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Tuesday 6 July 2010
Letters: Cuts and Egon Ronay
Savage cuts will bring misery
As David Cameron stood at the Despatch Box and boasted of 600,000 forthcoming public-sector job losses, he not only showed smug disregard for the people and families who will be turned out on their ear by this overzealous cull, but also ignorance of the harm that he will inflict on the fabric of our nation.
The proposed cuts go beyond the minimum required to bring the economy into trim. Instead, they represent an all-out ideological crusade against the public sector and all that it stands for.
Yes, there is a need for efficiencies in the public sector, to achieve modest spending cuts, re-focus it on the areas that matter, and cap liabilities of the unsustainable civil-service pension scheme. But the "shock therapy" of public job losses on the scale proposed will be bad for everyone in this country – not just the civil servants.
The 1.3 million new private-sector jobs promised by Mr Cameron will do little to compensate. They are likely to take years to materialise, and to follow the trend of recent years towards low-skilled, low-tech, low-paid supermarket and call-centre jobs.
As ever, things will work out fine for those living in London and the south-east where quality jobs are easier to find. But look through the jobs pages of the regional press and you will see that the vast majority of decent jobs in central and southern Scotland and the north of England are either public sector or rely to some significant extent on government funding. Take these away – and the disposable incomes that go with them – and you risk destroying entire communities, and with them the job prospects of the young unemployed.
They say that leopards don't change their spots, and so it is with the Tories and the submissive Mr Clegg, intent on out-doing Mrs Thatcher and the social misery and long-term structural damage she wreaked on our poor country in the 1980s.
Dr Mark Campbell-Roddis
In all the hype surrounding the new Budget plans, it is plain that the main target is the public sector.
But how do we define the public sector? Network Rail, for example, is funded largely by the government. Yet its chief executive, who has an annual salary of over £600,000 per year, is allowed to receive a bonus of up £300,000 per year.
Similarly bankers, particularly in the "casino" banking sector, are still receiving very high salaries and bonuses despite having been bailed out of bankruptcy by government, and the government owning large proportions of that financial sector. It seems to be OK to hammer the poorest-paid members of society and allow the richest members to maintain their high incomes.
An outsider looking at this Budget would assume that the financial mess that this country is in was due to misdemeanours committed by members of the public sector. In fact those who did not cause the disaster are being penalised, while those who did escape scot-free.
Evan L Lloyd
The civil-service unions are threatening to strike over cuts. It seems anyone who works in the public sector thinks there is a bottomless pit of taxpayers' money to pay for their inflated earnings and pensions.
Well get real and take a lesson from the private sector where no pay rises for the past few years and having to work until you are 65 or older are now the norm.
The country can no longer sustain a bloated public sector. With lower wages in the private sector we cannot endure further tax rises, therefore common sense shows cuts are needed.
I was interested to read that the Government proposes putting business leaders in civil-service departments. Given the problems of many large British businesses, from creating financial and environmental disasters, to appalling customer service, I wonder if the idea should not be reversed. Senior officers from the public service could be seconded at the expense of the business concerned. This would not only lead to cuts in the public-salary bill but would be likely to lead to improvements in that company's performance.
Also, remuneration committees of those companies might finally realise that you do not need to pay seven-figure salaries to find talent.
Modern economies have existed on debt for many previous years. The economic devastation caused will have the greatest impact on the poorest in society. Cutting back savagely and too quickly will wreck any hope of recovery.
The huge and inevitable rise in unemployment will increase, not reduce, government expenditure. Incomes in the public sector go back into the economy; public servants buy goods and services. The loss of revenue in terms of taxation will be substantial.
Immigration policy not racist
I am writing to raise my serious concerns about your leading article and the accompanying cartoon of 29 June.
Your cartoon, with its depiction of me donning a Ku Klux Klan outfit, was offensive and ill-judged and it suggests that you believe the Government's policy on immigration to be racist.
Immigration control in this country is not a matter of race and this Government has never suggested that it is. We are addressing the real and genuine concerns raised by the UK public about how we control immigration both for the good of the economy and society. It is depictions and comments such as yours which will force the issue of immigration off the agenda, meaning that people once again shy away from entering into constructive debate for fear of being branded racist.
You suggested that I used incorrect figures; I did not. I cited the latest figure from the Office for National Statistics of 52 per cent (307,000) of migrants entering the UK from outside the EU intending to stay for more than one year. That is a fact.
I have also been clear that a limit on non-EU economic migration into the UK was one of the steps this Government intends to take to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands by the end of this Parliament.
This discussion is not simply about economics. Migrants come to the UK for different reasons; each one will have a different impact on economic growth. This Government is committed to exploring the social and economic impacts of migration and the independent Migration Advisory Committee has published a consultation to look at these issues as we prepare to introduce an annual limit on economic migration from outside the EU in April next year.
How will we cope without oil?
Johann Hari's hard-hitting column "We all live in an oil slick now" (25 June) makes the prevailing mistake of wishing for a technotopia instead of advocating the slashing of oil consumption now. Solar panels will feed no one, while petroleum is essential for feeding hundreds of millions of people.
Underlying the unworkable fantasy of a renewable-energy consumer economy is the unwillingness to accept lifestyle changes. Petrocollapse has begun, but will be all the worse to endure when we postpone changes as we demand a solar-powered life of consuming.
In a new article on CultureChange.org, "Can the world run on renewables, nuclear energy and geo-sequestration? The negative case", Ted Trainer estimates that many times the current energy-industry investment level will be required to arrive at just one third of current consumption levels for supposed needs in 2050, if renewable energy were maximised.
He concludes: "Central in the delusion system moving us to the brink is the unquestioned faith that renewables can preserve affluence and the growth society; it is extremely difficult to get anyone to think about this."
We desperately need an open discussion on the question of our oil dependence.
Jan C Lundberg
Independent oil industry analyst, Arcata, California
The life of Egon Ronay
Because I knew he was fond of Egon Ronay, I made a point of informing my old friend Peter Bazalgette (letters, 29 June) of the contents and circumstances of my obituary (14 June). I take issue with his contention that my obituary contained "a number of inaccuracies." How could Ronay have concealed his age "in later life" if he had not already seen to it that his date of birth did not appear in any works of reference or newspaper articles?
As for being "called up like every young man of his age in Hungary", that depends on when he was conscripted. As we now know that he was born on 24 July 1915, he was 30 when the war ended. He was married at the age of 20, and had two children by the end of the war; and as Nick Curtis reported in the Evening Standard (in 2005), "Drafted into the army, Ronay took part in the occupation of Slovakia and Transylvania when Hitler and Mussolini handed parts of those territories to Hungary, but he deserted in 1943." This means he was conscripted about the time of the Second Vienna Award of August, 1940, when he was a married man of 25. (For comparison, in Britain only single men 20 to 22 years old were called up until 1942.)
In any case, Monica Porter, whose book Deadly Carousel: A Singer's Story of the Second World War, about her mother, who sang at the Ronay-owned Hangli nightclub in Budapest, told me on 19 June that the Ronays were Jews. "The Hangli was closed down the day the Nazis occupied Hungary in March 1944," she wrote, "and the Ronays went into hiding. (Prior to that, as a Jew, Egon would not have been conscripted into the army but into the unarmed labour battalions. It is possible that at some point he converted to Christianity, as did many Jews at that time.)" Ronay had a Catholic education, and kept his Jewish origins almost as secret as his age.
It's charming of Bazalgette to think that Ronay was refused subsequent honours because he'd turned down an OBE, but too many refuseniks have later accepted the CH or OM for this honours protocol myth to be true.
Personally I bear no grudge against Ronay; indeed, he amused me greatly and my paper always protected me from his writ-waving. However, Baz obviously never experienced Ronay's bullying, as did the two veteran Fleet Street journalists who wrote to me following my obituary.
You have already noted some of the curious errors in Paul Levy's obituary of Egon Ronay (14 June), but one further one is so glaring as to deserve a further correction in print since it is being repeated by others. The subplot of Levy's accusations (other, perhaps, than that Levy knows more about food and deserves more credit than Ronay) was that Ronay was self-important: "His vanity reached its apogee [when] he founded the British Academy of Gastronomes and became President for life." The title of Life President is not to be found in the Academy's constitution. The chairman of the Academy, the impish Peter Bazalgette, occasionally called him it – as a joke.
War's causes and effects
Robert Fisk is right about guilt linking German bombing raids on the UK and the Allied bombing of Germany (The Independent Magazine, 3 July). I recall what German bombers did to Exeter (the "Baedeker jewel" the Nazis boasted they "destroyed"), but later saw what we on our side did to Berlin, Dresden and other cities. Even though, of course, it matters that it was their lot that started it.
But to bring the matter up to date, as Fisk does: the BBC's recent programme The Summer That Changed London showed no awareness that the bombs in the London Tube just five years ago were a direct follow-up from what our military had done to Iraq – I well recall the TV exposure of Rumsfeld's "shock and awe" raids on Baghdad. Cause and effect.
The Education Secretary, Mr Michael Gove, should beware of what he is asking for in seeking to revive "the art of deep thought" among A-level students (Julian Baggini, Opinion, 5 July).
If they start indulging in too much of it, they may come to the inevitable conclusion that they have been right royally shafted by the baby-boomer generation (of which I am one) in just about every conceivable way for generations to come – economically, socially, environmentally and educationally.
Far better that with all their Twitters, Facebooks, Googles, multiple-choice exams, they retain the concentration span of a goldfish, so that they continue to fund without question the indulgent lifestyles of their parents and grandparents through increasing taxation and inflated property prices.
With any luck, any realisation that they have been shamelessly exploited by this generation will not dawn on them until we have shuffled off this mortal coil and they find themselves left with an unholy mess to clear up.
One of the problems for so-called incompetent teachers is the view that when they are "being ripped to shreds by kids every day" (Mick Brookes, Comment, 5 July) it is their fault rather than the pupils'. We absolve children of all responsibility for their actions. It seems there's no such thing as an idle child: only teachers who have failed to motivate.
Perspectives on voting reform
Legitimacy of a referendum
A referendum that changes a major constitutional matter raises many problems. First turnout: if 90 per cent vote the referendum has legitimacy but if only 10 per cent turn out, does the population support change? The government must set a legitimacy level and disregard any result based on too low a turnout.
Now, majority. If 51 per cent of those who vote were to vote for and 49 per cent against, a 2 per cent swing later turns the population against the change. A 60–40 majority seems a sounder basis on which to justify change, but the result could be that only 34 per cent of the population supported change.
In Ireland recently, we saw a referendum repeated until the majority voted for the "right choice" on the Lisbon Treaty as defined by the government or the EU, with EU sweeteners that encouraged the Government to promote the desired result. Referendums have varying degrees of legitimacy and integrity.
Fundamental questions that fall to be answered are: what proportion of the population wants change; who is promoting change; and why? It is far from clear that a sufficient majority of the population support the Lib Dems or a change in the voting system to justify a referendum.
Happenstance has propelled the Lib Dems into a position of political power that has enabled them to demand a referendum. How permanent that power will be, and whether the promised referendum will ever be regarded as anything other than politically opportunistic remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the absence of a serious debate about how to run a reputable referendum is depressing.
AV will make no difference
Andrew Grice's "Inside Politics" of 3 July was headed "A vote on PR will test the coalition". Unfortunately Proportional Representation will not be on offer at the referendum.
The Alternative Vote would have been excellent for Northern Ireland 50 years ago. It tends to disadvantage extremists, and appearing moderate would have increased the number of second-preference votes a candidate would have received.
I have been to vote at every opportunity, 49 times in all, and in that time I have elected only three individuals. They are my current Green County Councillor, my current Green District Councillor and myself as a Green Parish Councillor.
The AV system will make no difference to me. I will vote once for the Green candidate but I see the other three parties as equally ungreen and will certainly not vote for an extremist party.
R F Stearn
Old Newton, Suffolk
Cameron wrong to favour FPTP
As one of Mary Ann Sieghart's "slightly surprised contented" (Opinion, 5 July), I suspect the Prime Minister is unwittingly narrowing his potential electoral constituency by indicating support for first-past-the-post voting (FPTP).
I am sure some voters would be content to support the current coalition by voting 1,2... for their Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates, but they would not support a "pure" Conservative government, influenced by Tory diehards, nor, for that matter, a Liberal Democrat one filled with free-spending Liberals.
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