Cameron's new Tory policies on health and public services
Sir: The seven million people who pay for private medical insurance will have been disappointed to hear Wednesday's speech by David Cameron. While the previous Tory policy may not have been ideal, it did address the issue that people who voluntarily contribute more towards the costs of their healthcare are penalised.
These people pay three times for their private healthcare - once through their taxes, a second time through their premiums and a third time through the tax the Government levies on private insurance. We are not arguing for incentives or special treatment for those who take out private health but they should not be penalised, as they are at present.
People paying for private treatment take considerable weight off the NHS and reduce waiting times. In addition, corporate medical insurance also helps UK plc to become more productive. It reduces the costs of sickness and helps employees return to work more quickly.
The economic reality is that we need more money, not less, going into the health system. The experience of other countries such as Australia proves that the best health economies are plural - they have both a strong state system and a robust independent sector, working in partnership. The system needs to recognise the need for additional funds on top of tax and provide an equitable way of allowing this flow of private funding to happen. Until we do this, we won't have a sustainable way of paying for the healthcare of the future.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BUPA, LONDON WC1
Sir: Bruce Anderson (2 January) suggests that, when in government, the Conservatives funded public services "out of successful economic management for which they rarely received electoral credit".
I worked as a senior officer in the London borough of Camden's housing department. Before 1979 the borough was able to meet housing need through its house building programme. Then the Conservative government progressively reduced the capital local authorities were allowed to spend on housing. As a result families in great numbers had to be placed in bed and breakfast as temporary accommodation, which cost more than building homes for those unfortunate families. Add to that revenue spending the social cost caused by poor health, increased crime and poor educational progress by the children. Local authorities are still having to meet the cost of the failure to invest in housing over a long period.
Bruce Anderson thinks that David Cameron's difficulty is not to change the Thatcherite policies of the past, but to reposition the party's public image. I hope that people's memories will remain robust enough to reject any future trust in the Tory party.
Political correctness is a kind of fascism
Sir: Your leader's astonishing defence of political correctness (4 January) misses the point. You state that it is "a form of politeness", along with respect for others. But respect for others, for their integrity as for racial, religious, or sexual difference is not something that can be enforced by political dictate. It is born in the individual heart out of insight into oneself and others, out of intelligence and compassion.
An agenda drawn up by some committee out of political correctness, to which we are all supposed to conform is, as Camille Paglia pointed out, a form of intellectual fascism. Public institutions which pursue such follies and expose themselves to deserved ridicule by calling Christmas decorations "winter lights", may think they defend minority faiths, but end up by offending the majority. No Muslim country, quite rightly, would defend alien Western influences to favour a small minority. We should be more robust in defending our own British ways and customs without thought police telling us we are incorrect.
Sir: Sorry to disappoint you, but I am not quite as much of a reactionary loon as you make out. Nowhere in my pamphlet on political correctness did I say that the sole reason for the gap between men's and women's pay is maternity breaks (although a badly condensed table may have given that impression.)
In fact, I discuss at length the causes for the pay gap, which as well as sex discrimination - which I strongly agree must be combatted - include career breaks, work/life balance choices, later retirement age for men and career preference. My point is that it is ridiculous to thunder that the pay gap is a moral outrage when it arises from such a complex mixture of factors, not all of which are bad, and when it is not clear what proportion of it is due to sex discrimination.
I also stress in the pamphlet the benefits that PC has brought in the past in terms of combatting bigotry, but claim that, with those benefits achieved, the negatives of PC now outweigh the positives.
'THE TIMES', BRUSSELS
Sir: Your leading article attempted to debunk the dangerous untruths of the "anti-PC" brigade. The editorial argued that a belief in African immigration fuelling the UK HIV epidemic is the same as holocaust denial, i.e. that they are both distortions of fact.
Your argument is an equally dangerous one. The most recent epidemiological data, available from the Health Protection Agency website, shows that 3,136 out of 7,275 new diagnoses in the UK in 2004 were via heterosexual infection within Africa. Therefore, we can state that Africans account for a large proportion of the HIV epidemic in the UK.
However, what we choose to do with that information is the important factor. Denying the epidemiology will not allow us to use it wisely in planning health care that responds to the needs of those infected. Denial of science will not help the Africans in the UK living with HIV/Aids to access the services they need. Pretending that it is a distortion of fact, and on a par with the disgraceful practice of holocaust denial, is an equally dangerous practice of science denial and will result in inappropriate allocation of public health resources.
DR RICHARD HARDING
LECTURER, DEPARTMENT OF PALLIATIVE CARE & POLICY, KING'S COLLEGE LONDON SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
Sir: Anthony Browne's attack on political correctness is indeed wide of the mark. In the case of African poverty he claims the "PC truth" is that the "West is not giving enough aid" while the "factually correct truth" is simply that it is caused by bad governance and corruption. The idea that development campaigners believe that all Africa needs is more aid is as inaccurate as Browne's own "factual truth", which he fails to back up with any actual facts.
This "factually correct truth" that Browne claims is silenced by the PC brigade's "vice-like grip" on public life is in reality one of the dominant narratives in the UK media. In 2005 almost no newspaper leader or comment article was complete without a reference to the corruption of many African leaders.
One recent survey showed the British public are more likely to identify corruption as the cause of poverty in Africa than anything else, while another showed that the British public is "exceptionally positive about freer international trade".
