Floods have revealed the fate of the neglected North
Sir: Thank you for updating Mrs Gaskell's North and South in your leading article of 9 July. It was my former professor of production engineering who first pointed me to this stark Victorian novel.
Mrs Gaskell was writing about the conditions of people in the north of England when the country was industrialising. It has been de-industrialising now for more than 20 years.
Only one third of the manufacturing industry we had in 1979 remains. A handful of mines, instead of hundreds, a few steel plants, instead of dozens, closed shipbuilding yards - the list seems endless. Young men no longer work in those industries or receive their skills or solid wage packets.
If a "Labour" government has done little to reverse this trend, set in train by Mrs Thatcher, then we have a much bigger problem than a sluggish response to northern flooding. The fact is, there is a New Orleans, repeated many times over, taking place in the North.
Sir: The apparent lack of co-ordination at a national and regional level in the aftermath of the Yorkshire floods is all too reminiscent of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001. The inquiry report after the FMD outbreak stated that "responses to the early cases were not fast enough nor effectively co-ordinated". Add to this the report that showed that there are still enormous gaps in most measures between northern and southern cities, and surely the Government can see the case for properly devolved and accountable regional government.
SWANLAND, EAST RIDING OF YORKSHIRE
Sir: So we cannot let the North fall behind. A devolved English Parliament in Nottingham or Leeds would make all the difference.
WESTON-SUPER-MARE, NORTH SOMERSET
Sir: The solution to some northern cities' persistent poverty seems obvious to me. They must petition to be annexed to Scotland or Wales and thus receive a far more generous cut of southern England's resources.
THE REVD GEOFFREY THOMPSON
Tax breaks will not save marriages
Sir: David Cameron is totally wrong: couples are not encouraged to split up by the tax and benefits systems. They split up because the people are not right for each other. It is ridiculous to suppose, as Mr Cameron appears to do, that a certificate and two rings constitute some sort of panacea that turns bad relationships into good ones.
People are not going to marry, or stay in relationships for the sake of a few hundred pounds a year in tax breaks, and if they did, then it would be a profoundly disturbing indictment on the state of society, and that of the concept of marriage.
Sir: Bruce Anderson is right to be concerned about family breakdown (9 July) but it is a little simplistic to blame the monetary advantages which come with being unmarried.
Families break down because of the intense pressure on all adults to work longer and longer hours. Beveridge started this with his attack on idleness and Thatcher sealed it with her promotion of the consumer society.
The result of everybody working and spending is one of the best economies in the world and the most miserable population. If only we were allowed a little more time for idleness and just simply spending time with our families in our communities, we might all be happier.
I suspect though that our new Prime Minister would rather we carried on working and spending; at least that way the economy is buoyant, if nothing else.
WELTON LE MARSH, LINCOLNSHIRE
Sir: If single mothers produce a high proportion of the prison population, could it be something to do with the fact that their partners were too thick to use a condom?
A smaller footprint and a better life
Sir: The letter from Andrew Pring (9 July) filled me with despair. It's time sensible people on the left stopped uttering these platitudes about eradicating poverty and started looking at the real world. Does he seriously think Britain could support its population without importing food?
The world has sustained its massive population growth by "cheating" - destroying the world's forests, for example, to produce a temporary source of food and by using fossil fuel-based fertilisers and pesticides to produce crop yields impossible by sustainable methods.
Human beings are subject to the same laws of nature as other species. When food is plentiful we increase in population. When we have exhausted the capacity of the world to produce a temporary abundance, our population will crash. However, there is one difference between us and almost all other species - we are intelligent and could use that intelligence to find ways to share our resources, reduce our populations slowly rather than catastrophically and use our remaining reserves of fossil fuel not for quick gain but for long-term investment in sustainable technology.
In another letter on the same day, Jonathan Gill says we have the means but not the will to do something about the horrors of poverty. Indeed we do, but not until we look at the problem as a whole. Paying Brazil and Indonesia not to destroy their forests would do a massive amount more to slow global warming than to stop taking the children to school in the car, but we do not seem to have the political will to do this.
I believe he is right, too, in not wishing to look backwards. The possibilities of sustainable technology are exciting - ultra high-tech airships and sailing vessels, for example. We could live in a better way, but not with our present population.
If we cannot use our intelligence to find equable ways of reducing it, then nature will do the job for us. It really is as simple as that.
Sir: I am sure that Dominic Lawson (10 July) is right about the world's ability to cope with the exploding human population. What he failed to consider was the cost to other species.
DR TIM LAWSON
Dangers of a free market in education
Sir: Your leading article "Set them all free to fix their own fees" (27 June) misses the point.
If the £3,000 cap on university tuition fees is removed, a genuine market in higher education would be created where fees differ between universities and between courses. The inevitable characteristic of markets is that the most expensive products are reserved for the wealthiest people. That may be fine for cars or TVs, but not for education.
The US experience shows that the brightest of the poorest may be protected by bursaries, but vast swathes of young people from poorer homes, with less financial backing and more debt-aversion, will be excluded from the nation's premier universities and courses.
