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Thursday 22 September 2011
Letters: Best and worst pupils let down
It appears that pupils at both ends of the ability range are currently under threat from withdrawal of funding.
At the bottom end, as you report on 19 September, the proposal to cut the Reading Recovery Project risks alienating large numbers of the most vulnerable learners; for the ability to read is clearly the first essential key to active membership of our society. The number of those with reading difficulties who have fallen foul of the criminal justice system is evidence enough of how high the stakes are for these pupils.
But at the other end of the spectrum, funding has already been withdrawn from the gifted and talented programme, presumably on the assumption that former beneficiaries can find their own way in life without specialist help, even though many of them are disinclined to extend their talents when they risk being pilloried at school as know-alls.
Both groups contribute to the Programme for International Student Assessment ratings where the UK features so shamefully low when compared with our European competitors – non-readers as those unable to make any serious contribution, and gifted pupils whose potential is culpably ignored at a time when we need all the talent we can find.
Kington Langley, Wiltshire
David Smith (letter, 21 September) writes: "So all children embark upon literacy at the absurdly early age of four, and those who (predictably and in large numbers) fail to cope are then force-fed."
At my sons' county primary school, under the expert supervision of Mrs Thompson, every child, without fail, left the reception year able to read – most of them by the end of their first term. No exceptions, no failures.
I simply cannot understand how large numbers of perfectly able children can leave primary school, never mind secondary school, unable to read and write. It is a detestable and rankling stain upon our society.
Travellers abuse 'rights'
Laurence Williams (letter, 20 September), cites several facts ignored by campaigners against Basildon Council's planned eviction of the Dale Farm travellers. There are more: they include the European Court of Human Rights' ruling that enforcement against unauthorised occupation of green belt land has the "legitimate aim" of protecting the "rights of others through preservation of the environment".
The Court has also stated that it "will be slow to grant protection to those who, in conscious defiance of the prohibitions of the law, establish a home on an environmentally protected site. For the Court to do otherwise would be to encourage illegal action to the detriment of the protection of the environmental rights of other people in the community".
On the issue of traditional pitches versus bricks-and-mortar council accommodation, it has ruled that the European Convention on Human Rights "does not necessarily go so far as to allow individuals' preferences as to their place of residence to override the general interest".
In response to the ridiculous Dale Farm stand-off, permit me to state that there is only one race. It is called the human race.
The idea of ethnicity is used as a means to gain "special rights" on the basis of tradition or "race". However, human rights do not mean the right to violate the property and rights of others. Those who choose to break the law must face the consequences of their actions.
D S A Murray
End the row over Palestine now
I have often wondered why, during the decades of strife between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the best brains of the world never seem to have considered the shape of the future Palestinian state. Is it really feasible to have a country whose two territories are divided by at least potentially hostile country? It didn't work in Pakistan, why should it work here?
Surely it would be more sensible to attach Gaza to Israel and to add an area of similar size to the West Bank by straightening out some of the many kinks in the border with Israel? There would have to be population transfers between these territories, but why would that be such a challenge, considering what's been going on in the past?
These two protagonists have held the world to ransom for long enough. All the glimmers of peace have been extinguished time after time, despite the best efforts of many well-meaning negotiators. Is it not finally time for the world to tell Israelis and Palestinians to get off our backs and sort the conflict out once and for all?
As for Jerusalem, it should be made a United Nations City of Peace, governed by the UN.
Your leader "A request for recognition which Britain should support" (21 September) claims that "no serious peace negotiations are going on, nor have they for two decades".
In fact, at Camp David in 2000, Taba in 2001, and again at Annapolis in 2007, negotiations narrowed the gaps a great deal, and both sides glimpsed a conflict-ending resolution. Israeli President Shimon Peres has said: "Peace is needed and can be achieved by direct negotiations. This was the case with Egypt and Jordan, and can happen with the Palestinians." He is right.
Professor Alan Johnson
Britain Israel Communications and research centre
Edge Hill University
What on earth does Alan Halibard (letter, 20 September) mean by saying that "the Arabs were to be given Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia"? The Arabs inhabited those countries, for goodness sake! Just as the Palestinians inhabited Palestine.
