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Wednesday 18 August 2010
Letters: Blair's gift wasn't remorse
Despite suggestions to the contrary, it is rather doubtful that Tony Blair has decided to donate the earnings from his book to appease his "guilty conscience". As we saw recently at the Chilcot inquiry, he has expressed no regret for joining Bush and Cheney in invading Iraq, and equally he has given no indication that he feels any remorse for the uncounted death-toll and wanton destruction of Iraq as a direct result of his participation in "removing Saddam Hussein".
Within his own pious, self-righteous world it is far more likely that he sees it as simply his duty as a "good Christian" to donate this bonus income to a charity which caters for those who have been injured in the line of duty, in particular during his watch as Prime Minister: no blame, no remorse and no regrets.
And as for those who may see his donation as a cynical way of generating book sales, the answer is quite simple. Rather than buy the book and stroke the smug ego, simply donate an equivalent amount to the Royal British Legion and bypass the middle man.
There is a precedent for Mr Blair's charitable decision.
After the Second World War, Barnes Wallis, designer of the Dam Busters' "bouncing bomb", initially declined to apply for a monetary award from the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors. According to his biographer he subsequently changed his mind after hearing a sermon based on II Samuel 23, verses 14-17:
"And David was then in an hold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem.
"And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate! And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well at Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David; nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the Lord.
"And he said, be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?"
Following this, Wallis applied for, and was eventually awarded, an amount which he then used to establish a charitable foundation for the education of children of RAF personnel.
Same principle, different circumstance, different motivation?
Mayfield, east sussex
On hearing of Blair's generous donation to the British Legion I was reminded of the line from Bob Dylan's "Masters of War": "All the money you've made will never buy back your soul."
I have never supported the British involvement in the war in Iraq, but I think that Mr Blair has by his personal donation succeeded in drawing attention to the duty we now owe to the armed forces that have paid so high a price for this war. Certainly the Royal British Legion needs the £4m that Mr Blair has donated from the royalties to be expected from his forthcoming book.
As a former prime minister he will be aware of the magnitude of our duty of care to those who will be physically and mentally impaired for the rest of their days. We shall need a great deal more than £4m to fulfil this duty. Perhaps we can all follow Mr Blair's initiative. And the House of Commons itself, having sanctioned the war, ought to be the first to do so. After all, it tamely and uncritically followed him to war.
So "Phoney" Blair has stated he will hand over the reported £4.6m advance payment on his memoirs plus all royalties to the Royal British Legion. What about the 1 million dead Iraqis? The only news on Tony Blair I want to see is that he has been arrested for war crimes, along with George Bush, and jailed.
And I also want to see that, if David Kelly was murdered, whoever sanctioned it also gets treated the same as you or I would be treated for murder; but it won't happen – unless of course we do live in a real democracy.
Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
Invest in new British ideas
The lack of finance for infant technologies highlighted by Steve Connor ("How can Britain turn learning into lucre?", 16 August), is limiting the UK's ability to produce world-beating exports – exports that will lead us out of recession.
Investing in new, unproven technology start-ups is inherently risky. Angel investors, however, go where others won't: they bring not just capital but also industry experience. We need more of them.
Perhaps predictably, US angel investment dwarfs the UK's. If our angels were as prolific – accounting for population size – they would provide around £3.5bn of investment. That is private money, which could significantly outweigh UK research council state funding.
Our current financial predicament doesn't help, but to grow our economy we need to demonstrate commitment to new ideas. If the Government's Enterprise Investment Scheme successfully encourages investors to fund start-ups with increased and focused support, we might have a chance of rivalling the US once again.
We also need more of the young people who have the good ideas in the first place. Rigorous education, particularly in science, engineering, mathematics and technology, plus better collaboration between industry and academia are important parts of the puzzle.
It's not easy to pick winners. Let's leave it to the experts.
