Letters: Broken Britain

It's not just the NHS – nothing works in this country
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The Independent Online

Your recent articles about the failures of the NHS are very interesting. But it is not only the health service that is falling apart; it is our whole country.

I moved house recently and had to insure the new house with Saga on exchange of contracts and inform them of the new address for my car insurance. So they insured my existing house twice and left the new house uninsured and cancelled the insurance of my car.

EDF said they could not supply electricity to the new house as it did not exist. Someone had taken the postcode down incorrectly. I therefore instructed another company. They are currently fighting over who shall have my custom.

The Post Office could not cope with redirection of mail. Letters were floating around in the system. I thought it necessary to ask Barclays to cancel a chequebook which should have arrived. Barclays re-issued the suspect, cancelled chequebook. I had to ask for another. All the cheques bounced. It has taken over four hours and five visits to the bank (seven miles away) to sort things out.

The water board has sent demands varying from £699 to over a thousand a year. One letter says I have a meter, another says I have not. In a phone call I was told that there are two houses with the same name as mine in the same street, and they did not understand. Nor do I.

In my humble opinion the problems arise from too much reliance on computers and the fact that the majority of people are not interested in doing their job properly. What does that tell us about our educational system?

B E J Crombie

St Just-in-Penwith, Cornwall

Brave decision to free Megrahi

Dominic Lawson may well believe that the British and Scottish governments are pathetic or even bananas (Opinion, 4 September) but to accuse all who have "acclaimed the decision" of the Scottish Justice Secretary to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds of being parochial and heartless towards the American victims shows surprising blindness to fact.

Megrahi, who is reported to have only months to live, was released eight years into his 27-year sentence for the murder of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am 103. When the US Navy shot down Iran Air 655 some six months earlier, killing 290 passengers, of whom 66 were children, no one was prosecuted. The US was forced to pay reparations to the families of the victims to settle a suit brought in the International Court of Justice, but they have never admitted wrongdoing nor apologised for the incident.

Just recently we have heard the apology by William Calley for his part in the massacre, sexual abuse, torture and mutilation of innocent victims in My Lai, for which he served only three years' house arrest out of his life sentence. This is not a system of justice that we should try to equal, whatever President Obama's views on the Scottish decision.

The Scottish Justice Secretary took a decision based on the Scottish law of compassion, which, given the circumstances of the case, was a brave decision; one likely to achieve more in this world, through an act of mercy, than retribution and vengeance. Realpolitik may be at work, but this decision was neither bananas nor pathetic.

Sarah de Mas


Dominic Lawson says that there is no excuse for treating the relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing "as if their feelings are less important than those of the Megrahi family".

This argument is put forward as the clincher with regard to whether or not the release of Megrahi had anything "to do with justice". What it does, rather, is allow a glimpse of what this whole media circus with its populist political hangers-on is all about.

The feelings of the victims' relatives are as wholly irrelevant to the question of the justice of Megrahi's release as are the feelings of his family or those of the President of the United States or of the flag-wavers welcoming Megrahi's return to Libya.

If the feelings of victims' relatives were of primary importance, the lynch mobs would be left to get on with it. The point of having a judicial system is to enable a dispassionate assessment of the relationship between crime and punishment and the reaching of conclusions informed both by law and by ethics.

The media would by and large prefer the lynch mobs: they generate more sensational copy. The red-tops, in particular, are interested largely in retributive justice, because that justifies and reinforces an obsessive focus on the feelings of victims. Dispassionate thought is unlikely to sell newspapers. When did one last hear an interviewer asking people what they thought rather than what they felt?

Professor D Maughan Brown


More people, but worse off

Paul Donovan believes the economy needs more people (letter, 1 September). The evidence of recent years, according to a parliamentary committee that investigated the matter, is that while "more people" has grown the economy, no one is better off, because the benefits have had to be shared among more people too.

That's assuming there really is any benefit when you take into account quality-of-life consequences, such as shortage of school places, higher housing costs, more congestion, less green belt, and so on. There's an optimum population at some level, and we have gone past it.

He suggests that we need 500,000 immigrants to counter the ageing population. When people live longer the percentage of older people is bound to go up. You can't do anything about that through immigration, because the immigrants grow old and live longer too. Or perhaps the idea is to expel them as soon as they reach pensionable age?

Chris Padley

Market Rasen, Lincolnshire

Richard Ingrams (29 August) makes an appalling insinuation that people, such as Sir David Attenborough, who advocate a reduced world population, "must be tempted to think along the lines" of wishing people to die in natural catastrophes.

For the record, people who recognise that a population larger than the world can sustain needs reducing in the long term would like to see it done by means of educated, voluntary and incentivised long-term family planning. It's called being responsible and considering the world's future inhabitants and their quality of life.

