Sir: I was fascinated by Johann Hari's article on baby-boomer parenting (4 February), which I thought was absolutely correct. I am a baby boomer (born in 1948) and I have just taken early retirement after being a teacher for all of my adult life.
He asks why it is that my generation turned out to be baby-Führers, neurotically supervising every moment of their children's lives and demanding that teachers do the same. There is a theory that the boomer generation, while young, internalised the worries of their own parents' generation during the Cold War and have since unconsciously adopted the mistrust of that period.
Hence the need felt by boomers, in education and many other fields, for strategies, targets, evaluation, watchfulness and vigilance, assessment, appraisal and obsessive form-filling and record-keeping. The effect of all this on education is that teachers are less and less concerned with the transmission of knowledge and more and more devoted to testing and examinations and to the attendant strategies for obtaining the highest possible marks for their pupils. Teachers now teach to test.
Boomer parents, as Johann Hari points out, participate in all this by selfishly demanding ever more examination success from their children. This is one of the many reasons why I chose to leave the profession early.
Sir: The "helicopter parents" in Johann Hari's piece are taking control of even more areas.
Our small village pond, about two metres deep, has been there for several hundred years. It was recently fenced in, and now looks like a sad, imprisoned, puddle. The stiles on our local footpaths have now been replaced by gates. In case the little dears fall, climbing over them? Life will come as a shock to them when they start to find out that bits of it are unavoidably dangerous.
Sir: I see that the traditional pancake day race in one market town has been cancelled on health and safety grounds. It appears that running down the road is now too dangerous. How long will it be before it becomes too dangerous to walk down the road? I find it very difficult to understand the mindset of those that make these daft decisions.
Dr Tim Lawson
Don't feel too sorry for the poor MPs
Sir: Bruce Anderson has a talent for putting the wrong end of the telescope to his blind eye. In "Parliament should think twice before changing the rules on MP's allowances" (4 February) he demands our sympathy for Tory MPs who are not merely feeling underpaid but have to endure talk of estates abroad from dinner companions who earn 10 or 20 times as much as they do. Envy may know no bounds, but pity is surely out of place and cannot justify behaviour verging on the criminal.
MPs' basic pay, together with that element of their expenses that would normally be part of a salary in the outside world, amounts to at least £100,000. That puts them in the top 1 per cent of the population. Anderson says that almost all Tory MPs took a cut in salary on being elected. That suggests that they knew what they were doing – and could afford it. Anderson does not mention the large additional incomes (both earned and unearned) that supplement, and often multiply, the parliamentary salaries. Nor does he refer to their very generous pension scheme.
On one point Anderson is right, but for the wrong reason. He explains the upsurge in incomes among the small group with well over £100,000 a year coming in (and with whom Tory MPs seem to mix so frequently) by reference to the tax cuts of the Thatcher era and the unbridled pay awards that often incompetent managers and directors award each other. Perhaps it is the social damage done by the widening of the pay gap between directors and those on average wages from 28 times to well over 150 that we should be looking at. But this does not justify behaviour from MPs that would result in instant dismissal if it occurred in an office or factory.
Sir: Bruce Anderson often makes me choke on my coffee, but his piece about Derek Conway was breathtaking in its lack of logic and its tone of whining self-justification.
I had to read it several times to be sure of his meaning. This is what I think he wrote: Derek Conway is "middle class" (whatever his background may have been). "Middle class" people become bankers and lawyers. Bankers and lawyers can earn a very great deal of money. Ergo so should MPs, because they went to school and university with these people, attend the same dinner parties, feel the same social entitlements (such as second homes abroad) and are as "bright" as them.
I also went to university with people who earn 10 or 20 times what I do. That is because I chose to work in publishing and they chose to work in banking or the law. Do I think "all this is so unfair", that I have a right to earn what they do, just because we enjoy each other's company over dinner? No, I do not.
If Derek Conway thinks an MP's salary is inadequate, he can change jobs.
GPs' worries about working hours
Sir: Steve Richards (5 February) is comparing apples with oranges. The British family in Europe needing the GP at the weekend is presumably one faced by the sudden onset of an illness. Such a family would be able to see a GP at the weekend in this country and this would be arranged by the local out-of-hours provider, whose services are contracted by the local primary care organisation. The Government is not talking about urgent matters but is proposing that GP surgeries should be open for routine matters during evenings and weekends.
GPs in this country will be prepared to look at the provision of such services but will need to be resourced to keep their buildings open and staffed for the extra hours. They will also need to look at recruiting new GPs to provide the extra hours as, surely, no one wishes to go back to the old days of individual GPs working ridiculously long shifts; the Government has made it quite clear that it expects extended-hours appointments to be additional to appointments that are offered during core hours, not in substitution for them. The Government is not proposing to offer any extra resources – it is using its old trick of re-badging money that has already been allocated.
GPs are also very concerned that the middle-income earners who work long hours, who Steve Richards says are currently having problems, should not receive a second-class service if GPs open to accommodate their needs. This means that GPs will need access to the whole range of ancillary services that are available during work days, including access to diagnostic services, pathology services and to the records of our consultant colleagues. There will be little point in offering an evening service to someone who works during the day if the only outcome is to tell him that he will need to return tomorrow during the day to access the services that he needs.
