Letters: Englishness and British politics

What does it mean to be English?

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Ed Miliband is right, Labour should not be frightened to address English national identity (report, 8 June); nor should Labour be frightened to support an English Parliament, or at least give England the opportunity that Labour gave Scotland and Wales, to vote on the matter.

The three main parties want to govern England, but not allow England to govern itself by creating an English Parliament, which is the only solution to the current unbalanced, undemocratic and untenable constitutional arrangements. The Commons becomes the English Parliament and a reformed Lords a UK senate – so no increase in politicians needed.

Scotland could come to England's rescue, for if it separates the three main parties will no longer be able to deny to England what they have granted to others in the UK: national recognition and self-determination.

Professor Colin Copus

Telford, Shropshire

"What does it mean to be English?" asks Owen Jones (Opinion, 8 June). The real difficulty Englishness and English nationalism has is differentiating itself from Britishness. Scottishness and Welshness have been able to define themselves as separate from Britishness. There is evidence to suggest that Englishness and English nationalism will essentially develop in response to external events, the Scottish independence debate being the sharpest.

While we have witnessed a growth in cultural English nationalism over the past two decades, eg, greater use of the St George's Cross and a greater awareness of St George's Day, growth in political nationalism has been marginal and centred on perceived threats such as the EU. My own research among Nottinghamshire city and county councillors found that while there has been a growth in a greater sense of Englishness there is still confusion in defining exactly what it is. It is somewhat ironic that England, though the powerhouse of the United Kingdom, finds it difficult to define its own nationalism.

Justin Sinnott

PhD Research Student on English Nationalism, University College Dublin

The Labour leader has warned Scots they will not be British if they vote for independence. Does he, like so many, think that English equals British? These are the British Isles and not the same as the political structure called the UK. Two kingdoms, one principality and one province make up the UK. Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are all independent nations yet are still all Scandinavian.

Cyril Mitchell

Dumfries

In brief...

Pensioners' bus passes help us all

In England the £1bn figure often quoted for the "cost" of pensioners' bus passes is actually the cost to local authorities of reimbursing the bus companies. Transport economists estimate this subsidy, together with reimbursement from other concessionary schemes, encourages bus operators to operate services which increase their revenue from paying customers. Taken together they estimate that about 25 per cent of bus companies' revenue is gained from these subsidies.

Peter Copping

Manchester

In your leading article of 8 June you fail to mention that many wealthy pensioners do not claim what they are entitled to. Free bus passes and TV licences are examples. Others give their fuel allowance, which is deposited into bank accounts without the effort of applying for it, to charity. Figures quoted to indicate how many beneficiaries there are would be less pejorative if they included how many actually claim the benefits. It might also point up the fact that not all wealthy people are without a social conscience.

Sarah Greening

Sherborne, Dorset

An excuse we've heard before

Yesterday we heard of Eric Pickles's strong wish to end the "it's not my fault" excuse used by troubled families. Today (11 June) you report that Mr Osborne has been using this very ploy, blaming the Europeans for the faltering British economy. Surely what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?

Dave Hyden

Wolverhampton

Ancestors of internet trolls

Internet "trolling" ("Arrest warrant issued after Louise Mensch's "troll" Frank Zimmerman vanishes", 8 June) is little more than an updated version of the poison pen letter, without having to go to the trouble of buying a stamp and going to the post box.

JOHN PETER HUDSON

Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire

Unhappy unions

David Cameron has spoken out against forced marriages (report, 8 June). Can there be a greater expert on unhappy and unsuitable alliances?

Sasha Simic

London N16

Enough of this idealisation of grammar schools

Enough of these panegyrics to grammar schools! (Letters, 28 May) In the mid-1960s I was part of a grammar-school intake in a large northern city. Council-estate boys (such as myself) were placed together in the same forms, taught by the school's worst staff (yes, incompetent teachers unable to control boisterous 11-year-olds, who'd nevertheless passed the entrance exam). Predictably, we all did badly in the end-of-year exam (one, arguably more important than the 11-plus itself) and so in the settings that followed did not sully with our oiky presence the classes populated by the well-to-do. Upward mobility? More like class cleansing.

Phil Jones

Manchester

D Williamson (letter, 28 May), describing the creation of a comprehensive school by combining existing grammar and secondary moderns, points to the real problem that hit education when the 11-plus-based system was abolished; the new comprehensives were created on the cheap. The grammars had the labs and the secondary moderns the workshops; so make them one school and hey-presto, job done.

It happened to my old school, Burnage grammar in Manchester. A pair of schools, each with around 850 pupils, became a monster split across two sites. It came as no surprise that about 15 years later Burnage high school achieved national notoriety for a fatal, racially motivated, playground stabbing.

Despite having great sympathy with the return-to-grammars camp, I can't see how we can revert to a selective schooling system. What needs to be done is to enhance existing comprehensives so that within a single, modest-sized school some can learn classics, science and music, while others follow technical subjects.

Of course such a school is expensive to equip and staff – something successive governments have shied away from doing. An oft-quoted truism from the 1970s was "Education is the best investment a country can make". True then, still true today.

