Letters: Bus vs car

Taking the bus rather than the car is not so easy outside London
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The Independent Online

Sir: Deborah Orr (Comment, 5 April) is scathing about motorists in her assessment of bad driving. As a motorist, I agree with almost everything she writes, until she says that it is just as easy to take the bus, so emphasising the fact that she lives in London.

I live in a large town with a good bus service and a bus-stop almost outside my house. I have only a two-mile journey to work, which takes 10 minutes in the car. By bus it would 20 minutes, plus almost a half-mile walk at the other end. Which is rather inconvenient when it's raining.

Our relations live in nearby towns about 20 miles away, which can be reached by car in 40 minutes. By bus, it's at least two hours, with two changes, and only one or two buses per day in each direction. Of course, bus travel is possible, but don't patronise the non-Londoners by claiming it's just as convenient.



Sir: I wish I could agree with Deborah Orr that "it is just as easy to take the bus". For many essential journeys, this is just not true. Today I had to go to the district hospital, a journey involving two buses.

It was a lovely spring day, so I walked the first leg; the return fare on the bus for the second leg cost me £2.50. Had I used my car, petrol and parking at the hospital would have cost me about £2 and it would have been infinitely more convenient. But I agree we should all be encouraged to use public transport whenever we can.



Sir: Walking three quarters of a mile to wait for a bus that is scheduled to arrive every half hour, then on the return journey, walking the same distance with a load of shopping may be good for the soul and for the environment, but to pretend, as Deborah Orr does, that it's as easy as going by car is a nonsense.



Tessa Jowell did not sign mortgage deal

Sir: The report "Berlusconi finds 'proof' he did not pay bribe to Mills" (7 April) includes the widely made, but erroneous, claim that Tessa Jowell "signed the mortgage deal Mr Mills is alleged to have used to bring the money [that is, the alleged bribe from Silvio Berlusconi] into Britain".

The truth, as the relevant documents plainly show, and as I set out in my statement of 3 March in an attempt to correct the error, is that all she did was sign a charge over our jointly owned house (which at that time had no mortgage on it) by way of guarantee for a personal loan made to me by my bank.

I used the loan to buy some shares, which themselves provided collateral for the loan. The charge on the house was to provide further security if needed, but it never was, so no actual liability [was] ever attached to the house.

I decided to repay the loan after I had sold another investment, which is the one falsely alleged to have been transferred to me on Mr Berlusconi's orders. There was, accordingly, no "mortgage deal" required to bring the funds into the UK; they arrived in the ordinary way by credit to my account, and that would have been so with or without the charge on the house. I hope that the persistent and inaccurate description of the transaction will no longer be repeated, because it is most unfair to Tessa Jowell.

The "proof" in the headline is an original letter found last week in the files of the trustees, part of the Fortis Group, of a then client of mine, Diego Attanasio (who is a shipowner, not a weapons dealer; the Italian armatore was incorrectly translated). It is signed by him; it clearly shows, as the prosecutors are reported to acknowledge, that the funds alleged to be Mr Berlusconi's were, as I have said all along, Mr Attanasio's.

It is deplorable that the Italian prosecutors did not conclude their enquiries properly before seeking a trial; but you will soon be able to dispense with the inverted commas, and I trust no one will ever again in the same breath or article refer to Tessa Jowell, Mr Berlusconi, bribes or mortgage deals, or, for that matter, to bribes and David Mills.


Africa benefits from links with schools

Sir: Coverage of Gordon Brown's visit to Mozambique to demonstrate a commitment to education, particularly in Africa, is welcome ("Brown pledges £9bn for schools plan", 10 April). You make reference to plans for a major initiative to link British schools with counterparts in Africa.

Much is already happening, often funded by the Department for International Development, and there is huge mutual benefit for the pupils and teachers involved, in the UK and Africa, through these links. For teachers at both ends, there are opportunities for professional development. For pupils, there are opportunities for a more global education in all curriculum areas, including music, English, technology, geography, drama, RE, art and design or history.

On a recent visit to South Africa, when I visited remote rural schools in the Transkei that have minimum resources and 80 children in a classroom, teachers told me academic standards were rising because of their links to UK schools, which had involved reciprocal visits by teachers and pupils.

This was, they said, not so much because they had been sent books and computers by their partners in UK, but because it had changed the ethos of the school. Their self-confidence as a school had improved and they had reflected on the importance of having a school development plan, which meant they were moving forward rather than being stuck in a circle of deprivation.

Their relationship with the wider community had improved, and teachers wanted to stay in education, giving the schools greater stability. It was the solidarity with the partner school that counted rather than the aid that had been received.

We would encourage as many schools in UK as possible to grab the favourable political climate and link with schools in Africa. It's not always easy, but it is win-win. It can be huge fun, it is in everyone's interest, and there is help available.



Sir: I cannot believe Gordon Brown is considering spending £9bn on international aid to raise his international profile. This is made even more unbelievable by the fact that our own education system is in such a dismal state.

Obviously, as this Government has proved, throwing more money at it is not the solution, but there are other places where this money could be better used. If I strongly believe in the cause of global education, I will voluntarily donate to a charity or organisation devoted to that aim. I do not believe the Government has the right to levy taxes on me for this purpose.