Barbaric death for a bull
I have just returned from Spain where I attended a protest in Tordesillas, Valladolid. The protest took place two days before the 500-year-old bloody fiesta where a bull is tortured – this year the bull was named Afligido.
Hundreds of men on foot and on horseback chased this poor creature into a field where they threw huge lances, knives and other piercing objects at him until the poor creature collapsed in agony. As he lay dying with blood pouring from him, his tail and testicles were cut off and offered as a "trophy".
This brutality has been declared to be of interest to tourists and is also attended by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, including priests, who sometimes participate in these acts of unspeakable cruelty to one of God's creatures. All this is in "honour" of the Virgen de la Peña (Virgin Mary). This barbaric orgy of recreational violence is carried out every year.
Unfortunately, this is one of countless medieval events in Spain where animals are sadistically tortured to death under the guise of "culture" and "religion". As Spain is in the EU, it should surely be brought into line with other European countries regarding its treatment of animals, and animal welfare in general.
Guy Kennaway's thoughtful article "Fowl play" (Independent Magazine, 17 September) exposes both the indefensible morality and the nonsensical economics of rearing pheasants to be shot for "sport".
His observation that "the demand for the meat cannot keep up with the supply of shot pheasants" reminds me of an old Oxfordshire saying (which I heard from a man who worked for many years as a beater on the estate of the local lord of the manor): "Up goes a pound. Bang goes a penny. Down comes half a crown."
Take back our parliament
Marilyn Clarke (letter, 20 September) fears she is out of electoral options. She is very far from alone, and there are plenty of options for her.
Since the Second World War the proportion of the votes cast at general elections for the major parties has declined consistently to the lowest point in 2010. By contrast, over the same period, the proportion of votes cast for independents and minor parties has consistently increased. At the next election, general or local, I would encourage everyone to look carefully at the available alternatives in their constituency. If none appeal, then take the next step.
In 2010 I ran out of options and took the next step, I stood for Parliament myself. I got 1,974 votes (4.5 per cent) and was struck by the warmth with which my candidacy was received. A whole team of skilled and interested people materialised as if by magic to help me.
None of the parties is fit to govern, representing, as they do, almost no one but themselves and their paymasters. Authentic voices for the electorate are required. There are hundreds of thousands of citizens who would perform admirably in Westminster, I believe. Nationally, Bell and Taylor have had a substantial effect. Locally, hundreds of independent councillors are contributing daily.
Its our parliament. Let's take it back.
Haydon Bridge, Northumberland
Cost of David Laws's dinner
Village People on 20 September states that "the millionaire David Laws was spotted dining at Birmingham's only Michelin-starred restaurant on Sunday night. And who picks up the bill? Yes, that will be us, the taxpayer."
I have no idea how your correspondent reaches that conclusion. As far as I am aware, all Liberal Democrats attending Conference, including parliamentarians, pay their own way. The only cost to the taxpayer is for security – something that is now out of our hands as a party.
Journalists are of course notorious for charging everything to expenses, but that does not mean that you should judge others by your own standards. The fact is, the taxpayer stands to gain a tidy sum in VAT from Mr Laws's exotic dining habits.
Liberal Democrat conference
Village People referred to "Birmingham's only Michelin-starred restaurant". That would be Purnell's – or perhaps Simpsons. If not, then Turners. Birmingham actually has three Michelin-starred restaurants – more, I believe, than any other UK town or city outside London.
No equality for gay couples
I am dismayed and disgusted that Lynne Featherstone and other ministers "will appease conservative faith groups" and will not be "seeking the public's views on the right of gay couples to marry in a religious setting" (report, 17 September).
This is more than "disappointing" to Quakers and others who actually believe in treating gay people equally. We Quakers should have the same legal right to celebrate civil partnerships and same-sex marriages in the religious setting of our own places of worship as we do for heterosexual couples. We are not trying to force conservative faith groups to adhere to our beliefs. Our own beliefs are not even to be put to the public-opinion test.
For shame, "equality minister" Featherstone. Further shame – she's a Lib Dem. How can this decision by "ministers" be challenged?