Dan Kantorowich

Kettering, Northamptonshire

I have no idea who is to blame for the disgracefully vapid state-education system in England. My 12-year-old son was awarded a scholarship to an independent school where the minimum expectation is that working hard is the norm with excellence as the constant aspiration. The notion that we are all the same and will all arrive at the same place if we are given identical opportunities is what appears to be promoting the obsolescence of our ailing state system. The obvious denouement is that future generations of children will be abandoned to an education which is wholly inadequate and does not prepare them to be adult participants within their own society.

Despite my inability to pay for my son's education, a generous bursary means that he has been given an opportunity to reach for the stars. I am impressed with how happy, mature and well-rounded my son has become.

Jeff Cable

Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

New blood needed for police to change

Anybody looking for hard evidence to prove that new blood such as Tom Winsor is needed in the Inspectorate of Constabulary which purports to tour the country spreading good practice among our Police Forces needs search no further than Norfolk. Here police officers were allowed to coast along complacently on an average sick leave of about 10 days per officer per annum, compared with the average seven days of the Metropolitan Police Force, which patrols the most dangerous area of the country.

It wasn't until 2008 that Norfolk managed to get a grip on this serious drain on resources when it introduced the policy of taking into account the attendance records of promotion candidates; a very effective management tool which helped to reduce sick leave to about the same level as the Met, which had introduced this very policy a full 10 years earlier. One might be forgiven for assuming that a truly conscientious HMI would have been spreading such good practice much earlier than it actually did. One also might be forgiven for asking what other good practice still remains to be spread?

John Kenny

Acle, Norfolk

Wind turbines lethal to rare birds

Mike Comiskey (Letters, 9 June) appears to imply that bird deaths due to turbines are acceptable because domestic cats ("according to the RSPB") and cars kill more birds than wind turbines. This is not a convincing argument.

When quoting the RSPB, Mr Comiskey fails to mention that the RSPB also states that there is no evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations in the UK. The RSPB does, however, believe that poorly sited wind turbines can have a significant impact on (and threaten) bird populations.

Bird-death numbers should be considered in context, ie by species, population size, conservation status. It would then become apparent that wind turbines target a wholly different set of species to domestic cats (or cars). When did your cat last bring a whooper swan, golden eagle, hen harrier or curlew through the cat flap?

Sarah Manchester

Kendal, Cumbria

Olympics hijacked by commerce?

Your leading article of 4 June suggests the modern Olympics must necessarily involve the corporate world and all that goes with it. But must we accept the commercial takeover of the modern Games?

One hopes Sebastian Coe was taking copious notes over the Jubilee weekend. This will prove to have been for many people the main event of the summer, for the unfettered joy of the crowds. Their sense of patriotism is fuelled by an institution they see (rightly or wrongly) as rising above the sort of money-grubbing London 2012 engenders.

Lord Coe might like to ponder that out of 17 shops in my local parade, 15 showed Jubilee bunting. Contrast this with the local baker told to remove a display featuring bagels in an Olympic ring pattern from the window. You almost fear speaking the words "Olympic Games" in case you are in breach of some obscure rule.

Seb Coe was a childhood hero for his fantastic athletic achievements; he personified the Olympic ethic and brought glory and pride. As an organiser, though, a doer of deals with Dow Chemicals and Coca-Cola, a liner of sponsors' pockets with tickets and torches, he should hang his head in shame.

Nigel Cubbage

Merstham, Surrey

Pensioners' bus passes help us all

In England the £1bn figure often quoted for the "cost" of pensioners' bus passes is actually the cost to local authorities of reimbursing the bus companies. Transport economists estimate this subsidy, together with reimbursement from other concessionary schemes, encourages bus operators to operate services which increase their revenue from paying customers. Taken together they estimate that about 25 per cent of bus companies' revenue is gained from these subsidies.

PETER COPPING

Manchester

In your leading article of 8 June you fail to mention that many wealthy pensioners do not claim what they are entitled to. Free bus passes and TV licences are examples. Others give their fuel allowance, which is deposited into bank accounts without the effort of applying for it, to charity. Figures quoted to indicate how many beneficiaries there are would be less pejorative if they included how many actually claim the benefits. It might also point up the fact that not all wealthy people are without a social conscience.

SARAH GREENING

Sherborne, Dorset

An excuse we've heard before

Yesterday we heard of Eric Pickles's strong wish to end the "it's not my fault" excuse used by troubled families. Today (11 June) you report that Mr Osborne has been using this very ploy, blaming the Europeans for the faltering British economy. Surely what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?

DAVE HYDEN

Wolverhampton

Ancestors of internet trolls

Internet "trolling" ("Arrest warrant issued after Louise Mensch's "troll" Frank Zimmerman vanishes", 8 June) is little more than an updated version of the poison pen letter, without having to go to the trouble of buying a stamp and going to the post box.

JOHN PETER HUDSON

Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire

Unhappy unions

David Cameron has spoken out against forced marriages (report, 8 June). Can there be a greater expert on unhappy and unsuitable alliances?

SASHA SIMIC

London N16

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