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Wednesday 30 May 2012
Letters: All equal subjects of a monarch
Like many republicans, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Opinion, 28 May) seems to believe that the UK's becoming a republic would solve our problems of socially equality and mobility. A look round the rest of Europe demonstrates that this is not the case.
Those countries to whose levels of social mobility we can, only aspire – Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands – are all constitutional hereditary monarchies. Most of the republics, including France, have just as many unresolved social problems and divisions as we do.
It is not the Royal Family that stands in the way of progress, rather the generations of politicians who have failed to address the mounting inequality in this country.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right. There has always been a strong case for a republic in Britain. The monarchy has mired our society in a clinging sea of class and privilege and stopped the natural progression of our parliamentary system into a modern, listening democracy.
Billy Bragg is equally correct that it is seemingly in our cultural DNA, in a "touch your forelock" feudalism that goes all the way back to William the Conqueror's brutal takeover of Saxon England. After that, participatory democracy pretty much goes downhill, except for the Leveller debates and the English republic after Charles I lost the Civil War and his head.
As republicans all over the country reach for their sick bags this weekend, while their fellow Britons stupefy themselves in an orgy of sycophantic celebration, no fawning monarchist must be allowed to get away with the fiction that endorsing an unelected and hereditary head of state is somehow more patriotic. Love of one's country doesn't require a king or queen. "Jerusalem" was always a more stirring national anthem.
As someone who grew up in what I am sure my parents would have called a working-class household, I can't say that I have ever felt shackled by class, and I've certainly never believed in being sycophantic to anybody. For most of my life, the Queen has just been there: a part of our identity as a nation.
She has no power to speak of: except that her presence as head of state prevents any other individual or group having too much power. She is relatively inexpensive as heads of state go: she has done, and continues to do, a very good job for this country. Who can forget the centuries of rancour she extinguished in one single speech during her visit to the Republic of Ireland?
Monarchy ain't broke, so please don't try to fix it.
West Wittering, West Sussex
A republic would seek to express the will of the people, but the will of the people is overwhelmingly (70 per cent) to reject the idea of a republic, in favour of a monarch.
Why did Blair want to turn us American?
I wonder why Blair's appearance before the Leveson inquiry was so unsatisfactory. Anyone who lived through the disastrous later Blair years knows there was much more to tell. Why did Blair come to see Britain's future, as the Murdoch press does, as a crass American theme-park, rather than the quirky, individualistic country, sparked by dissenting genius, that we know?
The aim of the Murdoch press seems to have been to destroy the cultured liberal consensus – where it existed – in Britain, and replace it with slogans. He sought to defenestrate Britishness from Britain. Why did we gain the impression that this became Blair's view too?
Is the Leveson inquiry the biggest waste of money ever? What has it really told us we didn't already know? That the media and the politicians live in each other's pockets for their mutual benefit?
We have also found that politicians and others in power suffer from amnesia. It is like a well-scripted play where the actors have been trained and briefed on how to speak, what intonation to have and the body language to use.
The more serious question of phone hacking should have been dealt with by the law.
Good and bad selective schools
While the social snobberies of British society endure, there is no way that access to "hallowed ground" alone will make much difference to people's life-chances.
Your editorial on the grammar school aspect of this debate (26 May) was well judged. It could read as a description of the Swiss system where grammar schools uncontroversially select (on track-record) at 14, and high-quality vocational routes are available for the non-academic majority.
Switzerland is a more socially equal society than ours. There appears to be relatively little prejudice based on one's academic success, employment, income etc. It is just more accepted that different people make different choices.
Selection as practised in Northern Ireland benefits the poor recipients of a grammar school education, always the minority, only as a by-product of supplying a free public-school-style education to the wealthy. Many of them could afford to pay for the privilege, as do their British counterparts.
The down-side is the hundreds of sink schools where teachers struggle to overcome the resource deficit which advantages their competitors in league tables.
The most recent study shows that about a quarter of NI adults are effectively illiterate.
