Letters: End the Dale Farm apartheid

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The Dale Farm travellers have a point when they claim the Government permits them to live in separate communities but has deprived them, in some measure, of the means to achieve this (report, 18 October).

It is time the Government got to grips with the question whether we should give a self-styled "ethnic" group the right to live in an exclusive community. If so, then local government is obliged to provide sufficient pitches, where now travellers are encouraged to buy land in places that they choose, in anticipation of planning permission for pitches, which can be declined by the authorities.

But why, in our inclusive society, should any group, especially one that regards itself as an ethnic group, be allowed to live in a separate community? The perception that this provision imposes a cost on the rest of society is bound to alienate travellers further from the mainstream.

Travellers are as entitled to human-rights protections as any other citizens. But the current law reminds me of the apartheid system I saw in South Africa: separate communities, housed in awful conditions on the fringes of (white) society, with virtue made of their invisibility, and all in the name of a perverted interpretation of human rights entitlements. It is time to put an end to this anachronism: "travelling" lifestyles are not necessary in 21st-century Britain. There are tens of thousands of people whose work is itinerant, and we are all more mobile than in past generations. Those in "traveller"' households who want to travel can, but there should be no requirement to allow their families to live separately from the rest of us in order to achieve this.

We should welcome traveller families into our communities, not give the sanction of law to their preference to live in separate and unequal communities.

Chris Forse

Snitterfield, Warwickshire

Don't blame 'lazy' customers for energy prices

We are being told that that we are paying too much for our electricity and gas because we are too lazy to switch. It might have been more useful for those who have the ability to influence utility prices to have fulfilled their own mandates.

The regulator (Ofgem) has failed to respond to failings in the energy supply market and the Bank of England has failed to preserve the purchasing power of sterling. It seems convenient to label the energy suppliers as the bad guys.

Their penchant for a bewildering number of tariff structures does suggest that profit can be enhanced if the customer is confused. Measures which the regulator might have instigated include a single tariff that recognises both fuel poverty and the UK's climate change objectives to reduce CO2 emissions. This contrasts with the majority of tariffs where the unit cost is higher for the low energy user.

Reduce the time it takes to switch supplier from weeks to three days or less. Prevent a supplier from closing direct debit mandates until any outstanding credit has been returned to a customer moving to a different supplier. I am still awaiting repayment of £250 following my switching to a different supplier in 2008.

Where customers are traded between different suppliers there should be a transition period before the new supplier can raise prices. This reform would deter small supplier joining the market with a business plan based on selling-on customers to the existing market participants.

Brian Mongey


David Cameron's publicly "calling in the energy companies to tell them off over prices" is a disgraceful bit of PR fluff. The the reason electricity prices are going up is purely because of the activities of politicians like him.

They have been told, for years, that taking money from bills to subsidise windmills is bound to put up prices – indeed it is so obvious they should not have needed telling. And if nuclear were not under the burden of politically imposed rules which have no possible safety justification it would cost about half as much.

Neil Craig


When the Government wants to reduce the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, it raises the price. Yet despite its efforts to reduce carbon emissions caused by the use of fossil fuels, it is trying to reduce the price of gas and electricity. Can this be joined-up government?

John Henderson


Black authors and the Booker Prize

Under the heading "The race problem with the Booker" (18 October) Alex Wheatle maintains that Britain's premier book prize continues to ignore talented black writers. This is an inaccurate statement, not least as one of the six shortlisted writers in this year's Man Booker Prize is black. Esi Edugyan's novel Half Blood Blues deals with the race issue in Nazi Germany.

Ion Trewin

Literary Director, Booker Prize Foundation, London W1

Alex Wheatle appears to think his books will never find their "deserved" audience. I can assure Alex that I rarely, if ever, find a new author from an awards list, a debate between talking heads or the three-for-two table in a bookshop. Rather, I browse, read book covers, peruse other reader-reviews online and often just take a punt either online or in the shop.

Perhaps his time would be better spent rejoicing in the fact he is a published author, out there in the market-place for readers to discover for themselves. What an achievement! I envy him that, unashamedly. Don't fret Alex, I'm sure your tuxedo will come in handy at some other event some day.