Gene Masters

Heathfield, East Sussex

Blair's credo an insult to atheists

The extract from Tony Blair's speech in Rimini (Podium, 1 September), would be laughable, were it not so offensive.

He quotes "the recent papal encyclical" as describing humanism devoid of faith as "inhuman humanism"; and "Without God, man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is".

As a life-long atheist and Humanist I find this not only offensive, but deeply concerning. Humanists, in my experience, are extremely caring about "community", and would argue that countless "communities" have suffered in the name of religion. Humanists, too, tend to respect people's faiths and beliefs, even though they may not share them.

If Tony Blair believes in God, fine, but that doesn't give him the right to insult those who don't. (He also believed in WMD, I seem to remember.)

James Jones

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Investing in better housing

I welcome Grant Shapps's endorsement of our progress in regenerating some of Britain's most deprived communities (Podium, 2 September). He correctly highlights the impressive, cutting-edge design that has helped to reduce anti-social behaviour and improve quality of life for residents.

Of course, these achievements would not have been possible without the Government's commitment to long-term investment in these areas. In these tough economic times we need to do more of this, not less. That is why we have confirmed a £1.5bn investment to boost the number of new homes for people to rent or buy in the next two years to 110,000 – a figure that includes a four-fold increase in plans for new council homes.

Such long-term public investment, alongside confidence and certainty in the planning system, also allows for the levering in of private sector finance, which is critical to the success of urban regeneration.

John Healey MP

Housing Minister, Department for communities and local government, London SW1

Wise way to pick the new peers

Alan Golding's doubts about the likely quality of the membership of an elected House of Lords (letter, 31 August) are well said.

Since the resolution of the power struggle between Commons and Lords in the early 20th century, the second chamber has become a forum for proof-reading, revising and providing expert information and criticism of proposed legislation. What is the surest way to recruit persons best qualified to carry out these functions?

Members of such a second chamber need to have wisdom, to have achieved excellence in their fields, and to be independent in mind. Mr Golding is right to be sceptical about the likelihood of obtaining them by means of the hustings.

To make clear the role of the second chamber it should be renamed with the Old English word witan (wise men/persons). Recruitment to the Witan should be by appointment by peer-committees in the fields of endeavour in which the would-be members have worked. Democracy would be inimical to this process.

Bernard Hrusa-Marlow

Morden, Surrey

No consensus will be found on reform of the House of Lords, but the report of a Royal Commission in 2000 provides as good a basis for legislation as we are likely to get: a combination of regionally elected members, together with the appointment, by a statutory body independent of the Executive, of members well qualified to perform the revising functions of the House and a check on ill-conceived government legislation.

Election of "people's peers" from the aristocracy of the media and popular entertainment would be the 21st-century equivalent of mob rule, monstrous and irrelevant to the causes of our present discontents.

K P Poole


Indonesia and West Papua

The Indonesian embassy letter (28 August) about Papua says that "the format of the 1969 consultation was agreed between the UN and the Indonesian and Dutch governments". That gives a false sense of legitimacy.

West Papuans were not involved in the discussions. An Indonesian official, rather than the West Papuans themselves, selected 1022 Papuans as representatives to be coerced into acknowledging Indonesian sovereignty. The UN took note of this pseudo-vote, but never acknowledged its outcome.

Hubert Gieschen

London NW10


Drug trade

Dennis Anthony (letter, 2 September) argues that even if heroin were to be legalised, Afghan farmers would still be able to produce opium cheaper than Europe, and still make a profit. If that happens, should the parcels of heroin be labelled "Fair Trade"?

Jill Buss

Gundleton, Hampshire

Cricket on film

The only cricket film I can remember is The Final Test with Jack Warner in 1953. The Bodyline tour became an inaccurate TV mini-series in the mid-1980s. Otherwise, there were cricket sequences at the beginning of the 1958 comedy Happy is the Bride and the end of the late 1940s film Badger's Green.

Mark taha

London SE26

Pear in a bottle

Michael McCarthy bets that we can't guess how they get the pear into a bottle of Poire Williams pear brandy (Nature Notebook, 1 September). How much is he willing to bet? I've seen how it's done. The bottle is attached to the pear tree and the fruit, while still small enough and still attached to its branch, is inserted in the bottle by way of the neck. Some weeks later, the fully grown ripe fruit is detached from the branch, and the bottle is removed before being filled with the brandy.

Brian Nixon

Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Religious traditions

In view of Johann Hari's objection to the phrase "Christian/Muslim children" (Opinion, 2 September), would he also object to the term "English Children"? Or must we refer to them as "the children of English-speaking parents" until such time as they are "indoctrinated" in the language, traditions and values of the English?

Yanni Papastavrou

London E10

Johnson's home town

Dr Johnson, a stickler for accuracy, must be turning in his grave. ("Litchfield's sage", 1 September.) To quote Google, "Did you mean Lichfield?"

Ros Aitken

Richmond, Surrey