175 in favour of gay marriage, but because more Tories voted against than for, and some of those in favour may have been "voting with a heavy heart", they think they can derail it in the House of Lords. (Report, 6 February.) Which part of "this is a parliamentary democracy" do they not understand?
Jim McCluskey (Letters, 7 February) seems upset at the idea of gay marriage. He cites the mythical couple of Adam and Eve as an example of a proper marriage. I am not sure this strengthens his argument. Were they married before or after they met the talking snake I wonder?
Taxpayer will foot bill for RBS fine
The question is not how much Royal Bank of Scotland has to pay to the FSA, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the US department of justice for its role in global rate rigging, but who foots the bill? (Report, 6 February.) The taxpayer owns 82 per cent of RBS and yet Vince Cable claims that while the government expects the Bank and its casino operation to "absorb" the cost, by way of bonus clawbacks and so on, the government "isn't in a position to make them" pay up. A dime to a dollar the regulatory fines imposed on RBS will be met by another blank taxpayer's cheque. Such is the way of our broken financial world.
Chairman and head of regulatory law, Saunders Law, London WC2
How is any future government going to convince the population they need to save for their old age after they have deliberately decimated the savings of the current prudent savers through quantative easing and no interest, while allowing inflation to run riot, forcing savers to spend what they have? All of the current savers will be sure to warn any future generation that saving is a waste of time and a rip-off.
Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
The disturbing note about the reduced popularity of the acoustic piano makes lamentable news (4 February). How will piano concerti sound on electric pianos?
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