Sir James Dyson
The mosque at Ground Zero
President Obama was right to stress, as you point out, that the legal right to build a mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero is a matter of religious freedom that cannot be denied ("Mr Obama stands up for tolerance", 6 August), but might he not also have taken the opportunity to question whether building a mosque there would really improve interfaith relations in the US, which those behind the project declare to be their intention?
If the goal of the organisers is actually to damage the reputation of American Muslims by undertaking what is viewed as an act of provocation by most New Yorkers and Americans, they could not have thought of a better way to do so.
In recent years Serbs have been attempting to construct Orthodox churches in the vicinity of Srebrenica. However, the Bosniak Muslims harbour feelings of resentment and have urged the authorities to demolish or relocate these churches, even though they are legal.
Instead of declaring the planned building near Ground Zero to be a mosque, surely it would be more sensible to dedicate it as an ecumenical community centre where people of all faiths can pray together? Such a project, financed by Muslims, would bode much better for interfaith relations.
I wonder if President Obama has even considered that freedom from religion is as much a human right as freedom of religion?
People of all faiths and none perished in the 9/11 atrocity. Their memory would be best served by a monument devoid of the primitive superstition and supernaturalism which caused it.
Hard-working 'day at the races'
In addition to the news on Friday 13 August that the Audit Commission is to be abolished, its staff had to endure reading factually inaccurate press reports.
Your own Nigel Morris ("2,000 jobs to go as Audit Commission is scrapped", 14 August) and Philip Hensher ("Good riddance to the Audit Commission", 16 August) perpetuate the myth that the Commission was somehow reluctant to publish details of its spending.
In fact, I wrote to the Secretary of State on 9 June offering to publish the Commission's £500-plus spending data from July. But we were asked by the Department for Communities and Local Government to delay publication to meet DCLG's own timetable for disclosure, on 12 August. The Commission has always favoured openness, being among the first to publish the expenses of its chairman and chief executive online.
I am also, on behalf of staff, upset at the depiction of "days at the races". The Commission has indeed made payments to Newmarket and Exeter racecourses. But the dates were not race days. The Commission was using meeting and conference facilities for training finance officers. Racecourse facilities often offer good value for meetings compared with hotels or conference centres. The £8,000 payment to Newmarket was for three events, training 90 officers from local authorities and the NHS – around £67 a head. And not a horse in sight.
Mr Hensher asks what the Commission has achieved since exposing Westminster's "homes for votes" scandal in the 1980s. How about this year's corporate governance inspection of Doncaster council, carried out following the brutal attack on two boys by two brothers?
Reading such inaccuracies only increases the shock and disbelief of our 2,000 staff, who now face uncertain futures. It is their role in helping the very significant improvement of local authorities over the past decade that has enabled ministers to have confidence in increasing local authority autonomy.
Chairman, Audit Commission
Stone Age house found at last
The news of the discovery of "Britain's oldest house" at Star Carr (report, 11 August) reminds me that some 50 years ago, my father, Alan Sorrell, was commissioned to make a "reconstruction drawing" of the Mesolithic hunting camp at Star Carr.
Given the large quantities of bones of slaughtered red deer, elk, oxen, beaver and sundry other animals, the worked flints and the ritual objects recovered from the site, he wanted to have huts in his drawing, but, because at that time there was no archaeological evidence for human dwellings, he was obliged to exclude them.
I am sure, if he were alive today, he would be pleased that his artist's vision has been vindicated.
The gender of a French president
Robert Fisk (14 August) wrote about the curious rules concerning French grammatical gender and male and female job titles.
A few years ago, I was on a committee revising the statutes and rules of an international scientific organisation. While these are in English, out of curiosity we asked the two native French speakers (one French, one Belgian and both by chance women) how they would address the President if it were a woman. The Frenchwoman replied without hesitation "Madame le président", the Belgian "Madame la présidente". Evidently the writ of the French Academy does not run in Brussels.
