Alcohol abuse and binge-drinking threaten to overburden the NHS, costing £2.9bn a year (report, 2 January). So why do we still allow alcohol producers to sponsor our major UK sports? We have the "FA Carling Cup" for football, the "Guinness Premiership" for rugby and the "Stella Artois Tournament" for tennis. Liverpool Football players have Carlsberg on their shirts.
The list seems endless: anyone would think that beer and lager were performance-enhancing sports drinks. By associating alcohol with sports, brewing companies are creating a false association with fitness and health, at a time when rates of liver cirrhosis, stroke and heart attacks from alcohol abuse are rising alarmingly.
By contrast, cigarette smoking is in decline, driven partly by bans on advertising and sponsorship. Ten years ago, we had the Embassy World Darts, Embassy World Snooker, the Benson & Hedges cricket competition and Formula One cars apparently wearing Marlboro cigarette packets.
Any sponsorship of sport from tobacco firms has been banned. A responsible government would initiate a similar ban on alcohol for any sporting events. With the rise in health problems from alcohol abuse, advertisers should not be allowed to link drinking alcohol with sporting greatness.
Dr Andrew M Hill
Labour Party must support Brown
I am appalled and disgusted to learn that Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt are daring to call for a ballot on the future of our Labour Party leader. Within the next six months, we in the Lasbour Party face a crucial general election, which we should accept realistically we will not win, and this is not helped by these actions. Gordon Brown deserves our 100 per cent support and commitment if we are to stand any chance of making a real fight of the general election.
Maybe Gordon is not an image-obsessed leader with charm and charisma but, more importantly, he is a genuine, honest and plain-speaking man who cares deeply about the advancement of social justice in the UK and abroad. He has shown dexterity in his leadership and will, in the long term, prove to be the real saviour of the economy.
Hoon and Hewitt seem to be self-obsessed career politicians but any ambitions they have after the general election may not be within the Labour Party.
Menezes police chief honoured
The New Year Honours list contains the usual suspects. Of course, we have the odd dinner-lady or charity worker getting an MBE, but most go to people for just doing their job, who are fortunate enough to be in a position where a CBE or OBE comes as part of the furniture, whether they deserve it or not.
My attention this year was first directed to the military section, where yet again it soon became apparent that most of the awards were to officers, and there was not one award above an MBE for anyone of warrant-officer rank or below. This is pretty much standard, despite John Major's attempts in the early 1990s to clean up the system; in reality, nothing much has changed.
But this year's list has surpassed them all with the award of a Queen's Police Medal for distinguished service to Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick of the Metropolitan Police. Not only was she promoted after leading the bungled operation which led to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell Tube, but she has now been awarded a QPM for distinguished service.
After the inquiry into the de Menezes killing, which looked closely at Ms Dick's performance during this operation, one could hardly describe her service as "distinguished". Surely the Metropolitan Police could have found several dozen more deserving officers to put forward before her, particularly those below senior officer rank, for this important and historical police medal?
The whole awards system, including the institution and issue of military decorations for our Armed Forces, is in desperate need of an update and overhaul, because we're fast becoming a laughing-stock by still giving out awards which are associated with the Empire.
Michael W Cook
After Keith Flett's call for a civic award to replace the New Year Honours (letters, 6 January), could I nominate Mr Flett to be the first recipient of such for his services to letter-writing. It would make more sense than some of the daft things people get gongs for, such as services to banking or driving the Queen's tractor.
Early learning does not work
I whole-heartedly applaud the letter headlined, "Early literacy drive is State-imposed child abuse" (2 January), in response to your "disappointing... article" under the headline, "Boys aged three 'must work more'" (29 December).
Dr Richard House is absolutely right to say "research... shows conclusively that introduction of literacy learning to children under six has no... benefit whatsoever". Why, then, is Dawn Primarolo, the Children's minister, not aware of that?
And why, when public expenditure is seemingly out of control, will she spend yet more borrowed money on yet another initiative that will not work? For her consideration, I suggest that to target boys specifically, especially at the tender age of three, amounts to sexism, as well as child abuse. In advanced countries, where primary schooling starts at six (or later), both literacy and the gender gap are, without exception, better than in England.
It is common knowledge that boys develop, physically, sexually and intellectually, more slowly than girls: the difference is hard-wired and boys cannot help it. They catch up, eventually. Give boys time and give them a break. Boys were not a pedagogical problem in the days when they had live-in fathers, male teachers and went to boys' schools. Without grown-up boys we'd have little mathematics, science, technology, engineering, architecture, pharmaceutical industry, transport, philosophy, music, poetry, defence or refuse collection. We'd also be seriously short on entrepreneurship and leadership.
