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Saturday 16 October 2010
Letters: Bonfire of the quangos
After the great quango cull
Sean O'Grady (Analysis, 15 October) and others have focused on how much money may or may not be saved in the Government's cull of quangos. It's an interesting question, but misses the reason many people have long wanted to cut the number of quangos.
Since the 1970s, many have rightly warned how the transfer of powers to quangos undermines democratic accountability and builds up a large slice of the public sector that is insulated from the public. The major cull of quangos is a very welcome reversal of that long-term trend, taking power away from the unaccountable and putting it into the hands of those we can vote in or out. If that saves any money as well, it's a bonus.
The closure and merger of so many quangos does threaten colossal job losses and a massive cost to the public purse. But there is an important opportunity here to save jobs, services, knowledge, assets and lots of money, and keep providing public value.
With a bit of support and effort, many of these organisations could become social enterprises and build themselves a sustainable future through trading. If they don't, then we are likely to see many of their assets that have been developed using taxpayers' money disappear into the private sector to create profit for shareholders.
Services such as those provided by the Audit Commission are still going to be needed – let's not hand the opportunity to private-sector firms, some of whom helped to create the financial crisis.
A number of the abolished quangos are planning to re-form as charities. Rather than rely on donations they must look at their trading options. The UK's social enterprise movement is a world leader. Other countries are sending a stream of officials here to find out how we are delivering billions to the UK economy. We must not miss the massive opportunity that's on our own doorstep.
Chief Executive,Social Enterprise Coalition
The abolition of the Farm Animal Welfare Council is another example of the appalling attitude of the Coalition Government towards animal welfare. The only animals that are pleased are the nodding dogs on the Liberal Democrat benches.
What wind turbines do
Ray Wilkes (letter, 13 October) pretends his opponents have said something they have not. I have worked in the environmental movement for three decades and have never met anyone who wants to "force" everyone "back to the land".
The mainstream environmental movement opposes nuclear energy because of justified fears of terrorist attack, accident and the inability to tackle high-level waste. But many have come to fear the runaway greenhouse effect even more, so the weight of opinion is changing.
Again, the mainstream environmental movement fully supports wind farms because they work perfectly alongside gas turbine power stations – when the wind blows we burn less gas; when it is still we burn more gas. Over the annual cycle, wind power allows us to conserve increasingly expensive gas and reduce CO2 emissions.
As for cost, the real debate needed is the comparative cost of off-shore wind farms and on-shore wind. I support all wind power but want to see more on-shore wind farms to reduce the future cost of UK energy in comparison to that generated in France, Spain, Germany, and other competitor nations.
Westcliff on Sea, Essex
If Ray Wilkes thinks that nuclear power is the answer to climate change he's asking the wrong question.
It takes between 10 and 15 years to build and commission a new nuclear power plant. We don't have that long to avoid the worst effects of climate change. There are also plenty of currently realistic available renewable options apart from the wind power he so derides.
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Case for the prosecutors
Andreas Whittam Smith asks if the Crown Prosecution Service is working effectively, based on the examples of three cases (Opinion, 14 October). I can reassure him it is. The vast majority of the one million cases we prosecute – with conviction rates of 86.8 per cent in the magistrates' courts and 80.7 per cent in the Crown Court – go through the system without such issues. However, where things do go wrong we admit our mistakes and take steps to ensure they are not repeated.
Far from "tying itself in knots" as the article suggests, the CPS has recently introduced 12 Core Quality Standards (CQS) which tell the public in detail exactly what they can expect from us and give prosecutors clear standards they must meet; it is a powerful means of embedding quality into our service. We are monitoring the operation of CQS and early signs indicate a high rate of compliance. We will be publishing the data later next year.
Chief Operating Officer
Crown Prosecution Service
Opera without mud-slinging
There's a bit of a battle going on in the classical music sites on YouTube at the moment. On the one hand you have people stumbling across wonderful performances and expressing their emotion and gratitude in quasi-mystical terms; on the other you have opinions expressed which are quite remarkable for their viciousness – and vacuity. Great reputations are dragged through the mud by people who one suspects would never get nearer to a concert platform than sweeping it.
Sometimes this kind of highly personalised criticism finds its way into the mainstream – one opera critic dismissed the Fille du Régiment of Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez as the work of pygmies, whilst most of us were reeling from the shock of one of the most astonishing musical and comedic experiences of our lives.