Incidentally, we discussed whether to retain the word "chairman" in our documents or to replace it by "chair". I gave my view that a chair was a piece of furniture and it was insulting to use the word for a distinguished person. The other native English speaker was Irish and he agreed with me – and the word "chairman" remains in the rules as a result of an Anglo-Irish agreement.
Professor Anthony C T North
All should pay for universities
Society needs graduates. We depend on the doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, engineers, accountants and all the other graduates who contribute to its functioning, to our increasing standards of living, and to our improving health and wellbeing. But we do not want to pay for them.
To end the discontent over student loans, the Coalition Gvernment proposes a graduate tax, citing the estimated extra £100,000 that is earned by graduates during their working lives. The £2,500 a year this represents is neither substantial, nor is it surprising. Universities select undergraduates on their ability, and even without their degrees these same individuals ought to achieve positions of employment that are better rewarded, and make their contribution.
But there are non-graduates who enjoy equivalently high salaries, while using the services of graduates in both their professional and personal lives. If two individuals, one a graduate, the other not, happen to earn similar salaries, why then should one pay more in taxation for the system of university education both depend on?
A more equitable graduate tax would be not a tax paid by graduates, but a tax paid by all who earn at a certain level, to provide the graduates that society needs. This would bring us back full circle, with the costs of universities met from general taxation. That might be marginally embarrassing, but it might be no bad thing, and it would certainly be simpler to collect.
Cllr Jeff Hanna
Chair, Wimbledon Labour Party, London SW20
Sarah Evans (letter, 10 August) says that "The vast majority of the middle class are ... educated at the taxpayer's expense."
I know the system isn't perfect, but I was under the impression that the more prosperous you are the more tax you pay, whereas state education costs the same for every child. Surely the middle classes are not only paying for their own children's education but, if they are rich enough, that of others as well.
And anyway, the "taxpayers" might be willing to subsidise the education of the governing class if it's the only way to get the school roof mended.
The youth of today
In reply to your front page question "Who would want to be 18 today?" (16 August) the answer is "I would!" If you had been 18 in 1942, as I was, you would not even think of asking such a question. Cannot you sometimes be a bit more positive?
It is shocking that 17-year-olds should be expected to study three or four subjects, learn to drive and have a Saturday job all at the same time (letter, 17 August). Couldn't The Independent organise some kind of campaign to help these people?
Perspectives on the Pakistan floods
Money wasted on a lost cause
Having been greatly moved by your article on 13 August on the plight of Pakistan and its people, I was moved again by another article in the same issue. However, this time I was moved to anger that such people as Ken Follett, Anthony Bailey and Lord Sainsbury should waste hundreds of thousands of pounds to support one candidate or another for something so absurd as the election of a new leader of a political party as dead in the water as is the Labour Party.
How much more respect would these well-heeled donors have commanded had they channelled their cash in the direction of aid to Pakistan, ruined by circumstances beyond human control, rather than to would-be prima donnas in a lost cause.
Seaford, east sussex
F lood victims or papal visit?
As a Catholic I was shocked to read that the £7m needed to fund Pope Benedict's visit to the UK in September would be paid for by donations from Mass-going Catholics like me. I feel that such a huge sum of money could be put to better use. I'm sure the millions of people whose lives have been torn apart by the floods in Pakistan would appreciate some financial aid.
Where will our donations go?
I don't believe for a moment that the world is unmoved by the plight of Pakistan. However, when, as you have reported, six months after the Haiti earthquake hardly any of the billions donated has reached those desperate people, how can the aid agencies be surprised at the reluctance to give this time?
If we do give, the charities will be happy, but will the victims of the Pakistan floods be much better off?
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Sense of priorities
The United Nations has appealed for $460m to provide relief for the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan. Pakistan's defence budget is now reported to exceed $5bn. Less than 10 per cent of that amount would meet the need in the current crisis.
Dr Scilla Elworthy
Founder, Oxford Research Group
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