Letters: austerity Britain

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The Independent Online

It is impossible to sustain any argument that “We are all in it together”. In the real world, externally exposed austerity started two years ago, in October 2008: banks collapsing, pensions not increased, interest rates plummeting, and the pound collapsing. Income collapsed, because pensions suffered zero increases, and income on savings vanished.

Our immediate response was to eliminate all marginal expenditure. All charity contributions, all magazine and arts subscriptions are stopped, insurance is reviewed, travel is cut back, and we do not eat out or buy new clothes.We don’t draw any benefits,we don’t have a mortgage and we’ve never had to apply for credit.

But the spending and taxing restrictions implicit in the Coalition’s plans to deal with the financial situation seem both arbitrary and bizarre: Labour’s were worse. The outrage against bankers is a convenient distraction. The real problems are, first, how to extract the country from the credit binge started by Thatcher in the 1980s and, second, how to invest for a sustainable future.

It is critical that the UK change course. Benefits should be loans, not gifts. All new investment in the UK, from housing to industry, should meet the highest standards for energy usage, but should also be subject to democratic local scrutiny. Public servants must meet the highest standards in their use of funds raised by taxation: no junkets, no six-figure salaries, nothing a ratepayer or taxpayer could object to in any cricumstance. If we’re to grow through austerity, at least let it be with a potentially positive outcome.



Phrase hides propaganda

Your front page (29 December) referred to a “jobless recovery” in the economy. This oxymoronic term actually means a restoration of the wealth of the few at the expense of the current and future prosperity of the many. Even if this isn’t the true objective of Cameron, Clegg, and Osborne, it is the certain outcome of their policies.

Despite its negative connotations, “jobless recovery” is propagandist language for this agenda. It is as much a lie as,“We’re all in this together”. Even placed in distancing quotation marks it is offensive. Please stop using it.



This one’s a no-brainer

It is no surprise to me that scientists have discovered that political inclination is related to differences in the brain (“Right-wing brains ‘different’”, 29 December). In my student days in the 1960s, I suggested that our political affiliations are related to emotional responses rather than rational considerations. I said there was a simple test that would reveal their political positions. They should read Leslie Smith’s biography of Harold Wilson.

The book recalls when Mr Wilson, then Leader of the Opposition,was travelling home late one night. He felt peckish so ordered his chauffeur to stop at a fish-and chip shop. He went in himself, returned later than expected and apologised. He explained that the fish-fryer had recognised him and wouldn’t take his money. I told my fellow students that how they reacted to this story would indicate their political outlook.

If your heart is warmed by the humility of this great man in fetching his own fish and chips, you are a Labour supporter. If his antics to keep up his “man of the people” image make you feel sick, you are a Conservative. If you are annoyed that an upstart of a fish-fryer had the nerve to argue with a senior politician, you are a fascist. But if you are angry that Mr Wilson had a chauffeur, you are a communist. If you guess that the fryer wouldn’t accept the money because he assumed it to be counterfeit, you belong in the Monday Club.

If you are delighted that Mr. Wilson ordered white fish and not black pudding you are a Powellite, but if you don’t know what you do think and you don’t agree with anyone else, you are a Liberal.

It is heartening to learn that science is catching up with me.



Neither funny-peculiar nor funny-haha but rather potentially very significant and worthy of further investigation, Colin Firth’s brain-scan investigation shows the value of serendipity in research. Right-wing tendencies,while suspected, are not yet confirmed as pathognomonic of neurodevelopmental psychopathology and political allegiance.

The results were modestly illuminating. If paleocortical influences are enhanced among right-wingers and neocortical influences amongst progressives, and if such associations were reflected in psycho-social evaluations then there is a debate to be had.

Few would question the wisdom of refusing driver or pilot licences to some sensorily/neurologically/physically impaired people, but we have yet to begin to fully evaluate the physical and psychological capacity of those who would govern. An objective evaluation, such as MRI, as well as a battery of other physical, toxicological and psychological tests, would do much to reassure a sceptical electorate, while improvements in the quality of government, by any available means, would be welcome.