Dr David Smith
It is not "deeply depressing" that official data shows more than one in six boys cannot write his name, or spell words such as "dad" or "cat", after a year in school (leading article, 29 December). It is confirmation that little children should not be expected to write before the age of seven because their brains are not ready to do so, and should be busy with the creative play that is crucial to their development at this age.
Many of those force-fed boys now believe themselves to be stupid and have probably entered the syndrome of hating school. Scandinavian countries top the academic leagues because they understand early-years dynamics and do not begin formal learning before the age of seven; Wales recently revised its whole approach to education in the light of this knowledge. How long will it be before backward England catches up?
Grethe Hooper Hansen
Parliament does the terrorists' job
After reading Dominic Lawson (Comment, 5 January), I was reminded of the words of Lord Hoffmann in the 2005 House of Lords case regarding the indefinite detention of foreign terrorist suspects in Belmarsh prison.
He said: "The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory."
Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I suppose we can at least be grateful Parliament has done the terrorists' job for them without the loss of life on which terrorists tend to insist.
Andrew T Barnes
Cold spell brings us warm feelings
Let's have two cheers for the snow. Not three, out of respect for those who have to work in it, but in this corner of Berkshire it has made everyone more sociable, stopped most of the traffic, forced us to walk and caused the adults to rediscover their inner child. Let's keep this up when the snow melts.
Seven pubs a day are closing. Warm smoking-rooms in pubs would help to reduce the number forced out of business.
Britain is in the middle of a freezing Siberian blizzard. Making smokers go outside to indulge their habit in a blinding snowstorm is just not a sensible policy.
Browbeaten by Border Agency
Jennifer Bell (letters, 4 January) says the UK Border Agency doesn't give much priority to PR. Coming back from the Netherlands by ferry to North Shields, I had to wait in a hall for about 15 minutes for the passport check.
The walls were covered in posters from the UK Border Agency and HM Revenue & Customs. All were warnings, some so strongly worded as to be interpreted as threats. I wondered what impression or welcome this gave to foreign nationals. Some warnings are necessary, but do we need so many and in such a tone?
Going the other way, there is no such display of warnings when you arrive in the Netherlands at Ijmuiden. Why does the UK have to be so nasty?
Ian K Watson
Chief Rabbi backs bereaved families
Frank Rice's letter (31 December) is unfortunate in making a moral equation between the claimed silence of Pope Pius XII over the genocidal policies of the Holocaust and that of the present Chief Rabbi over the "ethnic cleansing of Muslim and Christian Palestinians".
Aside from the inaccuracy of an equation of the two events and of the policies of silence, there is the issue of the actions of the Chief Rabbi himself. He has agreed to become a patron of the UK Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum and to endorse their work. This organisation does not take a policy position on the conflict, but recognises the suffering on all sides and seeks to bring people together for peace.
Praise for pill
I read the bigoted letter from Andrew Rumley (2 January) with disbelief. That a young woman, fearing pregnancy, should take the wholly responsible step of obtaining a safe morning-after pill is to be applauded. Nothing is sadder than an unwanted child.
Barbara M Finch
Sandown, Isle of Wight
Christian thing to do?
Simon Allen (letters, 5 January) suggests we are a "nominally" Christian country. A newcomer to Britain would see we have an "established" church with 26 bishops entitled to sit in the House of Lords as of right, an increasing number of "faith" schools, many secular ceremonies dominated by the religious, including the Cenotaph on 11 November. As Mr Allen says, the number of believers is diminishing, with regular church attenders now below 10 per cent. Justification for religious privileges no longer exists. Perhaps the first step should be the disestablishment of the Church of England.
The frozen limit
In 2008, the mismanaged Icelandic banks collapsed. Now the Icelandic people (all 300,000 of them) are expected to take on an intolerable burden of debt for generations to come, at an inflated interest rate, to compensate UK and Dutch savers (report, 6 January). But many of the oligarchs who created the mess escaped and are living well in London. Is there no limit to what bankers can get away with?
Philip Hensher wrote: "No member of anything resembling the professional classes would dream of going back to work until the fourth or fifth of January" (Comment, 4 January). My colleagues and I, as well as other firms of solicitors and of surveyors with whom we were dealing between Christmas and the New Year, had perhaps just over-indulged in the Christmas fare when we dreamt we were working away in our offices. I can only hope our clients don't take his word as truth and decline to pay for such time.
For some time, I've been marking the regular threats from TV Licensing "Return to sender" and popping them in the nearest postbox. But it appears that Royal Mail is now in league with the Bristol mafia. One such letter was redelivered the other day, marked "Why?"
Torquay, DevonReuse content