Headteacher Chris Dunne (letters, 25 May) is rightly incensed at the Government's sympathy with minority clamour for a return to selective "grammar" schools. As a 1940s pupil at a grammar school whose limited curriculum happened to match my limited talents, I was conscious at the time of the negative experience it gave many of my classmates whose talents and inclinations lay elsewhere.
The two great objections to early educational selection are that we've never been much good at it and it is not necessary. From 1970 to 1995, I was privileged to examine graduate teacher-education students in many well-established and impressively successful comprehensive schools.
I write now from a town blessed with two fine comprehensive schools which provide high levels of student and parent satisfaction through their enviable breadth of curriculum, good teaching and pastoral/career guidance. They are also interested in, but not obsessed with, Oxbridge entrance, as one of many criteria of success.
As a socialist, I'm glad to acknowledge that it was a fine Conservative Minister of Education, Edward Boyle, who said that if the country was serious about providing good secondary modern schools it must try to ensure that many of our best teachers taught in them. He knew that some of his fellow conservative MPs would not share his vision. I doubt whether many of the present lot will even understand it.
(Emeritus Professor of Education) Witney, Oxfordshire
John Kenny (letters, 22 May) makes a fundamental mistake when he equates selection in athletics, football and music with academic selection.
Failure in the former at 11 is unlikely to have any major life consequences for most people. But failing the selection exam at 11 has the potential to affect future employment, income, housing and possibly longevity. This seems to be a heavy load to put on a child.
The comprehensive system is by no means perfect but at least all the pupils arriving on the first day have notionally equal opportunities. This is never the case in a selective system.
History marches on
In your leading article of 9 May, you say that "according to the chairman of the Wolfson History prize there is no decent history being written because the younger generation is jazzing up its work with one eye on the best-seller list". I discussed present-day historical writing in a telephone conversation with your chief reporter, Cahal Milmo, but I certainly did not make the preposterous suggestion that "there is no decent history being written". On the contrary, the judges for the Wolfson History prize nowadays have more excellent works from which to choose than ever before.
Mr Milmo informed your readers in a news report that I believe that "the pressure to achieve a public profile is damaging for academia" and "risks undermining the status of academic study". Again, that was not the implication of what I said. I merely expressed regret that some young academic historians were attempting to adapt their work to a genre for which neither it nor they were well suited, a view endorsed by Antony Beevor on the same page. I greatly welcome attempts in books, television and other media to encourage public interest in history.
Sir Keith Thomas
All Souls College, Oxford
Wasps are on our side too
There is great concern about declining bee populations. Without the pollination of plants we will all be in trouble. Bees however are not the only pollinators. As a professional pest controller, may I make a plea to your readers to hesitate before killing wasps or calling in pest controllers to poison wasp nests?
Wasps feed their young on millions of garden pests such as caterpillars and in seeking out such prey they are also important pollinators. The British Pest Control Association's manual states: "Where they are located well away from buildings or sensitive areas it must be questioned whether 'automatic' destruction of nests is necessary."
Moment of glory
As a lifelong Lancashire (cricket), Chelsea (football) and Harlequins (rugby union) fan I've never known it so good. Lancashire won last season's county championship for the first time since 1950. This year in the space of eight days Chelsea won the Champions League and Harlequins became English champions for the first time. Can any other supporter claim so much success across three sports in such a brief period of time?
Nicholas E Gough
David Cameron has aroused comment by attending a wedding in a lounge suit. A recently retired registrar friend says that lounge suits are the wedding garb of choice for those who consider their tastes refined, as full-on morning dress has been enthusiastically and flamboyantly embraced by those a little lower down the class system.
I agree with Robin Orton's argument against gay marriage (letter, 29 May), that marriage is directly linked to the conception of children. Obviously that is why marriage between theelderly and those couples who are infertile is illegal.
Your review on 28 May of the 10 best men's watches has: "Seiko... water-resistant to 100 metres ... perfect for the city dweller". Severe flooding imminent then?
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