Letters: Europe's last Communists

Moldova's Communists are far from a spent force
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The idea that "the last ruling Communist party in Europe was swept from power" on 29 July ("Moldova's Communists beaten", 31 July) is a premature simplification. For one thing, they remain the largest and most consolidated party in parliament, with nearly 50 per cent of the seats.

The four-party opposition has to overcome significant personal and programmatic differences before it can form a government, and even then it lacks enough votes to elect the President (who picks the Prime Minister) without the Communists' help. Deadlock, polarisation, and even repeat elections are not unthinkable. Second, this so-called "last bastion of Soviet-style government" was actually out of power between 1990 and 2001, and Moldova became the poorest country in Europe, on the watch of the so-called democrats, not the Communists.

The party was elected three times in elections the international community has seen as broadly free and fair; although the Communists got "only" 45 per cent this time round, it is still an electoral record of which our own major parties can only dream.

This is not to idealise the Communists, who have definite authoritarian tendencies. Yet in other ways they are unorthodox (as your article acknowledges). Moreover, until their dramatic over-reaction to the April protests, they were one of Moldova's most competent governments, and one which made significant (often unrequited) overtures to Europe.

We can certainly hope that the recent elections will provide a dramatic break with the Soviet past. But the aftermath of other recent "revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia warns against assuming that new democratic leaders will necessarily be that much more post-Soviet, or even more competent, than their predecessors.

Luke March

Senior Lecturer in Post-Soviet Politics, University of Edinburgh

Problem is deeper than A-level re-sits

Lord Sutherland's desire to ban A-level re-sits to gain a more accurate representation of ability is wrong, and I suggest it is the product of the brief given to him by Ed Balls (report, 3 August). Mr Balls has responded to the concerns of universities that students with A-grade credentials can still struggle with the demands of degree-level study, but the problem goes much deeper.

I am a full-time teacher of history AS and A-level, whose students arrive with hardly any independent learning skills. They are often passive and want everything spoon-fed to them, including what to write in the exam to be successful. They therefore face a very sharp learning curve over the two years of AS and A-level study.

This is the result of an education system that has become obsessed with testing, targeting and results. Teachers have to defend their school's reputation in league tables; child-centred education has been replaced with target-centred education. Academic and intellectual development is being stifled well before any AS exams.

This means that often bright kids under-perform at AS, and it is not their fault. They need to do a re-sit, not to falsely inflate their grade, but because the demands of the AS examinations are far more taxing than the myriad tests they have been subjected to previously.

Students also struggle with the requirement for effective written communication. Again this is the fault of obsession with targets. To get better results in English GCSE, many schools are switching to exam boards that offer easier tests, or they teach the skills in a formulaic, examination-friendly way. The kids learn how to pass an exam rather than develop the ability to express themselves.

Ed Balls does not want to admit the failings of pre-16 education for political reasons. But unless we face up to this issue the situation will get worse.

John Westmoreland

Doncaster, South Yorkshire

Steve Travis (letters, 1 August) hits the nail on the head when he says that in the UK "We live in a society which does not value intellectual curiosity." He goes on to say, "That culture is replicated in most comprehensive schools". I believe the government projects a profoundly anti-intellectual culture in terms of policy and behaviour.

Policy places economic growth ahead of cultural life and can be seen, for example, in the downgrading of local libraries as centres of learning to centres of entertainment.

Finns celebrate education each 1 May at the Vappu festival with a national holiday. Finnish children are consistently at the top end of global education leagues. The principles underpinning the Finnish education system are "quality, efficiency, equity and internationalisation".

It is possible to have a high standard of education, together with economic prosperity, without resorting to trying to sort children into grammar, private, public, etc school categories where inequity is the overriding, if unstated, principle.

Dr Keith Baverstock

Bonn, Germany

I have read with interest the recent correspondence on the pros and cons of selective secondary education (letters, 1 August). England is an under-schooled nation which does not regard education highly enough as a means of social mobility.

Scotland had four universities by the end of the 16th century; England had only two and those were open only to Anglican males until the foundation of University College London in the 1820s.

Rosemary Morlin


Be honest about immigrant housing

Your leading article (1 August), suggests that research revealing that less than 2 per cent of social housing was occupied by people who had moved to Britain in the past five years debunks the "myth" that local people are given relatively low priority compared with recent immigrants.

In the same issue, John Denham, the Communities Secretary, appears to suggest that the perceived housing injustice is simply a failure by the Government to communicate the facts. But the 2 per cent figure is disingenuous, because only a relatively small proportion of social housing has become available to new tenants in that period.

A more honest figure would be the proportion of new tenancies that have gone to recent immigrants in each of the past five years. Those figures would be, presumably, significantly higher than 2 per cent and would correspond to actual experience of social change.

If there is to be a debate on whether the length of residency in Britain is to become more significant let's be honest about the allocation system.

