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Friday 13 February 2009
Letters: Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech – even for odious views
Regarding the ban the UK government has imposed to prevent Geert Wilders visiting Britain ("Banned from Britain, Dutch campaigner against Islam", 11 February), nothing seems to have been learned from previous such experiences.
Wilders' views are odious. but unless and until a court has convicted him of incitement to hatred – for which there is indeed a strong case – I think that like Holocaust deniers he should be not only allowed to visit but exposed to as many contrary arguments as possible to demolish his demonisation of Muslims and their faith.
A Dutch court recently invited prosecutors to charge him with incitement, so the UK government should wait for the outcome of that process and consider – and very probably impose – a ban if he is convicted. In the meantime it should act in the spirit of free, if highly objectionable, speech.
Last year EU governments finally agreed a European law distinguishing between extreme and nasty views on the one hand and criminally inflammatory ones on the other, with all 27 governments obliged to have domestic sanctions against the latter, as Britain has long had. It is unfortunate that a Labour government is now unable to steer a steady course which maintains that distinction.
Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP
Liberal Democrat European Justice & Human Rights Spokeswoman, London N1
Reward creators of real wealth
Adrian Hamilton rightly draws our attention to getting on with the job of taming the markets ("There are better things to do than shaming these bankers", 12 February).
The article also points to "illusionary prosperity". This is welcome criticism of the ongoing myth that growth over the past decade or so is due to financial services. True, financial services have grown, but so too has the total debt of private individuals, to more than £1trn, which is close to one year's GDP. Over 10 years this increase in individual debt is roughly equivalent to an injection of 7 per cent of GDP per year, and hence responsible for economic growth of a similar 7 per cent (both compound). This is far greater than the 2-3 per cent actually achieved, but then much was spent on imports.
Financial services form just one minority component of economic performance, and since much of it doesn't do anything other than take a slice of other people's money; it is actually extracting wealth from the economy, not contributing to it.
As the article suggests, we should give urgent attention to the other components of economic performance, such as high-value manufacturing and innovation. But we are already off to a poor start. The RBS intention to award a £1bn in bonuses is to insist that each man, woman and child in the UK pay £15 to just some people in just one bank. This will hardly provide the motivation for those in the real economy to work harder to generate exports and things of tangible value.
So, how about a £2m bonus for every entrepreneur who produces 100 engineering design, consultancy or manufacturing jobs a year? This could easily be paid for by the banks since £1bn will pay for 500 such companies, and what a difference they would make. The populace might even be prepared to pay £15 each for that.
Dr David Rhodes
During Prime Minister's Question Time, Gordon Brown again condescendingly explained that the cause of the shortage of capital is the withdrawal of foreign banks, and that British banks, following his intervention and instruction, were responding to fill the gap, but it would take time.
Surely the reasons foreign banks have withdrawn from the UK is that lending 125 per cent of value based on fictitious self-certified salaries to the world's most indebted nation is the road to ruin, as per Northern Rock, HSBOS and others, and they have no intention of doing the same. Is Gordon Brown the only one who cannot see that it is essential that a sea change in our economy is carried through, and this will take time and will involve pain.
We can no longer rely on fictitious value of assets, some of which are non-existent, and huge personal debt to finance the nation, but must return to sound money based on real production and real trade supported by real savings, rather than throwing money down the drain, as with the VAT reduction.
Start building infrastructure now, start training engineers and skilled workers now, start encouraging saving now. We need action now, not grand-standing from the saviour of the world.
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
R P Wallen makes a plea for the bank foot-soldiers to continue to receive their bonuses as a reward for their genuine effort (letter, 11 February). I have known at least one foot-soldier complicit in the collapse of the banks. He was happy to arrange loans for those who may not have been a good risk, and to take his rewards as bonuses and perks such as expenses paid holidays.
No doubt there may be some bank employees that would be genuinely underpaid if they did not receive a bonus, and I do have sympathy for them. They are not alone among the workers that are poorly rewarded.
As a result of the failures of their senior executives many banks have collapsed; if it were not for the bail-out by the taxpayers many bank workers would have joined the million others who are unemployed as a consequence of the collapse of the banks. Perhaps they should consider themselves lucky that they still have a job.
R V Watts
King's Lynn, Norfolk
In the current state of the economy, rewarding highly paid bank executives may or may not be justified on moral grounds, but it seems to run against rational economic thinking. With the need to counter slack demand and depressed consumer confidence, would it not make better sense if any company bonuses went to deserving lower-income employees, who are more likely to have a higher marginal propensity to consume?
At a time when senior bankers are feigning regret for the misery they have spread throughout Britain, it is ironic that the Government is seeking vast loans from countries who would already have executed these people
After reading Bob King's letter ("Try putting real bankers in charge", 12 February) I , an (early) retired traditional banker, couldn't agree more, and think that the Government, as majority shareholder, should be placing Bob or someone like him in place as executive chairman or CEO of the nearly nationalised banks.
