Letters: Europe’s demons lurk behind a facade

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, May 18th, 2013

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I would have thought a huge number of British people would be very upset to see an end to the endless supply of cheap wine and beer bought in Calais superstores… never mind the cheaper groceries, electrical goods, and even cars, which can be bought at a fraction of the UK price on the continental mainland at present. What happens when customs limits are restored and duty is payable on the excesses? Why is this never mentioned? It may be frivolous – but so are almost all the arguments against the EU.

Elspeth Christie, Northumberland

Andreas Whittam Smith’s commentary on Europe (16 May) is presumably meant to be reassuring on British and French disillusionment with the EU. Other cross-Channel similarities are less soothing – particularly the current eagerness of the traditional conservative political parties in both countries to pander to the far right, and the possibility of voters sliding towards the abyss of right-wing extremism.

As Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote earlier this week, the surface banalities and charm disguise the real threat of the Europhobes: Nigel Farage looks like a good bloke to have a drink with, French Front National leader Marine Le Pen is more touchy-feely than her gnarled old man.

But Europe’s old demons lurk not far off-stage: xenophobia, variants of racism (for anti-Semitism read Islamophobia) and hints of the enemy within, distrust of Germany and a compliant media willing to give disproportionate coverage to the fact-free rantings of Ukip and the FN.

Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France

Where on earth do the many thousands (indeed probably millions) of moderate Tory voters go at the next election, and how did so many Tory nutters get selected and elected last time round? Why do retired politicians who had their turn still keep stirring the pot? Where have traditional One Nation Tory social values and outward-looking international perspectives gone? The current Tory madness in Parliament is not going to recover votes from Ukip, it is a repeat of John Major’s loss of control of his party, and once again they will be out on their ears in 2015. I thought Cameron had more steel and better leadership qualities than all this.

I favour significant reforms of the EU to make it less bureaucratic and more business-friendly – with the UK staying in. I want politicians, while dealing with immigration abuses, to sell the British public the economic benefits of con- tinued but sensibly managed im- migration. Who will represent me? I shall vote for Norman Lamb at the next election because I support the Coalition and know he’s a good constituency MP in North Norfolk, but I am not a natural Lib Dem, and like  others in my position I cannot vote for the leftward-moving Labour Party of the two Eds. What a mess!

Gavin Turner, Gunton, Norfolk

If all that Tories can worry about is playing Little Englanders, at a time when the NHS is in crisis, disabled people are being made homeless, jobs are being lost and not replaced and fuel bills are plunging pensioners into debt, they truly are in a privileged world compared to the rest of us.

H Powell, Alvechurch, Worcestershire

Tax cheats hurt small businesses

As Amazon and other large multinationals continue to push the tax rulebook to the limit, are they not aware of the impact their actions could have on the UK’s small businesses? (Report, 16 May.)

With 95 per cent of all UK businesses classed as micro-businesses, there is little doubt that small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. Growing these businesses and other smaller organisations would help to transform our economic position – if just a small portion of these micro-businesses took on one employee each then unemployment figures would drop dramatically. They need all the help they can get to grow.

The danger is that as efforts are made to crack down on the avoidance-schemes practised by the multinationals, the measures used will bring forth another raft of red tape, which will not be targeted but impact on all businesses, large and small alike.

Vince McLoughlin, Steyning, West Sussex

Following the numerous reports that have emerged from the Public Accounts Committee (“Amazon’s corporation tax bill less than it gets in grants”, 16 May), pointing to the tax avoidance of some multinationals, I have been trying to lead a monkish Starbucks-free, Amazon-free, Google-free life. I drink coffee at my local café, I buy my online books at Waterstones and I use a green alternative search engine calledecosia.com. I wonder by what means other readers have managed to express their avoidance of tax avoiders?

