Letters: Clegg's dilemma over state schools

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I take issue with your leading article (26 January) in which it is argued that politicians should not be subject to criticism for sending their children to private schools.

Collectively, those in the government are responsible for controlling many services crucial to any modern society. The most important of these is education of our future workers, parents and leaders. It is therefore crucial that the service is of the very best quality possible. To do that we need a government that has a full understanding of the system from the perspective of the public.

If ministers feel so little confidence in the service they are responsible for that they opt their families out, it sends a clear message that they expect the population to tolerate a substandard service. Such a government is likely to fail to improve standards.

I have every respect for a politician's right to a private family life. But it is not possible to ignore their personal judgement on their government's ability to run schools and hospitals at acceptable standards. They expect us to entrust our futures to them; our leaders should show that they take this responsibly seriously and are able to fulfil it well enough for everybody.

Jack H G Darrant

London SW2

John O'Farrell (Voices, 28 January) misses the point over the dilemma faced by parents over secondary education.

We subscribed to the local state primary school. Because of its admission of two children from one dysfunctional family, our children endured continuous foul language, class disruption, intimidation and violence. In their final year, we were asked to choose our state secondary school from a list which had only a single entry – a school which offered very little of the academic success achieved by my old grammar school.

Clearly, the civil libertarians who decide state-school policy here put the liberty of the antisocial above that of other children. While that remains the case, Nick Clegg should choose an independent school for Antonio which decides differently, if he can afford to.

Sadly, we could not afford that option. All that was left to us was to exercise our right to educate our children ourselves, at home. Many others lack even that last alternative.

With the abandonment of grammar schools, the failure of the comprehensives, and both property and university tuition fees now unaffordable to ordinary people, we are running back to the social division of the 19th century.

Dr Ian East

Islip, Oxfordshire

A manifesto for coalition government

If David Laws is really suggesting that the lesson of the tuition fees debacle is that our political parties should produce slimmed-down manifestos for the next election, then voters should be seriously worried (Monday Interview, 28 January).

The reason for the Lib Dems' troubles with tuition fees has nothing to do with their manifesto at the last election. A manifesto says what the party will do if it is elected. If it does not get a majority, nobody expects it to implement the manifesto. There is no confusion about this, even if it suits the Lib Dems' leaders to suggest there is. The Lib Dems' problems arise because their MPs, encouraged by Nick Clegg, went beyond the manifesto and made a separate pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees. There was nothing contingent in this promise, and that is why the public has been so angered by its breaking.

What we have learnt since the last election is that manifestos are not too strong, but too weak. Since they only address the case where the party manages to get a majority, they impose no effective limits on the behaviour of the party if it enters a coalition government.

In the run-up to the next election, party apparatchiks will once again be discussing the Zone of Potential Agreement between various coalition partners. But this is a discussion to which the public will not be invited. Why not? Rather than watering down manifestos even further, as Mr Laws seems to want, the parties should be extending manifestos with annexes specifying the things they are not prepared to sacrifice in any coalition.

WILLIAM CULLERNE BOWN

Executive Chairman

Research Ltd, London EC2

We need troops, not Trident

In a week when the Government announced 5,300 further cuts to the Army, Danny Alexander is to be commended for pointing out to his Tory colleagues that their demands for a new continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent are "not financially realistic".

But the committal of £1.35bn last year towards replacing the Trident system suggests that the military-industrial establishment are creating a fait accompli, despite Nick Clegg reiterating in October that "the final decision on Trident replacement will not be taken until 2016".

Given the Prime Minister's talk of a "generational struggle" against al-Qa'ida in North Africa, any money available for defence ought to be spent on conventional forces.

To oppose replacement of Trident is not to be weak on defence. Stronger UK armed forces depend not on unusable Trident, but on more boots, planes and ships to enable us to counter threats such as those we've witnessed in Mali and Algeria, and thereby maintain Britain's place at the diplomatic "top table".

John Slinger

Rugby

Israelis and Jews

The storm in a teacup over David Ward has offended some in Israel after he made the common mistake of referring to Jews when he means Israelis.