Forget the herbs; read the print

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If a herbal remedy (Letters, 31 December, 3 January) does not work you try something else. Much more worrying are the drugs which doctors regularly prescribe for patients, safe in the knowledge that they have been “officially” sanctioned, whatever the outcome.

How many patient and trusting people read and understand the leaflets which accompany their prescriptions? Or do further research on the internet, only to discover that the side-effects of their medication possibly include stroke or death? Today’s drugs are both wondrous and toxic, but we should not imagine they are any safer than nature’s herbs. Leave the herbalists alone and encourage NHS patients to read the small print.



Charity-giving is voluntary

A couple of issues bother meabout Francis Maude asking people to give to a charity every time they use a cash dispenser or pay with a bank card (report, 29 December). I am concerned that this idea will have a negative and perhaps critical impact on the donations made to the UK’s smaller, more local charities, those that rely on the public just as much as those with a more national and international focus.

People won’t wish to be compelled through subtle societal pressure into giving more, particularly where the recipients are likely to be one of the larger charities that already get a government grant. And then there’s the issue that this idea of “forced giving” will put people off donating to charity voluntarily altogether. Some people will argue that they have enough outgoings already in what are restricted financial times for the UK public. I fear this idea will deter them even further from wanting to donate to charities.

If someone wants to donate to a charity, they should do so at their own will.



BBC needs to look at itself

Your correspondent (Letters, 30 December) states that he has been educated by Radio 3. I hope all listeners would be able to say that, but it rather misses the point of recent criticisms. What is educational about having all the trappings of other branches of the media, the top 10 lists, patronising “personality” presenters, nation’s favourite tenor, soprano, or whatever, and technological interaction?

They are neither educational nor entertaining. Now in their desire to “push the limits”, we have a fortnight of Mozart. If there is anyone in the country able and willing actually to listen, thus foregoing all other activities of daily living, perhaps they should be given a prize by the BBC.

But most will be tuning in whilst doing something else, and Mozart will thus become little more than the musical wallpaper that surrounds us everywhere, that piped music.



It’s sacrilege to write so, but I believe, sadly, that the BBC has had its day. Time was, it was renowned for impartial news from far and wide, monitored by “our own correspondents” who knew the areas well. Lately, it has become a shadow. Even Radio Four has been dumbed down, the Today programme filled with fodder from press releases. Not a morning passes where we don’t hear of a “scientific breakthrough” from yet another academic seeking more funding. Then we are subjected to endless ads for digital radio. Try listening to the ball-by-ball commentary on Test matches without long wave.

I don’t know who runs the BBC, and I don’t care. But if it wants to fight Murdoch, this organisation seriously needs to get its company and priorities in order.



Legend, fiction and the Bible

Dr Richard Carter and David Love (Letters, 3 January) regard Bible stories such as the Nativity as “mere legend” and “totally fictitious”. Muslims, too, honour many of the stories that appear in the Old and New Testaments in the Koran and regard them as sacred truth as much as do Christians and Jews. Would Messrs Carter and Love suggest to the Muslims of Great Britain that the suras in their Holy Koran are also fictitious?

The Muslims venerate Jesus and other people mentioned in the Bible and subsequently in the Koran, but atheistic Brits seem happy to lambast the Christian Bible, despite its past role in shaping British society and law. We will hear more of this in this 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible.

Peter McKenna (Letters, 3 January) describes the Roman census as “fictitious” despite Luke giving details of a decree sent out by Caesar Augustus while Quirinius was governing Syria. Are not these historical facts? My references to “legend” and “fictitious” in my letter (31 December) were describing the embellishments added to the Biblical text itself, such as the number of the Wise Men and their names, which are traditions.

I would never encourage any criticism of the inspired text of the Holy Bible itself. Not all critics of the Bible have actually read it. Perhaps in this anniversary year a few more around the country might actually do that?



How strange that your correspondents, Christians and non-Christians, are still arguing over the Nativity stories surrounding Jesus. As I said last Christmas, and will say again next Christmas, we now know that Jesus was born in March, 7BC, three years before the death of King Herod “the Great” , thus giving “that fox” plenty of time to seek to kill the baby Jesus before his [Herod’s, rival to Jesus as “King of the Jews”] death in 4BC.

