Boxing Day is the only day on which the hunting lobby welcomes cameras. On every other day of the year, there is no surer guarantee of being violently assaulted and having your camcorder smashed than to attempt to film a hunt.
Too bad Andy McSmith’s education (Diary, 20 December) missed out on the importance of Hawick as a centre for Harris tweed production, an essential fact in geography when I was at secondary school 50 years ago. It’s an example of the rigour that Mr Gove hankers after.
Professor Guy Woolley
At least Mary Dejevsky admits that her hostitility towards family-friendly opera is ill-informed (“Child-friendly opera? Is nothing sacred?”, 20 December). The idea that opera is the exclusive preserve of a few is ridiculously outdated. Opera is a richly diverse art-form for which there is demand from a diverse range of audiences.
The engagement of children with the arts is critical if we are to nurture a new generation of culturally literate and passionate audiences and artists. But the main driver is in fact not to catch ’em young as Mary suggests. Instead, we believe that young people have as much right to high-quality arts activity as everyone else. And all the evidence suggests that young audiences are often much less prejudiced than their elders who insist on compartmentalising our cultural landscape.
The Royal Opera House has been commissioning family-friendly work for many years and if Mary Dejevsky came to see How the Whale Became, or other productions such as The Firework Maker’s Daughter, which we presented earlier in the year, I suspect she would find the art-form is far from simplified and that an audience involving young people can be as avid and focused as any.
And there is no reason to fear that her own enjoyment of opera will be compromised. Last night, we completed a run of performances of Parsifal, a wonderful production of a great opera. I suspect there were few children in the audience for this five-hour experience, which is also fine.
Associate Director, The Royal Opera
Following Bernie Evans’s letter (17 December) – my old school not only had A and B streams but also league tables every half term and promotion and relegation at the end of the year. The whole place was run as if we were football clubs. Today perhaps it has play-offs between pupils as well.
The Owen Jones attack on secondary modern schools (19 December) was just the kind of quality writing that inspired me to leave the secondary modern school where I was teaching unqualified in the 1960s, go to teacher training college and commit myself to work in comprehensive community education.
I cut it out to send to one of the unqualified teachers that Ukip and pals are hoping to employ in all these new secondary modern schools they plan to reinvent.
With due respect to those that suffered the grammar school a system in place 40 years ago we must acknowledge that a significant number benefited from it and gained social mobility (letters, 17 December). It is no surprise that the current government is packed with products of the private schools, when ours was the generation that experienced the comprehensive system which denied opportunity to the very bright to get to the very top.
To consider the return of selection, we should look at the evidence of Germany, France and Switzerland where formal schooling starts later. They operate a three-tier system successfully, with movement between tiers at 13 and 15 possible. Once this is in place across the country all social classes have the opportunity to benefit.
The selective school debate omits the reality that currently at least 7 per cent of children are selected out of schooling by accident of wealth. The only way to properly break down social barriers is to keep our fantastic private schools but make them available on a merit basis, reverting to a full state selective school system.
Nigel Brody’s excellent suggestion (Letters, 16 December) to move Parliament and the Civil Service out of London touches on a much bigger issue: the total domination of the UK by London.
It is the political, financial, business, judicial, transport, media and cultural capital of the UK. The concentration in one city leads to an incestuous bubble where participants in each group know those from other groups intimately, and move between groups, trading power and influence as they go. They are insulated by wealth, geography and group-think from the lives of ordinary Britons, and for them life beyond the M25 exists only to provide holiday homes in quaint villages.
The effect of this full-spectrum domination of British economic and cultural life is the impoverishment of the other cities, towns and regions of the UK. This can be seen most starkly in the wild divergence of property values inside and outside of London (report 14 December), but can also be seen in the flow of human capital or arts funding towards London.
The contrasting fortunes of London and the rest of the UK make it difficult to pursue an economic policy that is suited to the whole country.
The US (New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco), Germany (Berlin, Frankfurt), Italy (Milan, Rome) and Australia (Sydney, Canberra) are just a few examples of countries with different cities acting as financial, political, business, media or cultural capitals. If our poles of activity were spread across, for example, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester and London, the pressure on housing in the South-ast would ease, opportunity would be spread, and the lives of people across the whole of the UK would be enriched, culturally and financially.
Like Homer, Guy Keleny very occasionally nods
If a serving Prime Minister either fails to seek, or fails to obtain, a vote of confidence in a parliament of a changed composition following a general election, he or she is not entitled to a dissolution without an opportunity being given to another party leader with a reasonable expectation of obtaining such a vote. This is not “overturning the verdict of the ballot box for party advantage”; such a verdict elects a parliament, not a government
Hence the “period for reflection” in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in the event of a mid-term Vote of No Confidence, and similar provisions in relation to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
No real power? What about Charles’s secret activities to influence government policies? How unconstitutional and anti-democratic is that?
Also this monarchy upholds the class system with all its snobbery and unearned privileges. The pageantry and parties exclude the people and reaffirm the anachronism of all this – out of step with a modern Britain.
Guy Keleny argues that the British monarchy is the “theatre” and not the reality of power; the ceremonial side that lends our system dignity (“Liberals can love the Royals too”, 26 December).
However it is the invisible tendrils of monarchy that are worrying: the monarch’s direct access to the Prime Minister, Prince Charles’s letter-writing to ministers, the armed forces and police officers swearing personal loyalty to the monarch and not a constitution, and the subtle influence of royal patronage and honours.
These constitutional grey areas must be scrapped. Although our improvised constitution has never been seriously tested in the 20th century, we cannot assume all future monarchs will be benign and play by the rules.
Steve Richards is right to highlight the role of the Royal Family in binding the nation together (“We love Christmas for the same reason we love the Royal Family. They give modern Britain a rare sense of community”, 24 December). This is not a political point, but more of a sociological one.
It was made eloquently by the celebrated academic Michael Young in his essay “The Meaning of the Coronation.” Young noted that the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, of which we marked the 60th anniversary this year, sparked a range of parties, fetes and gatherings. An estimated 17 million people in the UK took part in these. Inspired by the collective nature of the celebrations, he described them as a “great act of national communion.”
The Royal Family, both through one-off events and its day-to-day work with charities and visits, continues to provide a much needed sense of community and togetherness.