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Tuesday 13 September 2011
Vickers is last hope for banks
For months the banks have been warning that unless things are left unchanged, the economy will falter. They will not be able to lend, it will take longer for the UK to get back to normal. They have had over two years to prove the strength of their argument, and where are we now? The economy is flatlining and businesses complain that banks will not lend.
How dare they indulge in special pleading when it was their recklessness and – in some cases – a complete lack of understanding of what they were letting their companies in for, that led to the current crisis? Royal Bank of Scotland and, probably, Lloyds, would have gone the same way as Barings if the taxpayer had not bailed them out.
"Normal" is not where we are. Without change, within a few years there will be another crash. If John Vickers' proposals are all we can hope for – although I am not convinced that even they are strong enough – then they must be enacted without delay.
Laughter in the City will have registered around 5 or 6 on the Richter scale on learning of the severity of the Vickers remedy: "Britain's banks should ring-fence their high street and investment divisions as part of a far-reaching reform package which should be put in place by 2019" ("Banks urged to ring-fence retail divisions", 12 September). Top tip: buy bank shares.
Walsham le Willows, Suffolk
So the Coalition is giving the banks some wriggle time before action; no surprise there – only fair since the Bank's abandonment of inflation control has given the Coalition wriggle time.
So, the good news is it is OK to have a banking crisis in the next eight years! Bonuses all round, eh?
Tax the rich,or the poor?
Your leading article (8 September) says that the 50 per cent top rate of income tax should be abolished on the grounds that it deters the "dynamic, entrepreneurial types the economy so desperately needs".
More pertinently, in the same issue, The Independent reminds us that Scandinavian economies with high levels of income tax are among the most competitive in the world. Sweden, with a top personal income tax rate of 59 per cent, is the third most competitive country. The UK lies at 10th. Why should our economy be so different from the Scandinavian?
The advocates for a cut in top-rate income tax completely misread the situation. It is weak demand that deters business investment. Households on squeezed incomes cannot or will not consume.
The way to rescue the economy is to ensure the breadth of the population benefits from any prospective tax cuts, through higher individual tax thresholds, as part of a progressive tax system.
The alternative will help the comfortably off and ensure a sustained demand for high-end items like fashion goods and expensive cars, while increasing numbers find it difficult to pay for necessities like gas, electricity and travel.
Saltburn by the Sea
Redcar and Cleveland
Your leading article assumes the 50p tax-rate issue is about wealth-creation vs distribution: a myopic and question-begging oversimplification. In Britain the two must be dealt with together.
My complaint is less that the evidence on which the rate-reduction argument relies is contestable; rather it has to do with your impoverished view of how we should respond to the recession climate. What we so desperately need to encourage is not entrepreneurship, but the repair of community morale.
And what we should be worrying about is the "symbolic significance" a lowering of the top rate would have at a time when economic rewards and burdens are widely seen as grossly inequitable and socially divisive, and when confidence in both political and financial institutions is worryingly low.
Economic growth for what? Bigger bonuses or better society?
That executive pay and pension pots (and increases to these) are significantly greater than normal workers' is no surprise. Executive remuneration is decided by executives.
Remuneration boards in companies are filled with executives from other companies who have a vested interest in ensuring that remuneration remains high across the board. Cutting executive rewards at one company might suggest the possibility of similar cuts at other companies, and increase downward pressure on salaries and pensions.
As it stands, the system reflects the self-interest of executives, at the expense of ordinary workers (and at times shareholders too). Until it is changed the gap between executive level and ordinary worker pay will continue to increase.
I was very disappointed that your leading article came down on the side of abolishing the 50p tax rate. If we are to have a free and fair society in which we are relaxed about people getting very rich, then in fairness the very rich should pay their tax willingly.
We may be better off as a society if those who begrudge paying their taxes go elsewhere and the entrepreneurs who stay are those who better understand that a fairer society is a better society, whatever its economic growth.