But, as has also been remarked, we have to account for Jesus’s being “brought forth” by his mother when a “decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed” in 6AD. The greatest biblical scholar in this or any other age, Dr Barbara Thiering, points out in her book, Jesus the Man, “brought forth” means just that, in special clothes [swathing bands] for his bar mitzvah, at the age of 12, and all the world rejoiced”.

“Angels” are seen as being bringers of good tidings, or “wise men”, 12 years after his actual birth. At the actual birth, the representatives of the Magian sect [the Magi], always on Jesus ‘s side, came to see where he was born, and did trick Herod away from the real Jesus. No “legends” here, just different ways to write a story.



Wake-up call

Yes, Lesley Cogan (Letters, 1 January) has been asleep, since June 2008. That was when Labour Health minister Ben Bradshaw opened the way for private management companies to join in the bidding for franchises to run Hinchingbrooke and other “struggling” NHS Hospitals. No doubt this was what Tony Blair meant when he promised to “extend opportunities to all” in the 2005 Labour manifesto.



Oh no, Romeo

So, eight year-old Romeo Beckham is stylish, according to GQ magazine (report, 4 January). The poor kid has all the hallmarks of his father, someone dressed by Posh Spice, a woman bereft of any sense of class or style. The last stylish thing I saw David wearing was a pair of Calvin’s and nothing else. Everything before or since has made him look like a young girl’s dressing-up toy, including the photo with the report. Romeo Beckham deserves our sympathy, not our attention.



Frosty farewell

Mr Lee Hart somewhat gives the game away (Letters, 1, 3 January) when he admits to never having met Stan Labovitch’s snowman, Frosty. The People’s Snowman indeed! I, on the other hand, did encounter him (or at least someone who looked like him) and found him both cold and unresponsive. Of course, I could not celebrate anyone’s early demise but I cannot forget that it was him and his sort that led to the recent transport chaos in our country.



Perspectives on global change

Weather and the climate

Alan Etherington (Letters, 3 January), in common with many, has yet to grasp the nub of the global-warming issue. He is talking about weather, which is a short-term phenomenon. Extreme weather, which he cites, is a result of the unsettling effect of underlying climate change. Climate is a long-term issue.

As we are all too well aware, forecasting weather even three or four days ahead is an extremely chancy undertaking, even given the mass of computing power and brilliant mathematical minds bent to the task. Forecasting the very long process of change in global climate is somewhat more reliable.

Reading the geological (and more recent glacial deposit) histories tends to make observers aware we are overdue for a large temperature hike and yet another mass extinction around about now, plus or minus a few million years, which is the level of scientific uncertainty in such matters.

The irony for the human race is that it, or a portion of it, frets that this “warming” is caused by human activity. It looks more likely to be Nature’s cycle, and our puny efforts are just heaping coal on the fire, almost literally.



Change is a hot and cold issue

Alan Etherington accuses “Warmists” of backing all the horses by predicting, inter alia, both colder and warmer weather. He then asks, “Am I reading this correctly?”. Briefly, no, he is not: he is confusing climate and weather. Climate is about averages: temperature (for example) averaged across the world and over a period of time. Weather is about what happens in one place at one time.

Global warming, where the average temperature across the globe rises, is predicted to make more extreme weather. So it might be, at different times, either colder or hotter than we are used to. For the sake of an illustration, I’ll make up some numbers: if this year’s average is 20C in a range of 15C to 25C, and next year’s is 21C in a range of 14C to 28C,we have a warming climate and both hotter and colder weather.



Simple answer to extremes

The simple answer to Alan Etherington’s question is that over the past few years average temperatures in the northern hemisphere have been steadily increasing. Weather is caused by the sun warming the atmosphere. Heat absorbed during the daytime is radiated back into space at night such that a balance is maintained. To some extent, greenhouse gases bounce back heat which otherwise would be radiated away.

As the amount of greenhouse gases it contains increases, so the atmosphere becomes progressively warmer. The warmer the atmosphere, the more energy it possesses. And the more energy there is in the atmosphere makes extreme weather events even more extreme.



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