EDUCATION OFFICER SHEFFIELD UNIVERSITY STUDENTS' UNION
A trolley full of mixed art
Sir: Thank you to Philip Hensher for applying a modicum of common sense to the question of the what should be shown at the Baltic gallery in Gateshead ("Shouldn't we ditch this snobbery about popular art?", 10 July).
Gateshead, and the indeed the North-east, is damned for not visiting to view contemporary art, or only visiting when a Beryl Cook is showing. It would be of interest to know what proportion of the visitors to the Tate live within a 20-mile radius.
I feel that we should hand the Baltic - and indeed the Tate - over to Tesco to better manage the exhibitions. Just as you cannot buy a tin of beans or bottle of wine without passing the fresh vegetables, we would pass by the contemporary art on the way to see the Beryl Cook exhibition. You never know, just like purple carrots, we may get to like it.
JOHN E WRIGHT
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
If this isn't the real business, what is?
Sir: Deborah Orr's dismissal of some of the business leaders chosen to join the Business Advisory Group included myself and Virgin ("These aren't real business leaders. They're just masters of self-promotion", 30 June).
We started out 37 years ago, without financial backing, and I believe we are the only company in the world to have created six $1bn global businesses from scratch, in six completely different sectors under a single brand - Virgin. Today nearly 50,000 people work in Virgin businesses and these companies turn over $20bn. The Virgin brand is the best known British brand worldwide and recently acclaimed the most respected brand in Britain.
If Virgin isn't a successful British company, then I don't know what is.
After Campbell, why the secrecy?
Sir: Alastair Campbell's diary revelations of inconsistent and calamitous decision-making in Cabinet over the legality of invading Iraq in March 2003 must cast serious doubt on the official use of section 36 (i) (a) and (b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, in refusing to disclose information about these meetings.
This section offers exemptions on the grounds that disclosure would prejudice free and frank discussion to achieve the best and most rational outcome. Campbell's admissions destroy the argument that Cabinet discussions over the Iraq issue were either rational or destined to reach the best outcome.
It is to be hoped that these parts of Mr Campbell's diaries will bring the disclosure of actual Cabinet minutes and reports for these key meetings even closer.
MIDSOMER NORTON, BATH
Sir: At least we all have a simple formula for the next election. If your MP voted for the Iraq war, vote for someone else. Better a potential fool than a proven one.
Sir: Is it coincidence that in the week of the publication of Alastair Campbell's diaries, The Independent's "banned book" of the week is The Prince by Machiavelli?
Poor US lesson on housing shortage
Sir: I am afraid that the letter from Wendell Cox (7 July) writing from Missouri, USA, about the UK housing market betrays his political prejudices. Like many Americans he seems to assume that what applies in the USA applies world-wide. It doesn't.
To compare the housing market in Texas to that in the UK is ludicrous. A major influence on the price of land is population pressure. England, with a population density of 385 persons per sq km has over 13 times the pressures experienced in Texas (29 ppkm ).
Not only is the market in the UK different in scale from Texas but it is also different in kind. In the UK, you can make money out of hoarding land. Do that in Texas, with its huge resources of land, and you would soon be in trouble.
With up to three years supply of land already allocated to housing and with planning permission, it is clearly not the planning system that is at fault. Ultra-easy loans and the operation of the major building companies are much more significant.
Sir: What a pity that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is inclined to join the ranks of the crackpot conspiracy theorists concerning the death of Princess Diana ("Even in death they cannot leave Diana alone", 9 July). She died because she was in an accident and was not wearing a seatbelt.
CHICHESTER, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: After watching the tennis finals at Wimbledon on Saturday and Sunday, can anyone seriously believe that the women deserve to be paid the same as the men for winning? Unless the women play five sets, or the men three, the decision to make this change to the prize money is ridiculous. I hope it is quickly reversed.
Ban the ban
Sir: Joan Bakewell, 29 June: "How come we are so addicted to banning things?" Joan Bakewell, 6 July: "Prohibit all physical punishment."
WORTHING, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: As a footnote to Dan Kantorowich (Letters, 10 July), I live in France and spend in euros but get my income in sterling in the UK. Every six weeks or so, I pay a sterling cheque on my UK account into my account with Crédit Agricole, France's biggest bank. The euro value usually shows up in my French account in about 24 hours. Curiously, it takes a week to be debited from my UK account.
DAVID J BOGGIS
Icon of an era
Sir: Mr Griffiths (letter, 10 July) very reasonably inquires about the media's obsession with the words "icon" and "iconic", which I too have noticed. It is nowhere better illustrated than by Andrew Roberts' usage in his article on the same day about the Peugeot 403, "an iconic police car of its era", and "in its homeland the 403 remains an automotive icon". Image and reality have been coinciding in France since the 1950s, apparently.
W B MCBRIDE
Sir: I enjoyed the feature on W Heath Robinson (9 July) and was very interested to read that he died, at the age of 72, after exploratory prostrate surgery. I wonder how he might have illustrated such an unusual procedure for the amusement of his readers, and whether they would have been left prostate with laughter?
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