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Thursday 8 September 2011
Letters: As middle classes suffer, the rich demand a tax cut
While the American and French high-earners are saying they should pay more tax as it is only equitable they should share the pain of the economic downturn, by comparison in the UK the top earners think one of the Government's priorities should be to reduce the 50 per cent tax on their marginal earnings.
I do not think this will go down well with the hard-pressed middle classes who are facing static salaries, cost-of-living increases, cuts in child benefit and increased tuition fees.
The campaign to scrap the 50 per cent tax rate for those on high incomes gives credence to the old maxim that to make the rich to work harder you give them more money, while to get the poor to work harder you give them less. Never has this been truer than in today's conservative capitalist society.
The rich give themselves huge increases to inflate their already bloated salaries while the poor are taxed at marginal rates in excess of that applied to millionaires and billionaires who created austerity for the rest of us.
To end inequality a maximum income related to the minimum wage should be imposed. The minimum wage legalises poverty pay and not until the maximum income is set will it see any real signs of improvement. A cap must be put on obscene incomes and there has never been a better time to do this.
The public must organise itself and not rely on the sham democracy that is in control. We have had the Arab spring. We now need the Western leap.
Otley, West Yorkshire
Looking for a tax cut to increase trade and boost the economy? If the threshold of £73,000 turnover for VAT was raised to even just £100,000, more small businesses, such as plumbers and gardeners decorators, could take on staff, or apprentices, and maintain lower prices (without VAT) thus giving a great boost to the economy and lowering unemployment.
All the Lib-Dem talk of a mansion tax, a land tax, and other wealth taxes, shows that they have no idea how, in a modern economy, such taxes, like inheritance tax, impinge on the middle classes, and the aspiring working class, all potential Lib-Dem voters.
Division on this issue suggests the Coalition won't last the full term it has set itself, and I can see David Cameron calling the next election in 2013 – after a successful Olympic Games.
To paraphrase David Steel, another failed Lib-Dem leader, Clegg and Cable are saying to their MPs: "Go back to your constituencies and prepare for annihilation."
Liversedge, West Yorkshire
How many of these 20 public-spirited "top economists" are in the 50p tax bracket themselves?
You can't eat houses
In "The countryside is an illusion, so why not build?" (5 September) Philip Hensher takes a line which is being heard increasingly in the debate over relaxing planning controls in the countryside. This view is that the countryside is a kind of recreational facility to which people have a sentimental attraction, and it would not matter if building was allowed.
What he and many others seem to have forgotten is that food does not come from supermarkets; it comes from farms. At the moment food prices are rising worldwide. Reasons for this include the rapidly increasing world population; the increasing wealth of billions of people in Asia and Brazil which leads them to want a "western" diet; and lack of water. This last has cut food production of the Middle East at a time when its population is rapidly growing.
It may be cheaper to build on fields than on brownfield sites, but it would be foolish to destroy farmland at a time when food supplies are under stress. It is certainly an illusion that we will be able to continue to import cheap food.
Lewes, East Sussex
Who gains from relaxed planning rules? Philip Hensher is completely wrong in stating that "the great estates" are safe from development. The reality is that those most active in building "executive developments" around our country towns and villages are the biggest landowners.
They inherit (tax-free) their broad acres which are worth perhaps £5,000 each for agriculture. They persuade the local planning committee to grant permission for yet another commuter-estate, despite futile opposition from the affected communities. The land immediately becomes worth around £1m per acre.
Then the landowner makes use of rollover relief on capital gains tax to buy another 200 acres of farmland which his family can in turn inherit, completely tax-free – amazing!
Is it surprising that the UK has an ever-growing economic gulf between those who work hard, paying tax for doing so, and a tiny minority who, for reasons George Osborne could usefully explain, do neither?
How schools build character
Terence Blacker ("The public school myth of 'character' ", 6 September) equates "character" with the passion, engagement and unpredictability he has experienced on his visits to comprehensive schools – this seems a curious selection of attributes to substantiate his (flimsy) case.
The important issue that he ignores is that independent schools provide and encourage a wide variety of activities outside the classroom as well as inside it, providing young people with opportunities to learn "character" in a greater variety of ways.