Having worked for and with Bob I couldn't think of a better candidate.
Lawrence G Cross
So "Sorry" has now replaced "Lessons have been learned and we are moving forward" among those coached by spin-doctors.
Cuddly killers are after my chickens
I don't agree with A Farlow (letter, 11 February) that a solution to the fox problem is to let hens roost in trees. My hens, led by a particularly fine cockerel, took to roosting in the high beams of my Dutch barn, four feet or more above the hay. So what did the fox do? It waited for them to come down in the early summer morning about 4am and removed them one by one.
I don't think that it is ideal husbandry to keep chickens penned up; their eggs taste much better if they are allowed to range round the farm and garden, picking up all sorts of pests and other goodies.
The woods round here are full of rabbits and hares and voles. The foxes simply find fowls an easier option. As far as I am concerned, they are no more admirable than rats, though of course much more cuddly. When I went out in the snow this morning, it was criss-crossed with dear little foxy paw prints. The hunt is on.
P A Reid
Salman Rushdie: an apology
In my essay on the apology culture (12 February) I wrote, in the heat of the moment, that Sir Salman Rushdie went to Oundle. I now realise that Sir Salman went to Rugby. I wish to apologise unreservedly to Sir Salman for any offence the word "Oundle" may have caused him. I also wish to apologise to people who went to Oundle, for suggesting that being said to have gone to Oundle when in fact you went to Rugby might be offensive.
I also wish to apologise unreservedly to Rugby School, its staff, pupils and alumni, for suggesting that Sir Salman Rushdie was an old boy of an entirely different school. Finally, I wish to apologise to Eton, Harrow, Winchester and any other notable British school to which Sir Salman might have gone had his parents not decided on Rugby.
I also wish to apologise for a slip of the keyboard, so that I referred to Islam's disparate "oral theologies" not "moral theologies", which was what I meant. I should apologise, too, for . . . Oh, to hell with it. Everyone: I apologise for everything.
Michael Bywater should apologise for writing, "Your a twat", a phrase I find particularly offensive. It's "You're a twat." Idiot. (Sorry.)
Eccy de Jonge
Foreign workers on Olympic site
It is not true that UK inspectors "quietly sacked" 200 Romanian Olympic site workers as you reported (2 February). It is also not true that "136 illegal immigrants were caught working on the site".
In fact working in partnership with our contractors and the construction unions we are making good progress in training and employing local people and ensuring fair employment standards on the Olympic Park.
These efforts by contractors to boost direct employment on the site have affected all self-employed personnel who chose not or were unable to switch to direct employment, including a small number of Romanian workers, not the 200 you report.
We also work closely with the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) to ensure people working on site are legally entitled to do so. This joint working will have led to many of the 136 investigations mentioned. UKBA has clarified that to date these investigations have led to 16 prosecutions.
Chief executive, Olympic Delivery Authority, London E14
Emblem of Britain
We now propose to welcome our European cousins to Labour's successful "New Britain" with a large white horse. In the present financial circumstances, wouldn't a large stable door be more appropriate?
Llandrindod Wells, Powys
Vote for safety
Ken Taylor suggests that the Israeli electorate has now killed the peace process (letter, 12 February) but it was the Palestinian electorate that spoke first on the peace process when it elected Hamas in 2006. Hamas stands for returning Israel to Muslim control and, according to its Charter, killing Jews. With this in mind Israelis have every right to vote for safety first.
This 14 February, my husband is leaving me at home in order to go skiing. He is taking our teenage children with him. Could this be the best Valentine's Day present a wife ever received?
No weather here
I have not noticed any correspondence in your columns about the changes in the list of places for which you record the weather each day. I regret the loss of information about, for example, Adelaide, Biarritz, Calgary, Cologne, Dubrovnik, Jeddah, Mecca, Quebec and Valencia. I have still not recovered from the disappearance from the list some while ago of Ulan Bator and Edmonton, with their fascinatingly extreme winter temperatures.
G S Kuphal
Going to law
Most of the excesses in labels on consumer goods (letter, 10 February) and silliness in health and safety rules (such as notices to burglars not to walk on fragile roofs lest they fall through) can be traced to changes to the rules which forbade solicitors from any advertising beyond the brass plate at their door. Lawyers were quick to jump on the bandwagon of "no win, no fee" and have been raking it in ever since at the expense of the rest of us, who pay for it via increased insurance premiums.
Paul Wheeler jokes (letter, 5 February) about the inconsistent use of apostrophes in Earl's Court and Barons Court stations, but rank is no barrier to London Underground, who certainly know how to make King's Cross. Nor should we forget St James's Park and Gallions Reach.
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