Bankers, unlike most businessmen, have a great start in life. First they decimate customer service by sacking hordes of troops, then they pay depositors 0.5 per cent interest, while charging borrowers 19.9 per cent, and earn fortunes for doing very little. They then gamble these profits and expect to earn vast bonuses on winning bets while ignoring losing bets.
Bankers' guile never ceases to amaze me. We are told that if we don't pay them huge bonuses they will move to other countries, whose taxpayers will willingly bail them out. The RBS directors suggest that if their staff do not receive £1.5bn in bonuses they will move to other banks. As an RBS shareholder, I would be grateful if they did.
As far as I am concerned, when the RBS has repaid all the taxpayers money lent to them and the share price has reached 50 per cent of their peak price, then they can pay themselves what they like in bonuses. Until then, they should not receive a single penny. The Government should take a hard line; bankers have to be dragged into the real world.
I am beginning to feel sorry for these bankers. To be so cordially loathed by an entire country for one's greed and ineptitude must take its toll on morale. Can a mere £1.5bn in bonuses really assuage such trauma when you've got used to absorbing sums hundreds of times greater from generous taxpayers?
Add to this the corrosive doubt that you may not be as good a gambler with other people's money as you hoped, having imperilled an entire economy by your recklessness, and mere six-figure bonuses must seem pretty paltry compensation.
I am sick of pussyfooting around bankers. It is time for Alistair Darling to put his mouth where our money is and tell the RBS and other banks that it is the end of bonus culture. If the RBS directors do quit, I am sure there are many within the company equally good at doing their jobs.
Could the bankers who seem determined to hang on to their huge bonuses do us a favour this Christmas? Reinflate the economy by spending the lot.
Uckfield, East Sussex
A state in terror of photography
I found your story "Warning: do not take this picture" (3 December) extremely disturbing, but not surprising. Britain under New Labour is fast becoming like the Soviet Union, where everything – even ancient medieval bridges – was deemed to be a state secret: photography forbidden!
Thanks to the hasty, ill-conceived Anti-Terrorism Act, which will probably not now be repealed, even by a Cameron government, and over-zealous police officers who regard every member of the public as a potential terrorist or criminal, we are fast becoming the police state that our enemies want.
As an amateur photographer interested in architecture, I have been taking photos for almost 40 years, but only in the last few years have I encountered overzealous security guards who tell me I cannot take the interior of shopping malls, or even stop me in the street, as happened in London recently, when the occupants of an insignificant (but apparently paranoid) business took objection to my photographing the road outside their premises.
Thank you for highlighting this latest incursion into our rights and liberties.
The problems you describe have been raised in the photographic press for months. It is clear that among police, community support officers and security guards there is an enormous lack of knowledge. They are ignorant of the law, of photography, and above all of human nature and the motives that make people want to take photographs. To them, anything beyond their understanding and experience has to be stopped.
It is not so long since Britain was outraged when a group of plane spotters were arrested in the former Yugoslavia. Today we are moving towards conditions formerly found only in one-party states – where a camera is automatically a subject of suspicion to anyone with a uniform.
Photographers should refer to www.sirimo.co.uk/ukpr for a useful explanation of photographers' rights. It should be compulsory reading for all police officers. Meanwhile, what next? Is it safe to use binoculars?
Counter-terrorism laws are not, and never have been, designed to stop people taking photographs. People have the right to take photographs in public places for legitimate reasons and will continue to do so. But we face a terrorist threat where people planning attacks may scope potential targets. Evidence produced in recent court cases has shown this activity includes taking pictures.
The Government and the police are very conscious of the need to use counter-terrorism laws sensitively and sensibly. In August I wrote to all chief constables whose forces have Section 44 powers to make it clear they cannot be used to stop photographs being taken in public places or to make people delete images. There are no offences within counter-terrorist legislation which would capture an innocent member of the public or tourist taking photographs.
New figures show stop and search dropped 40 per cent in the capital after the Metropolitan Police responded to community concerns by changing how the tool is used. Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has welcomed this reduction, but has stated in his 2009 annual report that section 44 is still necessary and proportional to the continuing and serious risk of terrorism.
David Hanson MP
Minster for Crime, Policing and Counter Terrorism
Home Office, London SW1
Last summer, a 30-year-old friend of mine arrived early for an appointment with a doctor in Chelsea. As it was a pleasant evening and he wanted to do some exercise, he decided to walk around the leafy square a few times instead of sitting in the waiting room.
After a few minutes he was stopped and questioned by two police officers on the grounds that it was an area with a high rate of car crime and there were several expensive cars parked around the square.