Salen, Isle of Mull
There should be no surprise that "Osborne loses nerve on plan to cut 50p tax rate" (report, 8 September). What is astonishing is that he had the nerve to consider such a cut in the first place.
Given our present economic woes and who caused them, handing a tax gift to the 300,000 most privileged and pampered people in the country would be like sending Fortnum & Mason hampers to the clinically obese during a famine.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
Why voting reform failed
There are three main reasons for the catastrophic failure of the Yes to AV campaign ("Lib Dem report blames Nick Clegg for debacle over lost AV referendum", 7 September).
First, the system itself. It was not the system favoured by reformers and the public didn't like the idea of second, third, fourth preferences counting to elect a candidate. The Supplementary Vote, where there is only a first and second choice and a maximum of two rounds, would have been more popular.
Second, the timing. If the referendum was delayed until this May, and the Supplementary Vote (SV) proposed instead, there might have been a closer result. It would have been hard to argue against this system if it was timed to coincide with the London mayoral elections which use SV.
Third, claims made by Clegg. AV would not make MPs work harder or end safe seats for life. Such claims were an insult to people's intelligence.
Your correspondent John Pinkerton (letters, 7 September) is certainly right in saying that Proportional Representation for the Westminster Parliament would have benefited the Scottish Tories. Similarly other parties would have benefited in other parts of the UK. By benefit we do not mean something unfair but results that reflected more closely the votes of the voters.
The question is "How can proportional representation be achieved?" The AV referendum was the wrong referendum at the wrong time. Another referendum may not be the right answer. So we must look to a vote by MPs. The Great Reform Bill of 1832 was carried partly by the votes of MPs who knew that they would lose their own seats. Have our present MPs the same regard for the wider national interest?
Our political system does not readily address the problem of lazy, incompetent or dishonest MPs. The simple answer should lie with the ballot box. The problem with the existing voting system is that the vote for the MP is conflated with the vote for the party. Change this and voters would very quickly solve the problem.
Chidham, West Sussex
Torture in the Cold War
Dominic Lawson (6 September) suggested that "we betrayed our values with torture" referring to events after 9/11. Certainly those events were shameful and undermined the West's attempt to hold the higher moral ground. But the whole approach of declaring "war on terror" was wrong and the West has yet to acknowledge this. No one in the US government has yet had the guts to admit the error of the policy.
But Mr Lawson also suggests that the Cold War in part was won because we never countenanced torture. There is little doubt, however, that the US government supported and trained South and Central American armies and police forces in the use of torture to subjugate so-called "terrorists" with left-leaning tendencies, during the 1970s-90s. Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s may not have sent MI6 to Chile, but she certainly supported Mr Pinochet.
The Vietnam War involved actions that, according to A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheenan, may not have constituted outright torture but certainly were extremely cruel to large sectors of the Vietnamese population. All of these actions during the Cold War were part of the confrontation between the West and the Soviet regime.
I admire Mr Lawson for admitting the mistakes made by the West since 9/11, but it is wrong to suggest that these represented a change of course in the use of torture as a tool to control enemies.
Uses for your back garden
Kevin Ramsey (letters, 10 September) proposes a new variant on the longstanding official policy of concreting over suburban gardens in order to cram in yet more housing. It is worth remembering that basic food prices are racing ahead of pensions, savings and – except for bankers – wages.
Anyone with a back garden too big to manage might usefully consider getting someone in to grow the basic vegetables that they will soon not be able to afford to buy. Alternatively our lucky landowner could move somewhere smaller or even, heaven forbid, to a cheaper part of the country. The latter two options seem generally to be disregarded when property speculators get the scent of profit in their nostrils.
David Lister understandably wishes for more TV coverage of the BBC Proms (The Week in Arts, 10 September). While I appreciate his sentiment, I feel I must remind him, and the BBC, that there is another music festival running at the same time, which used to be treated as a "major event in the cultural calendar", namely the Edinburgh International Festival. Not the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which gets plenty of coverage, as the BBC always likes to pander to the masses, but the Festival "proper", which has sadly been quite eclipsed by the Fringe, and totally swamped by the monopolistic Proms.
