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Friday 21 September 2012
Letters: Clegg apology won't save Lib Dems
I am somewhat surprised that Nick Clegg has found it necessary to apologise for the breaking of his party's "pledge" on tuition fees. For years, the Liberal Democrats have been talking about a new type of politics in which governments are coalitions. Surely it is implicit in this idea that compromises will have to be made. Rather than making pledges, perhaps the party should have said something like, "This is the policy that we would wish to support but we reserve the right to change it depending upon the ideas of the party with which we might form a coalition."
But who would vote for such a party? In a two-party system, both parties are coalitions. Individual parties sort out their differences and present the electorate with an agreed policy. The indications are that voters prefer the old politics to the new.
Many dedicated Liberal Democrats were outraged when their party went into government with the Conservatives. Presumably, when they talked about a "balanced government", what they really meant was a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition. Most of these people no longer support the party and are unlikely to return.
Anything could happen in more than two years in politics, but it seems almost inevitable that the party will lose many, if not most, of its seats at the next election.
During the early 1980s it seemed possible that a new left-of-centre group could replace the then wretched Labour Party. My feeling is that the Liberal Democrats have missed the boat, that their MPs are dead men and women walking and that, come the next election, we will be back to the mainly two-party system that most people in the country seem to prefer.
Courageous people are just like the rest of us most of the time, but when they are tested we see the difference.
Nick Clegg has apologised, but he still doesn't get it because he thinks it's about the Liberal Democrats and not about education and politics more broadly. He thinks their mistake was making the promise in the first place and that lessons have been learnt. They'll make fewer promises from now on, so they won't again be in the position of needing to take a courageous stand on principle.
Their failure has scarred the whole of the political process, making many of us more cynical about all politicians' promises, not just Liberal Democrat promises.
We know that different standards apply on Planet Westminster, but we are surely scraping the bottom of the ethical barrel when a senior member of government sees his deliberate breaking of a written pledge to voters as a "learning" experience.
Women in prison need action from ministers
Your excellent coverage of the social, economic and human costs of women's imprisonment is well timed. The Justice Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into women offenders, to review progress and examine current policy and practice in this area. The Government is now due to set out a clear strategy on women offenders, promised by Lord McNally in the House of Lords on 20 March.
As your articles reveal, most women in custody are serving short sentences for non-violent crimes. Many have themselves been victims of serious crime and sustained abuse. We know that community provision is key, including women's centres that enable women to address the cause of their offending while maintaining care of their children. It requires a joined-up approach to tackle the complex factors contributing to the disproportionate incarceration of women and the damage this inflicts on their children.
What is needed now is the political will and strong ministerial leadership to effect the necessary changes. Without this we will see more troubled families and another lost generation.
Director, Prison Reform Trust
Chair, National Federation of Women's Institutes
President, National Council of Women of Great Britain
Chair, Soroptimists United Kingdom Programme Action Committee
I was disgusted to read the letter by Frances Crook (18 September) which states that because prison separates mothers from their children women shouldn't be jailed.
Can the Howard League for Penal Reform explain why it is acceptable to jail men for non-violent offences, but not women; or why is it wrong to jail mothers but not fathers? Misandry has no place in the justice system and if women don't want to go to prison then they shouldn't commit crimes.
Make them pay for Kate pictures
Will the clothing brands that have benefited from the "Kate effect" be withdrawing their advertising spend from those publications that choose to show pictures of the Duchess with her (their) clothes off? Such action would surely be a bigger long-term concern than a one-off fine.
When considering a debatable issue it can often help to transfer the consideration to a village level. How would you feel about someone with a telephoto lens taking a photograph of a neighbour sunbathing topless in their garden, then displaying it on the post office wall?
Never mind Kate's topless antics, I am still reeling from the coverage of Prince William's toe-curling attempt at Polynesian "dancing". All this comes hard on the heels of a summer ruined by the endless coverage of Boris Johnson's clowning during the Olympics.
Could please we have a press injunction protecting the public from any more embarrassing pictures of Old Etonians trying to be "cool" in public?
Tinkering with exams
By making GCSE reform all about the exam rather than the education behind it, the Government is in danger of missing another opportunity to get to the heart of the problem. The question should not be "How do we make exams more robust?" but "How do we make education as a whole more robust?"
Improving teaching and learning would do more to make a real, long-term difference to raising standards for all children – but that's long, hard and expensive. So it's easier and cheaper to tinker with exams.
We're not arguing for the retention of the GCSE – it's an inflexible exam with a set number of teaching hours, which limits the number of subjects that can be studied. With more young people staying on in education to 18, do we need exams at 16 at all?
Before replacing the GCSE we need to be sure that whatever takes its place better serves the needs of learners – and of the country as a whole.
Dr Kevin Stannard
Director of Innovation and Learning, The Girls' Day School Trust
Terminal exams are to a large extent a test of memory. Memorising facts is unnecessary in the digital age, with its instant access to limitless information via the internet. Employers and universities are crying out for young people who can be creative, take responsibility, work reliably in teams or independently, know how to use technology and digital media, and are adept in communicating.
How do schools develop these abilities? How should we assess them rigorously and fairly? How can parents choose the school that is best for their children? Sorry, Mr Gove, your proposals are not the answer to these questions. Must try harder.
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
I read Brian Dalton's letter (14 September) on the benefits of modularisation with mounting incredulity. There is no doubt that modularisation is the biggest disaster in education policy of recent decades. Students are led to believe that they can get through life by dividing it up into separate compartments, and they can always resit, so they don't need to bother the first time around.
Resits should be only allowed for genuine reasons such as ill health. I am sure that would improve overall standards because students would quickly realise that they had to get it right the first time. You don't normally get a resit on your life. I normally disagree with everything Michael Gove proposes, but in this instance he is spot on.
Successor states to the UK
The Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson (letter, 19 September) warns that an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership.
He appears to overlook the fact that the establishment of an independent Scotland would by definition result in the creation of another new state, comprising the territories of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If, as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says, "all new states have to apply to the EU and must be accepted by existing members" then surely this new political entity would also become an accession state, required to seek its own EU membership?
Melting ice and sea levels
The new nature reserve at Wallasea Island is a very welcome development to help counteract the adverse affect of climate change on wildlife (report, 18 September).
However, one factor that can't be directly blamed for rising sea levels is "the Arctic sea-ice melt". Whereas the melting of ice shelves and glaciers on land (such as the Antarctic) undoubtedly leads to a rise in sea levels, the melting of floating Arctic ice has no direct effect whatsoever on sea levels, although it may have an indirect effect in increasing global warming.
Arm all our UK police? On 24 August the New York police, who are all armed, shot and killed a gunman outside the Empire State Building. A further nine bystanders were struck by police bullets, by bullet fragments or by debris from ricochets. A study, based on New York's annual firearms discharge reports, indicated that officers hit their targets only 34 per cent of the time. Imagine this on the streets of our cities.
I recently said that I thought that Mitt Romney appeared to be a newer version of the erstwhile Sarah Palin. However I feel I should perhaps apologise to Mrs Palin. After the disclosure of Mitt Romney's recent pronouncements she is, by comparison, a towering intellect of political wisdom and finesse. Sorry, Sarah.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
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