GPs have a real concern that the Government's inflexibility on the issue of extended hours masks the underlying intent to destabilise the traditional, list-based model of general practice, which ensures that patients receive holistic,lifetime care from a stable primary healthcare team, and to replace it with episodic care from a jobbing workforce provided by large, impersonal for-profit companies.
Dr J S Grenville
Sir: It seems to have been forgotten that the Government set up the NHS Direct "all hours" service, to reduce the cost of out-of-hours care. The GP contract was renegotiated on the assumption that people would often be quite happy with advice from a nurse given over the telephone. Advice from NHS Direct to call a doctor or go to your nearest casualty department has interfered with "targets" and cost a lot of money.
Treating health as a commodity and suitable for the free market treatment, rather than a public good, has made a mess of the NHS. Doctors have had their professionalism insulted by moves to reduce the quality of training, plus the introduction of management by spreadsheet and public opinion poll, which is totally insensitive to clinical need.
Ask anyone who has sought medical advice only to be told by a skilled professional, "It is your choice." We do not all want more "choice and opportunity". Some of us simply want a good standard of healthcare, and remain appreciative of doctors and other healthcare professionals. It is the Department of Health that has to answer to public discontent; not the doctors, who are still doing their best.
Human cost of war in Afghanistan
Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith (4 February) argues that "we cannot do anything worthwhile in Afghanistan for which the life of a single British soldier should be sacrificed". What about the lives of Afghans? As many as 6,000 Afghan civilians may have been killed in fighting last year – a period during which the US and Nato intensified their air war over Afghanistan.
Dr Tony Telford
Sir: David Choat (letter, 4 February) is understandably confused, when he asks what we're accomplishing in Afghanistan in terms of human rights. To clarify, we invaded Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden. Any talk of improving human rights was a smokescreen devised later.
This is very similar to the smokescreen put up by Bush and Blair to cover the Iraq war after their previous smokescreen (Saddam's WMD) was blown away by a slight breeze.
Eton parents in the state schools
Sir: Howard Jacobson (2 February) sees nothing in the assumptions of egalitarian educationists to make him believe that when Eton goes every school beneath it will move up a notch. Has he not considered a world in which Eton parents applied their lobbying power in favour of the local state school? Not to mention their cultural impact, their expectations, their endowment capability? The difference would not be measured in mere notches.
Sir: Howard Jacobson's teachers laboured in vain all those years ago. Despite their emphasis on substance over style, and intellectual achievement over a patina of assumed superiority, he retains the deference and snobbery they were trying to knock out of him, by going weak at the knees over some toff who can carry off wearing odd socks. How sad!
Climate chaos: warmer and colder
Sir: Does one need more evidence to show global warming than the fact that snow in County Durham in February now merits a mention on the front page of your national newspaper (2 February)?
Walsall, West Midlands
Sir: We now have daffodils coming through in the garden which normally bloom before Christmas. Is this the first observed sign of global cooling?
Paul F Shipman
Broughton Astley, Leicestershire
Beer in Lent
Sir: Shrove Tuesday is not 41 days before Easter but 47 (The Big Question, 5 February). The Sundays of Lent are not observed as fast days – every Sunday being a feast of the Resurrection – and so are not counted in the 40 days of Lent, which explains why at my theological college we had beer and cider on the Sundays of Lent.
TV no threat to Hamlet
Sir: The interview in the Media Independent by Ciar Byrne (4 February) was extremely generous and thorough. I must have been mumbling when I said that, "I really do think television drama can be better than Hamlet." What I said in 1978 was that contemporary drama on television was as good as, and often better than, contemporary drama on the stage. I still think that obtains today. The only play that might be better than Hamlet is King Lear.
ITV, London SE1
Sir: I don't know what Sadiq Khan's problem is. Surely he knows (as we are frequently told, to the point of narcolepsy, by the advocates of surveillance, CCTV, and ID cards) that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear". Perhaps we do need a revision of Mr Wilson's doctrine for the 21st century, though, one that could kill two birds with one stone: 24-hour bugging and surveillance of MPs could be used to keep tabs on what they are doing with their time, and our money.
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Off the rails
Sir: John Walsh's column, Tales of the City, on 29 January remarks that Northern Rail was penalised for the train crash in Cumbria last year. In fact Northern Rail had nothing to do with the incident; we operate 2,500 local and regional train services across the north of England. It is Network Rail that is the owner and operator of Britain's rail infrastructure.
Northern Rail, York
Harvest of plastic
Sir: Does not the "plastic soup' of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean (5 February) represent a possible gold mine? Plastic is made from oil, which is in ever-diminishing supply. So we are going to have to get much more efficient about recreating new plastic from old. This 10m deep "soup" is a very easily accessible source of the raw material for plastic. So why are the ships not out there now, scooping up the plastic from the plastic fields?
Date with destiny
Sir: Helga Hanson is not alone in thinking reports of Mr Blair wishing to become EU President must be a joke (letter, 4 February). I reckon climate change is bringing the April Fool stories out early.