Browne is less concerned about free speech, reason and fact-based policy making than lifting any responsibility for poverty in developing countries from the rich world. Unwilling to engage in a straight debate on the issue and unable to back up his argument with facts, he constructs an imaginary world where he is the victim.
WORLD DEVELOPMENT MOVEMENT LONDON SW9
Sir: The fact that affluent white men such as Anthony Browne can so easily get their absurd and unsupported arguments published suggests that political correctness has not gone nearly "mad" enough.
A rich mixture of languages
Sir: Congratulations to Simon Sweeney (letter, 31 December) on learning several European languages, but he misses the point. He learned them because he was living and working in these countries, rather than being treated to two 35 minute lessons for 39 weeks a year.
At school, I was useless at French and German, but quickly picked up Danish while working in Copenhagen, even though, as your other contributors point out, local colleagues were more than willing to practise their English on me. We readily evolved a system of natural bilingual communication. For speed, politeness and accuracy of communication when discussing technical matters, we both used our native languages simultaneously. Without doubt, colleagues appreciated my efforts to speak their language, and I made lifelong friends because of it, as I was able to share their culture and humour.
Written communication took longer, but our crowning achievement was a technical letter to a Finnish company, written in Swedish and typed by a Norwegian secretary. Perhaps we need to rethink how we teach and assess modern foreign languages in our schools.
Paying for the work of the Church
Sir: The success of the Church Commissioners in achieving excellent returns on their investments over the past ten years is good news for the Church of England, but cannot be the sole solution to financing today's Church (letter, 5 January).
The Commissioners' mission is to support the Church's ministry, and our duty is to obtain the best long-term return from our investment portfolio. The cost of running the Church in 2004 was around £900m, of which the Commissioners contribution is only 18 per cent. Most of this was devoted to paying for clergy pensions, alongside which we help fund the ministry of bishops and cathedrals, as well as parish ministry, particularly in poorer dioceses.
The majority of the remaining four-fifths of the Church's costs are met through voluntary donations. Churchgoers are therefore bearing the cost of maintaining community buildings that, as well as being places of worship, are hubs for social cohesion and care, whilst also forming a significant part of our national heritage. This work is put at risk without external support, which is decreasing or to which there can be unequal access. A more balanced partnership with the state and others would help keep alive and accessible these important community buildings.
Whilst we are proud of the work we have done to continue generating returns above the industry average, we are one part of a wider structure of financial support for the ministry of the Church and the upkeep of its buildings, that today relies substantially on the continuing generosity of worshippers and visitors.
SECRETARY, THE CHURCH COMMISSIONERS, LONDON SW1
Take pity on our Hunting Bores
Sir: Deborah Orr (31 December) complains that her hunting acquaintances have become boringly vocal about their "nasty little secret". I can't think what she means: the Hunting Bore has always been a staple of English life and since he spends every possible moment discoursing upon the subject anyway, nothing has changed in this respect.
Those of us who hunt have nothing to hide - we never have had - but the refusal of many MPs to lay prejudice aside and learn about the reality of fox control forces us upon an unwilling audience.
For the sake of the foxes, killed and maimed by guns in greater numbers than ever, for the sake of Independent correspondents, for the sake of the desolate class of Hunting Bores, politicians and journalists must listen to the arguments in favour of licensed hunting and call for the repeal of this illiberal and pointless law.
Sir: How can a newspaper that believes in privatisation and the "free" market complain about a lack of "public" transport and railway fare increases (leading article, 4 January)?
Sir: Belinda Brooks-Gordon's letter (5 January) is lucid and well thought out. It emphasises practicality in dealing with prostitution, and safety for those who work in the industry. Unfortunately this Government, and journalists such as Joan Smith, are unable to grasp this nettle. They continue to espouse the Swedish model. They insist that prostitution can be removed from society, despite its existence throughout the world for thousands of years under all conceivable political regimes. It makes one wonder why the Government even bothers to feign interest in listening to other points of view.
Lured into debt
Sir: I fear Lisa Coetzee ( letter, 4 January) is ill-informed about what is taught in our schools. Just before Christmas my year-9s were calculating compound interest rates as prescribed by the Key Stage 3 National Strategy. They expressed shock at the costs that can mount up on a credit card or mortgage loan. However, in a few years, tempted by the delights of the high street and responding to peer pressure, these pupils will mimic their elders and incur an unacceptable burden of debt. It is not our education that is at fault but society's values.
Sir: Responding to Philip Hensher's lament, Nicholas Murray (letter, 5 January) blames the blunted sensibility of publishers' readers for not recognising quality material in the slush pile. This is rather hard. There must be more to it than that. My husband recently sent the manuscript of his unpublished novel to a well-known publisher. The readers praised it as "witty, subtle and an enjoyable read" - in their rejection letter. As this was the most positive response he'd had after 31 submissions, we decided to view this as encouragement and celebrated.
Sir: Although I have not read R R W Lingen's 1847 report (4 January), I find it quite plausible that the document offered negative stereotypes of Welsh people. To describe these deplorable attitudes as "the Glencoe and the Amritsar of Welsh history", however, is quite absurd. No group of English abused Welsh hospitality to slaughter their hosts and still less did the British army in Wales fire into a demonstrating crowd, killing hundreds of people.