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Wednesday 24 June 2009
Letters: 'Bonus culture
You thought the 'bonus culture' had gone away?
What an Alice in Wonderland world we live in! The unregulated banking sector, with its reckless short-termism, exorbitant salaries and bonus culture, helped to precipitate the current global financial collapse, so now, one of them, the chief executive of RBS, is reportedly being offered a package worth £9.6m to sort out the mess ("Bankers still trapped by the bonus backlash", 23 June). Moreover, most of this remuneration package consists of bonuses for hitting targets.
Public sectors workers have had to hit hundreds of targets under New Labour, but few of us get paid bonuses for hitting them. Merely keeping our jobs is supposed to be a sufficient reward.
This isn't the politics of envy (I don't want their money), but a sense of perspective and decency. When millions of people are being made redundant or accepting wage cuts in order to keep their jobs, the proposed £9.6m RBS remuneration package is obscene.
These "masters of the universe" really do live in a different world to ordinary, genuinely hard-working, people. They get a bonus, we get the boot.
Reader in British Politics, Cardiff University
Your Business diarist suggests that, if successful, Stephen Hester might be good value at £9.6m. Can he help me to understand what strategies and actions Mr Hester is prepared to deploy for £9.6m that he would not deploy for a measly £1.2m?
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Politics needs a thorough renewal
Steve Richards ("Here's How to embolden our MPs", 23 June) is right that our constitutional system needs a major overhaul and the separation of the powers of government would be a good start.
He is of course wrong to refer to the French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin as a President of France, as he never occupied that position. To some extent Richards' error highlights the low level of the current discussion.
The truth is that Britain needs a real constitution, not the current pretence. The legislature and the executive do need to be separate and the new Supreme Court needs the power to strike down legislation and hold the government to account.
To maintain the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, as we have seen with the expenses scandal is, to cling to parliamentary arrogance. We need a constitutional fresh start so that our MPs and the Government are firmly placed under the rule of law.
Reader in Law
University of East London
The new Speaker had to be confirmed by a Queen via a pantomime Black Rod and some unelected Lords on a woolsack. What a thoroughly modern democracy this must seem to the rest of the world. Westminster should look to Cardiff and Edinburgh as parliaments more in tune with the public mood.
MPs have repeatedly pointed out that it's important for the new Speaker to have the confidence of members on both sides of the House. Yet many of them support first-past-the-post for general elections. Having rejected that system for voting within Parliament they should reject it also for the public, so as to ensure that the new incumbent of No 10, like the Speaker, is broadly supported by a majority.
When a new Speaker who has "flipped" his second home allowance says most MPs are decent and honourable, I wonder what standard he is using. Clearly Parliament has once more failed the voters.
Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire
A charming smile at the UK border
Your correspondent from the Border Agency (23 June) begs for some compliments to counter the criticism of immigration officers who often welcome arriving travellers with incivility and scowls. As I arrive at Heathrow with my Thai wife, occasionally an officer greets us warmly with a charming smile and it is like the sun coming out. I cannot tell you how important this is to both of us.
More dire though is the visa application process in Bangkok, where the general atmosphere is that of a grim totalitarian state or a banana republic trying to assert its shaky sovereignty. Why can they not realise that they should play a key marketing role in welcoming tourists, students and business travellers to the UK? Instead they make the whole process as inconvenient as possible and make visa applicants feel like criminals.
A whole new attitude is thus needed from beginning to end.
Well, we've finally touched a nerve at the Borders Agency (letter, 23 June). But no one has questioned the usefulness of what they do, merely the surly attitude they use to do it.
We are also told that the sunny demeanour of the Dutch officials is due to the fact that they are packing heat, and thus have the confidence to give the punters an occasional cheery smile. The benefits of a sidearm when dealing with a section of the population pretty much guaranteed to be unarmed, if slightly truculent, are left unexplained.
Disasters in architecture
I heard Lord Rogers' criticism of the Prince of Wales's intervention over the redevelopment of the Chelsea Barracks site. He said in relation to the Prince: "Is he an architect? No. Has he some professional knowledge? No." Those comments appear to imply that in Lord Rogers' view only architects or those with professional knowledge of development should express views on the suitability of development proposals. The medical profession and the police abandoned that type of arrogance years ago.
I am an accountant, but I do have views. I am familiar with the Pompidou Centre in Paris and with Palladio's public buildings and villas in northern Italy. In my view, Palladio's buildings sit well on their sites, have a human scale; and have stood the test of time. I doubt that the Pompidou Centre will stand the test of time so well. I would like the development on the Chelsea Barracks site to sit harmoniously alongside the neighbouring buildings, and to last as long as the Royal Hospital.