In our context, as a small coeducational boarding and day school, in which social homogeneity is mitigated by bursaries, particular characteristics, of indubitable worth, are encouraged by staff as pupils undertake a wide variety of activities from badminton to rowing, and from electric-car manufacture to CCF. Indeed, the Combined Cadet Force seems a curious (largely independent sector) activity for his article to have ignored, and is coincidentally one in which we collaborate with a local comprehensive, Abbeyfield in Chippenham.
This sort of collaboration is, of course, inconvenient for a media whose preconceived agenda is to depict state and independent schools as unhappily coexisting in fierce and unfriendly competition.
Principal, Monkton Senior School, Bath
When I was at Eton (admittedly several decades ago) "oiling up" (never just "oiling") was not regarded as admirable. Far from it. The term was used almost in derision. Effort and achievement were what really counted.
Moreover "self-centred, obsessed with money and status, cosseted by unthinking privilege, lacking in empathy" are not characteristics I recognise in my school friends. Does Terence Blacker appreciate how many Etonians have help with the fees and whose backgrounds are far from advantaged?
Hatred isolates travellers
G G Moore (letter, 7 September) says that integration with the rest of society is the way forward for travellers.
A few years ago, while working with young travellers, I was at the annual horse fair in Appleby, where I met a young couple pushing their two beautifully dressed daughters in a pushchair. The elder girl's face and arms were covered in scores of cuts and blemishes.
The couple explained that they had been given a council house by their local authority but had encountered sustained hostility from their neighbours. The little girl had been in the front room when a brick had come through the window. The couple were now looking for a site to move into.
In the years following I heard many similar stories and am reminded now of 14-year-old Johnny Delaney kicked to death in Liverpool in 2003 – one of the accused saying he was "only a gypsy".
While I think huge sites like the one at Dale Farm do no one any favours, we have to accept that one of the several reasons why travellers choose to live surrounded by the protection of their extended families is that they are convinced the settled community hates them. The tenor of the coverage of traveller issues in the popular press would hardly disabuse them of this notion.
Moving bailiffs and police on to the site and bulldozing homes in front of distressed young children is hardly likely to lead to the integration which is G G Moore's confident solution to this issue.
Israel, music and politics
Guy Ottewell (letter, 3 September) who qualifies the disruption of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra as anti-Semitic, does not understand that while Israelis may be Jews, a great many Jews are anti-Zionists.
These were among the loud protesters inside the Albert Hall, who strongly condemn the destruction of Palestinian culture: schools, mosques, theatres and even cemeteries. The main purpose of that concert was a propaganda exercise by the Israeli administration and its musicians, who take pride in playing for the IDF. They deserved to be rudely interrupted.
The Semites of Occupied Palestine are not the immigrant European Jews who have claimed to "return home", but the native population. Their peaceful protests are met with guns and bulldozers, their olive branches are torched.
Last week's courageous performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall was a victory for music over politics. In spite of disruption by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (who should have confined their protest to outside the venue), an Israeli orchestra, conducted by Indian Zubin Mehta, enchanted a British audience with the most exquisite rendition of Bruch's violin concerto that many promenaders can remember.
By the end of the concert there was a palpable sense of solidarity in the arena with this besieged orchestra.
Eddie Johnson (letter, 5 September) complains that the connection between the 11 September atrocity and the terrorists' support for the Palestinian cause in the face of what he calls "humiliation and barbaric treatment by Israel fully backed by the American government" is never mentioned in documentaries on the events of 10 years ago.
One hopes that Mr Johnson is aware that any documentary which dealt with the subject in the way he desires, would (if honestly made) have to include footage of the scenes of Palestinians rejoicing at the destruction of the Twin Towers – scenes which some of us remember with disgust even today.
C D C Armstrong
Torture angers British Muslims
Dominic Lawson is absolutely right to argue that ongoing revelations concerning the UK's complicity in torture in our "war on terror" has besmirched our reputation at home and abroad and "betrayed our values" (Opinion, 6 September).
He is right too to assert "that this policy acted like no other in recruiting young men to al-Qa'ida".