When liability was limited
Vince Cable probably hasn't got a cat in hell's chance of reimposing unlimited liability on bankers. But he certainly couldn't do it by the repeal of the Banking Co-partnership Act 1826 (Dominic Lawson, 20 September).
Parliament gave limited liability to the shareholders of companies that registered in 1855 and to the shareholders of banking companies in 1857/58. Until that time the common-law principle that everyone was responsible for their debts (unlimited liability) was maintained.
Limited liability remained a sufficiently contentious issue in the 1890s for it to be a subject for satire by W S Gilbert in the Company Promoter's song (Mr Goldbury's song) in the opera Utopia Limited. Although the opera is now seldom performed and the question seldom raised, the morality of limited liability remains a moot point.
Over the top with Cable
Vince Cable says the state of the present economy is like being at war. Is that the First World War, where the weak, poor, disadvantaged and unemployed are sent over the top to be mown down by the cuts to our services while the generals – sorry, bankers and members of the Coalition – shelter safely in their offices?
Now, as then, it's lions led by donkeys, and there is no end in sight to the suffering for those who trusted this Coalition.
If continued for a century, our "anaemic" growth of "only" 1.7 per cent will increase our consumption by a factor of more than five.
Little Sandhurst, Berkshire
March of concrete
On how many areas of outstanding natural beauty has permission to build been given? In the High Weald, licence to build has been confirmed for 42 houses and on the other side of our village an appeal has been launched against our local council's refusal. The dismantling of our countryside is well under way, now reinforced by some powerful forces; what chance localism?
Cuckfield, West Sussex
U-boats in Wales
Recent correspondence about U-boats making landfall in the British Isles reminds me that they were renowned for surfacing on dark nights in secluded Cardigan Bay coves in order to purchase a sheep from a local farmer. The Kriegsmarine developed a taste for Welsh lamb during the First World War and are reputed to have maintained the custom during the Second, or so I was told in my youth.
Salvation for sale
I don't begrudge Millie Dowler's family whatever they receive from the Murdoch empire. What does worry me is the moral code of that organisation. Do they imagine that there is a system like the medieval church's sale of indulgences where they can pay for their sins against a tariff of charges? Reducing every issue to a matter of money is an insult to any worthwhile moral code.
Perspectives on energy prices
It's easy to switch, but will you really save money?
Chris Huhne, smug, patronising and ineffectual, claims he is taking on the energy companies by making it easier for customers to change suppliers, and making these companies clarify their tariffs.
It is already easy to change. I have done it several times when faced with a whopping price increase – you just ask about your current tariff and, if not satisfied, switch; it's a simple process online.
But soon after, the new supplier inevitably also raises its prices. This is the real problem that Mr Huhne fails to act upon, despite the evidence of a cartel.
Unscrupulous utility companies wishing to divert attention from the simple reality that they overcharge are fond of advising the public to "shop around". When the Energy Secretary borrowed this idiotic mantra at the Liberal Democrat conference, he received a standing ovation.
So far as I can make out, Mr Huhne promises two concessions from companies that supply us with gas and electricity. The first is that it will become easier to change from one energy company that exploits us, to another that will exploit us. And the second is that these companies will be required to make it clearer on their invoices precisely how they are exploiting us.
Thank you, Mr Huhne; my heart soars like an eagle.
Hedon, East Yorkshire
Better to stop losing so much heat
Chris Huhne may want to "get tough" on the energy companies, but what we need is a nationwide public scheme to reduce people's energy bills and increase energy efficiency. The Green Party has repeatedly called for the introduction of a free home-insulation programme for all homes that need it, with priority for pensioners and those living in fuel poverty.
Such a programme would aim to insulate 4 million homes nationwide every year and would create 80,000 skilled jobs. It could be funded through a windfall tax on the energy companies.
This has been pioneered in Kirklees, thanks to the work of Green Party Councillor Andrew Cooper. Between 2007 and 2010, Kirklees Warm Zone was free to residents, insulated 51,500 homes, with a total fuel expenditure saving each year of £3.9m. Kirklees' carbon emissions were cut by 23,000 tonnes a year.
More needs to be done to help those affected by rising fuel costs, but once again the Government is not looking at the big picture.
Deputy Leader, The Green Party
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