Stephen Shields

Lichfield, Staffordshire

Jewish women face unequal treatment

It may be true, as Rabbi Wolff suggests (letters, 4 August), that an Orthodox Jewish woman can get a divorce in the civil courts "full stop". But what about the ostracism a woman faces in her own community? What prospects does she have for acceptance or remarriage?

The unequal treatment of men and women in the Orthodox Jewish community, and other communities, pits modern understandings of human rights against traditional conceptions of community identity and coherence.

The role of the state, if any, in sorting out this conflict is not obvious. But the availability of a civil divorce is not a "full-stop" answer.

Andrew Shacknove


Make executives bet their wealth

The cost of executive pay might be better contained if shareholders insisted that anybody demanding a multimillion-pound package should be required to invest the whole of their private wealth in the company they aspired to run, to be recovered by a sale on the open market on departure.

This would ensure their sole pre-occupation would be the long-term growth of sustainable shareholder value, and that they shared fully in any risks they ran using other people's money.

Richard Foster


Drugs firm donates Tamiflu to poor

The article "The hidden truth behind drug company profits" misrepresents the responsible actions Roche has taken over access to Tamiflu in the developing world. We have instigated many initiatives that improve global access to Tamiflu.

It is manufactured by a complex production process involving multiple locations and taking eight months to complete. Royalties paid by companies to whom we have granted sub-licences in India and China are token, single-digit royalties. Roche has also transferred detailed knowledge on Tamiflu manufacturing to a large South African manufacturer to produce it for pandemic use in the African sub-continent.

Other measures Roche has taken include: making stockpiles of Tamiflu available to developing countries at less than the price of generic equivalents; not applying for or enforcing patents for Tamiflu in the least developed countries, enabling local manufacture to develop antiviral stocks; not holding patents on Tamiflu in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines; four years ago donating millions of treatment courses of Tamiflu to the WHO for distribution to countries in need as part of pandemic preparedness, and replenishing this donation two months ago when it was deployed by the WHO to 72 countries, with a further donation of millions of courses of Tamiflu (including paediatric formulation).

Roche is an example of a company taking a responsible attitude to its patents and access to medicines.

Rachel Norager

Influenza Taskforce Manager, Roche UK, Welwyn Garden City

How the APA saves taxpayer money

Unfortunately, the Taxpayers' Alliance's report ("Ministers spent £38m on lobbying", 4 August) tells only half the story. Take the Association of Police Authorities, named in the report.

The funding the APA receives is through subscriptions from individual police authorities. This means the costs of training, providing information and guidance to authorities, disseminating good practice, and other administrative support are shared among 43 authorities, reducing overall expenditure. If these functions were to be performed by individual police authorities, it would cost the taxpayer more.

We agree there should be proper scrutiny of public funds; that is why publicly-accountable police authorities set police budgets, rather than the force itself.

Cllr Bob Jones

Chair, Association of Police Authorities, London SW1

Biggs is no hero

I strongly object to you printing Ronald Biggs' leering visage on the front page (7 August). My first act on collecting that paper was to cut it out. This picture fully conveyed Biggs' long-term contempt for the British legal system and for most law-abiding British citizens. Instead, you should have had a front-page picture showing Biggs as old, frail, empty and defeated.

Sam Boote

Keyworth, Nottingham

Not a sparkling idea

Where does the idea that an electric car, let alone a Rolls-Royce, is "environmentally friendly" come from (report, 7 August)? If the electricity to charge its batteries is from the public supply, since the 75 per cent non-nuclear/renewable part comes from burning fossil fuels, there is no benefit. It's likely to be more damaging than an internal combustion engine because of the inefficiency of a thermal power station, losses in the grid, and the inability of a battery to return 100 per cent of the energy used to charge it.

Dr Tim Dennis

Colchester, Essex

Norway is wrong

It doesn't matter whether Hamsun was a great writer (report, 7 August). He was a staunch supporter of Nazism and his life should not be celebrated by Norway. It is morally wrong to separate literature from ethics. We are lucky to have the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation which reminds us of the feats of the courageous saviours, and condemns bigots such as Hamsun.

Irit Yerushalmi

Givatayim, Israel

Cross-border bias

Students in England applying to universities this summer should remember that Gordon Brown intervened to persuade Scottish Labour MPs to impose tuition fees on English students. They agreed, after Scottish Labour voted to charge fees to English students at Scottish universities, where the same Labour Party had voted to abolish them for only Scottish students studying in Scotland or England.

C Yates


Swine flu overkill

At the entrance to my GP's surgery there is a notice exhorting us to use the alcohol gel dispenser before entering and leaving. And all the magazines in the waiting-room have gone, although there are still plenty of NHS leaflets which are, oddly, germ-free. Even my GP's blotter has been impounded, he admitted. I await the removal of all the upholstered seating and the carpet. Panic attack? What panic attack?

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire