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Wednesday 30 March 2011
Letters: Cuts march
Dominic Lawson says a march in favour of the cuts would attract 400,000 to the TUC's 250,000 if you look at the polls (Opinion, 29 March). But he has cherry-picked a single ICM poll to suit his argument and ignores the only poll that specifically asked about support for the demonstration.
YouGov asked a sample twice as big as that used by ICM to ask: "Generally speaking, do you support or oppose the aim of the march to campaign against public-sector spending cuts?" More than half the sample (52 per cent) said they support our aims, while less than one in three (31 per cent) opposed.
Home Secretary Theresa May has confirmed the TUC estimate of around 500,000 marchers. The YouGov finding still gives Dominic Lawson a target of 300,000 for his protest. If he wants any tips on organising a safe, peaceful and family-friendly event he is welcome to get in touch, as his own experience in Oxford Circus, well away from the TUC's event, will have given him no clues.
Head of Campaigns and Communications
Trades Union Congress
There is a different interpretation of the ICM opinion poll to that suggested by Dominic Lawson. Maybe the "57 per cent support for the cuts or more" tells us that 57 per cent of the population have not been as seriously affected by the crisis as they were led to expect.
They should thank the fellow citizens who are taking a disproportionate £18bn reduction of their welfare incomes, which were already below the Government's poverty line and even further below the Joseph Rowntree minimum income standards. They comprise 2 million pensioners, 4 million children and 7.5 million adults, who will be forced into unpayable debt because their incomes will not keep up with rising prices of food and domestic fuel and increasing rents.
The Rev Paul Nicolson
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, London SW1
I was one of the 250,000 to 500,000 demonstrators on the TUC-organised march. I saw nothing but good-humoured, determined protest from all sections of society: from the major unions to individuals, nurseries, schools or adventure playgroups; from charities and disability groups to individual GPs or lawyers; from the Arts Council and Equity to a local choir school with their chaplain.
It certainly did not "descend" into violence. The violence came from separate small groups of thugs with their own agendas, and it arose away from the route followed by the organised march.
Your coverage emphasised the plight of some targeted shops in the West End that have complained that the Met did not sufficiently protect them. I do not, in any way, condone the violence they suffered, but it is a little bit rich of UK businesses who do their best to pay as little in taxes as possible to complain about a perceived poor protection from the police.
"The scenes of violence and destruction had thoroughly trumped the happier scenes of families on the march," said your leading article of 28 March. What humbug! These scenes only "'trumped" those of a massive and peaceful demonstration because The Independent, along with the rest of the media, chose to give them a prominence they didn't deserve.
Just what message do you think this perverse editorial imbalance is sending to those who want to make their voices heard?
Why is it wrong to attack the symbols of oppression in London, and right to attack the symbols of oppression in Lybia?
Where did the money go?
The Tories are saying there is no money left and it is all Gordon Brown's fault. There's "loadsamoney" but it's all in the wrong trousers! Those of big bankers, big business and big tax dodgers reaping the bonuses of greed spawned by Thatcher and pawned by Brown.
We are where we are – yes some cuts must be made – but first raise, not scrap, the 50p tax rate, crack down heavily on tax evasion, increase not reduce corporation tax, quadruple the bank levy and seize the bonuses paid to the undeserving few which so incense the hardworking millions. Then let's see what we still need to cut.
People are not convinced that the cuts are fair, and that's why they are angry. The Big Society will bite back.
P G H du Boulay
Your coverage of the protests on Saturday will always be biased, because it does not include interviews from people like myself. I am a union member working in a public organisation who sadly understands why the cuts are needed.
I believe that Labour over-promised and under-delivered for 13 years by consistently making the assumption that more money will solve any problem. This has left us and our children a mountain of debt and only mediocre services to show for it.
This view will not win the favour of those directly threatened by the proposed cuts who marched on Saturday. But it is shared by more people than they would like to admit.
Many loans will be written off
The Rev Mike Bossingham complains that "student loans don't add up" (letter, 24 March), but it is his subtraction that seems to be at fault. Whatever your views, most students will never pay off what they theoretically owe, and the Government will collect far less than they expect.
This is because repayments are fixed by formula, which ensures that any outstanding debt (capital and interest) is written off after 30 years. Thus, a loan of £10,000 a year for three years – which becomes £32,000 after interest is added – given a starting salary of £21,000, rising to £68,000 in 30 years, would have total repayments limited to £21,000, and effectively pay off none of the £43,000 interest that would be charged, and £11,000 less than the original loan.
It is not widely realised that the annual payments of 9 per cent over an initial threshold of £21,000 will be reduced, because from 2017 the threshold itself is to be raised annually by the average rate of pay across the economy as a whole, at about 3 per cent. Even a graduate whose career earnings rise by 6 per cent a year from £21,000 will end up paying back £69,000 on an initial debt of £37,000, which is £32,000 less than the capital and interest theoretically due, and just 4.5 per cent of the total pay, in money that will have depreciated by almost half.
Mansion tax is too complex
My respect for Vince Cable was severely dented when he first proposed a "mansion tax", so, though I'm hardly likely to fall victim to it, I'm sorry to see the idea revived. The last thing we need, just when George Osborne is finally considering simplifying our tax system, is yet another costly-to-administer tax added to our already over-complicated fiscal regime. Just the task of identifying and valuing all the houses worth more than £2m in the land will eat up all the revenue this tax could possibly gather. Our council tax system (a sort of mini mansion tax) already struggles to keep up with house valuations.
Worse yet, if it's set, say, at 1 per cent of the value of your house per year, how do you sell 1 per cent of it each year to pay the tax? In effect Mr Cable assumes that people in larger houses also have other wealth or income with which to pay the tax. In that case, there already exist mechanisms to tax those, such as income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax.
If he must tax your house, the time to do it is when you sell it, and hence have the cash to pay the tax, and have a definite valuation. That mechanism too already exists – it's called stamp duty.
The problem with stamp duty is that it cuts in with a bang, and when you pass a threshold you suddenly pay duty on the whole amount, which distorts the market around the thresholds. Why not make stamp duty progressive, like income tax, so you pay only on the difference between the value and the threshold? Higher rates for higher bands would work the same way as income tax, and could still satisfy Mr Cable's politics of envy.
Strange powers of lion dung
I read with some nostalgic amusement Michael McCarthy's article on the deterrent effect of lion faeces to discourage otters from fisheries (28 March).
We have lived for almost 40 years within Cannock Chase Forest in Staffordshire, and in that time the native deer herd, mainly roe deer, has expanded pretty well unchecked to the current, probably overstocked, level. There is consequently much pressure on food for these beautiful animals and they raid the inhabitants' gardens ruthlessly unless prevented by strong, high fencing and closed gates.
I recall reading a similar article about such deterrents, this time relating to deer rather than otters, in the late Nineties, suggesting a primeval instinctive fear. After a few phone calls I duly set off to Twycross Zoo to collect several large and foul-smelling plastic sacks of big cat dung kindly provided free of charge by the staff.
Oour faithful handyman mixed this with water in an old dustbin and dutifully sprayed the evil mixture around the perimeter of our property. Two days later three deer had jumped the gate and were grazing contentedly on our variegated laurel. You can almost imagine the two-antlered salute: "Lions on the Chase? This is the 20th century!"
However, a footnote. I presume traces of the odoriferous substance remained. Shortly afterwards, around the turn of the millennium, a neighbour spotted a "Beast of Bodmin" type "big cat" in his garden. There were other sightings nearby and two unexplained mutilated deer carcases were found. I wonder, was a passing stranger, looking for a mate, attracted by a lingering scent?
Big Societies of history
Tom Sutcliffe ("When did the Big Society turn into Big Brother?", 29 March) is right to be cautious about the more extravagant claims about the research priorities of the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Regarding something as a proper subject for research does not imply approval; otherwise no reputable academic would deal with genocides and the Holocaust. Society as a whole, not just the Government, would benefit from critical and rigorous examination of precursors of the "Big Society" and differences in local conditions which affect its development.
Two precursors that spring to mind are interwar Austria under Chancellors Dollfuss and Schuschnigg and France between July 1940 and August 1944.
Dave Brown's cartoon of 28 March, commenting on the cuts protest, exposes the lie at the heart of Cameron's Big Society. What he wants is lots of small, fragmented, politically weak societies, who cannot challenge his patrician arrogance.
If any organisation, such as an NHS union, has the size and temerity to challenge his rule, then break it up into factions, or bind it with new "fairness" rules. Please ask your cartoonist to revive the fiery pants that accompanied Blair.
No under-age alcohol ads
Following your article "Bill backs ban on TV alcohol advertising" (25 March) we would like to clarify that the alcohol industry works vigorously to ensure that it does not target advertising to anyone under the age of 18, and there are clear measures in place to ensure this does not happen. At Diageo, like the many other industry players, we have rigorous internal codes, and comply with the relevant self-regulatory promotion, advertising and broadcasting codes.
The most recent Government statistics clearly show that alcohol consumption in England by young people has consistently fallen since 2003. This shows that targeted interventions and programmes educating under-18s on the dangers of alcohol are effective.
The comparison with France creates a very misleading picture. Despite having the Loi Evin, the number of young people under 15 admitted to hospital in France for drunkenness rose by 50 per cent from 2004 to 2008. This suggests that a generation which has grown up with some of the strictest alcohol marketing restrictions in Europe is as prone to binge drinking as their neighbours with more liberal regimes.
The problem is not as simplistic as Dr Sarah Wollaston and her supporters would have us believe.
Managing Director, Diageo Great Britain, London SW1
The "Born in Essex" list with Harriet Walker's article (25 March) rather concentrated on showbiz folk. I'd like to mention the poet Denise Levertov (1923-97), who was born in Ilford, but moved to America in 1948 after her marriage to Mitchell Goodman. Read her marvellous "A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England", published in 1960. And, yes, I grew up in Essex, the western part, actually.
Blythe Bridge, Staffordshire
Faith and taxes
Does Peter McKenna (letter, 25 March) suppose that the parents of faith-school children do not pay tax, or that a greater proportion of his taxes are spent on schools than theirs? I am an unmarried Catholic who has never needed to send children to any kind of school. Can Mr McKenna explain why it's all right for his children to be educated at my expense?
Perspectives on Libya
Hypocrisy in any language
The Anglo-French decision to bomb Libya in support of the rebels was marked by even more hypocrisy than usual, and welcomed by al-Qua'ida, who knew it would backfire.
Turkey, Germany, Russia, China, Africa and the Arab League are quite clear that the UN-sanctioned line between civilian protection and regime change has already been crossed.
Obama has told his people, fearful of mission creep in another dirty little foreign war, that the lesson of Iraq had been learned and the aim was not regime change. It is not clear if anyone believed him, but foreign ministers have been meeting in London to translate the President's latest piece of wishful thinking into French and estuary English.
Dr John Cameron,
St Andrews, Fife
Bombing the wrong weapons?
Could someone explain to me how the 1950s unguided barrage rockets seen with the Eastern Libyan military are not a visible threat to any civilian in any town attacked?
The very accurate, modern artillery used by the Western Libyan military under Gaddafi are pin-point weapons in comparison, yet are subject to destruction wherever they are found by RAF aircraft.
Is the desire for regime change with the western powers ruling Nato putting RAF and other Nato pilots at risk of prosecution by exceeding the UN mandate to protect civilians?
M J Benning
Langford Budville, Somerset
We've been here before
What starts as a no-fly zone and air strikes against Gaddafi's forces could escalate, with British soldiers fighting Gaddafi's army on Libyan soil and becoming entrenched as part of an occupation force for years to come.
It could, in effect, see the resurrection of British Forces Post Office 55 Benghazi, BFPO 56 Tobruk and BFPO 57 Tripoli. The British would be "cheered-in" by the rebels, but eventually placards will appear saying, "Go home, filthy British" much like it was in the 1950s and early 1960s. Britain is not much liked today in Iraq.
Perhaps, the Prime Minister's enthusiasm for military intervention will get us involved in Bahrain, formerly BFPO 63, or Aden in Yemen (BFPO 69).
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