I do not dislike all modern architecture, but I remember too well the architectural disasters of the 1960s, which were applauded by many architecture professionals of the day, but loathed by many of those who had no option other than to live in them. Many of those buildings have now been demolished. I would not want a similar fate to await the development on the Chelsea Barracks site
Iran's lesson in democracy
What is the difference between an Iranian election and a British election?
In an Iranian election millions of people queue to vote and the polling places remain open later than specified to allow people to vote. Then the people find that in all probability the result has been ignored.
In a British election millions of people do not even bother to vote because they know that, because of our undemocratic voting system, their vote will not count.
In Iran millions of people take to the streets and risk injury, possibly even death, in order to protest at the injustice. In Britain people just subside back into apathy for another five years.
Religious and secular slaughter
Yet again the Farm Animal Welfare Council has published a report devoid of evidence but full of wild accusations against the humaneness of Shechita ("End 'cruel' religious slaughter, say scientists", 22 June).
There is abundant scientific evidence to demonstrate that Shechita is humane. Shechita is instantaneous; due to the immediate drop in blood pressure and anoxia of the brain, the animal loses consciousness within two seconds. It conforms to the statutory definition of "stunning", in that it is a process which causes immediate loss of consciousness which lasts until death.
The FAWC 2009 report regurgitates a number of recommendations that were proposed it its 2003 report. The Government resoundingly rejected them then, as it is expected to again.
Henry Grunwald QC
Chairman, Shechita UK
The Government's animal welfare advisory body, FAWC, publishes a new report on the slaughter of farmed animals – in this case poultry - and media attention, predictably, focuses on its comments on the religious method of killing. Yes, cutting the throats of animals without prior electrical stunning is cruel. But so is the red-white-and-blue British system – not least the shackling of birds upside down before dunking them in electrically charged water.
FAWC had this to say about the practice: "Research has shown convincingly that shackling is likely to be very painful", and is "likely to be exacerbated when heavy birds or fracture-prone, end-of-lay birds are shackled. Inversion is unnatural and stressful."
FAWC calls for the end of shackling and inversion "in the long term". Why the long term? Perhaps because around 850 million birds a year are slaughtered in this manner in Britain. That is very big business.
Director, Animal Aid,
I am pleased to see some farmers talking back against this nonsense about livestock being responsible for global warming (letter, 20 June). There were more animals of a methane producing variety before the human population farmed, and the planet was not over-warmed by them then.
Farm animals should be kept humanely, but I am puzzled by the vegetarian idea that abstaining from meat is the best thing for meat-producing animals. Which farmers are going to keep these animals if they are not being used? Is it better not to have lived at all?
Cost of ID cards
We will not only have to pay £30 for our ID cards, when they become compulsory (The Big Question, 19 June). As taxpayers, we'll be paying a lot more than that to cover the true cost of those threatening bits of plastic in this publicly owned totalitarian scheme. The final irony is that we will end up distrusting each other as much as the present government now distrusts us, yet deluding ourselves that we still live in a democracy.
Kindly urban village
Simon Icke's letter "The ups and downs (and perils) of being disabled" (15 June) resonated with me but from a different perspective. I'm an octogenarian who does not use a wheelchair or a walking frame, but who leans heavily on a walking stick. Unlike Mr Icke, I find nothing but kindness in my urban "village". Young and old, men and women reach out to help me cross the street or climb the steps to the Post Office. Even the shopkeepers volunteer to carry my shopping. I find a ready smile and occasional banter goes a long way.
In the euro area the design of coins does not fall within the responsibilities of the central bank. Therefore the title of your article "The ECB must go back to the drawing board" (17 June) is wrong and is not substantiated by the article in question, in which you criticise the design of the coin produced to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the euro. I would make no comment on the article itself, as obviously tastes do differ: some like modern symbolism, others prefer old-fashioned naturalism.
Regina Karoline Schüller
Head of the Press and Information, European Central Bank, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
The dramatic decline in the swift population (report, 22 June) is certainly evident here in North Yorkshire, where last year many scores wheeled around in the late evening sky but this year we have yet to see any. You cite RSPB opinion that the decline is due to the loss of nest sites, which indeed must be a contributory factor, but perhaps not the full explanation? Perhaps fewer birds are managing to cross the widening Sahara with increased desertification due to global warming, or there is an increasing food shortage due to insecticides?
Sheriff Hutton, North Yorkshire
I have near on 20 radios covering a range of bands and welcome the opportunities that digital radio brings (letters, 19 June). However accessibility and quality remains DAB's huge flaw. Some years ago my wife brought me a personal DAB radio, but I have never had the heart to tell her I have never even got a burp out of it.
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