Anthony Lipmann, Bridgwater, Somerset

Railing against London bias

Further to the letter from R Goodall (“London sucks up nation’s wealth”, Letters, 14 May): last year, you published a report that showed that the investment in transport infrastructure in London and the South East was five times that of the north-east of England, expressed on a per-capita basis. I understand the benefits of HS2 to the nation as a whole. What I don’t understand are the benefits of the very expensive Crossrail project. How does that benefit people living outside the London area? Why do they deserve such large sums of money, and at the same time as Network Rail is dismantling the Leamside line in County Durham?

Ian K Watson, Carlisle

The National Audit Office may well be justified in questioning the value in HS2, but as part of any review the absolute cost should also be challenged. Deutsche Bahn is currently building a 500km high-speed line from Nuremberg to Berlin which, according to DB’s in-train magazine, incorporates 25 tunnels and 35 “big” bridges. One of these is 8.5km long, and even has a junction in the elevated section. All of this will cost €10bn (£8.5m), which is about half of what the 200km HS2 will cost to go through gently rolling countryside from Birmingham to London. Maybe this should be the yardstick for “value”. And for its high price HS2 will not even give us meaningful connections, for example straight into Heathrow, or to Stratford International for direct services into Europe.

Britain needs more rail capacity, and needs high-speed rail connections. But they also need to be at the right price; if it is possible for Germany to deliver projects like this, why not us? Clearly experience has something to do with it, so let’s start now by investing in the expertise to make these things happen cost-effectively, as well as in the political leadership to produce a winning case for them.

Charles Wood, Birmingham

Surely it’s time  for Gove to go

The time has come for Michael Gove to step down as Secretary of State for Education, following the revelation that his low estimation of the knowledge and abilities of British school children is based on little more than a few marketing surveys (report, 14 May).

This compounds months of blunders from a man who has no personal career-background in the education sector and who has refused proper consultation channels with ordinary classroom-teachers. Little wonder then that his EBac proposal was voted down in Parliament, he was forced into a U-turn over the reintroduction of O-levels and that he received a vote of no confidence from the National Union of Teachers last month. 

As for Gove’s proposal to axe the long summer holiday (apparently an out-dated legacy of a farming age), would he be prepared to lead by example on this, and relinquish his own summer recess?

Rachel Evans (teacher), Buckingham

Talking cents

So Michael Gove is proposing to overhaul the GCSE grading system by awarding candidates a score from 1 to 10. I have devised a much better and more refined system which I can highly recommend to Mr Gove. I regularly grade my students awarding them a score ranging from 1 to 100.

Paul Diamond, Shepperton, Surrey

Dangerous Dogs Act is not enough

The Dangerous Dogs Act still does not provide for preventative measures such as Dog Control Notices (“Tougher measures needed to tackle irresponsible dog owners warn MPs”, 16 May). Without such measures, enforcement officers will remain powerless to tackle antisocial behaviour with dogs before attacks take place.

More effective education for dog owners is vital to prevent problems in the first place. We will continue to lobby the Government to include pet welfare in the National Curriculum and to call for more support for the work charities are doing with key  social groups.

Kim Hamilton, Chief Executive, Blue Cross pet charity, London SW1

Police protection goes both ways

Speaking at the Police Federation’s annual conference in Bournemouth, Home Secretary Theresa May argues that criminals who murder police officers should be jailed for the rest of their lives. That will go down well with the delegates.

While she’s down there she might also raise the fact that while there have been a total of 1462 deaths in police custody (or following contact with the police) in England & Wales between 1990 and the present, no police officer has been convicted in relation to any of these deaths. Not one.

Sasha Simic, London N16

Cricket clanger

The estimable Stephen Brenkley (15 May) rightly states that England’s cricketers should focus on the New Zealand test match and “avoid at all costs thinking of the challenges beyond”. Yet, the headline on your back page screams “England players in Ashes places fight”. Sad to say, but let’s hope that the England team doesn’t read The Independent.

Paul Maidment, London SE13

Karma for Clegg

With regard to Nick Clegg’s complaint that the Tories are moving the goalposts on an EU referendum, one can’t help but feel for him. It’s terrible when you choose to support a party because you believe in their stated policies and then they go and betray you.

Julian Self, Milton Keynes

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