I suppose we shall go on sympathising with the Jewish race for as long as they go on feeling personal hurt. For such horrors as their forebears suffered that is likely to be a long time yet. This sometimes shows through as a twitchiness whenever any Jews are criticised for anything, anywhere.

A modest majority of Israelis (by no means all) are in fact Jewish by blood and by faith, but it is not as Jews that the Israeli government works, it is as Israelis. It is a mistake to offend, even to blame, Jews dispersed around the world for the questionable policies and disreputable behaviours of some Israelis.

Mr Ward should not be so severely censured for making a very common mistake. It is indeed sad to see Israeli hostility towards their displaced neighbours. What is needed is peace-building intentions, not plastic bombast, on all sides.

Kenneth J Moss

Norwich

Music to appeal to young people

Max Hole ("Orchestras told to face music ", 24 January; letters, 26 January, 28 January) says orchestras are stuffy and not doing enough to encourage their audiences to feel involved.

He should come to Manchester and hear the Manchester Camerata, where Gabor Takacs-Nagy talks to the audience at every concert, passing on his enthusiasm for the music to be played and giving tremendous insight to the background of the pieces. This follows Douglas Boyd's years with the Camerata when he brought his passion for Beethoven in particular to the audiences. The concerts are a delight to attend and the number of young people enjoying the Camerata's music is increasing every time.

Kathy Arundale

Manchester

Working with incontinence

It is appalling that one cannot discuss getting people on invalidity benefit back to work without getting an insulting response (Philip Hensher, 23 January). It was insensitive and poorly worded to suggest that an incontinence sufferer should go to work in a "nappy".

But it is equally unfair on most incontinence sufferers to react as if there is automatically a need for them to lead less than full lives. In very many cases, this is a problem that can be well managed, so that the people concerned work, socialise and generally lead near-normal lives.

I have an incontinent relative whose "pad" allowed him to lead a life of few restrictions, and an administrative assistant, who, after a colectomy, worked full-time with the help of a pouch. Neither would have wanted to be on invalidity benefit.

The danger in portraying incontinence as a disability that greatly restricts daily living is that businesses stop recruiting sufferers who want to, and can manage to, work.

Professor Carol Sanders

Headley Down, Hampshire

Recession or stagnation?

Thank goodness for your third leader on 26 January, calling for an unhysterical reading of the GDP figures. A value that is 0.3 below the previous one is less than one three-hundredth down. The figures cannot be more accurate than, say, plus or minus 0.5. That is to say, the economy is where it was, as nearly as it can be judged.

Roy Evans

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

The article "Recovery in jobs gives a fillip before news on growth" (24 January) states that the employment rate of 71.4 per cent was "the highest since official records began in 1971". This is incorrect. The rate was lower than the pre-recession peak of 73 per cent recorded for March-May 2008.

Richard Clegg

Labour Market Division, Office for National Statistics, Newport

Ill wind

Your report on the bad smell from France (23 January) left me wondering how those of us who have the misfortune to live near a landfill would know something else was to blame. The stench seems similar to me. When the wind is bringing the smell our way, we wake up nauseous and with headaches.

Pauline Welch

Milton Keynes

No drone

Your report on the RAF Sentinel R1 aircraft sent to Mali was wrong (26 January). The aircraft is not a "drone", but has a human crew of five, and forms part of the Astor reconnaissance system. The airframe was adapted and extensively modified for the role from a large-sized business jet.

Norman Foster

Duxford, Cambridgeshire

Slim strip

Premier League football could make a contribution to reducing obesity. Perhaps they could restrict the biggest size of their replica kit to the actual size the eponymous player wears. The XXXXL folk I see daily proclaiming themselves to be "Rooney" might have to slim a bit to emulate their hero.

D J Walker

Macclesfield, Cheshire

Coffee to go

I'm intrigued by the "speculation that [Starbucks] would stop opening outlets in the UK unless ministers backed off" over tax avoidance (report, 28 January). Is it a threat or a promise?

Chris Payne

London

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