My friend is from Germany and, being unaware of his rights, co-operated and so gave his name and address and the reason for him being in Chelsea that evening, and tried to explain why he was walking around the square repeatedly. After about 15 minutes of questioning, the officers left him, but only after he had insisted on being given a copy of their written record of the incident. I was amazed, embarrassed and horrified to see that, in the space specifying the reason for being under suspicion, the police officer had written simply "Walking around the square".
And he wasn't even taking photographs!
Afghan war for moonshine
One can sympathise with General Lamb and Captain Beattie in their worry that our troops are being undermined by scepticism regarding Britain's adventure in Afghanistan ("Troops fear defeat at home", 30 November).
Yet the military objective, defeat of the Taliban, is only meaningful if the political objective, the establishment of stable, secure and representative government throughout the country, is realistically attainable.
The ambition of our politicians is breathtaking in its arrogance and lack of realism. Hoping that somehow the warlord class that has delivered local security for centuries will happily abandon power to a quasi-democratic government in Kabul is moonshine.
So too is the idea that any government in Kabul can afford to bankroll a force large enough to take control of the whole country (even given the willingness of its forces to fight for Kabul rather than local lords). The cost of such a force has been estimated at fivefold the national budget of this impoverished land.
One thing only unites the country: confronting a foreign army. Our troops are dying in vain.
Knifed to death for being different
Before I had opened The Independent this morning (3 December) a friend telephoned me to say that a learning-disabled friend of his, living in a flat in the community, had been found knifed to death earlier this week. I then read your article on disability hate crimes.
As a member of the disability community, and as a human being, I was horrified, but not surprised. Historically, when life is as bad as it is now for so many people, anger and hate are turned towards people of difference – read it on every page of your paper.
This type of hate crime may well be fuelled, in my opinion, by the sudden and widespread prominence of disabled people in various media. For instance, Cast Offs, the Channel 4 series setting disparate disabled people on an island, will in my opinion, be grist to the mill of those many who not only hate us, but who do actually want to hurt us. Shouting "F. . . . . . Spaz" at us in the street in no longer enough.
'Zionists' on the Iraq inquiry panel
Will The Independent ever insist that its authors distinguish between the terms Jewish, Zionist, pro-Israeli and neocon?
Richard Ingrams, column (28 November) begins by calling Iraq panel members Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman "Jewish", before repeating a pejorative description of Gilbert as an active supporter of "Zionism".
Ingrams then accuses "American neocons" of planning and executing the Iraq war; says many of these "ardent Zionists" care more about Israel than America; and implies that the British "pro-Israelis" on the Iraq Inquiry panel will cover all of this up!
The Independent might have recognised such conspiracy theories and fifth-column accusations for the dangerous nonsense that they are.
CST, London NW4
Richard Ingrams reiterates that two members of the Iraq inquiry are Jewish. That may be the case. However, to this Yank that is not what makes the inquiry panel such a disreputable lot.
What horrifies me, as someone who lives in a great country once crushed by British imperialism, is that all members of the inquiry are British and all are thus imperialists. I hardly see how such a biased body can come up with any finding that will condemn British crimes against humanity. Crimes that began with the Stamp Act.
Sacramento, California, USA
There is a simple way to avoid dogs biting, mauling and killing (Terence Blacker, 2 December), which would be much more effective than the licence being proposed here in Northern Ireland – all dogs should be muzzled at all times.
The headline "cyclists three times more likely to die on UK roads" (3 December) obscures the fact that even in the UK the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks. Cycling is safer in places where more people cycle. In order to get more people cycling, we need to change the perception that it is a risky activity. CTC would like to see greater priority given to traffic law enforcement for all road users, more 20 mph speed limits in urban areas and cycle training available to all.
CTC, Guildford, Surrey
Vote for decency
After the Swiss "minarets" vote, Ed Edmunds (letter, 2 December) wonders about the desirability of true democracy, preferring our pretence of popular representation on issues such as immigration, torture and capital punishment. In fact, Switzerland has proportionally twice as many asylum seekers as the UK, is the home of the International Red Cross, the world's leading organisation fighting torture, and carried out its last execution 20 years before the UK. What is it you're afraid of Mr Edmunds?
Name a decade
Now that we are entering the last month of the decade, the question arises of what we are going to call the next one. I never really warmed to "the Noughties", but at least it served. "The Teenies" won't really work, since they wouldn't start until 2013. So where do we go from here?
Not only Saturn worshippers were appeased by the announcement of the date of Christ's birthday (letter, 2 december). The Roman soldiers, who of course were living everywhere throughout Europe, worshipped a god called Mithras. By an astounding coincidence, Mithras's birthday was 25 December.