In the midst of all this brouhaha, John Steane's obituary of Dame Joan Sutherland (12 October) stands as something monumental. We are left in no doubt of his veneration for a great artist, but he also ties together three basic flaws in the great artist's technique – not to denigrate, but out of a kind of probing, sympathetic, analytical interest. And he manages to make it all so interesting – one dreads the potted biographies of opera singers which turn into a list of venues, orchestras and conductors, with all of the facts and no real information.
If I have one reservation it is his comment that Sutherland's every vowel sound tended to merge into an undifferentiated "ah". It was, unfortunately, much more like an "eugh"!
Jewish but not purely Jewish
Israel is not a "purely" Jewish state (Adrian Hamilton: "Israel has no future as a purely Jewish state", 14 October). It is the nation-state of the Jewish people.
It was founded as such, following the UN decision to partition Mandatory Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. It was accepted as such as a member of the UN and is recognised as such by more than 150 countries.
In all nation-states the character of the public square is determined by the majority. That is why the flag of Switzerland shows the cross and not the crescent, while the flag of Turkey shows the crescent and not the cross. That is why the weekly day of rest in France is Sunday and not Friday, while in Egypt it is Friday and not Saturday. By the same token the flag of Israel shows the Shield of David and the weekly day of rest is Saturday.
Like many other democratic nation-states, Israel has minorities. Some 20 per cent of its citizens are Arab. It is definitely not, and does not strive to be, a purely Jewish state.
Many democracies demand a swearing of allegiance as a part of becoming a citizen. The proposed Israeli Law of Allegiance is no different. The requirement to be loyal to the Jewish and Democratic state of Israel refers to "Jewish" as a people not as a religion.
Dr Jacob Amir
London's "Poems on the Underground", displayed in advertising spaces on board Tube trains, have been an occasionally thought-provoking staple of the capital's transport system for some time now, but I noticed recently that the poems themselves appear in grave danger of being swamped by the accompanying credits and logos. Can anybody explain why it needs Arts Council England, the Mayor of London, the Poetry Society, the Royal Society, the British Council, the Poetry Book Society, the Foyle Foundation and Transport for London to put a poem up in a train carriage?
Comment by Laurence Shields (letter, 12 October) and Peter Whitby (letter, 14 October) about Czech infrastructure and the political culture that may lie behind it reminds me of the characteristic and modest Czech phrase to describe their national achievements, malé ale naše – "small but ours". Incidentally, I have actually received a phone call made from a mobile in a Czech hospital ward.
Perspectives on political promises
Enough of the old shouting match
I wonder what conference Geoffrey Wheatcroft was attending in Liverpool (Opinion, 9 October). He claims both Tory and Lib Dem conferences were glum affairs.
Arriving at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool unsure what to expect, I found myself in debates and discussions that moved through a variety of moods – exciting, challenging, maturely thoughtful, realistic and determined to gain those advantages that are there for the taking – definitely not glum.
It seems that the "startling eclipse of two-party politics" has left him (and journalists generally) bereft and stranded. You prefer politicians who shout insults at each other, not those who talk to each other like adults. Young Ed Miliband understands this. The new breed of politicians are responding to the public who are so sick of the old-style political shouting match – the main reason why so many of them became reluctant to vote.
Maureen de Beer
Sad failure to foretell the future
Michael O'Hare (letter, 15 October) complains that he no longer trusts politicians to do what they say they will do. This behaviour should not come as a surprise. Sir Winston Churchill once remarked: "A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen."
All one really needs to do is to watch an interview with a politician, and count the number of answers given that actually address the question which was asked. Perhaps where Mr Clegg went wrong was in assuming that he wouldn't ever have to back up his views with actions.
Michael O'Hare says that "the party political system of government is inherently flawed and cannot deliver what voters want of it". He may be right. The present system is not working well and we are all pretty disillusioned. But simply spoiling his ballot paper is no solution. What would he put in its place?
More votes please
Those Lib Dem voters who suffer anguish at not getting from the Coalition all they were "promised" at the election need reminding that we Lib Dems came third in the popular vote, and a much poorer third in MPs elected. We are fortunate to have a toe in the door. If Lib Dem voters were to get all they wanted, how would that be seen by Tory and Labour voters?
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