Sir: Make your front page's "How your 2p can send 100 million children to school" into a reality. The Independent's contribution should be to organise the placing of tubs behind the counters in banks. Customers can then hand over bags of unwanted copper coins, or donate the coppers in their change from transactions, to the cause of education in Africa.



Sir: On the front page, you say £7.50 can provide an education for an African child for a year. On the back page, I see Wayne Rooney is said to have serious gambling debts, widely reported as £700,000. This wasted money could have provided, at a stroke, education for 100,000 African children. The question has to be asked: "Who has the greater need for education?"



The gentle way to learn grammar

Sir: I read with relish Howard Jacobson's article "Thanks to our abhorrence of grammar, we have raised a generation of blithering idiots" (1 April). The baby-boomers' antipathy to the difficult is costing us dear: we remove hard things from our children's paths and they grow up lacking the confidence to tackle anything strenuous. But a gentle way towards grammar may be found in any good book.

As many writers are now beginning to argue, simply giving our children the time and encouragement to read for pleasure might indirectly offer much more than the escapism of a great read. Keen readers pick up vocabulary, grammar and syntax as well as narrative skills and the language of argument necessary to express thoughts coherently.

Grammar taught as no more than a necessary function may produce children who can pass exams (as our deadening literature courses do now), but reading for pleasure, offered as a gateway into the world of books, will produce confident, articulate children with the ability to think and learn for themselves.




Sir: Masha Bell (Letters, 7 April) may be right that English-speaking children "need much more time than other Europeans" to learn to read and write their own language.

That being so, it should be correspondingly easier for English speakers subsequently to learn one of the more regularly spelt European languages, such as German or Italian. Of course, it would require a bit of effort, but not nearly as much effort as that regularly taken by, say, German, Dutch or Danish people to learn to speak excellent English.



America has to support Israel

Sir: I, like Rupert Cornwell ("At last, a debate on America's support for Israel", 7 April), welcome a more open debate in the US on Israel and US foreign policy. But are we putting the cart before the horse?

While the influence of Israeli lobbies in Washington appears to be quite significant, we should also consider the benefits that support for Israel has for America's own interests. A 2001 US Department of Defence report entitled Proliferation: Threat and Response (available online) describes US goals and interests in the Middle East as "building and maintaining security arrangements that assure the stability of the Gulf region and unimpeded commercial access to its petroleum reserves".

This apparently involves "maintaining a steadfast commitment to Israel's security and well-being". Both the Israeli government and US commercial interests benefit from this strategic alliance.

Continued conflict in the region provides a justification for US military presence, a presence that can also protect commercial access to vital petroleum reserves.

It would seem from the terms of this debate that the injustices of the Middle East are all down to those terrible Jewish lobbyists in Washington, and that if they stopped making noise then suddenly the US would be free to realise its vision for world peace. To me at least, this appears a somewhat naive view.



Cheap childcare

Sir: If David Prosser (Save & Spend, 8 April) thinks that at £45 for 15 hours after-school club activity is "expensive childcare", I wonder exactly what value he puts on his children. He would probably pay the per-hour cost of £3 for a pint of beer and a packet of crisps without giving it a second thought.



BNP in Birmingham

Sir: The BNP's decision to contest all 40 Birmingham wards in the local elections ("Rising Islamophobia makes Birmingham fertile ground", 8 April) is unprecedented, but their rise is not inevitable. In several areas, they have been defeated by campaigns confronting their anti-democratic ideas and the political affiliations they seek to conceal. Simon Darby, the leader of the BNP's campaign in Birmingham, is reported as being a councillor in Dudley. In fact, Mr Darby lost his seat two years ago after a year in office, as did the two other BNP councillors in the Black Country.



Income tax invention

Sir: Income tax was not invented a "century ago by a reforming left-of-centre government" (Letters, 4 April). This tax was actually introduced by William Pitt the Younger in December 1798. That ministry, incidentally, was responsible for a seemingly unending war (with France), a tax burden mostly placed on working people rather than the idle rich, the suspension of habeas corpus, lengthy if not indefinite detention without trial and a series of politically motivated court actions. That government was no more left of centre than New Labour.



Saving the squirrels

Sir: The article on red squirrels ("Red alert", 10 April) gave the impression that nothing can be, or is being, done to protect the last remaining red squirrels in the north of England. Far from it. The Heritage Lottery Fund's North-east Committee has awarded £626,000 to Northumberland Wildlife Trust to help protect the squirrels and enhance their habitat. The money will also be used in Cumbria and Merseyside.



Cartoon characters

Sir: I am sure the offensive and sexist cartoon (Save & Spend, 8 April) was meant to be "a bit of fun", but when are we going to shake off this outdated, bigoted attitude that it is always the man who is the sole breadwinner while some flighty wife spends all his hard-earned money? The cartoon is an insult to the many women who have achieved financial independence through their hard work and determination.



Pillow talk

Sir: May I suggest a title for the promised book by David Blunkett? Under the Blankets with Blunkett is a racy title and should add a few extra sales.