Matthew Hisbent

Holton, Oxfordshire

The value of private schools

Maybe a top-notch private education in the sciences would teach the likes of Owen Jones ("Private school parents are wasting their money", 13 October) and Fiona Millar not to over-conclude from comparisons with Finland. There are far too many differences between us to ascribe their greater educational success to the fact they have a comprehensive system.

Who is to say that a selective system with very high status and highly trained top graduates in front of every child (most of whom have cultured parents who value education) would not do even better?

Extrapolating from other research the likelihood is that the top few deciles would do marginally better still, while the least able would be better as things stand and it would make very little difference to the average pupil.

About the only things we should emulate from Finland are the later start for boys in particular, the very high level of language learning and the very high status for teachers, comparable with doctors in pay and years of training, thus attracting the very best graduates.

Dr Carol Blyth

Wendover, Buckinghamshire

We're not plotting against Mugabe

The Elders wish to refute reports that associate them with allegations of a "plot" to remove President Mugabe from power in Zimbabwe ("The truth about my secret plan to get rid of Mugabe", 14 October).

Since their formation on 18 July 2007, the Elders, a group of independent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela, have consistently emphasised that dialogue and effective democratic processes are the way to resolve political problems, whether in Zimbabwe or elsewhere.

The group first became active on Zimbabwe in June 2008, with calls for a free and fair presidential run-off election. They also emphasised the need for dialogue to heal Zimbabwe's internal divisions.

In December 2008 they publicly criticised the Zimbabwean government and urged the rapid implementation of the Global Political Agreement. Once a national unity government was formed, The Elders urged Zimbabweans to unite and called on international donors to increase assistance to Zimbabwe to help restore basic services and enable the people to rebuild their lives after years of economic deterioration.

Mabel van Oranje

CEO, The Elders, London W14

Helping out when a family splits

The divorce business, Terence Blacker discovers excitedly, is "ruthless, money-led and sleazy"' (Opinion, 18 October). Blacker's remark may be true of a handful of self-described "top" family lawyers whose rich clients are daft enough to overpay them to slug it out. But who cares about them?

The huge majority of family lawyers and mediators are concerned with helping unhappy couples agree a deal that fairly divides the financial loss that each will experience on family breakdown. These not very well paid people also help separating parents to reach an amicable arrangement about the children.

As a very junior mediator – and never a practising lawyer – I am trying to persuade my boss to have a sign on the wall reading "Would you rather have an old white guy in drag decide your family affairs?"

Professor Chris Barton


Who let the lobbyists in?

There seems to be a general acceptance that lobbyists should have a right of access to ministers to plead their special cases. Why is this assumed? I do not have such a privilege.

If companies wish to make representations about how the climate in which they operate could be improved, they can do so through the press, all in the open. Having easy access to politicians is undemocratic and, as recent events appear to have shown, a direct route to corruption.

Mark S Bretscher

Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire

In your 17 October coverage of the Liam Fox affair, I notice the term the "lobbying industry". You often also see reference to the "insurance industry". I suggest that it would be better to call these operations what they are, which is "businesses", and restrict the term "industry" to those businesses which have some connection with manufacturing.

David Day

Burford, Oxfordshire

Leftish Tories

Dominic Lawson doesn't understand the middle class either ("Cameron is facing class war in his own party", 18 October). He makes the mistake of appearing to regard us all as one lump of red-blooded devil-take-the-hindmost Thatcherites.

Many of us are middle-of-the-road, slightly leftish, almost social democrat Tories, and it is this group which, I think, wins and loses elections. The Thatcherites will always vote Tory.

Dudley Dean

Maresfield, east Sussex

British asparagus

If Sue Thomas (letter, 18 October) were a paperholic like me she would have devoured every scrap of Mark Hix's article and discovered that the asparagus he used was indeed British. Wye Valley farmers have created a second or "reverse" season for asparagus so that we now have an autumn crop.

Jan Cook

South Nutfield, Surrey

Silly money

In the past week we have seen the ultimate asinine act with a couple receiving £101m from a lottery. Do not the organisers consider that some 200 people could have received £500,000 each and been delighted with such a sum? Even our bankers have not awarded themselves so much.

P Bryan