This is not a good thing, and the blame must lie with the BBC's London-centric attitude that between the middle of July and the middle of September nothing else happens anywhere that is worthy of broadcast.
We used to get treated to at least one major concert broadcast live from the Usher Hall on TV and many radio broadcasts, adding greatly to the prestige of the Festival, but such a luxury is now just a memory, and all we get is back-dated recordings.
With both BBC2 and BBC4 available, as David Lister says, surely there can be room for more than just the Proms?
Mystery of the extra hospitals
I would be grateful if you could publish the names of the too many hospitals providing too many of the same services and chasing too few patients (report, 6 September).
I am one of the poor and underprivileged of west London where one waits two months for a consultation and a further two months for the treatment. Mind you, I have experience of only three local trust hospitals.
On inquiry I have been offered the treatment privately within a week, which I am ashamed to admit I have sometimes accepted. Is this the choice the Conservatives are offering?
View from America
Jack McKenna writes of the ignorance of a young American in 1970 (Letters, 6 September). I had a similar experience somewhat earlier when working in a factory in the Bronx. A man operating a machine near mine looked at me rather strangely for some time before, eventually, plucking up the courage to sidle across. "You're English, aren't you?" he said, and when I answered that I was, he asked: "Tell me, is England behind the Iron Curtain?" This was in 1960.
The charm of apostrophes
Sebastian Robinson (letter, 12 September) says that the illustrations to Tom Sutcliffe's article "The discreet charm of misspelling" (9 September) "lack the true Finnegan's Wake spirit" of a strange greengrocer's label he'd seen. While Mr Robinson's reference to "spirit" calls to mind the famous ballad Finnegan's Wake, the bizarre neologising of the label he describes is rather more suggestive of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.
The bill for smoking
I have no real problem with David Hockney and his fellow smokers (Letters, 5 September) as long as they don't do it in my presence and as long as they don't burden the public health service with the consequences of their actions in terms of cancer and heart disease, and pay for their treatment privately.
Burton on Trent, Staffordshire
Womenswear for the well-off
Your 50 best womenswear in The Information on 3 September was not for the fainthearted! With only 14 items under £100 and the average cost per item over £430, I had to conclude that perhaps I'm not your average female Independent reader.
Perspectives on the 9/11 anniversary
What about the victims of the West's revenge?
Following on from 9/11, when are we going to see services of remembrance taking place for the much larger numbers of civilians killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? Or will these take place during the world's largest arms fair in London this week?
Evil followed by evil – and then the speechifying
When I see the memorial ceremonies for the victims of 9/11, I do not feel what I am supposed to feel. This troubles me. My sympathy for those killed in that great crime is tainted by my anger at the great crimes that followed: the invasions, the wars, the torture chambers, the Abu Ghraibs and Guantanamos, and the assaults by our own states on our own liberties.
Those were far greater evils than the evil of 9/11 – if evil can be measured by the body count. And now, must I watch the politicians, steeped in blood, laying wreaths and speechifying at the tombs of the initial victims? It is too much. Tell me when their vicious hypocrisy is finished, so I can open my eyes again.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Our values under threat? It was all about US policy
Why the excess coverage of what is after all only the 10th anniversary of 9/11? It really was only a US disaster, to which they overreacted because of lacking a history in which invasion or the threat thereof had been the norm. What's more, the incidents weren't a threat to "our values" as the likes of George W claimed, but a direct result of how the US sees the Middle East.
Britain should have left Bush to deal with the aftermath, rather than go along with his military adventures which made us victims ourselves on 7/7.
People, not symbols
I don't think it is picky to point out that the main thing which these largely Saudi mujahedeen did was not "bring down the symbols of US might and buoyancy" (Yasmin Alibhai Brown, 8 September), but slaughter 3,000 workers.
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