Our work at Engage regularly brings us into contact with British Muslims and there is no doubt that the violations of international treaties on torture and inhumane treatment and the alleged abuse of British Muslim citizens at the behest of our security agencies has had a disastrous impact on efforts to win hearts and minds.
Our traditions of observing the rule of law and democratic, accountable politics sets us apart from those that avail themselves of arbitrary power and the abuse of law. It behoves us as we approach the 10th anniversary of the horrific attacks of 9/11 to reflect on who we are and what we stand for.
Torture and rendition are abhorrent practices and our government and security agencies must be forthright in admitting their past errors and setting our record, and reputation, straight.
CEO, Engage, Ilford, Essex
Too chic to be serious
That curmudgeonly old media commentator Stephen Glover has annoyed me again. Writing about the decline of Newsnight (5 September), he asks "Where are the new Jeremy Paxmans?" then goes on to say "Emily Maitlis can be commendably tenacious, though she sometimes gives off an air of having wandered in from a photo-shoot."
Oh no! She's good looking and wears ladies' clothes! Pull your socks up, Emily dear. It's clear that with your talent you only need to stick a few pimples on your face and wear a collar and tie to be taken seriously. Plus ça change.
South Nutfield, Surrey
Make them walk
In the battle against obesity Rowena Quantrill (Letters, 5 September) is undoubtedly right in identifying the health benefits of living in a multi-storey house on a hill. When shopping I always avoid escalators in favour of the staircase in the belief that even a small amount of extra effort is of benefit to my heart. The Government should persuade shops to switch off their escalators.
What an appalling suggestion that cameras be allowed into courts at all, let alone for the sentencing only. Why on earth should it be the public's right to use other people's tragedy as entertainment? And what about miscarriages of justice? The public would have only the verdict on which to form an opinion of those involved.
Perspectives on punishments for rioting
Are magistrates swayed by public opinion?
I was a magistrate on the Inner London Juvenile Courts at the time of the 1981 Brixton riots. We dealt with a number of young people charged with offences related to the riots and were asked by the police to deny them bail. However, as the charges were for theft we agreed to deal with them on that basis and apply the usual criteria – in the cases we heard, this meant that they were given bail or dealt with on the spot in the usual way. Nothing that we heard subsequently led us to believe that we acted incorrectly.
I am surprised that, following the recent riots, lay magistrates seemed to act in a united way and dealt with the matters before them more severely than usual. While our professional colleagues may well have closer contact with each other, we "amateur volunteers" tended to act on our own initiatives (with guidance and training throughout the year) and were encouraged so to do.
I wonder if this time the lay benches responded to what they perceived as public opinion? I have heard nothing to suggest that they received any central guidance but am concerned that media coverage may have been an influence: the pictures and stories were all about violence, arson and vandalism and it seems that all those charged (including children of 14 years and under) may have been lumped together as "rioters".
Lazy police round up the usual suspects
So 77 per cent of those rioters aged 18 and over who've appeared before the courts already had a conviction or caution? This is brandished as proof of a problem with the criminal-justice system .
An alternative reading of the statistics could, of course, be not that these rioters – being known to the police – were the easiest for the police to identify. Certainly only a small proportion of the tens of thousands of rioters across the UK have been caught. And nobody would blame the police for collaring those that they immediately recognised.
The lazy way out is to arrest those whom you recognise, even if they've just pinched a packet of chewing-gum. It's much harder to catch those who, for example, queued up in a long line of cars to empty a warehouse in North Greenwich, east London, of everything from 60-inch 3D widescreen televisions to hairdryers – apparently entirely untroubled by police.
The rule of the feral mob
I suggest that the country has been brought to its knees by the predations of a feral overclass based in the City of London, which has perfected the art of acquiring something for nothing. Its values have been assimilated and its deeds imitated on a small scale by chancers in the Palace of Westminster, and on an even smaller one by people at the very bottom of the heap.
Stiffer sentences needed
Kenneth Clarke and Boris Johnson appear to be arguing that, because the majority of rioters have prison records, the penal system is to blame for not reforming them when it had the chance. One could equally see this as evidence of the inefficacy of lenient sentencing, which allows offenders back on to the streets too readily.
Dr Gary Kitchen
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